Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Tim Vantol @ The Craufurd Arms, Milton Keynes

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted about a specific gig on my blog. I used to write a blog post with an assortment of photos after every show I went to, but now I go to a lot more gigs. Plus, I have Instagram for sharing my bad gig photography! BUT, last night I went to a gig that was just a little bit special. Special firstly because it was in my hometown, Milton Keynes, at the Craufurd Arms and secondly because it was a free show that I certainly would have paid good money to go and see.

My parents and I went to see Chuck Ragan in London about a month ago (you may recall this blog post about the poster I bought at the show). Supporting Chuck Ragan was a guy from the Netherlands with an acoustic guitar and one hell of a voice – Tim Vantol. Personally, I had heard of him before the Chuck show, as I knew he’d been on the Revival Tour with Chuck and co. before, but I had never actually listened to him. He wowed us there and then with his passionate acoustic (but certainly not quiet) music. And so it was when I was posting my gig pictures to Instagram later that night, and had started following Tim, that I discovered he was going be playing in Milton Keynes about a month later.

Milton Keynes, and the Craufurd Arms, always seems like an odd choice for bands to stop on their tours of the UK but I’m grateful that some artists do stop by. Even though I don’t live in Milton Keynes anymore, and Bedford does have a fairly decent music scene of its own, it was nice to return to my hometown for a spot of live music on a Tuesday night. So, along with my parents, I had an awesome time watching Tim Vantol play his heart out in the bar area of the pub. Tim had brought his band along for the ride this time too. And even though they were playing for a rather tiny audience – there can’t have been more than 20 people – it didn’t stop them from playing super enthusiastically.

Although I always take a few photographs, I have never been one to record videos at a gig. I always assume they’d come out rubbish or that I’m too far away or too short to film anything decent. Besides, I can’t be bothered to hold my phone still for 3 minutes when I could be bopping along to the music and singing along. However, given that there were so few people in the Craufurd Arms last night and I had the prime spot standing in front of the stage without anyone blocking my view, it was the perfect opportunity to film a little gig video. Plus, Tim and the band played two very different cover songs…

I didn’t catch the song from the beginning and only really filmed this snippet to share with my friend, Kat, who took me to see the Old Crow Medicine Show last year. I was surprised by how well this came out. I should have stayed filming a bit longer as the guitarist pulled off a magnificent solo. You’ll have to take my word for it.

Before playing Wagon Wheel, Tim had asked if anyone knew who OCMS were – I did, as did a few others. A few songs later, he asked if anyone knew who Against Me! were. To which I responded with an excited ‘Yes!’, whilst everyone else in the room remained quiet. They then proceeded to play one of my favourite AM! songs, Sink Florida Sink. Again, not the whole song as I wanted to enjoy it with my own eyes and ears, rather than through my iPhone. (I posted a clip of this video on Instagram/Twitter and got a favourite from AM! singer Laura Jane Grace herself – plus Tim!)

After the show, I knew that I had to tell Tim how brilliant the covers were – as well as the whole set in general – even if it was a little daunting to speak to a musician I admire. I bought a copy of his newest album on vinyl and my dad bought the first album on CD. We chatted to him for what seemed like far longer than we perhaps should have done! I said we’d seen him with Chuck last month and mum told him I was educating my parents in good music. Not strictly true as they’re already very well educated. Tim wanted to know what was good in Milton Keynes, so we told him about the greenery and parks, and then he gave mum some tourist tips for Amsterdam in exchange.

All-in-all, he was such a lovely guy and seemed genuinely pleased to be playing in Milton Keynes – he had noticed the excessive amount of roundabouts, by the way, if you were wondering. I’ve never been brave enough or had enough to say to a musician at a show before, but I’m pleased that last night I did. I look forward to seeing Mr. Vantol again someday soon…

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

In print

Well, I’m practically a published author now! My one and only copy of Five Thousand Miles arrived in the post on Monday and it looks absolutely beautiful.

But I’m not just talking about my design or photography skills – although they are fairly decent – as the overall finish of the book is amazing. It did cost me more than a few quid though, so I expected the quality to be good but perhaps not quite so good (check out Blurb books). It has been so nicely printed, keeping the colours bright and crisp, and uses such high quality paper (although, again, I paid for it!). The cover alone is excellent to behold, nevermind the inside of the book…

I took the book into work for everyone to have a look at (if they wanted to!) yesterday and received some great feedback. I mean, I’ve received positive feedback regarding the web-journal and digital book versions too but there’s something more rewarding about having this travel journal as a real printed book. Plus, I love books.

I haven’t taken too many photos as it is either best looked at in person or, if you’re perhaps on the other side of the world and we’ve never met, viewed the digitally.

I’ve photographed the book with a green tea Kit Kat. Partly for scale – the book is huge! – and partly because I have resisted eating this remaining treat from Japan for a whole year.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The Anglian Wolf Society’s art and photography workshop

I have had the most incredible day in the company of two beautiful wolves at the Anglian Wolf Society in Bedfordshire (literally less than 15 minutes away from home!). Observing, drawing and photographing them, as well as learning all about what the society does to educate the public and raise funds for conservation. I even touched one of the wolves, Kaya – although through the wire fence of course!

The Anglian Wolf Society is a non-profit study group case in North Bedfordshire and run almost entirely by volunteers. Although our site is not open to the public, you can visit us and our wolves by booking a visit in advance and becoming a one-day visit member. You can adopt one of our wolves or become a full or associate member of the society and enjoy a number of extra benefits.

In the wild, environmental erosion and persecution by humans have brought wolves to the brink of extinction in most parts of the world. It is only by improving people’s understanding of the wolf that public opinion can be shifted in favour of relieving the inhumane and environmentally dangerous pressure on their species.

I visited the Society today to attend an art and photography workshop, rather than a regular one-day visit. The art side of the workshop was run by Victoria Parsons who is a wonderful wildlife artist, specialising in highly detailed watercolour pencil pieces – I won’t share any specific artworks of hers, but here’s her website.

I learnt a lot, drawing techniques wise, and really benefitted from the fact that there were only four of us (well, there were five in total but one was only interested in photography). I’m ashamed to say that, although I’m obviously still a creative person on a day-to-day basis, I haven’t really done much hands-on drawing or painting recently. BUT apparently that wasn’t a problem as I’ve still got the skills!

This drawing is in the A4 sketchbook that we were kindly provided. Drawing from a photo.
And this drawing (obviously still a work-in-progress) is on larger, higher quality paper.
Still drawing from the photo but starting to colour, afterwards, observing the real wolf, Kaya.

Of course, I’m sure you are eager to see the photographs that I took throughout the day. And so you should be, as there are some pretty good ones! We were lucky enough to catch them during feeding time when they each had a rabbit. For some reason they were both pretty slow eating their dinner so I was able to snap a lot of photos. I also captured some howling action later on.


Saturday, 18 April 2015

I’m a Cats Protection sponsor

Earlier this month I made the decision to become a Cats Protection sponsor, donating money each month to help cats and kittens in the UK.

Hungry, homeless and alone, every day hundreds of unwanted cats arrive at Cats Protection. Sponsoring one of our cat pens is one of the best ways you can help, providing them with shelter, warmth, food, medical care and the love they need.

I received my starter pack in the post last week, including a sticker which I promptly put on display in my car. That cute little tabby face you see there in the middle belongs to Luna, the first cat I am sponsoring. She’s two years old, expecting a litter of kittens and looks just like my Cleo.

It’s no secret that I love cats. Cleo, the tabby-cat, is my most favourite furry creature in all of the world but she lives with my parents and I do not any more. I really miss having a cat permanently in my life – although, of course, I see Cleo fairly often. Sadly, I live in a flat where it would not only be far from ideal for a cat (third floor and no garden area, so only suitable for an indoor cat) but ‘NO PETS’ is also stated in my letting agreement. Like many letting agreements…

Cats and housing providers: Government recognition of the needs of people with cats or other companion animals in rented housing and care homes to allow people to keep their pets and avoid heartbreaking separations of cats from their owners. We’d also like to see more local authorities, social housing associations and private landlords having pet friendly tenancy clauses. (96 per cent agreed)

This is just one of the things included in the Cats Protection’s Manifesto for Cats.

This video literally made my cry because I am unable to adopt my own cat right now.
But at least I am able to help in other ways. Are you?

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Woshi-Woshi: Japanese inspired packaging

To me, this Japanese-inspired packaging brings to mind tea (something like these) or, perhaps more appropriately, sake (something like these). But it is in fact packaging for a line of Russian skin and hair care products – shower gels, liquid soaps, bath salts, deodorants, shampoos, and conditioners.

Created by Art Lebedev Studio, the bold and colourful illustrations are inspired by Japanese gardens and manhole covers. You can see my previous post about the oddly beautiful manhole covers of Japan here and see just how much they have influenced this design.

I discovered this wonderful packaging thanks to a tweet by Creative Roots yesterday. Creative Roots is a great design blog that showcases the best of graphic design, illustration and art from all around the world. There’s a lot of amazing stuff in their Japan collection, as well as this packaging (although this isn’t strictly Japanese, the inspiration is obvious!). And, of course, there’s some great art and design gems from the rest of the world too!

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Five Thousand Miles: The Book

I am absolutely over the moon to say that I sent Five Thousand Miles to print last night!

Conveniently, today is a year to the day that I left for my adventure of a lifetime in Japan, all by myself. And so, today I have published the 200-page book of my trip online – in digital form. I’ve been beavering away designing the book since Christmas and I can’t wait, not only for the world to see it but, to have the physical book in my hands.

Big thanks to Kat, my friend and colleague, for doing an excellent job of proofing the whole thing for me – picking up on my silly grammatical mistakes. I will be taking her out for [Japanese!] dinner on Friday to say thank you.

And now, without further ado, I present to you… Five Thousand Miles: The Book.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Canalside walk: Wolverton to Cosgrove

This morning, well late-morning/almost afternoon, I took a walk from Wolverton to Cosgrove along the Grand Union Canal with my parents and some of their friends. It was about a 4 or 5 mile round trip with a lovely pub lunch at the Barley Mow, in Cosgrove (I had beer-battered fish and chips and half a pint of English ale – see photo below). I was planning on joining them on the walk anyway but was all the more encouraged when I woke up this morning, opened the curtains and saw how sunny it was. It’s about time too!

The only really sunny, warm and Spring-like day I can recall this year so far is when Steve and I went to the Battersea Park peace pagoda, in London, at the beginning of March. No doubt there have been some sunny days whilst I’ve been at work as well, but I don’t get to enjoy the sunshine so much inside the office! However, now that the clocks have gone forward and Spring is well and truly here, it is nice to leave work in daylight. If it remains warmer and sunnier, I may even start venturing outdoors after work!

That bridge with the cyclists on it is in fact the Grand Union canal that crosses over this other river. If you look closely, you can see a canal boat crossing over. Seems strange that boats go over a bridge to cross another body of water.
I probably shouldn’t have found this sign so amusing… but I did.
Here’s the canal going over the river!
Cosgrove church between the trees.
We had to walk through this old horse tunnel to get to the pub. Not sure how big the horses were as my dad had to duck a little!
Nice pint of English ale at the Barley Mow in Cosgrove… well, this is dad’s pint as I only had half. But he got the proper relevant beer glass.
The old railway works in Wolverton, alongside the canal.
My first photograph of daffodils this Spring.
I really liked this huge old railway bridge, so I went back to take a photo before we went home.