Great gig, bizarre encore: David Gray in Cape Town, 2022

I mean, you knew that the evening was going to be a belter when you get escorted right across the local casino, drinks and all, into the VIP room with free beer, bubbly and gourmet pizza before the concert has even begun. [Thanks, Andrew 😉 ].

And then, when it did begin, it was just a lot of fun with some great music. Ten songs in the first half, starting with You’re The World To Me and Fugitive before finally getting the audience involved in Be Mine, and bewitching us all into silence (incredible for a South African crowd) with a raw, emotional performance of Alibi. Hospital Food rolled neatly into the catchy Nemesis to end off a tight, professional set by a clearly accomplished band and singer.

Twenty minutes later – beating most of the bar-queuing audience back – he returned with a new drummer (the one and only Craig McClune) and a bang, for the main event, and Please Forgive Me and Babylon got the crowd – and the band – bouncing.
Running on through the album, he remarked on his two favourite songs that “took him back like a time machine to that tiny bedsit in Stoke Newington, N16”: Nightblindness and Silver Lining. And then after those two poignant, introspective numbers during which he seemed strangely distant, it was like a switch was flicked and he back to engaging the now slightly less reluctant audience with the now seemingly obligatory cellphone waving to This Year’s Love: “Come on, I know you’ve all got phones. And I know you’ve all got arms!”.
Sail Away and a really beautiful Say Hello, Wave Goodbye completed the album set and then there was… the encore.

Right.

Back on then, and having just given us one Marc Almond number (from the album), he went straight into another song that Soft Cell made famous: Tainted Love. A real poppy, swingy, almost silly version though. It was fun, but it didn’t quite fit. And then he sat at the piano and told us the story of the day in June 2000 that White Ladder and David Gray finally made it into the big time. A tale of a father on chemotherapy, a lucky break of a near headline slot at Glastonbury, and a chance backstage meeting with an apparently bewildered David Bowie, complete with pictures of the whole thing. It was more what I had expected from the whole evening: a bit of background, some anecdotes etc. But this was the only window we got into the story of the album. And then – using the somewhat tenuous Bowie link – the rest of the encore: Life On Mars and Oh! You Pretty Things. And it was great, but it wasn’t David Gray, it was David Bowie, and it wasn’t what the audience had come for. I’m sorry to say that we watched a fair percentage leave during these two songs. Bit disrespectful, but then that’s sadly par for the SA audience: we’ve been here before (more than once).

When you’re playing your biggest album in full, you can’t save your biggest hit for the end of the encore. Still, we thought there would be a rousing repeat of Babylon or something, because why not? But the second Bowie song was segued really awkwardly into the last few (admittedly energetic) bars of Please Forgive Me. But only the last few bars. It was just weird to finish off a concert with 4 cover versions (from three different artists) and then the false ending reprise of one of your songs.

It was still really good, but it was also really odd.

Anyway… overall, an altogether lovely evening and (even before the encore) we’d been treated to a lot of genuinely great music and some amazing vocals. It’s been 16 years since we last saw him here, but if he does come back again, I’ll definitely be there.

Day 632 – This is cheery

Spoiler: It’s not cheery at all. But it is quite good.

Some wonderful editing of live singers into the background theme.

There are some really positive moments in this video, and you should try to hang onto those, because overall, it’s a reminder that – like 2020 before it – 2021 was actually a bit of a shitshow, full of conquest, war, famine and death.

And I think we all know what comes next.

We leave as we began, with Covid still running riot and talk of lockdowns all over the place. Anti-vax idiots still peddling their misinformation and the ANC still “running the country” (into the ground).

Chaos abounds.

At least the summer weather is pretty good in Cape Town today*.

I thought that next year would definitely be better (after all, the bar has been set really rather low), but then I realised that it’s pronounced “2020 too”, and suddenly, I don’t feel quite so hopeful.

* hold onto the the positives, remember?

a-ha in Cape Town – some thoughts

Last night was really very special. Right up there with the Bergen concert.

A balmy evening, a really well-organised experience, some decent support acts, an appreciative crowd, and – of course – Morten, Magne and Pål doing their stuff up on stage. Really fantastic.

As a celebration of the 35th (weep!) anniversary of their first album, they played all ten tracks in full and in order before moving on to some of their more well-known songs. As a fan and a purist, this was so perfect: the opportunity to hear them play some stuff which I hadn’t heard live since (literally) 1986. Just a remarkable experience.

The Blue Sky was gorgeous, the demo version of I Dream Myself Alive was unique and such a rush for the true fans. Here I Stand And Face The Rain  was powerful, energetic and evocative.

And then done with the old stuff, and straight into the bassy, rocky Sycamore Leaves. Wow.

Shall we play something you all know, now?

asked Magne, and the crowd roared as they launched into I’ve Been Losing You. But I just wanted them to keep playing – whatever.

Foot Of The Mountain, Analogue and The Swing Of Things sounded better than I have ever heard them, Stay On These Roads was beautiful and so well-received and respected, and although we didn’t get Crying In The Rain or the new Digital River, that was just fine. It was almost as if they had tailor-made the setlist for me.

Thanks, boys.

The short, but sweet encore of Scoundrel Days (a personal favourite) with a scary echoey reverb, and a rousing The Living Daylights rounded the evening off perfectly.

Not that I couldn’t have done with another hour and a half.  A really wonderful experience, and one I was so chuffed to have shared with the kids.

Was this my last a-ha concert? Who knows? (After all, I have been to my last a-ha concert several times already…!) I hope not, obviously, because I just love their music and hearing it live is so special for me.

But… but, if it was, then this was a fitting send off. What a truly exceptional evening.

 

All my photos from the concert (15)

New drones

Bad news. I no longer have the coolest drone on the market.

That’s because last week, DJI released two new Mavic 2 Pro drones: the Zoom and the Pro. There’s been a huge number of comments on these new offerings across the droning community for a while now, but no-one has actually had any hands-on experience with them, because… well.. obviously they weren’t available.

Now they are, and obviously, one of the first to have one (or two) was Casey Neistat – a guy whose opinions on these sort of things I value tremendously. I started to watch his review with my Mavic 1 sitting next to me and an understanding that, inevitably, these new drones would render Florence pretty much defunct as the flagship, cutting edge consumer unit.

Before I continue, here’s his review:

tl;dw: unsurprisingly, two great drones. He prefers the one with the optical zoom (the… er… M2 Zoom), the other one (M2 Pro) is also good, but falls down a little on value for money.

So yeah, my Mavic 1 is now old news.

Or is it?

Because first off, there’s every reason for these models to be better than Florence. They have the benefit of being released 20 months later than her, and in a marketplace which features such cutting edge technology – technology that still regularly astounds people that see my drone – that’s a massive, massive advantage. Not least in that DJI can look at their consumers’ wishlists and react accordingly.

They’re more expensive too. Sure, you’re getting a few more features, but aside from the improved cameras (and you can look at the video for direct side-by-side comparisons), there’s not really that much else added.

The M2 Pro FlyMore package (the direct equivalent of how I bought Florence) comes in a cool R10,000 more than I paid for my Mavic back in January last year. And because of that, Casey suggests that for the quality of picture vs value for money, Florence can still hold her own against the M2 Pro. Boom.

There are two other points to take into consideration as well, and these ones are personal, so I fully accept that they might not be the same for everyone.

Firstly, if you are buying your Mavic 2 drone next month when they get to SA, then enjoy it. You’re going to have an amazing time. But you will have already missed out on the 20 months of fun that I have had. Sure, I could have waited for the Mavic 2, in much the same way that you could have waited for the Mavic 3. But I have had such a good time all over the world with my drone: I have no regrets whatsoever.

And secondly, because money doesn’t grow on trees, my choice of which bits of technology I want to upgrade has to be tempered somewhat. Sure, if I won the lottery tomorrow I’d be at the DJI Store on Wednesday.
But that’s (probably) not going to happen.
A far more sensible approach is to wait until your technology begins to limit what you can – and what you want to – do with it. I’ve done that on a couple of occasions with cameras (indeed, I’m just beginning to get there with my current entry-level Canon DSLR).

I’m nowhere near that point with my drone. I haven’t even scratched the surface. The problem is that it’s just such fun to fly. You head out with the best of intentions to shoot some amazing video or some such, you pop it up into the air and just “warm up” with a few runs in and out over the beach or wherever, and you’re having such a good time that you do a few more.

And then suddenly:

Maybe that video thing can wait til tomorrow.

And guess what happens tomorrow?
I simply don’t have the discipline to overcome the amount of fun I have when I launch my drone.

So, while my Florence is now technologically aeons behind in this exciting, fast-paced field, I’m very happy to keep working playing with my Mavic 1.

It’s still amazing. It is.

Le Boat – Canal du Nivernais advice

Or: Notes from Le Boat

For the record, I have no affiliation to Le Boat or France or canals or whatever. I’m not being paid to write this. I doubt that anyone influential in any of those companies or fields will even ever read it. It pains me that I feel that I have to tell you this sort of thing, but there are so many paid-for posts out there that it’s actually getting hard to find an honest positive review. This is one of those though. Promise.

We’ve just finished the Le Boat 7 day trip from Tannay to Migennes along the Canal du Nivernais and so I thought I’d put finger to keyboard and give future visitors some advice on what to do, what not to do and what to expect generally from your boat and your cruise.
Just a few things that if we had known before we started would have made our trip that bit easier. Not that it hasn’t been great anyway: none of these are dealbreakers.

I thoroughly recommend this as an absolutely fantastic experience.

Getting to Tannay isn’t the easiest. It’s not a big place. There are trains, but they are few and far between (two a day when we were there and at unhelpful times too). Rather get a train to Auxerre or Clamecy and grab a taxi from there. The convenience outweighs the extra cost.

We set off from the Tannay base at about 4pm on Wednesday. Our itinerary was completely up to us, just as yours is completely up to you, but this worked perfectly for us and so I’m sharing it here. Feel free to save or share this page, and ask any questions and share your thoughts in the comments below.

[The PK references relate to Pointe Kilometrique – you’ll see them in the map book that comes with your boat.]

Wednesday evening: Villiers-sur-Yonne (PK 105) – free power and water. Trees, countryside, tiny village.
Thursday lunchtime: Clamecy (PK 113.5) – a quick stop to look at the church and get some supplies at Carrefour City (Rue Marie Davy).
Thursday evening: Pousseau (PK 121) – simple anchor point with no facilities, but quiet and just 900m from the boulangerie in Surgy (just off traffic circle at Rue du Herisson).
Friday lunchtime: Chatel-Censoir (PK 132.5) – mini marina – EUR 6 for water and electricity. Connect up and a man with a book will come and see you.
Friday evening: Mailly-le-Chateau (PK 141.7). A basin to ourselves on the edge of a forest. A walk up to the town on top of the cliffs to get bread (Boulangerie, Rue du Jeu de Paume) will give you a superb view over the local countryside in the morning.
Saturday lunchtime: We did the Vermenton branch and ate at the very nice Hostellerie de La Fontaine restaurant in Accolay (PK 3.0).
Saturday evening: Cravant (PK 155.9). EUR 8 for unlimited water and electricity. The people at the tourist office right on the dock will help you out. Pretty little town, great boulangerie and grocer on Rue de la Poterrne.
Sunday lunchtime: We stopped off for a couple of hours at the Caves in Bailly (PK 162.4). Do the tasting, but save your time and money and avoid the tour. Unless it’s really your sort of thing.
Sunday evening: Nice spot on a pontoon near the lock at Toussac, Champs-sur-Yonne (PK 166.2), but tokens needed for services and nowhere open to buy them.
Monday lunchtime/evening: Auxerre (PK 0.5) – Remarkable churches, amazing city, great waterfront with bars and restaurants (we enjoyed the burgers, beers and hospitality at the Restaurant Le Saint Nicolas). Huge supermarket on east side of footbridge (Avenue Jean Jaures). Water and electricity tokens available from tourist office, east bank, near footbridge).
Tuesday lunchtime: Moored up about at a picnic spot about 2km south of Migennes (approx PK 20)
Tuesday evening: Migennes at junction of Canal de Bourgogne (PK 22.7) ahead of the boat return at 9am on Wednesday. Supermarket 150m, Boulangerie 200m, Station 350m (trains to Paris every hour).

So what should you take?

Well, the boats are really well-appointed. We didn’t need anything. We bought the grocery pack from Le Boat, so there were the basics waiting for us when we arrived on board. This was a good thing. If you don’t choose this option, you will need to bring some supplies along: water, wine, beers, bread, snacks or whatever to get you through the first 24 hours.

That said, you will need to stock up while you’re on the canal and you should do so whenever you get the opportunity. Part of the charm of rural France is the laid back vibe, but it can be frustrating when places aren’t open and you have an urgent need for a pain au chocolat.

We hired bikes, which you take with you on your boat. The towpaths are amazing for cycling along and it’s great to nip into nearby villages for croissants in the mornings.

Take a flag. Tie it on your boat. We saw visitors from the US, New Zealand, Holland, Russia, Canada, Australia, Germany, South Africa and more.
Don’t expect to rush. You can’t get anywhere quickly, so plan ahead and chill out.

Respect the lockkeepers. They are all so friendly and helpful, but be aware that they are (rightfully) strict about opening and closing times and their lunch hours. Many speak some English. Not all of them though!

Don’t worry about driving your boat: the demonstration when you arrive is very informative, and it’s really not that difficult anyway.

Download MAPS.ME on your phone before you go. It’s like an offline Google Maps and can be super helpful when there isn’t any cell signal.

Note: I’ll add some photos once I’ve had chance to edit them. And if anything else comes to mind, I’ll add that too. I’m going to stick this on TripAdvisor as well, because I’d love to have had this sort of info before we went away!