Friday, December 22, 2006

Happy Christmas!

I'm sitting in the office drinking wine, which is how things should be. I'll be off to Birmingham for a few days in a bit, where I shall divide my time between paying respect to the aged parents, listening to the Fall, putting up Christmas decorations and over-indulging. And sleeping. Plenty of sleeping. Back in a week or so. Happy Christmas to all my loyal readers (both of you)!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The perils of Christmas parties.

So, we met up in the pub, then went on to the restaurant, I took my place, took off my coat, removed my jumper, and one of the lenses fell out of my glasses because a screw had fallen out. I scrabbled around on the floor, but had to accept that it was gone and I'd be spending the rest of the evening squinting. Now I must wear my old specs that make me look like Harry Potter. On the other hand, I get to spend my lunch hour tomorrow trying to find an optician who's prepared to give me a screw. Innuendo always makes things seem better.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Booze and work - the fatal combination

I have had the definite feeling lately that there is one week too many before Christmas. Surely work should have stopped last week?

The season of too many nights out on the sauce is upon us. I shall be a physical wreck by next week, even more than usual. Tonight is the Work Meal. I fear for my liver.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Fall marathon 4: Room To Live

"Room To Live - Undilutable Slang Truth!" is an album I only heard for the first time a year or so ago. My mate Jason, who got me into The Fall, didn't have the album (the only one he didn't have) and it was long out of print, so until it was finally re-released last year it remained a mythical, reputedly un-listenably obscuritan beast. Which of course is a red rag to a bull as far as I'm concerned.

Now, the line-up for this album is essentially the same as "Hex Enduction Hour" (quite unusual for the Fall) and it was recorded hot on the heels of that album, so it's no surprise to find a lot of the same dense, angular feel of that album. And Smith's lyrical concerns are certainly obtuse, even for him. What's more surprising listening to it now is that it seems to be an idiosyncratic take on easy-listening music. joker Hysterical Face and Marquis Cha-Cha in particular coming across like Lounge-core from Hell. Hard Life In Country starts off as another mantra-drone minimalist Fall track, but is embellished by a guitar line which wouldn't be altogether out of place on a Spandau Ballet song. The effect of this funky disco strumming set against the oppressive repetitiveness of the rest of the song is extraordinarily disorientating, and coupled to Smith's paranoid lyrics the overall effect is one of claustrophobia. "Room To Live" is in classic Fall-rockabilly vein, but with the sort of john Barry-esque cimbalom flourishes that would later become familiar from Portishead. "Detective Instinct" is just terrifying! Solicitor in Studio comes across like an evil Madness. "Papal Visit" is not really like anything else you'd be likely to hear on a pop album, and almost seems like "anti-music"; Smith has suggested that at the time this record was meant as a two-fingered salute to the record industry (and possibly a farewell), which explains that, I guess.
Probably not the Fall's finest hour, but a neglected and underrated gem, I think.

A mild surprise

Torchwood wasn't shit last night. Is this because it was better or because my expectations have dropped that much further? This conundrum can be expressed by the equation a=e(r/e), where a represents appreciation, e represents expectation, and r represents reality. Thus, a high expectation combined with a disappointing reality will lead to a lower satisfaction than something you expect to be a steaming pile of dog shit, which turns out not to be as bad as you thought it'd be. This equation explains why it's possible to gain more enjoyment from an above-par episode of a crap sitcom than a quality period drama adaptation that's as good as, but no better, than you expected.

Unrelated: There's a post by Shane MacGowan on the Guardian blogs today noting the anniversary of the death of Kirsty MacColl. I was listening to some of her songs with Cheerful One on Saturday night. Life's full of little coincidences, not always happy.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Fall marathon 3: Hex Enduction Hour

There's a moment during Hex Enduction Hour that seems like an encapsulation of everything that's great about this record. we're at the end of the near 8 minute lanquid spinning of "Hip Priest", which fades away, to be replaced by... a bontempi organ beat. This is wildly incongruous, and very funny. That is then swamped by a fierec guitar attack reminiscent of the Magic Band or Zappa, which then seques into a driving garage beat, before ending up in the same territory as the Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray", wailing organ and all. And this all happens in the space of about 2 minutes. But without ever sounding like anyone other than the Fall.
This is the sound of a band on the verge of combustion, the savagery and violence of the invective on opener "The Classical" palpable. There's a story that, incredibly, The Fall almost signed for Motown during this period. It never happened, and you have to wonder what they made of the tape they were sent of this, Mark E. Smith spitting out such user-friendly lines as "Where are the obligatory niggers? Hey there, Fuck Face! Hey there Fuck Face!" As he spews out bile in the general direction of British pop culture. "Jawbone and the Air-Rifle" adopts a wryer tone... "Who'd have thought they would do harm?" asks Smith in a mild tone that belies the subject matter of war and violence. "Hip Priest" was memorably used in "The Silence of the Lambs", and it's easy to see why, its languid spinning paranoia and mantra-like delivery providing a chilling contrast to what's gone before. That's what this record's about, really - long quiet, bleak expanses punctuated by sudden violent, frenzied activity, often laced with black humour. It's like a cut-up presentation of the Apocalypse.

By the time we get to "Iceland" it feels we're on the other side of the universe from "The Classical", floating in a sparse and pallid landscape.

Then we're abruptly dragged into "And This Day", a relentless march that takes us further beyond. it makes me think of those characters of lovecraft, abandoned in the antarctic wastes, attempting to articulate the undescribable majestical horrors they have witnessed. Ai Cthuhlu! An appropriate reaction, I think, considering thast at the time the band thought this might be their final album. If it had all imploded, this would have been one hell of an exit. There's so much depth to this record, compared to the vapid posturing that makes up so many bands' output. It's a record that needs to exist.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Fall marathon 2: Grotesque/Slates

One thing that keeps coming to mind as I go through these early albums, which isn't something generally associated with The Fall, is how much they groove. Everyone knows about the more angular influences - 60s garage rock, Beefheart, Can, etc. - but it's too easily forgotten that they come as much from a background of Northern Soul (and attendant amphetamine culture), and those kind of influences can be discerned in tracks like "C'n'C-s Mithering" from their third album, "Grotesque (after the Gramme)". Smith's caustic sense of humour seems to come more to the fore on this album, through such songs as "The Container Drivers" and "English Scheme", where barbed comments on the UK music scene reveal another of his perennial bugbears. All the elements from the first two albums seem to click into a greater whole on this album,

and the result is their most satisfying long-playing outing so far.

"Slates" is, strictly speaking, an E.P. rather than an album, but it's one of my favourite Fall records, so I certainly wasn't going to skip it. I remember an interview with Steve Albini In one of the inky music papers where he named it as a favourite album, describing it as "a weird band at their weirdest", and that certainly holds true, not just for the angular, atonal guitar stabs in opener "Middle Mass", but the surprisingly emotional "An Older Lover etc", as well as the heartfelt "Leave the Capitol". it's only 6 songs long, but this is as substantial a record as any they've made, and I'm tempted to say it's the first truly essential Fall record, one that belongs in everybody's collection, whether they're interested in the Fall or not. And it prepares the way for an absolutely blinding record, which is next on my pile...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Fall marathon, part 1

The Fall, who are just about my favourite band in the world, have a new album out in February. In celebration, I have decide to listen to every Fall studio album between now and then in chronological order. Today I listened to their first album, "Live At The Witch Trials", and the follow up, "Dragnet".

What's remarkable about these two albums is how complete the Fall were right from the start. There's no sense of finding feet, the sound's pretty much right there from the off. "Witch Trials" has some superficial similarity with the nascent post-punk scene (e.g. P.i.L.), but the soul of it is entirely Fall-ish, Mark E. Smith's idiosyncratic vision apparently emerging fully formed. One thing that does startle after so many years not hearing this early stuff is how clear Smith's enunciation is compared to the bilious drawl he's latterly adopted - not that that makes understanding his oblique lyrics much easier.

It's worth noting that by the time they recorded their debut album, the Fall had already been through several of the line-up changes that would become a recurring feature of their career.

Some people think all the fall's records sound the same, but then again some people think all Haydn's music sounds the same, and they're wrong too. "Dragnet", made within a year, sees the band determined to push forward and avoid repeating themselves - an admirable attitude that many bands now would do well to note. So the sound here is denser and more intense, with a harder, rockabilly-inspired edge coming to the fore. There's even an oblique nod of the hat to the disco craze of the time, evident in "Psykick Dancehall". If the core influences of '60s garage bands aren't quite as deeply ingrained as they were to become, there's always Smith's voice to lend the distinctive tone. And the grinding paranoia of "Before the Moon Falls" and "Spectre vs. Rector" needles its way into the skull in a way that many more recent bands would love to be able to do.

When I first decided to dig out these old records, I wondered how well they'd come up after all these years. I'm happy to report that they sound wonderful, incredibly fresh, and with a grating lo-fi sound that sounds positively subversive in these super-smooth digital times.

As Smith says in the intro of the excellent live album "Totales' Turns" from this era, "The difference between you and us is that we have brains!"

Monday, December 11, 2006

Oh, the weather outside is frightful...

But who cares when we have such lovely tasteful decorations in the office?

Even Elgar's getting into the mood!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

One in the eye for The Man

The Gowers Review of Intellectual Property has been published (if you can't face wading through the whole thing there's a good precis here), and it's good to see that it rejects the recording industry's argument for extending copyright on recordings, as well as making some other recommendations that nudge copyright law in a more enlightened direction. There's still a long way to go - I believe that the whole concept of intellectual rights needs to be radically re-thought - but, assuming the government follows the report's recommendations, this is a significant victory for creative freedom against corporate greed. And of course Mick Hucknall.

On an altogether less worthy note, here's a splendid tribute to Paris, Britney and Lindsay.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Captain America cheers me up

Some days you just wish you hadn't got out of bed. We have this irritating Nazi phone system at work which works on the assumption that all we do is sit around waiting for the phone to ring. So when you're busy doing something it sometimes feels impossible to make any headway, as you're constantly interrupted by phone calls from people who want things doing NOW! NOW!. We also had a visit from a large group of librarians today (god knows why) who spent a long time milling around right in front of my desk drinking tea, which made it impossible to concentrate on work for the feeling of being in a goldfish bowl. And also made it impossible to get at the kettle and make tea for myself. Oh, and they've put this new door in the office which you need one of those fob things to open, but as i haven't yet been given a fob thing whenever I leave the office I'm locked out and on my return have to stand at the door knocking and looking through the glass trying to capture someone's eye like an abandoned puppy. GRRRR! At least I had the mighty Fall in the CD drive to channel the irritation. And I have this splendid picture on my desktop, which makes me laugh, in that way that only rude words can :

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Monday, December 04, 2006

pitch slack

A friend sent me this article about Robert Johnson today... I'm not sure how convinced I am, but it's an intriguing theory.

On a completely unrelated note, isn't it great once again to hear "Soul Limbo" as the theme music for cricket on telly? :)

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Damo Suzuki

David Cronenberg's Wife want to be the Fall. They really want to be the Fall. Except for the bits where they want to be early REM. But the singer can't sing quite well enough to carry that bit off.

Kontakte take their name from a piece by Stockhausen, and have a heavy Eno influence. It's a bit like shoegazing performed by competent musicians, which is not meant as a sleight. They have moments that suggest brilliance. They need to have the courage to do less. The opening of their set was magical, then the drum machine kicked in and it became a bit more ordinary, albeit with flashes of magic.

I mention the support bands partly because they're worth mentioning, but mostly because members of them form Damo Suzuki's band. This is how he works: he turns up in whichever city he's performing in, picks up some local musicians, and then, in the fashion of a krautrock Mickey Rooney, does the show right here.

I'm being flippant. I shouldn't be, because this show was one of the best gigs I've been to in ages. I can't really describe it, because there's no set list, just a free-flowing stream of consciousness, the band flying while Damo sings, burbles and growls at whim on top of it all. It all ought to be a disaster and self-indulgent nonsense, but it isn't. It's magical. He's a shaman, and I find myself drawn into his sound-world, my mind in a trance, my body moving instinctively to the music. I feel as I think I might at some primitive ritual, where the sheer force of sound transports me from my physical existence to another plane. If you think this sounds pretentious, I don't care, really, because this is how it felt. It's primal, gutteral stuff, a relentless, hard rocking beat underpinning a welter of sound from guitars, one-string bass (a strange looking contraption that looks like a broomstick that's been strung and plugged in) and violin that's almost palpable in its intensity and volume (my ears rang all the way home). He played for an hour and a half, and I'd have been happy if he carried on all night. When he eventually draws the evening to a close (more at the behest of his band than any desire of his own, it seems) he is applauded rapturously by the audience. I'm at the front, and I get to take his hand, and bow to him in a gesture of gratitude. He bounds beyond me into the audience, and proceeds to hug pretty much everyone, as far as I can see. That doesn't make me feel less special. This is a man of huge generosity of spirit, and to him we're all special. This is the only show he's playing in this country this time, I have a feeling we'll all be back for the next one though.

Fuck it, this is how music should be.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Hucknall the idiot

Ginger Charlie Drake lookalike, ageing lothario and all-round twat Mick Hucknall wrote this article in the Guardian the other day. It's worth reading for the comments posted after it comprehensively demolishing his "argument". Go on, read it. Read it and laugh at the stupid ginger tosser. And then tell him what a stupid smug wanker he is. Do it. Do it.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Some random thoughts on No Music Day

Avoiding music's very difficult. I'm not sure if it's harder in a music library or not. the obvious course would have been to take the day off, but I've already used up my holiday allowance for the year, and anyway, where's the challenge if you take the easy way out?

Here are most of the incidents of inadvertent hearing of music that happened to me:

tinny sound leaking from iPod/Walkman headphones: 2 (less than I'd have expected)
colleague playing CD in stock room: 2
whistling: 12 (much more than I'd have expected)
sounds from colleagues' PC: 2
singing: 1
inadvertent playing of music by Resonance FM: 3
Mobile phone: 2 (much less than I'd have expected)

I found myself putting Resonance FM on the PC headphones for most of the day, just to block out the noise in the office. it really drove home how noisy the place is. This is what I use music for normally during the day. I feel very bad about this, but I'm not sure I could bear to sit here without that shield. Maybe I'm just basically intolerant and antisocial. I don't think I am, though. This is one to ponder at length. Is it just the lack of control over sound that grates?

Spoken word stuff doesn't smother ambient noise nearly as well as music.

It's much harder to listen to non-musical sounds and work at the same time. Does this mean that my mind can absorb music on a more basic level, or just that I'm not really listening?

I heard some very interesting things that I would probably never have listened to otherwise.

I really, really, hate the sound of whistling.

When you're trying to avoid it, hearing music can be rather painful and stressful.

If I'm using spoken word and ambient recordings to the same purpose as music, does that make them music?

Conversely, if I hear music and treat it as unwanted noise and avoid it, does that stop it being music?

How would my experience have differed if I'd stayed at home, in an environment I could control? Would it have been calmer, or more stressful?

I've always been aware of the way music is imposed on us - it's different from other art forms like that. If there's a painting in the room you can avert your eyes, but if someone is playing music you can't really avert your ears. Today really rammed that fact home, it's that imposition that robs music of its meaning, it just becomes more noise.

Why are we afraid of silence? If you read the statements on the No Music Day website, there are some extraordinarily aggressive posts against the idea of going for a day without. I had a mini-argument with one colleague who really seemed unable to comprehend the idea, and could only make smug snobbish comments along the lines of "oh well, I suppose some music's very easy not to listen to." I found myself thinking what a small world he inhabits, and how awful it must be to have such a blinkered outlook.

I think I've become more aware of a very fundamental need/desire for music as a result of spending a day shunning it.

Throughout the day I had various pieces/songs pop up in my head. If I have music in the front of my imagination, even though I'm not physically hearing it, am I really experiencing a day without music?

I've gone straight back to listening to music today. Am I really any better than a junkie?

There are too many unanswered questions here. I'm going to have to do it again next year.

Anyway, Hail! bright Cecilia, and all that.

Monday, November 20, 2006

No Music Day

Tomorrow is No Music Day. No music will be posted here tomorrow, nor anything on the subject of music. Please do not look at or attempt to perform or in any way interact with any of the music here, or anywhere. Thank you.

Friday, November 17, 2006

release the music

Copyright's a subject I've long had mixed feelings about, and indeed it was partly thoughts about it that prompted me to start this blog. The pieces I post here are intended to be free for anyone to use as they will for any non-profit making purpose, in the spirit of the creative commons principle, and I've long thought that current copyright law is not only inadequate to cope with a world in which sampling exists and the presence of the internet is making national differences in the laws governing creative activity unsustainable, but actively harms composers' (and any creative artist's) ability and freedom to create. Think of J.S. Bach's arrangements of Vivaldi or Mozart's rewriting of J.C. Bach, and you'll have an idea of the kind of thing I'm thinking of as work which is vital to a composer's development, but which is rendered illegal by current law.

Now the recording industry seeks further to limit artists' ability to react with the culture around them by campaigning to have the duration of copyright on recordings from 50 to 70 years. They claim this is in the interests of the artists, but the truth is that all they are really interested is maintaining their grip on a cash cow. I believe that to change the law in the way they propose would be not just capitulating to corporate greed, but an act that would actively damage the cultural life of this country.

I won't bore you with facts and figures, you can find all the information you need here. What I will do is implore you to go to the Release the Music website and add your name to their petition.

Of course it's important to protect artists' livelihoods, and record companies are entitled to profit from their business like any other. But it's also important that creative work be allowed to pass into the public domain, where it can become the seed for new work. because if we can't do that, what on earth's the point?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Fast N Bulbous

I love Captain Beefheart. Let me make this clear. I need to convey how much I love Beefheart before I talk about this gig, so please bear with me.

When I was about 15, I liked to think of myself as someone who could get all the weird shit no-one else got. I listened to the Mary Chain, I listened to 8 Songs for a Mad King... I took pride in finding sense and truth in sounds others dismissed as noise.

And then, in the space of a few weeks, I did 2 things: I borrowed Bitches Brew from Birmingham Central Library and bought Trout Mask Replica.

These two albums were like nothing I could conceive of. There was nothing I could hang anything on, they were both just so far out. But I could hear, somewhere in this confusing noise, SOMETHING. Something very important that I knew I had to grasp, no matter how long it took.

In the event, it took me the best part of 10 years to understand those records. And it was worth every second when I reached that point when suddenly everything clicked and they became as clear as the simplest nursery rhyme to me. Since then I've always harboured a suspicion that any really great music takes a decade to understand, and if it doesn't, it's not really worth it.

Anyway, the point is that I love this music beyond reason. So when I heard that ex-Magic Band guitarist Gary Lucas was coming to these shores with a new band dedicated to performing the Captain's music, I was intrigued, but also wary. I've seen Lucas perform before, both in his own right and with various collaborators, including the reconstituted Magic Band, so I knew that at least the evening would be a well presented, respectful display of Beefheart's music.

What I wasn't really prepared for was that the band would do something I'd have doubted possible: they didn't just play the tunes, they worked them to create something new. Everything they played was familiar, yet also sounded as if it were being recreated right in front of me. This show was presented under the aegis of the London Jazz Festival, and it succeeded purely in the terms you might expect from that: it presented Beefheart's music as a living, breathing thing, no museum exhibit.

I went expecting some good musicianship and some rekindling of memories. I got that - Gary Lucas played Evening Bell and Flavor Bud Living about 2 feet away from me, for chrissakes! - but I ended up buying the album, and more importantly, I went home dizzy in the joy of having been reminded in the best possible way why I love this music.

Do I sound lime a raving fanboy? I don't care. This was one of those rare evenings when I really felt the full force of what music is capable of. Did I mention that I LOVE Captain Beefheart?

Bowmans update: They're nearly there, but they still need your votes, and all your friends, people! Get on over to the Deli and do that voting thang! And then make your friends do it. And their friends. (&c.)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Monday, November 13, 2006

Seems a while since I did one of these... there's always a slump when you've finished a piece, when suddenly something that's been in your mind for weeks or months (or longer) is no longer there, so this is the time when it's important just to write stuff, without worrying about quality. Keep the brain working.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Hail! Herbie

Herbie Hancock took the stage at about 8.10, and looked about 20 years younger than he actually is. God, I hope I look that good if I reach that age. Seaton and I had me up in the aptly named World's End pub down the road at 6-ish. He was early, I was late, a first for both of us, I think. When we got there they were playing Guns N Roses as if the '90s had never happened, and Strictly Come Dancing was on the big screen, which led to some touching male bonding as we admitted our mutual addiction to the programme. Things got beyond parody when they started playing Spinal Tap.

Anyway, we moved on to have a very nice Vietnamese curry, then to the Roundhouse, the first time I've been there. If it had been a rock gig, I'd have said it was a small, intimate venue. But for a jazz gig, it was a cavernous barn, and this was a lot of the problem with this gig. The half-hour of African-influenced ambient stuff would have gone down very well in a venue like Ronnie Scott's, but in the roundhouse it was just a cue for many in the audience to have a very loud natter.

If I'm giving the impression that I didn't enjoy this gig, that's not right. I loved parts of it. There was a certain amount of Weather Report style noodling which tested the patience, but there were also moments of transcendence. Herbie is of course renowned for what he's done to make the synthesiser an acceptable instrument, and there was plenty of evidence to support this, but for me the best moments were those when he sat down at the piano and let rip. He's done an awful lot of groundbreaking things in his time, but at the heart of it is the fact that he's a phenomenal keyboard player, and it was in the moments that I heard that, unencumbered by sound effects or stylistic statements, that the force of the man was truly to be felt.

I took my camera along, but way at the back as I was, I couldn't get a decent shot. Them's the breaks.

p.s.: today's obligatory Bowmans plug: Please go to the Deli Magazine and vote for the twins in their Band of the Month poll. They're currently second, and they really should be first. Let's make it happen!

Friday, November 10, 2006

more gigology

Tonight I went to the Bedford in Balham, where a lot of fine people were playing, but I was mainly there to see the excellent Bowmans, whose album (which you can, and should, buy here) is one of my very favourite things at the moment. In fact, I rate them so highly I skived off my orchestra rehearsal to go. I was lucky enough to nab them for a quick chat, and I'm pleased to say they're as nice as they are talented. And their album's ace, did I mention that? Really, buy it.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

sound and vision

Tonight I went to see the Photophonic Experiment at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The basic idea of the show was the interplay between light and sound, using light sources to generate noises. If that all sounds rather esoteric, the result wasn't: There's a very simple delight in hearing sounds resulting from flashing or moving light, and the sheer playfulness of the project came across wonderfully. Well, I enjoyed it, anyway. Sometimes it's good just to revel in sound.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Joy of Colds

One of the advantages of being ill, as I've been for the past few days, apart from the fact that it forces you to stay sober and go to bed early, is that your brain goes haywire and dredges up old things you'd forgotten about, which makes for much surfing fun. And oh joy! I see that finally, the excellent Police Squad is coming out on DVD. I first saw this at some ungodly hour on TV in the '80's and it remains one of the funniest shows of the past 25 years, absolutely stuffed full of gags that demand and repay repeated viewings.

While I'm on the subject of obscure things that are about to become available again, Vivian Stanshall's bizarre and insane Sir Henry At Rawlinson End finally resurfaces very soon. I can't really describe it in any way that would do it justice, really, suffice to say that Stanshall was a comic genius in the same league as Spike Milligan, and you really should watch this.

Oh, I've just updated Big Dog's Kennel, so go along and have a look at that. I was looking over sketch books and the like the past couple of days, and I didn't quite realise how many unfinished ideas I had sitting about, so with any luck I may get back into the habit of putting new stuff up a bit more regularly than I have done recently.

Finally, because - hell, I don't need a reason - here's a picture of my nephew:

Thursday, October 19, 2006

"The complete consort dancing together"

Last night Kensington Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 50th anniversary with a concert at the Barbican.

We'd been worried about the risk of booking a hall like that - what if nobody came? We'd have been in a very deep financial hole, for one. Fortunately everyone worked incredibly hard to sell the gig, and over the past week or so, it became clear that far from struggling to minimise our losses, we were looking at the possibility of a sell-out. The last few days I lost a lot of time to regular visits to the Barbican website, willing those last remaining tickets to go. When I arrive at the hall yesterday lunchtime to set up, I was told there were only 25 seats left unsold.

It felt very strange, almost surreal, to stand on that stage as we hauled percussion instruments into place and look out at the empty hall, and to think that we'd be on this side of the performer/audience divide in a matter of hours. As the players arrived, and we began to rehearse, there was a palpable air of excitement, but more remarkably a kind of serenity. No sense of nervousness, just of expectation, that after all the work that has gone into preparing for this night, not just in rehearsing these particular pieces or haranguing anyone and everyone to buy tickets, but over many years to raise the orchestra's standards and ambition to the point where playing the Barbican seems appropriate rather than hubristic, this was a defining moment, the top of a mountain from where we could look back at where we'd come from, and out to the peaks that stand ahead.

Perhaps I'm being a bit over the top here, but what the hell - I'm damn proud of this band and what it's achieved, and of the fact that I get to play in it. As our conductor Russell Keable said in the article in the concert programme, an amateur orchestra can exist for the indulgence of its members or it can try and make a difference, and that's what makes KSO such a rewarding thing to be part of.

Strangely, the size of the audience doesn't really register, I think partly because of the steep banking of the seats in the auditorium. And anyway, the audience tends only to register peripherally when you go onstage - there are too many things to think about without getting nervous at the thought of all those people waiting to hear you. What did make a powerful impression, however, was the sound of the applause. In the places we normally play, the couple of hundred or so people sitting there certainly make a noise, but there are always hints of individual pairs of hands. Here, there was a kind of whooshing sound, like waves on a shingle beach. It was a noise that utterly transformed the evening, and suddenly brought into focus the specialness of the occasion.

Afterwards, we drank in the bar until midnight, and everyone shone with giddy joy at what had just happened. And the next day we got ready for the next 50 years.

Monday, October 09, 2006


I went back to Birmingham this weekend, for my parents' golden wedding anniversary. It turned out to be a good do, it was just the immediate family (although that's still 15 people, including my brother's newborn). It's always a source of mild anxiety when we all get together, as there's we're not a particularly close bunch, and there can be tension between us (especially the older ones), never explicit, but always hanging in the background. But there was relatively little of that, everyone behaved themselves, the food was great (courtesy of Syd the chef, who was absolutely lovely as well as being a wonderful cook). The bombshell came at lunch on Sunday, when my 2nd brother announced he was getting married. I'd had an inkling this was coming, but it was still a shock to hear this actually said. It's a complicated situation for all sorts of reasons, but I'm certainly not in a position to criticize anyone else's love life, so I can only wish them all the best.

In a parallel universe of awkward family ties, 2000 AD is currently running Origins, which will over the course of the next 6 months or so lay out definitively the tale of how Judge Dredd's world came to be. It's written and drawn by Dredd creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, and is well worth anybody's time. It's only up to Episode 4, so there's still time to jump on board. What Wagner's done with Dredd over the past 30 years is little short of miraculous, it's still one of the finest pieces of social satire you'll read anywhere, and this story promises to be a landmark, so you really should take out a subscription to the comic.

On a sad note, one thing that's missing from this tale is the lettering of tom Frame, who died recently. Lettering is the Cinderella job in comics, often un-noticed, but essential, and tom's work was as much a part of Mega City One as Wagner's prose or the drawing of Ezquerra, MacMahon, Bolland, and all the artists who've contributed to the strip over the years - in fact, even Wagner himself takes second place to Frame as the most prolific talent to work on Dredd not to mention the many other stories he worked on in his career). Please remember him by contributing something to this excellent charity:

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Vworrrp! Vworrrp!

Today I felt more excited than I ever have about where I work when I found out what's lurking 3 floors below my office.

In case you're not a spod, I should explain that the title of this post is the rendering of the tardis's dematerialisation sound that they use in the comic strips published in Doctor Who magazine since the late '70s. Some of these strips are quite brilliant, and there's one in particular that's reprinted in this book featuring an old-school cyberman beautifully drawn by the great Mick McMahon.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Mules

I've been listening to The Mules' album, and I think you should too.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Cycling is bad for your health

They don't tell you about this sort of thing... Yesterday I had an all-day rehearsal, the first for Kensington Symphony Orchestra's 50th birthday concert (tickets available here). And to my surprise, I had enormous difficulty with my bowing - my muscles have obviously all been strained in the wrong way riding my bike and not practising over the summer, and I can't get any force into the bow at all, in fact by the end of the day I was having trouble even holding it. I hope this will rectify itself over the next few days with plenty of practice. There's a lesson for you here, kids!

This afternoon I went to see Children of Men, an excellent, visceral yet thoughtful sci-fi thriller that I heartily recommend to you.

Saturday I cycled down to the Warehouse to see a couple of the BMIC's Finnissy weekend concerts celebrating Michael Finnissy's 60th birthday. It was a great pleasure to hear his music, and to catch up with Michael, who looks very chipper, and as ever is a delight and a gentleman.

While I'm in the business of telling you what to do, if you haven't yet discovered Bryan Talbot's masterful comic The Tale of One Bad Rat, you really should do everything in your power to track down a copy of this deeply moving story, I really can't praise it enough, it's one of the most moving things you'll ever read.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Bless me Father, for I have sinned...

I'm a very, very bad man. I hid a penis in someone's leaving card.

Let me explain. First, you need to know that at the office in which I work, we've developed a tradition of making cards for birthdays, leavings etc rather than buying some crappy shop one. It's a good tradition that more offices should adopt.

Secondly, you need to know that the person who left my office today is someone I dislike. I'm not often one to dismiss anyone totally, I like to try and see the good in people on the whole, but this particular individual is an arrogant, stupid, lazy little shit.

(In my humble opinion, of course.)

The card you see above was not conceived by me, but as I'm one of those at work with a moderate sense of design and drawing ability, I often get asked to realise others' concepts. In this case, the idea was a pair of wings (symbolising the leaver's taking flight into greater things), and, as a later addition, a figure like one of those you get in old maps with an old man representing the winds.

So I cut out some wings, and drew the old man. But my evil streak took over, and I drew the wing outline in a certain way. If you've studied art beyond a very basic level, you may be familiar with the concept of negative space, where the outline of the supposed object in the picture actually conceals another. Now, look between the wings at the shape produced by them. Can you tell what it is yet?

I'm slightly disappointed, but also relieved, that apparently no-one spotted this. But fuck it, that's what I think of that little tosser, and I'm immensely glad he's gone.

Of course, once you see the cock, it raises all sorts of questions about what the bearded chap's doing. But that's another story.

fragments of other people's lives, #1

Overheard at Liverpool Street Station:

Man on phone: "So she said, y'know, I don't pay her enough attention an' that... so I started, y'know, calling her sexy an' that..."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

John Drummond

John Drummond died last week. He was the man who, as Director of the Proms, commissioned Harrison Birtwistle for the Last Night, which caused quite a kerfuffle at the time. They played a bit of the piece in question, "Panic" on the Today programme to introduce their article about him, and very exciting it sounds too, brash and entirely Birtwistlian, while also showing a surprising affinity with hard bop. It's hard to imagine anyone daring to put something like that in that smug, tired occasion these days.

There's a mention of the BBC Music Library in the Telegraph's obituary that was sent to me (you can read the whole thing here), which sums up a lot of what's wrong with the BBC for me:

"The appointment proved difficult from the start. He found "an air of palpable hostility'' from some of the producers and soon found himself in conflict with Ian MacIntyre, Controller of Radio 3. He also found that the BBC governors had little interest in music. One of them asked him why the BBC needed its music library: "I thought musicians played from memory."

Sadly, such ignorance is still prevalent, we are under the rule of idiots. Unfortunately there are fewer and fewer people like Sir John prepared to stand up and attack this kind of nonsense.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Welcome to the world

James Thomas Nagle, born 12.48 a.m. 8th September 2006, 8lbs. Pity the poor little sod, he's got me as an uncle.

Diary pieces are on hiatus, as I'm preoccupied with the viola piece I'm writing, however here are a couple of things I scribbled at lunch this week, one a distorted memory of Mendelssohn, the other a little play on my new nephew's name.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Well, things are looking up, there seems to be some sort of sanity returning to life, and while it'd be exaggerating to say that everything's peachy, there does seem to be a bit more light about than there was a few weeks ago. I guess sometimes you have to hit a wall before you can move on.

No recent diary pieces to post, but for once indolence has no part to play in this... I've been working on this piece for viola, and the ideas are flowing freely for once. I have a very good feeling about it.

I went on a 3-hour bike ride yesterday. Now, I'd expect to feel sore after that, what with not having ridden a bike regularly for about 20 years and being generally out of shape, but what I didn't expect was that the tendons in my hands would be so affected. I was barely able to turn the key in my front door when I got home, and had a lot of trouble wielding a knife when cooking my tea, and even today I'm having trouble with things like writing (and typing, come to that). It must be because I've been gripping the handlebars too tight for too long. It's bloody annoying.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


People sing to their babies. Why do they stop? Why don't people sing to each other as adults? It seems sad that they don't.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Accentuate the positive

Well hey hey! I've been asked to write a piece for viola! And there may even be some money in it! Which would be the first time I've been paid for writing anything.

And yay! My bike's finally arrived, and I'm picking it up tomorrow!

I'm holding onto these two things as hard as I possibly can, because quite frankly, every fucking other thing in my life right now looks as bad and bleak as it could possibly be.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Top of the Pops

So, in the end TOTP bowed out with a whimper rather than a bang. Where was all the stuff I remember, Shakin' Stevens falling over drunk, Status Quo, er, falling over drunk? The Jesus and Mary Chain causing chaos?

Well, at least they had that bit of Nirvana with Kurt Cobain singing about 3 octaves lower than the record. And nice of Tony Blackburn and DLT to remind us just why it was a blessed relief when the Beeb gave them the boot.

It's a sad day for those of us who grew up during that time when the charts still mattered, but I suppose the kids of today were too busy stalking people on MySpace or playing Grand Theft Auto to notice.

My god... I'm watching the documentary about it now... they just showed Legs & Co. dancing to "Pretty Vacant". Words fail me.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Been a busy week...

First off, I've finally gotten around to sorting out a website. It's fairly basic at the moment, but it'll develop over the coming months, I hope.

On Monday I met up with Rachel, who works at the publisher where I used to work (funnily, when we got in touch it was a while before we remembered this) and who makes excellent music both under her own name and as ninki v. She plays the theremin, which makes her both a source of admiration and envy for me. Anyway, have a look/listen, 'cos it's good stuff.

Tuesday I went with my friend Seaton to an spnm gig at Cargo, which was great and made us determined to go to more of that kind of stuff. Wednesday it was off to Koko to see Low perform their excellent record "things we lost in the fire", certainly the second best Mormon rock record ever made. It did feel strange though, hearing music which seems so perfectly designed for solitary listening in the company of many strangers in a sweaty hall.

Support came from Bat for Lashes, a female trio who came over like Bjork's little sisters. We thought their material didn't quite stretch to the time they played, but we were won over by their charm anyway and will be watching out for their debut album, which I believe is out soon.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Laurence Page R.I.P.

Laurence was an ordinary person. He worked in the BBC gramophone library, some of my colleagues had known him for 17 years. I didn't know him before the cancer got into him, but you never felt this made any difference. Through all the pain, the operations and the long, slow, painful decline, he always seemed to maintain himself despite everything. The cancer ate away at his flesh, but it never touched his soul, and he was inspiring because of it, because if he could maintain his dignity and humour going through all that, what excuse do any of us have to do otherwise through our infinitely lesser woes? It's a relief for him that he's not suffering anymore, and a terrible loss to the rest of us that he's no longer here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The paucity of promming

So, the Proms have started, and what a disappointing programme stretches out over the next couple of months like a sonic desert. Only 6 commissions? Just about the most ordinary, box-ticking first night imaginable? High time there was a change of guard, methinks, the current lot have clearly run out of ideas.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

patterns diverging

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

RIP Syd Barrett

Always had a soft spot for Syd, that English delivery so different from all the transatlantic drawls that surrounded him. I once lived in Terrapin Road in Tooting, where Syd's sister once lived, and the inspiration for his song "Terrapin". So here's a little thing based on a musical approximation of that word. Hope you're at peace, Syd.

Friday, July 07, 2006

one year on...

It seems hardly real now... looking outside at the sun, traveling into town earlier today everything seemed as it always did. A heavier than usual police presence, a few headlines declaring that Londoners are "defying bombers" by traveling around as usual - as if we really had any choice in the matter. Of course, thinking about it, the visible presence of police on the underground as routine is something that's very different to a year ago, part of the general slide into a quasi-police state that this government has seemed so keen to push headlong towards since the bombs went off, if not before. The degree to which they have been able to insinuate unaccountable powers for themselves over our everyday existence worries me greatly, as does the ease with which they seem to be doing it. One day we'll wake up to find that typing a sentence like that is enough to get us arrested - if that's not already the case.

Anyway, as it's now a year since the idea for this came to me, I thought I'd re-post the piece I wrote last July that started it, along with an echo of it a year later. Also a couple of other recent entries.

After a year, I still seem no closer to figuring out exactly what the purpose of this blog is, so I guess all I can do is keep on keeping on.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

notes on a summer day

A glorious day, good to get some time to relax after a hectic time. And catch up on a few of these:

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Time slipping through fingers like sand

How things slip by, is it really so long since I put anything up here? It's a combination of preoccupation, periods of dryness/depression, I guess. I haven't abandoned this idea though, there are a lot of things I've scribbled down that haven't made it onto here, some because I just didn't get round to it, others because they seem to belong to other projects, whether because they're songs (I seem to have an itch to write songs at the moment, maybe I'm feeling the lack of writing I've done for the human voice) or because they were written for a specific impulse - I've started thinking in terms of small, easy piano pieces where each hand spans only a fifth on the keyboard, an idea I've taken from Nielsen's "piano pieces for young and old".

Anyway, here is a selection of pieces that have been written as diary entries over the past few days, days of reflection amongst the general madness that seems to envelop life at the moment.

Monday, April 10, 2006


You Are 62% Evil

You are very evil. And you're too evil to care.
Those who love you probably also fear you. A lot.

I am apparently this evil. I didn't think I was that bad. On the plus side, I'm very imaginative and empathetic, according to this site:

Been a bit lazy with the diary pieces lately... here's a couple of recentish ones, one from March 24, the second I foolishly forgot to date, so let's say April 1st.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


I've been reading a book about Buddhism recently. It's very interesting, although I'm unsure how far I can accept it - I'm naturally inclined to scepticism, I guess. I have been experimenting with chanting though, which does help restore calm in moments of stress, I'm finding.