Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Water Torture

And then the sun returned. After the wettest winter, last weekend saw some bright and fresh days that resembled something like spring. Getting back on to the allotment to dig in the winter top-dressing of cow manure was rewarding – but hard - work. Now that the downpours have abated a little, the perpetual wind has been quick to dry off the surface; but that only masks the heaviness of the soil less than half a spade’s length down.

For two months, the less quick-draining corner of my plot has been saturated; torturously, this was where the rotation plan had led the overwintering garlic to be planted. It may have survived its aquatic gestation but I am not counting on it: this week I am digging some sand and shingle in with the cow muck on a corner of the higher ground, and putting in some new Cristo garlic cloves. It could be worse: the fruit farm where I have my allotment is estimating that it will lose 1,000 trees as a result of the roots’ prolonged submersion in standing water.

February is, of course, when the sowing and planting begins: broad beans are already on their way in large-celled seed trays in the greenhouse; I have not planted straight into the soil in an attempt to foil those light-fingered field mice. Seed potatoes are quietly chitting in egg boxes in the shed: I have gone for Foremost as my first earlies and the ever-reliable, rose-red Desiree as a main crop. And Sweet Million tomato and Cayenne chilli pepper seedlings are starting to show their tips on a bright, warm windowsill indoors. Next up is more back-breaking digging, followed by the strangely enjoyable donkey work of planting potatoes and onions.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Siren's Call

All Saints is an imposing church on the corner of The Drive and Eaton Road in Hove. Built as part of the late 19th century Gothic revival, its sandstone exterior and roof of Sussex oak provide it with a subtlety lacking in other Victorian churches with their brutal flint and brick. Once inside, the wide nave and gracefully tall arcades at either side give it a cathedral-like quality; an ideal space, then, for Anna Calvi to project the soaring sound of her swirling and slashing guitar playing and the perfect pitch of her voice.

Calvi, whose superb second album One Breath was released last autumn, completed a short series of British dates in Sussex on Tuesday night before heading across the Channel to play in France, Germany, Switzerland and, her father’s homeland, Italy. Opening with Suzanne and I, one of the two tracks from her eponymous debut album that featured Brian Eno, she then moved on to a trio of the most impressive songs from One Breath: the infectious refrain of Suddenly, the alluring siren’s call of Sing To Me and Cry, a track where Calvi effortlessly moves from Duane Eddy’s twang to Hendrix’s virtuosity. Reverting to her debut album for several songs, and a cover of Elvis’s Surrender, she then continued with the latest album: the menacing break-up song Piece by Piece was followed by the peerless and plaintive Carry Me Over.

Backed by an understated drummer and two multi-instrumentalists – one with hand-pumped harmonium the like of which I have not seen since Nico’s attempts to soothe the warring punks and skins on the Siouxsie and the Banshees tour of 1978 – the sound is complex and clear, and Calvi’s sometimes whispered vocals are listened to in respectful silence by the audience (the lack of an alcohol licence is clearly the best deterrent for gig-chatterers). And the austerity of her image - kohl-eyed mute meets the black and red of the male flamenco dancer – adds to this to create a taut and dramatic atmosphere.

The mood is punctured temporarily when Calvi speaks to announce a Bruce Springsteen cover. But when she dismisses the band and performs a bare-boned version of Fire, the tone of brooding menace is quickly restored. Once the band returns, the final few songs of the evening contain Calvi’s first three singles: 2011’s Desire and Blackout are followed by the set closer, her improbable re-working of the 1951 Frankie Laine hit, Jezebel. And, given the lyrics in this ecclesiastical setting, “if ever the devil was born/without a pair of horns/it was you”, deliciously incongruous.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

People's Pier

When Hastings Pier burnt down in 2010 it had already been closed to the public for four years. If the deserted structure was a harsh reminder that it had seen better days, its blackened and twisted wreckage rendered it a metaphor for the irreversible decline of seaside towns.

Built in 1872, its twin peaks of popularity were between the twentieth century wars, and again in the 1960s and 70s when the end of pier pavilion played host to gigs by a number of high-profile acts. The final Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd performance took place there and the Rolling Stones, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, the Sex Pistols and The Clash all played the pier. After that time, a rapidly changing succession of owners ensured that the pier fell into a spiral of disrepair before closing in 2006.

However, a local campaign to resurrect the pier that had begun after its closure, was given fresh impetus by the fire; now the pier is in local community ownership and on the verge of renovation. With the help of volunteers, fundraisers and local authorities, the Hastings Pier Charity (HCP) has raised £11.4m from the Heritage Lottery Fund and over £2m from other public and institutional sources. But with a funding gap still to fill, a community share scheme has been launched to enable real local involvement in the new Hastings Pier.

HCP is trying to attract 3,000 ordinary people – be they residents of Hastings, St. Leonards, East Sussex or just lovers of Hastings Pier – to become community shareholders in the People’s Pier. It is hoped the community share scheme will raise £500,000 to develop additional facilities on the pier, such as a children’s play area and a microbrewery.

All community shareholders will be members of HCP and, effectively, owners of the pier. Able to attend the AGM and vote and stand for the Board of Directors, all owners will have one vote, irrespective of the number of community shares they have bought. But these are not shares to make a profit - they cannot be sold on. However, if the pier is making a profit in the future, community shareholders could apply to get their investment back. More importantly, though, it is about having a long term stake in a community asset.

Community shares are available at £1 each for a minimum stake of £100 from Hastings Pier Charity. The offer is open until 5th April 2014.