Kind of blue

Königsblue at Westminster Music Library, May 2015: Timea Gazdag (soprano) and Dasol Lee (piano)

Take one soprano with “sensitive communication, particularly in pieces with a lyrical tone”, and a pianist, an active soloist whose playing has been described as being “sensitive and musical” and having “beautiful tone”, and it would seem at the outset that these two talented musicians have a fair bit in common. Both students at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, it wasn’t long before they discovered how much they enjoyed making music together, so much so that it seemed rather a good idea to form a duo, and so Königsblue was born. But why ‘Königsblue’?

Königsblue at Westminster Music Library, May 2015: Timea GazdagSoprano Timea Gazdag explains:

“It’s really a ‘bluo’. I come from Hungary, a strange place where everyone is sad. I now live in the UK, where no-one would tell you if they are”.

Königsblue at Westminster Music Library, May 2015: Timea GazdagOh dear, was Königsblue’s recital at Westminster Music Library for the good folks of our community going to be an evening filled with melancholy tunes, wringing of hands and weeping? She goes on to say:

“I am an art song person, cabaret music, folk music, country music”.

Scanning through the Google I found a review of their début concert in April 2014, it seems to have had an enthusiastic audience and was described as “fun” – maybe my fears were groundless? Indeed they were.

Opening the recital with a selection from Robert Schumann’s song cycles ‘Liederalbum für die Jugend (Album of songs for the Young)’, and ‘Myrthen’, it was clear that even though some of these songs have rather unhappy themes, our two musicians were keen to show Schumann’s lighter side, selecting songs which depicted the countryside and Spring from the first cycle, and from Myrthen – which the composer dedicated to his wife Clara – songs full of images of bridal flowers and love.

We were then treated to a polished solo piano performance by Dasol Lee of ‘8 Valses poéticos’, a collection of romantic waltzes by the twentieth Century Spanish composer Enrique Granados. Technically challenging, the music was perfect for this warm, spring evening, bringing to mind as it does flamboyant Spanish dancers:

With Timea’s performance of Pamina’s aria ‘Ach, ich fühl’s’ from Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute (a classic tale of “he doesn’t love me any more” when everybody knows he’s potty about her), and a selection from Hugo Wolf’s song cycle Möricke-Lieder, the concert all too quickly drew to a close.

So was this recital full of doom and gloom, unrequited love, sadness and anguish? Was our audience awash with tears?  Judging by the smiles on everyone’s faces, I think not…

“An excellent performance, I was delighted to see the power of music – there should be no barriers to great music – abounds”

“Very enjoyable, remarkable up-coming artists”

“A really beautiful recital, looking forward to more concerts in the Library”


Tonight at the Music Library: the London Mandolin Ensemble! More details on the Events at Westminster Music Library page.

Bustling Spring Health and Volunteering Fair at Victoria Library

On Wednesday 20 May, Victoria Library was host to a bustling Spring Health and Volunteering Fair.

Dr Bike making a bike road safe at the Victoria Health & Volunteering fair, May 2015   Checking blood pressure at the Victoria Health & Volunteering fair, May 2015

WAES showing us how to prepare healthy snacks at the Victoria Health & Volunteering fair, May 2015More than 100 people came by throughout the afternoon to indulge in free massages, learn about mindfulness and get their health checked.  There were also plenty of opportunities to investigate some of the many volunteering options available.

General bustle at the Victoria Health & Volunteering fair, May 2015


Mother of parliaments

It may have escaped the attention of the less eagle-eyed of you, but there’s just been a General Election. While plenty of constituencies  did change hands, Westminster residents seemed pretty happy with their MPs  (Mark Field  and Karen Buck), both of whom increased their majorities.

If you aren’t sure who your MP is, go to Write to Them for a list of all your representatives including Councillors, London Assembly members and MEPs and even Parish Councillors if you happen to live in Ambridge

Currently Parliament is in the period known as prorogation, which is the name given to the period between the end of a session of Parliament and the State Opening of Parliament that begins the next session. Usually there are only a few days between the two events but the current session of parliament was ‘prorogued’ on 26 March to give time for the election.

The next event in the life of parliament is the State Opening, this Wednesday 27 May. Even if you’re not politically-minded, it’s a splendid piece of pageantry involving the official known as Black Rod having the door to the House of Commons shut in his face to symbolise MPs’ independence. Well, maybe it’s weird rather than splendid but it’s a bit of light relief before the serious business of the Queen’s Speech.

Preparing for State Opening: checking the cellars  The Yeomen of the Guard pick up their lamps in preparation for checking the cellars of the Palace of Westminster, a tradition carried out before every State Opening of Parliament since the failed 1605 Gunpowder Plot.

You can find films of the Queen setting off the open Parliament as far back as 1952 on the British Pathe newreel site. In fact, she’s only missed two years – 1959 and 1963, when she was pregnant with Prince Andrew and Prince Edward respectively.

Queen Victoria at the opening of Parliament, 1866

The State Opening was originally designed to give the monarch a chance for a roll-call of the lords and other representatives and the ceremony has existed since at least the 14th century. Not all monarchs have been as assiduous in attending as the present Queen, with Queen Victoria bothering to show up only 7 times between 1865 and 1901. Those interested in such things can check back through the Times Digital Archive. The language used in the past was somewhat different and I doubt that will be hearing this sort thing this year:

“The difference which exists in several important particulars between the commercial laws of Scotland and those of other parts of the United Kingdom  has occasioned inconvenience to a large portion of my subjects engaged in trade. Measures will be proposed to you for  remedying this evil”
Feb 1st 1856

For more parliamentary matters, check out the Government section of the Westminster Libraries Gateway to websites. You’ll find links to Hansard which records parliamentary debates, and while I wouldn’t recommend it as bedtime reading (though it would be a good soporific), there are occasional gems to be found. In 1993, the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Michael Portillo described Harriet Harman’s appointment as his Shadow as “like appointing Joan Collins to buy costumes for an impoverished amateur dramatic club” while veteran Labout MP Dennis Skinner is famous for his humorous injections during the State opening itself.

And if all this has whetted your appetite for more parliamentary ceremonial, you will be able to watch the whole event on BBC Parliament. It may even inspire you to arrange a visit to the House of Commons, or even get involved in politics yourself.


Nil points!

Radio Times, March 1965With an estimated global audience of 180 million viewers, the Eurovision Song Contest 2015 will be the 60th edition of this annual jamboree.

This years’ contest takes place in Vienna, following Conchita Wurst’s victory in the 2014 competition with the song Rise like a Phoenix. The nail biting Grand Final will take place this Saturday, 23 May 2015.

Australia is debuting as a “guest” entrant, the first time the country has ever been eligible. Ukraine, however, announced their withdrawal due to financial and political reasons.

The UK’s entry, sung by newly-formed pop duo Electro Velvet is being praised and panned in equal measure. From being branded ‘a national embarrassment’ to people claiming they can’t stop listening, I’m still in love with you is proving to be quite the hot topic:

The best and the worst

AbbaIt was over 40 years ago, on 6 April 1974, that Swedish pop phenomenon ABBA won the Grand Prix of the Eurovision Song Contest with their unforgettable song Waterloo. ABBA went onto become one of the biggest selling groups in the world, and Waterloo topped the list of songs in the Congratulations show that commemorated the 50th anniversary of the contest in 2005.

According to leading music experts, Waterloo is the quintessential Eurovision song. At the 50th anniversary celebration of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2005, it was chosen as the best song in the competition’s history. If you fancy forming a tribute band, we can’t supply the glittery suits but we can provide the music.

In 2010, fan blog The Eurovision Times voted Switzerland’s 2004 entry Celebrate, performed by Piero and his Music Stars, as the worst Eurovision song of all time. It earned Switzerland ‘nil points’ and thus made them the first country to come last without a single point in a semi-final.

Eurovision Song ContestThe UK has had a tough time at Eurovision in recent years; even pop legends like Engelbert Humperdinck (in 2012) and Bonnie Tyler (the following year) have struggled. We’ll have to wait and see if newly minted Electro Velvet can triumph…


Longlist, shortlist, Winner!

More than this by Patrick NessHave you seen our Book Awards page?
We’ve gathered all the contenders and winners of the UK’s most popular literary awards in one place! So if you’re keen to read a whole shortlist, want to know what all the fuss is about a particular winner, or are just looking for a great book to read – take a look. All our book lists link straight in to the library catalogue, so you can find out which libraries hold copies of the book you’re after and whether they’re available (you can reserve from here too).

The book awards we feature include the Man Booker, Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, the Specsavers National Book Award and many more.

Book Awards page on WCC library catalogue

H is for Hawk by Helen MacdonaldH is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald won both the Costa Book of the Year Award and the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction. It’s the extraordinary story of the author coping with her grief following the death of her father by acquiring a goshawk called Mabel and a year-long plan to tame and train her to hunt.

Jim's Lion by Russell hobanIn June we will find out the winners of the CILIP / Carnegie and CILIP / Kate Greenaway Medals (for children’s writing and illustration respectively). In the meantime, the always excellent shortlisted books for each prize are listed on the Book Awards page – including Jim’s Lion by Russell Hoban.

Each time a new shortlist is announced, the lists are refreshed – but we are gradually building a ’round up’ list of past prizewinners, so you can always be sure to find some great quality reading.

Borrow one today!


We have some Issues, Online

Skin Deep: debating body image - Issues seriesInformation overload may be a fact of life when the simplest of internet searches produce several million – often unreliable – results. Combined with the fact that most issues are complex, it is not surprising that people become overwhelmed.

Help is at hand for Westminster Libraries members who can access the brilliant resource ISSUES Online from home or consult printed versions of the series which are held in the Marylebone Library reference collection.

The Issues series includes publications which look into a wide variety of social issues which affect the modern world. While being absolutely ideal for school projects, anyone of any age who is trying to get a grasp of the subject matter covered should take a look at these slim and accessible volumes.

War and Conflict - Issues series Equality and Gender Roles - Issues series Citizenship in the UK - Issues series

As well as being able to browse through the resource to find the item you are interested in, you can also perform a keyword search. Furthermore, as you are reading you will find links to useful organisations, complete assignments to increase your understanding of a particular subject, and a glossary to help clarify what particular terms mean.

To sum up why this is an invaluable resource:

  • Save time
    Why spend hours trawling the web when ISSUES Online provides articles, statistics, videos, e-books and links, right at your fingertips?
  • Critical thinking
    The articles and statistics you’ll find on ISSUES Online are from a variety of different sources: newspapers, charity groups, Government reports, blogs, magazines, etc. This wide range can help you to be aware of the origin of the text you’re reading, and think about why someone might have written it. Is an opinion being expressed? Do you agree with the writer? Is there potential bias to the ‘facts’ or statistics offered?
  • Further Research
    At the end of each article you will find its source, and a web address that you can visit to carry out further research.

Social Media - Issues seriesIntrigued?
PSHE homework assignment looming?
Use your library card number to log in to ISSUES Online free, right now, or pop into Marylebone Library and browse.


Staff Garden – the Marylebone Gardener

On moving into Mackintosh House in August 2013, Marylebone Library staff discovered a raised earth bank behind the building. Rampant ivy and buddleia had been strimmed back, leaving bare earth which is surrounded by high walls and overhung by an overgrown privet bush. Fittingly, as the library stands on the site of the 17th-18th century Marylebone Pleasure Gardens, staff decided that rather than leaving it bare we would create a garden.

Marylebone Pleasure Gardens - 18th Century print


A collection of potted houseplants, transferred from the previous library, were lined up on top of the front retaining wall. Behind them, happily rooting around in the soil, two pig statues mysteriously appeared overnight. Around them the blank canvas awaited plants…

Pig in Marylebone Library staff garden

Pig among the garlic - Marylebone Library staff garden

It has been quite a challenge to create a garden on this site due to its situation at the bottom of a ‘well’ which receives little direct sunlight and sports ‘unfriendly’ soil conditions. A clue to what we were facing was the rather fine carpet of moss covering a heavy clay soil more suitable for brick making than supporting plants! In addition, after attacking this ground with a trowel it became very apparent that the bed was riddled with roots. All in all there was the temptation to put the entire garden to a spreading ground cover thug such ivy.

Undeterred by these conditions, over the last two years various plants have been added and some even thrived.

Bluebells and narcissi in Marylebone Library staff gardenSources include staff donations and purchases from a pound shop: don’t scoff! We had a welcome early splash of colour from a large bag of crocus bulbs which competed with grape hyacinths followed by Narcissus Golden Dawn all obtained from the same shop. One introduced plant which thrives in this heavy soil is Primrose.
The bluebells in front of the Narcissus predate our arrival and so they were a pleasant flowering surprise in the following spring.

It should be said that this is a very haphazard type of gardening with no real design element or planned planting. Any donated plants are introduced and left to sink or swim in these challenging environmental conditions.

I am also in the fortunate position of running a plant stall for a local gardening club and a number of unsold plants have come from this source, including the tough-as-old-boots orange flowing Crocosmia. This plant is rather shy in flowering, I suspect due to the lack of sunlight, but the plant does its job in covering a sizable area in green leaf. It is noticeable that due to the situation a number of plants do grow tall and spindly as a reaction to the relatively low light conditions.

Fern in Marylebone Library staff gardenAmongst the crocosmia,  to contrast with that plant’s narrow leaves, I have planted male ferns. These take an age to burst into leaf so I am always convinced that they have given up competing with the heavy soil conditions.

In fact this plot is rather “top heavy” with narrow strap-like leaved plants which include a military line of garlic which for some reason was not harvested last autumn. Optimistically I hope they will produce some flowers.

I have also planted three Acanthus mollis plants from side roots hacked off from a parent plant.

Acanthus in Marylebone Library staff garden     Acanthus

From This…                                      to This?


In addition to my library colleagues, other wildlife has been spotted in the garden. A regular visitor is a solitary pigeon attracted no doubt by left out bird food. It also makes use of a recently added birdbath. Other regular visitors are female and male blackbirds searching the ground for worms. On two occasions a small flock of great tits descended upon the buddleia searching for insects. In the summer the large privet bush is covered in white flowers. This attracts a number of bees; presumably from a nearby hive situated on some one’s rooftop garden. All these creatures have found their own way over the surrounding buildings to the garden.

Wormery in Marylebone Library staff gardenOne invertebrate deliberately introduced are Tiger worms for a wormery, which was bought to cut down the amount of food waste (cooked food and raw leftovers such as banana skins) which would otherwise be added to unrecyclable rubbish.

A rather disgusting smelling by-product of this compost making is the liquid drained from the container. However, suitably diluted, this liquid ‘rocket fuel’ did give an excellent boost last year to some malingering tomato plant seedlings.

Finally for any frustrated local gardeners you are welcome to join in a community gardening project at the library. Just turn up at Marylebone Library on Wednesdays between 10.30am and 12.30pm to help grow a variety of vegetables and flowers in containers.