Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Love and Dancing

I have written here before of my love of American folk music and acoustic singer-songwriters, but I do not think I have mentioned my secret weakness for 1980s synthpop. I consider it secret because my Wife hates it, so I usually end up playing it when she is not around. Fortunately, my five-year-old daughter seems to like it too, and we are often to be found bopping in the kitchen to Erasure, The Human League, Yazoo (known as Yaz in the US), OMD, Depeche Mode or The Thompson Twins.

As a late-adopter of CDs, I have a huge collection of vinyl records at my parents' house in England, left there because of the expense and difficulty in getting them over to the US. Among the collection is an album from 1982 called Love and Dancing, which is billed as being by "The League Unlimited Orchestra." I recently obtained a copy of the album, which was always very dear to my heart, and it has made me insanely happy.

Love and Dancing is essentially an album of dance remixes of tracks from the influential Dare album, which was made in 1981 by the Sheffield band, The Human League. It was one of the very first remix albums, a producer project, and as such was groundbreaking. Martin Rushent, the producer of Dare, put it together the hard way, by cutting up tapes. Rushent is now 61 and back producing after retiring from the business.

Listening again to this album after so long instantly transported me back to the eighties. I fondly remember a street performer in London's Covent Garden doing a fantastic but hilarious robotic dance to tracks from the album. Its stuttering style was perfect for the purpose. I have been playing it rather a lot just recently, so it is a good job my daughter likes it. My Wife does not, and when I asked my Brother in England what he thought of it, he said that he always preferred the original. So, perhaps I am pretty much on my own. I did ask on Twitter and Facebook if anyone remembered it and one friend in England (Hi Paul!) said he does have the album and likes it.

Getting this album has prompted me to get the rest of The Human League's albums (some of which I had on vinyl in England). It has also got me catching up with some of my other favorite artists of that period. It has even got me checking out web-resources about old synthesizers (I used to play synths myself in the eighties). I think you could say this was an influential album for me.

If you have any interest in Love and Dancing or The Human League, I discovered that a cool CD containing both Dare and Love and Dancing was released in 2002. That is a bargain!

Do you have favorite music from your past that instantly conjures up a particular period in time for you? Please do share by making a comment.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

I Might Still Be in Luton If Not For the Web

Some of my American friends, knowing that I do so much on the Internet, think that I must use it to keep in touch with friends and family in England. The truth is, with the exception of my Brother, who got his first computer just a month or two back, very few of them have access to the Internet. Or if they do, they rarely use it. So, having been online since before the widespread use of the World Wide Web (I was around in the days of online Bulletin Board Systems), I've been a bit of a pioneer.

As I've written elsewhere, I met my American Wife (while I was living in my home town of Luton, England) through a mutual love of American folk music. We were both on a discussion group for singer-songwriter Dar Williams, when she e-mailed me about something I said on the group. A friendship grew over the Internet, which turned into love.

When we married, I moved here, and while I was waiting for a work permit, I took an online course to keep my computer skills up to date. A chance e-mail to my instructor led to him employing me. I've worked for the company for around ten years.

These days, I have made many friends through the Internet, on sites like Twitter and Facebook. Using e-mail, the Web and Social Media sites has helped me with my work for local nonprofit and community groups. Of course, it has enabled me to write my blog, which is a welcomed creative outlet. I'm grateful too, that I have a small group of faithful readers, scattered around the globe

As someone who has always been a little shy, I do believe that if it wasn't for the Internet, I might still be living in my home town of Luton.

Monday, June 8, 2009

My Name is Sue - How Do You Do!

While I like the idea of having an unusual name (and Graham is quite unusual in my adopted home here in the US), in practice, it can be very tedious. Mostly, because people here frequently misspell it, or mis-hear it. Very often, people think I've said "Brian," or they want to spell it "Gram," or "Grahm." It's so American to want to economize on the number of letters in a name. Perhaps it would benefit me to have an empowering name, such as "Stone," "Brett," "Brad," or perhaps the most empowering of them all, "Sue" (With a big nod to The Man In Black).

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Marmite - Love It or Hate It?

There are only a few British products I must have in the US. Branston Pickle is one of them (and I am sure that will be the subject of a forthcoming post here). Marmite is another. When I first moved here, I had some difficulty finding it, and so I instructed English friends coming over here to bring a jar over. I have since found it from time to time in the so-called "International aisle" at some grocery stores, and I usually make a point of picking some up if I see it in a place like that, because it can be expensive in specialist British food stores or online.

If you have never heard of Marmite or you are not certain what it is, I am not sure a description will suffice. Of course, even if you know what it is, you may be one of those in the "Hate It" camp. Marmite is a great divider. People either love it or hate it. The manufacturers of Marmite have actually exploited this characteristic of their product, and "Love It or Hate It" has become an advertising slogan. The official Marmite website even has Love It and Hate It sections. I love it. The rest of my family hates it.

So what exactly is in the characteristic glass jar that causes such a love/hate reaction? Originally a by-product of the brewing industry, the thick, salty, sticky dark-brown goo is yeast extract. It is also rich in Vitamin B complex, which helped sales of the product when vitamins were discovered in the early 20th Century. It was also given to troops suffering from beriberi (a vitamin deficiency) during World War I. The name Marmite comes from the French word for an earthenware pot, and it did originally come in an earthenware jar. You can find out more about the history of Marmite on the Marmite Wikipedia page.

It has a very strong taste. Often used as a spread on bread or toast, I recommend people to spread it very thinly, so as not to be overpowering. Many people enjoy it with cheese in a sandwich. Because spreading the thick substance often destroys soft bread, the company introduced a slightly thinner product in a "squeezy" plastic jar ideal for this purpose. Unfortunately, this has resulted in the removal of the cute 57g size jar from the product range.

Marmite is also produced in New Zealand, although it has a different flavor, being slightly sweeter than the British version. That product is available in New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific Islands. Readers may also be familiar with the Australian product Vegemite. I have always described Vegemite as "Marmite for Wimps."

What else can you do with Marmite? An English friend, Emma Bruce, recommends it spread on toast with scrambled egg on top, or in a sandwich with cucumber. Chef Gary Rhodes came up with some recipes featuring Marmite, to help celebrate the launch of the "squeezable" product. A British photographer, food blogger and host of an underground restaurant who goes by the nickname of MsMarmiteLover even came up with a special menu, which featured Marmite in each dish, for an evening at her dining establishment. It apparently went down rather well!

So where do you stand on the "Love it or Hate it" question? Do you have any favorite recipes or Marmite stories? Let me know!