Departure lounge ramblings on music, places, climate change and stuff outdoors

South By South West

Austin lives up to its own billing as the live music capital of the world. Admittedly, markontour was visiting during the legendary South By South West (SXSW) tech/film/music festival, but you can only make judgements based on available data. On this basis Sixth Street is a gig-goers dream, where every bar and almost every restaurant has constant live bands from 4pm until past the midnight hour. If the evidence that I am alive wasn’t so overwhelming, a few nights in Austin might have convinced me that I had died and gone to heaven (putting to one side the anthropocene nightmare that is urban American traffic).


Take a risk, it’s the most Edmonton thing you can do

I have to be honest, I had low expectations of Edmonton, a sprawling, million-plus city in oil-rich Alberta, Canada. But a week there was full of surprises, from great record shops, a fantastic gallery, incisive improv-comedy, tasty vegetarian restaurants, an introduction to ice-hockey, and guitar rental, all the way through to ultra-friendly people. I almost don’t mind not seeing the promised Northern Lights. Here follows the markontour guide to Edmonton.

Songs for Pythagoras & Undaunted Women

Peter Von Tiesenhausen is an ecologically-minded artist, who salvages to create. His extraordinary ‘Relief’ – a mountain-scape sculpted from the clapperboards of an abandoned community hall – conveys beauty and sadness in equal quantities and is going to stay in my mind for a long time. As will the Art Gallery of Alberta’s retrospective exhibition ‘Undaunted: Canadian Women Painters of the 19th Century”. Who knew there was such a great gallery in Edmonton!

Dancing with bears – BSP at Koko

I’ve seen a LOT of brilliant British Sea Power gigs, but last at Koko was one of the very best. Amidst the anthemic tunes, hymns to libraries and protest, odes to nature, and celebration of bicycles, there was also a birthday cake launched into the crowd, and two bears dancing in the middle of the most-pit, along with the usual foliage adorned stage. The night ended with the band variously stage diving and leading the moves to Kelis’ ‘Milkshake’. Heaven.

Tredegar House

Tredegar House in Newport is where the National Trust are experimenting with allowing visitors to touch and feel history, rather than pointing from behind a rope. As it stands, I would wager that Tredegar House is the only place in Britain where in a single morning one can be tutored in the art of brushing up a top-hat, put on a shadow puppet show, study Elizabethan art, dress up as 1920’s housemaid, enjoy Elizabethan portraiture and sit down to dinner with a Russian princess.

Welcome to the spiritual dark age

A week after enjoying To Kill A King’s end of tour blow-out at Islington Assembly Hall, I finally have some time to properly get to know their new album. It’s dark and snowing in Paris and climate change has helped swell the Seine to nearly bank-bursting proportions, so Welcome To The Spiritual Dark Age’s twelve tracks all feel appropriate. Yet the band’s live performance of the record was full of life and joy. Maybe they are just the kind of band who get pleasure out of singing about melancholy – not unlike my eternal favourites, Elbow.