My Shop (work in progress!)

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Where I reminisce, talk a lot and name drop a celebrity

I came across The Charles Hazlewood Show on Radio 2 by accident. Somehow I found out about it and it sounded exactly up my street: popular songs being pulled apart to work out why they’re so good with other music being played as examples. The first show was going to put Elbow’s Lippy Kids under the microscope. After loving them for about 10 years I finally decided this year that Elbow are my favourite band (but shh don’t tell Radiohead).

Charles Hazlewood’s passion for music really comes across in each programme, though of course he can’t get too bogged down in musical theory as not all the listeners will have that sort of background. He therefore he comes up with some interesting turns of phrase such as “baked bean trombones”! Listening takes me back to sitting in my GCSE and A Level Music classes. Far from being dry, a lot of my classes were fun thanks to the teachers that I had. Jack Davies must’ve been around 10 years older than the GCSE class, which sometimes helped and sometimes hindered. He had quite a task ahead of him – a few of the pupils were really interested in the subject and some had simply taken it because they thought it would be a doss. He managed to keep the whole class’ attention mostly through the use of humour. He nurtured my passion for composition and introduced me to minimalist music; in fact it was through him that I first heard Electric Counterpoint without Ricky Lee Jones talking about what the skies were like when she was young.

Martin Ullyatt was a more experienced teacher, and whilst his lessons were dryer (I think the A Level syllabus has a lot to blame for this) he still had a great sense of humour. This was probably essential as there were only four of us in the class and had very different personalities. He mentioned Vaughn Williams a lot so we used to tease him that he had an “I Vaughan Williams” tattoo and even made him a 40th birthday card to that effect. I’m not sure we thought he was up to knowing what our nickname for Dido & Aeneas was though.

I knew I was going to enjoy Charles Hazlewood’s show but something I wasn’t expecting happened. My brain woke up. It has atrophied a bit due to not being used plus it’s suffering from the unfortunate effects of depression. Most of the time I find following a train of thought as difficult as navigating through Marmite. Which is also why I don’t blog very much anymore – it can take me days to produce the one post. Twitter is perfect because you can put ideas out there quickly and succinctly without having to worry too much about the way it’s written apart from fitting it into 140 characters. For instance it has taken me about two weeks to write this post in little dribs and drabs.

My brain is like a faulty switch – it will be off and you can jiggle it and poke it and it might come on. Or it’ll be on and as hard as you try you can’t get it to switch off. I once made the mistake of listening to the radio show before bed and I was awake for hours pondering what songs I would have played as examples and wanting to reply to comments Charles had made during the show. When I’d listened to the first episode I was super excited; it was like discovering a new band or great album, or getting to the end of a really good book. So I tweeted about it a lot, and lo and behold I get a notification that I am now being followed by none other than Charles Hazlewood. At first I was a bit dubious as to whether it was actually him, I have been followed by someone claiming to be Simon Pegg in the past. We have a little chat every now and again and he seems as lovely as he comes across on the radio and TV.

So imagine my excitement when I find out that one of his bands, The Charles Hazlewood All Stars, are performing Tubular Bells live. It has only ever been played live in its entirety in the 1970s. This band also includes Adrian Utley from Portishead and Will Gregory from Goldfrapp, two bands which I am very fond of indeed. For a lot of people hearing the opening of Tubular Bells gives them the shivers as it reminds them of The Exorcist. The first time I heard it was sitting in the back of the car doing a treasure hunt quiz as part of a fete at my primary school. My mum had just bought the cassette for my dad on a bric-a-brac stall. Now when I sit in the back of my dad’s car it is entirely possible that he will be playing a Goldfrapp or Portishead CD (if it's not wall-to-wall Rammstein). The concert is like he had been cosmic ordering!

The concert is in London, but my mum and I had been talking about going down there for a bit of shopping, going round some museums and galleries and perhaps catching up with some family that live in that area. “What more perfect excuse is there to go?” I think. I go to the venue’s website to see if there are any tickets left and I see my dad’s been “at work” again! Not only are they performing Tubular Bells but also A Rainbow In Curved Air by Terry Riley. My dad grew up when the first synthesisers were emerging so he has a few LPs of what I consider to be fairly obscure stuff. My mum and I tease him for liking that album because it sounds like lots of mobile phones going off at once (listen for at least 1min to get the full effect). But the genius is that it was composed in the 1960s, long before mobiles were invented.

I quickly sent my mum the email equivalent of holding her at gunpoint telling her that we HAVE to go to this concert. Mum passed the news on to dad and she told me that he actually looked quite excited for him! Hotels can be expensive in London, but I found that there are two Travelodges nearby, they have room and are affordable. We decided it would be easier to get the train so we don’t have the problem of where to put the car once we get to London. I thought about seven weeks was booking quite a bit in advance, but it was still going to cost us £300 return. Altogether a one night stay, the concert and the train was going to cost nearly £500 for the three of us! Mum told me the terrible news that we can’t afford it. Of course I knew this as soon as I saw how much the train cost, but the fact that the concert programme even exists is like some sort of miracle and I am absolutely desperate to go. The thought of going had really improved my mood. I haven’t been to London for about 10 years and I do love going out to cultural stuff such as concerts or the theatre, and living in Cumbria there isn’t the greatest opportunity to do that. My hopes were dashed and I was plunged into the depths of despair.

I sent a tweet to Charles begging that the band came up to the Sage Gateshead and did the same concert. About 10 minutes later I got a reply saying “well... actually we are doing it there the following night”. Elation and joy! I ran around, jumped for joy and made high pitched squeals, so enthusiastic was my happiness. It's probably a good thing he wasn't in the same room as I probably would've embarrassed myself further by hugging him! I was annoyed that I couldn’t tell my mum the good news straight away because she is only about half way home from my house. Trying to sit on that news was like trying to sit on top of a geyser.

My only regret is that the effect of being "woken up" doesn't last longer than a few hours. To end this long and rambling post I want to say thank you to my two music teachers Jack Davies and Martin Ullyatt. I also want to say thank you to Charles Hazlewood for helping to reignite that spark of passion that I feel about music (also apologies that it’s made me go on a bit). So cheers Charlie, the song above is for you. See you in December.

Friday, 28 October 2011

A Christmas List

The links I provide are just used for example, not necessarily the one I want or the place you should buy it from.

I will add more as I think of them!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Best Imitation of Myself

I love cover versions of songs. I'm always worried that the cover won't do the original justice, or that it's so samey they shouldn't have bothered doing it. So many can be terrible, even if the artist doing the cover is brilliant. An example of this is John Martyn's version of Portishead's Glory Box. Ugh. But so many are brilliant.

The above song - Best Imitation of Myself by Ben Folds Five is quite a perky little tune. I'm not a massive fan of them, they're a band I feel I should listen to more and for some reason I never do. Maybe because I'm not excited enough by them. There's nothing that shouts out at me that they're that little bit different. The songs I've heard have all been nice but there's nothing that's made me go WOW and get all passionate.

So, the Ben & Jason cover. Why do I think this works, and perhaps even surpasses the original? I had to make the video myself as I couldn't find a link to the cover anywhere online. To start with Ben Parker has a better voice than Ben Folds. He doesn't struggle so much with the higher notes, and if anyone slips in catches on the way up to or down from their falsetto I'm theirs! The tone of Ben F's voice is quite nasal and this gives the song a somewhat whingy feel; Ben P's clearer tone gets rid of that (a good thing).

The cover has upped the tempo, which makes it less maudlin. I think that works better as it subtly changes the meaning of the lyrics, making them seem more cutting - I swear I was listening, but I started drifting round the part about me acting my age.

Then there's the fact that it's accompanied by a string quartet. It takes the instrumentation of the original and cleverly arranges it for the strings. I'm sure they alter the colour of the chords a little by adding some extra notes here and there. Finally there's the wonderful ending full of sliding chromatics.

Sadly my brain fogginess is preventing me from further comment, but hopefully it'll wake up at a later point.

Sunday, 17 July 2011


I was at my parents' house for a couple of days, my mum had bought some new watercolour paints so was itching to try them, the weather turned horrible, dad was watching the Open golf tournament on TV (yawn) and so art was made. Go over to my art blog The Shadow of Ice to see it!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Defeating my own gingerism

As you can see from my profile photo, I’m a ginger. Redheaded and proud! Gingerism pisses me off. Some jokes can be mildly amusing, and I can take a joke. But change the "ginger" to someone black etc. and the joke would be racist and could potentially get you into a lot of trouble. Blondes probably feel the same way about all the "blondes are stupid" jokes.

However, I am a gingerist myself. I don’t really find ginger men that attractive. It seems a bit incestuous to me somehow. But apparently we’re dying out, and to stop this we gingers have to stick together. So in the interests of maintaining a ginger presence on the planet, here are my top 5 gingery hotties, in no particular order:

Seth Green (see above) - actor. Where to spot him - Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Austin Powers films.

Josh Homme - lead singer with Queens of the Stone Age and Them Crooked Vultures. Where to spot him - on tour!

Michael C. Hall - actor. Where to spot him - Six Feet Under and Dexter.

Ewan McGregor - actor. Where to spot him - Shallow Grave and Trainspotting.

Toby Stephens
- actor. Where to spot him - BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre and Bond film The World Is Not Enough.

Please form an orderly queue gentlemen... ;-)

Friday, 10 June 2011

Philip Larkin was right. Sort of.

One of Larkin's most famous lines of poetry is "They fuck you up, your mum and dad." This is a blog about some of my childhood, particularly the influence of Doom, and how it could've gone horribly wrong.

The computer game Doom came out in 1993. I was 10 years old. I think we got a demo of it free with my dad's computer magazine, and then my parents bought it. I was allowed to play it even though it's rated for players aged 16+. However, when I played it I was usually under my mum's supervision. Either she was playing it and I would watch, or I would play it but she had to sit next to me. This was not her doing, it was mine. I was too scared to play it on my own because of what monster might be around the next corner! That was until I discovered the cheat for 'God mode' which makes you invincible.

Now, you could say that my parents are terrible for letting me play such a violent game at such a young age. The graphics may look terrible now, but in 1993 they were amazing. Doom wasn’t the first violent computer game I’d played. Before Doom, there was Catacomb Abyss 3-D. The sound for this used the internal PC speaker so all you got was a series of weird beeps. It also featured text information, such as “damaging blows!” when you were being attacked by zombies.

I don’t remember there being as much concern about children playing violent games back then. Maybe there wasn’t as much, or it could be that I was less media aware because I was a child. Violent video games get the blame for people (usually teenagers) behaving violently. They probably have a bit to do with me being weird, but I’m not (especially) violent.

For example, in Doom, when you kill things with a rocket launcher (as shown above) or blow up a barrel the monsters explode and make a squishy noise. I love that noise. Also in a follow-up game to Wolfenstein, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, you can shoot people in a much more accurate manner i.e. in specific body parts. My favourite noise was associated with shooting someone in the throat.

So yes, that is a bit sick and wrong but I don’t go out and try and recreate those noises in real life. Shooting up freakish monsters and Nazis doesn’t make me want to shoot actual people. If I am feeling angry, pissed off and like I might lash out at people I don’t do a Dexter, I go and play a computer game. I could imagine there being more violence related to Pong, a very early computer game.

How can a table tennis game be violent? I might be able to hear you ask. Well imagine you have the score of 0 and the person you’re playing has the score of 9. They beat you every time you play. That would be frustrating and would make me want to lash out more than if I’d been playing at shooting things.

However, the most influential thing about Doom for me was the music. I have downloaded the MIDI files so I can listen to the music without having to play the game. It’s an influence that has made me a lover of metal. That and dad’s 70s vinyl collection. Plus it has to be the greatest influence on me liking Rammstein.

Doom didn’t just influence my tastes in music. Back in 1993, some of the members of Rammsteinvideo. You get to hear the exploding squishy noise about 2min 15s in. were also playing it. In fact their drummer is nicknamed Cristoph “Doom” Schneider for copyright reasons. If you’ve never heard the Doom music, then watch this On Rammstein’s first album, Herzeleid, the opening track ‘Wollt Ihr Das Bett In Flammen Sehen?’ features some of the sound effects from Doom – the sound of the shotgun cocking (which you can hear at around 2min on the above video) and also the death scream of your character. Also note that the repetitive guitar riffs are reminiscent of Doom’s music. A lot of Herzeleid sounds like Doom music, in particular ‘Der Meister’ and ‘Asche Zu Asche’.

So I’m a sicko who likes gruesome death noises and I love killing things. But only in computer games. Oh and I like Rammstein. It could’ve been a lot worse. I could be a mass murdering weirdo that likes Rammstein.