Aqualung (Jethro Tull)

The classic and influential Aqualung album by Jethro Tull is 50 years old today (19 March 2021). I bought it on vinyl soon after its release in 1971 and have listened to it countless times since. It impressed me then, and continues to inspire me today. It’s a very thought provoking and challenging album using language in ways that may offend, but to powerful effect.

With its iconic cover and distinctive opening, it’s a concept album focusing on the differences between organised religion and God. It’s been described as musical musings on faith and religion.

The album also links in the themes of homelessness and poverty, with the title track perfectly describing the life of a homeless man, ‘you snatch your rattling last breaths, with deep-sea-diver sounds’. The Salvation Army even gets a mention, ‘Feeling alone, the Army’s up the road, Salvation a la mode and a cup of tea’.

The album covers many genres, with some great guitar work, and the distinctive flute sound of Ian Anderson (an instrument not common on rock albums, but central to the sound of Jethro Tull). This is an album unlike any other, and the best way to appreciate it is to simply give it a listen.


Here are some lyric tasters:


People, what have you done?
Locked him in his golden cage, golden cage,
Made him bend to your religion,
Him resurrected from the grave, from the grave.

He is the God of nothing,
If that’s all that you can see.
You are the God of everything,
He’s inside you and me.

And the bloody church of England,
In chains of history,
Requests your earthly presence,
At the vicarage for tea.


Well, the lush separation enfolds you,
And the products of wealth,
Push you along on the bow wave,
Of their spiritless undying selves.
And you press on God’s waiter your last dime,
As he hands you the bill,
And you spin in the slipstream,
Timeless, unreasoning,
Paddle right out of the mess,
And you paddle right out of the mess.


And I asked this God a question,
And by way of firm reply,
He said: “I’m not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays”.

Well, you can excommunicate me on my way to Sunday school,
And have all the bishops harmonise these lines.


Tenet (Christopher Nolan)

Christopher Nolan is one of my favourite movie directors. He doesn’t patronise his audience, he expects you to pay attention and keep up. He always provides everything you need to know in the visual and spoken narrative, but he’s always one step ahead. That’s what makes him such a great craftsman and storyteller.

Nolan took five years to write the screenplay for Tenet after deliberating on the concept for over a decade, so the audience is always going to be playing catch-up. Some see this a weakness. For me, I relish having my mind stretched and blown, it’s what I love about his movies. Other 10/10 examples are Memento and Inception, where repeated viewings reveal what you missed the first time, but even then present you with ambiguous endings.

In Tenet, Nolan takes an idea central to science fiction and gives it a new twist. I don’t want to give anything away, other than to say it’s an action thriller unlike any you’ve seen before. The DVD cover says: ARMED WITH JUST ONE WORD – TENET – and fighting for the survival of the entire world, the Protagonist journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time.

If you don’t fully understand it first time, don’t worry – just enjoy the stunning visual feast.

Nolan always baffles and leaves you pondering further possibilities. His creativity inspires and empowers me, stretching my brain and expanding my thoughts – like all good art should, be it music, art, poetry, or prose etc.

Spook the Herd

Spook the Herd is an elegant and eloquent album by British indie rock band Lanterns on the Lake, one that has been described as a soundtrack for the age of anxiety. It’s one of my favourite albums of 2020.

Although this is their fourth studio album, I’ve not come across them before, despite living just down the road from their home of Newcastle for five years. They’ve been gracefully holding up a mirror to the world for a while, their music reflecting northern communities in decay and the effects of austerity, with calls for both to be resisted, for example.

This album touches on addiction, division, bereavement, social media, the environmental crisis, and climate change, with a reminder to make the most of what we can, while we can. Empowerment and love are key to the challenges we face, changing ourselves and changing the world. This is a thoughtful and reflective album, expressed beautifully.

This is one of a number of albums I’ve discovered this year because they were nominated for the Mercury Prize 2020.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

Different (Clere Parsons)

young man in denim jacket is reading a book near river side

One of the aims of poetry is to make to think for yourself, and (of course) this can be said of many song lyrics, as they’re basically the same thing. I don’t want someone to explain them to me, I want to do the thinking myself. Here’s a good example. Reflect on it, think about it, work it out for yourself:

Not to say what everyone else was saying
not to believe what everyone else believed
not to do what everybody did,
then to refute what everyone else was saying
then to disprove what everyone else believed
then to deprecate what everybody did,

was his way to come by understanding

how everyone else was saying the same as he was saying
believing what he believed
and did what doing.

Clere Parsons (1908-1931)

Contagion (2011)

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Having criticised ITV2 the other day for showing Contagion, Naomi and I watched it on Netflix last night. The plot is very topical and concerns the spread of a novel virus transmitted by fomites, the attempts by medical researchers and public health officials to identify and contain the disease, the loss of social order in a pandemic, and the introduction of a vaccine to halt its spread.

At times it felt like watching a documentary as well as a narrative story. The movie has several interacting plot lines, making use of the multi-narrative hyperlink cinema style, and finishes with a very thought-provoking ending. I gave the movie 8/10 on IMDb. It would have been higher had the movie better conveyed a sense of fear and dread, but we’ve got plenty of that in real life right now.

How to Build a Universe

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I always like to be reading a popular science book, and I’ve recently finished this excellent book by Professor Brian Cox & Robin Ince. It’s based on the acclaimed BBC Radio and podcast The Infinite Monkey Cage. It’s witty and comedic, an irreverent celebration of science and the wonders of the universe; totally silly in places and incredibly thought-provoking and mind-blowing in others.

Having three young children has meant that my reading habits have declined of late, but this was one of the books helping me get back into it; not least because this one is in a magazine format with diagrams, photos and lines drawings enhancing the text and dividing into manageable size chunks.

The title The Infinite Monkey Cage comes from the infinite monkey theorem which states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. In fact, the monkey would almost surely type every possible finite text an infinite number of times. However, the probability that monkeys filling the observable universe would type a complete work such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet is so tiny that the chance of it occurring during a period of time hundreds of thousands of orders of magnitude longer than the age of the universe is extremely low (but technically not zero). Wikipedia