Tuesday, 30 June 2009
But it's more of a history of my involvement with guitars than just about music - so I hope you will bear with me.
I first realised that I wanted to learn guitar when I was about 11 years old, but a couple of things stopped me. Firstly junior school (ages 7-10) had left me with a deep seated fear of putting myself forward and speaking to teachers (maybe i'll tell you about it one day), secondly nobody wants to be seen as a swot and young boys just don't volunteer for extra tuition and finally because in a whole two years of music we saw one Xylophone once.
The rest of the time was spent with our teacher staring at us over a cup of coffee, calling us "people" and asking us to be quiet.
So it was only when I left school that I started lessons aged 17. I guess this was because I was working with some people who were in a band at the time. Sadly their works have been lost to the ages of time and I may now be the only person who owns a recording of their songs (although I did find the singer on Facebook and gave her a copy about a year ago)
I no longer own any of my first guitars: I started off with a classical guitar, but soon found the neck too wide. For my 18th birthday (which was mumble-jumble-wumble years ago) I was given a silver Marlin "slammer" electric guitar. I part-exchanged this about 10 years ago for my current electric on the grounds that the body was very heavy and the pickup was never great, but sometimes I do regret giving it away.
Guitar #1: Dobo semi-acoustic
I bought this from my guitar teacher around 1990ish. The school where I was doing evening classes seemed to change teacher every term, so our lessons were a bit inconsistent to say the least. The teacher, Steve, used to change the titles of the songs he was teaching slightly to try and avoid copyright issues: so we learnt "Dancing In The Park" and that kind of thing.
Again the pick-up is sadly broken on this guitar - the man at the shop assures me it would cost too much to repair, but I still practice with this at home.
Guitar #2: Fender Stratocaster
Technically: not my guitar. In fact it's very much my brother's guitar. He took a few lessons about the same time I was learning, but never really followed through and can only play a couple of chords. When I finally get my house repaired I'd like to give this a home, clean it up, replace the strings and play it - the "whammy bar" (don't ask me what it's really called) is a bonus that none of my others have - so it would come in useful as a back-up
Guitar #3 - Peavey Bass
Around 1997 I got involved with amateur theatre for a while - something that eventually led to me meeting my partner (and I may tell that story one day too). To be honest it was a lot of work for not much fun - but the show I enjoyed the most was Return To The Forbidden Planet - a musical based on a combination of The Tempest and the movie Forbidden Planet.
I had the small, but vital, role of Third Bloke From The Left and my responsibilities were playing guitar and bass, looking startled and singing occasional backing vocals. I bought the Bass specifically for the show.
To be honest the only time I play it at the moment is when I'm recording - but when I do I like to pretend I'm Peter Hook (Bass player from New Order) and hang it as low as I can without hitting the floor
Guitar #4 - Current Electric
This is my current electric guitar (I'm sorry, I forgot to make a note of the make), which I bought around 2000 with some money left to me by my Nan (mother's side). Currently in storage at my mum's house until the house is in better condition I'm very fond of this one and it has a great tone.
Guitar #5 - Semi-Acoustic
This is on permanent loan from my partner's-sister's-partner. I initially turned it down on loan as I already had several guitars, but came to regret the decision. When it became clear that the person who had the guitar simply wasn't using it I claimed it back, re-strung it and have been regularly playing since.
Hopefully, assuming I get myself sorted, some lyrics will follow later in the week :)
Friday, 26 June 2009
However I just wanted to bring you a couple of videos to think about. The first one comes from a TV show that used to be on some years ago here called The Chart Show. They showed nothing but videos, with no presenter and no voice over – just captions, but the great thing was that sometimes they’d show the Indie charts and you’d get some pretty weird shit playing.
This one is a band from Ireland of the late 1980s called Stump. I won’t blame anyone who doesn’t get through all of the song – but stay tuned for that catchy chorus and find yourself shouting “How much is the fish” randomly for years to come
And finally – Michael Jackson. There’s been a lot of talk about him today and I think the thing is that we’ve forgotten somewhere along the line that once he was known for his brilliant music and not for his eccentricities. I think that’s what we should be remembering today.
So, as MJ’s videos are all copyright I thought I’d bring you the below tribute – which I think captures the best of his influence. Share and enjoy :)
Thursday, 25 June 2009
As I ran I had a moment to regret my existential angst in the pub earlier with CC – if I hadn’t arranged to meet up with him for a meal then I would have been there by now.
CC used to work with me about two years ago and we’ve kept in touch on an off since. On this particular day he was resplendent in his smart suit as ever despite the heat, his gaunt face supporting the usual small glasses and cigarette. He moves with a fragility that speaks of a murky past and an uncertain present, but the reason that we’ve remained friends is that I’ve always known that underneath the showman exterior is a really nice bloke who just wants to be loved and accepted but for whatever reason believes himself unworthy of such a thing.
I climbed into the taxi nearly an hour after I left him in town, already late. I hate being late. Most mornings I’m in work an hour before I need to be so that I can allow for any problems, so that I can get my shit together. I’d rather be somewhere half an hour early and sit and wait and read a book than be late: it makes me nervous.
The taxi driver nodded as I told him where I wanted to go and I sat back as he accelerated away, thinking about the meal I just shared with my friend.
CC, incorrigible as ever, had flirted with the waitress as she came and went. She barely noticed my existence, adding to the existential angst I mentioned earlier. This had begun at the bar when I tried to order and found myself in a parallel universe where I could neither be seen nor heard by the bar staff. Perhaps this is how people go missing: do people just stop seeing you one day? Do the dead and the missing still walk amongst us unseen?
CC is a man on a mission at the moment. As well as his current dilemma of avoiding his landlord (to the point where he wouldn’t tell me where he was living so I wouldn’t have to lie) he is incensed about the plans for our town, which will leave it as nothing more than an identical carbon-copy of every other town for miles around. He argued that we should have a unique selling point for the area; that we should celebrate and promote our past as well as moving towards the future. I was forced to agree with him and, inbetween nods and mouthfuls of fish and coca cola, I continued to move the conversation back towards persuading him to pose for me.
Because normally on a Wednesday evening I would be going to the Art Group, if only because it gives me time to sit and practice and I had hoped to do a series of paintings of people for 2010. . So far, despite several emails and two postings on facebook, CC has been my only volunteer meaning that my project is almost dead and buried. In the mean time CC has agreed to pose for me, if only he can come out of hiding long enough to do so!
So last night, as I sat and watched the meter on the taxi zoom around at 100 miles per hour, I was Trying Something New.
It all goes back to my course in Celebrancy in May. One of the people on the course mentioned that she was a member of her local Toastmasters association – and if I had been starring in a cartoon at that moment then a little lightbulb would have appeared over my head. As it was: it didn’t
Now I’m as big a fan of grilled bread products as the next person, but joining a Toastmasters group has nothing to do with the perfection of any bap, baguette, sandwich or other toast related product: not even slightly – although such an organisation is clearly in high demand if the complaints about the on-site catering at work are anything to go by: toast not done on one side, toast soggy, toast too black, toast not black enough. When you go into a meeting with the caterers these days they seem to reach a little quicker for the knife drawer than once they did.
Toastmasters is actually a speakers club and gets its name from the old habit of toasting someone or something at the end of an evening or an event: for instance toasting the bride…even though the last time a bride was actually toasted was when the French dealt with Joan of Arc some centuries ago (NB: apologies for that one, it seems to have bypassed my good taste sensors)
And I don’t really know what I expected when I arrived in my highly expensive taxi: a bunch of Chelsea Pensioners, resplendent in their red uniforms and festooned with more medals than Michael Phelps perhaps? Would there be a secret handshake to learn? Would the room be full of real ale drinkers, pipe smokers and members of the handlebar club (IE people with unusually large moustaches and beards)?
Happily the truth was that when I arrived, a mere five minutes late but significantly less well off, the occupants of the small room looked relatively sane and normal: at least as sane and normal as people who enjoy being timed as they talk can look.
I walked in as quietly as I could manage, followed by the loud hiss of the electric doors closing behind me. A man beckoned for me to sit next to him and immediately began a whispered introduction as to what would follow.
First on the agenda was a warm up exercise and immediately I found myself amongst the unwilling volunteers – asked to explain what I most wanted to do on a hot summer’s afternoon. I explained, quite succinctly, that I was Pixie-man, that I was very sorry for being late and that the thing I most liked to do on a sunny afternoon was to go out on my bike and enjoy the countryside and to paint very badly.
After this there were three pre-prepared speeches by members which were timed and evaluated by other members: as they spoke a woman with a stop watch monitored them, flicking three separate lights as time ran out: first green, then amber and red to stop. Then the evaluators came forward and were, in turn, timed. I began to feel that even the person doing the timing must be timed and that at some point someone would come forward and say “There was a two second delay before starting the timer on speech three and the red light stayed on for an eighth of a second too long” – but this never happened (although it would have amused me immensely if it had).
Following this, and prior to the break, was an open topic section – where one person would come up and suggest topics and pick a volunteer to talk about that subject for two minutes (that’s “Volunteer” in the usage that occurs when your boss asks for a volunteer to re-do the filing from alphabetical to date-received order). No preparation for this one, but again the stopwatch came out.
In the break I bought a raffle ticket and the friendly man asked me all about why I was there and what I thought and I did my best to explain about being a celebrant and again realising that I am doomed to spend the rest of my life explaining what the hell one is. Friendly man, however, seemed genuinely interested in my story.
Then, as the meeting came towards a close, I felt the inevitable tidal wave of fun turn in my direction as friendly man revealed himself to be the club president and asked for the visitors to come forward and say what they thought of the proceedings.
This is what I said:
I just hope that I’m not being timed for this! Normally on a Wednesday night I’d go to my local art group, which at £1.50 per night is the cheapest night out you’ll find anywhere – but everyone there is in their 80s and they always have the tables laid out in the same way, always sit in the same places: and woe betide anyone who takes their place or suggests something new.
What’s been really nice here tonight is how receptive everyone has been to the ideas put forward and the speakers who’ve been so great. You’ve all been very friendly to a stranger: thank you for having me I hope to see you again.
And then, with a small round of applause, the meeting closed…and I went home complete with the bottle of wine I’d just won!
Thursday, 18 June 2009
As it happens the future of TFF is currently under review - i really don't know how you guys manage to post about similar subjects/themes on specific days each week and applaud you all: my brain must be too random.
Anyway: i was watching this programme on comedy songs and they played a bit of this by Victoria Wood - who is, in every sense of the word, an annoyingly talented individual. Watch it, enjoy: if you don't laugh at least once there's something wrong with you
Points will be awarded for every faded 80s TV star UK readers spot, or for my transatlantic readers - for every bad perm-hairdo
Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Stranger crouches low in the ground and the camera pans around the horizon, taking in the unmown grass.
Tiny emerges from the house, pacing slowly. Cut to close up of Stranger’s eyes. The guitar sounds again, accompanied by an orchestral swell. Tiny stops, tail bristling in the air.
Wide shot of the garden. The chimes sound again and we catch our first glance of Furry, still standing in the doorway: watching patiently. Stranger stirs in the grass, meows, but does not back down.
Tiny edges forward and the almost audible soundtrack reaches the bit where the choir kicks in. Tiny is calling now, her voice hot and insistent: you are not welcome here.
Stranger makes his first mistake, answering back and thinking the shade of the nearby fence will protect him. The camera cuts to an extreme close-up of Tiny and the guitar sounds a single note repeatedly and tails off. She seems uncertain as the music fades again; her plaintive cry sounding like a child as she calls for re-enforcements
The mariachi band horns come in, sounding loud and vibrant. Furry is moving away from the doorway, sauntering towards the unwelcome guest, keeping a wide circle from Tiny and never letting either one out of his view. He stops to one side of Tiny, adding his voice to hers as he enters the ring: three may enter, only two can leave.
The horns cut out and for a long moment there is no sound but the chimes and the wind. The camera cuts from each face, waiting for someone to make the first move.
The camera cuts closer and closer, faster and faster from one face to the next until you can see each whisker bristling, each set of eyes narrowing into pinpoints.
Furry howls again: one last chance, he seems to say, just one last chance. Stranger makes his last mistake: goes for his claws.
There is a blur of movement and noise as Furry and Tiny leap as one, scrambling with the intruder and forcing him under the fence. There is the noise of a continued fight from the neighbour’s garden behind: then there is silence.
Three have entered: but only two leave. Tiny and Furry saunter back to the food bowl, collars lost or damaged but territory intact.
And from behind the neighbour’s fence Stranger watches and wonders when his time will come again.
The grass stirs in the wind and is still
Friday, 12 June 2009
So I should probably start this week by explaining about the video.
Probably: but won’t :)
Because the thing is that this week I’d written this quite long post for That Friday Feeling all about the cinemas I used to visit as a kid and what’s happened to them since, but I kinda changed my mind because after a week that started with me getting totally soaked on Sunday and has been unremmittingly dull and boring ever since I thought I needed to bring you something cheerful and optimistic today in the hope that it would rub off on me.
So last night I was on the bus for the fourth time this week – partially because my panniers still needed washing and partially because I had appointments each night (Tuesday to see a friend, Wednesday to see a film with Our Kid (slang for younger brother)) and for once the Loonie Driver Intent On Killing Me (Note to self: must come up with shorter name for him) must have swallowed “The Little Book Of Calm” or something, because he didn’t shout or swear at anyone.
So I arrived at my first 1-2-1 session with Mad Penguin Lady in a nicely relaxed mood. For those of you following my exploits you will already be familiar with MPL: I originally met her around 2004/5 when she was running a Life Drawing class on alternate Saturdays. I subsequently met her again last year when she started running some evening courses and, earlier this year, I asked her if she would be willing to do some 1-2-1 sessions in aspects of art.
So last night we just sat upstairs in her little studio area mixing watercolours and making different shades.
So please forgive me if this is stuff you learned in Kindergaten – but you have your basic primary colours Red, Blue and Yellow and from these you get your secondary colours: Orange, Purple, Green: but if you create a colour wheel with these secondary colours then you can tell from this which are complimentary colours by what is opposite to what – so dark blue and mustard, purple and yellow etc etc etc.
And when you want to mix a grey colour then you have to use the colours that make up the complimentary colours – so a grey to go with a blue would be made from the blue and the two colours that make up the mustard colour.
And I guess you might think that I would already knew this, and to an extent I did – but I didn’t KNOW it, if you know what I mean?
And I know that I walked out of that room two hours later feeling a little more confident with mixing colours to create contrast and shadow and I guess that’s what I want to take from this week: that sometimes small victories can be enough and that each step, no matter how small, is still a step along the way.
Friday, 5 June 2009
OK: so I mentioned before that I had an idea for a new, semi-regular project for this blog – and here it is.
There was a lot of umm-ing and aah-ing about which day of the week to pick. I considered Monday’s as a cheer-us-up thing, Wednesday’s but dismissed this as the excellent Old Postcard Wednesday (Writerquake) and Wednesday Weekly Cheese (Watercats) already happen on that date, and even considered Thursday on the grounds that no one really knows what Thursdays are there for.
Eventually I decided on Friday’s as it seemed like an ideal time to be looking back on recent events.
So here’s the idea:
Every Friday (pending earthquake, bubonic plague, invasion of killer robots from the future or Penguins taking over the world) I will attempt to post a picture, or clip, of something that I have seen or found in the last seven days: something that most people might have missed or taken for granted in their increasingly hectic lives.
I feel this fits in very nicely with my original concept for this blog – to make use of all the stray ideas and musings that would otherwise continue to drift aimlessly through the stratosphere and to hopefully amuse, entertain and potentially enlighten others.
I will then write a few paragraphs about my experience with the picture and why the thing photographed stood out and what effect it had on my day/week.
So: here’s my first photo and story.
Last Sunday morning I was up early and out on my bike – and for the first few miles I really couldn’t decide where to go. What usually happens is that I decide on a general direction and head that way, then see where my mood takes me from there – following something called Zen Navigation (IE if a road looks interesting or if I have never followed it before I will go that way for as long as possible)
However – I really couldn’t think of a way to head on this occasion: until I remembered that there was a small airport about 8 miles from my house.
I headed towards it through the main roads, knowing that out the back of the airport there was a small village and it was here that I took the first of today’s photos.
The picture above is of an old style country Bus Stop. You don’t see many of them today as there’s a tendency for vandalisation and most have been replaced by Perspex etc – but a few of the old wooden ones still exist on the quieter roads and seem to speak of an older time, when we still used to invest in craftsmanship instead of mass-production. Looking at the stop it’s not clear whether it’s still in use or just exists as a village shelter – but I hope people still use it for all the usual (and unusual) purposes
From there I took a road that I had never followed before and found myself free-wheeling down the hill towards the bridge where this second shot was taken.
As I stopped on the bridge I looked across at the farm house, with the boat on the bank and the tall reeds growing through the water and knew that no one else was going to stop and really look at this view on that day – that no one else could possibly appreciate it in the same way that I did at that moment. That’s the great thing about cycling – when you reach a fantastic view you really feel that you’ve earned it and remember to take the time to enjoy it.
With some regret, and cursing the farm owner for being so lucky as to live in such an ideal place, I carried on: but the memory of that view and those few moments has kept me going all week. It was at that moment that I had the idea for this post and knew that these special moments, good or bad, should be shared so that we can all remember how totally amazing a planet we live on from time to time
Take care and see you again with more That Friday Feeling. In the mean-time any one who wants to see some cutesy photos of my cats can see some on my second blog Houses In Motion http://motionofhouses.blogspot.com/2009/06/lovecats.html
Wednesday, 3 June 2009
Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood)
Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, an embittered and recently bereaved Korean war vet. Estranged from his two sons, his community and his faith Kowalski finds himself living in an area where the insurgence of immigrants has left him surrounded by people who, to him at least, look like the very people he was fighting against.
He prefers his own company and keeps away from his new Hmong (Asian ethnic group in the mountainous regions of southeast Asia) neighbours, until an act of kindness towards their daughter Sue (Ahney Her) brings him into closer contact. This is cemented when their oldest son Thao Vang Lor (Bee Vang) is put under pressure by the local Hispanic gangs to prove himself worthy of joining – by stealing Kowalski’s prized possession: his Ford Gran Torino.
When this attempt is foiled by Kowalski (nearly shooting the intruder in the dark) the Hmong family are so shamed by their son’s actions that they force him to work off the debt. As the young man begins to work off his debt the two form an unlikely and often spiky friendship.
OK: so far, so buddy movie: and if this was all there was to the film then it really would be just another self-indulgent bitter bad-ass hero bulls**t movie (which so many are) and, as such, instantly forgettable. However: a couple of things pull it above the norm.
Firstly there’s Clint Eastwood himself. His performance as the grumpy, racist (although technically he’s anti-everyone equally) and outspoken Kowalski is note perfect: where most actors would take a mallet and a chisel to the armor of the character Eastwood is content to use a pin. UK film critic Mark Kermode (the first man to get a Degree in Horror Films) said of the performance “the only reason he didn’t get an Oscar was because he makes it all look so easy”. By the end of the film you still may not like Kowalski or agree with his views, but you do at least understand why he feels the way he does and can sympathize to some degree. Kowalski’s own xenophobic feelings are put into perspective by the pressure on the Hmong family from other races in the area and by his actions to help the family, regardless of his personal feelings.
As a director Eastwood also knows when to take a back seat and the other characters, particularly Sue and Thao, feel like fully rounded and believable people rather than just ethnic stereotypes.
With its underlying themes of acceptance (both of the past and the present), belonging, racial tension and repercussion Gran Tourino is a film that asks many questions of its audience without seeking to impose an answer. Although some of the views and opinions voiced in the film may be uncomfortable and cause offence this is at heart a very intelligent film that has the guts to stick to its guns and follow through whilst respecting it’s audience.
If you enjoyed this film you’ll like this: Million Dollar Baby
Slumdog Millionnaire (Danny Boyle)
Well I guess that by now most people will know the plot of this one, but for those of you living in a vacuum-cleaner here it is:
Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is a slumdog – IE he comes from the slums of India and works in a call centre as a tea wallah and socially assumed to be stupid or of low education. One question away from winning a fortune on a quiz show he is rushed away by the police, accused of cheating and tortured. From there on the film tracks back the events in his life that have led him to the answers. Along the way we see the pressures that were put on him and his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) and his attempts to find his childhood friend Latika (Frieda Pinto) and rescue her from her life of prostitution.
In some ways Slumdog covers a lot of the same ground as Gran Torino: dealing with social exclusion, sticking to your beliefs and winning through, and also dealing with prejudice. However, whilst Dev Patel’s (and the younger actors) performances are solid I did not enjoy this half as much as I thought I would.
Perhaps it was because I saw it on the back of Gran Torino, but I had more than a few problems with the film: firstly Salim’s descent into crime and murder seemed to come from nowhere instead of developing slowly (which would have made his final realisation of what he had become more realistic). Secondly the character of Latika felt oddly two-dimensional (to me at least). She seemed to exist only as a prize to be won. Whilst it could be argued that this was part of a larger theme connected to the quiz show it made it hard to care about her fate – especially when it was very obvious from the start where things were going (any one who didn’t see the final question and resolution coming a mile off was watching a different film)
Finally, and most importantly, the Quiz show element felt like a clumsy way to tell Jamal’s story and was the weakest element. The film would have been more interesting if it had just told the story straight (and yes, I know it was based on a book) – This was a real shame as it was only in the scenes on the streets of poverty-stricken India where the film really worked.
To be fair the film is a perfectly enjoyable piece of work, nicely shot and with some very good performances throughout – but for me it was just missing that special something that would turn it from a good film to a great one.
If you enjoyed this film you’ll like this: Sadly this doesn’t live up to Danny Boyle’s infamous Trainspotting, but if you like Bollywood movies then you’ll probably like this
Brazil (Terry Gilliam)
Shortly after the success of Time Bandits Terry Gilliam and then co-writer Charles McKewan began working on a series of ideas to follow in the interim whilst they raised money for Time Bandits II (still to surface).
The idea they eventually hit upon was initially titled 1984½
And the best advice I can give to anyone watching Brazil is that if you watch it with the mindset of 1984 On Drugs in mind you will have at least some understanding of what it is all in aid of.
The plot revolves around Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), a very small cog in the machinery of a dystopian future and, on the whole, happy to remain that way. By day he is the man who keeps his boss (Ian Holm) in a job whilst resisting the efforts of his well-connected mother to see him promoted, whilst by night in his small flat with badly working technology and over-complicated plumbing Sam is subjected to a recurring dream of being a superhero, fighting again and again to find and save a mysterious girl.
Things start to get out of control for Sam when the Ministry of Information (effectively the Secret Police) accidentally arrest the wrong man for interrogation, leading to the man’s death. Whilst on a mission to issue compensation to the family Sam finds himself face with the girl he has been dreaming about. It is this encounter, compounded by Sam’s decision to allow Harry Tuttle (Robert DeNiro), the wanted man and renegade plumber, to repair his flat’s plumbing that leads to Sam’s life spiraling further and further out of control as he tries to find and warn the girl and begins to lose his grip on the difference between reality and his dreams.
Brazil is a film that definitely benefits from repeated viewing, as I guarantee the first time you watch it you will end up with your mouth wide-open saying “what the ****” to your TV screen. But the more times you watch it the more you get out of it, and the more layers you see.
There’s so many things that I love about this film that I really don’t know where to start: from the 1950s film-noir costume and sets, to the chaos-theory basis of the story where absolutely everything that happens leads irrevocably and inevitably towards the film’s dramatic conclusion. Every time I see it I’m forced to ask more questions and to re-assess events in the film: just exactly how much of it is what I think?
The main performances are great, especially Jonathan Pryce as the well-meaning but over-enthusiastic Sam Lowry and an unnervingly sinister Michael Palin as Sam’s friend Jack and the use of angle and perspective from the camera add to the unease and surreal feel.
This is a film that you will either love or hate – there is very little inbetween (if you’re merely stupefied watch it again). The story goes that the studios were unhappy with Terry Gilliam’s final cut and tried to force him to change it – Gilliam immediately threatened to burn the negative rather than do so and still feels that the studios deliberately refused to promote his next film (The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen) to teach him a lesson.
If you enjoyed this film you’ll like this: Blade Runner, Time Bandits
On a final note for this post please please take my advice and, whatever you do, no matter how bored you get - never never never watch a film called Pret-a-Porter. It is unsavably shit