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So who turns me on? Rather a basic way to put it but I never was too good at being intellectual.

Poetry: my big three are RS Thomas, Pablo Neruda and Anna Akhmatova. All of them fairly modern and none of them English; I don't know why that should be, but I have never found an English voice that is really powerful for me. I love the astringence of RS, where every sparse and precious word counts, echoing the harsh and stony land that he writes about.

Neruda, on the other hand, enchants with a constant stream of rich images, especially the love poems. Akhmatova, I'm still getting to know. But her metamorphosis from young love poet to unbeaten survivor of Soviet Russia is deeply compelling.

I also love Sappho, though it's tantalising that so little of her survives. I rate Lorca; he's sometimes a bit dark for me but I always liked the earthy blood, guts and balls aspect of latin poetry. I enjoyed Hughes' Crow and the Birthday Letters, but I'm less fussed about a lot of the ripping-the-heads-off-small-furry-animals nature poetry.

Guitar players: I think it has to be Jimi Hendrix, Rory Gallagher and Paul Kossoff of Free. Three solidly blues-based players, though I try not to live too much on a nostalgia kick. It would be naïve to suggest that no-one's pushed the boundaries since Hendrix but he's still a genius.

Dear old Rory, I saw three times live; a very gifted and often under-rated player. He gave his all to his music and it killed him in the end; a far more driven and compelling character than the trademark lumberjack shirts led you to believe.

Kossoff was one of my favourite exponents of less-is-more theory, part of the deceptively simple ethos that made Free such a powerful band. Also a man who could really handle a Les Paul, in my opinion a very difficult guitar to play well.

Composers: The French don't rate as rockers but in Debussy and Ravel you have two such brilliantly modern composers that some songwriter somewhere, even as we speak, is still ripping off their chord sequences . . .

Beethoven, of course, invented rock stardom; a hero of mine since I was six and first heard the savagely wonderful Seventh Symphony.

And in Elgar and Tallis, I always find two sublime flowerings of English music. Tallis is perhaps less known to people unfamiliar with church music but he has to rate as one of the guys that make God's life bearable. He also managed to write religious music for Henry VIII, Mary and Elizabeth I without being either beheaded or burned at the stake, which is no mean feat.

Artists: Van Gogh: tragic, compelling and, while actually painting, not nearly as barmy as legend would have it. Miro: surreal, playful, fascinating.

Rembrandt: when you find that you've stared at the same self-portrait for half an hour without realising it, the penny drops. Pollock: another crazy but I love the action paintings.

Brueghel: man who invented modern art about 600 years before anyone else. So far ahead of his time that I find him truly breath-taking.

 

   

RS Thomas
Picture courtesy of the RS Thomas Study Centre

 
Pablo Neruda
 
Anna Akhmatova
 
 
La Sieste by the immortal Vincent
 
The Deep: My favourite Pollock
 

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All poems and other texts on this site are the copyright of Richard Edward Hugh Castellan 2009