"We're just a couple of singers who happen to be sisters"

Music Shelby Lynne and Alison Moorer to release album together.
"We're starting to write in March and hopefully we'll put out a record next year," Lynne tells Billboard.com. "We're going into uncharted territory here. We'll see what happens. I expect it to be really good and really soulful. We're just a couple of singers who happen to be sisters...getting together to write songs and see what we can do together."
I'm trying calculate the genre implications. They're going to be stuck in the country section HMV again aren't they?  Assuming it's still open ...

save our libraries

That Day As Lauren Laverne said on the improving 10 O'clock Live, save our libraries ...

The Guardian has a live blog about today's protests.

" we tried to be funny in all our links"

Film One the occasion of their slight return on 6 Music, Andrew Collins reminisces about the glory days of his double act with Stuart Maconie, back when ITV still filled its nocturnal hours with useful programming and not repeats of the same rubbish they had on in daytime:
"We introduced a weekly visual joke for the end of each show, and we tried to be funny in all our links, and to involve the audience, in an early example of interactivity, by getting a viewer in to guest-review one of the films. Among the stars of tomorrow we had in were Ali Caterall, now a reviewer at the Guardian and Word, and none other than Sarah Millican, who I believe was in mid-career-change at the time. (In the days before email, viewers had to, like, write to us, and send us a cassette or videocassette of them reviewing a film, and send it through the post and everything.)"
Along with Night Network, this was television designed for PVRs and series links about ten to fifteen years before they went mainstream. If you forgot to set the video you'd missed it. Luckily, someone was paying attention and Andrew's post includes some classic clips.

"a wonderful love letter to Paris"

Film Hmm, this is positive. Woody Allen's next but one (if you live in the UK), Midnight In Paris, is opening the Cannes 2011 film festival. Festival director Thierry Frémaux's review (as featured in the press release) says:
"Midnight in Paris is a wonderful love letter to Paris [...] It’s a film in which Woody Allen takes a deeper look at the issues raised in his last films: our relationship with history, art, pleasure and life. His 41st feature reveals once again his inspiration."
Which is good review. Or glossing. I'm not sure. It could also be because it features the president's wife.

a kind of random history of art

Art Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery begins its next major exhibition in a couple of weeks. A Collector’s Eye: Cranach to Pissarro features a selection of work from the Schorr Collection, which private collector David J Lewis assembled covering five centuries of art from 15th-century devotional images to 19th-century French Impressionist landscapes. Old Master artists Rubens, El Greco, Delacroix and Cranach are included alongside Impressionists such as Pissarro and Sisley.

The Walker have produced a video by way of explanation featuring the voice of Lewis:

Some might judge Lewis for his approach to collecting, that he had a few bare walls in his house and decided to fill them. But isn't that what most of us do, especially since through postcards, posters and prints we can all, as the question at the end of the video implies, have our dream art collection (the main difference being that Lewis quite often has the originals)?

I'm an inveterate art card collector and have been for years. When I was at university first time around I plastered the giant notice board in my room with cards, hundreds. It became a talking point. People visited sometimes just to look at them, a kind of random history of art amassed during visits to art galleries and museums and postcard books from discount shops.

It's a tradition I've kept up across the years, though after the length of time it took to dismantle the display at the end of that academic year, not quite as many. But the wall of my room here does still contain a collage, some framed, some simply blue-tacked up. Plenty are trophies from my north-west art gallery visits which means there's certainly a late Victorian bias and barely recognisable to most people.

So I probably have my dream art collection.  Of course, what the Walker is really asking is which paintings I would, like Lewis, to have all to myself, Vincent's Starry Night in the living room, the illustrations from the Globe Theatre recreated on the ceiling, part of Anthony Gormley's Field propping up the recipe cards in the kitchen, an Elizabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun self portrait watching over me while I sleep.

But I genuinely love the images already plastered across these walls.  I even have a wall chart of the Globe Theatre reproduction above the table where I'm typing this.  Whereas a painting contains its own intrinsic history, these reproductions evoke my own personal history instead and I can tell you a story about each of them.  Here then is a taste of the Stuart Ian Burns collection.

Some pop culture.  The original poster for Kevin Smith's film Clerks which seems to opitomise the intersection between filmmaking and working in the service industry, the tagline "A Funny Look at the Over-the-Counter Culture" an exellent demonstration of his Hollywood advertising tries to normalise everything.  The cover to Bob Dylan's The Freewheelin' which for various reasons is deeply aspirational for me.

There are lots of images which you might have too.  Edward Hopper's Automat, which I know is a bit of a cliche and another Cameron Crowe reference but I also rotate it with Night Hawks and Klimt's The KissRenoir's The Umbrellas.  The Chandos portrait of Shakespeare which still seems to the most authentic, especially having seen the real canvas a few times and looked him in those deep intelligent eyes.

Plenty of photographs.  There's an anonymous cepia shot of the entrance to a derelict Paris Metro station in a rundown area which is is a constant reminder that everything has a dark side.  Of all the pictures its one of the few which I don't have a story for, I didn't buy it in Paris but at a sale across the park in a nostalgic moment.

I also have an excellent interior of Wilson's Book Store on Renshaw Street in Liverpool in 1952 by Stewart Bale.  I remember the shop from its latter days just before it closed and became part of Rapid Hardware but this shows its hayday, with muted electro lighting and shelves stuffed with the classic Penguins filled with suited couples sharing the pleasure of choosing something to read together.

The image I have of Hamlet on the Gower Monument was taken before it had become weather worn.  It's a tourist postcard made in Hastings which was one of if not the reason that pushed me into finally visiting Stratford Upon Avon a few years ago. What I notice now is that the plinth is different; the image I have is of something rather plain whereas now its granite thing with HAMLET emblazoned on it like a symbol of our faded education system. 

The Pharmacist by Martyn Blundell is on a private view card for an exhibition I couldn't attend at Nottingham University.  It's a graphite on Fabriano paper of a short-haired woman in nothing but her nightie, hunched over her chin resting on the back of her hand, one foot resting on a what might be a bible, a small medical bottle which I assume to be chloroform some kind of medicine.  It has all the symbolic resonance of one those Victorian paintings but with an hint of danger.

Another private view card, this time from a visit to FACT Liverpool in 2004, a still frame of a rickshaw being pushed along the bottom of the ocean from Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba's Towards the Compex, part of the group exhibition At the Still Point of the Turning World which has all the qualities of a dream and was entirely mesmerising projected across a giant scene in the large display area on the ground floor.

Despite being religiously vague I'm still fascinated by Milton's retelling of the Genesis myth in Paradise Lost which might account for why I have Lucas Cranach's Adam and Eve (popularly famous for being in the opening titles of Desperate Housewives) tempered from above by William Blake's The Ancient of Days  which depicts Urizen, the embodiment of conventional reason and law. 

But my favourite is still a photograph you may not have seen, Amy Gibbing's Flat Iron Building, displayed at the centre of the wall.  I've seen plenty of shots of the building since but none of them quite seem to catch the measure of its angles and the Broadway street sign in the same way as this show which was given to me in Christmas 2001, especially with the snow nestling across the street lamp.

I can't wait to see if Mr Lewis's collection measures up.

"Let them eat cake."

History The Smithsonian has an excellent survey of Marie Antoinette which demonstrates that much of the popular knowledge we have of the monarch is inaccurate:
"Whatever Marie Antoinette's faults—in addition to her renowned extravagance, she was unable to comprehend the French people's thirst for democracy—she did not respond to news that starving Parisians had no bread by saying: "Let them eat cake." According to Fraser, this monumental indifference was first ascribed, probably also apocryphally, to Maria Theresa, the Spanish princess who married Louis XIV more than a century before Marie Antoinette set foot in France."
Much as a love Sofia Coppola's biopic (in hindsight -- I hated it on first viewing), as the later sections of this article demonstrate it does a great discervice to the French monarch's mind. She was a rather more complex character politically than Kirsten Dunst's portrayal allows.

"row upon row of identical detached cheap properties"

Architecture Rapid urbanisation in Monterrey, Mexico has led to developments containing row upon row of identical detached cheap properties. While we're used to similar housing in the UK, in suburbia and the high density terraces of the twentieth century, there's still something astonishingly alien in these constructions, especially through the lense of photographer Alejandro Cartagena:
"Over the past two decades, the twelve cities comprising the Monterrey metropolitan area have grown exponentially, creating a vast urban region of nearly four million. Ciudad Benito Juarez, for example, grew from 20,000 in 1990 to a current population of 200,000. This rapid horizontal expansion has been fueled by the usual real-estate suspects: cheap land, the efficiencies of production home building, the easy availability of mortgages for low and mid-income families (through the government-run lender Infonavit), the romance of home ownership, not to mention political corruption. The effects have been predictable: physical holes in the urban fabric, a hollowed-out city center, long commutes, air pollution.
It's like a modernist Logopolis.

"It is cool and dark in this tomb."

Travel Beneath the streets of Paris is a maze of catacombs and caves which have helped shape the history of the city. We have similar tunnels in Liverpool, but unlike the Williamson Tunnels (for example) a culture of non-professional excavation has developed around this subterranean network of inspectors and self-styled Cataphiles:
"Philippe Charlier sets his plastic shopping bag on a battered chair and rubs his hands. It is cool and dark in this tomb. Water droplets gleam on the ceiling, and the air smells of mold and damp earth. The dead surround us, stacked like cordwood, walls of eye sockets and the scrolled ends of femurs. Charlier reaches into the bag, which is full of bones he'll borrow, and slips out a skull the color of parchment. Chips of bone and dirt tumble out. "I love the patina—not all white and clean," he says.

Six stories above us, in the cafés of Montparnasse, waiters are brushing off tables, setting out chalkboard menus. It is nearly lunchtime.
NPR news has audio.

copious shots of Leela in her leather bikini

TV The recent Doctor Who Special Editions in which archivist Andrew Pixley explains in minute detail the production and promotion schedule of the fifth series includes tantalising glimpses at scenes deleted from episodes for time. Most seem to have gone well over time, with some losing a whole fifteen minutes (about the cost of a third eye on a Silurian). There’s the lengthy conversation between the Doctor and Amy on the subject of her engagement to Rory, the meat of the romantic subplot with Vincent Van Gogh, more of Bracewell’s quest for humanity. Sadly, none of these scenes turned up on the eventual shiny disc release.

But true to form, for this franchise at least, said shiny disc does not have these riches but instead other jewels, two specially crafted new scenes, collectively labelled Meanwhile in the TARDIS, meant to plug the gap between what’s left of the televised adventures. Such endevours are the foundations that spin-off fiction and canonicity debates are built on. A whole industry has sprung up from explaining why the fifth Doctor and Peri look quite so comfortable with each other in The Caves of Androzani having only apparently just met in Planet of Fire and giving the Sixth Doctor and Mel more stories than you’d ever want to have anything to do with (Body swapping?  Really?).

Shot during the production block that covered Vampires of Venice and Vincent and the Doctor and directed by Euros Lynn (when oh when will he return to the main series?), what’s especially interesting about these examples, despite 2Entertain’s apparent desperation to offer “something genuinely exclusive” (Pixley, 2010: 96), is that they deliberately deepen the experience of watching the fifth season back again. Yet the content is also a reminder of how far the show has come that Steven Moffat didn’t feel the need to include these plot points in the episodes proper. That he didn’t need to.

The first, set between The Eleventh Hour and The Beast Below is an FAQ in the TARDIS and somewhat the nature of the timelord, with Amy babbling the questions (in a way that reminds me of Catherine Tate’s Donna at her most verbose) and the Doctor providing the inexplicable answers. In his era, Russell T Davies included similar moments for each of his companions in various configurations, the most blatant for obvious reasons in Rose, the chat outside the TARDIS at the edge of the Thames and “Lots of planets have a North” and before that the various info dumps that threaded through the TV Movie with the Pertwee logo.

What was startling on first watching this is that I didn’t notice that these scenes hadn’t re-appeared in the fifth season, that Amy had just accepted the nature of the blue box, the Doctor’s alieness. It’s as though with so many years of seeing this conversation, these questions, I’d subliminally filled in the gaps. So at no point did I wonder exactly why Amy hadn’t even asked what a police box was, let alone why anyone would choose it as the outer shell of their magical spaceship. If the owner was being deliberately on the nose and self-aware they’d just as well make it look like a wardrobe or set it to random (though as we saw in Attack of the Cybermen with all the Colin’s organ playing that might not be such a good idea).

Except for all the talk of the exterior of the ship, Moffat does not include a cutaway, there’s no establishing shot of Gilbert MacKenzie Trench’s brainchild floating in the time vortex and it’s not missed. Through seeing the thing on television every Saturday and hundred other pieces of merchandise while Amy asks exactly what a police box is, we have it in our minds eye, especially since, because Pond is in her pyjamas throughout we have the anticipation of seeing how she ended up floating in space at the start of The Beast Below. Something of a contrast to the opening scenes of the TV Movie with the Pertwee logo which was widely criticised because the US audience wouldn’t necessarily know that the old man eating jelly babies in a cathedral like space was inside that floaty blue box.

The scene is beautifully directed. This isn’t the first moment Amy has entered the TARDIS, that was at the climax of The Eleventh Hour, yet it begins on a close-up of the same look of wonder Barbara had when she first stepped into the inexplicably big interior in An Unearthly Child, with the camera pulling back to reveal the immense interior of the ship. Matt and Karen are forever moving around that console, forever interacting physically. At this point in the schedule the actors have become comfortable with one another, and the director takes advantage of this to demonstrate the characters are slowly getting used to each other which feeds the detail in the script of Amy trying to work out if the Doctor is even properly a humanoid or hiding his own tiny appearance.

The second scene, wedged between Flesh and Stone and The Vampires of Venice offers more complex emotional ground as like Rose in School Reunion, Amy discovers that she isn’t the first and won’t be the last of the Doctor's companions. Unlike that second season episode which also saw the return of Sarah Jane Smith, which also dealt with the horror of the ones that have been left behind as the Doctor lives ever onward, this revelation is played for laughs as Amy is presented with the stead stream of nubile young Eliza Doolittles the timelord has travelled about with across the years, the TARDIS jealously offering revenge for having to watch the apparently closeted Doctor not noticing the attentions of his serial best friends.

Moffat’s able to bring humour to the revelation because unlike Nine and Ten's chaste relationship with Rose, this takes place in the aftermath of Amy literally throwing herself at Eleven on the eve of her wedding. The scene opens with a slow pan up Karen’s long legs to her short skirt and come hither pout but Lynn doesn’t cut to the Doctor’s reaction which from a Mulveyan point of view should nullify her symbolism as a sex object (no doubt pleasing the Daily Mail if not Daily Mail online). What we’re about here is a discussion of why the Doctor hasn’t properly taken advantage of any of these serial best friends (at least not in the fiction of the series), why he’s loved them without being “in love” with them (however arguable that is in the case of Charley and Rose).

Moffat’s answer, which adds to Donna Noble’s suggestion in The Runaway Bride that he needs someone to “stop him” (little did she know it would turn out to be her) shows how far the show has come since Pertwee’s silent Bessie off in to dusk. The idea that the companion is the Doctor’s prism for seeing the universe was I think first muted in the spin-off novels whose textual real estate allowed for such philosophical thoughts. And the argument there was even more complex than that with the suggestion that he also needs his companions to be witnesses to his good deeds that without them he simply fall into myth or become an unheard tree falling in a forest. Which might explain why his choice of friends can sometimes be a bit suspect and he chooses to share his gifts with people the rest of us would cross the road/pub/supermarket to avoid.

There is something rather refreshing about Amy seeing the publicity photos for all of his previous companions with room for Polly, Victoria, both Romanas, Barbara, Peri and copious shots of Leela in her leather bikini (perhaps Sam, Anji, Charley, Lucie, Erimen, Benny and Izzy are all on screen during the robot dog cutaway) and not offering jealousy as her first reaction. Some suggested that it's unrealistic that Amy would want to throw herself at the Doctor with Rory enjoying his stag night, that it makes her seem at best heartless at worse the kind of insult which can lead you to resign or be sacked from Sky Sports but I think she’s simply experience the kind of distracted personality that you can develop when led into extraordinary circumstances.

That’s perhaps one of the reasons Amy wasn’t universally liked in the fifth season but both of these scenes suggest another. Unlike the main series, where the viewpoint character is the Doctor and Amy as well as companion is part of a larger mystery he’s trying to solve, in these scenes, she’s back in the companion's traditional position of being the viewer’s eyes and ears again asking the questions we want answered and is somehow more immediately likeable because of it. My suspicion has been (born out by Pixley companion) that the very best of Amy’s character, the tiny moments in which she might have connected better with the audience were lost. A typical example is Cold Blood in which the episode was restructured away from Amy discovering the city beneath the Earth to the Doctor instead.

With such short episode durations and the drive back toward plot based series and fantasy adventures, there simply isn’t the time for these kinds of Tardis scenes which is presumably why they are being created as deleted scenes. But there’s no denying that some of the best moments, the ones which resonate with us audience members are those which ruminate on the situation the companions find themselves in. For all the big moral choice at the heart of Parting of the Ways, the beat I always return to is the one in which Jackie Tyler cautions her daughter not to spend too much time travelling because she might lose a sense of who she is. Similarly that notorious lost scene from The Hungry Earth might have been the best thing about that episode had it survived.

But my favourite line from either of these new scenes? “Gandalf. Space Gandalf.” It’s again played for laughs and he’s using it to deflect the idea of being a Casanova figure to a cuddly bearded sorcerer with a lightsaber (Obi-Wan presumably) but the level of intertextuality at play here is wonderful, because if you steep yourself in the kind of folklore I played with at university, with reference to the trickster (no not that one) who most popularly expresses itself in Merlin (no not that one) which Tolkein used as the mythological basis for Gandalf, if the late 80s story Battlefield is anything to go by the Doctor isn’t lying or being sarcastic. He really is a space Gandalf or eventually will be since his regeneration into the Arthurian derivation is in his future, concepts would would later be explored in spin-offs. Doctor Who – the franchise that enjoys filling in the gaps.

Don't Look Back.

That Day Welcome to February ...

She & Him - Don't Look Back from Radioalterno on Vimeo.

I hope it works better than January.

Public Art Collections in North West England: Towneley Hall Art Gallery & Museum

Towneley Hall - the North East Front

Museums The visitors guide to Towneley Hall is quite direct in its introduction as to the period on which is being covered. “Towneley was the home of the Towneley family for over 500 years but in 1901 it was sold to Burnley Corporation”, it says, “The family departed in March 1902 leaving behind a building almost complete empty except for a couple of tables and few pictures in the chapel”.  Since then, the corporation has set about collecting the objects owned by the Towneley family, supplemented by long term loans by the decedents.

Edward Morris devotes seven pages (two with large pictures) to Towneley, emphasising Burnley’s fortune in having such a building and grounds just outside the city centre. It’s not a new building; in 1702 Ralph Thoresby remarked that it was a “collage of a castle-like house” commenting on the additions by various owners across the years which accounts for its maze like interior, which also now includes a museum of local history, natural history centre and preserved kitchen and servants' hall, musty smell intact.  Like many National Trust properties, the interiors are a recreation of how the hall used to be.

Edward explains that the sale of the hall was precipitated by the death of John Towneley in 1878, who lacking male heirs passed it to his daughter Alice Mary who missing an income was unable to maintain the place, the council ultimately purchasing it for far less than its market value. This was her equivalent of similar philanthropic gestures in other towns when local gentry paid for the building of cultural venues, but its previous application as a family home adds a sense of history absent to those other chunks of architecture.

I devoted eight notebooks to scrabbling down notes on the collection which boasts many of the big names, not least John William Waterhouse, who’s Destiny hangs on one of the window walls in the main room which I previously stood in front of at an exhibition at the Royal Academy a couple of years ago. This image doesn’t do justice to the red of the woman’s dress which burst out in both locations drawing the eye straight to this depiction of a toast for departing warriors (the painting was produced in aid of the Artists War Fund).

There are too many brilliant works in the collection to list here, this a rich spread.  Turn your head one way and find Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's The Picture Gallery, turn the other and see Joseph Farquharson's The Sun had closded the Winter's Day, one of his expressions of a bygone age, of a farmer herding his rams through snow.  These are paintings that calenders and posters are made of and I think I may even have had the Farquharson on my wall at university.

Amid a collection that crystalises various elements of social history through its collection of portraits and documentary paintings there's still room for fantasy. A small canvas by Marten van Valkenborch, The Building of the Tower of Babel.  It's clearly inspired by the famous Brueghal painting but whereas that us out and out fantasy, the Towneley painting tries to rationalise the endevour logically and realistically albeit still underscoring the huge scale of the resulting building, the workmen becoming specks as the tower reaches into the sky.

But as an Elizabethan, my favourite painting is Samuel Sidley's Mary, Queen of Scots and John Knox.  It's quite a naive thing, not unlike the plates you'd find in some old Shakespearean collected works, but there's something impressive about how majestically coloured the queen's household is shown in comparison to Knox who at this point is essentially pleading for his life as his religious views depart from his monarch's.  Mary's open hand indicates that perhaps all will be well.  Like the best of these scenic paintings, it's impossible not to be sucked into the unfolding drama.

"a shadowy monopoly exists"

Beverages Coffee suppliers in Paris are at war, with a single brand monopolising due to "a lack of education" amongst drinkers:
"The French coffee paradox is due to a few reasons, the first being that the country’s most widely consumed coffee, robusta, is the standard. To most of the people I spoke to who chose to remain off the record, a shadowy monopoly exists, with robusta using “subtly threatening” tactics on new businesses, making people afraid to strike out on their own, with different brands. Also, as one French barrista explained, “The French have a romantic, colonial mentality of being the best, without looking elsewhere.” For most café owners, that means less effort and more money.
I'd be interested to know if a similar turf war is at play in the UK. My understand was that it's all about real estate and surviving amongst the chains. it hadn't occured to me that it might extend to the product itself.

a continuously accessible safe haven / sanctuary to the websites which the BBC is proposing to take offline

History I've just sent the following email ...

To: The British Library
From: Me


You may have heard that the BBC is the scale back the size of its website and part of the process includes the deletion or offline backing up of many websites that are still technically useful in an academic sense but no longer fit within the corporations remit. Here are some relevant links from the BBC's internet blog:


Some are connected with programmes no longer on air, some like the Collective, are old communities filled with content which offer a cultural snapshot, and some, like the BBC Cult site (http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/) are an invaluable look backwards. Martin Belam also points out that an important element of online history will also be lost, rather stridently as you can tell from the URL:


The British Library has been gracious enough to offer to host a copy of my blog and many other websites for posterity. I was wondering if any thought had been put into offering a continuously accessible safe haven / sanctuary to the websites which the BBC is proposing to take offline.

Take care,

Stuart Ian Burns

Update! I've had a reply which British Library Web Archiving have been kind enough to let me post:

Hi Stuart,

Thank you for raising this point with us. You are right that we are particularly in the business of preserving vulnerable websites, so we are very interested in these developments. We are currently talking with the BBC about resources in general and we believe they will have a plan to deal with their own archiving of these sites. In fact, in your first link, they explain 'we had to decide how best to manage the legacy content' - admittedly their solutions for core material from some older sites are offline. We work closely with the BBC, so we have an understanding of their archiving procedures. Where appropriate, subject to resources, licence and technical capability, we hope to be able to archive some of the BBC content.

I was also interested in your email as my job is to determine website selection policy for the BL in the UK domain, irrespective of permissions and technical issues. It is useful to read what you consider of value which seems to be along the same lines as much of our selection.

In short, I hope you can understand that we cannot archive these sites at this time but I'm sure the core content will be looked after by the BBC. Thank you for taking the time to describe the value of these sites, which I'll take note of.

Best Wishes,

British Library Web Archiving.

the reader is stupid

Journalism You've probably already read this, but just in case, Tim Radford offers a twenty-five step manifesto for journalistic writing which is probably just as true of blogging:
"If in doubt, assume the reader knows nothing. However, never make the mistake of assuming that the reader is stupid. The classic error in journalism is to overestimate what the reader knows and underestimate the reader's intelligence."
I don't do that do I? Sometimes, I hope.