Monday, 29 October 2012

Rain On Monday

Rain On Monday
 (Chorus is in bold, Bridge in italics)

The skies are dark and I’m swept away
Under the thumb on some distant day
Take my bruises, come through the pain
Find my hope come back to life again

And I feel it’s gonna rain, on Monday
But I won’t feel blue, coz I’ll make it through
Feel it’s gonna change, so I’m smiling
Coz the skies will clear again

I place the pieces and make them fit
Took so long to make sense of it
Spread my wings and I fly away
Leave my troubles to yesterday

Times are hard, but I just keep on smiling, just smiling
Times are hard, but I know I’ll make it through
Times are hard, but I just keep on fighting
Times are hard, but I let them slip right through (you know it’s up to you)

Feel the silence deserting me
I don’t need any one to rescue me
Watch as shadows are torn apart
Feel the music inside my heart

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Presidential Power Five

Those of you familiar with this blog will already be more than aware that from time to time I give you a list-o-fives.  The basic rules are: 1) they should be five random variations on a theme that is currently in my head, 2) in no way, shape or form actually add up to five

And this morning I was thinking what a thankless task it is being President of the USA: so much hope and expectation on your shoulders to rid the world of all known diseases by the end of your first term - if you have a success the other lot get to claim it was only down to the groundwork they laid and if you fail well then of course you're in the hot seat bucko. 

But lets assume for a second that in reality no man or woman, no matter how great and powerful, can influence the shape the world is taking to any great degree - at most they can probably steer it in what they hope may eventually be the right direction - and have some fun with the role.
As such I present to you, my ever faithful and put upon readers, my list of First Five Things I Would Do If I Were President Of America
#1: Demand To Know What Area 51 Really Is And What Happened At Roswell
Was it an air balloon?  Was it russians dressed as aliens?  Was it an invasion of the French Guild of Cheese Makers or was it entirely more strange?

For years UFO-ologists have been studying the skies over the not-so secret experimental airbase and spotting strange lights in the sky.  Personally I can't help but feel that the clue is in the words "experimental airbase" but they are convinced that whatever it was that fell to earth in New Mexico is stored there and being used to reverse engineer super dooper flying machines.

There are several flaws to this point of view.  Firstly - remember this is the same USA government that couldn't keep Watergate or Monica Lewinski secret and allows people like Sarah Palin to take office - so the idea that they could orchestrate a cover up of aliens regularly popping to the Roswell branch of McDonalds without anyone noticing seems preposterous at best.

Still - it would be fun to find out the truth - and then use my Presidential powers to come up with some even more outlandish explanation and see how many people buy it
NB: the thing that crashed at Roswell was actually an underwater attack vehicle launched by the fish people of Atlantis - you heard it here first people
#2: Put Airforce 1 on e-bay.
There is a rumour that when the British fleet sold off the Arc Royal (big boat) it was done on a website where you could click "add to basket" - if true that is very, very amusing

And let's face it - the world wide economy is in a pretty bad state, with most countries now being in the Trillions In Debt Club, so I'd put up a few of the President's personal assets on the bidding site as a way to solve the financial crisis - start them off at $1 so that everyone has a chance to buy them.

#3: Chose Five Letters Per Month From Families Inviting Me Around To Tea - And Then Turn Up
It must be a thankless task being the Lady In Waiting to Queen Elizabeth - all she must do all day is respond to well meaning children, and adults, asking the Queen an endless array of daft questions such as what is her favourite colour, who looks after the corgis when she's away and would she like to come to their village fete and guess the weight of the cake.

But the legend has it that Queenie has right of access into every home - after all we are her subjects - and can go everywhere except the House Of Lords - and I'd like to think that the US President has equal rites of egress - so my first act would be to go around to some unsuspecting schmuck's house one evening, parking Airforce 1 around the corner (or Airforce 2 if it's sold by now) and demandin milk, one sugar and one of those nice jammy biscuits if you have one

#4: Run Naked Around The White House
Be honest - there isn't one of us who haven't nipped downstairs in the all together, dripping water around the house as we look for a towel, or just gone for a late night snack from the fridge wearing nothing but a pair of boxer shorts and a smile.

And surely the only way for the President to prove that he is as human as us is to walk around 1600 Pensylvania Avenue in the all together - preferably once the crowds of tourists have gone home for the evening

#5: Pass A Law That States My Opponent In The Presidential Election Debates Has To Wear A Clown Costume
Let's face it - once you have that power in your hand it's a hard thing to give up, so you want to strengthen your chances of gaining a second term - if only so you can keep selling off national treasures and hanging around the Roosevelt Room in your PJs
 And the best way I can think of to achieve this is to make the other chap look as foolish as possible during the think I just spotted the flaw in this plan - didn't we have two generations of the George Bush's in the White House??  Damn...

#6: Make America Into A Trademark
That's what we need to solve the economic crisis - big businesses to provide corporate sponsorship.  America - brought to you by Costalot Coffee and the letter "M"

#7: Make Some Policies
On second thoughts....nah


Monday, 15 October 2012

The Joys Of Home Recording

Sometimes its hard to remember that the idea of once recording your own voice in your own home was so much science fiction.  Let's face it - it's a pretty amazing achievement for a bunch of strategically shaved apes that barely a few thousand years ago were trying to figure out how to re-create that nice warm yellow thing that had just burned down their mud hut.

But for those of you who play an instrument and want to record your efforts: whether to play it to friends, sell it on the internet or just to see how you are progressing - the modern world of technology holds a plethora of options.

Firstly, of course, you need something to record it on.  Now, even as a kid back in the dark ages before they invented ballpoint pens (well, ok, not quite that long ago), my dad would occasionally line up two tape recorders and sing "Lloyd George Knew My Father" into one, play back the recording whilst singing in unison whilst the second recorder added to the mix - until finally a whole chorus of voices ascribed to the point that, despite all historical records to the contrary, a former British Prime Minister had, indeed, been acquainted with his male parent.

Clearly the problem with this approach was that as each recording was made a sizeable amount of background noise was also picked up.  Plus there's only an extremely small market for recordings of my dad singing what is, at best, a rather repetitive song (repeat Lloyd George knew my father, my father knew Lloyd George ad infinitum to the tune of Onward Christian Soldiers)

From the mid 90s we had a home recording system that effectively worked in a similar way, running a tape at a different speed and recording on only part of the tape so that you could multi-track.  Again the problem after a while was that the more multi-tracking and mixing you did: the muddier the sound (the most famous example of tape related problems is allegedly when Mike Oldfield had nearly finished Tubular Bells when the tape just disintegrated from constant re-use)

Enter the digital age and, assuming that none of us reading this have the resources to recreate Abbey Road, Real World or Sun Studios at the bottom of our garden and there are three digital solutions.

#1: Computer based
There are a range of software packages available for the budding musician in you including:
Cu-base - professional studio standard recording package.  Can be purchased in full (very expensive) or cut down version (affordable).  Cu-base has a steep learning curve that has lead to the popular phrase amongst Rocket Scientists, "Well, it's not cu-base" (see, you always wondered what it was that they referenced when dealing with a tricky subject)

Garage band - a cut down version can be bought for your latest i-Gadget and the full version for your i-Computer if you can live with the guilty conscience of all those rumors about the Chinese sweat-shops which suffered from a series of news stories about high levels of staff suicide.  Garage band and i-related products have made the news more positively when several major bands used them for entire albums.

Audacity - not really designed for music so much as presentations and therefore slightly limiting in someways, but it's popularity and selling point is that it can be downloaded entirely free

NB: There are many other products for recording on your home PC.  The only problem is that with each of them (with the possible exception of Garage band) you will probably need some kind of input device with which to attach your instrument and definately a high quality mike.  Also if your computer is old or full of other things then you may find that it runs slowly, there is significant delay between playing and hearing and that recording will pause half way through doing something (a problem that in the end made me give up entirely with Audacity)

#2: Self contained
You can buy little boxes that can easily fit into a back pack from £100 upwards depending on how many tracks you want to record and how all singing-all dancing you want it to be.  Some will even come with their own CD burner installed so you never have to go near a computer at all.  Most now come with inbuilt effects and drum patterns

#3: Hybrid
Effectively a box as described above, but that comes with a computer package that allows you to upgrade to a full studio and achieve a great deal more control when mixing and editing. 

Actually recording

First of all chose your song: and please, for the love of humanity - not Lloyd George Knew My Father.

Secondly - to keep yourself honest and in time find some kind of drum accompaniment.  A lot of recording devices will come with a "click track" (effectively a tick-tick-tick that can be set to different speeds) - but i prefer to use a full drum pattern as it helps you to remember changes in the song and is easier to follow as its more than one sound (NB - with most drum machines, especially in-built ones, you can edit the pattern once finished and add fill-ins etc to make your song sound more interesting)

Your next step, if you actually mean business, should really be to play the song through a few times to make sure that Mr and Mrs Error will go and stay somewhere else for the duration - however, if you're like me and not bothered about the occasional "fluff" then just crack on - but make sure that you know when you start what the basic structure of your song is - for instance: INTRO - VS1, CH, VS2, INST, VS3, BRIDGE, END

If it helps then sing along as you go - unless you are using an instrument that has to be miked

Record your basic chord patttern first using whichever of your instruments is the one you want to be the primary (add your supporting instruments later, such as bass as it will help to have the basic structure present)

Add a supporting vocal (again, if you are as lazy as me, this will be your final vocal as well)

Depending on how many different sounds you want you may need to go through the whole song several times (or else select the specific area where you want to record), multi-layering the sound so that you end up with something like this:

TRACK 1: Guitar (rhythm)
TRACK 2: Vocal
TRACK 3: Vocal 2 (if required)
TRACK 4: Keyboard
TRACK 5: Bass
TRACK 6: Lead Guitar (if required)
TRACK 7: Ukulele
TRACK 8: Saxophone

(NB: it's hard to actually picture a song where a Ukulele and a Saxophone could sit comfortably hand-in-hand, but you get the idea)

The hardest thing with all of this is maintaining that picture in your head of how the finished thing is going to sound - keeping the lyrics in front of you (particularly for songs where the chord sequence is repetitive and its easy to get lost) will help, as will writing down a note of where the song changes segment (most recorders come with an internal track time and "part" so that you can edit to specific areas

Finally you need to mix your song - which is largely a process of playing the final thing through and adjusting the relevant volumes so that the sounds you want as primary are clear at any given point - this can take a while and dependent on the method of burning to a CD that you are using may need to be done prior to saving your file.

And that's it - you are ready to go and annoy friends and family with your latest recording.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Five Things That Never Happen In Movies

Yes, hello good (insert local time of reading here) and welcome to the latest of my frequent and florid five-o-things.

Today one of the things that has been floating around in what little of my brain that remains has been a list of things that never happen in films that you would expect to happen in real life.  I'm sure that you, my ever patient reader, will think of many others that I have left off - these are literally the first five that jumped into my head.

#1: No one ever pays a taxi driver
You and I have an entirely different experience of public transport to people in films.  They can always park right outside the place they are going, whereas we get to park in a badly lit garage where muggers business cards are on the walls, their car always starts first time and never has frost on the window, they never stand for twenty minutes in the rain at a vandalized bus stop only for the bus to drive straight past them, the lift is always at the right floor for them to hop on immediately without all that painful need for small talk that the rest of us have to dredge up from the bottom of our brains, when they whistle for a cab it always pulls up straight away, or within a few seconds and no one, ever pays the driver at the other end.

Indeed they leap out of the taxi without a care in the world with no evidential pause during which they could have even vaguely conceivably flung their small change at the driver like an Olympic athlete on heat - and what's more the driver, unless the movie is Taxi, cheerfully heads off on his way as if actually earning money is one of the downsides of another wise pleasant day of driving around the city endlessly picking up total strangers

Also - whilst we're on the subject of public transport I've never seen any movie where the star had to stand or sit in the corridor for two hours having paid £100 for the privilege

#2: No one ever goes to the toilet
Unless it is to pursue an assailant or get beaten up.  This never happens on TV either - for seven years the crew of the Starship Enterprise trawled the depths of space, "boldy going" without ever actually revealling where on the Enterprise it was that they went.  My personal theory is that they didn't have a specific bathroom and that it was either extracted from them whenever they "beamed up" (another reason why no one can scream in space) or else they simply called "computer: toilet" and one appeared out of the wall

#3: Time never obeys its own rules
Take any scene where a bomb is counting down: the villain sets the timer to four minutes and the countdown begins - twelve minutes later in the film the hero deftly defuses the bomb with two seconds to spare - or else escapes leaving it to explode long after the timer went off.  Presumably villains try to save money by buying second hand timers, which is just sloppy when you think about it.  Also - at the vital moment when it comes to chose between cutting the green and the red wire - no one ever gets it wrong, despite any previous ineptitude or color blindness suggested in the film.

Whilst we're on the subject of bombs diffusing why is it that the hero never has any computer problems at a vital moment?  Every hero is able to swiftly able to hack into even the most secure of networks and never, ever has a time out, loses connection or has to sit waiting for five minutes yelling at the screen because their clapped out laptop is taking so long to boot up.  If I were to have to help during a big jewel heist and my computer skills were needed then, based on the time I have to log on to work each morning as opposed to the actual time I am supposed to start, we would need a good solid ten minutes of sitting around staring at a computer that had decided that now was a good time to be reconfiguring its hard drive instead of, oh i don't know, actually starting up.

#4: Police, despite receiving special training, are never actually able to drive at speed
The caveat to this is "unless the main character is a rogue cop" in which case he, or she, will be the sole exception to the rule that on any given corner a certain amount of cop cars will slide, explode, turn upside down or otherwise exit the chase in increasingly over the top methods

Meanwhile, of course, your film's hero will continue to drive like someone who has been competing in formula one for several years, making jumps that should leave his back wheels on the pavement some hundred yards behind him.

#5: The hero never gets seriously injured, no matter what
In the closing scenes of Die Hard 4.0 Bruce Willis finally faces his enemy - who manages to pull him close and press the gun right against his shoulder.  Bruce, desperate to defeat his enemy, pulls the trigger - effectively shooting the bullet through his own body in order to kill the baddie.

Now what SHOULD happen next is that Bruce's arm flies sideways across the room seperated from the rest of his body, whilst he collapses and dies on the spot from a combination of shock and blood loss.  At the very best the internal damage from the shot would leave him unable to ever use the arm again.

However, what actually happens is no repercussions whatsoever - and our hero is able to walk with ease to the ambulance as if nothing of any interest has happened.  This, to me, is one of the main dangers of film - in that we don't show the reality of weapons and as such there's a tendency to think that being shot is nothing much to worry about.  As such I do tend to think that if you are going to show violence in a film then there should also be consequences from that violence.

#6: In real life no one, ever, stops to explain exactly why they are trying to do whatever they are doing
Wouldn't it be nice if they did?  Wouldn't it be great if you walked into your local coffee shop of a morning, ordered a latte and the person across the desk from you said "ha ha, you have fallen into my trap"

Or if every time your boss made a decision they told you exactly why they were doing it at great lengths and giving you lots of time to reach for the letter opener before they finally used the word "sacked" or, even worse, "outsourced"

It would be good news for victims of crime as well if criminals would only stop and explain their back story, thus giving you a few vital minutes to call the police as they inevitably launch into a few moments of over-acting

As usual suggestions for more examples of things that never happen are welcome

Monday, 8 October 2012

Where The Muse Takes You (Apologies In Advance)

Sometimes living with a musician was hard, but ever since Malvolio had moved out she had to admit: she had missed him.

She had missed the endless tuning and the twanging of the strings - the late night "hey nonny nonny's" and "fol-de-rols", even the double entendres of the smuttier songs (not fit for playing outside of an alehouse, but popular nonetheless)

The physician smiled politely as he took her temperature, "still, all is not lost" he told her as he glanced at the instrument hanging from the wall, "at least when he left he didn't get away with the lute..."

Monday, 1 October 2012


Sunday morning and as I look out the bathroom I see the scudding clouds hanging heavy in the sky  - at least they would be if I were pretentious enough to ever describe clouds as scudding.  As is is they are merely busy ominising (if there IS a verb version of ominous)

I spend a minute or two remembering on which particular radiators I left a) my tracksuit bottoms and b) my long sleeved running top (thin but breathable), get some breakfast and jump into the car.

Most mornings, if I'm running before starting work, I just go around the local streets - expanding or reducing the length of the run dependent on the variables that most of us face in the morning which are best defined by the mathematical formula S x Ci >= Tm (sleep multiplied by coffee intake is greater than or equal to the time of morning) however, on the weekend I go to the local park.

The park is mostly flat with only minor incline or declines, paved and lit all the way around the perimeter and with ample parking.  This is what makes it popular with runners, cyclists, people doing army fitness regimes (of their own free will and actually paying for the privilege of being shouted at as far as I can see), sunday league footballers, people with dogs, obnoxious children (there is a specially bred obnoxious child whose sole role in life is to hang out around the swings and yell smart mouth comments like "you need a sports bra mate") and, of course, squirrels.

So I park, lock up the car and do my stretches before walking to my regular start post.  My route is a complete circuit of the park and then back down the central path to the first path back, running until I need to walk, walking until I feel able to run again - for approximately 2 miles if you believe my pedometer

Today though there's a background sound, somewhere from the grass beneath the trees - the sound of drums.

I forget about them for the moment and set off on my jog - doing pretty well considering its been a few days since my last run (usually every 2 days) and some weeks since I was last here: my times for running without stopping are longer and my rests to recovery from the impending coronary are shorter - and it's only as I return towards the car park for the shorter lap that I remember the drummers.

I can hear them quite clearly as I jog down the path and over the small bridge (refusing to stop until I've got past the little old lady with the tiny dog incase she thinks I'm completely feeble), breaking into a walk.

And the great thing about running is that for a brief period your brain stops working.  I mean clearly, it keeps on pumping the instructions to your legs and hands, but for the most part the little monkey with cymbals that lives inside your head and constantly needs entertaining is silent - but of course the second I start walking it kicks in.

Who are these people?  Why are they drumming?  Why are they doing it in a public place?  The thoughts all barrel-roll out like a badly designed game of Donkey Kong and I decide that the only type of people who drum in public on a Sunday morning are the type of people who are either a) very committed or b) need to be committed.  If it's the former then usually the type of people who are very committed to something are religious types.

There you go then, the monkey in my head says, they must be Drumming For Jesus, or Khrishna, or Buddha, or some other deity that decided drums were dutiful to their cause.

Of course I don't actually go up to them to ask what possible reason could bring them to a public space on a Sunday morning to bang their bongos: because mostly in life the myth is better than the reality - and so I leave them be.  Whatever reason has brought them to this place on this day it seems to be making them happy and that's good enough for me.

I climb back into the car and drive slowly towards the exit.  As I leave I catch one last glance of them through the autumnal leaves: still happily drumming away.  Drumming For Jesus: or not, as the case may be.