About Max Fagandini

Music, history and popular culture

Holiday Wishes

My my my, it’s certainly been a while. And what a while it’s been. Shows, gigs and whatnot galore, and now we get to settle down, maxin’ relaxin’ all cool (b-ball shooting outside of an educational institution optional). So before I launch into the inevitable winter festivity hogwash, a brief rundown of a couple of exciting things over the last term:

– Sax and the City, the UCLU Jazz Society Bloomsbury Theatre show back in November, was marvellous. Though not the sell-out spectacular we’d hoped for, the big band, jazz choir (the artist formerly known as vocal group), small groups and soloists all performed fantastically and had a great reception from the audience. From the screaming Gonna Fly Now (as recorded by Maynard Ferguson) to the more relaxed tunes like The Way You Look Tonight, to cheesy favourites like Soul Bossa Nova (from that one movie about that guy), it all looked and sounded tight as hell. And we even got the culmination of a year and a half’s worth of Anchorman jokes with a little rendition of Afternoon Delight. Groovy times.

– Anything Goes, this term’s musical, was simply sensational. Easily the best musical of which I’ve been a part, so kudos to UCLU Musical Theatre Society for that. And for their choice of the angel Gabriel too. I had a number of people tell me afterwards that it was West End standard, and a couple who even said it was better than the 2003 run – and that one had John Barrowman, so we must’ve been good.

– I stepped in for a recording with Down for the Count a month or two ago, and recently did another gig with them (at an RAF base of all places). The CD is sounding fab, so head on over to the website and order a copy or ten! Sadly it won’t be in time for Christmas, but hey, you don’t need an excuse like that to buy it right? Right.

So, before I depart to sleep soundly, eat too much and fret over an essay on the Satyricon (which is basically about sex), I wish you all happy holidays, a merry Winter-Solstice-Festival-Of-Your-Choosing and best wishes for 2011, which I hear is going to be a pretty sweet year all things considered, though sadly bereft of those novelty new year glasses it seems.

London, City of Dreams and Stuff

“How can you be bored in London? Go for a walk! There’s always something to do, you just have to look for it.”

So a friend of mine once chastised me when I complained of occasionally having nothing to do in my first year at UCL. I of course realised shortly afterwards that he was absolutely right, and took to taking the odd moonlit stroll through the city to see bits of it I hadn’t before and narrowly avoid getting mugged. I did a lot in my first two years of university – I took in places like the British Museum in my own time, took a boat trip down the Thames and discovered delightful little shops, cafes and pubs hidden away in plain sight.

So far this year, however, I’ve found myself too busy or too exhausted to entertain that particular fancy of mine, which is a shame. With the pressures of third year kicking in on top of running a society, I find myself with relatively little free time, and what little I do have I often prefer to spend resting my aching feet rather than sending them off to discover new places. Still, maybe all I needed was a little nudge to keep my head above water – I think I shall take a walk. Well…maybe tomorrow.

The Jazz Society held its great Garage Theatre Workshop show last week, Ray!: The Abridged Version. Billed as ‘reviv[ing] the music from the Oscar® winning film Ray! by cutting out all the boring bits like plot and dialogue’, it was certainly an entertaining three nights, so to those of you who didn’t come along, shame on you. Don’t worry though, there’s a chance to redeem yourself: our big Bloomsbury Theatre show, Sax and the City, is looming at the end of November. With tickets starting as low as £4, it’s a TV and film music-filled night not to be missed. Hope to see you there.

Autumn Samba

I never thought I’d have occasion to say this, but I almost feel as though this summer has been too long. Not in terms of weather or anything – we’ve only had about four real days of summer this year if that were the indicator – but rather just the time between everything winding down at the end of one academic year and starting up again at the beginning of the next. I’ve found myself wishing I had something to do rather more often than I’m used to, and the musical scene has been unusually arid.

So with this in mind I must confess I’m rather looking forward to returning to UCL for my final year at the end of this month. Things have started being set in motion for the coming year and I’m already feeling more invigorated than I have in quite some time. I’ve been doing all those little organisational things that give you a small but beguiling sense of productivity: re-enrolling, sorting out student finance, picking modules, looking up course books. The latter has admittedly been a bit of a dead end – if Amazon or AbeBooks (normally full of such good bargains) were to have its way I could end up paying more than my rent for reading material. The cunning swines.

I’ve been looking a bit into various styles of big band lead trumpeting. The one with which I’ve become most familiar over the last few years has probably been the Wayne Bergeron: powerful, with much screamingly high playing when necessary to cut across the band and say ‘I am trumpet, hear me roar.’ He’s a great player, with a fantastic tone and range and (as I just discovered) an extensive resumé. I was recently introduced to the works of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, and was astonished at the professionalism and sound of their brass section (obviously the rest of the ensemble is fantastic too but it’s the trumpets that piqued my interest). Even at the higher end of the stave there was an incredible blend of the tone and texture, like it was one super-brasser with several instruments. It was wonderful.

I finished the final book of the Millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, just now, and have to say that I thoroughly approved. As I mentioned before, the translation could be slightly clunky from time to time, and the story does begin to test the limits of suspended disbelief from about three-quarters of the way through the second book, but overall I thought it was extremely well-written. What I particularly liked was the ending – fear not, I won’t spoil anything – because it is, in my experience, the most difficult bit of a book to get right. It’s much easier in standalone books, where there isn’t so much to deal with, but if the author wishes to give a satisfactory ending to a whole series, there is always the risk of it coming across as unnecessarily twee and corny, à la Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I feel Stieg Larsson struck just the right chord.

Finally, with term starting up again in a couple of weeks, I feel compelled to remind you all that several of the bands with whom I’m involved will be commencing rehearsals again – if you would like to hire them or me, head over to the Contact page.

The Very Model

I have two kinds of news for you today everyone: good news, and better news. Firstly, my flatmates and I are closing the deal on a new flat at last, one that’s (a) cheaper than my place last year, (b) superbly convenient to get to (it’s the other side of Mornington Crescent from where I was last year) and (c) actually looks a very nice place to live. Our tenancy doesn’t start until 1st October though, so we’ll have to get through Freshers Week jetting up and down to London on the trains and the Tube.

The better news? In my time spent with Mass Effect 2 recently, I discovered that one of the crew members used to perform Gilbert and Sullivan. Wonderful.

OK, I suppose you had to be there.

Political Storms

Scouring the BBC website just now I happened across their article on the debate currently raging over whether the country should have a referendum on changes to the electoral system. For what it’s worth, here are my thoughts.

One. The main problems that nay-sayers seem to have with it (at least which I can see from the article) are rather selfish (at a party level that is) at best. A Conservative MP apparently expressed fears that an ‘outright Conservative government’ would never be in power again; Labour has brought to the table the idea that rejigging the constituency boundaries might ‘disproportionately’ hurt their figures in Commons. No specific Liberal Democrat comments appear to have been recorded, though I suspect that if they had as much of a vested interest in keeping the system exactly the way it is as the Tories and Labour do, they probably wouldn’t sound much different. The idea that a change to the electoral system might allow the British electorate to be more accurately represented within the body that governs it seems to have escaped them, possibly swallowed up in a tide of self-interest.

Two. Ever since the general election there has been more clamouring for change in the electoral system than I, personally, have ever heard. That the numbers of seats in the House of Commons that each party ended up with is so incongruous with the number of votes they received is absurd. Electoral change has already been talked down from real proportional representation to the alternative vote system, and at this point many MPs are still trying to quash the idea altogether. This is an issue that needs to be decided by the people whose electoral relevance it deals with, not those who have such vested interests in keeping themselves in power.

Three. The idea that MPs should decide the method by which they remain in the House of Commons is utterly illogical. It’s like letting students decide their own exam grades. I know we have a parliament to decide on matters of state, but this strikes me as an issue that, if decided by any means other than the will of the people (which is to say, a referendum), could be seen as dangerously illegitimate.

As far as I can see, politicians are, by nature, going to be wary of anything that looks to pull the rug out from under their feet. Any sort of change in the electoral system looks like it could do just that. Change like that could be beneficial, or it could be dangerous. But it would be fair.

This has been: My Two Cents.

A Long Hard Slog

Flathunting is proving more fickle than we expected, as is often the case. Jonna and I spent most of this morning on the phone to every estate agent known to man, and were either told that they had no properties at the moment or that the ones they did have were out of our budget. We have a single viewing booked for this week at the moment. Here’s hoping it’s a goodun.

On the plus side, being back in the country has been good for getting back in touch with people. I went to the London Double Header at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday with a friend I hadn’t really seen in about a year and spent more time reminiscing and catching up than watching the games (London Irish v Saracens was a tad boring but Wasps v Quins was highly entertaining). And I’ll be seeing my teacher Andy Bush this week as well after what can only be described as Far Too Long.

I recently started Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, beginning with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which I finished last week. Now halfway into the 2nd in the series, I have to confess I’m rather enjoying them. The translation can be a bit clunky at times – it often seems that a convenient phrase is reused more than necessary for a particularly difficult-to-translate Swedish idiom – but the characterisation is impeccable, the storytelling is enjoyable and, as many reviewers have pounced upon, the heroine, Lisbeth Salander, is quite original.

But enough about me: how are you today?

Back in Blighty II

So we’re back in town once again. Sadly the return seems to have coincided with a splitting headache and illness on my part, which is a shame as it prohibited me from celebrating a 21st birthday in Bath this evening (and getting some much needed trumpet practice in to boot). Still, that aside I intend to enjoy the bank holiday weekend as best I can.

I played a little Lego Batman with Jonna this afternoon – I’ve been a big fan of the Lego games (which have included Star Wars and Indiana Jones in the past and have recently added Harry Potter to the mix), with their quirky sense of humour and fun gameplay. The one niggle I always have is the camera angle and the same-screen multiplayer problems, but it seems they’re trying split-screen for Harry Potter so we’ll see how that goes.

I also recently ordered Mass Effect 2 and Bioshock 2 on Amazon for (relatively) dirt cheap which I’m quite happy about. A recent Penny Arcade comic and post did get me thinking about the used games market and its effects on developers, but frankly – and it does pain me to say this as I’d love to support them in whatever way I can – I just don’t have the cash to flash to keep buying new games at initial retail price which can be anywhere between £40 and £60 often. So I buy second hand. It’s probably selfish in a way, but that’s my vice.

In and around the fun of flat-hunting (friends of mine are starting to Facebook and tweet about their new flats so I’m getting antsy) I have to prepare for a gig with the UCLU Jazz Society Big Band at a civil partnership at the end of September, giving me the unique (at least apart from the other guys playing) get-out for any other events planned that night of: ‘Sorry, I’m playing at a lesbian wedding.’ It’s all rather exciting. Maybe I’ll wear a fez.

Amster-DAYUM

We’re spending some time in Amsterdam at the moment before returning to Tilburg on Thursday and then back to London on Friday (hopefully into the waiting arms of an estate agent with a lovely flat for us to move into at a ludicrously cheap rate). I’ve been here twice before now, so have already done the usual touristy things (investigating coffee shops, giggling like a small child in the Red Light District, etc) – this afternoon I actually got some real culture in. We wandered around the city admiring the various canals, churches and coffee shops museums – many of which, to my surprise and mild dismay, politely yet firmly requested payment for entry. Having grown up in London, with visits to the British Museum (free), Science Museum (free) and Natural History Museum (free) semi-regular events (dinosaurs are cool), this came as something of a shock. Still, we took full advantage of the bits for which we didn’t need to pay and spent some time searching for a sex shop named ‘Amster-DAYUM’.

Jonna has also now introduced me to the British comedy Coupling, which is very entertaining. Richard Coyle’s loveable Welshman Jeff is hilarious, with his baffling theories and odd stories from home, and the rest of the cast never fails to please. I highly recommend it.

I’m taking some time at the moment to write out some actual drum parts for the current Martinis songlist (as I mentioned before, the drum pad currently consists of sets of written instructions which, while helpful, aren’t really ideal) with some help from my esteemed brother. This should be entertaining. Jimmy, in advance: I’m sorry.

Anyway, I see burritos. Until next time.

Films, Comedians and Music

So, I watched Independence Day last night. Apparently I should have watched it years ago and as such have had an unfulfilling childhood. Ah well. I found it a hugely enjoyable movie and enjoyed shouting ‘Spaceballs!’ when I recognised the president. They really pulled out all the stops with the characters too: they had the sassy black guy and nerdy white guy who get that really good rapport going by the end of the film; the stripper with a heart of gold who, even as almost-certain destruction is heading her way in the form of an advancing wall of fire and cars finds the time to wait for her dog to get into cover; the wise old Jewish man who provides the comic relief but also restores the hero’s faith in humanity; and of course the token drunk who overcomes his self-inflicted adversities and beats the odds to make a name for himself and do his family proud. Loved it.

After that, while scanning the TV channels for something to watch, I stumbled across Bob Saget doing a stand-up comedy set. Now, as someone who doesn’t watch a huge amount of TV, I primarily know his voice as the narrator in How I Met Your Mother but apparently he did some other stuff too. However, none of that could have prepared me for his stand-up. He’s simply one of the most foul-mouthed, bizarre comedians I’ve ever had occasion to watch. Half the time even he couldn’t seem to believe what was coming out of his mouth. It was great.

Anywho. I have for you today a new page featuring a few clips from some recordings. Hope you like what you hear – I’ll be attempting to update the selection semi-regularly so stay tuned.

Back in Blighty

Our long-awaited trip to the Loncium microbrewery in Kotschach-Mauthen took place yesterday morning. One of the owners of the brewery (who just happened to be the son of the owner of our hotel) gave us a short tour and also explained the origin of the brewery’s name: the town lies on the Via Iulia Augusta, an old Roman trading route, and used to be known as Loncium, a customs-post of sorts. The pair who founded the brewery (which apparently has its humble beginnings ‘in a pot on a cooker’) liked the sound of the name and the links to their own town, and so adopted it long after the town changed its name. Luckily, considering the hour of the day, there were no free samples, although, as my ever-astute grandfather pointed out, it’s always 3pm somewhere.

We had a relatively placid trip back yesterday, despite having more connecting flights than on the way out – Klagenfurt, Munich, Dusseldorf and finally Heathrow. It would have been nice to have a bit of a saunter around the cities but, alas, we had no more than an hour in each airport before our next plane. Ho hum. At least we appear to have brought some of the nice weather with us, though thankfully without the fickle Austrian microclimates that throw up thunderstorms with little to no warning.

All in all, it’s nice to be back.

Now, to work – hopefully later on this evening I’ll be uploading some recordings so you can have a listen. Of course, for various legal, logistical and/or pecuniary reasons they won’t be full tracks, but rather short(ish) clips for your delectation. If you fancy something a tad more full-flavoured, get in touch and I can probably sell you a CD or something.