Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Review of the Year

Time for the annual Furtheron review of the year....  drum roll please (hope I read off the card correctly ;-))

Gig of the Year

Now last year Show of Hands won this - and they are high in the running this year with their superb show in Canterbury.  This year though from a small selection of gigs I've been to the winners are  The Shires.  For such a young band they were professional, note perfect, humble, talented and fun.  I hope they continue to garner more success in the coming years.

CD of the year

Rock - Iron Maiden get a worthy mention but the winners are Revolution Saints.  I know it was a put together line-up by Frontier Records but I hope not the last as this first album was stunning!  Very Journey in it's style and sound (not surprising) it was a tour de force with great rockers, ballads etc.

Folk - Last year I stated the False Lights with Salvor would have this sewn up.  In the end they do win it for their innovative folk rock injection into a brilliant set of songs - the closing song, Crossing the Bar with the terrific words of Alfred  Lord Tennyson set in a brilliant musical setting is just stunning track.  Show of Hands Long Way Home ran this début a close second in this category though.

Read of the Year

Has to be the brilliant and poignant Sebastian Faulks' Where My Heart Used to Beat.

I wish all (two of you) that drop by here a happy Christmas and hope 2016 is good to you.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Rush - Losing It

There is plenty of news around the web today that Neil Peart of Rush has hung up his drumsticks for the last time.  Anyone who has followed my blog at all will know that two bands stand out in my life - Marillion and Rush.  Both I've followed for years and years since the 70s/80s and I've never tired of their output and seen them both a fair few times live.

Marillion famously lost their front man and charismatic singer Fish to find only the more eclectic Steve H who in my opinion has driven them to their greatest creative heights - btw I've already paid for their next album due next year, like I did with Anoraknophophia when the whole idea of fans funding an as yet unwritten and recorded album via a web site was frankly considered nuts.

But to Rush - I recently saw a post about stable line ups of bands.  No contest in my view - I instantly answered with Rush.  Neil was the last to join after the first album was already out and the band on the way up the ladder in the summer of 1974.  They have had the same lineup from then to now - that is some record.  I struggle to come close to a band with that longevity of line up - and one that hasn't sat on it's back catalogue but continued to put out new material throughout their career, and material of great quality too.  Neil's addition, with his incredible ability on the drums and also some of the best lyrical writing to grace any genre of music, pushed Rush towards greatness.  A man who also faced great tragedy in life losing both his daughter and wife in quick succession some years ago, he once before declared he was retired and set off journeying across the Americas on motorbike.  Read his book about it a great tail of loss and recapturing hope.  Frankly the last studio album Clockwork Angels is up there vying with Moving Pictures, Permanent Waves and others as probably their finest work ever and who in the 21st century creates an entire steampunk universe and writes a subversive hero stands out story for a full blown concept album with accompanying book?  Oh yes... Rush!  Who nailed the entire thing and then provided me with one of the two best gigs of my life on that tour at the O2 in London - the only gig that compares is Led Zep at Knebworth in 1979!

So Neil admits to health issues around chronic tendinitis and Alex Lifeson whilst willing to go on it is reported has a major issue with arthritis.  So it looks like Rush will, at least as a touring force, be no more.  I'd love a farewell studio album but then Clockwork Angels was so good why not leave it there?  In the posts I've seen Neil quotes one of my favourite songs of theirs - From Signals which is one of my top albums btw when I was dead keen to get my band of the time to follow in Rush's shoes that people commented material I'd written a few months before we heard it sounded too similar.  Losing It - "Sadder still to watch it die, than never to have known it."  They included this in the live set on their last tour (R40) which made me wonder as they'd never played it live before and with the message it contains about the genius suffering the agony of watching age take their talent away I thought there was a major message to the hardcore fans there.

Farewell to the Kings....   Thanks for all the music and memories and inspiration...

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Big Big Train performing Judas Unrepentant

Big Big Train are one of my favourite groups of recent years.  They to me define current British Prog Rock - steeped in the 70s - much of this songs rhythm and style remind me of Gentle Giant - anyone remember them?

This is my favourite song of theirs which has as it's lyrical inspiration the definitely off beat topic of an art forger - Tom Keating actually who was able to churn out a number of "great masters" that fooled many of the art world.  Anyhow this is a very rare live outing for the band earlier this year... enjoy

Monday, 16 November 2015

Book Review - Where my Heart Used to Beat by Sebastian Faulks

I've really enjoyed Sebastian Faulk's books in the past.  Engleby is actually somewhere up there on my "everyone should read this book list" without any doubt.  I'll cut to the chase Where My Heart Used to Beat is potentially in the running for that list too.

As with many of his works it is a study of life, love, the meaning of being but more importantly about love and how some people experience a really stunning moment of love in their lives - although it may be all too brief.  In this way it follows on from the theme in his last work - A Possible Life - where he covered love in a series of short stories.  Here we have a single hero character - a psychiatrist.  Someone who has worked his life to understand mental illness and how to help those with it to a better life.  Dr Robert Hendricks lost his father to WWI and himself fought in WWII.  Set initially in the early 80s we find a 60 something Hendricks reviewing his life - aided by some others who somewhat set this up as it were.

Faulk's does introduce Dr Hendricks in a manner whereby for many you may feel he is a man of little integrity and honour and then rebuilds that.  Only again for that to be questioned by actions that are revealed from his past.

I think this is a terrific novel - like many of Faulk's work it isn't a jolly read, it isn't for the feint-hearted and may if you are passed the top of the hill of your life like me make you a little uncomfortable in terms of considering exactly what have you achieved in life.  However it does show again how people's life and love are so moving and important to us. I totally recommend it.

Very rarely awarded but this the second time Faulk's gets one (the other was for Engleby) Two Thumbs up with a Grin

* Furtheron Thumbs Up Book Review Scale - 
lowest is both thumbs down with a frown
two thumbs down, 
one thumb horizontal,
two thumbs horizontal, 
one thumb up, 
two thumbs up 
two thumbs up with a grin - very rarely awarded

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Book Review - Career of Evil Robert Galbraith

Despite it is all long out in the open about Ms Rowling's alter ego she continues to write as Robert Galbraith in the latest instalment in Cormoran Strikes life.  I'd really enjoyed the first two books in the series and looked forward to this one.  On completing it I have to say - I'm a little deflated and disappointed.

Whilst the continuing character exposure of the two main characters in the book, namely Strike himself and Robin his enthusiastic assistant continues I feel that in some ways the main plot line was purely a complete vehicle for that exposure.  In the first two books it was clear there was a deep, dark secret in Robin's past in this book that is pushed firmly into the open.  That is the major reveal of the book but is somewhat too early in the narrative since after that we're playing out the rest of this plot that you feel was mostly there to simply reveal that secret.  The frisson within Strike and Robin's relationship continues with her continuing engagement to Matthew the guy you really want to just bugger off out of the scene - no disrespect Matt but you just are getting in the way of what we can all see if the relationship we all want to see... oh he does look a complete shit at one point as well which helps you dislike him more.

Where however this book fails to be as enthralling and engaging as the previous two is that the case Strike manages to solve again under the noses of the incompetent Met Police is all about him.  A ghost from the past is stalking him and wanting to destroy him.  This again is a vehicle to expose a bit more of our hero's past but frankly I feel less engaged than when Strike was working to show up a major injustice in someone else's story as the first two were.  He lost some of the Robin Hood shine that kind of role gave him - having him pitted against the Met over threats to himself just doesn't seem to fit as well as an engaging plot line.  As I say I just feel the author felt the need to expose some points about him and Robin in particular and wove the investigation about that which just left me a bit flat. 

If you've read the first two and enjoyed them and intend to stick with the series read this.  If new to it - read the first one and then decide.  I do feel after the next volume comes out this one might seem unnecessary reading frankly.

Two Thumbs horizontal (just!) on the FTUBRS*

* Furtheron Thumbs Up Book Review Scale - 
lowest is both thumbs down with a frown
two thumbs down, 
one thumb down,
one thumb horizontal,
two thumbs horizontal, 
one thumb up, 
two thumbs up 
two thumbs up with a grin - very rarely awarded

Friday, 30 October 2015

The End of the Strat Upgrade Project

No sooner is it started but it's finished!

The strat upgrade is done!

Some pics to run through the work.  We'd left it last time with all the components fitted onto the scratchplate but nothing wired up.  It is half term week from my course giving me a couple of days where weather and waiting in for a heating engineer meant I had a clear few hours on the bench (i.e. dining room table suitably covered with rugs, old t-shirts, etc.)

Here is the start of the wiring - some of the wiring for the pots and switches done.

Here with the pickups connected up - There is actually a simple but major error on here that I spotted later...

Here she is naked - stripped of all the hardware I was replacing, i.e. bridge saddles, tuners, strap buttons, scratchplate and backplate.

Dignity being restored with tuners, saddles and strap locks installed.

A close up of the saddles.  I can't say how much if at all they improved the sound as clearly in this rebuild I can't to a side by side comparison with the old ones and the same electrics.  However when I tried it out as bought it was ok but a bit lifeless, or soulless - it just didn't "ring" like some of my others. I'd assumed the quality of the body wood and the bridge block being a cheaper cast one.  However once all assembled she does indeed "ring" / "sing" much better.  How much is due to the saddles?  Hmm.. I'd actually wager a fair bit - for only about £15 a simple, easily reversed upgrade I'd recommend now to anyone with one of these.  Do check your string spacing - this like most Far East ones is 52.5mm across all strings vs a USA (although Jap reissues as well - so check!) are 56.5mm.  These were sold as genuine Fender ones and are stamped as such.  You can find similar unbranded ones under £10 which would still be worth a punt as I say they can easily be swapped back.

So the scratchplate held in on a couple of screws for final "tap test"**.  I did one test before fitting in then one before all securely fixed in case I shorted something out.  But all was good to go.

Nearly there - strung up and being set up.  Like most modern Fenders the radius is a 9.5in.  So I got the two E strings about where I wanted on action and set the rest to a radius curve - you can see my set lying by the neck support.  However final "fertling" was by eye, ear (little buzz on A string at 12th fret) and feel.

Reclining in the sun having been polished up and played.

This shows the new rear backplate fitted to match the front just for completeness.

Final summary.  Well having played it for an hour or so it is really good.  I'm extremely pleased with the result.  As I say as bought it was "ok" but not a singing stunner. Next to my 1983 Squier JV Strat (modified with old 90s USA Standard electrics - the one with the TBX control), possibly an unfair comparator, it was a bit flat and non descript.   Now however it does "sing" and "ring" more to my ears even unplugged I think leading to my thinking the saddles were the best investment on this upgrade.  Soundwise it works a treat.  The Artec pickups are really excellent for the money.  The neck in a brooding heavy bluesy bruiser in humbucker mode with some crunch on the amp.  The middle is a great singing sound in either humbucker or single coil and the bridge is a bright singing humbucker sound.  Being single coil humbuckers mean they seem to maintain some of the Strat single coil flavour in the humbucker mode.  There is a bit of a drop in output when switching to coil tap mode but actually that can be used to an advantage potentially.  Over all I'm really pleased with the result.  I may get around to a video / audio example at some point so watch this space as they say.

** What's a Tap Test?
Simple - plug the guitar wiring into an amp - I use an old practice headphone amp called a pocket rocket as the headphones help determine exactly what is going on.  Then tap the pickups with a screwdriver - this'll show your switching is ok, it isn't all going to earth and pretty much ok to fit down.  I did this when it was all soldered up including the earth connections to the bridge etc.  It was time well spent in this case.  In getting my head around wiring the coil taps etc. I'd connected the neck and middle pickups to the wrong lugs on the switch.  A simple few second fix but better than before all strung up! 

Thursday, 29 October 2015

The start of the Strat upgrade project

I have another guitar project underway.  Using some money I got for my birthday I bought a cheap second hand Squier Strat off a local instrument sell/swap noticeboard on Facebook.

Here is the guitar I got - an affinity Squier strat.  Nice colour I thought and very clean.  Previous owner had it as a spare to a "real one" as he called it and wasn't using it much.  I negotiated a cash purchase and a little discount from his asking price.  All cool.

 The plan all along was one I've had in my head for a while to buy a cheap but reasonable Strat copy and upgrade it a bit... well a lot actually.

So the plan is to replace all the electrics in it.  I wanted a sort of Dave Murray Strat like idea with strat sized humbuckers in it.  However Dave's guitar if you buy his latest Fender signature offering is north of £700 (which is good value actually given the hardware you get on it) but also a bit of a no-no for me features a Floyd Rose vibrato.  I'm not a lover of them much at all personally preferring the more traditional strat type including the one of my PRS which is firmly in that stable of design.


I wanted single coil humbuckers - preferably hot rails like Dave uses.  Actually he has recently changed for an all hot rails set up with the launch of his new model to one featuring two hot rails in neck and bridge and a JB Jr in the middle position.  Recently Seymour Duncan launched a Dave Murray loaded scratchplate featuring that set up.  They are however as rare as Hen's Teeth in the UK and well north of £200 anyway... like I say makes the Fender model look very reasonable.  Anyway I was thinking of more versatility in the set up myself.

My initial thoughts were for a HSH arrangement with a single coil in the middle.  But as I was buying cheaper non match set pickups I was worried about getting a matched set.  In the end I've gone for three hot rails from the Artec range which were really good value and had some good reviews around.  To retain versatility I wanted to coil tap them in some way.  Original thoughts were three pull pots one on each - but that is clunky and I want strat style knobs on it still which to me don't lend themselves well to pull pots.  So I decided there is room for two small switches amongst the knobs.  My first thought was to have one switch to coil tap both the neck and middle at the same time and one on the bridge.  This would give HHH, SSS, HSS and SHH combinations - not sure on the last one, certainly novel.  But I mused on this - one glaring thing is that I'm missing the HSH combination I original was going for and that seems a useful one, given the many guitars you can buy that offer that out the box.  Thinking more on it I have coil taps on some of my two pickup humbucker guitars (my old Nunostrat and Gordon Smith Graduate) and frankly I mostly favour the bridge as a humbucker with the coil tap on the neck useful.  I rarely coil tap the bridge on those guitars.  So I wanted definitely the HSS set up as that is one combination I'm after with this guitar I don't have in my arsenal currently, along with HSH again a variant I don't have as such.   Therefore having gone through this all I've decided to wire it up as the bridge permanently in humbucker mode and the middle and neck coil tappable independently on the two switches.  This gives the HSS and HSH modes along with HHH and HHS as well. I'm using perloid scratch and back plate - again the Murray model influence, plus looks good with the colour of the body.


Originally I had thought to replace the whole bridge unit with something like one of the Wilkinson Strat replacements - probably a modern looking one aping a bit the PRS trem style.  However once I got the guitar and looked at it I realised that the Afinity model (well this one at least) is one of the thinner bodied Squiers.  I thought they only did this with the bullet models but it seems not.  The body noticeably thinner than a standard Squier.  A quick check against my trusty (very) old JV model shows a difference of 5.1mm (46.9mm vs 41.8mm) measured on the top horn.  Therefore most normal trem blocks at 40mm won't fit - or at least will stick out the back.  I measure this trem block about 4-5mm shorter than that which is in line with the difference noted.  Obviously I could buy a new bridge that is compatible with the trem block and reuse the one in the guitar to retain the distance.  However that seemed a bit of a huge compromise as the main upgrade would be the block and the saddles anyway.  So after some thought I opted instead for new saddles only.  I found some reasonably priced on eBay.  I've gone with the more traditional bent steel ones as consensus, shown by Fender returning to feature them on the American Standard, is that these sound best anyway.  Getting some that were the correct (narrow) string spacing was the key point.  Another difference from USA or Mexican or Japanese reissues is that the cheaper strats from the far east have a narrower string spacing at the bridge.  After some umming and erring on my side I've also decided on fitting set of sperzel style locking tuners too as I've found locking tuners on vibrato guitars really useful in tuning stability.  So I've now ordered a suitably value for money set.  Finally I'll be sticking on some Schaller style locking strap locks - which I use as default on all my guitars anyway.

Once completed then the only original hardware will be the bridge except the saddles, the string trees and the plate holding the jack plug... everything else will be replaced!  Oh the neck plate will be original too I see no reason to update that ;-)

Here's some photos of the guitar in a state of disassembly to allow me to check fit the scratchplate - a couple of screw holes don't line up so I've filled them with old cocktail sticks and glue and will drill new ones later - same on the backplate too as my replacement has USA screw alignment.

You can see all the pickups, switches and pots in place now on this one - again a trial fit to make sure nothing it catching anywhere before I start to solder it all together which is the next major task and will be the subject of the next update no doubt.

Monday, 26 October 2015

CD Reviews - Iron Maiden, Show of Hands, City and Colour

Without a doubt this little album review shows my eclectic music tastes.  I find it funny how even more so these days stuff is labelled this of that, Folk, Alt-Country, Metal, Speedmetal, Deathmetal... blah blah blah.  Do I like it?  That should be the only question to ask yourself really.  But the marketeers esp in this online age try to pigeon-hole us so they can then push "targetted" ads into our facebook feed, spotify suggestions list etc.  Frankly just suggest random stuff - in my humble opinion they'd sell more.  Say I'm a young person who's been brought up on modern R&B and that's what I listen to - then Spotify throws some Country my way and I like it - but I've never listened to or downloaded country - am I more likely to go off and seek out more of this new interest?    Well that's my thoughts but then ... I don't run a music company or streaming service or get paid oodles of cash to advise advertising campaigns.

Iron Maiden - Book of Souls

This is the umpteenth album from Iron Maiden in their must be close to 30 year history now.  However their first ever studio double album.  Now the old stalwarts of what us teenagers dubbed NWOBHM still have much of the trademark Maiden sound... the gallop, the bounding bass line, the twin/trio guitar harmony, the time changes and the operatic singing style the Bruce Dickinson brought to the band when his inspired hiring fired them towards global domination.  Yes all that is there but then there are really long tracks - three of the total of 11 are over 10 minutes, this smacks of old song prog rock from the likes of Yes, Genesis when they were more than 3 and Rush in their epic heyday.  Actually those aren't bad benchmarks for some of what you have here this is the most prog rock Maiden have ever been.  And that is for the good actually - this album isn't a barnstormer throughout but it's weaves and twists and turns and different textures make it one that you listen to repeatedly spotting new colour and interest.  The magnum opus that is Empire of the Clouds even has piano courtesy of Bruce Dickinson who only recent acquired one (as a raffle prize!).  This is the best on the album for me and even if you think you know Maiden go listen to this one to get a flavour of where they are today - the lyrical subject as so often for Maiden is more leftfield that many "heavy" bands charting as it does the demise of the R101 airship.  Maiden could have written 8 songs all based on previous hits of theirs but they haven't they have as middle aged rockers with cancer concerns and all that tried to do something a bit different and hugely succeeded in my view.   The plan to tour this album... of course being maiden they've leased a 747 to carry all the kit, crew and the band with Bruce Dickinson having to be trained up to be allowed to fly it - they redefine Spinal Tap at times but I love them for it.

Show of Hands - The Long Way Home

Hello English folk lovers - I did say this was eclectic didn't I.  Fresh in my mits is a signed copy of the new Show of Hands CD prior to it's full release - you need to see them on tour and chuck em £13 to get it at the moment.  The duo of Steve and Phil are as ever joined my Miranda Sykes and a few other friends including some recording of shanty style numbers in a pub.  This is more of a return to a more traditional folk feel than the last offering Wake the Union.  The first words uttered are old Saxon actually!  This is in Breme Fell At Hastings which morns the lost of Saxon England under the Norman yolk just after defeating the Vikings only a few days before... You thought Maiden singing about aircrashes in 1930 wasn't topical... ;-)
The playing and the singing, esp the singing on this are sublime.  Hallow's Eve a topical ditty about 31st Oct is one of my top picks along with 'Twas on an April Morning and Keep Hauling and The Old Lych Way.  But it isn't all totally fingers in the ear and lambswool sweaters with Sweet Bella being a straight up 12bar blues type number too.   If you love just hearing good singing in good songs go check this out once it is on general release - or better still if you can catch them live on the current tour go do that.

City and Colour - The Hurry and the Harm

Bit late on this one as it's been out ages but my daugther got it for me for my birthday.  Dallas Green (City and Colour... gettit?) started this as his little side project ages back away from his day job in Alexisonfire.  I'd listen to them a bit but in that field (genre) prefer Linkin Park, Hundred Reasons, Funeral for a Friend etc.  So to hear Dallas churning out these country gems was a surprise for me when I first heard him ages ago coming out of my daughters bedroom.  We've continued to share our interest in him - culminating with us having booked to see him in Brighton on his next UK tour - he's been on the "must see live" list for a while.  Now this is to me his most accomplished, coherent and complete sounding album.  I think him working in the studio with a nucleus that had been his touring band for a while really helped make the whole thing sound more together and relaxed and just gelled.   I ought to catch up more on his latest release and review that soon.   Watch this space.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Gig Review - Show of Hands Canterbury Marlow Theatre

One of Mrs F's presents to me for my birthday was tickets to see Show of Hands.  The Marlow Theatre in Canterbury was back and Mrs F had excelled herself with tickets in the third row :-)

Show of Hands have over the last three years or so become one of my favourite folk acts.  There is something just so unpretentious about them, a working class ethic within many of their lyrics and performance I really like.  They are stunning musicians to boot.  Now mostly they perform as a trio the original duo of Steve Knightley and Phil Beer augmented by Miranda Sykes on double bass and vocals.  Three musicians only, acoustic instruments but what a sound they can produce.  Phil is a master multi-instrumentalist on fiddle, guitar, mandolin etc. and both him and Steve have incredible voices that work so well alone or together.  Miranda adds terrific bass playing and singing to the mix to.  Hats off to the sound engineer again - this is the second time I've seen them live and both times blown away by the quality of their live sound.

The first half was to showcase the new album The Long Way Home, which I snapped up a signed pre-release edition at the interval!  They played a lot of the new material off of that including an incredible a cappella three way version of Keep Hauling which made the hairs on my neck stand up.  After the break it was more of a Greatest Hits compilation going back through their long back catalogue.

All too early it was the last song and encore and they were off but isn't that the sign of a great gig when you're left thinking it flew by.

If you can get to see them I fully recommend they may not have had the notable chart success of others but for me they are one of the best folk acts about in the UK today.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Gig Review - The Shires Folkestone Leas Cliff Hall

Mrs F, Daughter-of-Futheron and I had a night out in Folkestone last week to go see The Shires.  Firstly it very nearly didn't happen, at least for me.  I left work a little early to give plenty of time to get home, changed, have something quick to eat and plenty of time to drive down to the coast.  I get the the station and... no trains running due to some incident.  Quick decision to catch the tube over London to another station.  I get there and get on a new train so now running about 30 mins late.  Not too much of a bother should still have time ... might not get changed.   Then that train is cancelled as someone was taken ill on it just as it was about to leave.  Paramedics etc. So that was it I thought.  I found another train, a slow one that didn't get all the way home and got on that.  I was now telling Mrs F to go without me and have a good time I'd figure out how to get home at some point.  But Mrs F was adamant we'd all go together so she drove to meet me at the nearest station I could get to.  By now we've less than an hour to show time but D-o-F had prepared me a "packed tea" to eat in the car on the way and we found a parking space easily.  We got into our seats and just sat down as the lights dimmed for the start of the show!

Now apologies but after all that I didn't get the support acts name.  I solo acoustic guitar singer/songwriter - I was reasonably impressed esp as I know how hard it is to keep an audience engaged with only a guitar and your voice - he did a short set of thoughtful songs.

The Shires were a much more rockier outing.  A note here about there band - three young lads who barely look to be out of school frankly but tight, loud, accurate and well balanced.  They played their part throughout the night with aplomb - esp the guitarist who I thought was superb throughout and my daughter also commented how good she thought he was too.   The Shires only have had one album so I was a bit worried about a short set or some dodgy fillers thrown in but not at all - a new song "Just about Midnight" (I think) was one of the highlights and then the took the set quieter for a few minutes in the middle with a "song circle" idea, all the band sitting on chairs to air a couple more recently written ones.  Another highlight was a cover of The Corrs Runaway - which they nailed perfectly with it still being clearly a cover but with a hint of their own personality stamped on it. 

The thing I was most impressed by was the vocals - they are a vocal duo at the end of the day but they were flawless throughout to my ears on all the harmonies and they have two voices that excellently complement each other.

Thoroughly enjoyable night out... apart from the journey there!

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

https availability on this blog

Whilst this might seem to be a few years late I've just enabled https support on this blog.   This means if any of you so desire you can read this blog via https://guitarsandlife.blogspot.co.uk now meaning it will be encrypted and provides you the following benefits...

"HTTPS is a cornerstone of internet security as it provides several important benefits: it makes it harder for bad actors to steal information or track the activities of blog authors and visitors, it helps check that visitors open the correct website and aren’t being redirected to a malicious location, and it helps detect if a bad actor tries to change any data sent from Blogger to a blog visitor." from http://buzz.blogger.com/2015/09/https-support-coming-to-blogspot.html

Price of books on Kindle

So ... a little rant.

I've had a Kindle for about 4 or 5 years now.  I like the convenience of it.  I can carry a whole bookshelf of books around with me, it's easy to read where ever etc.  My son uses one too - for him, he has dyslexia, the best thing is being able to alter fonts and spacing as it really helps him read.   Good old Amazon lured us all in and we shelled out for these things.  I've actually been considering an update to a newer one as I've not get a paper white etc. I've one of the original ones with the darker unlit screen.  But probably no more.

Increasingly I've noticed that prices of, particularly first edition hardbacks are increasing.  Now I accept some of that, access to it early etc.  But recently a new phenomenon ... Look at Bernard Cornwell's new Hardback, Warriors of the Storm, or Robert Galbraith's (JK Rowling) next book.  Yes... both are MORE expensive on Kindle.   But I'm not buying the book, only a licence to access it on certain devices, I can't resell it or pass it on to my descendants if I die as the licence is with me only.  Also how is an ebook more expensive to produce than a paper book?  It clearly isn't - so this is simply profitmongering.

I may go back to owning the books.  To be honest not something I'm adverse to - all my text books I buy in paper copy as I can't flip back forward in electronic form as easily or make scribbly notes in the margins that matter to me as easily.  I know others do, I've tried, but for me the process doesn't work.

PS - I just did some more quick research on this.  Basically over the last year publishers have been re-negotiating their content deals with Amazon, seems they were unhappy with the discount Amazon was applying to e-books and have insisted that they now set the price.  This is in line of something an author recently told me when I questioned the price of an e-book release of theirs.  Interestingly though I wonder how much they will see people now dissuaded from early purchase of books?  Back in the day when I bought real books I only rarely bought hardback first editions and I'm beginning to think similarly in this situation.  I'll at least wait for the paperback to come out ... hmmm... then WHSmith/Waterstones Buy one get one half price etc. deals look attractive.  I do wonder if publishers will over time lose out since remember if I buy a physical book I'm more likely to pass that on to someone rather than simply recommend and therefore they sell even less...   hmmm

Monday, 5 October 2015

Book Reviews

Some latest book reviews...

The Girl In the Spider's Web - David Lagercrantz

Part four in the Millenium series which started with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Of course the biggest issue here is that Stieg Larsson who wrote the original trilogy died in 2004.  So David Lagercrantz has been drafted in by the Larsson estate to write the new edition.  Firstly, a more interesting book may actually be the machinations between Stieg's partner, Eva Gabrielsson, and his family over what he had planned for the rest of the series and also where his inheritance should have gone.  Eva and Stieg were not married and there was no witnessed will leaving her anything so it went to his brother and father.   Enough of the soap opera in the background though...  the book?

Well... sadly it is long long way from as well written as Larsson's books.  Much of the background is given through long sections of dialogue and it is just stilted and not as "on the edge of your seat" as Larsson's original series was.  In the end the development of the storyline from after the completion of the first trilogy is quiet good in someways but where as the original series I thought was simply stunning this isn't.  You can see the obvious plot lines developing and the characters are not developed at all - if anything the characters are regressed in this book as they aren't investigated at all by the author.   I don't envy anyone trying to write this book but sadly it was more a miss than a hit which is such a shame.

One Thumb horizontal I'm afraid ... I wish I could have given it more

The Miniaturist - Jessie Burton

Set in 17th century Amsterdam when Dutch traders were some of the richest on the planet this is a terrific book.  You are following young Nella, who has been married to a rich older merchant, Johannes, and is moving to Amsterdam at the start of the book.  From there the story takes on some bizarre twists.  Johannes has a domineering and controlling sister who seems to have no love at all, two interesting servant who have secrets and keep them too, he seems not interested in what Nella had expected her new husband to want from her etc.  He presents her with a doll's house which mirrors the house and it's occupants.  Nella finds a miniaturist who can help stock it for her but that takes on odd connotations too as new models are delivered not what she ordered.  A great storyline unfolds and you move with the characters through it - there is a whole undercurrent of questioning what is love and what moves from love to hate so easily at times.

Thoroughly recommended - a terrific read.

Two Thumbs up on the FTUBRS*

* Furtheron Thumbs Up Book Review Scale - 
lowest is both thumbs down with a frown
two thumbs down, 
one thumb down,
one thumb horizontal,
two thumbs horizontal, 
one thumb up, 
two thumbs up 
two thumbs up with a grin - very rarely awarded

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Intonating an A Style Mandolin

Any long term readers will remember I acquired via the lovely Mrs F a mandolin a Christmas or so back.

Now I get the thing out from time to time to play along on.  But I noticed that it wasn't brilliantly in tune as you moved up the neck.  A quick check showed it was not intonated at the 12th fret.

I checked it out using a decent tuner (my Boss TU-15) I figured out that the fretted notes were about 3-4 cents too sharp.  Meaning the bridge needed moving back away from the nut end.  Now an A style mandolin has a floating bridge - see the picture.  So moving it should be possible but how to do this?

Here is the method I used.

1. Mark the location of the front of the bridge on treble and bass sides with masking tape.  I put two bits of tape up against the bridge so I knew where it had sat originally.
2. Remove all the strings.
3. The bridge can now be moved/removed.  I tried to polish up the top as there has been some colour staining/marking from where the bridge was - I had limited success and didn't want to go into any major hassles I've left that.
4. String up one of the top E and one of the bottom G strings - essentially the two outer most strings.
5. Ensure bridge was a few millimetre back from where it had been previously.  Through trial and error I then got the bridge as close as I could to spot on with my trusty tuner.
6. Taped the bridge down with more masking tape to stop it moving.
8. Completed restringing and tuned up.

Result?   Much better it is much more in tune with itself now.  I'd researched this method online before trying it out and it seems the best way to get a floating bridge in the best place - I'd use it again with an archtop guitar if needed

You can see the amount I moved it back in this picture where the mark left by it's original position on the bass side is notable.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

This is one of the many reasons why I'm glad we have the NHS

I remember being in the USA when the Obamacare debates all kicked off.  I remember listening aghast as some commentator on some show made the outrageous and completely incorrect statement that if the USA was to go with Obamacare then a UK NHS style system would surely follow.  He then stated that women were giving birth on the sidewalks because the UK system was in such a mess.  Lies.  I can't argue our NHS needs improvements, more funding etc. but it sure ain't like that.

Today though this story has been getting a lot of airplay on newsites etc.  To quickly summarise.  A USA pharamaceutical company with the rights to a drug originally discovered by Burroughs Wellcome which became eventually part of the now GSK empire was recently taken over but a new company led by an ex hedge fund manager.  The drug is used to treat HIV patients (and others) and is acknowledged by the World Health Organisation as one it's "essential medicines".  The new company saw a market to exploit and have restricted access to the routes to buy the drug in the USA and raised the price from $13.50 to $750.00 - a 5000% rise.  

Now why am I glad we have the NHS in the UK then?  Because we have that state monopoly (with very few exceptions) the price for any drug is firstly not born by the patient we all pay our contribution at a fixed £8.20 an item no matter of the actual cost, assuming you aren't on one of the many exceptions that means you don't pay at all or you pay the annual one off charge if you are a person who needs a lot of repeat prescriptions.  Also in Wales prescriptions are free - yes USA friends you did read that right - you get to see your doctor for free and the drugs he prescribes for free too if you live in the dragon country. 

Secondly - I've just checked on the British National Formulary (BNF); which is the list of all drugs that can be prescribed within the NHS system - this is the thing that determines essentially if a drug is available at all really in the UK as there is little point being approved if you aren't on the BNF as no NHS doctor can prescribe that drug.  And the vast majority of prescriptions are obviously within the NHS system.  So then Daraprim (the drug in question) is quoted on there as being currently £13.00 for a 30 tab pack.  That is what the agreed price is between the government and the manufacturer in the UK... so ... they can't hike the price up as the govt essentially fix the market. 

Lastly - given that this is an old drug there is no patent outstanding on it - I'm assuming that anyway.  So ... calling all Indian/Chinese entrepreneurs - you have a perfect opportunity here.  Quickly figure out how to produce this drug and even if you are above the $1 a dose it is claimed it costs the current manufacture as long as you can get it to the USA and all approved etc. as long as you can substantially undercut this $750 you'll surely clean up...   Isn't that how an open market should operate?   I'd rather it was wasn't profiting so much and gambling with people's health.

CD Review - Joe Satriani Shockwave Supernova

I forgot to include this one in my recent round-up of latest CD purchases....

Whilst there are a plethora of hugely talented guitarists out there who produce great instrumental music there are few that break through from just a niche market dominated by other guitarists who are there to be dazzled by the skill rather than the tunes and fewer still who maintain a long term career from it.   Jeff Beck is one obvious example who has continued to forge a path where each release seems to get more plaudits than the last.  Steve Vai - maybe is in this illustrious group with Al Di Meola in there too maybe.   But without a doubt one for who there is no argument is Joe Satriani - since his sophomore release of Surfing with the Alien in the 80s Joe has continued to produce great albums.  I'll be honest for me he did lose his way - or at least not go in a direction I totally bought into for a while but his last 5 releases since 2006's Super Colossal have placed Joe firmly at the top of the tree.  Shockwave Supernova is a continuation from that maintaining the momentum in that this is clearly a Joe S album from the first riff in the opening title track.  There is new stunning playing throughout and a hint at times to the more stripped out relaxed Chickenfoot material he has produced with Mr Hagar et al in recent years like on Crazy Joey which then has one of the best "tapped" passages you'll hear anywhere.  Several great tracks but the stand out for me is Keep on Movin'.  From a great piano intro Joe plays a catchy riff via a cocked wah wah - indeed the break down and wah solo on this remind me of the aforementioned Jeff Beck greatly and I mean that in a hugely complimentary way not in an accusation of plagiarism since as the track develops over some great support playing from the band this is as near to jazz rock (or whatever cross over you want to name it) as Joe has ever got and it sounds flipping brilliant.  Other tracks worthy or note include the exquisite On Peregrine Wings pounded along after a crashing start by a stonking riff this is almost the defining track of his career to date for me with a searing and soaring lead part that nods back to the Extremist and Surfing albums.

Finally - I read an interview where Joe says the album is a concept about the "other persona" he adopts when he heads to the stage since being a "shy retiring" type he needs to play a part to be the rock God on stage people pay to see.  He tried through these tunes to take that persona the more showman side of him into the studio.  I can attest to that shining through on tracks like On Peregrine Wings.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

CD Reviews - Joanne Shaw Taylor, Steven Wilson and Thunder

Ok - so after a brief delve into the very murky waters of politics... anyone still here who is interested in music?

A quick round up of recent CDs I've bought.

Joanne Shaw Taylor - The Dirty Truth

Just to set the record straight in case the politician posts are still causing the mud rakers to sling insults at any of my posts - I used to work with her Dad.  Not closely but we were in the same company for a few months together and discussed music, work and football in the Directors suite at Arsenal's ground on some company do once I remember.

This is a terrific album.  I've been listening to Joanne for ages on Spotify and had her CDs on my wish list but never got around to buying one.  This was just there screaming at me when I was in an old fashioned record shop in Maidstone.  If you've never listened this is as good a place to start as any - I'd say she is the best blues/rock singer guitarist in the UK at the moment... of either gender.  She has a terrific Jopin/Jess Stone type voice and her guitar playing goes from Albert Collins through Gary Moore to Bonnamassa with country rock thrown in and some funk to.  She is a really complete player.   Stand out tracks... hmmm - a lot actually.  Ok the starter Mud Honey is a great rocker track Tried, Tested and True is a great bluesy ballad and that is followed by another rocker proving great guitar riffs can still be written in Outlaw Angel which just smells of Gary Moore as it kicks off.   If you like Joe B, Gary Moore etc. you should give this a  serious listen.

Steven Wilson - Hand Cannot Erase

I bought this after a friend of mine went on and on about it being a work of genius.  It is very good.  It is prog rock at it's best - flawless execution throughout, stunning musicianship and a concept album to boot!  However the concept it dark.  Very dark.  Based around the sad story of Joyce Carol Vincent who was a young lady who died in London in late 2003 however her body was not discovered in her London flat until 2 years later.  She'd become estranged from her family and friends and was not employed and was so isolated in a city of 8 million people that noone noticed she wasn't about. 

So what do I think of it?  Hmmm... I can't help but compare to other artists/albums throughout.  This doesn't mean it is bad, it isn't and the playing is faultless but from the kick off 3 Years Older my head is screaming "oh yes like Rush around Hemispheres."  Sadly for me there is too much of that so whilst a good work, flawlessly played it doesn't inspire like others.  As I said at the start my friend would walk over coals to get this and she waxes lyrically repeatedly about how she can barely listen to anything else currently.   I've yet to tell her it's good but not quiet the full cigar yet....  I can see her look of consternation already!

Thunder - Wonder Days

Another impulse buy in a record store.  I bought their first two albums on cassette - children asked your grandparents LOL!.   Laughing of Judgement Day is still one of favourite albums in the "classic rock" genre.  Now many years later in 2009 I dragged my son into the hot and sweaty tent at Sonisphere late one night to see Thunder's very ever last live performance.  They were ok that night - not brilliant and there was clearly some taught emotion in the band notably Danny Bowes.  However the buggers reformed did some festivals... support tour and now a new album!  However this is one the best since the early ones in my humble opinion.  The kick off title track is immense.  An emotional vocal performance which has always set Danny apart in my view - when he means the song he sings is.  A great sing along chorus etc.  This sets the scene and we are rocking along as good as any classic UFO, AC/DC, Uriah Heep anyday.  Ok this'll never make someone go "That's new and different" but then it doesn't set out to this is Thunder doing what Thunder have done brilliant for years play belting rock n roll.  It is a shame they've never quite broken out of the slightly underground feel of following but I still think many who like Kiss, Aerosmith etc. in the USA would do well to stick this in their MP3 player and hit the interstate on their Harley.   A mandolin even makes a well deserved appearance on the lighter holding aloft ballad "The Rain". Only one duff track the closer I Love the Weekend should have stayed on the cutting room floor... but apart from that very worthy listening.

Politics stops being the same old same old for once

Here I go committing blog suicide no doubt.  Farewell to my loyal reader(s) this post will no doubt lead to a storm of complaint, abuse, spamming, outrage etc.   I'm going to talk politics!!!

Anyone with a pulse who has reasonably functioning cognitive abilities alive in the UK today can't have failed to have noticed that something happened over the weekend.  A middle aged white man was elected as the leader of the Labour party.  You'd have thought though that something way off the Richter scale had actually happened given the coverage of it so far.  Let us state my position before I get going... I come from a Labour background, my Dad wouldn't consider voting anything else, was a union man throughout his working life and argued always that Labour was the only party you could hope to trust to help the working man.  His Dad (my Grandfather) was a Labour councillor and sat on a union executive in the 1930s at the height of the movement establishing itself in the UK.  I've nearly always have voted Labour in any election that I have the opportunity for.  I was as a youngster (in my teens) a card carrying member of the Labour party and an active member of the Young Socialists (the then labour youth wing).   I have been a union member but currently choose not to be and currently I'm not a member of any party.

Here (for what it is worth) are my observations of the last few days (weeks)...

Jeremy Corbyn has been a Labour supporter all his life.  Pretty much his only job outside of being a member of parliament was working for two trade unions.  He has stayed in the party throughout all the changes of the Blair years when "new Labour" moved substantially from many of its very socialist policies about public ownership of services and industry towards more centre left social democratic policies.  Indeed under Labour continued privatisation under the guise of PFI which led to the eventual sell off of the Royal Mail and introduced private companies into running some NHS services etc.  Clearly he joined a party that he believed in, still does and was prepared to stand and fight his ground within it.   Respectable - I hate people who jump ship on single issues or when the wind blows up the street a different way.  Whilst I'm proud my constituency is represented by an MP who is a Muslim refugee from Pakistan the fact that he was a candidate for Labour and unsuccessful so changed to the Conservatives when he saw that was the way the wind blew frankly appals me - I want my MP to lay down and die for what he believes in not simply be seduced by desiring the power.

Mr Corbyn won a landslide.  Anyone who knows anything more than me about maths will tell you that it is virtually impossible for someone to win a ballot outright (i.e. gain more than 50% of the first choice votes) in an alternate vote system when there are 4 candidates.  He did just that and then some with a vote of 59%.  That is an incredible mandate.  So agree or disagree with him you can't argue that active Labour supporters agree with him.

Instantly the media is attacking him which I find amazing - esp the one today that led to this post.  He didn't sing the national anthem at a Battle of Britain memorial service.  He is a declared republican who'd like to see the monarchy abolished.  My wife will no doubt vote for him on that manifesto alone, although I used to hold similar views I've changed and I like that the Prime Minister of our country has to still ask the Queen permission to form a parliament etc. as is the quaint UK way.  But I like it as if you substitute unelected Queen as a true continuing head of state that represents the nation it should always remind the PM that they aren't and never will be the most powerful person in the land - they serve the crown (read state or nation).  Anyway given in 1994 he led a campaign or a vote to remove the monarchy I'm glad now he is leader of the opposition he doesn't start singing with gusto as it'll notch up his ratings in a YouGov poll due next Tuesday.  He sticks to his principles.  How many politicians can you honestly feel that is true of over the last 30 odd years?

His policies.

I don't agree with not having a nuclear deterrent - I just feel it is needed to allow us a place on the international stage.  I'm not an isolationist in that sense either so disagree with him there.

He wants to tax the rich more.  Increasingly the gulf between rich and poor gets wider in our society I see nothing wrong with that debate at all.

Renationalise the railways and utilities.  Totally agree.  We now have privately owned power delivery companies being told by legislation to offer the lower tariff to their customers.  Why not just take the bloody companies over and do that as policy!  Also the woeful lack of investment in energy generation is a travesty - companies take too short term a view on profit frankly.  We need state intervention too much for this to be a free market so why bother?

Free education for all.  Yes - education should in a country like ours be a right not a privilege.  The increasing burden of student debt is a joke anyway since the treasury itself acknowledges less than 75% of that debt being accumulated will ever be paid back the government will have to write it off in years to come so... why bother?  Just put the burden on the exchequer anyway as there is no other option.

I saw a brief unscientific report on the One Show where they went to Guildford and asked people if they supported the policies above and more (linking private letting costs to local wages for example) many people supported them.  When told they were Mr Corbyn's some of them looked like they might vomit for being found out as a closet left winger. 

What I've seen so far is that he has brought back discussion on left wing policies I'd totally endorse.  He shows great principles and has integrity.  The fact that a middle aged which man rather than an ethnic, Lesbian woman has caused such furore in the conservative media (I use a small c deliberately there) tells me more about our media than the man I think.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Pedal Board Update

I've updated my pedal board.

Here is what it was like when I first finished it last year.

However since then Mrs F bought me an Electro Harmonix Nano Big Muff Π.  Also I dug out an old Marshall Guvnor pedal I've had for ages.  I used to use it with a Carslbro Rebel amp I had that frankly had the less than best overdriven sound.  Having moved from that through a Boss rack processor, Line6 Pod and then back to an amp in the guise of my Hughes and Kettner Statesman Dual 6L6 I'd sort of got into the mode of only using amp distortion.   But I found the Guvnor and plugged it in - wicked sound!  I then looked on eBay and these Mark 1's are going for stupid money so it seemed too good to not push into use in some way.  The Big Muff was me trying to get back to teenage sounds when I used an old Little Muff.  Also something about David Glimour... loads of reverb and a Big Muff... you get the idea.

So I pulled off some of the pedals in plan to add these two.

 I bought these connectors but the offset one sadly couldn't connect from the EHX to the Boss ones as the jump in height was too much. 

Here I''ve laid out the layout and the power distribution is sorted but not the signal cables yet.

Here's the final solution.  A bit cramped to select one if you are dancing about but not an issue as I don't do much of that!  The signal comes into the Boss Tuner then goes into the volume and wah pedal before going to the Guvnor, then the Big Muff, Compressor, Chorus, Phaser, Flanger, Delay then off to the amp.  All powered off an old Frontline 9v supply which is hidden under the raised back row under the Tuner/Guvnor.  I use two daisy chain power cables, one on the top row one on the bottom.

Here's a quick schematic of the signal flow

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Book Reviews

Just to catch up on my summer reads....

Sharp Objects - Gillian Flynn

If you are looking for a happy, carefree read... avoid this at all costs.  Gillian Flynn is now famous due to the huge success of Gone Girl - a book I liked a lot.  This earlier effort is well written but frankly beyond dark it is as black as black can be.  A reporter returns to her family town to write a story on two young girls who've been found murdered.  Not only is there the darkness around the murders but there is a lot of history in her own past and her families that is extremely dark...   And it doesn't stop there...   It is a good thriller, with some very disturbing themes and issues within including self harming, infanticide, drug taking, underage sex, rape to name a few.  A recommended read but I can't warn you enough, this is a very black book.

Two thumbs up on the FTUBRS*

Jackdaws - Ken Follett

I seem to often come back to Mr Follett's books when looking for something - he has been quiet prolific and I like how he writes from many eras with many different themes.  So this book is about a group of misfit ladies who are co-opted into the British Secret Service at the time of the Normandy invasion for a critical mission.  The characters are believable and likeable, even to a degree the main German adversary.  The story rattles along well with perils a plenty.  Enjoyable and believable read.

One thumb up on the FTUBRS*

Lay down with Lions - Ken Follett

As I say about another of Mr Follett's stand alone novels.  A good one set during the Afganistan Russian occupation.  There is a big romance under current to the thriller aspect of this one.. though you have to question the lady's choice in men as both the rivals are duplicitous, double agents!  Good story set in an interesting setting and time.

One thumb up on the FTUBRS*

Guy Martin - My Autobiography

Something a bit different.  I like Guy Martin, he talks straight and he clearly is one of the most egoless sportsmen around.  He is also very talented at what he does, he may not yet have won an Isle of Mann TT race but in road racing like that he's pretty much won everything else in that genre over the years... in between continuing to be a Truck Fitter and TV personality to boot.  If you like Guy I'd recommend this book, you don't need to understand bikes of bike racing either.  However my position on him did change as in the candid book there are some aspects of his life that he honestly portrays and you are left a bit speechless about how he could treat some people like that, esp his ex girlfriend and frankly how dumb he can be.  He assumed he was sacked by he Dad from the family truck fitting business over something so needed, he thought, a new vehicle to get about in as his Dad had repossessed the van he had.  He bought a clapped out old Astravan... however his TV production company had bought an Aston Martin that was sat in a barn at the time and he considered it to do with that part of his life so he left it there depreciating and driving it "never crossed my mind"... doh!  I still respect him as a racer and enjoy his tv work but this does expose him as not always the nicest bloke about.

One thumb up on the FTUBRS*

* Furtheron Thumbs Up Book Review Scale - 
lowest is both thumbs down with a frown
two thumbs down, 
one thumb down,
one thumb horizontal,
two thumbs horizontal, 
one thumb up, 
two thumbs up 
two thumbs up with a grin - very rarely awarded

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Hughes & Kettner Triamp 3

Now if only I could afford one of these.   Hughes and Kettner have updated their flagship guitar amp the Triamp now in it's Mark 3 version.   One thing I've notice, Alex Lifeson who I'm a bit obsessed about you may have noticed has had the H&K backline obvious in live videos of the R40 tour I've looked at online - there are some where he has a wall of Marshalls which looks like him and Geddy trying to portray the look from the bands early 70s days.  But interestingly to me they all look somewhat not plugged in where as the ones with the Triamps they are glowing away with the characteristic blue H&K glow.   Seems like Lerx has returned to these as his go to amp - he has a signature model around.

Anyway back to the new one.   Let's try to get our heads around this.  You essentially have three dual channel amps in one here.  Each with independent eq.  As you work from 1 thru 2 to 3 the level of dirt goes up, so channel 1a and b are more clean/minor crunch ... think classic Fender sounds.  Next up Channel 2 heads into classic rock territory... think Marshall.   Now here I know a few old cynics will be smiling that knowing smile that is thinking - but Fender is 6l6 and Marshall is El34 so you'll never get same out of an amp - it'll mimic but not get close.  H&K have solved that with 6 power valves in split in pairs two pairs of 6L6s and one of EL34s.  Oh you can then fiddle with what pair or pairs you use on each preamp...  you can then programme that all in and have it all instantly retrievable via the included midi footswitch - or ask your programmer to include the settings in the backing midi tracks.... Yes.. my jaw was heading to the floor at this point to.   BTW if you fancied putting in some KT66s to try to get even closer to say the very early Marshall JTM45 sound guess what?  There is a built in automatic and active valve biasing circuit so you simply plug them in and it takes care of it.   Channel 3 is into the high gain territory... the demo below shows how really musical channel 3a is in the right hands.

Oh yes throw in top quality speaker emulated output for ease of recording sending to front of house and that each preamp has a tailored boost/overdrive pedal available at the flick of a footswitch and you are starting to get close to this amps features.   Boggling!   My son claims with the switchable power amp tube settings etc. it's like 42 amps in one - Douglas Adams moment...

Now the downsides.   It is 150w.... ouch not the best for bedroom use.   Oh yes the biggest draw back.  I can only find it on sale in the UK in a couple of outlets and best price I can get is north of £2,700...  but then it is the answer to life the universe and everything.    Watch the demo video below and you'll see that just on sound quality alone it is stunning.   Would love to see some of this flexiblity and usablility finding it's way down the range into cheaper models...   the Grandmeister and Tubemeisters are already great amps but the next generations with some more of these features in them will be interesting to see.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Go set a Watchman - Harper Lee (Book Review)

This has to be one of the most long awaited follow ups in the history of publishing.  I can't understand why it was never published back in the day.  Harper Lee did enough to be put on the highest rung of any literary ladder with To Kill A Mockingbird.  Especially when you consider that novel was published in 1960.  It is hard today to put that novel into the context that was the USA civil rights movement at that time for most of us who weren't even alive when it first hit the bookshelves. 

Go Set A Watchman was the original title for the original manuscript that eventually became To Kill a Mockingbird.  There is much controversy about the release now of this work.  Some claiming it is simply the original draft for the first novel - having read it that makes no sense to me, others that no Ms Lee is old and infirm she has been coerced into releasing it and others even questioning the validity of it's authorship.

I've read that there was speculation at a trilogy with Mockingbird and Watchman sandwiching another work.  Maybe but having read the book if there was plans for a trilogy I fancy it would have been a further work after Watchman since I was still left with un-answered questions about Scout's relationship with her father.  I would love to have seen another vol set another 10 years or more in the future maybe at the end of Atticus' life.

So is it any good?  Oh yes!  If you've ever read Mockingbird I urge you to read this.  It takes preconceptions about who people are and twists them around.  Is Atticus a bigot?  Or simply playing a part to know the enemy?  You see some of the arguments often used about the emancipation of blacks in Southern USA trotted out but you do get a sense of why some people were frightened.  Given the current headlines about immigration into the UK and Europe there is much to think on in reflecting on modern values and ideology too.  It is set approximately 20 years after the events in To Kill A Mockingbird.  Scout returns to her hometown now a successful professional in New York, but the tomboy has never left Scout and she is soon raising eyebrows among the neighbours.  The real focus of the novel though is over how her relationship with your father is irrevocably changed through her again witnessing him at the local courthouse, the scene of much of the drama in Mockingbird.  Only this time Scout is left utterly confused and her father is reduced from hero to zero in the short space of the meeting.  Much of the latter part of the novel is Scout trying to deal with this and both her father and uncle making cases on different sides of the argument.

Overall in my opinion this is not as good as Mockingbird which maybe why it was never published in the first place but it is still a good work... time may determine whether it is near to the greatness of Mockingbird but for me it is not, still an important novel and it is a shame it didn't appear in the 1960s when I think with the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement it would have had much more impact.  However I still think 50 years on the lessons in there are worthy of exposure and contemplation by many.

Two thumbs up on the FTUBRS*

* Furtheron Thumbs Up Book Review Scale - 
lowest is both thumbs down with a frown
two thumbs down, 
one thumb down,
one thumb horizontal,
two thumbs horizontal, 
one thumb up, 
two thumbs up 
two thumbs up with a grin - very rarely awarded

Monday, 13 July 2015

The Epiphone Ltd. Ed. Tony Iommi Signature SG

Well it looks like a Tony Iommi and sounds like a Tony Iommi... have to say this new signature Epiphone is worth some investigation.  I love the inclusion of many of the features from his original Jaydee Old Boy - 24 frets, the high output humbuckers and even the little feature of the side not front fitted jack socket.

Love this!

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

CD Reviews

I went mad and bought a bunch of CDs over the weekend.

Muse - Drones

I've liked Muse since Absolution.   I did delve back into their back catalogue too but the first two didn't quiet tick the boxes with me.  The last effort 2nd Law was ok but I felt a move away from the "Muse" sound they'd defined up until then.  I remember commenting at the time that it sounded a bit like Porcupine Tree - which wasn't a criticism but simply an observation that it didn't sound really like a Muse record to me.   Drones is much more on song for me.  Heavier, the distorted bass riffs are there, Bellamy's soaring guitar sounds heavily over effected too and his voice is right on song.   I heard a review on Jo Whiley's Radio2 show about this in which the guest reviewer went on about how hilarious Muse were with the bombastic instrumentation, hand built guitars etc.  He seemed to think they are a parody of themselves.  I completely disagree but then I get the feeling we'd never sit down and listen to Yes Relayer and be able to meet anywhere on a level for a conversation either.  However here's a funny observation.  The title track - he expected a post apocalyptic attack on unmanned combat aircraft (that is on Reapers actually).  I had already thought to myself DADGAD... i.e. some sort of droning musical statement.  It is largely a vocal chant.  I think showing I'm more in touch with Muse and their output than the reviewer.  So... if you were switched on to them with 2nd Law but didn't like Absolution et al look away now.  If you wrote them off after 2nd Law - put them back on your list.

The Plague Within - Paradise Lost.

I like Paradise Lost.  I first came across them at Knebworth in 2009 where their performance was one of the highlights for me and they were the discovery of the weekend.  This is really dark and heavy from the starting out doom laden riff and the gruff shouted initial lyrics we know where we stand.  However Paradise Lost for me have a couple of bits that make them stand out.  Firstly Nick Holmes vocals.  He switches effortlessly between the gruff shouty metal genre to melodic and attractive lyrical singing easy and it adds something many lack in this area.  He is a really great singer.  Secondly Greg Mackintosh is a unique lead guitarist.  He uses a set up with two wah-wah pedals open but set normally in specific positions.  This gives his lead lines a very unique tone and quality.  They are ethereal and not what you initially expect, you expect a more typical over driven scooped sound with machine gun attack but this high pitched middle heavy lyrical and melodic tone and feel is hypnotic.  The Plague Within is their heaviest offering for a while but attractive none the less.  If you like any heavy metal try them out - I think you'll be as enamoured as me.   BTW my son met the rhythm guitarist Aaron Aedy in Aberystwyth last summer, I'm not sure if my son had any influence but the latest videos show Aaron has now moved to using an Ltd Vintage Black EMG loaded EC1000....  just like my son has... hmmm... ;-)

B.B. King - Definitive Collection

I had some old vinyl BB King when I was younger a studio album and a live one.  Sadly long lost.  I have a few others bits of him - esp Riding with the King the album he made with Clapton which is one of Clapton's best albums too frankly.  But with his passing I realised I have a BB hole in the collection this was as cheap solution.  Every song on here he nails.  His vocals are fantastic and the big bell ringing clean tone he had with that instantly recoginsable vibrato - genius.  There is a duet with Robert Cray on there - now Mr Cray is no slouch and his first solo has is characteristic strat snap and bite to it but then BB hits the first note in his reply and sorry Robert should just join the employment line.  I mean that with the greatest respect - Robert is great but BB .... well he was just something else entirely....

Thursday, 2 July 2015

YesSongs #7: YES - Roundabout

Sadly today Chris Squire is laid to rest. In memory of one of the greatest bass players ever I offer this great version of Roundabout from 1973. RIP Chris.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Formula E - season finale review

Mrs F and I went to the very last Formula E race in Battersea Park on Sunday.

Formula E is a totally electronic racing car series.  This has been its inaugural year.  There is some interesting banter going on around it involving such lumineries as Christian Horner the main man at Red Bull Formula 1.  The fact that he is having to make derogatory comments about it as a series, trying to compare it to a lower formula than F1 shows it has made some sort of significant mark in its first year. 

A quick summary from my point of view about Formula E...

The good....

The season runs Oct to Jun so means some of the races are over the "winter" period when most other series like F1, Indy Racing League etc. are not running.
The promotion and development of electric vehicle technology can only be good.
The races run in city locations - for many who are not die hard fans of motorsport going to a city and taking in the race as well as other attractions is a new approach to traipsing to some airfield in the middle of nowhere where there is nothing else but the race venue.
Close racing - possibly due to this year everyone having exactly the same machinery (that is planned to change in time)
A great driver line-up.  Getting into F1 is hard, staying there harder when so many are desperate to get in as well.  So most races have had a majority of recent F1 refugees and you can't deny quality like ex F1 race winners like Trulli and Heildfelt.
Completely new tactics about power management can influence races greatly
Cheap to watch
All the practice, qualification and race action is all on the one day.
Good TV coverage - all races shown live on ITV4 (better than F1 on free to air services in the UK)

The bad

The battery only lasts half of the approx 45 min race distance.  The drivers have to stop and change car, whilst this pit stop spices up the races a lot it seems a glaring issue with the technology if you wanted to consider it for a road car.
Driver swaps - like IRL and other series like A1GP in the past some teams have had too many drivers coming and going.
Single make car - I like to see development, I have the same issue with all one make series.  They have close racing but little car development obviously.  I like both... I'm greedy!

That's my view - I like it as a championship.  The first race back in Oct in China ended in a spectacular final corner crash as Heidfelt who'd managed his power consumption better tried to pass a slow Nicolas Prost.  (Oh yes and there are three drivers with the names Senna (nephew), Piquet (son) and Prost (son) - so to hear Senna is closing on Prost is still alive and well in motorsport.

We took the train up to Victoria and the four min hop to Battersea Park. The park was a few yards from the station - see my comments above about accessibility of the races.  Somewhat easier than getting to Silverstone!  And the cost - we'd only  bought the cheapest general access tickets but were right trackside by the entry to the last chicane, we could see them coming along the last part of a long flat out left hander and then into the heavy braking zone.  I'd figure from the layout it'd be a potential overtaking spot that was reinforced with watching the Saturday race on the tv when Jean Eric Vergne used it for one of the best overtakes of that race.  Clearly others reviewed his tactic for Sunday.  So tickets were under £20 each.  For any motorsport that is a total bargain.

The race was terrific.  The back story is that going into the last weekend Nelson Piquet jr was ahead in the points and favourite but 5 others mathmatically had a chance.  Realistically that was really only 2 others, Sebastian Buemi and Lucas Di Grassi (all three F1 refugees).  Saturday Piquet didn't qualify well, Buemi landed poll (worth 3 points in this championship, something I think F1 should adopt).  So suddenly all the weight of expectation was shifting.  After Saturday's race Piquet had the lead by a mere 5 points. 

Sunday qualifying started at 12 noon under typically London leaden grey skies.  Not good for Piquet he was in the third group to go out.  And indeed with a red flag in group two delaying things the rain, although the that heavy or constant did really hamper the third group in particular and now Piquet had a mountain to climb from 16th on the grid with Buemi in 6th.  Frankly on the very tight temporary circuit I think most people just expected that the title was handed to Buemi.  But not so.  Piquet passed several cars on the first couple of laps and then once changed to his second car there was more good fortune.  Buemi span on cold tyres on his out lap and was passed by Senna putting him 6th on the road.  Try as he might be couldn't repass the clever Brazillian, Senna positioned his car just right into the chicane in front of us so Buemi couldn't get down his right hand side.   Meanwhile Piquet was handed more good luck with a safety car bunching the cars up for a last sprint to the line.  His team mate easily gave way and he passed Salvador Duran into turn 14 right in front of us - see my careful analysis of the best place to stand paid off!   So suddenly Piquet was running 8th on the road and with neither him or Buemi looking likely to get the 2 points for fastest lap now everyone was bottled back up in traffic he was 1 point ahead in the championship.  And so it stayed to the line.  Even a large penalty for using too much power dished out to Sarrazin on the slowing down lap robbing him of his first victory had any effect, Buemi and Piquet both moved up one place and still Piquet had that crucial single point advantage.

I've heard some people complaining that it is a "boring" formula running on "Mickey Mouse" tracks that mean you can't get decent racing.  Well that certainly wasn't the case on the last race.  16th to 7th was a stunning drive my Piquet and he really did deserve the title with Buemi no doubt left really regretting that spin on the cold tyres.

Next year allows manufacturers to enter the series to start developing their own powertrains - Renault who had been involved in the initial development has announced it will develop a new version exclusively for the e.dams team.  That will add some additional spice to a good series already.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Rush - Losing It (HD) :: Live in Toronto June 2015

One of my favourite Rush songs ever - finally played live.  Terrific!!!  Look at that Zemetis bass too - is that an original?

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Gear Review - Cheap Mandolin Pickup

I've had a mandolin about 18 months now - frankly I can strum a few chords on it that is about all.  But it's a fun addition to the Furtheron music family.  I had thought about if I wanted to ever use it live or easy recording, i.e. without miking up etc. and did a search on eBay for mandolin pickups.

One of these popped up.

It was madly only £6.35 ($10.00) including postage from China.  I mean - you can't lose can you.  How can they make this stuff and ship it at that price?  I know people moan about putting local firms out of business but simply that is too good a bargain to resist.  If I'd seen this in a local shop at say £15 I'd have thought twice, £20 I wouldn't have considered it.  You get my point.

Simple to install.  I placed the pickup centrally behind the bridge using the adhesive pad already on it.  You get one more spare in the pack too.  That has a cable to a small jack you plug into a passive vol and tone unit.  You can see I've clipped that easily to the instruments strap.  The clip is built in.  You need the provided small jack to large jack cable to connect to most amps, recorders etc.  However they are easily replaced via many suppliers if that goes missing or you want a different length etc.

So £6.35, a few days waiting for it to arrive, a few mins install and we're ready to go.  Now this is not an active preamp or pickup so the output level is low, but then don't write that off.  Yamaha in their latest L series use a passive system which is by all accounts stonking.

So when I did plug it in to my amp yes it needs the volume pumped up a bit.  I'm most likely to use it via a PA live and have a channel for its sole use so that really is no issue.  Into my trusty Boss BR600 and I had to crank up the input level a bit but it wasn't bad.  I mean I could get a good usable level out of it.

So demo time.  Click on this link to hear a short demo recorded via my Boss.  First passage is straight in, no effects or any fiddling at all.  Second passage I used one of the standard Boss available effects patches.  I used P81 Natural which is intended for use with acoustic guitars.  I was really pleased with the results given the cost etc. 

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Alex Lifeson R40 Les Paul

Not the first Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess signature model but I think the best looking in terms of colour and the look of the maple used for the top.

The Axcess main feature is the re-shaping of the neck joint, so whilst it is a traditional glued mortice joint it has the feel of a neck thru body.  Added to that the Axcess is subtly thinner and has a "belly scarf" - like the back contour on a strat body.  Whilst you can get the Axcess with a standard Les Paul stopbar they are most often seen sporting a Floyd Rose locking trem adding dive bomb whammy option to your Les Paul crunch.

The electrics are actually the biggest departure for the Alex Lifeson signature model from the standard Axcess.  It is fitted with a Piezo powered bridge allowing you to get an acoustic like sound from it too.  This can be routed via a dedicated output jack to go to a separate amp or the PA whilst the magnetic pickups feed through the standard jack to your amp, or if you insert one cable into that jack you get a mixed sound.  There are coil taps as well.  The pickup choice is interesting too with Alex choosing the 498T and 496R combination that the Axcess comes with - the same as used in the Les Paul Custom.  These are notably more focused and hotter particularly in the bridge than the Burstbuckers that many standard Les Pauls use.

Anyway - terrific looking guitar!   I wish I could afford/justify one!

Here is Alex chuntering on about it!