Wednesday, 29 April 2009

per miracolo

April in Sicily, and a swift trip from our base in the Alcantara Valley to Taormina on the east coast. An exquisite (if hyper-touristy) hill-town with Etna on one side, and the straits of Messina and Calabria on the other. Near the centre of town is an eccentric little museum in a 14th-century palazzo where the Sicilian parliament used to sit hundreds of years ago: the musty Museo Siciliano d'Arte e Tradizioni Popolari. All sorts of odd bits & pieces, the unquestionable highlight being an extraordinary sequence of 25 panel paintings from the late 19th century, representing an array of grisly deaths narrowly escaped, due to miraculous saintly interventions (Christ, the Madonna, St Peter, St Sebastian etc.)

Some terrible and rather surreal fates are avoided, and indeed staged, in these naive retablo images. People falling off horses. A child falling off a carousel. A bull falling off a wall. A woman tumbling through a ceiling, another from a bridge into a river. A blinding with a ball during a tennis game, and with an arrow during an archery class. A gaggle of nuns attacked by a knife-wielding lunatic in classical fencing pose.

A horse crushed by a train, its rider tossed to one side. A celebrant at a religious fiesta trapped under the cart bearing a saint's relics. An early football injury, in a game apparently played by teams of extras from the RSC. Wild cats ('gatti arrabbiati') attacking a group of chefs, and a woman, her breast bared and bloodied in fine Catholic iconographic fashion. A rider thrown from his horse by a charging bull. Shipwrecks. A blood-red lava flow from Etna halted - per miracolo, as ever - by a rather ponderous and perruqued St Agata in an auratic circle of smoke in the sky.

Cumulatively, the effect is both alarming and hilarious. A strip cartoon catalogue of disasters and panic, like a score for a sequel to Lone Twin Theatre's Daniel hit by a train, in which only the Catholics are saved.

Photographs from Taormina © David Williams, April 2009

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Sunday, 19 April 2009

polly jean

'There's too much of everything in the world, but particularly too much of everything that's not all that good. The world doesn't need any more art that's just all right. It only needs mind-blowing, inspirational, life-changing stuff'
- PJ Harvey, in ‘Songs of Innocence and Experience’, interview with John Harris, The Guardian, 28 September 2007.

PJ was outrageously good in Bristol on Saturday night. She has many of the things I love about certain performers (more often in music than elsewhere). A confidence that isn’t bloated ego-driven. A quality of radical present-ness. A kind of lightness & strength in running with something to the nth degree, with phenomenal attack, right in it & on it but not seeming to be burnt, always there and watching, listening, her ample energies harnessed. She looks like she’s massively fed by and with her gang, the music, the worlds (and voices) she passes through with embodied blowtorch intensity, then lets go of oh so lightly. Beautiful. Elegant. Eccentric. Inhabiting the music of she. Her south-west England accent, so far away from narrow rock’n’roll assumptions, seems deeply apt here somehow – her songs are very 'english', with this country's contoured and grained shadows animated, an old soul exposed sometimes delicately, lyrically, sometimes with a roar from some underworld. Above all, she seems to have such a sure sense of her multiplicity without it ever unravelling into blurry dispersal – she is ravelled, joined up, alive, herenow - and her range of vocal textures and grains, as well as the barks, yelps, the intensity of investment & engagement in the doing are startling and massively energising. Full of uninsulated life. Joyous. Human. Loved it. Loved her.

For PJ Harvey's website, see here

For John Harris's interview with PJ Harvey (‘Songs of Innocence and Experience’, The Guardian, 28 September 2007), see here

For the Chapman brothers' video of PJ Harvey's 'Black Hearted Love', see here.

‘Videos are usually made to help to sell a record. But we'd like people to watch our videos, go out into the street and burn their Porsches’ - Jake Chapman, Guardian blogs, 31 March 2009.

For Jake Chapman on the making of the video for PJ Harvey's 'Black Hearted Love', see

Photos of PJ Harvey, with John Parish and Howe Gelb, from their gig at the Anson Rooms, Bristol, 18 April 2009 © David Williams