Wednesday, 28 September 2016

New track - Good Man

It has been ages since I posted anything new.  I've just not been avidly writing and not recording much.  My tinnitus/Ménière’s disease hasn't been helping, for long periods even contemplating playing the guitar isn't on my mind as it is likely to be too painful.  But in the last week my ear has been a lot better.

I have few songs in development - this one was actually started a long while ago.  It was inspired when I got my mandolin.  After some noodling learning chords etc. this pattern emerged which I liked.  As ever it sat about without lyrics for a while then some inspiration struck.  Largely since this is dedicated from me to a dear friend who passed away last year.  One of the last times I remember being with him out somewhere we were watching a band play with a great mandolin player and he joking asked how my mandolin playing was coming along.  So it was fitting my first song inspired by mandolin playing should have lyrics inspired by him.

Sadly however having recorded this something fatal appears to have befallen my Boss BR-600 and it won't work now.  It is stuck in a loop at start up.  Grrr!  Frustrating I just get back into recording and then the gremlins appear.  So anyway, I've bid on eBay for a cheap replacement.  I won't bid too high but if I can get a working model cheap at least no new learning curve or big outlay.  If that fails I'll see if I can save up for new BR-800 which replaced the 600 some while back.  It has some nicer features, in that if can easily take a balanced phantom powered mic, which will solve some of my cabling nightmares when trying to use my condenser mic now.  (Briefly - cable into a preamp to power it, cable from there to mic input of BR-600 but that has to go via a bulky adapter to get into the 1/4" jack input - messy!  One xlr to xlr would be so much easier!).

Monday, 26 September 2016

Book Review - Death of Robin Hood Angus Donald

With this instalment we reach the end of Angus Donald's clever retelling of the Robin Hood story.  I've really enjoyed this series over the years I've been reading them.  It all started out with Alan Dale a young lad in Nottingham just to learn how to survive.  He was taken under the wing of a bunch of notorious outlaws around the Sherwood Forest and he has forever been one of Robin Hood's men.  We long ago learnt that Robin Hood is in fact a noble man and a Lord himself but he roguish nature always looking to profit for himself make him the outlaw we know.  The books have always been written from Alan's point of view as an old man recounting his youthful, and now not so youthful, adventures with his Lord.

Obviously the main plot feature is given away in the title but the suspense of exactly how Robin dies if left to the very end of the book and is an emotionally engaging story in itself.  We join the action soon after the signing of the Magna Carta.  I was personally instantly engaged in the action as it starts with the start of the siege of Rochester Castle in 1215 when the rebel barons of England are at war with King John.  I live close to Rochester and have frankly am often in the shadow of the castle without remember this darkest of its days.  You can still see on the south east corner where the tower of the outer walls were replaced and the tower of the keep also after the siege ended with mining of the walls and tower and bombardment.  After finishing the book last week

The rebels want the king to honour the now infamous document and stop bleeding them dry with taxes and not listening to their counsel.  King John continues to be portrayed as a cruel coward but to be fair that is how most of history views him.  Robin and Alan make alliances of convenience as Prince Louis of France uses the rebellion to assert his claim on the throne of England.  You do wonder what would have happened if they had won?  What would British history now look like I wonder?  I'm glad that Angus points out the often incorrectly attested view that England has never been invaded since 1066.  A stones throw from Rochester Castle is Upnor Castle - It is on the opposite bank of the Medway a mile or so further downstream.  That castle played an important part in repelling Dutch invasion forces some 452 years later after they had already set foot ashore on the Isle Of Sheppey.

Anyway back to the story.  This book is an excellent ending to the series book 8 of the merry men's adventures and with only Alan and Robin left from the original band Robin bowing out soon after King John has gone and the famous William the Marshal (Possibly Britain's greatest ever soldier) finally quells the rebellion and ousts the French upstart from England leave the boy king Henry III to rule in peace - well for a while.  

Cracking good read as have all the series been with much historical accuracy and research and where Angus has bent truth for the purposes of story telling he is generous to tell us post the Epilogue.  If you like good historical fiction this is some of the very best.  I look forward to where Angus will next take us.

Two thumbs up on the FITUBRS*

* Furtheron International Thumbs Up Book Review Scale -
lowest is both thumbs down with a frown
two thumbs down,
one thumb horizontal,
two thumbs horizontal,
one thumb up,
two thumbs up
two thumbs up with a grin - very rarely awarded

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Album Reviews - Jeff Beck - Loud Hailer, Biffy Clyro - Ellipsis, Big Big Train - Folklore, Milos - Blackbird

Time for another summer catch up.

Jeff Beck - Loud Hailer.

Jeff Beck is one of a very very rare breed of artist.  One who is pioneering not just when they come to prominence but throughout their lifetime and one who has remained relevant throughout.  Since his reinvention of how he played the guitar pioneered on the track Where were you off his guitar workshop album in the late 80s he has produced albums fused with Electronica aspects, with jazz and on his last work Emotion and Commotion with orchestra placing his playing in a concerto setting almost.

However Loud Hailer is more rock n roll, more indy rock, more street, more punk frankly.  He has teamed up with Rosie Bones (Bill Oddy's daughter btw for those who do pub quizes) on vocals and Carmen Vandenburg on guitars from the band Bones produces a vocal based album for the first time in many many years from Mr Beck and gives the whole production a more rootsy, punky rocky vibe.  Jeff's playing is as stunning as ever and more brutal to coin a phrase on some tracks like Thugs Club.

Scared for the children is the highlight for me - more restrained than many, closer to much of the lyrical beauty on Emotion and the lyrics are heartbreaking.

Another incredible album from Jeff Beck who rather than resting on his laurels shows many a fraction of his age how to really push yourself creatively and as a musician.

Biffy Clyro - Ellipsis

Biffy scaled the hights to become an established festival headlining act with the last three albums which culminated in Opposites the mammoth double disk offering that hit the number one spot in the UK for the first time for the band.  They themselves felt they'd reached the end of that massive stadium rock type recording when that was put to bed and so Simon Neil went away to work on some side projects before even contemplating writing again for Biffy.  However he was soon back writing and the new album is a blend of really raucous rock hinting at their earlier offerings, more raw and less produced sound to my ears but mixed with many stripped down more reflective mellow moments.

My daughter proclaims this their best yet.  I don't agree favouring Puzzle myself but it is a great album and a step forward not a status quo or retrospective record at all.

Big Big Train - Folklore.

I really like Big Big Train and think they are producing some of the best prog rock around currently.  It is a shame that much of the prog audience only seem to focus on the releases from the big big names of future past and bemoan where bands do not continue/reform or the key lack of "classic" line ups.  If they were to open their ears and listen to this album then they'd be welcoming Big Big Train into the hallowed status awarded to Yes, Genesis and the like.  You get the best quality of those bands with a whole bunch of other stuff too.  They swing seamlessly from Crimsonesque counterpoint to thunderous pop rock of Genesis to keyboard laden excursions of Yes and hints of Marillion and much much more.  There is often a folk-rock undertone too through out this recording.

For me this has some better tracks than the last two volumes released under the English Electric title but overall the album isn't as cohesive a work as that behemoth was able to be.  Stunning musicianship throughout, thoughtful lyrics and story weaving coupled with really excellent production.

Miloš Karadaglić - Blackbird.

Back when I was a mere strap of a lad going to classical guitar lessons I had this vision of doing what John Williams was then doing with Sky in taking classical guitar into a rock setting.  Sky worked on a level but never inspired any follow on.  Miloš Karadaglić has earnt his stripes as a concert classical guitar virtuoso.  However he was inspired by the Beatles as a youngster and learnt some Beatles classics arranged for classical guitar.  I remember having a book and trying but in those days it was all in the dots - there was no accompanying recording or video etc. so I never really nailed any of them and the book long ago disapeared from my collection.  This album is most new arrangements and really is stunning.  Coupled with some excellent jazz bass playing and some inspired guest vocals - Gregory Porter in particular this is a fantastic collection of tunes.  Probably will give Miloš some additional exposure and might get some others to listen to a more traditional repertoire for the instrument.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Book review catch up

Hello anyone still following.  I've been doing nothing frankly over the summer.  I had an operation in July and then took a time off to recover.  I realised I write a lot of my posts on my commute on my phone - or at least that's where they start to be finished off on one of my numerous occasional coffee breaks.  Anyhows- book review catch up time...

Solomon Creed - Simon Toyne

First here's a rant... what is it with the new trend in book publishing to have to add a tag line to the title of the book.  This book on Amazon is title "Solomon Creed: The only thriller you need to read this year".  It's tacky, I feel exploited ... so ... stop it.  I'll return to this theme later.

Actually this is a pretty good story.  It is the first in a series to feature Solomon Creed - that is evident from all the blurb and I don't believe I'm laying any major spoilers out there.  We're introduced to Mr Creed as he come to consciousness running hell for leather in the baking heat of a mid USA desert.  He is running because there is some huge flipping explosion happening around him due to a plane crash.  How did he survive, how does he know so much?  We don't know, and neither does Solomon as he doesn't appear to have any memory of who he is, his past, his background etc.  But he does know his stuff.  He arrives at the local small town to save a man, that he can remember.  However he is too late that man died in a road crash just before the plane crash (remind me NOT to move to this neighbourhood).  Solomon then through his persistence in digging into the past and the present of the town uncovers corrupt officials, drug deals etc. and it all plays out.

Frankly a lot of the whole thing is totally unbelievable so if reality in your book plots is important to you ignore this.  If though you like a bit of suspension of reality this is a good read.  However I'm not totally sure I'm itching for the next book.

So a single thumbs up on the FITUBRS*

The Beauty of The End - Debbie Howells.

My daughter lent me this one.  Now here is a totally believable tale.  Set in Southern England in the modern day our hero is not what you'd expect.  Noah is a washed up lawyer scratching a living writing some moderately successful detective novels.  He frankly is a bit of a loser.  He's called by his old best friend from school, Will,  to say that the woman who has been his only love since the age of 15, April, has attempted suicide and also is suspected of a murder.  He can't accept she is guilty and heads off to help.  The evidence does seem compelling.

However through a series of flash backs in to his life and how it all now begins to become plain to him some of the things he'd chosen to ignore, blank out.  Alongside this we meet Ella a teenager who is troubled by her family and her relationships in it.  How is she part of this?  That becomes clear and the exposé is gripping.  Some of the reveals were a bit  signposted for me but one or two toward the end were not.  Well worth reading but it is a bit grim at times but has a bitter sweet ending I suppose.

Two thumbs up on the FITUBRS*

The Woman in Cabin 10 - Ruth Ware

Another of my daughter's hand ons.  This is a classic style whodunnit thriller.  Set on a small luxury cruise liner (to reduce to a manageable size the suspects) there's a touch of the Christie about it.  Our heroin is convinced a murder has been carried out and a body dumped over board.  She heard it happen, heard the splash, saw the blood, saw the victim earlier.  However everyone says the victim wasn't there at all.  No one is missing and there's simply no evidence.  Drink, depression, anxiety are all used as weapons against out intrepid amateur sleuth as she battles to be believed.

This is a bit slow to get going, Honestly after about 30 - 40% of the way in I did nearly not bother but my daughter said it was worth it.  It was in the end as the reveal of what had gone on when it came was a complete surprise which does make a change.  Another clever technique by the author is to have chopped the book up into a few parts.  Before each one you see some exchange by family/friends not on the boat about their concerns which really created some tension.  Just a shame it took a while to get going.

One thumb up on the FITUBRS*

Meastra - L.S. Hilton

Or as correctly titled completely.  Meastra - the most shocking thriller you'll read this year.  Really?  I'll return to this...

An thriller set in the art dealing world.  That could have worked potentially, the dodgy dealing of fakes or at least paintings of dubious authenticity or the use of art work as a means for organised crime to wash or transfer money etc.  That could be good but somewhere clearly the decision was taken to say to the author "It needs to be more 50 shades".  So sadly there is introduced a sub plot involving debauched sex activity most of which is graphically detailed and frankly isn't necessary.  Also the main character, Judith, is frankly bloody unlikeable.  Well she was likeable as the ambitious art interested kid from the council estate in Liverpool who'd got her break and was in the inner circle in the art world.  Her battling the sexism and the corruption would have been an acceptable story.  But instead we have this character who uses sex to get what she wants who feels obliged to tell us every designer label she wears or carries at every opportunity and then turns to even lower forms of depravity to further her life.   At the end of it rather than cheering her success on I wanted her exposed and punished for it all.

So the most shocking thriller you'll read this year?  No.  Well the most shocking thing is that it was printed in the version it was - cut the sex out for a start but I fear I possibly wasn't the target audience for this - any women who liked 50 shades but wanted a better plot line - well that is what this is.   The second most shocking thing.  LS Hilton was paid a seven figure advance for this and the following two in the trilogy and the film rights.... that is shocking and frankly sad.

One thumb down on the FITUBRS* - saved from two down by some of the art shenanigans being worth a thriller.

* Furtheron International Thumbs Up Book Review Scale -
lowest is both thumbs down with a frown
two thumbs down,
one thumb horizontal,
two thumbs horizontal,
one thumb up,
two thumbs up
two thumbs up with a grin - very rarely awarded

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

12 String Pickup upgrade

Do you remember the 12string I made a while back?

And here it is now.  What's the difference?  The pickups - my wife bought me some Wilkinson Hot Strat pickups.  I went for the hot more since they have flat pole pieces, not staggered as the vintage models do.  I just thought on a 12 string with the different gauges etc. that would be better for string balance.

I'm really chuffed with the result.  A quick desolder and disassembly of the pickups that came on the kit supplied sratchplate and then re-solder in the new replacements.  They are a big big improvement over the originals.  The bridge in particular in quiet hot and very punchy, ok for emphasising arpeggio lines whilst the middle and neck are really excellent for strumming chords.  I retained the 7 way wiring, the bridge pickup is connected to the small switch, when that is on then the bridge pickup is always on whatever you set the 5 way selector to.  That allows you to have 2 extra sounds, Bridge and Neck together and all three on.  For under £30 for the set these Wilkinsons really impress.  I'd recommend them to anyone wanting to upgrade a cheap strat in a cost effective way

Friday, 15 July 2016

About time - Pete Townshend Strat

Apologies for the sparsity of posting on here recently.  The EU Referendum took too much of my energies away in social media land, that and end of year college work, health issues... blah blah...

So back with some good news.  Pete Townshend has had a lot of custom signature guitars out before, Rickenbacker,  Gibson - twice electric with an SG and Les Paul and one acoustic .  In the Schecter line up there is still a PT model based on another signature model.  The bizzarre thing being is whilst many of these have been introduced in recent years since the late 80s Pete has himself pretty much exclusively used a Fender Strat.  So finally we actually get a release from Fender that is the closest to the guitar Pete has used for the last 25 plus years.

Based on the mark1 Eric Clapton strat it has Gold Lace Sensors that model featured but not seen on many Fenders for a number of years with Eric and others moving on to the Fender noiseless pickups.  It has the same soft v neck and the same control layout with a master TBX control and the mid boost introduced on the Eric Clapton strat.

However there are some major differences.  Where as the EC signature has a vintage vibrato that has been "blocked off" as Clapton never uses it but prefers the sound of a vibrato fitted strat, so a wooden block prevents it working as a vibrato.  Pete's however features a Fishman Power bridge giving him a Piezo acoustic type sound to use as well.  The additional control behind the bridge is the volume control for this addition.  Also with a functioning vibrato unit locking tuners are used as well. 

Really pleased for ages I've thought this should be the true current Pete Townshend signature model and I'm really pleased to see it in the range.

More info at Fender guitars.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

CD Review - Gilded - Blair Dunlop and Live the Farewell Tour - Bellowhead

Gilded - Blair Dunlop

I've enjoyed Blair's work since his first release Blight and Blossom.  Now I sit to write this I should actually play that back to back with House of Jacks (his sophomore effort) and Gilded, it'd be interesting to compare them as he has developed. Who is Blair?  Well his dad is Ashley Hutchings which if you know anything about British Folk Rock is something of a legend in that genre having been a key member of Fairport Convention, Steeley Span and the leader of The Albion Band for years.  Having his Dad's connections helps with people like Martin Simpson and Richard Thompson being amongst those who've tutored/mentored Blair.  Oh yes, if you are a film buff Blair played the young Willy Wonker in the Tim Burton remake of the Roald Dahl classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

What about this one then?  Well it is a move into more rockier less folk territory with more electric guitar, similar to the last Albion Band offering when Blair took over leadership of that band from his dad.  However the fundamental song structure and format, namely songs with a story, maintains that British Folk feel. There is more bite to some of the lyrics, I read an interview in Acoustic magazine where Blair joked that he was 24 now and was supposed to be angry.

Castello kicks off with a strummed acoustic (btw Blair uses Tanglewood Masterdesign models).  The song builds with drums, bass and some stonking organ with some terrific lyrics - the Manchester and Joy Division mentions are terrific.  By the end of that track you already know this is going to be a top album.

Other highlights for me are First World Problem which has the best electric playing from Blair on the album and can see this being a firm live favourite for a long time to come with a sing a long hook line and it's buck the system sentiment.  Up on Craigside is another one that kicks off just Blair and his acoustic which then builds under I'll kick against the rat race lyrics which I really like how he pictured the story.Eternal Optimist and The Egoist are other good tracks.  In fact there isn't any filler anywhere covering any cracks.  I thoroughly recommend you give it a listen - it is up on Spotify for those who use that.

Live the Farewell Tour - Bellowhead.

The world is a duller less good place since on 1st May 2016 Bellowhead played their last ever gig at the site of their first one 12 years before in Oxford.  Sadly the Bellowhead story is over as Jon Boden the lead singer, main arranger and focal point of live performances decided that he wanted to move in other directions and wouldn't continue in the 11 piece group.  The group understandably decided that without Jon there could be no Bellowhead and thus sadly they are no no more.  This double CD and DVD combo (bargain at only £15!) is therefore their final hurrah.

It captures what made Bellowhead such an exciting and loved act.  Let's just think about it.  Say I wrote on here that I planned to form an 11 piece folk band with a bunch of multi-instrumentalists, all who are great vocalists, the line up to include woodwind in the form of oboe, bass clarinet, sax and brass like trombone, trumpet and the bass handled by brass low instruments mostly a Helicon.  For good measure most of the groups repetitive would be old folk songs and sea shanties.  I think many of you would smile and think me deluded.  But given any tour of Bellowhead is normally sold out in minutes in venues most top folk acts would never dream of filling the bizarre notion was incredibly successful.

The collection of songs spans the bands recorded output.  The top ones for me are Roll Alabama, Haul Away, Let Union Be, Roll the Woodpile Down, Let Her Run, London Town and New York Girls... but I struggled to get the list that short!  The DVD is well shot and captures the energy and fun the band clearly have in every performance.  It is a great shame that they are no more but this is a really fitting finale and tribute to them.  As I pointed out the cost of a double CD and DVD combo is a phenomenal bargain.  Again it's on Spotify to listen to... esp my USA readers if you never heard them go see what good UK folk can sound like - trust me you'll be dancing in you huge USA kitchen whilst cooking waffles wishing you were English and had like me been privileged to see this lot live before they were gone.