Among The Trees, Hayward Gallery

The brutalist concrete of London’s Southbank Centre, some of it originally set for the Festival of Britain in 1951, seems a place at odds – if not an odd place – to hold an exhibition that asks us to think about our relationship with trees and forests. But, that’s what the Hayward Gallery’s ‘Among The Trees’ is asking us to do.  It reopened yesterday after being closed at the start of the COVID crisis and is now extended until October, so ignore the out-of-date dates on promotional banners.  Visitor numbers are limited and there’s a one-way system introduced so that social distancing norms can be observed. 

I’m no art critic, but I think I am with the ES Magazine’s “there’s much here to absorb, unsettle and even, occasionally, provoke wonder” over Time Out’s “the rest just sort of blurs into one, and by the end, you can’t see the art for the trees”.  Most reviewers seem to agree that Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s six-screen, horizontal video of a giant Finnish spruce is the most powerful piece and it is visually very impressive.   Eva Jospin’s forest from cardboard, which is one of the first exhibits you come to, reminds us of both the beauty of the forest and the damage caused by humans.  Later, Steve McQueen’s Lynching Tree, depicting a tree that once served as a gallows for slaves, provides another reminder of our cruel and destructive nature.

In many ways, that grey concrete architecture – a material which itself replaced the need for wood in some construction projects and is the core of the Hayward Gallery – is the perfect backdrop to the trees that form the exhibition. Perhaps my only criticism is that there’s not enough of the contrast, the hard and the soft, exploited within.

The restrictions caused by timed-entry and fewer people in the gallery space, may not be great for the gallery’s finances, but make the experience itself very nice indeed.  No real queues, except to get into the shop afterwards,  and no crowds around the big art pieces. And, given how much of the world is closed off to us right now, the reopening is a  real treat. Although, perhaps we should be spending these beautiful summer days in nature for real.

Red Rose Radio: In memory of St Paul’s Church

Back at the end of January, Bauer Radio – one of the UK’s biggest radio groups – announced the closure of its studios in St Paul’s Square, Preston (home of Rock FM) and the transfer of broadcast operations to their studio centre in Manchester.

In many ways the story is just another small step in the consolidation of UK radio. Increasing shared programming and networking allows radio station owners to create the kind of big, modern radio brand you need to stand out in 2020 without the costs of maintaining lots of studio locations. It was reported that, in recent years, the only programme to originate in Preston was Rock FM’s breakfast show, fronted Joel and Gemma. The rest came from other locations in the Bauer group.

SMS satellite dish outside Red Rose Radio

But this isn’t just another studio move. Red Rose Radio was unusual because the founders commissioned a broadcast complex in an old church, where thick walls could help with soundproofing. Apparently, Red Rose Radio Limited paid £35,000 for the St Paul’s church and brought the conversion project in for £778,000. From my time at SMS, I have a very grainy scan of a photo of the company’s satellite dish outside the church. There’s a documentary on YouTube going behind the scenes of the station in 1993 where you can very clearly see the church architecture in the offices.

The whole story may have passed me by had I not been searching for some recordings that I have on cassette, stored in an old box at the back of a cupboard, on which I discovered a snippet of Red Rose’s closedown audio from the early years and decided to have a look what was the station was like today.

Back in the early years of UK commercial radio, stations would often launch with a broadcast schedule that did not operate around the clock.

On that tape, the station’s first Programme Controller, Keith Macklin, is delivering the ‘goodnight’ announcement that was played each evening. The audio fades a little in the middle but remains audible. From memory, I would have recorded it when the station used to closedown after the news at midnight. Back then I was a big fan of late night phone-ins on Piccadilly Radio, listening under the covers when I should have been asleep. On the same tape was another piece of audio, the engineering announcement that played every few minutes through the night. This was obviously later in the year because the broadcasting hours had been extended to 2am. Who knows what I was doing to get that recording; I can only imagine there was no school the next day.

I thought the closedown audio and the closedown of the studios seemed correlated. So, I upload that audio in memory of St Paul’s church, Preston.

The audio is also on Soundcloud. See other audio I have uploaded on the Listen page.

Tweetless or Tweet Less?

I realised I only tweeted 10 times in 2019 so I wondered (to myself) what I had written about.

My morning routine, after I have arrived in the office, usually entails eating breakfast while reading a couple of blog posts before diving into my email. This morning, I thought about some content I used to follow on Twitter and decided to look it up. It’s still there: but that’s not the point of this post. Then I thought I would write something to welcome the new decade as, although a day late, I thought it worth marking in my timeline.

That’s when I realised I only tweeted 10 times in 2019. That’s pretty terrible really. I used to use Twitter a lot. Sadly, I find it a pretty depressing place most of the time which – I think – is why I have generally shied away from the platform recently. I’m pretty certain if I had the time I could curate a list that was much more positive to read.

Nonetheless, I decided to look at the topics I did tweet about in 2019 – my logic being that if I use the platform so rarely then what I did tweet about must have been worth the effort of opening the app and might be interesting to see what I cared about in 2019. Sadly not. Here’s my ranking:

So, here’s the tweet I went with:my first of the new decade. I thought about something I’d seen earlier in the day which seemed like positive news:

Give this is my 11th tweet in just over a year, I thought I would look at my posting trends. Using TweetStats and picking July as the sample month for no real reason except it was the first month on TweetStats’ graph, my tweet trend is not looking good. Maybe I should do better.

Currently, I am better at Instagram. Come join me there. As an aside, if Twitter made curating lists and generally managing your feed easier then maybe I would spend time creating the view I want.