Friday, 25 July 2014

The Playlist: John Grant

What is it about John Grant's music that makes it so good? I have been listening to his 2013 album Pale Green Ghosts constantly and it still feels fresh.

The lyrics, to begin with, are brilliant. Many of them meet in long stream of consciousness-style, self-aware sentences that describe feelings, situations and possibilities in earnest detail.

Back then I often found myself / Driving on the road at night, / And the radio was broadcasting the ocean. / Warm late Spring wind whips through my hair. / I am right here, but I wanna be there, / And no one in this world is gonna stop me. Pale Green Ghosts

The harmonies are simple (though definitely not simple in the all-too-obvious, one dimensional way that chart toppers often are) but utterly brilliant. Listen to the way the chorus of Pale Green Ghosts (below) resolves. Also, interestingly, Sinead O'Conner provides backing vocals for GMF (below).

The rhythms make many of the songs danceable on top of their deep meanings. Always a plus. This album is actually more electronica-inspired than the 2010 album, Queen of Denmark, which is also great incidentally.

His voice is strong and distinctive and, perhaps most importantly, full of utterly believable conviction.

The instrumentation is varied. One minute some flutes are cutting through a guitar sound, the next synths are controlling things with backup from wood blocks and brass.

Hailing from Michigan, John Grant transformed himself from a life of substance abuse to music-making through forming a band, The Czars, with Chris Pearson and others and then recording as a solo artist after the band split in 2004. The singer's journey has taken him to Colorado and then New York, London, Berlin and, most recently, Iceland – all some of my favourite places in the world.

"I’d take the I-25, between Denver and Boulder, which was lined with all these Russian olive trees, which are the pale green ghosts of the title: they have this tiny leaves with silver on the back, which glow in the moonlight,' explains Grant when talking about the album and its title track. 'The song is about wanting to get out of a small town, to go out into the world and become someone and made my mark."

Pale Green Ghosts is a fantastic album – go away and listen to it. It will improve your life. It will. And, to quote John, 'you could be laughing 65 per cent more of the time'.


If you like this, why not try:

The Playlist: George Ezra
Anna Calvi, Bath Komedia
The Playlist: Vance Joy

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Thursday, 17 July 2014

Spreepark, Berlin

Trying to find Spreepark in Plänterwald was one of the biggest adventures, or non-adventures, of my recent trip to Berlin. Described by our Airbnb host as 'a fantastic destination for an excursion, with life-sized dinosaurs, kaput ferris wheels and a choo choo train that runs on the weekend', we set off on the metro towards Plänterwald with high hopes of a unique Berlin day out.

The first obstacle that presented itself was the lack of a train running to Plänterwald that morning – none went as far as we needed due to track works.

"Not to worry!" We got ourselves as far as Treptower Park and asked if the distance to Plänterwald was walkable, something that was met with a unanimous "no". Having resigned ourselves to a cheeky taxi ride, we felt some elation in that we would soon be exploring abandoned roller coasters and looking skywards at old ferris wheels.

Unfortunately, our taxi driver had no knowledge whatsoever of an abandoned amusement park. After making a couple of phone calls and asking us to repeat over and over the details of our destination, he took us to Plänterwald where, on the river Spree, we found cafés on boats, pedalos and a holiday gathering of boogying geriatrics. Still no sign of that huge wheel...

Upon asking the nearest ice-cream man to direct us to "the abandoned theme park" we were met with another blank gaze. "I've never heard of it."

It being a beautiful sunny day, we decided to walk along the manicured tarmac woodland path beside the river, keeping our eyes out for the odd neglected swan ride or 'choo choo' train. Then – there it was! Through a red fence emblazoned with the word 'VERBOTEN' every hundred yards we glimpsed an abandoned train. Excited, we quickened our pace.

Further along the verboten fence we met three people coming from the other side. "There's a guard. I wouldn't risk it." After our host's enthusiastic recommendation, a fruitful internet search (Google it right now to see how fantastic the pictures look) and battling Berlin's chaotic public transport, it seemed that this park really stood alone and empty, and more abandoned than we ever thought. Eventually, we turned our backs and resorted to a beer and an hour on a pedalo.

It took a second, more focused Google search once reunited with our smartphones that evening to find out that Spreepark, opened in 1969, had been the only entertainment park in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and, after a tortuous journey through debts and dubious owners, it was closed down in 2002. Wikipedia also informed us that it has been abandoned since then, with tours operating until March 2014. So the official take was that we had missed it by four months!


On returning to Bristol, my only regret was not waiting for that guard to leave and passing through the hole in the fence to explore Spreepark. 

And to add salt, I have since discovered up-to-date reviews on Tripadvisor with tips and tricks to avoid the guards. Their advice (and now mine) – stray from the main path, take yourself in to explore and stay vigilant for guards!

The broken down choo choo | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Strictly verboten | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

The abandoned ferris wheel | Photo: Rosie Pentreath 
Our first impressions of Plänterwald on the Spree | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Five Instagrammers more intrepid than we...

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

A weekend in Berlin

Berlin. The city of nightlife, graffiti and hipsters. I have just returned from my first visit – a four-day exploration of the streets, dive bars and parks of this city where history is everywhere, prices are low and the people are stylish. 

known for being laid back, the streets are thronged with relaxed smokers and people walking along drinking beer on the weekends. And our last night happened to coincide with the World Cup final so – with Germany reigning victorious – we were even able to join in with loud celebrations, side-stepping fireworks that sprang up on the pavements and covering our ears against the constant sounds of car horns. 

The adventures lay in trying to find underground bars in the back streets, working out which train stations would remain open for any one journey and following directions to an apparently non-existent abandoned theme park (watch this space for my blog about that). 

Staying in an artist's flat in Kreuzberg; walking past the murals of the East Side Gallery of the Berlin wall; seeking abandoned amusement parks; and languishing in pop-up bars – all of these things contributed to Berlin's ability to more than meet my expectations. This is a city that never sleeps and constantly moves forward with makeshift galleries and edgy shops cropping up everywhere – even the down-and-outs are entrepreneurial, collecting glass and plastic bottles from bins to make money from recycling.

Here are the highlights in pictures (see captions for details). As usual, I used a Pentax K1000 and 35mm film for all of these photographs.

We stayed in a flat in an old building in the east of Kreuzberg, owned and wonderfully decorated by artist Zoë Claire Miller. This fantastic poster watched over our bedroom | photo: Rosie Pentreath

The kitchen was home to these marvellous creatures | photo: Rosie Pentreath
Charming details like this quirky lamp emerged all over the flat during our stay | photo: Rosie Pentreath

I instantly recognised street artist ROA's style from Bristol in this mural of hanging animals in Kreuzberg | photo: Rosie Pentreath
Even the fire stations in Berlin carry murals | photo: Rosie Pentreath 

Make Love Not War | photo: Rosie Pentreath
Oberbaum Bridge, Berlin | photo: Rosie Pentreath

Berlin graffiti | photo: Rosie Pentreath

Kate takes stock under the watchful gaze of Berlin's street art models | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

The East Side Gallery, Berlin Wall | photo: Rosie Pentreath

Cyclists enjoy welcome respite from the rain | photo: Rosie Pentreath
I <3 Berlin | photo: Rosie Pentreath

The East Side Gallery, Berlin Wall | photo: Rosie Pentreath
The East Side Gallery, Berlin | photo: Rosie Pentreath

The East Side Gallery, Berlin | photo: Rosie Pentreath
This club has taken up residence below ground level in central Berlin | photo: Rosie Pentreath 
Alexanderplatz, Berlin | photo: Rosie Pentreath

The Fernsehturm TV Tower, Berlin | photo: Rosie Pentreath

Berlin Dom (Berlin Cathedral) | photo: Rosie Pentreath
On Sunday we stumbled upon the tranquil weekend retreat of local Berliners – a hamlet of restaurants and attractions around the river Spree. We enjoyed taking a pedalo out in between the leisure boats and seaplanes | photo: Rosie Pentreath

The birthday champagne | photo: Rosie Pentreath 
This lively pair appeared to be about to spring off their podium in Kreuzberg  | photo: Rosie Pentreath

The best street corners in Berlin are home to Photoautomats, the greatest selfie-makers there are. Strips of four photographs take five minutes to arrive outside the booth and when they do you have to shake them dry for another five minutes | photo: Rosie Pentreath

Visit: to see more photography from my travels

Friday, 11 July 2014

Lana Del Rey: Ultraviolence

Lana del Rey's second album is even more sensuous, sexed and alluring than the first. And I have a feeling she has done it on purpose: a bold two fingers up to the army of critics, haters and populist audiences who slated her debut. Maybe...

Back in 2012 Del Rey told Vogue magazine that she did not feel the need to write a follow up to Born To Die, saying: 'What would I say? I feel like everything I wanted to say, I've said already.' The comments may also have been motivated by the wide criticism she received as a singer but – nonetheless – she is back with another album.

Ultraviolence opens in the haze of beautiful old romance in Cruel World with those twanging guitar strings and a familiar melancholic voice – more melancholic than ever – from Del Rey. She seems to be yearning for love and revenge with this collection. It's Lana at her most sad and sultry. 

I thought she may have come of age in this one. In a way she seems a little older and wiser when she sings things like 'I shared my body and my mind with you / That's all over now / I did what I had to do / I found another anyhow' – but elsewhere it's, 'Yeah my boyfriend's pretty cool/But he's not as cool as me / Cause I'm a Brooklyn baby' and you still hear an almost-teenage voice coming across. 

I do like it though. Old Money is an irresistible variation on Nino Rota's A Time For Us (the theme from Romeo and Juliet, 1968); Fucked My Way Up To The Top must be a two finger moment, as too I think Money Power Glory is (she refers to herself as 'this bitch'). 

One small drawback is that the same melody keeps cropping up – that sliding melancholic motif from the title track that is echoed in at least The Other Woman, West Coast, Sad Girl and Black Beauty. Just listen to a few tracks at a time.

What other people are saying...


Friday, 4 July 2014

The Playlist: George Ezra

George Ezra's debut album, Wanted on Voyage, is sonic perfection. 

The 21-year-old singer-songwriter grew up in Hertford and moved to Bristol in 2011, releasing his first EP, Did you Hear the Rain?, in 2013. A year later saw came the second, Cassy O', which 'showcases Ezra's powerful, deep vocals nicely' to cite Gigwise.

Some of the best summer listening there will be this year, the album includes brilliant tracks like Budapest, Listen to the Man, Cassy O', Barcelona and the more esoteric Spectacular Rival which shows off the deeper tones in the singer's voice.

The songs are folky, bluesy and light, brilliantly evoking places, genuine feelings and collections of images perfect for the haze of this so far sunny summer. I can't stop listening to it.