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Friday, 27 June 2014

The day of the Summer Solstice when Kasabian came to town

There's some lovely parks in Leicester - grand, ornate parks laid out  by the Victorians, so that the masses could get out into the fresh air on their day of rest and relax.
Victoria Park  just outside the city centre isn't one of the grand ones, but there's over sixty acres and it's a lovely space to walk, to play tennis, to play football or just relax in any season. I love it in Autumn...


It's a very open space, where in winter, the icy winds can tear you in two... but during the balmy days of last week , two kilometres of huge, three metre high barriers were erected, enclosing about forty acres of the park...

They were there for this....

Kasabian, the Leicester band with the big attitude, four number one albums and a very loyal following  were back in the city for a party. A very big party - of fifty thousand people who streamed into the park in the blistering heat on a scented tide of sunscream, bodyspray and beer to get their places near the front

Support acts were Beardyman, Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe and Australian band Jagwa Ma, who only got together in 2011 in Sydney. Their sound for me just suits the sunshine...especially on "Come Save me" which is a sort of Beach boys on crack tribute...


As the late afternoon became evening, the temperature cooled but the audience warmed up as Rudimental took to the stage


Then as the sky changed, the spot monkeys climbed up to do their  jobs

And at long last Kasabian took to the stage ..and there was a  genuine sense of anticipation as the
 bright pink backdrop, mimicing the album artwork of 48.13 , electronically counted down to the performance. I was in the middle of the crowd...headphones on , live on BBC 's The Beat with Dean Jackson, describing the mood, the day, and audience reaction.


Tom Meighan, Kasabian's lead singer is not known for his modesty or reticence....and he swaggered around the stage singing his heart out, genuinely seeming so proud of what the band had achieved in getting this event put on in their home city.
Serge Pizzorno had previously promised us all that this homecoming show will be "the greatest thing we have ever done" was he right? Well yes, it was the best live show I've seen the band perform, and I've seen them about six or seven times.Technically so good, the vocals were as clear as you like, the girls on strings played their hearts out, Serge danced more than I've seen him do before...and the band enjoyed themselves. From the very first song "Bumblebee" , they romped through a large proportion of their back catalogue...treating the audience who were dancing along and singing to their hearts content.

Halfway through though, I had another live insert to do...and Dean Jackson asked if Tom Meighan was talking much in between tracks .....all I could say on live radio , was that he was saying a few words . I couldn't have repeated most of them...the f word is Tom's favourite adjective, noun and verb...

But after that , there was time to enjoy the last few tracks at the side of park...

and have a laugh with BBC Radio 's Ed Stagg....who'd I bumped into earlier....

After that, I watched fifty thousand people walk off into the night, singing, shouting, as I sat in my little satellite truck waiting to be allowed out of the production control area and off the park...and marked the end of the summer solstice in a queue.

Today's track just has to be one from Kasabian, doesn't it? So here's "Re Wired" ...and their video makes me chuckle....


Saturday, 14 June 2014

A hot day at BBC Gardeners World Live

Was it really a year ago I came to the BBC Gardeners World Live show at Birmingham's NEC? Well yes it was, and doesn't time fly by?
The normally soul destroying, packed in like sardines, bus ride from the outer wastelands of the NEC car park, was an absolute delight this year thanks to Sue, our driver. With a West Midlands accent and a gravelly voice which hinted that she may smoke a hundred Marlborough a day, she kept up a non stop cabaret as she drove to us to the show...and actually got the sardines laughing and even talking to each other. Top marks Sue...
You can tell the real GWLive fans - the excitement was palpable as they almost ran towards the entrance gates, unfolding their jumbo trollies as they did so, eyes scanning the horizon for plants. Rare plants and loos.
I took things a little more steadily, and enjoyed a casual wander through the show gardens first of all and as it was very early, managed to get a really good look at all of them.
The Twenty One Senses was a garden which appealed to definitely more than Aristotle's five senses. Such a vibrant, cheerful garden by Yvonne Matthews and Andrew Richards which embodied sight, smell (not just the fragrance from the plants) , taste as they began to cook, touch, and balance in the planting .

And I just loved this border...

 And it was my sense of smell which drew me to the Spice garden....plants from the Middle East , Africa, Asia and the Americas with homage to the  ships which brought their precious cargoes of exotic spices back to England and Birmingham. A very thoughtful and cleverly designed , not to mention aromatic, garden  which suddenly made me feel very hungry.

By now, the heat was intensifying the wafts of scent drifting along from the plants....and the Kitchen Garden Talks tent, situated right next to a Pimms stand   was looking increasing be able to sit in the shade, sip a drink and listen to the ever gorgeous Phil Vickery.

That man has such a lovely way with him. Self deprecating, interesting stories and some banter between him and Jim. That's Jim Buttress, the former royal gardener who has bloomed into a real TV personality in BBC 2's The Big Allotment Challenge .

But let's get back to  Phil...and why not? I interviewed him eight or so years ago when I had a spell as presenter of our lunchtime show. He was so charming , and told me the first love of his life was a Bridget.

Out in the sunshine was a very easy on the eye garden which attracted me - firstly because everything was so accessible to buy, and also because there were a couple of garden loungers in there. An important part of anyone's garden surely? Down the Garden is a garden for all ages.

It's a given that the RHS Marquee is a teeming mass of noise, colour, scent and brio. Some of the displays were beautifully bold


But there were two gardens which caught my imagination and my heart at BBC Gardeners World in the RHS Marquee and one outside. Both commemorated the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of World War 1.

Now this is a subject very close to my heart. As regular readers of this blog may remember, my great uncle Percy was killed at the age of 19 in Flanders, and for a number of months I've been working on a BBC radio series called World War 1 At Home.

So I was very interested to see how the war would be interpreted through garden design. Firstly, Birmingham City Council's display in conjunction with the British Legion and the charity Thrive was a tour de terms of scale and attention to detail.

Yes , there were poppies, but so much more....we walked past the sandbags...


into the display, where we walked on duckboards ...through the sombre shades of a recreation of a trench while overhead grassy planes hovered overhead.

before coming into the brightness

Really, it was quite remarkable.

Outside,  I also was struck by the stark simplicity of Andy Tudbury's garden "We shall remember them". It's a place to sit, to be silent....and this garden really is a labour of love for him.

Firstly, two of his ancestors died in World war 1, both only in their twenties. Secondly, Andy was commissioned to do this only two weeks before the opening day. Two weeks to design, to source plants, a sculpture...and build the garden. Talking to him , he admitted he's had sleepless nights and it has been hard work, but the pride on his face as he showed me around, and the admiring sounds from visitors has proved it's been worthwhile.

The rosemary for remembrance planted by the seat, and the ghost like swaying of the silver white planting were so effective...

At BBC Gardeners World Live, there really is so much to see and inspire...ideas to mull over, new plants to fawn over...and even though we had to queue to get on the bus  to take us back to the outer wastelands of the car park, there was still lots to see, as I shamelessly ogled the jumbo trolleys and bags of other visitors to see what they had been tempted to buy...

Please note...although I work for the BBC, I am not paid to go to go this show or write about it..I visit the show and write about it, because  I love gardens and gardening, and I want to!

Friday, 6 June 2014

D Day

Today is the 70th anniversary of D Day, a turning point in World War  II, where the bravery of the Allied troops changed the course of the war, and of history. A day when 4,087 Allied soldiers died.

It's a very emotional day for those former soldiers who are fit enough to return to Normandy, to see their fellow men, to accept the gratitude of so many, for what surely must be the last time.

It's an emotional day too for the families whose loved ones weren't able to return, and for those who survived as they see their relatives  struggle with their memories.

Over the last few years I've been very privileged to meet some of our D Day heroes, and what will I take away with me from meeting them is their sheer bravery, and the way that D Day and their wartime experiences are never far from their minds.

On Wednesday I was in North West Leicestershire to meet Roy Howe who was 19 on D Day.

He was a torpedo man who had already endured months working on the Russian convoy ships. On the morning of 6th June, he was relaying messages from shore to ship, but in the afternoon, he had a different job. He had to bring the wounded and dying back to his ship, the Serepice.

Roy and others like him saw things that no teenagers should see. And he still sees those dying and wounded in his dreams, even when he's awake. His tears run down his cheeks as he speaks, and as he then recounts the horrors of the Russian convoys, the tears fall faster and all I can do is hold the microphone and try not to sniffle and cry too.

 And I remember a good number of years ago interviewing the Right Reverend Maurice Wood, a former Bishop of Norwich. He was living in  a "home for decaying clergyman" as he termed it when I first met him. I was there to talk to him about something completely different, but as I was about to leave, I saw a huge leather bound book.

 "That's my prayer book " he said ...and as he opened the book and leafed carefully through the hundreds of pages, I saw it was no ordinary prayer book. On each page there was a list of names...people who he prayed for each day with dates alongside. I saw the dates on the earlier pages....June 1944. It was then he told me he was a marine commando chaplain and landed with his men on D Day and one of his closest friends was killed as soon as landing on the beach. his name is in that book, as  well as hundreds of others  killed during the landings .

Maurice died back in 2007 at the age of 90, but I will never forget him.

And that's the whole point of today...not to forget the sacrifices that were made seventy years ago. To think about the men and women who were placed in impossible situations, who did their best fighting for a cause. To say thank salute their heroism, and remember not just the ones who lay in row upon row in those immaculate French cemeteries, but the ones who came back.. the ones who can still, to this day, never forget what happened.

If you'd like to listen to Roy Howe, and two others...Ken West and Eric Newby talk about their memories...then click here...