Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Matt Alber: All My Ginger Fantasies In One Man

Never trusting anything recommended to me by Facebook, I have found the exception that proves the rule! To be honest, the recommendation sounds nothing like the other singer-songwriters I have been following via social media. The only common factor is that Matt Alber is openly out as gay. Actually, there is another similarity: he is also very easy on the eye.

Steely blue eyes coruscate from a mien constantly illuminated by the warmest of slightly asymmetric smiles; formed by a full bottom-lip, a set of teeth (that thankfully have not been bleached blindingly white) and a ginger 'tache, from whence tongues of flame mingle with the silver highlights in his short-trimmed full beard. This latter accentuates the strong dimple-chin that is echoed in a jolly Father Christmas nose. A surprisingly unwrinkled broad forehead is topped by sandy hair with a kiss-curl flick to the left. In short, Matt has the handsome features of a Swede, Dane or German; perhaps hinting at the Frankish roots of his surname.

[Image description: Matt Alber dressed only in short socks, trunk-style briefs & long-sleeved vest (undershirt); © Meat SF]

Well, I clicked on the image icon and discovered that I had 'liked' Matt Alber before I had even been directed to his page. Feeling it a tad rude to just 'unlike' without at least giving his page the once-over, I read a little and listened to some of his music. Hooked instantly! His songs and sounds (sic - note the plural is deliberate) bring to mind: Paul Simon; John Denver; Michael Card; Antony & the Johnsons; even the showmanship of Harry Connick Jnr.

I have not tracked down an official bio of Matt. He seems to have been born in Kentucky but spent time in Missouri or vice versa. He has lived in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and currently resides near Seattle on Vashon Island. I say resides: as the chap appears to be constantly on tour or participating in musical events, Matt seems to be away more than he is at home. He grew up singing in school choirs and learning to skip (jump-rope) with the coolest lasses at his school. He was raised an evangelical Christian but has moved on to learn more about his own spiritual search for meaning. References to the landscapes around him as much as his immediate environment slip effortlessly into his lyrics. His deep empathy for folk and joie de vivre permeate both melody and poetry. Spirituality will out.

Matt's big break came with either an eight-year or eight-record singing contract as part of Chanticleer. The man has the voice of an angel - often an overused statement - but listen to this piece from Handel's Messiah, "But Who May Abide" (2008) and dare to disagree! I have only ever heard this work performed by contralto voices never by an alto; so Matt's clear-pure-water strains sent me Heaven-bound. My flesh horripilated for five minutes...

The can't-possibly-be thirty-eight year old also has the sirenic vox of a fallen angel - enticing, lulling, pulling one into his embrace... Oh, sorry: went off into my own rêverie there!

How I managed to listen to and watch "End of the World" (2009) without swooning at the end I shall never know, but my heart was melted. However, before readers purchase one-way tickets to Seattle to start stalking the poor guy, I have variously read and seen that he has a beau. Although, a throw-away comment on Matt's f/b profile does state, "if you're single like me" (May 2013); so one might want to try one's chances or maybe he's trying his!

Matt has the body of a cub and has a good sense of humour. Do not watch this video if bare flesh offends thee. Ink fans will spot the odd tattoo too.

So why, when this blog covers matters European in nature, is Matt Alber being featured. Of course, his earlier career centred on works created by Europeans; however, it transpires that when in Chanticleer he did regular tours of Europe. Now he makes annual visits to the UK as himself and next will be here for a few gigs (London, Birmingham & Bristol) in June (2013). For more details go to mattalber.com or check out the updates on his f/b fan page.

I could post link after link to great tunes: his own; covers (his tribute to Whitney Houston "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" is worth searching for); and traditional. But that would take away the joy of the reader/listener from exploring on their own. Nonetheless, I shall end with a live recording (2013) with The Cello String Quartet in which they give a stunning performance of Alber's "Velvet Goldmine"(2012). From baroque, modern classical, oratorio, to country, folk, ballads and pop: there is bound to be something by this superb songsmith that takes your fancy. ;)

Monday, 27 May 2013

all back

May is ME Awareness Month, (CFS in US) so before the month is over I thought I would share a poem I wrote at a point before I had accepted the ramifications of my condition. There is rarely full recovery from myalgic encephalomyelitis, although such is not unknown. However the longer one suffers from the ailment, the less likely recovery, let alone full recovery, becomes. That is not to say I do not occasionally wish for a miracle cure or a wonder-drug; but in the foreseeable future the latter is not probable and the former is nigh impossible.

I have the severe form as defined by National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and confirmed by my hospital consultant (clinician). The majority of the time I am house-bound; much of the time I am bed-bound in what I ironically label my bed-cell. With the discovery of social media and the installation of wi-fi, I have carved out a role as a bedtivist, that is a - non-partisan - political activist working from bed. I feel useful again and that has done wonders for my amour-propre.

Nonetheless, I can still recall the longing for my previous existence.

all back

      and the tears well
my eyes fill
my stomach churning
pulling at me
thoughts racing
evicting them
proves hopeless
pulling at me
frustration asserts
I see a jogger
      and want to jog
I see a swimmer
      and want to swim
I see a dancer
      and want to dance
I want my freedom back
I want my body
my former physicality
I see a book
      and want to read it
seven days
for seven hours
an exchange
I did not solicit
I hear a debate
      and want to join in
but lose the line
what happened
to my intellect
to my memory
why is everything
about me
my being
so unreliable
give it all back
but there is no-one
just my psyche
I want it back
all back
my eyes fill
the tears spill

all back

My bed-cell is my own private space and I am unwilling to be photographed therein, so below is a picture of me lying propped up in the shade on my last holiday.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

In/accessible Europe (4): Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre

Wednesday evening was a real treat for me as my book club had organised a trip to the theatre. We are looking at different genres and for our play we decided upon Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House" ("A Doll House" in US).

We all read act one at home alone; but came together for our regular meeting to read through the final two acts. Many of us found that even though we had previously seen the play we garnered an extra dimension via the read-through. Somehow we were inveigled with the action as we donned the various parts. We were able to glean further layers of meaning. So a thoroughly worthwhile approach to be sure.

[Image description: the glass-lift on the outside of the theatre façade; courtesy of Wikipedia.]

Access to the first-floor theatre is via a capacious lift (elevator) on the St. Annes Square side of the Royal Exchange Building, more than comfortably encompassing myself in the large wheelchair and my assistant. I was able to order from and pay at the bar at its specially lowered counter. I was addressed directly by very attentive bar staff, rather than comments being aimed at my assistant - that always gets a beam out of me. My stage-level seat, to which I transferred, allowed me to spread out comfortably and remain so throughout the performance. My wheelchair was stowed safely by the exit. I also had need of the facilities and found this to be the only aspect to let down the whole theatre experience: for the area was very malodorous, and the WC itself appeared very stained. However, I have nothing but praise for theatre staff and the accessibility at the venue and would wholeheartedly recommend a visit.

Having seen the play live on two very onerous occasions, I personally was not looking forward to the production as much as some who had not interacted with it. My hopes were for a radical interpretation. How my heart sank when entering the theatre-in-the-round that is the Royal Exchange Theatre! The stage was set with the traditional middle-class furnishings of a fin-de-siècle Swedish apartment. Heigh-ho!

The first act is known for its longueur and, alas, this new adaptation by Bryony Lavery (2013) did not fail to follow in the illustrious footsteps of previous versions! At the book-club read-through, it soon became obvious that the play had been translated into English on more than one occasion. I am actually quite content with my version by Kenneth McLeish (1994) which happily lopped great chunks of florid soliloquy. However, some of my fellow clubbers are of the opinion it is a tad on the brusque side.

At the interval, after acts one and two, we all met up for a confab. Of the ten of us, two actively disliked most aspects of the production, a couple felt rather more positively, and the rest of us liked this or that whilst not wishing to endorse the production as a whole. Everyone agreed that our final opinions would be formed by the measure of the dénouement act.

[Image description: David Sturzaker & Cush Jumbo; © Royal Exchange Theatre.]

I have been a fan of David Sturzaker (Torvald Helmer). However his performance in the first two acts was perfunctory. Whilst some emotion was conveyed in the final scenes, overall he was lack-lustre indeed even one-dimensional. These traits were unfortunately shared by the other male cast-members, Jamie de Courcey (Dr. Rank) and Jack Tarlton (Krogstad). The latter's performance, in particular, was wooden and quite without any redeeming feature.

On the other hand, the women - one and all - gave us all something positive to say about the production. Well that is if one considers not raising praise nor criticism is a constructive comment on acting ability! I have in mind here in particular Kelly Hotten's interpretation of Mrs. Linde.

For myself and the rest of the gang Cush Jumbo's portrayal of Nora Helmer lifted the experience to one of entertainment as opposed to mere time-filler. Her facial expressions, her hand gestures seemed so real. Nora came to life for us. She successfully transitioned from capricious frivolity to ponderous reflection.

In the glass-lift en route for ground level I travelled with a well-to-do middle-aged couple. I enquired of them as to their opinion of the production we had just seen. The wife spoke for both of them as the husband nodded assent and her comment echoed my thoughts exactly:

"Well, it's the best version we have seen!"

"A Doll's House" may not have been one of the Royal Exchange Theatre's greatest successes, but please do not let that put you off making a visit. I have no doubt you will be made very welcome. %)

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

No Sex Please, We're... Disabled! *

(* This is a pun on an oft quoted play title, "No Sex Please, We're British

For Blogging Against Disablism Day 2012, I blogged on the subject of disabled sex, or more accurately the lack of it, under the title "Sexual Eunuchs?" After writing the article I girded my loins (metaphorically!) and decided to try out some dating or introduction agencies. My misadventures are chronicled in a post entitled "Disabled and Gay Internet Dating &/or Amity" - and believe me absolutely nothing of any kind of excitement occurred not even the merest frisson of stimulation!

That is, almost nothing...

[Image description: 1915 poster of four sailors in a crow's-nest;
the legend reads "THE NAVY WANTS MEN"]

Well, hello sailor!

In February this year I was suddenly contacted one evening on facebook by a chap who I had connected with on one of the sites. I say "connected" in the loosest possible sense of the word. He had decided he liked me, flagged up the fact, but never actually did anything other than send a single smile. So to suddenly receive a communication out of the blue was somewhat discombobulating.

Here's the conversation (obviously some details have been amended to hide his identity):


Hey, Colin, it's Adam1987 from Disability Amity. How are you? Xx

I'm not bad, Adam. Nice to sort of meet at last.

Yeah, nice to meet you too, Colin. May I ask why you use a wheelchair and where are you from?

[I nodded off for a cat-nap.]

Sorry, Adam, phased out a bit there; can fall asleep at the drop of a hat!

It's ok.

I am bed-bound over 60% of the time; but about 90% at this time of the year. I am actually banned from exercise including swimming by my hospital consultant and must not walk more than 100 metres per day. So whilst I can potter about the house/garden on good days, I usually need the wheelchair to go further afield.

You do not state on Disability Amity what your disability is. Whatever, I am quite excited that someone with a disability is employed by the forces.

I'm not disabled myself; I do like disabled men though.

Well, that's not a problem. What is it you like about disabled men? That is if it is not too personal a question. %)

I just like their outlook on life. No matter how bad, they carry on through it.

I think that is generally true. We do tend to be resilient and resourceful. Mind by necessity to be honest. %DDD

What is your disability?

I have multiple conditions each with their own co-morbidities. The main ones are at least three types of arthritis; ME/CFS; FMS; Raynaud's Syndrome....

Ok. Never heard of any of them. Sorry.

Where you from?

Oh sorry, didn't answer all your queries. I am not really from anywhere as I have moved around thirty times. However, I currently reside in the 'burbs of SW Manchester.

Cool! I'm home visiting family tonight. I could come visit you tomorrow if you like.

Sorry, Adam, that would have been lovely; but I have to pre-arrange for carers to sort me out and also to let you in!

That's ok. I could come and let myself in and I could help you out with whatever you need. I don't mind helping you out.

A lovely notion to be sure. But how would you get a key? The carer would have to be here to unlock the door. Gets complicated - when one becomes disabled it is nigh impossible to do much spontaneously; everything has to be carefully planned.

Awwwww ok. You got anyone going tomorrow?

The carers are all scheduled. Next one is 18.30 tomorrow evening to get me up, cook a hot meal and prepare for my evening visitor for my weekly movie night.

Awwwwwwww! Who's your evening visitor?

It could be me, if you like.

My very beautiful next-door-but-one-neighbour - Amélie. You can find her under my friends.

Awwwwwwww ok! Would she let me in after your movie night?

I don't want to do anything rude, just have a drink and a chat, if you like.

She would if I asked her. Whilst very tempting, I would not be able to. I can only remain awake for a maximum three to four hours and then I crash; it can be sooner. Amélie knows me well and doesn't outstay if she sees I need to lie down.

Adam, another time would be most welcome, as long as I get a bit of notice to ensure I rest before your arrival.

I cannot be rude to a very good friend who does a lot to support me, as our movie nights are her break each week from her beau.

Ok, that's good with me. How would Wednesday afternoon be for an hour?

Afternoons are not good for me. This Thursday morning I shall be up early for me at about nine, depending on carer arrival. I am usually downstairs from ten till two. Would that be a good time to pop by?

That's no good. I'm back to work tomorrow night. :(

Oh, I'm so sorry, chuck! I cannot change my schedule as they are organised a week ahead to fit around me & my carers. May be next time you are up North...

Yeah: hope we can sort something.

Carers organise plans on Fridays for the following Mondays onwards. So let me know the Friday before you intend to visit!!! Golly, that sounds complicated. %D

That's ok: I know what it's like trying to organise work as I do it too, in the navy.

Are you openly gay/bi to your colleagues or do you have to hide that part of you?

No I don't have to hide it; they are ok with it.

That's good news. How things change!

Alas, not much has changed for me! Adam's was my one potential offer of sex in the last twelve months. As the conversation, I hope, elucidates, even sex has to be scheduled and organised for some of us who are disabled. 

Imagine, if I could have just got in touch with the carers agency and asked for 'shag-support', by which I mean someone to come and let in my potential playmate. But then I would also need assistance in getting washed up afterwards as well as the bedding changed and laundered. Adam sounded as if he would not have minded helping me out. But what if I had had to rely on an escort. I imagine it would be hand over the cash, bang-bang and thank-you-good-bye man with no hanging around to help out.

I should love to know if there is a single social services department in the country (UK) that offers any kind of assistance to disabled folk who want to play in bed. When I had my care review as to what my needs are and how they could assist me, not one form or person even referenced sex. My G.P.'s (family doctors) have never brought up the thorny topic of sex. Nor for that matter have any of my hospital consultants (clinicians). The specialist support nurses did not mention the subject either. In some sense it is as if I have been infantalised; like a child, I shall not be engaging in inappropriate behaviours for my own good.

It might be argued, I suppose, that it is a matter of privacy. But let's face it, if one is seriously disabled one loses much of one's perceived privacy. Is the subject of sex just too private?

So twelve months on, and I still feel I am a sexual eunuch.

This article is part of "Blogging Against Disablism Day" aka BADD2013.

[Image description: BADD2013 logo depicting 20 folk in various colours;
one of which is in a wheelchair & another holds a walking-stick (cane);
the text reads, "Blogging Against Disablism"]