Culture Corner: Episode Five

Welcome to the fifth instalment in our new series, Culture Corner, sharing ideas for cultural activities during these challenging times; from great reads to gripping TV, binge-worthy boxed-sets to stream and ideas for listening (from music you might know to music you might not and some Slow Radio), aiming to keep you engaged, entertained and maybe even amused whether you’re isolating, in lockdown, or looking for ways to keep occupied.

Front cover depicting a large, creepy=looking mansion seen through a wrought-iron gate
Time for something entrancing…

Recent Reads: for admirers of Mervyn Peake’s timeless Gormenghast trilogy, a similar spirit haunts the pages of The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times, Xan Brooks’ debut dreamlike novel, published in 2017. It’s not a charming tale, perhaps – one of the threads running through it is definitely not that at all… – but it’s wonderfully atmospheric, and its mythical, at times surreal, depiction of an England just emerging from the First World War is evocatively drawn, with a cast of memorable characters as quirky, vicious and eccentric as Peake’s enduring panoply of creations.

Winning Watchables: we can all, I’m sure, identify with Zoom fatigue and the tiring nature of communicating via screens; this sense is distilled to wonderful perfection in Staged, the second series of which came to iPlayer recently (the first series is also available on Netflix). Charting the highs and (mostly) lows of two actors trying to rehearse over Zoom, under a hapless director, David Tennant and Michael Sheen (or should that be Michael Sheen and David Tennant ?) bicker, argue, reconcile, shout, plot, play games, laugh and generally do everything but rehearse online, aided by their long-suffering (real-life) partners. The first series, which aired last year, was both inspired by and created during lockdown, and brilliantly reflects the mood-swings to which we’re all accustomed by now; one of the few great things to come out of the current crisis, Staged captures the zeitgeist and holds it up for us to recognise ourselves, our situation and the fact that we’re not alone in what we’re experiencing and how we’re coping…

Available to watch on iPlayer here.

Our new Lockdown Listening is the fiercely creative Time is of the Essence by the late, great saxophonist, Michael Brecker. Backed by a band of musical luminaries including Pat Metheny, Elvin Jones and Bill Stewart, amongst others, and released on the cusp of the Millennium in 1999, it ranges from the punchy syncopation of ‘Sound Off’ to the ambling ‘Timeline,’ the lyrical melancholy of ‘As I Am’ and the busy agility of ‘Dr Slate.’ Featuring Brecker’s inimitable improvisatory style matched by Metheney’s trademark guitar sound, there’s much to relish about this perhaps slightly under-rated album. Listen to how ‘Renaissance Man’ ticks in, already eager with barely-suppressed energy, before the band kicks into an unstoppable groove.

Visionary post-war England; bickering over Zoom; unstoppable jazz grooves; hope you’ve found something new this week…

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