Thursday, 20 July 2017

In Memoriam: Chester Bennngton

For me and a number of my generation, we grew up in the shadow of nu-metal as it crossed over into the mainstream.  We found an alternative to pop music imported from America via MTV, for us Eminem, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Papa Roach and the like were our own form of rebellion.

Loud music.  Angry music.  Parental Advisory - Explicit Lyrics.

We weren't kids anymore and we wanted to turn up our stereos and scream along with the swear words and hoped it offended our parents.  That's what teenagers were built to do.

For a number of friends that I have made through volunteering at a local youth music project, they grew up emo.  Rock was pop.  The alternative had become mainstream.  Screamo and other niche sub-genres were a new alternative to the mass-marketed product.  But the mainstream is always the gateway drug.  The choice to turn away is what makes us feel individual, even when we do it all together.

Tributes to Chester Bennington have been filling up my time stream since the speculative news broke.  We've all been hoping it was fake news, but nobody seemed to be discrediting it.

The suicide of a globally recognised frontman in his early 40s is unthinkable.  Leaving behind a wife and 6 children is heartbreaking.  The fact that a successful new album had brought the band touring in the UK recently leaves so many people asking the same questions.

I'm sure the next few days will reveal more, as inevitable toxicology and character reports surface.  But it doesn't change a thing.

We're hurting because we can't understand....

Cathartic lyrics, screaming loudly, it didn't help.

It didn't change a thing.

Some are maybe hurting because they understand it too well, some are maybe only just hanging in there.

Statistics state that suicide is currently the single biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK.  

Social media seems full to the brim with people affected by mental health problems.

We're all here for each other.  We're all willing to share, and comment, and like.

But for some people it doesn't seem to change a thing.

I hope the people that truly need help are strong enough to recognise that.

And I hope those that it is too late for, those like Chester Bennington, are able to find peace in the next life that they couldn't find in this.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

remaster system

I now seem to have reached a curious age.

Should I be concerned that I am now setting out to buy albums that I already own?

Am I getting forgetful?

The convoluted solution to this conundrum lies deep within the record industries insistence on re-releasing old music and now I have found that my past has been remastered.

First things first, this year does not mark the first time that I have added remastered versions of albums to my CD collection (that's right, you read it correctly... a CD collection, now deal with it), but the simple difference is that previously I had been acquiring these releases for the first time.  I went through a phase of purchasing expanded versions of David Bowie albums, with a healthy disposable income and a hunger to own more music, I made a number of pre-orders to not just add The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and Alladin Sane to my racks, but also whatever demos, alternative versions and live versions that came with it.  Some albums I have listened to more than others (the two aforementioned, for instance), but I struggle to think of an occasion that I have gone reaching to indulge myself with a spin of Don't Let Me Down & Down (Jangan Susahkan Hatiku) (Indonesian vocal version) from the Black Tie, White Noise 10th Anniversary re-issue.

And this is the crux of the matter.  Those albums weren't re-released for me. 

They were put out in an attempt to part completists with a little more of their hard-earned for something they already own.

But now the past has caught up with me, as within a period of 9 months I find myself doubled up on copies of Be Here Now and OK Computer...

The Oasis re-releases started appearing to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Definitely Maybe, but I held out until what could possible be my favourite Oasis album (that's right, you read it correctly... , Be Here Now may be my favourite, now deal with it) got the full 3CD remastered treatment, adding remastered b-sides and unheard demo tracks into the mix, and the completest that lives inside of me was screaming out for me to pay full price for an album that I already paid full price for upon its original release.

D'you remember the furore that surrounded it?  The overblown video for the lead single and the buzz of a band that had gone stratospheric with (What's The Story) Morning Glory?, and while HMV on Oxford Street opened at midnight for eager punters to get their hands on it on the day of release, I remember pre-ordering Be Here Now with a £1 deposit at my closest Woolworths in Waltham Cross, who opened an hour early to deal with the overwhelming demand (there were three people, including myself).

It must have been a half term holiday as I remember cycling to Woolies on that morning with my little brother in tow, cycling back home and then taping the album on my first listen so that I could get back outside in the sunshiiiine, on my bike with a copy of Be Here Now ever-present in my beloved portable cassette player (we all called them Walkmans, but they weren't Sony Walkmans).

My memories of acquiring OK Computer are not quite so crystal clear, I vaguely recall it possibly being purchased from a Cash Converters, likely for about £3, some time after the initial release.  I was a voracious devourer and collector of music but I also had a budget.  Much of my vast collection was made up of second hand CDs and reduced sale offerings.

But Karma Police stood out from the peer group of pop and indie on a compilation album circa 1997, they were mainstream, but on the outskirts of popular music, I didn't know at the time that their sound would shape my outlook, that later albums would fill my brain with stark possibilities of what music could be, and that those earlier albums I would later revisit and relate to so heavily.

With Radiohead, OKNOTOK presents an opportunity to own a nice shiny disc with which I can further explore the mindset and soundscape of a band on the verge of everything and nothing... critical acclaim, fanatical adoration and mental breakdown.  And all for a price of £9.99, likely less than the album originally retailed for upon release.

And of course, the remastering process means nothing to me.  Only audiophiles will be excited by whatever has been done to make it sound... actually, I'm not even sure how it sounds, since the remastered album isn't even the thing I am interested in and I'm not sure that the albums themselves have even left their respective cases since purchase.

So I'm now sat pondering what other 'classic' albums will be coming of age, reminding me of the ever advancing years, ripe for remastering and peddling back to those that already have them, facing temptation with a smattering of unheard or unearthed extras.

And I'm pondering which I'll be too much of a sucker to resist.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

like a detuned radio...

It's more than FOMO.

It's kind of like a deeper longer that anchors my soul and swells in the depth of my stomach.

And it seems slightly ridiculous as I try to put this feeling into some sort of coherent and relatable piece of writing, but being unable to see Radiohead at Glastonbury last Friday was almost too much to bear.

Is it love?  Is it obsession?  Or is it just one band among a small handful that I am determined to see live, yet I am still to tick off my bucket list?

And as I think about my own memories of the band that re-listening to a handful has dug up, I must admit that it is something like a combination of all three.

Of the Nineties indie titans that dominated airwaves in my pre-gig-going days, I have seen Oasis multiple times, I saw Blur at a reunion show in Hyde Park in 2009 and I finally witnessed Manic Street Preachers at Festival No. 6 four years ago.  Pulp have so far eluded me, as have Radiohead.

But Radiohead fit awkwardly in this bracket, in much the same way they fit awkwardly in any bracket.  In much the same way many of us in life find ourselves fitting awkwardly into social situations or circumstances.  In much the same way that many of us look towards something to identify with, or lose ourselves in when we find ourselves fitting awkwardly into this so called life.

Are we all creeps?  Are we all weirdos?  Certainly in the long-ago time of 'before we all carried the Internet everywhere we go', it was a far simpler thing to feel alone, and feel that we didn't belong here, and to take solace in music, particularly in our teenage years.  I distinctly remember picking up my copy of The Bends reduced in a branch of Blockbuster Video and always skipping back to the beginning of Street Spirit (Fade Out) several times once the album had reached its end, I'm fairly certain that my copy of OK Computer came from a Cash Converters, and I remember becoming so obsessed with Kid A (bought new upon release for a change) that I even insisted on listening to it in the car when my mum picked me up and dropped me off from my first weekend job.

And it was to be Kid A that proved to be the turning point for me, arriving in my life at a time when my teenage quest for identity reached the cross-section with outgrowing mainstream commercial music, I would listen to the album on repeat, fixated on the vast palette of challenging sonics that proved to be jarring and completely removed from all other music, yet I felt like I belonged to this album, lost in the waves of aural complexities.  Melody Maker may have told me that everybody is obsessed with Radiohead when I started reading it, but right then, I was the only person obsessed with Radiohead.

Of course my eyes would open to their place in the wider world over the years that followed, but I'd already had my moment that shaped my taste for the different.  And over the years that followed I have empathised with Radiohead's own pursuit of being different.  The girlfriend that is now my wife delved into music exploration headfirst with me, and when we pulled up at a traffic lights beside rude bois blasting their bass-rattling whatever it was, we decided to wind down the windows and turn up OK Computer as loud as we could.

And it was OK Computer that I played on repeat walking to and from work in the weeks running up to this year's Glastonbury Festival, hearing past the edge in the music that has always caught my attention and focusing more and more intently on the bereft lyrics as they swam around my head.  Taking ahold of the words and feeling the true sense of them that I couldn't ten or fifteen years ago.  Even on days when temperatures soared not the 30s I pressed play time and time again on the album now celebrating its 20th anniversary instead of the far more apt reggae appropriation of Radiodread by Easy Star All-Stars

Beyond that, I have dipped in and out of the more recent albums over the past decade, but always felt emboldened by the decisions the band have made to make music, play music and release music on their own terms.

And that it why, when my tellyhead wife settled in for a weekend of Glastonbury coverage, I just couldn't bring myself to watch Radiohead's headline performance.  It was too painful for me to sit on a comfortable sofa in a space so far removed from the live performance and watch a band that I am still desperate to witness first-hand.  Because this isn't just another 'play the hits' band that you're assured will tick all the boxes with every show they play, this is a band that have evolved and changed not just the face of music, but also my own personal preferences.

And it was my personal preference to walk away from the to coverage, for that one night at least.

And I will see Radiohead, obviously on their terms and not mine, as they have already proved recently by playing the Roundhouse in Camden in support of A Moon Shaped Pool, and announcing arena dates in Manchester yet no arena shows for London this time around.  And obviously by rolling up at a Glastonbury that I was unable to get tickets for.

And I'll hang in there, with the rest of the creeps and the weirdos.

And I promise not to be annoyed if they don't play Creep, after all, it will be on their terms and not mine.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

That Glasto Feeling

We're less than a week away and i know i won't be able to escape the Glastonbury coverage.

the live coverage, the rumours, the weather forecasts, all of it on my frequented websites, tv channels, radio stations and social networks. 

we're less than a week away and already i'm overwhelmingly missing that Glastonbury feeling. 

it's there in the warm weather and the ever-present threat of rain storms just around the corner. 

it's there in the lighter evenings and the prolonged enjoyment of alcohol in the company of friends. 

it's there in the smells wafting from food market stalls scattered on the streets and the bbqs in numerous gardens. 

it's there. any time a like minded group of people come together. 

it's there. in the traffic queues approaching Worthy Farm. in the trek from the car, laden with tents, backpacks and your chosen tipple. in The Park, or at the top of the field looking down towards the Pyramid Stage. 

it's everywhere. and yet sometimes it feels like it is nowhere to be found.

was it there when Brexit campaigning split the country? was it there when Donald Trump became President Elect? was it there throughout the UK's latest election?

is it here as this country picks up the pieces after the dreadful scenes played out at Grenfell Tower, as we scrutinise the cost cutting measures and safety failings, as we count the true cost, now that families and lives have been torn apart.

we're united in grief, but we're still divided - us and them.

i sometimes have to turn my back on the news.  too heartbreaking to bear or too real to comprehend.  

but sometimes news can be good news.  

sometimes bad news can result in good news.

and the recent, heartbreakingly sad, anniversary of the murder of Jo Cox being marked by a campaign of Great Get Togethers is a perfect antidote to bad news, turning a negative into a positive, using the power of human spirit to conquer grief and sadness.

as a population on our island, and as a shared human race, we are a very long way from 'getting together'.

but for one weekend, in a number of farmer's fields in Pilton, we are one.

Whether we are there slipping and sliding in the mud or enjoying (or missing) it from the comfort of our sofas, whether we are holding on to our well-earned position for the Pyramid Stage headliners against the will of our bladders, cherishing time with young families in the Kids Field or drinking ourselves into a cider-fuelled oblivion, whether we are asleep by midnight or up until sunrise in a far flung field losing our minds through legal or illegal means or simply through sleep deprivation.

I miss all of that.

I'm overwhelmingly missing that Glastonbury feeling yet again.

but it is comforting to know that in that microcosm of liberal and like minded society that will be congregating this weekend without me, whether they know it or not, these words of Jo Cox will be ringing true...

'We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us'

from the many, varied, dance tents, to the headliners, stage openers and weird and wonderful performers and revellers that make this one weekend as glorious and unique as the human spirit, never a truer sentence has ever been spoken...

and that is the Glastonbury feeling....

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Everything is....

Everything is.... just a little bit up in the air right now.  Nothing feels quite right.  Lots of things feel rather unsettled.

The job security of me and my work colleagues has had some doubt cast over it, time off always feels fleeting... eked out between housework and hobbies and more housework, my mind is rarely at rest with all the things I'd liked to do and need to do and haven't got the time to do, fling in a recent bereavement in the family and you've got a mixture of emotions and mental health high-jumps bumping along with your average day-to-day existence.

How invigorating it was to leave behind the real world for a day, taking advantage of a rare combination of two days off in a row (miraculously including a Saturday off work) to tie together the opportunity of attending the Brickish Weekend at the National Space Centre and visiting family in Leicester.

A rather recently resurfaced love of Lego (I blame the Batman Movie and its accompanying minifigures) has left me with a geeky itch that I needed to scratch, and a whole slew of space and sci-fi themed displays and builds at a tourist attraction mere minutes from the majority of my wife's family was just too good an opportunity to pass up.  Within minutes of getting through the door we were already parting with cash... picking up a Ralph Wiggum as a belated valentines present for my wife, and then buying a 'classic' set of doors and windows (again, i must add, because my wife likes them.... ok, i liked them too) along with some other well-worn pre-loved bags of bricks and pieces and marvelling at a bunch of custom minifigs... we'd spent somewhere near an hour or so getting excited before we'd even left the vicinity of the 'brick fair' and the huge Paris themed build that was situated nearby the various sellers.

In fact we spent so long taking in so many of the builds and also talking at some length to the people behind these creations that we actually saw precious little of the Space Centre and its permanent exhibits, thankfully this can be easily remedied as booking our single visit online also secures an annual pass, perfect for the next time we're visiting family again.  And the creators themselves were equally as fascinating as the Lego builds on display, talking honestly and openly with both me and my wife about their passions, their ideas and sometimes about the price-tags that have fuelled their involvement, the complete lack of pretension and a willingness to 'just chat' was not only refreshing but also informative and very rewarding for me, and possibly gave my wife an insight into what she may have let herself in for.

With a handful more 'grab bags' of bricks and pieces (including a small mixed lot of wheels, again, suggested by my wife) in our tote bag we headed back to see family once the Space Centre's doors had closed, and I was more than a little surprised when my brother-in-laws curiosity about my purchases resulted in three adults in their thirties (two male, one female) all sat around building a variety of vehicles and oddities from the assortment of regular bricks and random components that we had accrued over the course of the day.

Time spent looking at Lego and 'playing' with Lego left little time to do some of the obligatory family rounds, but a couple of whistle stop visits to see family members of a wide range of ages was a perfect way to end the day, including some rather intense imaginative play and dance moves with a four year old that left me sweating and out of breath before a two hour journey back to London.

I'd met and talked to some fascinating people, seen some inspirational and breathtaking Lego builds, bolstered my own collection, built a spaceship (of course), spent time with family, dance partnered a care-free four year old and enjoyed quality time with my wife....

Maybe, just for today, everything is awesome!

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Time, and Time Again.

previously published on Desperately Seeking Susan Boyle

It isn't very often that I discover the music I am reviewing by way of answering a listing on Gumtree... But so the story goes, my contract was coming to an end at work and I was scouring the internet for jobs, then I got bored and distracted and instead started scouring Gumtree adverts for musical collaborations instead of job vacancies.

And so I came to meet up with Yann Ryan, enjoy a few alcoholic beverages with him in a pub near Liverpool Street Station and slowly begin work by trading files and ideas back and forth across the internet.

At some point, these new re-imaginings of mine became stuck in hard-drive limbo as real-life sucked me in and spat me out, but I had felt fortunate enough to have been given access to the raw and effecting audio files, to be able to isolate the bewildering vocal take and sit there in wonder as it repeated over, wondering how anything I could do could possibly even attempt to improve upon such a rustic and fully formed talent.

Around a half and a half later or so and I feel my fortunes have changed, I think maybe I can check in on Yann and possibly put this project to bed, but in this time Yann Ryan has pulled together an EP that includes some the tracks I had a stab at reshaping in a far different form, and I'm happy that these songs are finally out in the world, the music that I had been so eager to share but felt that I had to sit upon for fear of over-stepping boundaries can now be accessed by anyone with an internet connection.

Released last December, the Time EP is a downtrodden and fragile affair that is buoyed by the gravitational pull of Yann's crisp, oaken voice, a voice that stopped me in tracks when I first heard it, and the strength and intricacies of his songwriting still captivate me.  Few artists would even dare to weave their lyrics with such obtuse vocabulary as 'inconsequential' and casually reference 'Bosnia Herzegovina', but Yann makes it feel effortless, and the unique outlook he adds to the remit of the singer/songwriter is refreshing.

I still hope that the tracks we collaborated on will still come to light in one form or another, but for now I am happy to support Yann Ryan's talents and selflessly share his music with the wider world without the cloak of self-aggrandising.

Regardless, I'd like to catch up with Yann again over a few more pints and wish him well.

Out now via Bandcamp

Friday, 30 October 2015

sequential art storytelling

Why not give myself another pipe dream to wrangle with.

You know me. Blogger, Poet, Experimental Music Artist, Author...

and plenty more besides.

So why not add another string to my bow.

Why not stop telling myself that I'd love to write a comic book and actually get round to writing one...

And so the thought process behind my little venture for October started a little like that and ended up with my rough doodlings of a man-beast battling with stick figures across a plotted out 11 page story.

Like many people before I had wanted to run before I could walk, I've had an idea for a D-list DC universe character for a while, so long that I don't actually believe he even exists in the current New 52 DCU, it is a story than spans life, death and superheriocs. DC are the comics I've loved to read and are the ones I'd love to write... But I've never written a comic before!


Instead of diving feet first into my ambitious project only to find that it may forever be beyond my reach I chose to cut my teeth on something simpler...

Create a hero, 50s style.

Hero. Bad guys. Fighting. Other stuff... The end.

A real rush job, tell a tale, have a ludicrously dressed assailant fighting crime and wrap it up quickly. How hard could it possibly be...

Thankfully the seeds for my ridiculous hero came to me before I tried to put pen to paper, I wasn't looking for perfection, I was simply looking for fun... I imagined him to be a character designed in the boom of superhero creation, a simple time wasting wonder that would be thrown together in order to fill space in a cheaply printed strip, never knowing if people will care to read it or ever see more of your champion.



I've grown on writers that have pushed boundaries and one day wish to emulate the Grant Morrisons, Neil Gaimans and Allan Moores of this world. But not right now.

I grabbed some blank sheets of paper, folded them in half and wrote down what I thought would be the main beats of each page. Ten minute job. But the scripting and panelling became a far longer process, trying hard but trying not to try too hard, trying to keep it simple but to understand the pace of my story and how I expected it to progress.

Each page probably took me between 45 minutes and an hour as I deliberated over panels and speech bubbles, how many punches to be thrown and how many generic gangsters should enter the fray.

I toiled with ideas for supporting cast and plot, fearing it would be too derivative or seen as a mere copycat of other heroic tropes... But then again my agenda was based on the works of an era when heroes looked alike, with publishers keen to emulate the sudden popularity of a super-so-and-so, and so I steamed ahead with my story of cops and robbers and a mysterious figure fighting for right.

And so this is the story of how I became a nearly-but-not-quite comic writer, with one original creation under my belt and a rather fun draft of thumbnail pages to my name. I'd like to see my character fully embellished, with an actual artist giving life to my stick figures in fedoras.

I've already got plans for his teenage side-kick, his arch-nemesis and a handful of spin-off titles, they remain unwritten as yet, but it should be enough to keep a movie franchise going for several years at least.