Friday, December 5, 2008

Layer 96 Smitten By The Blues; Panorama, Blood and Umami

Michael Eavis, talking on Desert Island Discs this week, described how he’d gone to the very first Bath Blues Festival back in the sixties (which was a free festival, similar to the present Gloucester Blues Festival), and was so blown away by the whole experience that he immediately made up his mind to organise his own festival. What is it about the West Country that makes people want to organise music festivals?

But I know the feeling - there’s nothing to beat being part of an event where hundreds of people get together to enjoy the blues played live and loud. The sheer exhilaration of hearing the blues (or blues-based rock, rhythm & blues) played with expression and feeling by good musicians using a good sound system is like nothing else on earth. It gets into your senses, your soul and your spirit.

I was fortunate enough to go to the unforgettable Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music at Shepton Mallett in 1970, which was really the forerunner of Eavis’s huge Glastonbury festivals, and a template for what takes place nowadays down on Eavis’s farm. This was the UK’s Woodstock - a huge gathering of the ‘counterculture’ for an entire weekend of the most amazing bands on the planet.

If the Stones, the Doors, Hendrix and Dylan had been there then it would truly have been heaven on earth. In fact Hendrix was dead less than 3 months later, along with the sixties dream of making a better world through love and peace. The Doors performed their last concert in December of that year, and Jim Morrison died the following July. It’s incredible to think the Stones and Dylan are still writing and playing music 40 years on, in many ways better than ever.

After my second year of going to Gloucester for the weekend of ‘the blues’ I had a very strong feeling that I wanted to persuade my local council to organise a similar annual event. Just imagine - if every council in the country had an annual blues festival so that on any given weekend you could just go off somewhere new and interesting and spend a blues weekend with a Saturday night stopover in a B & B, or camp if it was in the summer (!) - how brilliant that would be.

And it has to be the blues. Pop and rock just wouldn’t draw the right people or create the right atmosphere. Everybody needs to get to know the blues, and the real soul music of every nation and every continent. Pop and rock audiences, on the other hand, in this country at least, probably need to be contained within closed venues where you pay to go in. I’m thinking now of the sortsof idiots who were drawn by mere curiosity to the recent Dr John free gig at the O2 - they certainly weren’t there for the music. What a nightmare it would be to get mixed up with a huge crowd of them in some park or town square. It was bad enough having to rub shoulders with just a small number of those hyperactive nitwits at the O2.

It’s the sheer variety of forms and styles that makes the blues so interesting. It can be one individual on a piano or keyboard, or on an electric or acoustic guitar, or it can be a huge band like Jules Holland’s excellent rhythm and blues orchestra, with all sorts of combinations in between those extremes.

It was interesting that it took Eavis so long to get the bug. What did it for me was going to pubs in my local area and seeing blues bands like John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac and Chicken Shack, who are still cranking out the good stuff all these years later - because the blues, once it gets into your soul, just has to come out if you’re a musician. And if you’re not able to express it through an instrument or through your voice then you just have to kick back and enjoy it being played by somebody else, preferably loud and live.



Shocking stuff on a Panorama special last night about Karen Matthews, who’s been found guilty of kidnapping her own daughter, Shannon. How’s that go again?

She’s had 7 kids by five different fathers and has never done a day’s work in her life. The really shocking bits for me, apart from this fucking evil moron kidnapping her own daughter and getting the whole town out looking for her, was the state of the house they all lived in. Jesus! Now I’m not what you’d call a tidy person, but her place was just a fucking dump. Unbelievable. As someone on the radio today noticed, she really is a northern for-real Waynetta Slob.

The folks who were talking about the case on Panorama last night and on the radio this morning were speaking as though this sort of family has been undiscovered until now. As though this sort of child poverty, destitution, neglect and abuse has been totally hidden away and not known about. Presumably they thought that Wayne and Waynetta and baby Frogmella were figments of Harry Enfield’s over-active imagination.

Well now they know. The underclass is real, and thousands of poor kids are growing up in chaotic households with retarded and emotionally crippled parents, most of whom are no more than overgrown kids themselves, with heads full of desperate idiotic thoughts and no real understanding of themselves, the world around them, or anything at all, really.

And I’m not talking here about the generality of people who make up the working classes, who tend to have higher levels of emotional intelligence and spiritual intelligence than your average affluenza-afflicted member of the bourgeoisie, in my experience.

What the world needs to wise up to is the desperate state of the poor sods who’ve grown up with emotionally crippled and retarded parents and went to schools where the development of personal, social, emotional and spiritual intelligence wasn’t even on the agenda. Schools where ‘the curriculum’ consisted of the traditional subjects, and nothing else.

So what’s going to happen now? Will this dreadful story create a groundswell of demand for proper, effective intervention, both for the parents and for the kids within school settings? Will such interventions be properly resourced? I’m not holding my breath.


Japanese Stuff

1. “The idea that blood type defines our personality, temperament and ability to mingle is routinely dismissed as nonsense, but that has not stopped four books on the subject from occupying Japan's top 10 bestseller list for the past year.

Mainly bought by twenty- and thirtysomething women, the books reflect Japan's obsession with blood typology.

About 90% of Japanese know their blood type, often before they know how to tie their shoelaces. About 40% are type A, 30% are O, 20% are B and 10% are AB.

Some experts explain blood typology's central place in the Japanese psyche by pointing to the rough similarity between the distribution of blood types and social classes in feudal Japan: the strong-willed samurai (O) and mild-mannered farmers (A), and smaller numbers of sensitive artisans (AB) and earthy tradesmen (B).

But Tatsuya Sato, an associate professor of psychology at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, dismissed the blood type-as-personality theory as "superstition".

“Many Japanese adults have lost their knowledge of self, so they need books to tell them how to behave," says Sato.

Type A Reserved and prone to worry, sensitive perfectionists such as Britney Spears and Adolf Hitler.
Type O Decisive, self-confident, curious, and ideal for sport, including Elvis Presley and the Queen.
Type B Cheerful caring, flamboyant free-thinkers such as Jack Nicholson.
Type AB High-maintenance, distant, suited to arts, such as Mao Zedong"

2. "First identified in Japan a century ago, umami is a subtle flavour which makes certain savoury foods intensely satisfying. But it is only now taking Europe's kitchens by storm.

Umami - the so-called "fifth taste" (after the western traditional four: sweet, sour, salt and bitter) - is 100 years old this year. It is unlikely, however, that anyone will make an umami-flavoured cake to celebrate. While the word translates from Japanese as "deliciousness", umami is characterised by a satisfyingly meaty, savouriness.

The term umami was first coined in 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese scientist who was researching the taste of dashi, a stock made from seaweed and used in many Japanese dishes. Ikeda discovered that the secret to the taste was the presence of high levels of an amino acid called glutamate in the stock, which gives it its unique brothy character.

Alexis Gauthier, executive head chef at the Michelin-starred Roussillon restaurant in London has a number of umami-rich dishes on his menu such as green asparagus rolled in Parmesan, brown butter and chicken jus, or crispy cured pancetta, purple artichokes, baby onions and confit tomatoes with red-wine vinegar dressing. "It usually only takes the addition of one ingredient such as parmesan or veal jus or grilled bacon," he says. "You know when umami ingredients have been added. There is no word for it but 'exquisite!'"

"Even though it was a Japanese professor who put a name to it, the French have been using foods that are high in umami for centuries, such as veal stock to add flavour to a dish - it just never had a name before. I think the understanding of it is still a relatively new and exciting thing in the UK, unlike places such as New York where diners now go out looking to score umami hits."

It certainly is a sensationally moreish flavour. "I came across it about two or three years ago when I was doing some research into taste for a documentary about umami where we tested how it could be practically used in kitchens," says Chris Horridge, Michelin-starred chef from The Bath Priory. "We made two plates of a red mullet dish and two of a venison dish. They were identical apart from the fact that one from each had a higher umami content - there was extract of mushroom in one and parmesan in another, hidden among the rest of the food. Then we had professional tasters come in to see which version of the dish they preferred. Every single one went for the dishes higher in umami."

If you want to experiment with umami in your kitchen at home, you won't have to look hard to find ingredients that can up the glutamate content of your dishes. Research has shown that combining different elements that deliver umami (ie mixing sources of glutamate, inosinate and guanylates) can enhance the flavour of a dish by a factor of eight. Key common ingredients rich in umami include fish, such as sardines (glutamate 280mg/100g and inosinate 193mg/100g) or mackerel (inosinate 215mg/100), meats such cured hams (glutamate 337mg/100g) and vegetables including ripe tomatoes (glutamate 246mg/100g). Sauces such as Bovril, soy sauce and anchovy sauce will all provide over 500mg of glutamate per 100g and parmesan cheese contains small white glutamate crystals, providing about 1200mg/100g. However, when you compare these values with some varieties of kombu (the seaweed used in dashi stocks) which can give up to 3190mg of glutamate per 100g, you can see why it was this particular foodstuff which drew Dr Ikeda's attention, leading to his identification of the ultimate elusive flavour."

Amazing. Only in the Guardian. Funny old world.

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