Monday, 28 June 2010

catch up on book reviews

I've missed a bunch of book reviews lately so here goes with a quick catch up of what I've been reading recently...

A Week in December - Sebastian Faulks

There was a fair bit of hype about this when it came out - it sounds like Mr Faulks was writing this fiction before the financial collapse of 2008 but it is scary to read how close it is to reality. I've not read one of his before - he really is excellent at getting under the people, their motives and background etc. You really want to know what is going to happen to one of the main characters next and also await another of his "flash back" scenes where he'll explain important aspects of the character. There are 7 main characters lives in London over 7 days laid out before you. Their lives all intertwine in some way from the tube driver to the hedge fund manager. The climax isn't actually what you might expect given the run up in the book and the question - who is the real villain here is an interesting one to consider. Given many books I read are more the airport thriller nature this one has little "action" and some of the in depth person descriptions etc. can be heavy going. However very good book highly recommended.

Brad Thor - The Apostle

So the scenario is that the daughter of a close friend of the President of the USA has been kidnapped in Afghanistan - she is working there as a volunteer. Her mother blackmails the President into helping her out and he employs an ex special forces guy to carry out the rescue. Oh there is a sub plot that someone else knows about the blackmail threat and takes it on themselves to investigate that.

Frankly - rubbish. Well it was a fast paced reasonably well written airport thriller but the amount of bloodshed in it was horrible and the tone to which the deaths of the Afghans was set was loathsome. In the acknowledgements Brad goes on about how it is great that there are people like his character who'll step outside the normal rules to take to the war to the terrorists. Sorry?!!! So I find it difficult to recommend a book by someone with views like that - I'm ashamed my buying the book in Boston airport gave him some income but there you go I can't help that now. For the record - we are the civilised nations who are supposed to be showing how to "do it properly" that doesn't mean breaking the rules no matter what.

Tim Serverin - Pirate (part 3 in Hector Lynch series)

Hector Lynch continues his pirating adventures on the high seas in the third part of his life story that has seen him taken as a slave from his Irish home on to Africa, the Caribbean and South America and this time beyond into the Pacific. These are gentle paced books clearly extremely well researched as many of the characters Hector finds himself involved with are historical figures and some of the escapades are based on documented events. Hector was a again left in a quandary at the end so I await part 4.

Chris Ryan - Who Dares Wins

You know Chris Ryan books - read one you've read them all. Down at heel ex-SAS bloke who regrets leaving/being kicked out of the regiment... etc. etc.

Actually this one is a subtle twist - the main character is still serving in the regiment but it is his brother who was kicked out. There are some other nice little tricks in this one that made it one of the best Ryan reads I've had in a while - although some parts of the plot are incredulous to me.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

The last week

So the last week just gone - I was in London for three days on various courses with the outplacement consultancy. Some useful stuff especially on the Starting Your Own Business one. It isn't as though that is my must do thing but given it was there free to me I thought I'd go and found it useful.

Suddenly though it is only days until I leave work now. So the couple of days in the office this week did feel really odd - I'm only really now just helping out the guy who has joined the team in the UK so that he is as bedded in as possible and helping out with some advice to other parts of the organisation reorganising in a similar way to what we have already done and I'm seen as being the expert on the role definition so I am advising them on that. Two weeks today I'll not be working for the first time since 1981!

So looking forward next week is the last week as well. I actually have a couple of days the week after but this is now really counting the hours not the days any more.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Welcome Home coheed and cambria hmv forum london june24

Welcome Home by Coheed and Cambria - last song of a fantastic gig at the Forum last night.

They played a varied set with more off the two earlier albums then I'd expected. Also for a complicated band with a broad "sound scape" the sound was excellent with all instruments in the right place and not falling to mushy sounds at all.

Monday, 21 June 2010

More guitar maintenance...

My trusty old Yamaha LL11 has had a pretty grotty looking heel strap button on it for ages. About 8 years ago I agreed to play at a company Christmas party and was asked to play acoustic on a couple of numbers - the Yamaha didn't have a heel button which I prefer rather than the old loop around the nut method - which throws the guitar into the wrong position for me so I always feel I'm fighting it to stay where I want it to.

So I quickly stuck a strap button on the heel - I think it was probably off an old Columbus Strat copy of mine from years back and just lying in the "scrap" box. Anyway it's bugged me recently. I rifled through the "scrap" box again and found two gold strap buttons - must be off my Les Paul Custom (I pretty much always on electrics fit Schaller Guitar Strap locks). I polished one up and stuck it on the LL11 - looks much better.

I also fitted a heel strap button to my 12string - again it left the factory without one. I do think that these days all guitars should have one fitted as standard but there you go. Anyway in the "scrap" box were a couple of nice chrome ones - off my Gordon Smith Graduate60 I think and I fitted one of those. So given I've recently moved to standing up for the acoustic performances this means the 12 string is back in the frame to be used - esp as a new song "Everyday" is coming together. Also for Father's Day I got the new Marillion DVD - Out of Season - which is 6 hours of live shows from the three days of the Marillion convention in Holland last year. That has made me think about Easter and Man of a Thousand Faces being added to the set list :-)

My daughter got me Tommy Emmanuel's The Mystery - long time favourite off Spotify when I'm at work. He is a stunning player - I wonder if I could learn any of his stuff? Problem is that the finger picked instrumentals like that and the Gordon Giltrap stuff I know get a bit lost in a pub setting they really require people who have come to sit and listen to you rather than go out somewhere where there is music happening in the background.

Friday, 18 June 2010

PRS event in London

I went to a PRS Soundcheck event last night in London. These are events for new members of PRS designed to give a quick intro the PRS and how it works and importantly what PRS members should expect and also what PRS asks of them.

Firstly PRS. Is it worth joining? Well in the old days it was at least £100 I think to join and so bottom line unless you were certain that you'd get airplay, big paid gigs etc. it wasn't worth it. Now it is only £10 to join and that is taken out of your first distribution. So as they say "What have you got to lose?" I was alerted to it by another blogger - the power of the internet...

So you sign up then what? Well you need to register all your songs. This is not that onerous but is the critical bit - the PRS can only distribute what they know about they aren't mind readers clearly. So get all your work listed. Do it regularly and ensure it is up to date. If you co-write you can say so but the other person will only get their money if they are a PRS member - not advised on the night is one person signing up and distributing to others themselves. No doubt they've seen too many cases like that end in court :-)

How do you get paid? Well the PRS distributed quarterly and the presentation explained the timings of all that.

What do I get paid? As they say... it all depends. There are different rates on the type of radio or TV broadcast and the size and earning potential of the venue. However remember where ever and when ever your material is used you have a right to the fees payable for the use of your material. Even a YouTube hit generates soem money. The pub you play in - yes they pay for a licence from PRS every year, if you submit your gig list you can get some of that money distributed to you. So why not?

The guy talking in my breakout group (Stuart Belsham) clearly really knew his stuff. It was a very worth while time spent in my opinion - although I did happen to already be in London for the day if you had to travel a huge distance for 2 hours when you can get a lot of the info off the website maybe not.

One other nugget
- if you are releasing your stuff under your own label it's probably not becoming a member of the MCPS - which is the mechanical rights bit... i.e. the royalty you are due if your material is sold on a CD etc. Why? Because you end up paying a cut to them to simply pay yourself.

My advice is that if you are making your own material and playing it, streaming it or planning your own CD release and trying to it heard on radio etc. then join and start using the service and ask the team there questions.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

New song a coming...


I was noodling on the 12 string this morning whilst I had an hour or two to fill before heading out. The first idea sounded really cool! Then I realised that was because it was the intro to "Feel like making love" by Bad Company! Darn!

Anyroad after a little picking around a couple of chords struck the first lyric came and it was game on. In a little while I had a verse, chorus structure (still not sure on the last chord in the chorus though) and a bridge and a bunch of lyrics that'll need some finishing off but there we were with something worth working on. You know whenever I get the 12 string restrung and tuned I remember why guitarists fall in love with them.

I'm in London today - another session with my career transition consultant. Then I'm off to a workshop for new members of PRS. I have to say so far my experience with them has been good. They are having problems with registrations due to some computer backlog due to a new system... maybe I should offer to work for them :-) but given I joined this since it pretty much looked to be free until I actually (if ever) make money from the songs and already I've had a couple of offers for things out of them. I'll report back on my actual thoughts after the workshop later.

Career transition. So only three weeks to go and I'll be out of full time gainful employment. I'm flip flopping between "Great chance to a) have some time away from the madness of daily working life b) chance to change my life and do some completely new career c) Oh my God what am I doing! I must instantly apply for every job under the sun."

Talking of different careers. I have toyed with the notion of going into counselling in some way. Today I noticed an advert in the local paper and had a look at a set of courses run by a company in conjunction with the local NHS trust. So bottom line is that it is three years of training. Can I afford not to work for three years? Tricky. However it is part time on the courses so could I get a flexible part time job and do that? To be considered.

Alternatively. Music. Guitar teacher, instrument maintenance (i.e. set ups, restrings, adjustments, replacing bits like pickups etc.) paid gigs and possibly money from PRS revenue if I could get my songs being played by a bigger name artist than me (that's just about everyone then :-)).

To be pondered.

Think about your URL

I saw a van today with the following URL on it.

Now I misread it and thought this was some protest site about how the media is overly affecting young people leading to depression, suicide etc. Errrr.... I was wrong! :-)

Other great ones I've come across include...

Who on first thoughts I wouldn't contact to discuss my sexual issues... :-)


Which might not be your first choice for custom made pens ;-)

So the learning - when you come up with your great business idea write down the URL and ensure you consider how if might be read by others!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Instrument maintenance r us...

Maybe I should set up a business doing guitar maintenance? Probably not, no flipping money in that.

However I had a day working at home yesterday which offered me sometime to fix my son's Cry Baby wah wah... so if you have a floppy wah wah pedal here is the fix.

Symptom - pedal wouldn't sit in a "cocked" position it always slumped to the ground and was resting on the switch. This meant when you went to "jump on it" you had to move it backwards then down.

Ok so to fix this annoying little hassle...

There is a metal clamp that runs over the spindle on the treadle of the pedal. This needs to be tightened. If you are lucky as on this case the issue is with the fixing at the back of the pedal since that is more easily accessible. So flip the pedal over and remove the feet so that the bottom plate comes off. You should see now a small nut that is connected to the bolt that holds the "metal spring" in place. Get an appropriate spanner or whatever (I've luckily got a set of screwdriver like hexagonal drivers which are ideal) and tighten. You may need a pair of plier to hold the "bolt" steady. A quick few twists and viola instant fix. :-)

I also restrung my 12 string. I always put this task off but I don't know why as I did it in under 30 mins including a tweak on the truss rod in my always ongoing struggle to get the action as good as possible on it. It of course sounded instantly hugely better and once the strings settled a bit more intune with itself than it has for a while.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Searching for cars

There can be few more time consuming but ultimately pointless exercises devised in the assent of man to our modern industrialised pinnacle than trying to find a second hand car!

So criteria. Large family estate. Probably diesel, reasonable mileage, reasonable age.

Actually that's not strictly true. I currently drive a Pegueot 407 SW it's a 2 litre 136 HP SE ... I think. Funny I can probably give you a better specification of an F1 car than the one I drive. I do view cars very functionally. This is a company car that has just gone through its 3rd birthday and has 78000 miles on the clock. I like it. I like it a lot. It's been boringly reliable, comfortable, easy to drive, on a drive to / from Wales even loaded one way with a ridiculous amount of stuff my son seems to need around him it still normally hits 49 to 50 mpg, it's got a great CD player, cruise control, limiter (ideal in avg speed check areas), blah blah blah.

I've asked for a quote from the lease company to buy it off them. It'll be around £7,500. Looking in local garages I can find many with lower mileage but not as good spec or they are older. Same age and same or higher spec more expensive.

You know the obvious solution to this? Stop fannying about and buy the damn thing off the company and be done with it. At least then I won't have any period of either having a ridiculous 3 cars on the drive or only 1 and having to beg my wife to lend me her 207.


Sunday, 13 June 2010

Libertine gig - 13 June

The gig was a great success. A small but enthusiastic crowd had gathered, no doubt world cup football and other summer Sunday activities taking some away.

I really enjoyed playing this set. I'd decided no more sitting down this time so I moved to standing up which helped my getting into the set and I think helps my singing and playing as well. Those that had heard me before at this venue said it was my most confident set.

Here are some photos.

Many thanks as ever to Toby Burton and Rock-Til-You-Drop for organising.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Set list for tomorrow

I've been working on the set for my gig tomorrow at The Libertine.

Here it is...

Solo Sunday
Golden Moment
This is History
Rise Up
You Make Me More
My Baby
Brand New Day
Just Let Me Love You Tonight
I Used To Know Her

If you are at a loose end or in the area (Borough in London) tomorrow between 1pm and 4:30pm drop in and see us.

Ian Hutchinson - genius!

All week I've been following the excellent coverage of the TT races from the Isle of Man on ITV4. Brilliant coverage for a start - the use of many onboard cameras, the helicopter over the mountain and the time checks mean you are really engaged with the unfolding races which given a lap is 37 miles of so is brilliant.

Ian Hutchinson has been the man of the week. He took 5 straight wins, Superbike, Superstock, both Supersport and the senior. Unbelievable! And by the way one of those he won by only just over a second, after 120 miles!

A feat that will only ever be matched and never beaten - and to be frank until this year the 5 in one year was considered impossible for both rider and bikes to be able to keep up to that level on all the races.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Manic mornings

Anyone with kids knows the drill... you have a set method in the morning, a well oiled machine that allows everyone to get up eat breakfast, wash etc. and get to where they need to get to on time.

Ours pretty much involves me getting up at 6am making the tea, having my breakfast, going upstairs and Mrs F comes down after her 10 min snooze, I then have a bath and get out of the bathroom by 6:30 at which point my daughter is woken up. So I'm out the house by 6:45 latest normally. Daughter then leaves at precisely (and I do mean precisely) 7:24 for the bus stop. Mrs F then has an hour to complete her getting ready and doing washing up / washing / changing beds etc.

With our son now home and needing to get to the school he is working at which is unfortunately a bit of a trek right across the Medway towns we have a major upset in the works. Also he hasn't been used to getting up at 6:30 for years! He has a roll out of bed about 8:15 to get to a lecture at 9:00 philosophy. After the second morning on this regime he was asking me at what point it was feasible to take early retirement!

Oh the other funny is that one of the classes he has been assigned to help out with (described as a "lively bunch" by the head of science) is full of old classmates from junior school or members of the swimming team and therefore all know my daughter. Much Facebook banter last night and I think might have some comments directed his way today. :-)

Still it is only 3 weeks and given after this week where I've a visitor over from the USA for some hand over stuff things will be increasingly ramping downwards so I can give him a lift most mornings and get in to the office a bit later... to be honest getting in at 7:30 and working through is one of the bits of this job I'll not regret leaving.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Time was...

Time was when my son was this little boy, shorts, runny nose etc. Today I dropped him off for the start of his SAS assignment. Using that abbrevation on Facebook has already caused some consternation - Student Associate Scheme (I think :S). It is a government scheme to try to get science and maths graduates interested in teaching. So he is at a local grammar school for three weeks essentially as an trainee teacher. I think come the end of it he is supposed to take part of a lesson. However watching him walk off down the road smartly dressed - with a tie no less!!! -was an odd experience. Where the hell has time gone?

I'm into my last month at work now. Holly Cow what am I doing? Oh yes leaving a job that can stress me beyond belief and where I've become so stale even the hungriest scavenger would turn their noses up. I met a guy last week who did similar to me, pulled out of the big corporate world and bought a recording studio business. Now if only I had the guts to do something like that.

What else has been happening? Well I'm rehearsing for my gig next Sunday at the Libertine. I've just written some lyrics for a tune that has been hanging around a month or so, it started out called Lasagne Lady (inspired by Liz) but the lyrics for that just wouldn't come/work so suddenly it's become Golden Moment. I was wondering why that term and those lyrics came to me, well something a friend said yesterday at an AA convention I dropped in on and also some sad news we had of an old colleague of my wife's who sadly took their own life over the weekend. Too young and too sad all I can hope is that he is now at peace as he clearly craved. It is very sad when someone so young goes.

Friday, 4 June 2010


I'm back home with my son and a car full (and I do mean full) of his belongings. Even he admits he can't understand where it all comes from. Well there was a brand new guitar - nice Takamine G series Electro-acoustic. A new room heater - desparate purchase in the winter, a quilt (ditto)... etc. etc.

We were loading the final stuff through open windows! I had no view at all out the rear view mirror. He promises to carefully reconsider what he takes down to the new flat for next year. :-) However he is nowhere as bad as his flat mate! He had even acquired a windsurfer that he was hoping his Mum would "strap on the car". I'd have strapped him up there too if he'd been my lad! :-)

Nice to have him home again he makes the family home seem complete, when he is away there is always some bit of the family missing.