Best Concert So Far!

(London, England, U.K.)

On this music-oriented tour of England, I was trying to experience a variety of music venues and formats. One venue that’s hard to arrange in advance is the small pub…but I managed to find and book something 5 months ago. I’m really glad I did, because it ended up being the most enjoyable concert of the tour so far.

The venue was the Half Moon in Putney, located just under an hour by bus from my hotel. The Half Moon accommodates only about 200 people for concerts but has hosted some names you may know: The Rolling Stones, The Who, Elvis Costello, U2, the Yardbirds and Kate Bush for starters. In fact, many of these artists have even had residencies at the Half Moon. It’s just one of those legendary venues that musicians love to play even though it is tiny.

Fans in front of the Half Moon stage, when I first arrived
Fans in front of the Half Moon stage, when I first arrived

So who did I see here? The name of the band was Los Pacaminos. The name may mean nothing – they have only released 2 proper albums after more than twenty years together. I don’t think they’ve ever played outside of Europe and I don’t think they’ve ever had a hit. However, they contain some of the very best professional musicians in England…including one who you might know.

I didn’t really follow Paul Young’s career in the 1980s. I knew he had a bunch of hits: Come Back and Stay, Every Time You Go AwayOh Girl, Don’t Dream It’s Over (a Crowded House cover, with Paul Carrack!) and Love of the Common People, to name a few. The songs were squarely aimed at the mainstream and he was very successful with them.

Paul Young gets saluted by guitarist Jamie Moses
Paul Young gets saluted by guitarist Jamie Moses

However, Paul Young also has a passion for rootsy Tex-Mex music. In 1993, he formed Los Pacaminos (a nonsense word, referring to “pack ’em in”) with a bunch of musicians who had been in his bands and also liked this kind of music. They are still together today and that’s who I was going to see at the Half Moon!

I didn’t know what to expect.  I read that “La Bamba” and “Wooly Bully” generally made appearances but the rest was a mystery to me.  My expectations were low, the ticket price was by far the lowest of the concerts I’m seeing, and I was a little unsure about spending a evening in an unfamiliar bar far from “my” part of London.

Paul Young salutes me
Paul Young salutes me

Any anxiousness was gone by the end of the first song. They came on stage with suitably “western” hats, like cowboys.  They played a combination of originals and slightly obscure but very fun covers of songs from their musical influences…such as Doug Sahm (of the Texas Tornados and the Sir Douglas Quintet) and even Johnny “Guitar” Watson.  They even tried a few synchronized “moves” like you would see from guitar instrumental bands in the 1960s.

The lyrics were sometimes similar to those you’d find in country music (there was the occasional mention of “hurtin'”, “drinkin'” and “cheatin’ hearts”) and there was a pedal steel guitar and an accordion…but the arrangements had Mexican touches and were rocked up far more than you’d ever get in country music.   They all played well but special mention must be made of their guitarist Jamie Moses:  he’s played with Queen and clearly has the chops to play even the most ostentatious rock guitar parts.

A mock serious moment for Paul Young; he's trying hard not to laugh
A mock serious moment for Paul Young; he’s trying hard not to laugh

Most importantly, it was blindingly obvious that these guys loved the music and were having a great time.  A couple of times during the show, they’d play a short version of “Tequila” and a tray of tequila shots would materialize on the stage.   Despite this, they stayed happy and nobody in either the band or the audience became a problem.  The joy was infectious and the 2+ hour gig was over in a flash.

I picked up a CD signed by all of the band members and look forward to listening when I get back to Kingston.  If you  ever get a chance to see Los Pacaminos, I highly recommend it.  [Click on the link for a “studio” version of Woolly Bully by Los Pacaminos!]

“The Commitments” Musical Review

(London, England, U.K.)

One of my favourite movies is “The Commitments”. It came out more than 20 years ago and was based on the Roddy Doyle book of the same name. It’s about a motley crew from the wrong side of Dublin who, against all odds, became a shockingly proficient soul music band. There is no Hollywood ending to the movie but there are some truly electrifying musical performances.

As I may have mentioned in my blogs from Dublin, the final performance of “Try A Little Tenderness” has to stand as one of the most powerful musical moments ever captured on film (and record). I hesitate to say this because I may be accused of blasphemy…but it might even improve on Otis Redding’s original.  Regardless of which version you prefer, it has got to be one of the very best soul songs ever written.

Just around the corner from the Palace Theatre, near Cambridge Circus in London
Just around the corner from the Palace Theatre, near Cambridge Circus in London

Having been to musicals in both Toronto and New York City, I really wanted to see one in London’s West End. When I heard earlier this year that “The Commitments” had finally been adapted to the stage, there was no doubt that I had to see it when in London.  Among other things, I think it would have been much more difficult to reproduce the thick North Dublin accents with a North American cast.  Of course, there is also no guarantee that this musical would ever cross the ocean like the movie did.

The musical is playing at the Palace Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue.  It’s a big old theatre with ornate decor and rather steep upper levels.  My seat was near the front of the first balcony and I had a perfect view of the entire stage.

The Palace Theatre in London's West End
The Palace Theatre in London’s West End

In my opinion, the first half of the show didn’t work quite as well as the movie.  The band (deliberately) makes lots of mistakes and missteps as it struggles to become a unit:  this makes for a good movie but it didn’t come across that well in the musical format.

After the interval, however, the show redeemed itself. The second half of the show features a more polished band as well as more complete versions of songs.  When performed well, a live musical can engage all of the senses and be more effective than a movie…and for the second act, it was.

Evening Christmas shopping on Oxford Street, located between the theatre and my hotel in London
Evening Christmas shopping on Oxford Street, located between the theatre and my hotel in London

Including some songs not heard in the original film (“Papa Was A Rolling Stone” being a surprise as well as one of the strongest performances), this may have been a jukebox musical but it was highly effective.  Similar to the “concert in heaven” that ends the musical “Buddy” (about Buddy Holly), the last 4 songs are not really part of the narrative…they are just complete and furious renditions of soul classics.

The best was saved for last.  I read the previews and knew that “Try a Little Tenderness” would eventually make an appearance.  Sure enough, it was the big finale and the cast milked it for all it was worth.   In terms of impact, it was just as overwhelming as the movie version.

The final verdict?  You can’t go too far wrong with either version, especially if you are a fan of soul music.  Ideally, you’d be able to see the first half in movie form and second half live on stage…but, if you’re not in London, watching it on DVD will still give you a pretty good idea of what it’s all about.

Paul Carrack Concert Review

(Southend-on-Sea, England, U.K.)

I don’t think I had ever been to a proper theatre concert in Europe before; my sole European rock concert experience was seeing Paul Simon at a Budapest soccer stadium way back in 1991. That was a great show but hardly typical!

The Cliffs Pavilion on a late afternoon in November (Southend-on-Sea, England)
The Cliffs Pavilion on a late afternoon in November (Southend-on-Sea, England)

The Cliffs Pavilion has a spectacular location overlooking the sea but the “modern” façade really doesn’t look too inspiring on an overcast November afternoon.  Fortunately, it looks much better on the inside and holds 1,630 spectators in the main theatre.

The opening act was a young singer/guitarist named Elliott Morris.  As yet unsigned, he is an impressive guitar virtuoso.  Not only does he have impressive string technique, he also uses the guitar as a percussive instrument at the same time.  He described it as “slappy and bangy” and he closed off his short set with a fascinating version of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”.

The Cliffs Pavilion stage, just before the concert started (Southend-on-Sea, England)
The Cliffs Pavilion stage, just before the concert started (Southend-on-Sea, England)

Paul Carrack came on with a 7-piece band and played a main set of about an hour and forty minutes.  Drawing equally from his “greatest hits” and his more recent albums, Paul was definitely playing to the converted.  He has played this venue several times before and most of the attendees were “return customers”.    A consummate professional, Carrack ensured that the focus remained on his voice…still fully intact after more than 40 years of professional singing.  There were very few extended solos or “jazz odysseys”.

Paul Carrack sings "The Living Years"
Paul Carrack sings “The Living Years”

Carrack has certain “must play” songs, so we eventually heard “Tempted”, “How Long”, “The Living Years” and other highlights from his long career.  Because the vocals were so clear and the sound was so balanced, you could actually understand all of the lyrics.  They clearly affected the fellow beside me, who was indeed wiping away tears during “The Living Years”.  With the audience supplying most of the backing choral-style vocals, it was one of those special musical moments where you can feel a chill running down your spine.

Of the newer material, the cover of Brenda Lee’s “I’m Losing You” was probably the highlight.  But the crowd enthusiastically greeted each of the new songs;  clearly, they were familiar with Carrack’s latest album.  He also felt confident enough in it to close the show with “Rise and Shine”, the title track.

Ever wondered what happened to David Hasselhoff after Baywatch?  He's playing in a Peter Pan pantomime in Southend-on-Sea!
Ever wondered what happened to David Hasselhoff after Baywatch? He’s playing in a Peter Pan pantomime in Southend-on-Sea!

After the handful of encore songs, the concert was over and the crowd politely filed out.  Actually, the crowd was quite polite throughout the show.  They seemed a little more reserved than the crowds back home in Kingston!

The final assessment?  It was definitely among my top ten concerts, although my expectations for it were also quite high.  I hope that the rest of the shows will be as professionally performed and have the same sound quality!

Next up:  I’m off to London, with a West-End (London’s Broadway equivalent) show on my very first night there!

Let The Music Begin

(Southend-on-Sea, England, U.K.)

November 25 was my final night in Cambridge. As noted in my previous blog posting, I spontaneously bought a ticket to see a musical put on by Cambridge University students.  I knew nothing else about it.

The musical had the somewhat postmodern name “[Title of Show]”; it is “a musical about creating a musical about creating a musical”. This odd premise really makes your head spin at times, as the distinctions between performance, reality and time gets blurrier as the show progresses.

The Eagle Bar - this is where two Cambridge professors regularly went for lunch...and also where they announced that they had discovered DNA
The Eagle Bar – this is where two Cambridge professors regularly went for lunch…and also where they announced that they had discovered DNA

It was a very intimate theatre with a capacity of about 100 people (although this mid-week show attracted significantly less than that), so there was no chance of feeling distant from the stage.  In fact, the stage was on the same level as the front row of seats.

While it was not as polished as a Broadway production, the show was amusing enough and set the stage (heh) for the professional musical performances that I’ll be watching over the following 4 nights. In fact, I even made my British theatrical debut during the Cambridge musical: one scene required the actors to have an audience member film them for a YouTube video. I happened to be closest to the stage and was thus drafted without warning into the non-speaking role of “videographer”. I was handed a cell-phone and completed my role without incident.

View of King's College Chapel from the street (Cambridge, England)
View of King’s College Chapel from the street (Cambridge, England)

November 26 saw me travel by train from Cambridge to Southend-on-Sea for the Paul Carrack concert I discussed a few posts ago.   The Cliffs Pavilion in the Westcliff district of Southend is the theatre hosting the show and my cozy B&B is precisely 1 minute and 25 seconds by foot from the Pavilion.

I'm staying at the Trinity Hotel, a B&B in Westcliff-on-Sea.  The waterfront is perhaps half-a-block down the street.
I’m staying here, at the Trinity Hotel, a B&B in Westcliff-on-Sea. The waterfront is perhaps half-a-block down the street.

I wandered around both Westcliff and downtown Southend during the afternoon.  It is a decent-sized city that also doubles as a seaside resort…at least during the warmer months.  Its claim to fame is having “the longest pleasure pier in the world” – it stretches out more than a mile into the North Sea.  There are rides, unhealthy food, games of chance, tacky trinkets…the sorts of things you would hope to find in a place like this.  While it is the off-season and Southend looks a little deserted in places, there are also some very nice neighbourhoods in the city.

On the waterfront at Southend-on-Sea, England
Near the waterfront at Southend-on-Sea, England

I am also pleased to report that I managed to acquire some vinyl records at a well-stocked store near the pedestrian-only High Street.  The street was full of Christmas shoppers and Christmas trees with blue lights.

High Street in Southend-on-Sea, England
Christmas Shopping on the High Street in Southend-on-Sea, England

As my B&B is so close to the theatre, I had dinner at a fish restaurant just a few steps away.  I rarely eat fish but thought that this would be the best time to have some, because this is the closest I’ll get to the sea during this trip.  It was a cut above your typical “chippy”: my haddock (and chips) was almost all fish and no batter, rather than the other way around.  I felt properly English, having upscale fish and chips with a nice cider by the sea.

Stay tuned for a review of the Paul Carrack concert!

Celebration of the Eel

(Cambridge, England, U.K.)

On November 25, I visited the very small city of Ely.  Ely (pronounced “eelie”) is located about 20 minutes from Cambridge by train but feels much further away because of how quiet it is during the colder months.

As you can see from the photo at the top of the post, they’ve got an eel thing happening in Ely.  It turns out that the name “Ely” derives from the fact that it was swimming in eels when it was first established.  It’s not an especially pretty picture for someone who is not too keen on snakes or slimy fish, given that eels are slimy snake-like fish.  At one point, you could even pay your taxes in eels.  Jellied eels were a popular treat here and it is still possible to get eel pies and eel stew in local restaurants.  When I heard that there was even a self-guided “Eel Trail” walking tour…well,  I just had to go.

Oliver Cromwell's House (and also the tourist office) in Ely, England
Oliver Cromwell’s House (and also the tourist office) in Ely, England

I picked up my Eel Trail pamphlet at the Ely tourist office.   It is located in a 13th century building called Oliver Cromwell’s House…so named because Oliver Cromwell actually lived in it, beginning in 1636.  With the tourist office only being open from 11:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. during the winter season, I realized that I wouldn’t be seeing many other tourists in Ely.

Ely's High Street is relatively tourist-free in late November
Ely’s High Street is relatively tourist-free in late November

Ely’s claim to fame is its massive cathedral.  Work began on it in 1081; it seems terribly disproportionate to the size of the city but I suspect that Ely was probably very important a thousand years ago.  Why else would the cathedral be 161 metres long with a 66 metre-high tower?

Front of the Ely Cathedral, with a Crimean War cannon in the foreground (Ely, England)
Front of the Ely Cathedral, with a captured Crimean War cannon in the foreground (Ely, England)

I was hoping to find some eely Ely postcards for some friends but had no luck in that regard.  I continued along the Eel Trail route and took lots of photographs in the mist.  I was really hoping to see eels leaping out of the water when I made it down to the “River Great Ouse”.  Alas, it seems that eels don’t leap out of the water like salmon…or maybe there just aren’t as many as there used to be.  The only eels I saw were the many sculpted eels installed along the Eel Trail.  On the live animal front, I can only report seeing highly food-oriented ducks, geese and swans.

I came across the only other tourists in Ely, near the side of the massive Cathedral.
I finally located the only other tourists in Ely, near the side of the massive Cathedral.

While I enjoyed my walk on the Eel Trail, I ended up returning to Cambridge a little earlier than expected.  It was lunchtime in Ely but a huge breakfast at my B&B left me with no midday appetite at all.  A promising local museum was also closed, as Tuesdays are devoted solely to school groups.

Silver Street in Ely, England
Silver Street in Ely, England

Once I got back to Cambridge, I decided to look for a newly-opened record shop that was literally on the “other side of the tracks”.  I know it’s a cliché but it really was a completely different world over there:  the posh colleges and inviting restaurants had been replaced by charity shops, vacant storefronts and betting offices.  I managed to pick up some postage stamps but otherwise returned to my B&B empty-handed.

I didn’t mind the relatively quiet day – this was the start of five straight nights of musicals and concerts!  First up was the Cambridge University Musical Theatre production of “[Title of Show]”.  Yes, that’s the title…stay tuned for a review!

The Colleges of Cambridge University

(Cambridge, England, U.K.)

On my first full day here I went on a walking tour of the colleges of Cambridge University.

Cambridge University goes back to the 13th century but much of a student’s life here revolves around the college rather than the university as a whole.  There are 31 colleges within the university; some are more prestigious than others but the degrees themselves are all granted by the university.

Our tour included admission to two of the more prominent colleges:  King’s College and Queens’ College (yes, some of the colleges charge admission…and the apostrophe goes after the “s” in “Queens” because more than one queen founded that college).  At Queens’, we crossed the “Mathematical Bridge”, saw some “punting on the Cam” and saw our first Cambridge courtyard.

The "Mathematical Bridge" at Queens' College, Cambridge University
The “Mathematical Bridge” at Queens’ College, Cambridge University

The highlight, however, was our visit to King’s College.  The major landmark here is the King’s College Chapel:  it is positively ancient and looks completely unlike anything you’d see on a Canadian college campus.  “Chapel” makes it sound small:  don’t be fooled!   One can’t help wondering how the tall and narrow building has managed to remain standing for more than 500 years (and how they managed to build it in the first place).

Inside the Chapel was a painting by Rubens; when it was acquired, it was the most expensive painting ever bought.   But King’s College is impressive outside of the Chapel too; the photo at the top of this post is merely of the façade facing the street in front of King’s College.

One end of the King's College Chapel (Cambridge, England)
One end of the King’s College Chapel (Cambridge, England)

It also seems that there is a bit of a rivalry “between Cambridge and another school about 70 miles west of here.  I can’t remember the name of it,” said our guide, knowing full well that it was Oxford.  He did tell us that Cambridge has produced twice as many Nobel Prize winners as that other school…in fact, it has produced more than any *country* other than the U.S., the U.K. and Germany.

Descendant of the "Isaac Newton Apple Tree", growing below his former room at Trinity College, Cambridge University
Descendant of the “Isaac Newton Apple Tree”, growing below his former room at Trinity College, Cambridge University

After leaving the tour, I walked down to Trinity College and took a picture of an apple tree.  Why?  It is the direct descendant of an apple tree from Isaac Newton’s day…and it was an apple falling from this tree that led Newton to his groundbreaking work with gravity.  Newton isn’t the only famous Cambridge graduate:  others include Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking, Prince Charles, John Milton, William Wordsworth, Salman Rushdie, A.A. Milne, Francis Bacon, Jane Goodall and John Cleese!   I could add many, many more; check out this link on Wikipedia for a comprehensive list.

One of the courtyards at Sidney College, Cambridge University
One of the courtyards at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge University

It is possible to wander into some colleges without paying:  Corpus Christi college opens for a couple of hours each afternoon, while I managed to wander through Sidney Sussex and Clare colleges without any problem.  And after having been to Harvard (in Cambridge, Massachusetts!) a couple of summers ago, I have to say that downtown Cambridge (England) has a much more “integrated” campus: it isn’t set off from the town as much as Harvard.   If I ever decide that I need to complete another degree, I’d like to study in a place like Cambridge.

Inside the first courtyard of Clare College, with King's College Chapel in the background
Inside the first courtyard of Clare College, with King’s College Chapel in the background

After having a light take-out “Turkish Pizza” for lunch, I was ready for a more substantial meal in the evening.  I found a Moroccan placed called “Bedouin” near my B&B – it was wonderfully atmospheric inside and the meal was delicious.  I think the “bastilla” (a pastry filled with warm spiced chicken, and then dusted with sugar and cinnamon) was the best appetizer I’ve had this year.

Pastilla appetizer at Bedouin (Cambridge, England)
Bastilla appetizer at Bedouin restaurant  (Cambridge, England)

Stay tuned for more on Cambridge and a journey to a nearby ancient city!

Greetings from East Anglia!

(Cambridge, England, U.K.)

Having indulged in most of my sports interests (especially hockey and skiing) already during this year of travel, I decided that it was finally time to have a music-themed trip.

I’ve always enjoyed reading British music journalism and, as a result, have followed some prominent British musicians who don’t have as large a fan base in North America.  Alas, the economic realities of the music business mean that relatively few British musicians are able to tour anywhere near my home in Kingston.  If the music wasn’t going to come to Kingston, I would have to go to the music!

I've seen a lot of airports this year but haven't taken many pictures in them.  This is the long walk from the terminal to the Heathrow baggage claim.
I’ve seen a lot of airports this year but haven’t taken many pictures in them. This is the long walk from the terminal to the Heathrow baggage claim.

London is the epicentre of the music world here in Britain and I’ll be spending some very intensive days there at the end of this trip. However, I’m easing into things by spending a few days in the famous university town of Cambridge.

I wanted to see one of the ancient universities in England, so it came down to a choice between Oxford and Cambridge. They both had a lot to offer but Cambridge was closer to the location of the Paul Carrack concert that I mentioned in my previous post. My wife and I intend to see some more of England in the future; if I enjoy the Cambridge experience, we may include Oxford in one of our future itineraries.  Or maybe we’ll come back here!

Cambridge has a historic core...but there is also an upscale shopping mall in the middle of it.
Cambridge has a historic downtown core…but there is also an upscale shopping mall in the middle of it.

I only arrived in Cambridge at 3:00 p.m. today so I didn’t have a chance to see much of it by daylight.  After a nap, I went for some Indian food…I am forever searching for a chicken dhansak that rivals the wonderful one I had in Chester, England, back in 2005 (I really like the version served up by Darbar back home in Kingston too).  Tonight’s dhansak was good but not spectacular. The search continues!

After dinner, I walked around the city a bit.  It feels safe and comfortable here; the huge university population also supports a terrific variety of ethnic restaurants.  I had assumed that I’d be eating a lot of Indian food here but I saw too many other interesting places to restrict myself to dhansak (however tempting that might be).

"The Cow" - one of many historic buildings in downtown Cambridge
“The Cow” – one of many historic buildings in downtown Cambridge

Tomorrow, I’m taking a tour of Cambridge’s ancient university colleges and will finally see the city by daylight.  I’m looking forward to sharing some daytime photographs!

Who is Paul Carrack and what does he have to do with this trip?

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

This post includes some additional pictures from my recent visit to Ottawa.  However, the main purpose of this post is to let you know about what’s happening next.

Later today, I will be leaving on another intercontinental flight.  Here’s a long story about one element of the trip…ending with the theme and location of this exciting journey.

In 2003, I saw Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band perform live at Casino Rama (just outside Orillia, Ontario).  It was the first and only time I had seen the ex-Beatle in concert but he was not the most impressive musician in his band that night.  That honour went to Paul Carrack, an immensely-respected vocalist and musician who has remained relatively unknown because his biggest successes have never been in his own name.

End of the Rideau Canal (closed for the winter) in Ottawa, Ontario
End of the Rideau Canal (closed for the winter) in Ottawa, Ontario

His first big hit was with a band called Ace and a song called “How Long”. The title may not be familiar but the song is immediately recognizable once you hear it.  While it’s by no means my favourite Carrack track, it’s a concert mainstay.   Here’s a 1974 performance of How Long from the legendary Midnight Special television show.

El Tucan restaurant in the Vanier area of Ottawa
El Tucan (a.k.a. “Tukan”) restaurant in the Vanier area of Ottawa

After Ace, Paul Carrack was a member of Roxy Music and then joined the legendary Squeeze as a keyboardist and vocalist.  My favourite song from this era is the classic track “Tempted”.   This clip is from the earliest days of music videos;  the video may not have much flash but I always thought that the composition and performance was ahead of the pack.

Paul Carrack is probably best known as the vocalist for Mike and the Mechanics.  Another mainstay of his live shows, and certainly one of his most emotional lyrics, is “The Living Years”.   There is rarely a dry eye in the house when he performs this live; here is the promotional video for it.

A delicious "pollo en mole" (chicken in a chocolate/chile sauce) at El Tucan in Ottawa
A delicious “pollo en mole” (chicken in a chocolate/chile sauce) at El Tucan in Ottawa

Carrack also writes many songs for other performers.  One of his most-heard compositions (“Love Will Keep Us Alive”) was recorded by The Eagles; here is Carrack’s version.   As for songs released as singles in Paul Carrack’s name, some of you may be familiar with “Don’t Shed a Tear” or “I Need You“.

U.S. President Barack Obama apparently bought some cookies at this Byward Market bakery in 2009.  They're still milking it!
U.S. President Barack Obama apparently bought some cookies at this Byward Market bakery in 2009. They’re still milking it!

So what does all this have to do with today’s journey?  Musicians in Ringo’s All-Starr Band are generally restricted to three songs of their own.  As Carrack stole the show with his three well-chosen performances, I have always wanted to see a full-length solo Carrack show.  Alas, since he is most popular in Europe, he rarely tours solo in North America (although he recently completed a tour with Eric Clapton).   In this year of special travels, it only made sense that I try to see Paul Carrack live…and, as a result, one of my activities on this trip is seeing Paul Carrack perform in a small concert hall on the English coast.

Stay tuned for not only the Carrack concert, but some even bigger surprises on my self-guided music tour of Southern England!

A Visit to Ottawa

(Ottawa, Ontario, Canada)

I recently visited Ottawa for a few days, although not as a tourist. The rainy weather, combined with recent events and the relative absence of people on the streets, created a eerie mood that I have never experienced before in our nation’s capital.

Less than two weeks before my visit, an unarmed reservist was brutally murdered at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa. The attacker then went to the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings and began shooting before he was finally brought down in a hail of bullets.  This was only a couple of days after a similar attack in Quebec resulted in the death of another Canadian soldier.

Parliament Hill from a distance (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada)
Parliament Hill from a distance (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada)

After such brazen attacks, it is not surprising that there was a conspicuous police presence near Parliament Hill. On the evening I visited, I counted about 15 RCMP vehicles in the large driveway that circles in front of the Centre Block. Despite this, the public was not prevented from approaching the Parliament Buildings. I’m sure that our group was being closely monitored but the monitoring was done as discreetly as possible. I was able to take many pictures here, although the rain and clouds made it a real challenge.

It would have been easy to shut the gates and prevent any access by the public, particularly since it was about 9:00 p.m. at night and there wasn’t any practical need for the public to be on Parliament Hill. However, I think that the gates were purposely left open to indicate that the country will not be brought to its knees by what appeared to be terrorist acts.

Peace Tower, Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada)
Peace Tower, Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada)

As most of the group members were lawyers, it was only natural that we would also visit the Supreme Court of Canada (see photo at the top of this post). At night, it looked smaller than I remembered. There also was a visible RCMP presence here, something I don’t recall seeing the last time I visited the Supreme Court.

Finally, we walked back to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Here, too, there was a security presence but we were able to walk right up to the Tomb.  One of the group members was familiar with what had happened and pointed out the very place where the reservist was killed. It was unsettling to be there, to say the least, knowing what had happened there just a few days before.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada)
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada)

The emotional charge of this evening understandably overshadowed the rest of my visit to Ottawa. As it doesn’t feel right to include any of the other aspects of my Ottawa visit in this post, I’ll hold on to those details until a later date. Nonetheless, I think it is an important time to visit Ottawa, both to appreciate our nation’s capital and to demonstrate our resilience as Canadians.

More Fun International Music!

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

Several months ago, I posted some links to videos for songs that I have encountered while traveling.  This time around, I’m including links to fun songs I first heard in Canada but would likely be categorized as “international music”.

The first clip is from a brilliant, brave and highly respected South African musician named Johnny Clegg.  He formed his first band (“Juluka”) with another musician named Sipho Mchunu and became a thorn in the side of the Apartheid regime.  Juluka was racially integrated at a time when the separation of races was actually legislated in South Africa.  Clegg went on to form the band “Savuka” and also recorded under his own name but he always maintained racially-integrated bands.  He has produced an impressive body of work in both the Zulu and English languages (generally in the same song)…and he also has a Ph.D. in Anthropology!

My wife and I have seen him (and met him!) in concert twice.  Attending a Johnny Clegg concert is like going to the best university seminar ever, as Clegg provides intelligent commentary on his music and his home country.  Although he enjoyed some commercial success in the 1980s (most notably with “Scatterlings of Africa” from the movie “Rain Man”), I think his latest album “Human” is his most diverse and interesting work yet.   Here’s a track from that album called “Asilazi”:

If you lived through the 1980s, you undoubtedly remember a song called “Africa” by Toto.  It was a huge hit although Toto’s connection with Africa remains somewhat unclear.  I recently came across an unusual cover version of “Africa” – it is by a band called Tukuleur that has roots in Senegal.   There are two important twists to the cover version:  the verses are rapped and all of the lyrics are in French.  The lyrics and video (filmed in Senegal) are quite positive; check it out here:

Senegal has a rich history of music.  Youssou N’Dour was one of the first to be heard in North America but Baaba Maal has also enjoyed some success here.  I was unsure whether a song described as “Senegalese salsa” would work, but it does!  Here’s Baaba Maal’s “African Woman”:

I bought a CD called “Rock Peruano” on my last night in Peru.  I was looking for a compilation of Peruvian rock/pop music and a helpful record store employee in Lima said that this CD would provide a good cross-section of music from the 1990s.  I bought it without listening to a single note.  When I got home, I found the very first track to be the most compelling.  The Spanish lyrics are about Peruvians who have moved to other countries but it is not necessary to understand the lyrics to enjoy the song.  Here is a link to “Cuando Pienses En Volver” by Pedro Suárez Vértiz:

It may seem strange to categorize music from Los Angeles as “international music”.  However, the songs of Ozomatli arise from a collision of musical influences from around the world.  Many of Ozomatli’s songs contain both Spanish and English lyrics, while at least one is in Spanglish!  Unfortunately, they don’t necessarily make videos for their strongest songs, so I’ve selected an odd song in Spanish about poultry.  Here’s “La Gallina”:

My last major trip is just over a week away and I’ve decided to include one more clue:  I’m going to a place where the weather is almost guaranteed to be horrendous!  It definitely won’t look like the photo at the top of this blog…which was taken two summers ago on the Baltic Sea near Helsinki, Finland.