Friday, 30 July 2010

Wordzzle Daze Are Here Again

OK - so it seems like every week I promise myself that this week I will definately, without any excuses, write a pome for Total Feckin Eejit's Poetry Bus or promise that I will have a go on the Wordzzle set by Raven - and every week time seems to slip away from me and I find that I haven't done anything about either.

So - having yet again failed to get around to writing any of my ideas down and, you know, actually preparing anything it is my intention to just throw my arms up in the air this week and go "oh what the hell - i'll just make something up as i go along".

Which, as usual, is not entirely true - because I do sort of have an idea and I hope it works

As you may know if you've played or read before - each week Raven sets a series of words and you have to encorporate them in some way, shape or form into your story

The words for the challenge are (10 words) sharp, dump truck, charcoal, traffic light, digestive system, argumentative, fireflies, chocolate, volume, options.

For the mini: parameters, shoplifting, adoption, threats, lemonade.

For the mega - all fifteen words

I think this week I will go for the 10 word challenge. This may, or may not, develop into something more...


He turned down the volume on the stereo and pressed his ear closer to the wall. They were paper-thin in these old council houses, so brittle that a good sneeze could bring them down. From the other side he could he could hear them arguing again: screaming blue murder

He took a gulp from the tumbler and winced at the sharp taste of ginger. Sadie said the stuff was good for his digestive system, but the taste always made him long for gut-rot instead.

She was opening the door now, calling him to come and help with the shopping. He ignored her for a second.

'Mark?' She called the name again and this time he turned, trying to hide the annoyance in his eye: none of this was her fault. Five fucking years of listening to shouting from next door, making inane conversation. He was aware the long day was making him argumentative, so he pushed down the anger and forced a hollow smile as he took the first of the bags off her

'How was your day?' he asked

Sophie began a litany of complaints, her thoughts jumping from topic to topic like fireflies. He nodded in all the right places, trying to dissiminate the information. Most of it was stuff he had heard before: none of it useful.

She kissed him lightly on the lips, the taste of chocolate on her tongue. It was amazing how little effort he had to put in these days to make the passion believable.

She was telling him about the evening ahead. There was a leaving-do tonight, staff only. It was a relief in many ways, though it would have been a useful opportunity.

She moved to the cupboard, going through her options of outfits and he took the opportunity to slip the small box deep into her bag where she would never find it, then he swallowed a couple of charcoal pills to quell the uncomfortable feeling in his gut.

Finally she was ready to leave and he paused at the door, kissing her again lightly: feeling nothing. There was a dump-truck across the road, sat at the traffic light and as Sophie climbed into the small car and drove off he nodded at the driver and locked the door, watching from the window as the truck pulled out behind her: following her just out of sight

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

A Proper Guitar Hero

Forget the game where you hit coloured squares and concentrate a bit, because I have a task for you music lovers out there.

Right - here goes. I want you to get a pen and paper and think of 8-10 top quality Guitar legends and write down their names. Scroll down once you've got a list that you're happy with

Scroll down a bit more...

OK - so if you know anything about music you'll probably have bandied the name David (Pink Floyd) Gilmore about and have mentioned Jimi Hendrix somewhere on the list.

You might also have mentioned Jimmy (Led Zeppelin) Page or U2's The Edge (and a bonus point for anyone who knows why he is called "The Edge - answer below for those who don't)

If you're a blues fan you probably said Eric Clapton, BB King or even Robert Johnstone. Maybe you took a shot at Peter (Fleetwood Mac before Stevie Nicks) Green.

Some may have bandied the name George Harrison about, casually mentioned Brian (Queen) May, Pete (The Who) Townsend or even (GnR) Slash (although I'd have to beg to differ there). If you really know your music you might even have mentioned Johnny (The Smiths) Marr (although his involvment in "The Healers" would seem to disqualify him). (if you thought of any others please let me know)

But a name that often gets missed off is Mark Knopfler -and wrongly so in my view.

Knopfler was the chap with the sweat-band and bad hair who, during the late 70s-early 90s fronted the behemoth that was Dire Straits. To quote Douglas Adams Knopfler could make a guitar sing like a choir of angels on a night off from being good, but often gets snubbed because the music of Dire Straits is considered middle of the road and due to Knopfler's penchance for country-influenced music in his later career

But what, I would like to know, is wrong with middle of the road? Personally I like a bit of music that I can just play and feel good with - I don't always want to be challenged by the music I listen to and without a middle of the road how can you know where the edges are?

So, on behalf of an unsung guitar hero, here is Knopfler's rendition of "Local Hero" taken from the Alchemy DVD. Anyone who can listen to this without the hairs on their arms tingling by the end doesn't deserve to have ears.

NB: The Edge gets his unusual moniker from the shape of his nose

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Poetry Bus - All Pomed Out

Greetings fellow bloggers and it's great to be here taking part in my friend Argent's Poetry Bus, as sponsored by Total Feckin Eejit.

And it's been a few weeks since I've been on the bus as I've been a bit pomed out since hosting it myself (and thanks to everyone who played - it was a great response)

And this week the challenge is to make people laugh with examples of our comedy, or to share our thoughts on Unrequited Love

So - I have three entries this week: the first of which is one that, for some unknown reason, Hallmark (the greeting card company) turned down. I can't imagine why.

Love Is...

Love is a Whale lying on a beach
Love is a goal that’s always out of reach
Love is a bottle on a hotel room table
Love is a highly charged electricity cable

Love is a slashed wrist in a shower room scene
Love is a foolish and impossible dream
Love is a bitter pill that you come to rely on
Love is just another floor on which to throw your nylon

Love is a toy that’s never built to last
Love is a question that never gets asked
Love is a rumour that burns inside your heart
Love is a stranger that haunts you in the dark.

OK - so not the happiest of pomes, and for a bit of light relief I want you to think about folk music.

Now - I don't know what folk music means to you where you live but here in the UK several things spring to mind:
* Big, home-knitted wooly jumpers (made from Goat's wool, never sheep)
* Blokes with Art Garfunkel hair and beards the size of a bush
* Pipe smokers (and definately Real Ale drinkers)
* Said beardy bloke standing at the mike with a finger in one ear, his eyes screwed closed and starting each line with a long "Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooh...." before going on about having "e-spied a couple o' lovers' whilst walking 'in the merry month of may'

So here, for your delectation and delight, is a little known song from entirely fictional Folk group called The Pickled Gherkins:

Folk Song

When I was out a walking, in the merry month of may
I espied a couple of lovers, at it in the hay
And there I walked with Mary, who was me true love fair
Until I found she was a man, that's a wig and not her hair!

Singing walk with me, come walk with me, along me garden path
But there's many a snake would bite you, so watch out for your ass
And many a time we'll walk this way and think back to the day
When we were all young lovers, at it in the hay

My daddy was a wealthy man, he was a merchant banker
And many times he'd sail to sea, like a ship without an anchor
Me mammy used to say to me 'becareful what you trust'
And then one day she went outside, and got knocked down by a bus


ok - and apologies to everyone in the known world for that little song.

Finally, despite the request for unrequited love pomes I would like to submit the below ditty, which I wrote for my partner - sometimes referred to on this blog as "herself"

I wrote this about the time that A-ha's penultimate album "analogue" came out, so it's quite influenced by that. I will post the song on my music gadget, so if anyone wants to hear how it goes they can do so. Anyways - here goes:

(NB: for those of you who do listen, the piano you can hear is played by the multi-talented Argent of Delusions Of Adequacy fame)

Changes In The Wind

The waves are breaking on the beach, as the daylight slips away
I want to say a thousand things, but there’s nothing left to say
Though I’m here, in the dark, still I feel the light around me
And I won’t, be alone, while I feel your love inside me

And life don’t matter, money don’t matter
It’s all, just changes, in the wind
And changes can’t break you, because love can save you
And while, I’m with you, we can win

I dream of coming home again, to put my arms around you
I’m finally feeling positive, since the day that I first found you
For we’re here, in this world, and we’ve only got each other
And I know, in my heart, I could never live without you

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Five Books For Your Delectation And Reading Pleasure

Yep, you guessed it - despite the cries for mercy and constant begging from the seven people who read my two previous "list o five" posts we're back with more lame-ass reviews of books wot i like and hope you might like too.

I'll be looking at five books, maybe six, and even hoping to include a few non Sci-Fi novels amongst these tomes. One or two are great favourites - the others are good reads and I would appreciate any comments relating to other books i might like as well as any thoughts you may have had on these books along the way (assuming I am not the only person in the universe to have read them)

#1: "The Long, Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul" by Douglas Adams
Who? One time co-hort and co-writer to (Monty Python's) Graham Chapman, Script Editor to Doctor Who (Tom Baker era) and creator of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy (a franchise in radio, books, TV and film)

The plot: Holistic Detective Dirk Gently is hired by a man who is clearly insane. Clearly insane because he believes he is being hunted by a green scyhte-wielding monster intent on collecting on a contract.

As such Dirk (aka Sylvad Cjelli) fails to take his responsibilities very seriously until his client is unexpectedly murdered. With a scythe.

From thereon in Dirk, who mostly specialises is scamming old ladies, is slowly dragged into a web of intrigue involving the gods of Asgard (specifically Thor), a one-hit wonder, a missing fighter pilot and a very frustrated soft-drinks dispenser

OK - so I should be honest here and say that Adams is my favourite writer, but that for me this is the novel that is most satisfying from a being-a-book point of view. There's something about the early hitch-hiker books that smacks a little too much of radio adaptation and the first Dirk Gently novel (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency) would have probably impressed me more if I had never watched Dr Who - The Long, Dark Tea-Time is both funny and extremely cleverly written with seemingly throwaway references suddenly turning out to be vital and vica versa

Top moments include when Dirk encounters the son of the deceased deliberately watching TV at him and the description of Dirk's bedroom (the light crossing the room like a crowd of angry policemen doing a lot of "what's all thising"). It's one of the few books I can repeatedly read without getting bored.

Other books by the same author: Probably best to start with the first Hitch-Hiker's novel (or even better get the original cast recordings of the radio show), but the best of the bunch for me is the last, "Mostly Harmless". Also "Last Chance To See" is a great book and very different from Adams's usual works

#2: "The Shining" by Stephen King
Who? Horror writer of some repute during the 80s and 90s, now a franchise so big that even regularly publishing his washing list doesn't seem to slow his book sales

The plot: for those of you who live on Neptune and have thus never seen the Stanley Kubrik film starring Jack Nicholson a janitor takes a job at a remote hotel, looking after it during the closed winter season. He takes his wife and his Psychic son Danny along with him. Once there the janitor, who is also an alcoholic and failed writer, attempts to dry out and finish his novel but is slowly driven insane by the ghosts in the hotel that are feeding off Danny's powers.

OK - so having mentioned the Kubrik film I must urge anyone who watched said film and thought "how naff was that" to not let this stop them from reading the book, which is way better. It's one of the few books that has actually chilled me and kept me gripped throughout and the writing is crisp and tight throughout. Admittedly the main character is an arsehole and therefore a bit hard to like, but the pace drags you along.

Other books by the same author: I think it's generally accepted that anything much after 1995 is a no-no, but "IT" and "The Stand" are great long novels and well worth a couple of weeks of your time.

#3: "High Fidelity" by Nick Hornby
Who? UK author who mostly started off by writing about his obsessions and was, for a period, very successful.

The plot: Again, there's a very good film of the book starring John Cusak and Jack Black, but for those of you who don't know - the central character is a kidult (immature adult) who after a particularly spectacular breakup found himself somehow running a specialist record shop where he spends most of his time insulting his few customers. After yet another breakup he finds himself having something of a mid-life crisis and going back to visit all his previous girlfriends to find out what went wrong

This is mainly a book about male obsessions and weaknesses and as a bloke it's impossible to read it without identifying with at least some sections of the book. Hornby writes in the first person throughout as the "hero" slowly realises that it is time to stop living his life in search of fantasy and be happy with what he has.

Other books by the same author: "About A Boy" - very similar plot, also turned into a movie starring Hugh Grant

#4: "The Truth" by Terry Pratchett
Who? Proud to have been the UKs most shoplifted author Pratchett is the man behind the Discworld series of novels - a sort of fantasy/humour crossover about a flat world that exists on the back of four elephants, who in turn stand on a giant turtle (and, as such, a highly magical world). Think "The Lord Of The Rings" with jokes, only more elegant, and you're along the right lines.

The Truth follows the adventures of the Discworld's first newspapers and, like most of his novels, is actually a reflection and parody of our own world. For once Pratchett moves away from his usual stream of recurring characters and gives us a new hero and the book benefits from both this and his usual intelligent wit. Much like Douglas Adams Pratchett is a master of language and uses it to make his point so subtly that you don't realise he's stabbed you with it until later.

Other books by the same author: Probably the best Discworld novel to read first is "Mort", but any that don't feature the Wizzard Rincewind are good (I've never liked this character, and apparently nor has Pratchett)

#5: "Ressurrection Men" by Ian Rankin
Who? Edinburgh born author and multiple winner of crime-writing awards, famous for creating the character of Inspector John Rebus, a former SAS man who had a breakdown and joined the Police and has, due to his attitude towards the job, slowly found himself increasingly isolated and turning into an alcoholic

The plot: John Rebus is on last-chance saloon. His attitude and behaviour has landed him back in training with another bunch of rapidly failing Policemen. During the next few days he has to learn to work as a team to solve the unsolved crime they have been given.

Only things are not as they seem, because John Rebus is actually undercover investigating the other Ressurrection Men on the course to try and find out where the money from a crime went missing - only as they are given the unsolved case Rebus begins to wonder if it is actually himself that is is under investigation...

And that, in a nutshell, is why I love the Inspector Rebus novels - there's always three or four different plots going on together, forcing you to concentrate and dragging you in - sometimes the plots come together and sometimes they don't, you just never know. Ressurrection Men is, along with "The Naming Of The Dead" one of the finest in the series and despite occurring towards the end of the series is as good a point to start as any. Rebus himself is sufficiently flawed to be believably human and the crimes are solved by dogged policework that never stops sounding feasible (none of this gathering all the suspects or uncovering a red headed league)

Other books by the same author: "The Naming Of The Dead", "The Black Book" - the first two Rebus novels ("Knots And Crosses" and "Hyde And Seek") are a bit weaker than the rest, but after that they get very good, very quickly.

#6: "And Another Thing" by Eoin Colfer
Who? Author of the Artemis Fowl series for children

The plot: OK, so I have to admit that I didn't exactly approach this novel with an open mind.

When I heard that someone had been asked to write a sixth Hitch-Hiker's Guide novel (Douglas Adams having died of a heart attack) for the 30th anniversary of the series my initial thought was "probably best left alone"

The main reasoning for this seems to be that Douglas himself had always intended to write a sixth at some point, if only because he was unhappy with the downbeat feeling and ending of the fifth.

Picking up from which: Arthur Dent (who has already survived at least one destruction of the Earth) and his companions are unexpectedly saved from another destruction of the Earth and, further to a chain of unlikely events, embark on a mission to help an immortal finally end his life. Whether this actually happens or not is something I will leave aside for the moment.

The book mostly deals with how the characters (who include the former galactic president, a particularly froody reporter for the guide, Arthur's stroppy teenage daughter and a man who has spent all millenia insulting people) react to their survival via a) recruiting Thor to help the immortal die and b) attempting to save the survivors of Earth from the beurocratic Vogon Constructor Fleets.

So - after I got over the initial "how dare they?" phase (which probably lasted the first hundred or so pages) I found myself reluctantly not hating it and, finally, quite enjoying it.

Colfer is an amiable enough writer and whilst he lacks the command of English that Adams used he manages to capture the characters well enough to make this feel like a Hitch-hiker's novel.

For me the only place it falls down is in the over-use of pseudo-slang and quotes from the Guide, both of which Adams had rather veered away from in favour of something more intelligent. Adams would probably have shoehorned in some storyline about eco-preservation as well, based on the exerpts from "The Salmon Of Doubt" (the story he was working on when he died)

Also (former Galactic President) Zaphod Beeblebrox is a little over-used, especially as he has been absent for so many of the novels, leaving some of the other characters with nothing much to do but wait about.

Still - if you take this as an adventure that occurs within the HH universe and contains some of the same characters you will probably like this - but i would seriously suggest getting up to speed with the originals first.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Mad Axeman Blues

I place my guitar and sax on the ground next to the small, white formica table and listen to the sounds of the cafe. Herself (my partner) sits down opposite and we wait.

Argent and Hubs arrive - I see them crossing the road outside - and we make room for instruments and humans alike.

At 9:55 Ariel arrives. He's a bit of a disappointment at first, because my experience in life to date has led me to believe that all Sound Engineers are 40 stone with long greasy hair, round sunglasses and prone to bouts of insanity. Ariel looks remarkably normal, just clad in jeans and a T-shirt and without even a single wierd ear-piercing to stretch his lobes down to his kneecaps.

He leads us up to the main recording room, taking us up in the lift. We are primed and ready to rock, or at least as ready to rock as two middle-aged IT professionals can be. There are two rooms, linked by a glass corridor that could double for growing some particularly spectacular tomato plants if one felt the urge, but for the moment we allow ourselves to be led into the main room.

He sits down at the bank of computers, stretching and shrinking sounds like a magician. So far he shows no signs of asking us to re-assemble the drum kit on the roof, or waving a gun in our faces (legendary producer Martin Hannett is believed to have done both in his time to various bands and studio execs)

Inside the room there's a bank of machinery that would put NASA to shame. Around the edges of the room are some suitably comfy chairs and sofas and we start to unpack our pariphenalia. There's a brief discussion as to whether we will use one or two guitars on the track. Argent suggests we stick to one, which leaves me feeling a slight twinge of guilt for the rest of the day as this means that I do most of the rest of the work.

My original plan was to think of two songs that I knew would probably take a while to record and to have a third, simpler song, for reserve if we get time - however Ariel soon comes up with a better plan. Apparently you get a much better sound from an acoustic guitar by miking it up in stereo - so it will be simpler to do all the guitar bits first.

So I go through the Infero Corridor and into the recording room where Ariel spends a couple of minutes setting up two microphones and a set of headphones. I become very aware, very quickly, that I will have to refrain from humming or even breathing for the next twenty minutes or so, as every sound I make is picked up.

The first song we try is The Last Night Of The Fair, and we try this a couple of times . I get lost here and there in the chord changes - this is the problem when you can't sing along: you have to be mentally following the words in your head, but also thinking about the right chord changes for that section - and if you have a lot of similar chords throughout it's easy to launch into the wrong bit.

After the second or third try Ariel suggests he gives me a click track (basically a drum beat to keep me in time) - this will mean that if I go wrong again we can just cut into that section of the song and do it again from there. Ironically this time I get it right.

Then we do the basic chords for Down That Road and the chords to this just seem to sail through underneath my fingers without any real problems. The speed of my playing leaves the song with a bit of a Johnny Cash vibe, but I decide that this is No Bad Thing.

Third up is Mad Axeman Blues - the simplest of the songs to be recorded. If I'd realised that we would be doing all the guitar bits in one go then I would have thought about extra bits for this, but it's too late to go back now.

With all the chords in place we put the guitar down on one of the comfy chairs and Argent and I go through to do our Charity Single bit - you know where the clueless member of the latest boyband hugs the headphones to a single ear and croons away for the video in a desperate attempt to re-vitalise their ailing career (oh and maybe raise some money for the charity as well)

Argent decides to sing only on the choruses of the songs so that we have a different feel throughout - her voice is great on the tracks and I'm particularly impressed with her take on Down That Road. We get through most of the lyrics pretty quickly - although I ask to go back and cut into a section where I tried for a note and missed by half a galaxy.

Then it's through to the comfy lounge area where we plug in my bass guitar. Argent relaxes on the sofa like she's been hanging around in music studios her whole life and I add the bass lines, the instrument hung low in the style of Peter Hook (Joy Division/New Order bass player famous for appearing to be fighting his bass to the death). We add bass tracks to the first and second songs, but not to Mad Axeman as I haven't worked one out.

Sometime around here we take a break for lunch and begin to think in terms of a fourth song as things are going so well - I suggest an old song of mine (since this is my treat to myself and Argent has very kindly agreed to help me out) or one of Argent's songs that I'm very keen on

We go back an hour later, having lunched at a nearby pub. I add a guitar solo to Down That Road, having to try two or three times to get it right, before I warm up my saxophone for Last Night Of The Fair. This proves to be one of the trickiest bits, as it comes out a bit reedy and has to be overdubbed and then, consequently I can't play the solo right for the life of me.

The saxophone is an instrument of much unintentional mirth, because it's the one instrument where you can play the right note and it comes out entirely wrong - however we eventually manage to get the right note and I grab a quick glass of water to stave off the heat.

Back in the main room again and Ariel helps to cut out a few of the mistakes, bringing in my sax on time when it had been a second late, cutting in a different vocal at one point and stretching the sound line to neaten up the start and endings throughout.

It slowly becomes clear that we will not have time for a fourth song, but I'm pleased with what we've done and had a great time. Ariel burns two cds of the day - adding a version of Last Night with no saxophone on so I can practice at home. We leave the studio - pleased that Ariel was visibly tapping his foot throughout to the songs and generally happy (although I do wish i had asked him to overdub one section of sax...)

So - for anyone who wants to hear the studio versions of Last Night Of The Fair and Down That Road they are on the audio player for this blog and links to the older videos I pasted

The below is a video for Mad Axeman Blues - I took it on the train to London yesterday because despite the content of the song (and please note: it is not supposed to be a serious song as such) the genus of the idea began thanks to overlong and painful commutes.

For those of you who wish to know - my company paid £120 for the priveledge of me sitting in a corridor for an hour. As usual there were four 1st class carriages sitting empty. No wonder we all prefer to travel by car.

Mad Axeman Blues

When I finally go mad with an axe darling, you’ll be the first
Of the stains that have blackened my soul, honey yours were the worst
Though I tried and I tried just to wipe the slate clean
I just have to face facts: I’ve been living a dream
When I finally go mad, When I finally go mad
When I finally go mad with an axe darling, you’ll be the first

When the scientists find the right answer, they’ll know you’re to blame
Though the fingerprints vary the lies will remain just the same
When there’s no hiding place and you’re faced with the truth
Then the DNA strands will deliver the proof
When the Scientists find it, when the Scientists find it,
When the Scientists find the right answer they’ll know you’re to blame

You think you’re something, but I’m the exception
Cos every time I just faked my erections
I can’t explain why I’m still here with you
Could it be I’ve had nothing much better to do?

When the military forces surround us they’ll take us to task
They will burn our disguises and show what we hid behind masks
When they’re cursing and calling my name out to me
Will you finally see how bad you’ve treated me?
When the military forces, when the military forces
When the military forces surround us they’ll take us to task

I’ve never been perfect, my soul has its blisters
When I couldn’t find solace I slept with your sister and
We hurt each other whenever we fight
But it seems I still miss you when I turn out the light

When we finally admit we’re in love I just hope we’re in time
If our bridges have burned we’ll be stuck at the scene of the crime
If we can’t say it now we should just walk away
Or we’ll get to the point where there’s nothing to say
When we finally admit it, when we finally admit it
When we finally admit we’re in love I just hope we’re in time

When I finally go mad with an axe darling, you’ll be the first