Archive for August 14, 2011

Acting and Clearing

Posted in Education, Finance, Politics, Science Politics with tags , , , , , , on August 14, 2011 by telescoper

Now that I’m back from my trip to Copenhagen, it’s going to be back to work with a vengeance. To those of you who think academics have massively long summer breaks, I can tell you that mine ends on Monday when I will be doing a stint as Acting Head of School. That’s not usually a particularly onerous task during the summer months, but next week happens to be the week that A-level results come out and it promises to be a hectic and critical period. It’s obviously a sheer coincidence that all the other senior professors have decided to take their leave at this time…

There are several reasons for this being a particularly stressful time. First the  number of potential students applying to study Physics (and related subjects) this forthcoming academic year (2011/12) in the School of Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff University was up by a whopping 53% on last year. I blogged about this a few months ago when it became obvious that we were having a bumper year.

The second reason is that Cardiff’s  School of Physics & Astronomy has been given a big increase in funded student numbers  from HEFCW. In fact we’ve been given an extra 60 funded places (over two years), which is a significant uplift in our quota and a much-needed financial boost for the School. This has happened basically because of HECFW‘s desire to bolster STEM subjects as part of a range of measures related to the Welsh Assembly Government’s plans for the regions. Preparations have been made to accommodate the extra students in tutorial groups and we’re even modifying one of our larger lecture rooms to increase capacity.

Unfortunately the extra places were announced after the normal applications cycle was more-or-less completed, so the admissions team had been proceeding on the basis that demand would exceed supply for this year so has set our undergraduate offers rather high. In order to fill the extra places that have been given to us late in the day, even with our vastly increased application numbers, we will  almost certainly have to go into the clearing system to recruit some of the extra students.

In case you didn’t realise,  universities actually get a sneak preview of the A-level results a couple of days before the applicants receive them. This helps us plan our strategy, whether to accept “near-misses”, whether to go into clearing, etc.

On top of these local factors there is the sweeping change in tuition fees coming in next year (2012-13). Anxious to avoid the vastly increased cost of future university education many fewer students will be opting to defer entry than in previous years. Moreover, some English universities have had cuts in funded student places making entry highly competitive. As an article in today’s Observer makes clear, this all means that clearing is likely to be extremely frantic this year.

And once that’s out of the way I’ll be working more-or-less full time until late September on business connected with the STFC Astronomy Grants Panel, a task likely to be just as stressful as UCAS admissions for both panel members and applicants.

Ho hum.

Heebie Jeebies

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on August 14, 2011 by telescoper

I was looking through Youtube this morning and found this, which I noticed was recorded exactly 60 years ago today, on 14th August 1951, which gave me an excuse to post it. Not that I needed an excuse. It’s a bit of contrast with my previous jazz post, but I’ve never had a problem with loving New Orleans traditional jazz as well as its more modern varieties.

Apart from the fact that this is a joy to listen to, it also gives me an opportunity to pay tribute to a much underrated figure in the history of British jazz. I don’t mean, “The Guv’nor”, Ken Colyer, who plays super lead cornet on this track (and who, incidentally, was one of John Peel’s favourite musicians), but the fabulous trombonist Keith Christie who led this band together with his brother Ian, who played clarinet.

Before forming the Christie Brother Stompers, Keith Christie was a mainstay of Humphrey Lyttelton band that made many wonderful recordings for the Parlophone label. Together with Humph on trumpet and Wally Fawkes on clarinet he was part of  the finest front line of any band of that era. His characteristically rumbustious trombone playing can be heard to particularly good effect on this track, a version of the classic  Heebie Jeebies, first recorded by Louis Armstrong and his famous Hot Five way back in 1926.

Clearly inspired by Kid Ory, Keith Christie’s always seemed to bring out the comic  aspects of the rorty old tailgate trombone style without ever mocking it. It’s interesting to reflect that although this kind of music is suffused with a robust humour, the musicians themselves were deadly serious. When he was with Humph’s band, Humph tried many times to persuade Keith Christie to tone down the humorous aspect, something that he admitted in later life was entirely the wrong thing to do.

Indeed, Humph’s band at one point in 1949 had the chance to do a recording session with the great Sidney Bechet, after which Bechet summoned Humph into his dressing room and gave him a kind of end-of-term report on the band, pointing out little criticisms of their playing. Humph recalled in radio programme many years later the unqualified admiration with which Bechet spoke of Keith Christie’s trombone playing then. I can’t think of  higher praise.

When Keith left to form a band with Ken Colyer it was a topic of great speculation how his playing would go down with the Guv’nor, a name Colyer acquired because of his strict adherence to New Orleans principles. I don’t know what went on behind the scenes, but it is a fact that the band didn’t stay together very long.

When this particular record was made it was heavily influenced by the revivalist records coming over from the USA at the time of Bunk Johnson’s 1940s band and also the Kid Ory band, so the “recorded in garage” sound was sedulously acquired. It might be low-fi, but you can hear well enough to enjoy it, especially Keith Christie’s absolutely brilliant trombone, both in solo and in as part of the front line collective passages.