Feb 282011

I have always had a good memory for faces. Last night, while smoking a cigarette outside the Florida Theatre during the intermission of the Hot Tuna concert, I spotted a face that looked familiar. The man was balding and had well worn facial features.

“That’s the guy who came out of the audience and played bass at the Flo & Eddie concert,” I said to my wife. She was not so sure.

Well, there was only one way to find out. I walked across to the ash-tray and stubbed out my cigarette and as I came back, the man was half walking toward me.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Aren’t you the guy came out of the audience and played bass with Flo & Eddie?”

He looked at me with a slightly puzzled look on his face but confirmed my supposition. “You must have a good memory,” he said.

“I’ve always been good at remembering faces, ” I replied. “But I am not so good at remembering names.”

“I’m Jim Pons,” he said.

Jim Pons reunites with The Turtles

We chatted for a few minutes. Jim is retired now but told me he has formed a blues band and is getting it together. We both agreed that the beauty of music is that it is always with you.

He asked me if I played. I told him I played keyboards but poorly. I had piano lessons from the age of seven but gave them up at 11, a decision I have regretted all my life.

“I carried on playing the piano, buying Beatles sheet music,” I said. “I even bought the sheet music for So Happy Together.”

He smiled. Jim was the bass player for the Turtles and recorded that track.

I said that I wished I had continued with the lessons until I was 15 or 16 and then I would have been well set to become a decent keyboards player.

It turned out that Jim’s parents made him take piano lessons as a youngster and he gave them up.

I would have loved to have chatted longer and talked about Jim’s playing days with Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention but it was time to head back inside the theatre for the second half of the show.

“You know, you could pass for George Harrison,” he said, as I held the door of the theatre open for him. “It was his birthday on Friday.”

“You are not the first person to have told me that,” I said. “I was in Las Vegas to get married when I first moved to the States and a guy across the street yelled, “George Harrison!””

Jim’s comment reinforced a similarity that goes back more than 50 years. When I first started at Hanley High School in 1964, which also coincided with me giving up the piano lessons, my classmates used to call me George because I resembled George Harrison, more so in those days when my hairstyle vaguely resembled a Beatle cut.

In the 1980s when I was photographing non-league football matches for The Reporter Group of Newspapers, the fans of Hyde United thought I resembled Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones. As I took up my position behind the goal, the fans would chant “Bill Wyman, Bill Wyman, Bill Wyman!”

I could never quite see the similarity myself but then again I hadn’t consumed three or four pints of Boddingtons.

Still, I can think of a lot worse people to resemble than Bill Wyman and George Harrison.

Feb 262011

I have been trying to catch up on some of my processing of images taken with the Canon 40D. I am one of those people who likes to process the RAW images as soon as possible, otherwise they tend to remain unprocessed for weeks and sometimes months.

As my Photoshop skills have increased, the task has become a little more onerous, although the finished images are vastly superior to what I was producing when I first started out. But the more one learns in Photoshop, the longer it takes to process an image. I guess the secret is to keep the post-processing fairly simple for run-of-the-mill shots and then really go to town on the better images, where the law of diminishing returns does not set in.

Here are a couple from St Marys, Georgia. Whether they are run-of-the-mill or something a little better, I will let you decide. B&W conversion with Silver Efex Pro in Photoshop CS3.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.


©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Feb 242011

They say things come in threes. I have just realized that Sunday night will present a trio of entertainment opportunities.

First, there is the Oscar Awards ceremony. Oh I know that it is an extravagance that takes itself far too seriously these days but I have always been one who has enjoyed mingling with the stars. Besides, this year should see success for the British in the shape of The King’s Speech.

For the past two weeks on Sunday night, I have been tuned into the PBS channel and Masterpiece Theatre. Any Human Heart based on the novel by William Boyce has proved entertaining fare. Sunday will see the concluding part being broadcast.

You can see instantly that I have a conflict of interests. And unlike the days of yesteryear, I cannot video one of the programmes while watching the other live. I no longer have a VCR and have not invested in a Tivio or DVD recorder.

But whether I watch the Oscar ceremony or Any Human Heart becomes academic in the light of my wife and I having two free tickets to see Hot Tuna at the Florida Theatre.

I have always been a big fan of the West Coast music of the 1960s and 1970s. The Grateful Dead is my all-time favourite band. Jefferson Airplane were up there alongside Quicksilver Messenger Service, Santana, Spirit and The Doors and so the opportunity to see former Jefferson Airplane band members Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen was not one to be missed.

Of course, at the time of acquiring the tickets, little did I realize this gig would face such competition. But when it comes to entertainment, nothing beats a live performance.

I can read about who won at the Oscars on Monday. PBS will more than likely show Any Human Heart again in the future. But there will only ever be one performance of Hot Tuna at the Florida Theatre on February 27. And Jorma Kaukonen is quite emphatic when it comes to preserving any performance for posterity or possible commercial gain.

The Hot Tuna web site contains the following information:

Jorma Kaukonen  does not allow audio / video recording of any of his shows by the audience or the front of house engineer. Front of house engineers are not permitted to record the show unless authorized by Jorma Kaukonen management. If authorized, then recording in whatever format is property of Jorma Kaukonen and no copy will be made or retained by front of house engineer, the venue, the promoter or anybody else affiliated with the Jorma Kaukonen engagement.

Jorma Kaukonen archives and records his own performance for his own usage with no fee to the venue or promoter.

Jorma Kaukonen does not allow flash photography at the shows. Professional cameras are not allowed in the venue unless the persons has valid press credentials or are ok’d prior to the performance by Jorma Kaukonen’s Management at least 48 hours prior to the show. Only the first three songs may be photographed.

Promoter/venue will stop audio /video taping, flash photographers as well as people walking up to the front of the stage and take photos with their phone.

Clearly Jorma, and the band’s management, do not keep pace with the developments in compact digital cameras. Take the Fuji F80 EXR , for example, with its 27-270mm zoom lens, performers on stage can be nicely framed from 20 or 30 rows back. And such is the advance in sensor technology that acceptable results can be obtained shooting at ISO 800 or even ISO 1600. The Sony HX5 and Casio EX-FH100 are other compact cameras that can easily circumvent these restrictions. Such is the progress of camera technology.

I wonder if in the future, theatre-goers and concert-goers will have to undergo the kind of searches in place at airports to ensure that no one enters the auditorium with any recording device, be it audio or visual.

Feb 222011

Through subscribing to Blipfoto, I have come to know several photography enthusiasts in New Zealand. From their photographs and journal entries, I have learned a lot about their country — its history and geography.

The news of the earthquake and a death toll that may reach 150 has left me saddened. New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key described what he saw as “utter devastation”.

“We may be witnessing New Zealand’s darkest day,” he told reporters.

The damaged spire of Christchurch's cathedral. Picture courtesy of PA.

I am of an age where Britain’s links to its former colonies still means a lot. In our darkest hour during the days of the Second World War, New Zealand’s sons rallied to our cause and their efforts were instrumental in removing the blight of Nazi Germany from the face of the earth. I hope the present British government, with its Prime Minister who seemingly has little grasp of the history of the Second World War, is honouring the debt we all owe by sending aid and whatever assistance is needed.

The 6.3 magnitude earthquake that hit Christchurch at 12:51pm local time (2351GMT Monday) follows the 7.1 magnitude earthquake last September, when miraculously no one was killed.

Thankfully, my Blipfoto acquaintances and their relatives are safe.

My heart goes out to the 65 victims and their families.

Feb 212011

For some weeks now I have been intrigued by a motorcycle parked outside some commerical premises in Riverside. The reason for my interest is the petrol tank, or gas tank as the Americans would say, is painted like the Union Jack.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Yesterday, I decided to stop and find out if a fellow Brit was the owner of the motorcycle. I took a couple of shots of said petrol tank and was a little disappointed to find that the motorbike was a Honda, the company that led to the eventual demise of the British motorcycle industry.

I then noticed a group of guys standing just inside the doorway of the building. One of them beckoned me over. I asked if he was British. He was not.

But Peter Hampton is a confirmed anglophile and owner of a new business — Ton Up Jacksonville — which caters to devotees of British and European motorcycles.

Ton Up Jacksonville sells motorcycle gear, offers space and tools for people to carry out repairs, and also aims to create the atmosphere of a motorcycle club where enthusiasts can chew the fat about their motorcycle passion.

Peter and I chatted about the great names of British motorcycles, which I remember from my youth — BSA, Matchless, AJS, Norton, Triumph, Vincent — and talked about their decline and eventual disappearance as motorcycle manufacturers.

 But Peter’s love of Britain goes beyond motorcycles. He is also an avid fan of British TV sitcoms and rates The Young Ones as one of his all time favourites. He is also partial to deep-fried Mars Bars.

He seemed genuinely excited to meet someone who was an actual Brit just as I was to meet someone who shared an interest and understanding of what constitutes the bulk of my life.

He also gave me an interesting insight into Harley-Davidson motorcycles, particularly the people who own them. It seems the majority of them are much like most people who buy Leica M9 cameras. Both are status symbols and bought for the purpose of  being seen and  noticed. And in the case of the Harleys, so middle-aged men can relive prom night from 35 or 40 years ago.

One of the things that shocked me when I first moved to Texas was the way people were allowed to ride motorcycles without crash helmets. I used to wince when I would see young girls as pillion passengers dressed in tiny shorts and skimpy tank tops. I just could not understand why they were unable to comprehend that they would be cut to ribbons if they ever came off those bikes. And the same holds true in Florida.

Peter shared my views and pointed to the corner of the room and a set of leathers. “That’s what I wore to come to work on my bike today, along with a crash helmet,” he said.

I guess the bandana-clad Harley riders just have more money than sense or an unshakeable belief that nothing untoward can ever happen to them. And in Florida, as in Texas, there is also the political dimension of “Why should the government tell me what I should or should not do?” Because it just might save your life one day.

Peter and I talked for a good 30 minutes and I was able to give him some useful information, regarding the location of the Latin American Motorcycle Association in Jacksonville. It’s about three blocks away from his premises. I also said that if he ever needed someone to check British authenticity, I was his man.

Having found this little oasis steeped in all things British, I told Peter I would be back from time to time. And I will.

Feb 172011

From the Ricoh B&W gallery, you all know that I am a big fan of the high contrast B&W mode of the Ricoh GRD III. But I have this strange sense that in some way I am kind of cheating by letting the camera produce this B&W effect.

I have been trying to see if I can recreate the same effect in my B&W conversions from RAW using Silver Efex Pro. I took two versions of the same shot yesterday — one in RAW and one using the high contrast B&W mode. The Silver Efex Pro conversion is on the left.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

On this occasion, I seem to have replicated the in-camera high contrast B&W mode pretty well.

Of course, it could have been beginner’s luck but today I took this shot of fallen leaves, using similar settings in Silver Efex Pro to the ones used in the conversion above. Again, I was pleased with the result.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Feb 142011

Signing on to AOL this morning I was greeted by the news of the winners at the Grammys award ceremony.

Looking down the list of winners and nominations, I have to confess that 98 per cent of the names are a mystery to me. Lady Gaga? Who?

Moving to the Rock category, a few familiar names did appear – Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Robert Plant and Neil Young. I noticed Jeff Beck’s album Emotion & Commotion was shortlisted for Best Rock Album but it didn’t win.

Jeff did pick up the Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for Hammerhead off the above mentioned album.

I first saw Jeff Beck in 1972 at Manchester University Students’ Union when he delivered a blistering set featuring the Rough And Ready album, still one of my favourites 40 years on.

It was nearly 20 years later that I saw him for a second time. I reviewed his 1990 show at the Apollo Theatre in Manchester. The set featured Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop, which is my favourite of all his albums.

This 20-year cycle looks to continue. I have tickets for Jeff’s Show at The Florida Theatre in May.

Other than those in the rock categories, I did recognize Goldfrapp, Larry Carlton, Charlie Musselwhite, Jimmie Vaughan, Buddy Guy, Dr John and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.

I think that gives a good indication of where my musical taste lies when it comes to popular music.

Feb 102011

A voice from my youth was cruelly silenced this morning when former England cricketer and radio broadcaster Tevor Bailey died in a fire at his home. He was 87.

Bailey, an all-rounder for Essex, was still playing first-class cricket when I was a boy. He retired in 1967 and soon joined a British institution, the commentary team on BBC Radio 3’s Test Match Special.

Test Matches, when England took on the other cricket-playing nations of the world, were followed with almost religious fervor by cricket fans. In the 1960s, TV coverage was in its infancy and you were lucky if you saw a couple of hours a day. And I used to hate it when, during Wimbledon fortnight, the cricket coverage was shared with tennis.

But the Radio 3 programme covered every ball of every day’s play, as well as the interludes in between, and featured some of the best voices to grace the airwaves, men such as John Arlott, EW Swanton, Don Mosey, Norman Yardley and Alan Gibson.

Fans used to send in cakes for the commentary team. Brian Johnston was famous for posing a question to one of the pundits just as they had taken a mouthful of cake. I can well remember Trevor Bailey being one of the victims and hastily swallowing the morsel in order to reply.

Test Match Special became renowned for its public schoolboy mentality and jolly japes. It was not until Fred Trueman joined the commentary team that it gained a bit of working-class grit. In fact, Bailey and Trueman formed an entertaining an endearing partnership that lasted 26 years. Both men did not mince their words when broadcasting, unlike the sycophants that grace TV commentary boxes the world over and in any sport you care to name.

Bailey and Trueman were of the old school and told it like it was. If it was good, they gave deserved praise; if it was bad, they were among the harshest of critics. And, to my mind, that is the way it should always be.

I was always keen on cricket as a youngster and even captained The Close Junior School cricket team in 1964. We only played one game against Springfields. When I went to high school in the autumn of that year, playing cricket faded from prominence. Hanley High School was a renowned football school. I can only recall playing cricket a handful of times during the summer games sessions.

The county where I was brought up, Staffordshire, did not have a first-class cricket team and so I adopted Somerset as my county side for no other reason than they had player called Ken Palmer. Palmer, like Bailey was an all-rounder, which meant he could bat and bowl. After his playing career ended, he went on to become an Test Match umpire.

When Somerset reached the semi-finals of the Gillete Cup in 1967, I skipped school for the day and went to see them take on Lancashire at Old Trafford. The match was abandoned after only a couple of hours due to heavy rain. It resumed the following day and I wagged off school again to see the final outcome.

Somerset made 210 for 7 in their allotted 60 overs.  It did not look like a match-winning total but Somerset bowled out Lancashire for a miserable 110 in 47.4 overs thanks to an electric spell of bowling by my hero and namesake. He ripped the heart out of the Lancashire batting and claimed the important wicket of an in-form Barry Wood. Ken returned figures of three wickets for 20 runs off  his 12 overs and was named man of the match. As you can imagine, I left the cricket ground with a broad smile on my face.

Somerset met Kent in the final at Lord’s and struggled right from the start. Ken only took one wicket — Kent skipper Colin Cowdrey — but was out for a duck as Somerset chased 194 runs for victory. They failed being bowled for 161.

Twelve years later, Somerset finally tasted success and won the Gillette Cup with a side that included West Indian Test stars Vivian Richards and Joel Garner, and England all-rounder Ian Botham.

The side also won the Benson & Hedges Cup in 1981 and 1982, and the renamed NatWest Trophy (formerly the Gillette Cup) in 1983.

My final cricket appearance was in 1977. Manchester University Geography Department arranged a game against Keele University Geography Department at Keele. Manchester’s head of department Professor H.B Rodgers, Harry in the staff common room, had formerly been at Keele and he took to the field with his former colleagues.

Professor Rodgers was my supervisor during the first year of my doctoral research. He was bowling when I stepped up to the crease. I promptly sent his first delivery over his head for four runs. Two balls later, he did me with a slower ball. I took another almighty swing missed it and heard the clunk of the ball hitting the stumps. There is no more sickening sound for a batsman.

When Manchester took the field, I volunteered to keep wicket. I had never kept wicket in my life before but did a reasonable job. I cannot remember giving away too many extras and I seem to recall I ran one of the Keele batsmen out.

I do distinctly remember misjudging the bounce of the ball and stopping it with my forearm rather than my gloved hands. Cricket balls are hard and the inside of my forearm was numb for a good twenty minutes.

Soon after that match, Harry Rodgers dropped me as his research student. The joke among the lecturers was that it was because of my boundary off his first ball. The truth was that my research was moving in a direction outside Harry’s field of specialization.

I remained a keen cricket fan until I moved to America. These days I cannot name a single player in the England team, although I do know England trounced the Australians this winter to win The Ashes. And sad to say, I have completely lost touch with the fortunes of Somerset County Cricket Club.

At least the sad news of Trevor Bailey’s death has been tempered by my recall of happy cricketing memories from bygone years.

Feb 082011

Yesterday, it rained continuously in Jacksonville and so restricted me getting out of the house with the camera. I undertake a photographic safari, as I call them, each day when I go out for a walk in my neighbourhood, Riverside.

While smoking a cigarette out on the back deck, I happened to notice the rain hitting the wooden decking and forming concentric ripples. I grabbed the Ricoh and fired off several shots. The one I posted on another of my web sites — Tägliches Foto — received two favourable comments, which is quite a rarity. Seeing as the shot was well received, I thought I would post it on here as well.

Riverside, Jacksonville. ©Calvin Palmer 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Feb 072011

Former Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore was found dead yesterday in a hotel room in Spain where he was on holiday. The cause of death is not yet known. He was 58.

It was his solo career that brought him to my attention. I was never a great fan of Thin Lizzy. I saw a promo video for his 1990 album Still Got The Blues on some music programme, the video featured him with the great Albert Collins playing Too Tired. From that moment, he joined my collection of music. Of course, in those days it was as a cassette tape, although later I bought the CD.

My last memory of Moore was a clip on another TV programme. He was appearing at a rock festival in 1994 with former Cream members Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce. They played City of Gold and I had fortunately made a video tape  of the show. Later I made an audio tape from the video so I could listen to this brilliant track in the car.

That audio tape lies with several hundred others packed away in cardboad boxes. I can see me trying to find it during the course of today. And you all know that it will be found in the very last box I look in.

Anyway, sad news.