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