Wednesday, 31 December 2008
Rubbish year on many fronts, the global financial crisis, continuing conflict in too many areas, again exemplified by the Gaza fighting in recent days. I watched a Michael Palin programme with him trying to trace some crew he sailed with 20 years ago, he went to Mumbai and visited several of the places subsequently attacked in the recent attack. Why so much violence?
Anyway - at least for me another sober one under the belt, as long as I don't drink at all today, unlikely as I'm at an AA meeting this evening.
Music - lack lustre year in some ways. But CD of the year is either Elbow's Seldom Seen Kid or Kings of Leon Only By the Night - one day one next day the next... :-)
Best live album defo Jeff Beck live at Ronnie Scotts.
Best rock album Metallica Death Magnetic.
So here's to a better and hopefully more peaceful 2009.
Wednesday, 24 December 2008
So happy Christmas to all of you.
Did anyone see the Rab C Nesbitt Christmas revival special last night? I’d forgotten just how brilliant that show was. I was in stitches throughout – esp. his discussion with the server in the coffee shop about his Tall Latte.
Here are a selection of my favourite Christmas tunes for you to enjoy.
Monday, 22 December 2008
I'd stupidly in a moment of not thinking/listening properly had apparently agreed to take Daughter to Bluewater as she had a voucher still from her birthday burning a hole in her pocket. She is to shopping what I am to guitar ogling; an obsessive.
We headed there early with her moaning and me saying in typical grumpy Dad style - "there'll be queues already". There weren't :-( I've never had such an easy exit of the A2 and into the place, this of course accompanied by a daughter in complete "told you so" mode next to me.
Anyway we hit the shops then had a Chinese lunch before heading for the exit as the after lunch hordes descended. Having said that for the last Saturday before Christmas it was flipping quiet really.
Oh yes we had a great time label shopping in one of the department stores. Most expensive jeans we saw were £375 - they were so low slung and skinny frankly that was an utter rip off as there was hardly any material in them? You'd need to be a size 4 to fit them I think. I found some nice brown shoes for £225. We left. If shops are still selling stuff like that then this recession isn't making much impression is it - or maybe like often in the world it's those that can least afford to be hit by this kind of thing that are hurt and those that have too much already glide serenely through it all.
My post is about my guitar collecting obsession and is called in search of the perfect guitar. Funny since penning this last week for them I've since bought this months Guitar Buyer magazine which has a PRS flavour. A PRS catalogue, DVD with endorsees talking ad nauseam about PRS's (I get the point that they "stay in tune dude") and many shops highlighting their PRS stocks throughout the magazine.
So now I'm thinking 513... I played one a while back and really loved it but that was a rosewood neck one that was really silly money - as if the new mahogany necked one at £2199 is a bargain heh? Or maybe a CE Alder - different, interesting woods and bolt on neck. I'm thinking sort of souped up strat sound. Stop it!!!
Thursday, 18 December 2008
Davy was one of the great pioneers of the British Folk scene in the 1960s along with the likes of John Renbourn and Bert Jansch. Bert Jansch is known very much for his rendition of Anji which was written by Davy Graham. I was introduced to that piece by my first guitar teacher and that was when I first came across him.
From my perspective he's a name I've known and respected but really it was the people he influenced who've subsequent been influences on me, Gordon Giltrap, John Martyn and Jimmy Page.
Here is some Davy Graham to remember him by.
And here is Gordon Giltrap playing Anji(e) in his own stunning style.
Tuesday, 16 December 2008
The two best awards for me were the young award that was given to Eleanor Simmons for her stunning gold medals in the Paralympics. It was so good to see a paralympian wining an award where she was head to head with able bodied athletes – a great message for our country I thought. Her beaming face and great spirit are one of the best memories of this year.
But the most poignant for me was the award to Alastair Hignell who was awarded the Helen Rollason award for ‘outstanding courage and achievement in the face of adversity'. In 1975 I was on a school trip to Twickenham to watch the varsity match – we saw history as Hignell scored 60 points that day for Cambridge. He’d already moved positions from scrum half to full back so that he stood more chance at an England place. He’d made his debut in club rugby and also for England already. He went on to be a memorable England full back. Not only that he also played professional cricket for Gloustershire for many seasons and won England caps for that sport as well. An amazing sportsman. He retired and became a commentator for the BBC. In 1999 he was diagnosed with MS. He has battled it for those years but this year had to retire due to his worsening condition. I was at Twickenham for the Wasps Leicester Premiership final that was his last game and remember the amazing standing ovation he received before the kick off. As he received his award on Sunday the smile was there, the thanks to others and I was reminded what a gentleman he has always been.
So both these awards brought much needed humility to me. Whatever is going on in my life it is small compared to what some people have to face day to day and that they overcome with great dignity.
Monday, 15 December 2008
I drove over 600 miles in 24 hours to pop over to Wales and return with Son-of-Furtheron, a good proportion of his belongings, a ton of incomprehensible Physics lecture notes he needs to revise for his exams in Jan and a somewhat bizarre range of books needed by a friend of ours doing his masters who’d come home on the train earlier in the week. Frankly with the weather this weekend the driving stank, on the M1 on Sat it was laughable to watch these idiots trying to weave through the traffic. After every 30 miles or so you’d pass them again as they’d got stuck in the outside lane and they’d be off again.
One of my flipping headlights failed on the drive up. So I thought “No problem I’ve some spare bulbs in my box of crap in the boot I’ll replace it”. Open the manual; I’m un-usual I normally do read the manual I generally find it helps. Once when I was support for a leading dealing systems provider I used to do front line support for some of the top financial institutions in Europe – many times my summing up on the error report was “Told them to RTFM!” even at times after a flight to/from a European capital and an over night stay had been billed to them as they insisted it needed a site visit.
Anyhow back to Friday night… STOP. Apparently the dipped headlight beam bulb (yes the one you use the most) is not a user serviceable part. What?! :-S Big warning that I was at risk of electrocution. Given it was cold, very wet and very windy I decided that frying myself in the car park of Watford Gap services wouldn’t be the best idea. I popped into the Peugeot main dealer in Aberystwyth on Saturday morning. Firstly the comment that “I only have Mazda technicians on” perplexed me, why does a Peugeot main dealer not have Peugeot technicians? And it’s only a flipping headlight bulb, surely they can change that? Then the guy says “We don’t hold them in stock they are about £130”. Sorry for a headlight bulb! What the hell is it made from? Plutonium? Luckily it’s still on warranty and even better regardless of that I’m extremely lucky to still have that very British of perks – a company car. So I’ll not pay but putting that to one side, £130 and nearly a week to wait to replace a bulb is just crazy. My local dealer – can look at it Thursday. It’s only a bulb? I’m at a loss. Come back cars with carburettors etc. I could look after on my drive.
Anyway – Son-of-Furtheron is back and guitar music comes pouring from his bedroom. He’s learnt some off Death Magnetic and is trying to master Sweet Child ‘O Mine at the moment. He’s definitely improving. Probably the old competitive thing of him being back and also him asking how the new recorder was working out led me to admitting I’d not figured it out at all and locking myself away with it for an hour or two Sunday morning.
To recap – after my dilemma I bought the Boss BR-600. First thing…. RTFM! It’s very large and complicated – the manual that is. The box is very small and complicated.
I jumped into the Quick Start section and with headphones and guitar plugged in dived in. So I quickly got a noise coming out the headphones and found a reasonably heavy guitar sound. Right need some drums. That looks to be the most tricky part of this so far – in the end I settled for a simple rock 4/4 pattern continuously looping, I’ll work on a full arrangement later. Right Gordon Smith into drop D and off we go with an attempt at Head Full Of Shoulds – which has been knocking about in embryonic form since Sept. Tempo too fast – quick manual check and I figured how to change that.
Yes we have lift off I’ve recorded something. So select next channel and record a 2nd guitar part. Apart from sounding like an unrehearsed jam, which in fairness it basically was, at least I was getting stuff down. So I went mad grabbed the bass and tried to lay a bass part down, tricky given I was effectively writing it as I went and suddenly the figuring of notes from Drop D on the guitar to 5 string bass was more thought provoking than I’d expected, a little case of recording red light nerves I think. Nice bass sound though was quickly found and viola my first crack. I've not tried mix down, mastering and copying off yet which I might still do using this demo as something non-critical to learn on.
So lessons learnt.
1. Arrange the damn song!! Some bits was 4 bars of this then next time 6 … oops
2. Practice the bass part
3. Figure better second guitar part and use a diff sound. The same sound means it’s not easy to hear in the mix.
4. I need to figure out programming the drums into an arrangement
But I think we’re getting somewhere. I don’t need full blown brilliant production I’m hoping that recording a few demos will get me to them get others involved and head for the stage or a proper recording studio.
Friday, 12 December 2008
Later Smallfilms made Ivor the Engine. This was always my personal favourite. Again the animation was homespun and quaint, the storylines gentle and narrated by Oliver. This was the brilliant story of a little steam engine that worked on one of the little railway lines in Wales and his adventures with a host of characters. Brilliant stuff. Some years later my son became an Ivor fan too alongside the Thomas the Tank Engine animation series of the 80s/90s. Whilst it's a bit morribund at the moment my interest in model railways was no doubt shaped by Ivor and the Thomas stories I read as a child myself.
Subsequently Smallfilms made Pogles Wood which I fondly remember from "watch with mother" times. The Clangers was another favourite – this odd series was about a bunch of funny creatures who lived on a moon and talked by whistling at each other. There is a whole generation who can still converse in Clanger whistles. I remember that was one of range of short programmes that used to be on while I had my tea just before the adult programmes started with the news about 5:45 every evening.
For many people Bagpuss was the crowning glory and I believe that once won a pole of the best kids show ever. It was after my childhood and neither of my two ever rediscovered it to be honest so it's not one I recall much. Today you still regularly see cars with a Bagpuss in the back shelf so I think for the generation just beneath me it was a massive favourite.
Finally my personal link to Oliver Postgate runs further since he lived and worked not far from where I live so would often pop up at things and on the local radio/news etc. And more importantly one of his sons is an art teacher at my sons old school, it was his Meccano that was commandeered to make the Iron Chicken in the Clangers. This man had a huge influence on my son, his art and photography skills and his development as a person. Clearly he himself was massively influenced by his father and Peter Firmin so I have directly and indirectly much to thank Oliver Postgate for and he has left his mark in the British consciousness and culture much more than many much more lauded people. Thank you Oliver.
Thursday, 11 December 2008
I was at an AA meeting last night and Christmas was, not surprisingly, one of the topics of sharing. What was surprising however was how many people honestly shared that they really don’t like Christmas, it disrupts the routine, it costs you a load of cash you can little afford and for many it isn’t really a time of celebration with families fractured or moved away etc. However one thing we were all agreed on I think is that a sober Christmas will be a thousand times better than a drunk Christmas.
I used to be one of the big organisers of Christmas nights out etc. in my drinking days. One I remember was a pub crawl around Canterbury, to be fair anything I organised was a pub crawl somewhere, normally Canterbury cos it’s quiet nice sometimes Ramsgate for reasons I’ll never understand. (Proof reading edit - there are a lot of pubs there you Muppet). Anyway on this one I was wearing a roll neck jumper and with my goatee beard and tousled hairdo (it’s quick and simple) one lady on this jaunt made the comment I looked gay. I turned to the barmaid and said “Do I look gay to you?” I swayed gently as though a tree in a breeze as she considered her reply. “You’ve just ordered your second large dry sherry so I’d already assumed you were”. Now why did I used to drink sherry when I was drunk? No idea – I think I thought it showed more class than vodka. I then spilt one all down me which meant when I collapsed onto the last train home several people moved down the carriage leaving me in peace it was freezing cold that night and after the 2 mile walk home from the station I caught a horrible head cold for the rest of the holiday.
I can smile at all that now looking back but this will be my fifth Christmas sober. Mrs F has a load of nights out with work, the girls etc. planned. I’ll be staying in, I’ll not miss it one bit. So the bottle of sherry we have in the drinks cabinet and that sometimes comes out when recipes demand it – normally as a substitute to rice wine in the Chinese - will be the one that is lonely this Christmas hopefully. Nice cup of tea will see me right.
Oh I had my annual appraisal at work yesterday and my rating was 0.1 below the norm. (I didn’t even know we had a Norm working here, or do they mean the French bloke in the team, but he’s from Paris not Normandy). Anyhow I think that is about the best summing up of me I’ve heard in a long time :-)
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Whilst the temperature is distinctly demanding a woolly hat it was beautifully sunny and clear today on the drive to work - so clear in fact I could see to France on the drive down the hill.
Also believe it or not - Gillingham are still in the FA Cup. Yes I know! And cap that it was an away win, a massive rarity in itself, but also an away win in a replay. Against Stockport who are in League One. What is going on? We've now got Villa at home in January. Holy Cow!
STOP PRESS - the Villa game is going to be on ITV. The Gills full 90 mins on top telly against premiership opposition. I think I've just enter an alternative reality.
Monday, 8 December 2008
Enough of the waffling basically the weekend came, the Christmas decorations came out the loft and went up, after having to fix one set of lights, I cooked a Chinese for Mrs F, Daughter-of-Futheron, my brother and his girlfriend, we put the kitchen back together which is always a big job once I’ve been cooking (I ran out of oven space, bowls, spoons everything this time!). Went to an AA business meeting, had one all too brief look at my Boss digital recorder thingy – why to they put on a demo song that makes you think “I’ll never be that good”, I know they intend to inspire but for people like me it’s more a hindrance than a help… wrapped up my presents to Mrs F whilst she was out and then that was it… It’s Monday morning now.
I’m trying to curb my looking forward to the break at Christmas a bit. I’m concerned I’ll create loads of plans in my head and get little of them done. I should just look forward to the break and take it as it comes. We have planned a big New Year’s Day get together, it’s a bit of a family tradition. When we grew up and left home Christmas Day moved to be centered around our families this being firstly true with my sister who’s the eldest and gave Mum and Dad their first grandchild. After Dad died and Mum moved to her little bungalow New Year’s Day tea was at her place. As the families grew it did reach quite mad proportions – 7 adults and 6 kids in a small one bedroom bungalow was a laugh.
Sadly for reasons I’ll not go into a halt got called to that and we moved to having a meal out on New Years Day which Mum paid for. That has now grown to include other additions to the family and this year we’re booking for about 17 I think. Now my sister has a Grandson and there are a growing number of additional partners in the children. Mrs F chatted up the manager of the local restaurant and he relented on his “no party over 10” rule for us. It’s a shame Mum won’t be there to see the first one of these with her great-grandson no doubt making a great mess in his highchair. Now the children are setting up their own families and moving on slowly no doubt this’ll change and I suppose there is every chance it’ll only be a few of us again in a few years.
A fellow blogger out there in the real world is facing a very tough time at the moment as her Dad is very unwell. Obviously I’ve been there losing Mum and Dad before that but now esp. at these times in the year I can look back and remember just special moments. The fort that is still kept carefully in the loft that my Dad made me for Christmas when I was 8 and my son played with subsequently, hopefully I can pass it on to a grandson of mine one day. The mad New Years teas at Mums with all the kids playing with new toys and watching videos and her table groaning under the weight of food she’d prepared, my brother-in-law protesting he couldn’t eat another thing then Mum just putting a mince pie on his plate no matter what.
I bit early maybe but in this mood I thought I’d just wish you all a fantastic Christmas this year.
Thursday, 4 December 2008
Mrs F got an early Christmas present last night as I took her to see Simply Red at The O2 on their Greatest Hits tour. Simply put Simply Red are Mrs F’s favourites above all others so she is sad that they are calling time on their career and that this is the final tour. This was the fifth time I think we’ve seen them, once about second album time at the Docklands Arena (does that still exist?) and I remember them having loads of technical issues that night. At Wembley Arena I think on the Stars tour. Brighton some time later on the Home tour and a couple of years back at an open air gig at Leeds Castle in Kent just after Blue came out.
So anyhow – very very good gig. We were up in the gods and I really mean that – if you have a problem with heights level 4 at the O2 is to be avoided. Still we had a very clear view of the stage :-) bit like a Buzzard does as it circles it’s prey. Simply Red aren’t my personal favourites but they are a very impressive live act, very polished, excellent sound quality and extremely tight. I’d love to work with the two brothers who make up the rhythm section they are just stunningly solid.
It was a hits tour and they have a fair number to get through. My favourite album by them is A New Flame and they played a few off that which was good. One of the big crowd pleasers was Money too tight too mention which made me think that in the 23 years since that was a hit we’ve sort of gone full circle really… or have we not moved?
So that is it for gigs this year. I suppose time to vote for gig of the year… blimey difficult as always given they are all so varied. Metallica has to be up there for the fan club O2 gig, which was great as they played such a different set from their standard fare, cost only £5 and apparently they gave the proceeds to charity. How come I normally shell out £40 to get in to a gig then? David Gray was very good at Folkestone – I like that venue as it is so intimate. Hmm Queen were very good… then the stadium gigs Foo Fighters and Iron Maiden…. Okay…
Best gig overall – Metallica for some of the reasons above and because they played their socks off.
Best Stadium gig – oh tricky, I think the Foos just edge it as they clearly loved it and the finale with Jimmy Page and JP Jones topped it.
Best small gig – I’m going to give to Gordon Giltrap at Chathams lovely little Brook Theatre. If you’ve never seen him do yourself a favour and get along. He’s very witty in his little monologues in between the songs and one of the finest guitarists you’ll ever have the privilege to witness.
Monday, 1 December 2008
Well I feel pretty good at the moment. Firstly the problem in my upper back / neck that was giving me pain in my arms is a lot better than a few weeks back. However as regular readers will know I hurt my lower back two weeks back. It made a remarkable recovery I think given how I felt the 48 hours directly afterwards. It is still twinging a bit but not bad at all. I went back to swimming for the first time since then this morning and it was pulling a bit but was okay really. I need to do the funny exercises a physiotherapist gave me some years back. I’ll not go into detail but I look like a deranged cat in most of them – there that’s got some peoples imaginations working overtime no doubt. I had a cardiac risk assessment done recently, when I drank for years I had hypertension (high blood pressure) and was on treatment for it. As soon as I stopped drinking it came down. Now I’m “a little over weight” and my cholesterol is “just over normal”. So generally okay and apparently my risk of a fatal heart attack is 6%. I was musing as I left the surgery that if I had a heart attack there and then could my wife sue the doctor… of course the risk wasn’t 0% was it so no I concluded. What a daft mental discussion.
Mentally I’m in a much better place than I was through most of the summer. The big depressive thoughts are more under control and I’m doing a lot better. It’s simple really, look at the positive not the negative. I know it’s bleeding obvious but I struggle with the bleeding obvious at times.
The family found it highly amusing but I’ve bought a book and DVD about Buddhist Meditation. If I was forced to have to be in a religion I think I’d currently choose Buddhism. I like a lot of it’s underlying philosophy. Now all I have to do is get over the embarrassment of doing the meditation (what’s to be embarrassed about? I don’t know but I am) and try it out. They speak of the “monkey mind” all those thoughts that keep bombarding your conscious mind all the time. Oh how I relate to that.
So to keep my body healthy I need to exercise, generally and the ones for my back issues and I think the meditation thing will help with the mind health as well if I can just get myself to get on with it.