Thursday, 11 April 2013
This is a shameless plug for you to buy my book.
It is set in Yorkshire and surrounds the unexpected events that lead a normal boy into a world of witches,moorland elves and confrontation. It is available via Amazon Kindle and can be viewed on tablets, ebooks, android phones, Iphones and pc's/macs.
It is reasonably priced and more than worth every penny/cent. Give it a go.
The Witches of Underdale Amazon Kindle link : - http://t.co/OC0wjCEcw9
Can I once a again take the opportunity to thank those who have already purchased the book. I hope you enjoy it and tell your friends to buy it.
Sunday, 31 March 2013
We have two old cars. Our small car has a radio cassette (for those unaware, a cassette is a plastic case with a reel of audio tape in it). We have an adapter to play mobile phones/MP3 players through the cassette. This works terribly. Terribly enough to resort to listening to the radio which sadly is an FM radio. This creates further dilemmas for listening pleasure. Radio 1 is for 12 year old's, Radio 2 is for beige people that think they're still young, Radio 4 is fine but still perpetuates the myth that The Archers is interesting or entertaining. Which it isn't. Radio 3 plays classical music written generally by obscure and avant garde composers for one armed blind violinists, well you get the picture. My choices are down to the commercial stations. Capital is annoying rather like Radio 1 and also for 12 year old's. Local radio is patronising, parochial and dull which realistically leaves Classic FM.
This radio station plays some fabulous popular classical music to an audience seemingly made up of 80 year old residents of Dignitas. It is the Mogadon station, all fluffy and squidgy like a chintz cushion. This presentation style is very disappointing. Being one brought up in a middle class home counties environment where ITV was for common people; adverts were an odious interruption certainly not tolerated on radio. The choice of adverts seems to prepare you for your final years shuffling around a care home in a bewildered state, looking for your bedroom.
This presentation of such a varied and exciting musical genre is all rather depressing. Those of you unfortunate enough to have read previous posts will know of my classical roots. I was raised on Elgar, Handel and Beethoven. I am a huge fan of Gilbert and Sullivan (not to be confused with the poodle haired Irish 70's crooner O Sullivan). My great uncle played the tenor roles in many of the comic operas. My grandfather was an accomplished organist/pianist/conductor. My mum is also a pianist and sang contralto in choirs. My sister is an opera singer and music teacher. My brother was taught to strangle cats (violin) and I was taught the piano (which I played very badly). I have retained a love of classical music in all its varied forms. As a child I was captivated by the works of Camille Saint Saens in particular Danse Macabre and Carnival of the Animals. I was entranced by Grieg's Peer Gynt and piano concerto in A minor. I remember enjoying works by Vaughan Williams, Frederick Delius and George Butterworth.
The majesty and drama of Gustav Holst Planets Suite always stirred emotions as much as any track by The Who or Genesis. Why would an 9 year old be so moved by Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, Stravinsky's Firebird Suite or Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries? The answer is simple. Its brilliant complex emotional music. It has power, depth, majesty and beauty. It was not sensible for a 9 year old to brag about this passion for classical music to his school friends who at the time worshipped Gary Glitter and Sweet (oh dear how misguided).
My appreciation of music stems from my love of classical composition. I was told as I embarked on an illustrious and fulfilling musical career that learning the piano was a sound basis for playing all other instruments. If you can play a piano, the rest should be a doddle. Well sadly for me the piano proved too much. Similarly however, classical music is a good place to start appreciating a wider view of music. Its just that there is a presentation and snobbery problem with it.
Listen to Brahms Symphony No 4 in particular the 3rd movement and tell me you are not moved by such wonderful expansive powerful music? It brings me joy every time I hear it. I listen to pieces such as La Calinda by Delius and there's not a dry eye in the house. It is more than 'nice' or 'relaxing'. It is playful, joyous, loud, aggressive and seductive. Rimsky Korsakov wrote many playful, exciting pieces including Capriccio Espagnol; so wonderfully capturing the romantic sound and feel of Spain. It along with other great tunes are packaged like a soft furnishing catalogue or tempur mattress for the nearly dead. Do those that perform classical music want to extend this wonderful and diverse colossal body of music to the masses? Well if they do they should work on how to market and promote it. In their day, composers were the rock stars that attracted huge devoted followings, had the royal courts of Europe fighting for their patronage and sold out theatres and concert halls. It became superseded in the 20th century by popular music. It beats me why it became unpopular with the masses?
Maybe what we need is a bit less soft focus comfy presenters talking got you in carpet slippers over a cup of Horlicks and a bit more rock and roll. Sell, promote and play the music on its merits. Opera, organ music, baroque, string quartets, could all be promoted to look and sound more appealing to a mass audience than at present. So please Mr Classic FM try a little harder to sound excited and upbeat about your product or I may be forced to buy a new car stereo.
Tuesday, 12 March 2013
The Ramones and Blondie had followed in the wake of artists such as Patti Smith. Some would indeed say punk started in the states and was merely adopted in the UK. Bands such as Ian Dury and the Blockheads, XTC and The Jam emerged into a music scene that embraced the new and avant garde. The irreverent and edgy was the way to be in the late 70's. Popular chart and sales success was still enjoyed by the giants of rock and pop like Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Elton John and Rod Stewart but the buzz was around the new acts. Many remember the presenters cheesy introductions on Top of the Pops to new groups performing highly charged performances to a sometimes bemused studio audience. The Damned and The Clash were certainly not Billy Joel or Leo Sayer. This music however continued to bemuse and baffle me despite me listening and absorbing some snippets. I still wanted to form the British Rush and not Buzzcocks or Pistols soundalikes. I lived a very middle class existence that did not challenge anything. The great iconic acts of the sixties came from backgrounds similar to that of the punk acts of the 1970's. Pete Townsend , Keith Richards, Ray Davies and his brother Dave courted controversy and displayed anger in their stage performances. I am of the belief that Pete Townsend has spent his whole career being intensely pissed off with someone and often everyone. He is the angriest man in music by a country mile.
I was privileged to see Wilko Johnson play in his farewell tour at Holmfirth recently. He was edgy, energetic and mesmerising. His bass player was the legendary Norman Watt Roy once of the Blockheads. Two guys in their sixties playing to an audience of a similar age. As I looked around the audience I saw many punks forty years on. They still had an edge to them. My dear twitter friend SKtheWombelle was very lucky to see Wilko Johnson and Lee Brilleaux in their prime. Ah if only........
We live in difficult times. Our government is weak in many ways. It is intransigent, establishment and for the rich. They demonize those on benefits or the poor. People who cannot get work are work shy.They are insular and obsessed with appeasing the blue rinsed legions. The country is in many ways a harsh one that offers little to its youth. The country of 1975 in many ways was also one that offered little its youth. Music was a way out, an expression of disaffection to the older generation that had fucked it up for them. Punk was the mouthpiece of an anger in those young people. They used music, art and fashion to stick two fingers up at the bloated tired society they were being brought up in. This is not a new concept by any means. Our parents talked of the violent teddy boys in the 1950's, the long haired Beatles and the 'dangerous' Rolling Stones of the mid sixties. Some argue that flower power and the anti Vietnam war protests were as much about youths disaffection with the government of the day.
The voters of the late 70's however lurched to the right and elected the most ruinous Prime Minister of my generation. She ripped Britain apart, shattered communities and industries; all because of her political dogmatism. Being disaffected is not enough. Hope is more worth fighting for. If punk rock taught us anything it was that self belief, innovation and irreverence were the building blocks of a whole new generation. They spoke to young people and gave them an image their parents were alarmed by. This is good. The bad news was that Thatcher filled a void left by a spent Labour government. The danger could be that unless a credible opposition of the left is found, the void may be filled by blue rinsed, anti immigration little Englanders.
Most of those punks 35 years on would not want the young to settle for mediocrity because they still don't. I don't talk politics often as I give my allegiances away too easily. As I reach my fifties I feel more up for 'anarchy' and disaffection than in my teens. I think we have a lot to be angry about and cultural expression is a powerful tool. We have a government of the privileged rich for the privileged. They have no concept of the struggles we all face. Their solution is to make society and those least able to influence it, suffer. 'There is no such thing as society' I believe a certain Prime Minister once said. She tried her best to dismantle much of it. Do the young want to sit complacently by and watch it crumble in a climate of greed and forelock tugging? So let's forge a new punk revolution. Lets get music to speak for the next generation. Lets be different and get angry.
Sunday, 10 March 2013
What is the old duffer worrying about this week? Why is he moaning about being old? Well in truth I'm not. It is the perception of what the 'young' have of us that have been there. Youth is the hope of a nation. Being young means having everything in front of you. Being old is having everything behind you. Being middle aged is being stuck in the middle of it; too old for drugs/rock and roll and too young to stick in a home. Its a damning phrase 'middle aged'. Its like 'beige', 'comfortable', 'cardigan'. Fashion editors who tell you retro is chic or cardigans are the new clothing garment are undoubtedly over 50. I can guarantee that sixty is not the new forty.
Amongst my close friends were twin girls, Sarah and Alison. We were friends from us being little toddlers together. We went to Sunday school, played in the band and spent time at joint Scout and Guide events. I went to a disco with Sarah & Alison at their secondary school. I was Sarah's 'date', got to dance with her and have a quick snog. I always wish I had kissed Alison too. Anyway, their dad was a thin, grey bearded kind man for whom I had a great respect. He was a scout leader in our group that smoked roll ups and liked a pint. I thought of him at the time as being really old but now realise he must have been younger than I am now! I remember him getting false teeth. They looked as if they were far too large for him and much too white. False teeth after all were a symbol of our grandparents generation; stuck in a glass of Steradent on the bedside cabinet.
Time warps the edges of perception and memory. The longer the distance away in time, the more edges warp and memories along with them. In truth I have spent much of the last year wishing my youth back. It probably comes to most of us. The ingredients of youth - Vitality, energy, innocence. That you are the first person to fall in love, to feel the thrill of a gig, to have your heart broken, to get drunk and take drugs. These are after all in the domain young people. Well actually NO. It's just that it is new to them. We know how to get drunk; that drugs are not the answer but the ride can be fun. Some of us still cannot deal with having our hearts broken.
I am fast approaching fifty. In the last ten years I have experienced depression, cancer, loss of career, family trauma, bereavement, our child seriously ill, money worries, becoming a graduate, attempting to be a poet and writer and rediscovered my love of live music. I have been to more gigs in the last two years than in the last twenty. I have seen bands the same age as my eldest daughter and those nearly old enough to be my parents. I have discovered that I was wrong about The Clash. That my dad isn't always right but he's the best dad I could wish for. Children grow to need you in different ways than you envisage. Your friends have forged careers and you have none. I have discovered also two years ago on the road to Baildon (Damascus of West Yorkshire) the thrill and genius that is Dr Feelgood. I remember them on the Old Grey Whistle Test and Top Of The Pops back in 1975. The songs have lawys been there but I was not receptive. I am a fool. What a waste!
These guys really know how to play and entertain. It was a very moving experience to be in the crowd. A crowd made up of largely people in their forties, fifties and sixties. Some very cool oldies (as well as others less so). Many of the audience, support act (Mark Radcliffe and the Big Figures) and band have been there. We remember them first time round, although its taken 36 years for me to have that epiphany. The first support act a young punk/blues band from Southend, Eight Rounds Rapid; captured the essence of Dr Feelgood in their heyday. Edgy, aggressive punk with blues overtones. Mark Radcliffe and the Big Figures were fabulous as ever. Who'd have thought a bunch of fifty somethings could play with such energy! Maybe its the Sanatogen (or Moorhouses Blond Witch)?
The moral of the story is what? Am I all washed up at 48 nearly 49? Do I have anything left to offer before I shuffle off this mortal coil? Wilko Johnson had talked about experiencing a state of euphoria on having being told his diagnosis. He walked out of the hospital and felt so alive. Maybe that's the message. Age does not preclude you from living life. He sang about that 'old train comin' and it comes for all of us sooner or later. As he sang those words, the audience sighed and were moved. I have never been as moved by a gig as I had on Friday night. He and his band wanted us to have a good time and go away happy. Wilko said in an interview that his response has taken him by surprise as he was generally a miserable so an so. The answer Wilko Johnson's example shows is to not wait till you're getting on that train to realise what you have missed. Advancing age means have you less to prove and more to enjoy the ride (not on that train obviously).
Well I best be going, my cocoa is getting cold and the electric blanket won't turn itself off.
As a footnote, my good friend Gary is getting engaged to Lesley! His mum is very ill and Gary has had much to deal with over the last few years. I wish him, Lesley and his family much love and happiness in such trying times.
Monday, 25 February 2013
What is it about a song that leaves you feeling better at the end of it? What songs make you cry? Do the hairs really stand up when you play a piece of music? If the answer to any of those is No then there must be something wrong with you. Music has the capability to touch the soul and transport you to a better place. Music twangs on the heart strings like a good book or movie. La Calinda by Frederick Delius was played as I walked into assembly at Woodlands Junior School in Tonbridge. We had a different piece of classical music for assembly every week. That piece touched the very soul of a seven year old boy. I hear it today and it still stirs the same sensations. That junior school had the foresight to expose its impressionable pupils to classical music and I thank them for it. My home was filled with music (as mentioned in previous blog posts) so having it at school was no hardship. From that early age I knew what I liked. I did not listen or appreciate music because it was fashionable.
Even as a child of the 70's, Glam Rock did little for me and Top of The Pops was not my inspiration. I do however, remember my parents listening to The Carpenters at that time. Even at that tender age, most of it sounded plain and bland. I do however recall one track sticking out from albums of musical mogadon. 'Happy' is dated and sentimental but I think however a classic.It still makes me smile and gives me a lump in my throat too. You see music doesn't have to be fashionable and that should not be the criteria for enjoying it. I am not ashamed to enjoy that song to this day.
I shared a bedroom with my older brother Andrew. He moved in the early 1970's from David Bowie to Yes and Genesis. Much of Yes struck a chord with me as it seemed to almost follow classical composition lines. Pieces such as Starship Trooper, And You And I or Yours Is No Disgrace have movements. They soared and were symphonic and magnificent. Genesis really touched me. Their early albums with Peter Gabriel at the helm were regular listening in our bedroom. Selling England By The Pound is I believe their finest work. Within that, Cinema Show stands out and can still 40 years on; transport me to a wonderful place. Another song of the 70's also remains in my top five of all time favourite songs. Renaissance were a prog rock band that produced some interesting and melodic work in the mid and late 70's. Their most famous track however is unsurpassed. Northern Lights is to me beautiful, majestic and wonderful.The brilliant vocals of Annie Haslam are powerful and reminiscent of Maddy Prior of Steeleye Span fame.
Such tracks as Heartsong by Gordon Giltrap transport me back to winter evenings watching The Holiday Programme with Cliff Michelmore. It has stuck in my head since first hearing it and remains one of my favourite instrumental pieces.
There is so much music that moves me and that is as it should be. The Martin Scorsese film 'No Direction Home' charts the early career of Bob Dylan. The film interviews those that were around with Bob at the time. The poet Allan Ginsberg recalls the first time he ever heard 'Blowing In The Wind'. As he described the emotions he experienced, the tears rolled down his face even forty years on. It stirred a memory so powerful as to induce the same emotional response. Words in the case of Dylan were often the profound stimulus but I have always been a tune man myself. The perfect pop song for instance can often address very dark subject areas but deliver a purity through music. 'There She Goes' by The La's is to me the perfect song. the riff is simple and catchy, there's harmonies and fantastic clean guitar sound. The fact that it talks about heroin use is irrelevant to me. You should never wonder if its OK to like something or why because sometimes you just do and that's fine.
Music continues to twang and touch today. Anyone who tells you that good inspiring music has all been written is blind and deaf to new experiences. I have been profoundly moved by The Shins, Villagers, Belle and Sebastian and Cashier No 9 to name but a few. The recent album by a singer/songwriter/harpist, Serafina Steer is a magical piece of work. The stand out track on 'The Moths Are Real' is 'Night Before Mutiny'. It is almost beyond beautiful. If you have not heard much by her I urge you to beat a path to ITunes or your local record store and check her out. I look forward to many years of emotional rollercoasters, transported by music and words that mean much to those who write or perform them. My long battles with depression have been much documented in previous blog posts. Music and literature are my antidotes to the black dog. I have cried to Serafina Steer and so should you to whatever reminds you you are alive. That is the purpose of music and writing.
Thursday, 14 February 2013
I don't often do gig reviews. I have before posted photos taken at gigs, which hopefully give a flavour of the gig. Most of our gigs tend to be around West Yorkshire venturing occasionally as far as Holmfirth to the Picturedrome or the wilds of the Trades Club, Hebden Bridge. However due to circumstances, we travelled south to Sheffield to visit the Leadmill. It is a fine venue not far from the railway station in the mould of the Cockpit In Leeds. The main act was the Irish band, Villagers. They have recently released their second album 'Awayland' a fabulous follow up to the 2010 Mercury nominated 'Becoming A Jackal'. The double pleasure however was that their support were Stealing Sheep, a girl trio from Liverpool.
Villagers are a five piece band from Ireland. The Dublin born lead singer Conor O'Brien, formed the band in 2008. He has a very distinctive and poetic vocal and lyrical style. The songs are wistful, thought provoking and have a profundity that captivates. Their live performance was equally as captivating. The music is tight and beautifully balanced. They played a mix of tracks from the new album with some from their debut album. Awayland has some gems amongst its ranks such as 'In A New Found Land', Nothing Arrived, Judgment Call and The Bell.
In truth there aren't really any weak songs on there just some stronger than others. The tracks stand up well along with those played from Becoming A Jackal such as Ship of Promises, Pact (I'll Be Your Fever) and the title track. Their stage presence and in particular O'Brien's, hold the audience perfectly. He is a diminutive, softly spoken but strong front man with a very talented band supporting him. I get the impression maybe very unjustly, that O'Brien is to Villagers what James Mercer is to The Shins. The albums are those that require several listens to really get under the skin. Once there, you learn to appreciate the wonderfully crafted lyrics and grown up sound that moves the soul. I have seen many acts in the last year but rarely one as engaging. I believe that they may be playing at several festivals this year so I would urge you to go and see them live. Their music and live performance is simple but brilliantly executed. They are working with very fine material though.
I have included two videos of Villagers. The above track Nothing Arrived, is taken from their new album.The video below - Pact (I'll Be Your Fever), is from their debut album. I hope you enjoy both but better still why don't you go and see them live.
Monday, 7 January 2013
Its January 7th. I've booked our John Shuttleworth tickets (Oof!). I'm booking tickets to see Villagers and Stornoway in February and March respectively. Its not snowing (sadly). Television is occupied with dire celebrity talent shows. Can you believe a show about diving with stunt divers riding BMX bikes off the platform, dressed as James Bond?!! How shit does it have to get before the numb ITV audience say no more? The cupboards are beginning to look a little sad with remnants of Christmas left behind. The decorations have been taken down. The house looks bare and cold. Even the remaining boxes of Chocolates and biscuits look less appealing. January, what a let down month. Its as though there is nothing to look forward to. All across the land, new years resolutions will be broken by now. The media will be full of fabulous new plans for getting fit and detox. Holiday firms are selling expensive destinations to persuade the population to further extend their overdrafts. January is the payback month. The reality of excess hits home this month.What will 2013 bring as we look at the year ahead from a gloomy, dark January. Well no Olympics, Jubilee or major football championship. There is the promise of continued hard economic times to come. I understand food prices are set to rise as have utility costs. I'm really struggling to find a thing to look forward to from the doom and drudge of January.
|Thornton Viaduct, Bradford. A lovely place even in January|
Happiness can be gained by achieving. I completed my first novel today. Its quite short (probably too short) but I am quite proud of it. I hope to self publish this month after a few reviews from friends. I am strangely not ecstatic but looking forward to the next one now. The challenge of getting on the keyboard and writing is more exciting. I enjoy the process and feel slightly embarrassed with the end product for some unknown reason. I think January is a good month to finish a book and embark on a new one. For a writer, to have a project that will fill the coming months has to be better than an empty work schedule in January. God! back at that old chestnut again.
So what can I set as goals for this year? Walk more, write more, talk less, think less, spend less and dress better. These are achievable sort of. Look for the free and simple to fill you with happiness. Use your creative skills to fill your time and stay away from spending. So as I sit here in an artificially lit crowded room looking out into the endless dark of a January evening; my creative skills will have to be my fall back, to help shake the January greys away.