Friday, 29 June 2012

Book Review - Engleby by Sebastian Faulks

This was one of my Father's Day gifts from my daughter.  I've read a couple of this authors works before - A Week in December which was well written with some great characters, however the postponement of its release due to Mr Faulks being engaged to write a "new" James Bond novel meant it came out after the 2008 market crash, if it had come out straight after he'd originally written it, it would have appeared more stunning in its predictions.   However last year I then read Birdsong - frankly brilliant.  If you saw the recent BBC dramatisation you sadly missed out, there was at least a 3rd of the story missing in that, there is a view from modern Britain in the book completely missed out.  Again the characterisations were excellent and great writing of a complex plot and interweaving of people's lives and emotions etc.

This book is better again!  Simply one of the best books I've ever read I think.  Strong praise indeed from me.  Why?  Well this is a journal written by Mike Engelby who takes you through his life, from his childhood with his poor mother and father, his father's early death and his move to a public school on a scholarship then to Cambridge.  Engleby is clearly an extremely bright person with incredible memory for detail... hmm and autistic savant?  Maybe - but we are seeing this through his eyes not of others looking in.   Whilst at Cambridge a girl student who he admires a lot disappears and this moment defines in the end his whole life.

This isn't a happy go lucky good feel story - it is dark, it deals with violence, bullying, abuse and above all mental illness.  But it is a story of amazing interest and allows you a glimmer of a view into a mind we'd rarely get to know.

I do thoroughly recommend this with a full two thumbs up and a grin on the FITUBRS but be warned this isn't a book if you are squeamish about how some humans treat others badly.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

If you can't be...

... with the one you love, love the one you're with.

eh?  Okay following on from yesterdays outpouring of self-pity and looking at the comments (thanks everyone) and Mrs F saying repeated yesterday evening - "You'll never be happy in any job!" I've had the great Stephen Stills song in my head all morning.   Basically along with the old Abraham Lincoln quote “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."  (Adopted by AA on the Just For Today card).  The point being that I need to be (more) in love with my current situation given ideally I'd like to be noodling on a guitar all day, but let us face facts that won't be my bills.   So that is the new mission - change me to be more accepting etc.  You know just trying to smile a bit more is a start I think.   I'll be back here no doubt to let you know how it is but that is the new mission - essentially break the cycle in the last posts diagram at the point where I realise how good things actually are I need to not go back into the negative cycle through the daily churn again but acknowledge the daily churn is part of life and be accepting of it with a happy mood.

Side bar - about the song.

I quickly did a check about the song as I wasn't sure whether it was Stephen  Stills solo or with his pals.  The original single release was solo with Crosby and Nash on backing vocals, although there is a live version on a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young live album.   But this quick checking led to couple of other things... one according to wiki the line that started all this was a favourite saying of legendary keyboard player Billy Preston, I never knew that.  Secondly the original single only got to 14 on the USA Billboard Chart - what other 13 songs were better than this classic that week?   Remember Vienna by Ultravox (who've just released their first album in 27 years btw)?  You do... never got to number one pipped by - Shutupayourface but Joe Dolce or some such. Travesty!  

Finally again from the great source that is wiki - I found that Tight Fit released a version of this song - remember them?  Remake of The Lion Sleeps Tonight was their big hit in the mid 80s...  small world, Steve Grant, him of the tall good looks, went to my school, I was probably in the "band" on a couple of productions where he leaped about the stage.  Btw their version of said classic single that started this odd train of thought never charted and that was it for Steve and Tight Fit, c'est la vie.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Reset, rewind, pause, reboot

I feel like I need to do that with myself - delete all previous settings, especially delete browsing history and start afresh with a clean install of Human 1.1a (Never buy 1.0!).

I saw an opening via someone on a social networking site - get me down with the web 2.0 gurus!  Anyway late last week I put together a CV and winged it over to them via the marvelous internet - how did we exist 20 years ago?   I had a really nice "chat" with the Chief Exec today on the phone.  Problem is this is a bit of a speculative venture, an alliance of people, companies, institutions who kick around ideas until there is enough substance to turn that into a project normally for an initial proof of concept.  At that point they need someone to corral the various interested parties to get a reasonable project brief and that is then hawked around to get funding from one of the members to kick it off.  They need people to do that donkey work getting some consensus on the project look/feel/size/scope etc. and then produce the necessary documentation and start to promote it with the funding sources.  If you get your project funded you get a percentage of the amount funded to you as a bonus.  But the work is very part time really favouring someone who has other work on but some free time for this.  If you get the project funded you are reasonably likely to land a longer term role probably 50% of your time running it through, if you desire that.

A bit of a leap of faith then from where I am, regular good income etc. to an impoverished state for some months with no guarantee of further work afterwards.  Whilst the work looks really exciting and interesting, the part time nature and working from home (no more grey faced, head in book, earphones in train commutes) it doesn't sound like the right leap for me.

We actually officially launched the department I've joined yesterday - I know I've been here 9 months and it has only now got to that stage - changes in this venerable institution can be measured by techniques devised to look at tectonic plate shifts or coastal erosion!  No doubt now we've broken cover in the new set up they'll be another deluge of requests I'll have to juggle in a very small and already busy team.

I read many recovery blogs and listen to many speakers at meetings and talk 1:1 with many alcoholics/addicts.  One thing I find is that the vast majority of them are very positive about work, accepting of its necessary grind and happy to put their shoulder to that grindstone as part of their commitment to recovery.  Can I be honest here?  (It's my blog and I will be anyways)  I have to say I'm rarely like that, I do find work, the daily pattern of rise at 6am on the 7:20 train, into work at 8:30, leave at 5pm on the 5:25pm etc. not a pattern of daily churn I'm happy to engage in but one I feel I have to struggle through as a burden.  That is how I feel and because I feel like that I often feel really guilty about feeling like that - there are many without work at all, many with a job nowhere as good as mine in terms of what I have to do and the environment I am privileged to work in etc.  But somehow I still can't look at those positives and turn my emotions from the negative to a positive gratitude.   As the big book says I know the issue is me and my perception and reaction to the world - I can be as happy as I chose to be in this situation - the wallowing in self-pity and unhappiness is sadly too often my default option and one I use to justify other faults.   As I say this cycle then creates guilt that ... etc.

Here is my diagrammatic view on this daft cycle I get into....

Monday, 25 June 2012

CD reviews

Some overdue reviews...

Have to say so far this year we are having a mega year for albums - well I am anyway!

Rush - Clockwork Angels.

Long awaited album from Rush.  Clockwork Angels has been in development for what seems ages, largely as the band started on it, took a year out to go touring with the Time Machine tour where they played a couple of songs off it, then returned to finish it off.  So not to the timescale of Chinese Democracy but still a while some Snakes and Arrows came out, but it was most definitely worth the wait.  Whilst Rush have always produced good stuff you can't help by say they did slowly decline from the heights of Permanent Waves, Moving Pictures and Signals (my personal favourite Rush album).  Clockwork Angels is back right up there.  Firstly it is a concept album - what prog rock fan couldn't help but applaud the getting back to that.  However it isn't once long piece or a couple of long 20 min epics like from Hemispheres etc. each song is a stand alone song in it's own right.  We kick off with Caravan and we are there with a classic Rush sound, this has matured over the years but the drums of Peart with Geddy Lee's clanking bass set the tone.  Geddy's vocals are in his lower range as used from the late 80s onwards and Mr Lifeson is simply one of the best 3 piece guitarists ever able to fill the space with large chords and riffs - the balance with keyboards is well balanced on this release so Alex is at the front again and clearly revels in it.  This is no doubt thier best release in a long long time, if you've ever liked Rush you will love this.  It won't win new fans I doubt but I don't think that'll worry the boys from Toronto too much.   Highlights are The Anarchist, Headlong Flight and the closer The Garden which features one absolutely fantastic solo my Alex Lifeson.   Utter class.

Rosie Eade - No Fairytale

Rosie bills herself as "the folk pixie" - originally hailing from Essex she is now based in Exeter via Cambridge.  This album, her debut, was actually recorded in good old Rochester and features one or two friends of mine - nod of acknowledgement to Glenn Barnes for a start there.  Ok so, a mix of traditional folk redone and Rosie's own material.  She has a fantastic voice, great range and inflection.  Couple that with some lovely nylon strung guitar parts which you realise cover a lot of moods/genres quickly and you realise Rosie is no one-trick pony.   The opening  track Seagull Eye View (also available as a single) is one of the highlights along with Tiddy Mun, Cinderella Sticks the Knife In (!) and Venice which you can get as an MP3 download off Rosie's Site - go check that out it'll give you a flavour of this great stuff.

John Mayer - Born and Raised

I first got into John Meyer after seeing him live supporting Eric Clapton in Hyde Park.  Then he played a set of electric blues and more acoustic rock self penned material.  His Live in LA album highlighted the range of the man, Hendrix trio blow outs to solo acoustic singer to large band AOR.  I've bought his stuff since.

This is the best I've heard from him.  The title track features Crosby and Nash and frankly that is a great reference if you've never heard him.  If you used to listen to After the Goldrush by Neil Young I think you'd love this stuff.   Fantastic LA production and playing produces an incredibly polished album and there are some great songs on here - Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey being my personal favourite along with Born & Raised and Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1967.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Album progress

Ok folks it is slowly creeping towards a release.  I'm working on my second album release to follow Within which was released in Sept 2010.  All the recording is done, I've fiddled with some remixes on a couple of things and sorted out an order for the tracks I like.

Last weekend I had a photo soot with my son as I'd had an idea for the cover shot that my daughter had agreed would work.  He has been working on photos from that to create some artwork for it all and I was looking over where he is at with that last night - looking good.

I've also been in touch with someone about an outlet for the CDs.  That looks promising as well.  I'll probably to a CD release at the same time as the MP3 release as well.

Last thing now is to actually arrange the CD pressing - I found a company reasonably close to me I intend to contact them in the next few days and ensure I understand what is needed from us - my son already has worked from their artwork templates so I think we'll be ok there...

I'm also wondering about a launch party somewhere.  I'm not sure on this - the fear of it being just me, the wife and the kids is a bit of a worry.  I ought to just bite the bullet and see what I can get organised I suppose.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Happy Solstice

Is that the correct salutation for today?  Now is the Solstice today or tomorrow... my calendar says today but people are gathering for tomorrow morning at Stonehenge...   Whatever the point of this post is actually that we are half way through 2012!!!  Holy Mother - where's the time going.

2012 - Jubilee year - yep we've done that, flotillas, concerts, services, flypasts etc.  Happy 60th your majesty.  Time was I'd have been spitting about the need to remove the monarchy and let true democracy reign but I've mellowed with age also I like that the Prime Minister still answers to the Queen, I know it is all a bit phoney in that if the monarch did refuse to sign a new statute we'd be in a right constitutional conundrum but I like it that the senior elected official in this country is put in their place a bit.  I like the continuity of the monarchy and that we don't have to endure presidential elections with a collection of candidates who no doubt would always make me look for the "none of the above" option.

2012 - the year of the Olympics.  If I'm to believe the bombardment I'm getting as a person who works in London through the week and commutes in on a line through Stratford (the major centre for the venues) frankly there is no point trying to get anywhere in the weeks the games are on.  This strikes me as madness - London deals with approx 750,000 commuting into London every day, that doesn't include the number of Londoners moving about as well.  Surely we can cope... can't we?   We'll look chuffing daft if we don't.  My cynical head tells me I'll be walking to work across deserted streets and pavements as most of London seems to be going into some kind of suspended animation then.   I will keep you updated on this here blog.

Oh yes - little matter of my impending sense of doom, sorry I mean 50th birthday up in October.

My daughter has finished school completely now - yes she is an adult - of sorts.  Good lord... how time disappears.

Today in London is hot and sunny with a light breeze (I sound like the BBC weather summary now) which is a good mark for the solstice.  From here on in it is downhill on the downslope of 2012.  Now didn't some people predict the end of the world or something?  No point worrying about that is there - like the Euro Crisis which I think is only a crisis because the reporters keep telling us it is a crisis.  Bail out Spanish banks - markets open and go up.  Good, markets should reflect the long term view of the stability/security of the economy, sector or company depending where you cut through the figures.  But by lunchtime it's all gone to hell in a handcart and the gains are being wiped off the market again.  I'm lost, are these people mature adults?  The things were done, you said good at 8am but by lunchtime you think it is all rubbish again?  Why should anyone listen to you?  Of course they get their bonus and fat cheques and don't consider the poor git who retires on Friday who has just seen the income he thought he had with his pension tumble just because of the day the annuity was bought.   I tell you folks the end of the world as in the end of all this nonsense wouldn't be a bad thing.   Can we create an alternative economy alongside the current one, let them play their games out whilst the rest of the sensible souls, i.e. not politicians or bankers just get on with life until we get it to a point where we can say to them "You happy to carry on playing over there?"  - "Good see ya".  I don't have that answer just think there has to be a better way than the current madness.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Book Reviews - Peter May The Blackhouse and The Lewis Man

I bought The Blackhouse when dropping off a load of stuff at the local charity shop, including some books making the bookcase strain a bit themselves. So I donate a load of stuff then return with a book - luckily Mrs F didn't complain :-)It was one of those - I've seen that book before and thought I wonder if it is any good - that is £1.50 can't lose - moments.

The Blackhouse

This initial book details the story of Finn who we meet just as he is recovering from his son being killed in a hit and run accident in Edinburgh. He is encouraged to return to work and an investigation he has been working on takes him to the Isle of Lewis his birthplace and where he grew up. You know from the word go that there is much more to his return than just co-incidence and the intertwining of the present day which is portrayed in a standard third person narrative style through to the memories of Finn which are written in his first person account of them.

He soon meets up with memories and people of his past and the story of his time on the island merges into the present day, leading to a climax that has several twists in it that make you just want to keep turning the page.

Excellently written with fantastic character portrayals, not the two dimensional flimsy ones in so many books but you really get to know the principle characters extremely well, warts and all which is one bit I like, there are parts of the characters you don't like - that is the point, no-one is perfect even the good guys.

The Lewis Man

The Lewis Man picks up just after The Blackhouse finishes. Finn has returned to Edinburgh but has quit his job and his marriage is finished too after he has admitted that he and his wife were only together because of the boy they lost. With the slate wiped clean not surprisingly he returns to Lewis to renovate his parents old croft and figure out a new future.

No sooner does he arrive but another mystery lands on his doorstep. This one involves a body being dug up from the Peat Bog that is more modern than first thought and then suddenly an old flames father is identified as being related to the body, which is news to everyone in the area and the family. Sadly he is now suffering from dementia so the simple route of asking him what happened isn't available. Finn is pushed into investigating what has happened before a full blown Police investigation starts.

Written in similar style but this time the recollections are from the poor man with dementia and those are stunningly written to my thinking - although someone with or who knows about dementia may well disagree. Again I found this a really engaging read with plenty of twists as the fog of the past is revealed. It is a very touching and melancholy end to the book as well. There is a big underlying message in the book that is around no matter how much you think you know someone there may well be very very hidden secrets they have that maybe should never see the sunlight again.

There is a third book in this series on the way The Chess Men - I for one will be definitely reading that.

A couple of the biggest and best double thumbs up on the FITUBRS (Furtheron International Thumbs Up Book Rating Scale)

Monday, 18 June 2012

Father's Day Weekend

I found a lottery ticket in the front garden whilst weeding, snipping and tidying up on Saturday. I've not done the lottery for years as it gave me a depression I could do without, basically every Monday I'd walk into work in a complete rage that I hadn't won on Saturday and could tell them where to stick the job. I realised this was not good for my temperament and stopped doing the lottery! This ticket was rainwashed and sun bleached but all legible - we checked - it didn't have any winnings on it. Now there would have been a dilemma - say it had had outstanding winnings on it what would you do? Claim them and keep schtum? Advertise the ticket as lost and found? In many ways I was glad there was no winnings on it, no dilemma as it went in the recycling bin. Father's Day was very nice. The kids got me the usual selection of offensive and non-offensive cards. Also they got me the new Rush CD Clockwork Angels, Blu-Ray of Slash live in Stoke and a Sebastian Faulks novel I've not read. Super stuff. We then went to Brands Hatch for the mini festival. Lovely day, we all got sunburnt! I know in the middle of June in England - who'd have thought it! The main thing in the day was though that we as a family still all have a hankering to get a mini - we ought to do it sometime. There were a couple of old classic restored ones for around £4000 but whilst I'd love one looking in the engine bays at distributor caps, carburetors etc. brought back memories of our old Metro where I was forever with the bonnet up replacing rotor arms, filling the oil in the carburetor dampers, taking the rocker cover off and adjusting the tappets etc. etc. There is much to be said for todays cars, they may not have the character but they don't require much knowledge or time in keeping them running.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Guitar Review - Vintage VE2000GG Gordon Giltrap Signature 12 string

Folks will remember my purchase a few weeks back of the Vintage Gordon Giltrap VE2000GG 12 string to replace my old Yamaha which sadly has seen better days...

My requirement was for a nice playable 12 string electro-acoustic.  Most of my stuff is as you know acoustic rock orientated in the David Gray, John Mayer genre.  I'd had my eye on a Gordon Giltrap for a couple of years now anyway since a) I'm a big Giltrap fan b) I'd heard said Mr Giltrap use the 6 string version live a couple of times and was impressed c) it seems incredible value for money.

Now then my life was made a touch my complicated by the appearance of the Paul Brett signature 12string.  This is a slight oddity in that this is a parlour sized guitar which to be honest wasn't my initial desire but has received rave reviews and also has been designed as a 12string from the ground up - unlike the Gordon Giltrap which is an adaptation of a 6 string design.  Not unusual to be fair most 12 strings are 6 string designs which have been adapted to 12 strings.  A couple of visits to Ivor Mairants showroom in London were needed.  On the first I played both the GG and the PB.  The PB hugely impressed me, the sound from it's little body was not what I expected, lush and full - some reviews suggest that being a 12fret neck join the positioning of the bridge therefore nearer the end block than you'd normally expect helps with this.  Whatever; trust me on pure acoustic terms it was a great sound.  The neck was very nice to play as well but the GG was about the same in those terms.  On the second visit though I plugged both in.  Now the PB again has a reasonable sound but I found the GG just that bit better on the electro side, now for live use clearly this is the top thing for me.  Finally the 14 fret neck join facilitating easier fingering up near the dusty end was a little bit of a swinger towards the GG and finally the body size when I sat with it just felt more "right" than the PB.  So I parted with my around £400 for the guitar and a very good quality hard case that is comes with and felt chuffed to bits.

So I should have.  I've been playing it at home and acoustically it has a sweet sound, very full but with clear definition across the range.  The GG is an unusual shape a bit like a Martin 000 with a more pronounced pinch to the waist.  This is directly from a design of Rob Armstrongs that was Gordon Giltrap's main 6 string instrument for many years, often referred to as the "figure of 8" guitar given the body outline. The neck is not a slim electric copy at all but then not massive or unwieldy at all either for a 12 string.  I find it easier to play than my old Yamaha ever was, even before the issues with it's action. The construction is a mahogany neck, with a stacked heel built of several pieces being one of the few indications this isn't a top of the pile instrument.  The top is solid Red Ceder and the back and sides again mahogany but laminated.  Now before people start poo-pooing the humble laminate as a cheap mans guitar the original handcrafted figure of 8 that Mr Giltrap has used on stage and on record for many a year also had laminate sides and back, Rob Armstrong firmly believing they add strength and consistency to the construction with little degradation on sound performance.  The choice of ceder is interesting to me - I've always thought this to be the top of choice on classical nylon strung guitars but not on a steel string, where I've always looked to spruce to bring out the tone best.  I have to say though with both the 6 string I played a couple of years back and this one my views have changed, on doubt it is different to spruce but it isn't inferior at all.  They also make an all mahogany 6 string version but I've not tried that to tell you the difference but it is interesting to go with that choice not spruce, given the bright full nature of this guitar with a decent clarity across the range I think maybe a spruce top would in fact be a little too trebly and harsh perhaps.

In the time I've had it I have done one recording with it using the electro output into my Boss BR600 and was very pleased with that result.  The preamp and pickup is very impressive spec for the price.  A Fishman Presys Blend unit features not just an undersaddle pickup but an internal microphone as well.  You have a three band EQ on board, a tuner, a noch button for feedback elimination, a phase control (?) and a mic blend control to mix in the mic.  I basically have found having the mic about 25% in the mix about best to my ears, this brings in some fullness and brightness to the sound but the level of body noise not too great - turn it right up and every bump against you or touch of hands on the body gets very amplified.  In recording you may be able to use more to good effect if you are very careful with the handling.

I used it live last night for a 4 song set as part of the regular Nags Head songwriter stage nights.  A couple of tunes recorded on 12 string originally were given a live 12 string run out and a couple of others that suit it... I debuted a new song "Stolen Morning" that'll be on the forthcoming album and whilst written on a 6 string and recorded with a 6 string recently after last night it'll be a 12 string live version from now on I think as it suited it in the "one man and his guitar" setting.   Two were in open position and two featured capo settings on 3rd and 4th and the guitar takes to that easily too.  As ever with a 12string my open tuning is half a step down at Eflat.  I was really impressed with the sound of the guitar last night live.  No tweaking really needed, EQ set basically flat across all three controls and the mic as I say about 25% and it sounded great with no hint of feedback issues.  I have to say my Yamaha CPX500 is a little put to shame by the GG on this showing, I have to tweak the treble down on that live, do suffer with feedback at times and frankly it doesn't have the fullness the GG displayed at all.  I'm really hankering after one of the 6 string derivatives now!  Once I hopefully get my tax situation sorted out and can determine my true state of wealth or indebtedness to the Inland Revenue I think I'll be badgering Mrs F to allow me to get myself an early 50th birthday present!

So overall really impressed.  I can't say much more than mention that two regulars at the songwriters stage including the guy who runs it and acts as MC and sound man for the night both commented during and after my set what a gorgeous sound it was and that the sound really suited my "style".  One thing I will say I only ever play 12 string with a plectrum (0.73 Dunlop Tortex - the yellow ones) as I've never felt I've mastered fingerstyle on them.  I doubt this guitar would suffer any poor performance for a fingerpicker but I thought I'd best qualify that my style is plectrum, fair amount of strumming, some arpeggio using a plectrum and chords using maj, min, maj7, sus2 and 4, 6s common as well etc.  So good for a strummer using embellished chords I suppose I'm saying.

Here is a version of Solo Sunday off my first album Within re-recorded on this guitar DI'ed straight into my Boss BR600 with one of the acoustic guitar patches used to give it some brightness.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Gig Review - Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs and Friends

We went to see Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs at the Brook Theater in Chatham last night.  Who?  Yes I know hardly an international top drawer act but a fun night out.  Main reason we went was that Rosie Eade was on the support bill and you may remember me waxiing lyrically about her after seeing her at the Rochester Sweeps Festival.

First act was Kirsty Macleod from Detling near Maidstone being given an opportunity to shine.  She was very good, strong confident vocals with a nice lilt to them.

Next up was Rosie who was highly impressive again.  I like her voice a lot, great power in it not just in terms of physical singing power but also in terms of the emotion she conjures.  Rosie's set ranges from traditional folk through her own material and some unexpected covers but last night was a concentration on her own stuff.  She also is able to conjure a number of different tones from her nylon strung six string.  At one point almost punky thrashing was the order of the day.  I bought her CD from her at the end so will review that too when I get a chance.

How can you describe Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs?  A folk/punk/skiffle band is about the best I can some up with.  They extoll the value of skiffle to British musical heritage which cannot be denied but is often overlooked with the blues inspired 60s being where many stop researching but go back only a few years and you'll find many legends of the 60s picked up guitars etc. when Lonnie Donegan was putting on the style.  Reminded me so much of my band who loved Lonnie and I heard much of his stuff when I were but a young nipper in the 60s.  There was much comedy and madness as well but underpinned by some tight musicianship.  If you fancy a laugh, singalong and general good night out I would totally recommend them to you.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Keep death off the roads

In the middle of all the moaning about the weather and the taxman etc. I have omitted to tell you about a fantastic Saturday afternoon.

Back last Christmas Mrs F and I were a little stuck with ideas of a gift for Daughter-of-Furtheron, having only turned 16 a month before the Yuletide festivities she had had a new super doper camera from us and other things.   Anyway I stumbled on a great idea - Young Driver at Brands Hatch - any kid over 11 who is tall enough (D-o-F does just qualify on that poor thing) can have a go at driving a car with an instructor through a course.  Now this is about teaching them to drive a car not racing the thing although they do all the driving on the Grand Prix loop of the famous circuit!   Anyway I bought the voucher thing but we've been waiting for the good weather before doing it!  Luckily despite the regular downpours across the country in the last few days we actually did get a nice dry and reasonably sunny afternoon on Saturday when she did it.  

There were four cars with three in each - apart from hers which was just her and another girl (the only two girls in the group).  That was a result as they had more time actually driving each than some of the others I'm sure.  We stood by the bridge on Pilgrims Drop and watched her stop, pull away, go through some cones in a slalom and do a three point turn.   Out on other parts they did emergency stops and hill starts etc.  She had a great time and the instructor said her last three point turn was exam standard already.  

Unfortunately she now wants a Mini and driving lessons for her 17th birthday!  The lessons we might be able to help with but as for running another car in the family... given I expressly never did this for our son I'm concerned about standing for equal treatment. 

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Rain, traffic jams and Brown Envelopes

Friday was a bit of a day... I'd gone to Aberystwyth to pick up my son on Thursday.  We woke to a horizontal waterfall, otherwise known as Welsh rain.  By the time we'd loaded up the car we were soaked to the skin but we set off about 9:30am.  The rain was relentless, and as we headed up into the Cambrian mountains it got worse, waterfalls off the hills, virtual rivers across the road and then stones etc. strewn across the road in the wake of the water.

If you've not seen the news - it was a good job we left when we did.  The floods have been bad in the area and the road we used to get out was blocked!

By the time we were near Newtown it was just a mild downpour and a the road surface a lot better - i.e. not running constantly with water!   We got stuck in a 10 mile tailback on the M25 for no discernible reason - they were supposedly some accidents, we saw no evidence just 10 miles and 2 hours of stop start 1st gear M25 grind.

On arriving home there was a brown envelope from the taxman waiting.  I had a melt down - they have completely cocked up my self-assessment and claim I owe them a small fortune - honestly I have to pay them more than my annual gross salary to clear the bill.  But it is wrong I can see how and why - they think I'm lying, I'm not I have followed the rules they have written down... I've written a letter explaining all this, sat on the phone for ages to be told "Well there is nothing we can do" - who knows when this'll end?

Back to work tomorrow morning - I'd been looking forward to this week off but it seems to have all gone past so quick I've almost missed it myself.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

CD Review - Joe Bonamassa Driving towards the Daylight

I bought this as soon as it was out pretty much with one listen on Spotify confirming it was another good Joe Bonamassa album.  I now have to change that opinion - this is a great Joe Bonamassa album!  Mr Prolific seems able to bang out album after album as well as his collaborations with others and of course being one quarter of Black Country Communion - who themselves have banged out 2 impressive albums in as many years.

He intended to get that old 1960s/70s blues/rock sound.  He certainly has achieved that, at times it is as close as I've ever heard to the original "Beano" album sound the Clapton inspired the world with from his Marshall amp and Les Paul Standard.  Reading through the sleeve notes the guitars used are unbelievable... '52 Tele, '50s strat, two '59 Les Pauls (each of those will be worth over $250,000 no doubt) a '60 Les Paul with bigsby, '60s ES 335... etc. etc.  Holy Cow!   Now normally I'd think - yeah but does it matter.  On the evidence of the tone here you have to think that maybe it does.  So this album is more straight ahead in instrumentation than say Black Rock was, the mix of originals and covers hints at his desire to get back to basics - the Robert Johnson Stones in My Passway is a stunning example.  No doubt his out and out rockier leanings have been dealt with on the BCC2 and this is a fantastic collection.  From Led Zep, The Bluesbreakers, Fleetwood Mac, ZZTop etc. all those great bands and tones are here in spirit and in the sound that envelopes you.

Highlights - and frankly that is difficult all these tracks would be standouts on anybody else's record - Driving towards the Daylight, Heavenly Soul and Stones in my Passway.

If you want to make your life better simply buy this album and reveal in a master of the guitar at the very very top of his game.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Gig Review - Coldplay Arsenal Football Stadium 2nd June 2012

Happy Jubilee and all that... although frankly beginning to feel a bit like, ok enough already, had the river thing - sorry but that was so funny with the orchestra in the dry and the poor choir singing their hearts out on top in the deluge that only an English summer can conjure up.  I laughed my head off!  Saw some of the concert - Stevie Wonder - brilliant, Madness - ditto, Paul McCartney - better than I'd expected but Elton John... er sorry when did he stop being able to sing.  I know he'd been ill but frankly he was pretty awful to my ears.

Anyway - one of our bits of the weekend was Coldplay at the Emirates Stadium (Arsenal).  So... firstly support - Rita Ora was brilliant, that girl can sing and got the limited crowd that was in early going.  Only a short 20 mins set which was a shame, I'd have gladly listened to more - great band as well.  The Robyn... well not my sort of thing, very very clever drumming but her sound and style didn't really suit a stadium gig.  A smaller venue would have been better but then again maybe not for me.

So Coldplay hit the immense stage.  Now I quite like Coldplay but in that genre probably prefer Snow Patrol if I'm honest - I listen to them more regularly anyway.  Having seen Snow Patrol a couple of times at The O2 I was expecting to say "Coldplay were good but not as good as Snow Patrol"...  I couldn't say that, they can command a stadium these boys.  Not a lot of chitchat just hit after hit from Yellow, In My Place, the absolutely stunning Fix You to Paradise and all points in between.  Great sound, fantastic light show - we were up in the Gods towards the back which whilst you can't see the stage close up you do get to see the light show better - and a great great sound quality.  Add to that the fact that it absolutely chucked it down with rain for most of the gig a testament to both band and the technical crew - there was pretty much no cover for them at all.

Finally - everyone got a wristband as you went in - at a couple of points, the start and more notably the end these lit up driven by a radio signal, pulsing in time to the music.  60,000 people waving their flashing wristbands in the air, cool sight and also a great way to include the crowd actively in the event.  Top marks...

Friday, 1 June 2012

Book reviews

Treacherous Games - David Brodie.

This is Mr Brodie's first novel written after his retirement as a Professor of Cardiovascular Health, and not a bad first effort at all.

So to set the scene, the central character is Nigel Gressley who is a top sports agent, the guy who puts together all the sponsorship, appearance etc. deals and creams off a nice percentage profit.  He has a young English middle distance runner in his stable of sportsman and woman.  A chance comment from this athlete after a defeat by the worlds best makes him consider a radical strategy to help his man claim the ultimate prize, a gold medal at his home Olympics in London 2012.  So extremely topical!  The plan, to actually disadvantage the main rivals through a variety for means.  To get information on how to do this Nigel funds some research by a promising young student and boxer to discover ways to undermine an athletes performance, all the time he claims he is doing this to help his stable of athletes to be prepared for these possible skullduggery being perpetrated on them but in reality his intention is to scupper the opposition so his guy has an advantage on the day.  There is also a dramatic subplot involving some radical British Islamic terrorists.

All in all not a bad yarn.  The basic premise is good enough, some of the dialogue a bit stilted and some of the situations a little over played.  Also the subplot with the terrorists could have had more substance, especially towards the end of the book it sort of ends with you wondering "So how did they all end up?".   A small chapter to bring that to a conclusion would have pleased me.   The ending itself has a variety of twists and turns in it as well that ends you not fully where you thought you would. 

A single thumbs up on the FITUBRS - if you want a book to read now in the run up to the games this isn't a bad bet

The Seventh Stone - Pamela Hegarty

So this is another first novel and very much in the self published category.  It is then with some regret that I have to say there were numerous times I nearly didn't complete this book, and frankly it has been a very very long time since that happened.   Why?  Well the plot is a bit over the top but I can go with that I've read many books in similar areas of mythical disbelief but it is also the characters, plot structure etc.  Frankly it is a bit all over the place.  There are a heap of characters introduced without you really getting to know them and how they fit in.  There are references back to things so much so that I checked to see if this was a follow up in a series but it isn't but those throw backs actually alienated me as a reader as I wasn't in on that previous story so it isn't relevant at all really.   The situations are more and more fantastic with multiple mythical creatures becoming real etc.  Now the author describes it as Dan Brown meets Indiana Jones, I can see that but it would be better as one of those National Treasure type movies - the ones I rarely can watch all the way through as again my credulity gets stretched too far.  The neighbour who seems able at a moments notice with access to no discernible funds whip up a private army complete with combat helicopters etc.  Even if he was a retired General that just had me laughing.    I did persevere in the end as Ms Hegarty has taken time to write it, I did buy it so I did finish it.  I most definitely wouldn't recommend it.  Not a raising of either thumb on the FITUBRS I'm afraid.