At the match: Bugbrooke St Michaels v Buckingham Town


“Excuse me, do you know which team is which?”  
“Sorry, I was hoping you could tell me …”

This is what happens when a bunch of ground hoppers (half the c.50 crowd seemed to be neutrals or yer-actual-hardcore-hopper) who have a vague notion that Bugbrooke play in yellow and blue have got used to the idea that they play in white and black then see two teams run out, one in yellow and blue, one in white and black.  Anyway, turns out the Badgers did used to don non-badger attire until realising that it’s a little too much to be called the Badgers but not take to the field in monochrome.  And very smart they looked in adidas stripes.  Shame they lost, really.

My first ever United Counties League match ended 4-12.  This one never threatened that but it did feature plenty of chances and a lot of questionable defence.  The visitors from Milton Keynes (like many non league teams Buckingham Town no longer have a home in their home town) had a simple plan based around their quick and direct forwards.  Bugbrooke were more obviously technical but repeatedly fluffed their lines – despite turning round a 3-1 half time deficit to level at 3-3.  Momentum should have given them the spoils but as it was a Buckingham counter attack made it 4-3 and despite a virtual siege in the final minutes the visiting keeper who liked to punch (not always to good effect) rather than catch was not often threatened.  The referee blew for time as the Badgers were hastening to a corner – thankfully, this last home game of the year didn’t count for anything really so nobody protested too hard.

All in all, this was a good game played as if it were a cup tie.  It reminded me all over again of the pleasure you can get just turning up somewhere on the off chance of seeing a decent game.


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On the radio: Soul Music, “Hallelujah”

The first version you hear of Hallelujah is the one you love.  For me, that is the one that is on Cohen Live. Leonard’s live album was released in 1994 but the recording of the song came from a performance in 1988.  Cohen doesn’t rush these things.  Hallelujah took over two years to write and, even now, there is no definitive version of which of the 15 verses should be sung, nor which exact phrases should form them.  And, if you think Don McLean’s American Pie is hard to understand (it isn’t), the enigmas that run throughout Hallelujah will leave you baffled.  But being baffled, like the king composing perhaps, is where the beauty and power lies.

Radio 4’s Soul Music spent 30 minutes pondering the song and recounted a lot that would be familiar to many of the people who have lived it with it for a long time.  How the version you hear on the 1984 album Various Positions is jarring compared to the softer alternatives, how John Cale asked Cohen for the lyrics when putting together what would be his defining cover version and received instead a confusing ream of fax paper, how Jeff Buckley had not heard Cohen’s version, only Cale’s, and so on.  We did hear from Alexandra Burke whose oft-derided X Factor version also got an airing, “I’m going to Whitney-fy it” was her response to her immediate reaction that she couldn’t actually do anything with the song.

Intermingled with the story of some of the recordings we heard from people who had been affected by the song, as well as some very detailed analysis of the biblical inspiration for the lines.  The impact of those lines, and the multiple interpretations that exist for them, was heard through the testimony of people who have found emotional solace in it.  That it can be both positive and negative, that it can it leave you feeling you understand everything but that at the same time, nothing can be understood,  that sometimes all you have left is a cold and a broken hallelujah.  And that could be an orgasmic moment, or a moment following a death.  Or any point in between.  “It embraces the whole mess of what love is … and that’s not a bad thing,” as one of the speakers said. Some song, huh?

This wasn’t a programme for those who wanted chapter and verse on the song, its history and cultural impact but it was a useful and engaging reminder that for all Hallelujah‘s recent ubiquity it remains a rare example of a well-known and much-loved song  that welcomes, indeed demands, a personal response.  It stays intimate despite being universal.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need go and stand before the Lord of Song.  There may only be one things on my lips.

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At the match: Hastings United v Herne Bay

(C) Jon Smalldon 2015 - All rights reserved

Those of a nervous disposition should look away now and come back … well, possibly after Hastings have gone to Ramsgate on Easter Monday.  After that match we’ll know just how valuable the single goal that decided today’s game in the home side’s favour was.  Until then, a quick look at the table will show you that with both Hastings and Ramsgate winning there is one point between them and that the tussle in two days time could well determine which of them ends up in the last relegation spot and enters the world of county football.

But, let us not dwell on things to be, let us, instead, enjoy what we had today. There was a crowd of 392 at the Pilot Field, swelled by two by the presence of me and my chirpy son who has decided that in eleven years time he will, “play for Hastings most of the time and then for England at the World Cup.”  I blame the decision to buy him branded trainers.  There was also a match that grew from being a somewhat nervy encounter to proper gung-ho frenzy.  Herne Bay’s desire for the points can be explained by the fact that they are, as a result of today, now mathematically eliminated from the play-off chase.

There wasn’t a huge amount that would have looked good on Match of the Day but there was plenty of effort from two very committed sides.  Obviously that spilled over, especially when Hastings began killing the game through hoofs and corner flags (although still with occasional genuine attacking bursts) within seconds of taking the lead on 71 minutes.  The ref didn’t do too bad a job although I doubt any neutral would have been too surprised if he’d felt the need to show a red – he did let a few ball-n-all tackles go as part of a commitment to keep the game moving.

In the end, most people left the Pilot Field happy but even with the sun shining brightly as the full time whistle blew those dark clouds are still on the horizon.  Hastings might draw more than virtually anyone else in the league through the gates but they’re not too big to go down.  If they want to avoid the drop they’ve got it all to do again on Monday.

How are the nerves?

(I brought along the camera as well as a child. Here are some photos).

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At the De La Warr Pavilion: J.D ‘Okhai Ojeikere – “Hairstyles and Headdresses”

Downstairs at the De la Warr, they are all about the Ladybird illustrations.  I may go back to them but today my interest was diverted by the rather splendid survey of black and white images of Nigerian hairstyles taken by J.D ‘Okhai Ojeikere.

The survey began in 1968 and ended only with his death in 2013.  That’s 45 years of photographing some of the most incredible, tortuous and beautiful hairstyles that you can imagine. The style of the images collected here barely changes – the one above is as good an example of the type as any other – but what draws you in is both the detail of the work that has gone into the hair and the reasoning behind its creation.  For example, one particular style was a reaction to economic news, several are only worn on highly select occasions.  It is a door into what is, from a Bexhill seafront perspective, a completely different world.

There are around 50 images here – headdresses are included as well – and it is well worth an explore.  Another excellent and intriguing exhibition, for free, on the East Sussex coast.

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“Gift Horse” – Hans Haacke

(C) Jon Smalldon 2015 - All rights reservedYou know that public art has succeeded in its first purpose of getting attention when the majority who see it for the first time slow down from their bustle to take it all in.  They may then reject it, get angry by it or pen angry green-ink missive – but you’ve first got to make them stop and look.  Hans Haacke’s Gift Horse, currently the commission atop the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, succeeds in this regard in spades.

It’s also rather good.  It’s no giant ship in a bottle, Ecco Homme or assorted members of the public trying to be heard from what is actually quite a high point – and is probably all the better for it.  The skeletal horse is based directly on the work of John Stubbs, whose work has a home in the adjacent National Gallery, and around its feet is a bow relaying a live feed from the London Stock Exchange.  The prices for M&S were going through when I was there.  Art is never really as clever as it thinks it is (“Oh, the skull represents death does it? Thanks for that, I never would have got there without uou …”) and the themes of a lot of contemporary work seem to be ever more obtuse and meaningless – but this at least is given context by its location and has an appropriately mean twist.

London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, made light of the political aspect when it came to the unveiling a few weeks ago.  He’d be better off embracing it.  Judging by the number of people who, having stopped, took a selfie and/or posed for a loved one, and who then went and read the explanation at the foot of the plinth and seemed pleased by it, I’m not the only one to think this is good stuff.  I think we’ll all be a bit sadder when this one leaves its temporary home in eighteen months.


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At the Towner: John Virtue “The Sea”

For over 30 years John Virtue has painted only in monochrome and has created numerous vast canvases using that black and white method drawing on the world around him.  The always interesting Towner has brought together a collection of his works of the sea and, not unsurprisingly, called the exhibition The Sea.  It is an impressive sight.

Virtue resides on the North Sea coast and it is the fury of that particular shore that he is referencing.  However, on a day when gusts in Eastbourne went past 40mph it didn’t take much imagination to understand the white blotches and zigzags as they fight out with the black calm for control.

The exhibition features nine of the towering works for which Virtue is famous alongside 25 smaller works, and these are further complemented by a selection of sketchbooks.  Nothing has a name beyond the number of the work.  It’s hard to see any stylistic development when there is such a uniform approach and subject but when it is so well done it’s better to let intellectual matters drop and enjoy the sensations.

So, another very impressive showing from the Towner.  It’s well worth visiting before the show closes in April – whether or not the raging sea outside the building matches those created within.

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At the Lucy Bell Gallery: Kevin Cummins “Disclosure”

On the way to St Leonards to see this exhibition I was listening, as is my want, to Radio 3.  They were playing a piece by Charles Ives that seemed to be a mass of confusion but out of which came a pure sound around a single vision. And then I thought: I bet I could shoehorn my thinking about that into my thinking about Kevin Cummins.

Cummins is the first photographer whose name I deliberately looked up in the pre-internet days when such things were far from straightforward.  I was a tedious introvert teenager in the early 90s reading the NME and it seemed that whenever I came across a photograph that actually did more than just show a pic of a band next to some words written about them it would be by Kevin Cummins.  His work always managed to bring together the charisma of the performers but also their vulnerability and interest – and to do so in poses and/or settings that seemed so straightforward but which it was obvious from the rest of the magazine few others were able to do.  And he did so, at that time, in a signature style of beautiful, crisp, black and white.  Out of the confusion and mayhem that is (was) teenage music he drew out the important bits and put them in front of us.

Joy Division, and then New Order, were where he made his name and this two-room exhibition has a nice overview of those.  Time has not wearied them nor has the fact that every two-bit landfill-indie group to emerge from England’s public schools in the intervening decades has tried to copy them.  We also get the Manics in their rough glamour early days and turning from that you get to see Michael Stipe staring back at you. It’s as if someone has gone, “Jon, which of your heroes would you like to see on a wall in your hometown?”

The Stipe shot (there are two but this is the one where he is holding a bottle) is interesting because as an REM devotee of many years standing I have seen and over-studied a lot of photos of Michael Stipe.  In all of them before today I would have said that even as subject Stipe was in control – his arts school grounding and passion for the visual making sure that even if he didn’t know when the shutter would be fired he knew how the frame would look.  This one?  Not so much.  This is a Kevin Cummins shot and Stipe is most definitely the viewed not the controller.  But, maybe I’m overthinking again.  It can also just be a cracking shot of an intriguing and thoughtful man taken by one of our great photographers.

Despite this exhibition being somewhat frozen in time Cummins has continued to work and if you’re on Twitter he’s worth following for two reasons: firstly, he has a habit of showing off images from his back catalogue in numbers dependent on how many goals Manchester City score and, secondly, he is quite wonderfully grumpy a lot of the time.  I like my artists grumpy.

So, in summary, if you like this sort of thing, find a way of going.  Your reward will be two rooms of mostly monochrome splendour.  The confusion and magnificence of music has rarely been so well visually distilled into a pure sound around a single vision.

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