Workshop: Teresa’s Sewing Box

Another archival post, this time a rosewood sewing box, for Teresa’s birthday (May), last year. I should’ve, and was intending to, make it twice as deep. But in the end time ran out, so I went with a shallower design.

I enjoyed lining it in green felt, and felt (boom-boom) that it was a successful project, albeit far from perfect. Teresa really likes it, and that’s the main thing. Plus I learn something new with every project.

MUSiC: Vulfpeck, a new discovery

I can sometimes be a bit of a grumpy old curmudgeon when it comes to contemporary music culture, mostly because what I hear in the mainstream seems like so much utterly vacuous drivel, by and large.

As an example, one of my young drum pupils has suggested a track, Rise, by Jonas Blue for his most recent project. This kind of contemporary pop is utterly devoid of any interest to me, simply being an assemblage of the most obvious and banal of clichés.  Fortunately my student wants to add a drum part to the ‘acoustic’ version of the single, so we’ll have the freedom to inject some honest humanity of our own into proceedings.

Of course there is a good deal of great music being made now, and YouTube is perhaps the best way I know of to discover much of it. It’s where I discovered the chief subject of this post.

Having said that, some music I really love has come to my notice via personal links: my uncle Terry introduced me to The Society of Strange and Unusual Instruments. And their latest recording, The Longest Night, is sublimely beautiful. I did a general post on the group here

Then there’s Resolution 88, the Herbie/Rhodes focussed project of Tom O’Grady, a local musician I’ve had the privilege to work with on occasion, whose music keeps alive and brings into the present a very rich tradition of superb jazz-funk-fusion. I’ll post more on these guys here soon. In the meantime, here’s a link to my Amazon UK review of their debut album.

But today’s post is all about ze Vunderful Vurld of Vulf. Vulfpeck are an American group, the dynamo of which is Jack Stratton, a very charismatic character. The core of the group appear to be a development of a former music school quartet, comprising Stratton (multi-instrumentalist and renaissance-cyberman), Joe Dart (bass), Theo Katzmann (multi-instrumentalist/vocals), and Woody Goss (keys).

Around this core there’s a colourful cast of collaborators, and the Vulf channel on YouTube covers a lot of territory, centred around music, but ranging into comedy, auto-didactic eclecticism, and all sorts. As well as a distinct central focus on funky soulful music, there’s a fantastic design and production aesthetic, which affects both music and visual production. The Vurld of Vulf is really something special.

Vulf, Funkier
This moment in this particular video made me smile so hard I cracked my face.

I find it all terrifically joyful and inspiring. It’s making me aware that I really ought to bring all my creative endeavours out into the open. For example, I’ve always had a thang for typography, and designed a family of fonts many moons ago, some of which I actually turned into workable computer typefaces using Fontographer, for use in my design, illustration and music projects.

Vulf have their own signature font, which I believe you can buy via their website. I think I’ll dust off my fonts, and bring them up to date and share them. But I really want to create another one, suitable for use in the broadest of contexts – most of my previous font design was for more ‘graphic’ type characters, and not so well suited to ‘body text’ – and I’ve long had a yen to try my hand at a variant of Carolingian Miniscule script. Sebolingian, perhaps? Or maybe… Sebolingus?

Vulf have also developed their own compressor, with some help from another former college buddy. Both the font and compressor can be bought via links on their website. I’m planning to get back into recording and producing my own music, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be buying this compressor at some point, as it looks and sounds terrific.

Jack Stratton can be observed doing all sorts of stuff besides music. And he seems to have some alter-egos, such as ‘Mushy’, for some of his prolific output. Amongst the many things he’s put out are several ‘Holy Trinities’, which are ‘the three best’ of such and such. These latter, produced, I think, by the guy who helped develop their compressor, are musical, but are about, say, the three greatest tambourine players (as shown above), for example. They are superbly put together, massively enjoyable, and I find myself entirely in agreement with senor Stratton.

Many of the musical references these chaps are drawing from chime with my own. Dean Town, a live video of which is included above, is an homage to Weather Report’s Teen Town, a longstanding favourite track of mine [1]. And it’s interesting to see which legendary figures Stratton cites, such as Fonce Mizzell, or who they collaborate with, live and in the studio, such as David Walker, James Gadson, Bernard Purdie, and Mike McDonald. When I saw that they performed What A Fool Believes, with MacDonald, I was blown away.

Woody Goss’ face above says it all.


[1] I have long loved Teen Town. Since discovering Weather Report in my early/mid teens (how appropriate!), and enjoying learning a lot from drumming along to their stuff, I’ve always had a few favourites from their extensive and varied catalogue. From very early on Teen Town was amongst my tip-top favourites. Unlike much Weather Report, it’s a small intricately wrought little nugget. And it’s largely performed by its composer, Jaco Pastorius, with his drums and bass being the key dominant elements. Alex Acura drums (brilliantly) on the rest of the album. But Jaco himself plays the traps on this number, and sounds as if he’s done it in two passes: one’s a relatively simple cyclic groove, dominated by the hi-hat (or, as Vulfpeck have it in Dean Town, ‘sock cymbal’), whilst the other is a very funkily syncopated duet between an open boomy bass drum, and a super-tight, super-dry snare. These drum parts reveal Pastorius to be an incredibly talented drummer. Manolo Badrena, Wayne Shorter, and (possibly?) Joe Zawinul contribute parts that are extremely and unusually minimal. The result is a highly wrought gem of a piece. Vulfpeck’s homage recycles the ‘sock cymbal’ element, and also features bass as the lead instrument, but is also very different in some respects, primarily in the simplicity and linear straightforwardness – or lack of complex syncopation (such a feature of the Pastorius number) – of the drum part.

Misc: Bovington Tank Museum, Tiger Collection

I’ve been wanting to go to the Bovington Tank Museum for some time, to see the Tiger collection. It’s a shame they don’t have a SturmTiger, but they have a Tiger I, two Tiger IIs, a JadTiger and an Elefant.

Bovington, Elefant
On loan from the U.S. of A mighty Sd.Kfz. 184, aka Ferdinand, or Elefant.

I’ve posted a photo report on the Elefant on my mini-military blog, here.

I’ll be posting more stuff there about the other Tigers, etc. But here a few pics of stuff I particularly dug.

Bovington, Tiger II
A Porsche turreted Tiger II.

There are two Tiger II tanks, one with a Porsche turret, and one with the Henschel turret, that became the chosen production variant. It was Porsche’s rejected King Tiger hulls that formed the basis of the Ferdinand/Elefant Tank-hunter.

Bovington, JagdTiger
The JagdTiger, another mighty monster.

Another Tank-hunter, by name as well as fighting role, was the awesome JagdTiger. Above you can see what a huge beast it was. This tank looks pristine inside, and you can see into both the engine bay and fighting compartment.

Bovington, JagdTiger
You can see inside the JagdTiger.

Below is the Henschel King Tiger, or Tiger II, also in zimmerit anti-magnetic mine paste. The paint job is the mid/late-war three colour ‘ambush’ scheme, and the markings are very nice.

Bovington, Tiger II
Henschel turreted Tiger II
Bovington, Tiger II
Zimmerit and markings.

All that is there to stand in for the SturmTiger is a mortar barrel. Below is a picture taken looking down said barrel, with a torch illuminating the rifled interior. Impressive! (Can’t help hearing the James Bond theme tune when I see this!)

Bovington, SturmTiger
Internal view of the SturmTiger mortar barrel.

The five Tigers on display are truly amazing. I’m sooo glad I made the effort to see them all. I’ll go again later in the year, I think. But I had to go today to catch the Elefant before it’s shipped back Stateside… tomorrow!

One of the reasons I had to see the Elefant is ’cause I’ve been making models of them. I’ve built two so far, and I’m working on a third. Seeing the real thing is both inspiring, and useful for gathering reference.

I love the tank museum!

MEDiA: Joni Mitchell, Mojo, March 2019

Joni MoJo
Mojo, March 2019

A while back, whilst researching one of my music writing projects, I exchanged several emails with Chris Dedrick (now sadly no longer with us) of The Free Design, in which we briefly discussed the Jungian idea of synchronicity, amongst other things.

Like Gordon Sumner, Dedrick was very positive about the idea of synchronicity. And so am I, today at least. It certainly felt like a big old dose of serendipitous synchronicity when, shopping in Sainsbury’s, I decided to look at the magazine section, something I almost never, ever do.

John Sebastian
Sometimes listed as ‘Welcome Back’, Sebastian’s four solo albums on Reprise.

OnIy yesterday I had been listening to a two CD compilation of four John Sebastian albums. I look at the magazine racks, and there’s Joni Mitchell, one of my all time musical heroines, smiling down at me. And whose name is that next to hers? John Sebastian.

Sometime soon I’ll  get into Sebastian, so to speak. But today it’s all about Joni. Sadly the free CD on the cover of this Mojo is not Joni Mitchell’s music, but ’15 songs inspired by the genius of Joni Mitchell’. Past experience teaches that this will be – my apologies to the artists concerned – deeply disappointing.

I don’t think any of the free CDs I’ve ever got from a music mag like this, Mojo, Uncut, or whatever, have been any good. A real shame, and a real missed opportunity this. What would’ve been far better would have been a collection of rare and unsual Joni recordings, of which there are plenty. But I guess that would have been a lot harder to arrange.

Seeff captures Joni in her Bel Air pool.

I’ve been meaning to move some posts over here from my ‘sounds from the funky goat’ music blog (now in stasis/limbo… i.e. pretty much defunkt!), including several Joni album posts. But on seeing this I’ve decided to start with a read and review of Mojo’s 22 page Joni special.

There’s a six-page 2004 interview, by Robert Hilburn (really three pages plus lots of pics and large-text captions), a piece with Norman Seeff and some of his Joni pics, and a series of chronological pieces by Victoria Segal, David Cavanagh, MoJo editor John Mulvey and Mat Snow, which range from covering her early days right up to the post-aneurysm wheelchair-bound present.

Joni Mojo
Joan Anderson in her High School yearbook.*

I guess Joni’s a tough gig for any journo, like other artists I love such as Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart or even, more recently, Lewis Taylor. And I found most of this writing not too great, focussing largely on the more obvious stuff [1], with very little new info’, for a long-time intense Joni junkie like me.

There’s a bit too much over-reverence for Blue. It is a great album by great artist at the peak of her powers, but I find it, taken as a whole, almost too cloyingly intense. And as a total listening experience I prefer most of her other albums from debut Song To A Seagull through to Hejira, after which they remain brilliant, but are more patchy.

Joni Mojo
Mitchell at the joanna in her Laurel Canyon home.*

The most interesting stuff here comes mostly from Joni herself, not surprisingly. I particularly like a quote from the Hilburn interview: ‘I believe a total unwillingness to cooperate is necessary to be an artist’. She actually clarifies this afterwards, and it seems to me that the word compromise could equally well (or better?) be substituted for cooperate.

Her critical stance on the modern music industry also rings true, as when she alleges that she overheard some music biz type saying that what was wanted nowadays was not talent, but ‘a certain look and a willingness to cooperate’. I think her choice of the word cooperate in her aforementioned quote was in reaction to this statement.

There are also a number of ‘Joni on Joni’ inserts, peppered throughout, in which Mitchell reflects on her ouevre. Again, these are more interesting by and large than the understandable but less insightful rhapsodies about her recorded work from the various journalists. But even then, they don’t offer as much insight as I hoped they might.

Joni Mojo
Norman Seeff’s portrait of Joni, as used on Hejira.

In relation to this, it seems to me that one of the common failures of interaction and understanding between artists and journalists is in how to interface, and specifically what approach to take. I have hoped that being both artist and writer myself that I might be better able to bridge such a gap. But on several occasions, for example when interviewing Brazilian singer Joyce some years ago, I was disappointed to discover this wasn’t necessarily so!

What I – and I imagine most readers of such stuff as this – really want is for the artist to simply open up, and talk about themselves and their lives, not necessarily their work. Although that is of course of interest. The notion that we want literal explanations of, let’s say, a particular lyric, whilst true on some levels, is also overly simplistic. The best writing on music is actually simply a form of cultural history. And that requires detail on context.

Joni Mojo
The fully treated Hejira montage record cover.

One little snippet of this does come to light here, when Joni explains, almost apologetically, how she came to write the lyrics for Amelia, on Hejira. Clearly she’s a bit worried about ‘unweaving the rainbow’, or demistyfying the creative process. Personally this doesn’t bother me at all, and is in fact encouraging for fellow aspiring artists.

But what’s more fascinating is to read about the overall context of this era, with Joni travelling across the U.S. How that relates to the melancholy and sense of wanderlust that’s so palpable on that album is even more interesting than the naked nuts and bolts of a songs particular genesis.

Joni Mojo
Seeff captures Joni at work on a painting. [2]
It’s interesting to have the Norman Seeff stuff, both photographic and textual. I tried to get Seeff to talk to me about the photos he took of obscure instrumental group The Earth Disciples, many years ago, but got nowhere. I’d love to have his book The Joni Mitchell Sessions. But judging from the info on it in MoJo it’s going to be a super-expensive limited edition thing. Hey-ho (and see below!).

Still, at the end of the day, it’s great to see Joni being remembered and celebrated. I guess, in fairness to the artists on the free CD, I ought to take a listen to it. I’ll save that for tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ll go to bed with Joni… For The Roses, I think. A woman of heart and mind indeed.

* These pics aren’t in Mojo’s Joni feature.


[1] David Cavanagh kind of pissed me off by describing Barangrill as having ‘fuzzy emotional blankness’… eh? It’s one of the best tracks on a totally brilliant album. But hey, it’s all so subjective with music. Each to their own, I guess. I see jazz singer Mark Murphy is in my corner though, witness his superb cover of the song on his Mark Murphy II album.

[2] It’s interesting to note that Beefheart retired from music to concentrate on painting. Joni managed to pursue both in parallel, to some degree, although she also went the same way in the end.

Having just read a few Amazon UK reviews of Seeff’s Joni book, I feel disinclined to get it. For a book with a RRP of £75, even heavily discounted to closer to £45, it gets a slating: for bad design/layout – key pictures that disappear into the spine, for example – and minimal textual value. Also, I find that photographic stuff around ‘pop stars’ can often burst the bubble of my admiration for them, revealing them as preening narcissists, often looking pretty foolish. I’m not a fan of fashion magazines, and a lot of ‘pop photography’ steers too close to that whole arena of vacuity.




Misc: Burns’ Night

We like to Celebrate Burns’ Night wi’ a Haggis and a wee dram o’ whusky. Teresa cooked the haggis, mashed ‘taters, etc. I bought the whisky.

Robert Burns
Robert Burns

Address To A Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
‘Bethankit’ hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis.

And for those who don’t speak Highlander, here’s a translation:

Good luck to you and your honest, plump face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.

The groaning trencher there you fill,
Your buttocks like a distant hill,
Your pin would help to mend a mill
In time of need,
While through your pores the dews distill
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour wipe,
And cut you up with ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like any ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm steaming, rich!

Then spoon for spoon, the stretch and strive:
Devil take the hindmost, on they drive,
Till all their well swollen bellies by-and-by
Are bent like drums;
Then old head of the table, most like to burst,
‘The grace!’ hums.

Is there that over his French ragout,
Or olio that would sicken a sow,
Or fricassee would make her vomit
With perfect disgust,
Looks down with sneering, scornful view
On such a dinner?

Poor devil! see him over his trash,
As feeble as a withered rush,
His thin legs a good whip-lash,
His fist a nut;
Through bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit.

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his ample fist a blade,
He’ll make it whistle;
And legs, and arms, and heads will cut off
Like the heads of thistles.

You powers, who make mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill of fare,
Old Scotland wants no watery stuff,
That splashes in small wooden dishes;
But if you wish her grateful prayer,
Give her [Scotland] a Haggis!

We had a great meal, and enjoyed listening to a Naxos CD of various Burns poems. The whisky was nice, but it knocked Teresa out for the count. She was asleep on the couch almost straightaway after the dinner!

Home: new light fittings

This morning I drove over to Cottenham, and collected two chandelier style light fittings. More Freecycle freebies!

New lights
Looking in from the dining room/front-door end.

Ok, they’re not 100% to our tastes. But they’re light years (wah-wah-waah) better than what we inherited from the previous owner of our property.

New light
Looking out from the lounge end.

And what’s more, there are two identical fittings, which suits our open-plan lounge/dining room areas poifeckly. Now we have a more unified look – and prettier, to boot – throughout.

New lights
Switched off.

Installing these fittings is both easy and a right pain in the arse. In principle it’s a cinch. But the working over your heard, arms upraised and neck crooked… and it being fiddly getting the wires connected/stowed, and the whole thing attached to the ceiling. Well, it didn’t take long. But I wouldn’t say it was fun.

Still, I’m happy with the end result. It also has the pleasing effect of giving more light. Our long through lounge can be quite gloomy. Especially now, in the deep, dark depths o’ winter.

New lights
The old lounge end light.

The second set of lights proved to be much harder. I was working on it, off and on, all afternoon and into the evening. For one thing the wiring is more complex, as it also feeds the kitchen annex lights. Sorting it out so it would stow in the ceiling rose was a real arse-ache.

New lights
This second set were a real pain to install.

The little metal bracket that one fixes onto the ceiling, and on to which the light fitting then attaches, was missing from this second set. I tried fashioning my own, and I tried using another from a different place in the lounge (where we have two redundant wall lamp fittings).

New lights
Only had three bulbs, and only one of those works.

Sadly neither of these worked. There’s a joist visible through the gap where the wires come through, so I screwed through the plasterboard and directly in to that.

At this juncture, rather annoyingly – quite apart from only having three bulbs left for this set of lights, and only one of those working – the kitchen lights stopped working. I must’ve somehow broken a link somewhere in a circuit. Hmm!? What to do? Might have to get an electrician in to have a look/sort it out.

New lights
A new set of LED bulbs.

Okay, popped out to Boyes early today, and bought a set of five LED ‘candle’ bulbs. Installed ’em, and presto! All working. But the kitchen lights are still non-functional. So… roll up the sleeves, take the g’damn light fitting down again, and investigate. There must be a break in the circuitry somewhere.

And relax… I finally rewired and remounted the whole shebang, really taking care over the wiring, and now everything’s working as it should. Thank goodness! Didn’t even have to call in a sparky. Total cost of installing these two five-light chandeliers? £13 for the bulbs. Not bad!

Home: Letting a Room with Airb&B

With numbers down on the drum teaching front, mainly due to our move making travelling to some former schools/pupils less viable – in particular the two hours plus odyssey to Bishops Stortford* – we thought we’d try letting our spare or ‘guest’ room.

Our initial attempt, listing it on Gumtree with a view to finding a lodger, got plenty of views, but no enquiries. So I thought why not try AirB&B? We ourselves have stayed in a few AirB&B properties, the best and most memorable being our Waterloo bicentennial trip to Belgium, in 2015. That place was absolutely terrific.

Anyway, letting our spare room with AirB&B has, so far, proved to be a good move, with guests booking in pretty much straight away. Our very first guest came during one of Tigger’s occasional bouts of flea infestation, which wasn’t exactly the best start! But we waged merciless war on the little bleeders, and eventually saw them off.

After this shaky start, things have settled down. One of the several good things is that having people coming to stay forces us to keep a better, tidier, cleaner house. Another is that the AirB&B short-stay type deal suits us – and perhaps me especially? – far better than a ‘proper’ old-school lodger, who’s around all the time.

We’ve had people recommend us to friends and colleagues, and we have one regular guest, who comes to visit his young son. His son’s name? Sebastian! The best thing is that everyone who’s stayed so far has been very easy going. We haven’t had any issues at all. Long may that continue!

* The difference this makes to my car fuel bills is massively noticeable. Plus all the time no longer wasted travelling. It was a good school, and the kids were great. But I’m really glad I finally quit! I’m not someone who finds quitting easy or natural.


Workshop: Leather Strop

Leather strop
Kinky spanking paddle? Nope… strop, smooth side.

I still have issues with various tools, such as chisels and planes, not being sharp enough. I’ve been using Paul Seller’s sandpaper on glass technique for sharpening. And it has gotten blades much sharper.

But I’ve never yet been able to achieve the razor-sharp shave your arm hair degree of keenness on any blades that I want and need.

Having mentioned this when commenting on Youtube videos and forum posts about sharpening I’ve been told a leather strop is essential. So over yesterday and today day I made one.

Leather strop
Strop, rough side.

I got two perfectly sized and shaped rectangular scraps of leather from a local craft shop, for £2, and made a wooden paddle out of some suitable looking medium density timber I found lying around the workshop.

I cut the wood to size on my quick’n’dirty tablesaw, shaping the handle on my bandsaw, and finished it off with some sanding and shaping, especially of the handle. I also drilled and shaped a hole for hanging it on my tool wall.

I glued the smooth-side-up piece on, rough side down, using wood glue. Left overnight that worked fine. However, the rough-side-up face, also glued with wood glue, didn’t work so well.

Leather strop
It feels good in my hand.

Firstly it had slipped out of position, and secondly, it was easy to peel off. So I removed it, cleaned up that face of the wooden paddle, and re-applied it, using a two-part epoxy glue. Stopping the smooth side of the leather from sliding out of place was tricky, but I eventually succeeded in weighting it down with sundry stuff and, a few hour later, it seems fine.

I had to trim off some excess glue, and even a few edges of leather that overhung. But shaping the handle, partly with a mini electric hand sander I recently got via Amazon Vine, and sandpaper and files, was – even if the results are rather rustic – lots of fun.

Leather strop
Shaping the handle was fun.

I really wanted to get some polishing compound today. But by the time I’d found someone local who actually stocks/sells it, it was too late. I’ll have to get it tomorrow, or early thursday. I also need to set up some new sandpaper and glass, and do a load more basic sharpening.

I might even bite the bullet and get some sharpening stones. I’d like the diamond plates. But good ones are very dear! Still, I’m pleased, another home-made tool for the workshop. Might stain the wood a bit darker… hmm?

Book Review: Napoleon, ed. Sylvain Cordier

Napoleon, Cordier

Wow! This is a terrifically beautiful book.

This edition – I wonder if others will be published, e.g. when the show gets to the Palace of Fontainebleau? – bears the imprimature of the Canadian Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Napoleon, Cordier

I had them set aside a copy for me at Topping Books, intending to go in and buy it yesterday. But worries about the cost – I’ve paid the full £40 RRP – resulted in my not going till today.

I got up earlier than I normally would, to be first at the bank, paying in some drum lesson fees (and thereby mitigating, somewhat, my feelings of guilt re the expense!), and was in Ely nice and early. A quick browse of the book at the counter, and I bought it.

Napoleon, Cordier
David’s famous and monumental coronation painting.

Now I’m poring over it at Welney WWT, with a pot of tea and a bacon bap. Must keep any bacon grease of this sumptuous and expensive thing of beauty! I’m sharing a few pictures of spreads from the book for educational purposes, in the hope that folks visiting and reading this might be inspired to buy this book, and/or visit the exhibition.

Napoleon, Cordier
Napoleon’s Grand Equerry, Caulaincourt.

Sadly for us Brits the show won’t be coming to England as far as I know. It travels via several venues across t’other side of the pond, in Canada and the U.S, before heading to France, later in 2019. I intend to visit the show when it reaches Fontainebleau!

Napoleon, Cordier
Various drawings and plans.

It’s funny, in years past my interest in all things Napoleonic was chiefly confined to the military history aspect. Mostly it’s been centred around reading, including much perusal of art and maps, etc, and all of this as a kind of adjunct to the toy soldier collection.

Napoleon, Cordier
Palatial opulence.

Now, however, I’m interested in far more: the person of Napoleon himself, and his allies and enemy’s; the art, culture, and even the general tenor of the times, and how they’ve fed into subsequent history, and so on.

Indeed, I’ve had flights of fancy wherein I fantasised about returning to higher education and studying the era in greater depth. I even had one particular dream which involved a PhD on the visual culture of the 1er Empire, the end product of which was to have been something very like this book, drawing together such diverse elements as art, architecture, design, and all that jazz.

Napoleon, Cordier
Court apparel, some pretty fly duds!

But here it is, already done, by a whole team of experts, and now in my eager and excited hands. An absolute treasure trove of beautifully photographed artefacts, ranging from designs for buildings, porcelain, tapestries, uniforms, and suchlike, to the things themselves. And ranging from small metal baubles to chairs, furniture, carriages, all the way up to palaces.

Napoleon, Cordier
Potty about Sevres!

Subtitled The Imperial Household, the chapters are broken down thus:

I. The Imperial Household: Portraits

II. The Household & Its Palaces

III. Art & Majesty

IV. Serving The Imperial Family

V. Epilogue


Within these there are numerous sub-sections, sometimes on a particular theme, individual, or area of production. So for example we have entries on Denon, Sevres, Gobelins, the Empress and her Household, the Imperial Hunt, and so on.

The richness and splendour that is a central theme throughout really is quite overpowering. No doubt just as was intended. There’s also a very interesting juxtaposition on one page of four portraits, in which the contrast between Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon is really very striking.

Napoleon, Cordier
Compare Franklin and Boney!

Having recently been reading Inside The Third Reich, by Albert Speer, it’s interesting to compare the longevity of both these fairly recent irruptions of Imperial ambition. Napoleon certainly was, like Hitler, a despot. But it would seem he was a far more enlightened one, for all that. And in light of that, perhaps it’s not surprising that his Imperial legacy has fared far better, vast amounts of his bequest to history surviving in numerous areas, from bricks and mortar to the Code Napoleon.

Media: Albert Speer


As I mentioned in the post on my recent birthday, one of several books I recently acquired is Inside The Third Reich, which I’m currently reading.

Written during his incarceration in Spandau, it’s interesting to a military history buff like me how little Albert Speer has to say about the military campaigns in Poland, the Low Countries and France, compared with the great detail he goes into about his architectural projects.

Breker Speer
Two Reich artists: Arno Breker sculpts Albert Speer. [1]
I’m only part way through the book – about a third – at the time of posting this. And at this point, despite being kitted out with Nazi Party military uniforms, Speer has no official military position at all, remaining rather simply a freelance architect, whose primary client just so happens to be Adolf Hitler. Seen in this light the skewing in favour of his own area of expertise and activity isn’t really surprising at all.

Speer, Reichskanzlei
A contemporary monograph on Speer’s Neue Reichskanzlei.

Indeed, although he’s a favoured member of Hitler’s innermost coterie, it’s clear that in the lead up to and the early stages of WWII Speer is very definitely on the outside of Hitler’s military circles. This would change, when he became armaments minister. But at the point I’m at, Speer is at pains to stress that whilst he himself felt such monumental projects as Hitler’s plans for central Berlin should be put on hold, in order to focus exclusively on the war effort, The Führer himself insisted that this non-essential work be carried on regardless.

Speer, Reichskanzlei
An imposing if rather heavy looking facade. [2]
Anyway, this fascinating book has got me interested in Speer’s work as an architect. For one thing the scale on which Hitler wanted things done lead Speer into an arena of architecture few can ever entertain even imaginatively, let alone embark upon attempting to actually realise in fact. And yet very little of the planned work was constructed. And of what was built, almost nothing remains.

Speer, Reichskanzlei
The Runder Saal, or round room.

For such immoderately grandiose plans to have ended up having such fleeting and ephemeral existences is in itself a fascinating and tantalising thing. Many of the buildings Speer worked on remain realised only as drawings or, at best, models. The latter only surviving the war (as far as I know) in photographs.

Speer, Reichskanzlei
Hitler wanted to overawe visiting dignitaries.

A bit of googling turned up a few things, such as a recent book on Speer’s architectural work, a short article about a ‘lost’ interview with Speer by Robert Hughes, and a number of instances of people selling a photo-book on Speer’s Neue Reichskanzlei (New Reich Chancellory), pictures from which help illustrate this post.

Speer, Reichskanzlei
A colour pic showing how everything was clad in expensive showy stones, like marble and granite. [3]
One thing both Hitler and Speer clearly revelled in was mass: Speer frequently reels off lists of massive volumes of cubic feet or yards, evidently pleased and impressed with his Hitlerian endeavours as being more favourably endowed, size wise, than anything else ever built before. Adolf and Albert were clearly size-queens, so to speak.

Speer, Reichskanzlei
Speer could do light, modern, and airy.

Speer also has a decidedly rueful note in his hindsight view, suggesting more than once that the aphrodisiac of power caused his style to develop in ways he suggests we’re not ‘true’ to his real nature. Perhaps the image above hints at the lighter more modernist approach he might’ve pursued more, had he not become court architect to a megalomaniac powermonger?

Speer also says he developed a ‘theory of ruins’, and that he discussed this with Hitler, and the two of them were in agreement on it. The idea was, in essence, that buildings of the Third Reich should be built in such a way that, like the ruins of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, they would still be awe-inspiring a thousand or more years hence.

Speer, Reichskanzlei
How things stood in 1945.

The irony was to be that destruction would be visited upon the architectural works of Speer and Hitler’s other architects far sooner. And so it was that Speer’s new Reich Chancellory looked as you see it above, not in 2943, but just two years after completion, in 1945.


[1] Breker clearly captures Speer’s likeness very well, but his Mekon like bulbous bonce, probably intended to flatter Speer by reflecting/emphasising his intellectual aspect, does look a bit comic now.

Speer, Reichskanzlei
More of Breker’s stiff, heavy sculpture.

[2] The horse – possibly Breker again? – has a very stiff, heavy, unnatural look, typical of Nazi approved sculpture. The two figures pictured above also have this rather leaden feel.

[3] Revisiting the ruins of one of his mammoth projects with Robert Hughes, years after the war and his release from prison, Speer confessed that it could now be seen that the outward show of pomp and gravitas was only skin deep, and that even the quality of much of the stone cladding, which covered the concrete bulk of the buildings, would’ve disappointed his beloved Führer.

Speer, Reichskanzlei
Hitler and Speer loved columns, inside…
Speer, Reichskanzlei
… and outside.

One of Hitler’s primary aims in the new Reich Chancellory was to overawe visiting bigwigs, and make them feel both small and tired. The first could be accomplished by architecture on a huge scale, the second by making them walk miles of hard shiny corridors before they met him, cowed and exhausted. Speer himself notes, in retrospect, that all of this, and even his own design style, as it evolved, becomes – indeed is intended to be – inherently oppressive. Well, that’s fascism for you in a nutshell!