Tuesday, 26 February 2008


So I've just spent an hour searching through old audio cassettes looking for a particular snippet of music (something recorded on a cheap tape recorder with a Casio keyboard in London in 1988...but that's another story) which I hope to incorporate in a suitably mangled way into what I'm working on. I was amazed to actually find it but, as I rifled through the storage box, coughing as small clouds of dust obscured my view, and cursing as the phone went - how DARE someone interrupt me! - I found a tape of New Orleans Jazz, which (surprise surprise) triggered off a memory.

(note: are there any blog awards for overly convoluted sentence structures?)

Anyway it's an odd one, and there's no punchline as such, but I thought I'd share it anyway.

I'd bought the tape while at college, and used to listen to it on headphones while I was working on a number of specific, large-scale abstract charcoal drawings: it was part of a project. You can tell this is going back a while: listening on headphones, pre-tinnitus. But I associate this tape less with the aforementioned project, than with one particular weekend around the time that I didn't have (for a number of reasons) a fixed address. I was thankful for the hospitality of a couple of friends who had a place in the halls of residence (after one weekend I was equally thankful that I didn't have a place of my own in the halls).

On the Saturday night, I think we'd had a night out and come back to the room in the halls. After some late night conversation and listening to music we retired. My place of repose was the living room floor - there was no settee, only very uncomfortable chairs - where I had a couple of blankets, and a cushion for a pillow. I'm not exactly the tallest person in the world, so it's telling that in order to lie comfortably, I had to lie with my head and shoulders underneath the desk in the corner of the room.

Lights out, and I realised (no shit, Sherlock) that it would take me a while to get settled or vaguely comfortable enough to actually get any sleep. So I put my personal stereo on, with the sound of the aforementioned New Orleans Jazz tape being piped into my oh-so-cultured ears. I remember that just next to me, also under the desk, was a box with a few potatoes in it. Quite why it was under the desk, I don't know.

Quite why, over the sounds of the tape, I could hear what sounded like the potatoes moving around in the box, I don't know either. I would have known if there were rodents or anything else of that ilk in the room: I certainly wouldn't have stayed on the floor. I seem to recall turning the light on briefly, and yes, it was just a box with a few potatoes in it. I also seem to recall waking up in the night - long after I'd removed the headphones - several times by the same sound: potatoes moving round in the box.

Whatever the explanation, I never solved it: so like I say, there's no neat ending or punchline here as such. But just seeing the cover of the New Orleans Jazz tape took me right back to a few short weeks of no fixed abode, of that weekend in the poky little room, and of what was apparently (and for all intents and purposes shall remain) a box of moving potatoes.

And no, I wasn't the druggy type either.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Looming deadlines

I think it's fair to say that if there are any underlying themes to this blog, one of the recurring ones is that of my attempts to reconnect with things which have been of fundamental importance to me, but which I feel I've lost touch with over the course of the last few years.

Music is one of those things and I've had, at certain times, some success in busying myself with the process of playing, writing and recording music again. Or, to put it a little more accurately, the process of mangling sounds.

Well something has cropped up which is very much the kick up the arse I need: I don't want to go into any detail at the present time because it would somehow feel like tempting fate (that's really without any rational basis but I'll allow myself to be led by it all the same), but basically I've agreed to the offer to play at a venue in a few short weeks from now.

Suddenly, what this has meant in real terms is that since Thursday I've spent several hours hunched over my laptop and monitor speakers recording, arranging, editing, layering, deleting, cutting and pasting, fretting, and generally being utterly absorbed in the whole process. It's been easier to spend the time doing this while I've been away from work, but now that there's a deadline against which I feel like I'm going to be judged, it now feels like I can't afford not to keep myself involved.

And it's great. I've had a break from it today because I'm giving my poor ears a rest, but it's reminded me just how much all of this used to keep me occupied on a daily basis. The main challenge at the moment is to ensure I've enough usable material to perform, but what I've really noticed over the last week or two is how my thinking has changed as a result of having something to work towards: no putting things off, I have to keep coming back to it, trying different things, reworking and re-editing, obsessively listening back over and over.

Actually, obsessively is a key word in all this. I was involved in a remixing project a few years ago and once I'd set to it I very quickly found myself rearranging the furniture in my flat in accordance with the way I was working. On other occasions, with particular ideas going through my mind, I might get up in the middle of the night to listen back to something or to change an aspect of it, and only then would I be able to settle back to sleep. I can feel that obsessiveness coming back to some small degree, and it's welcome in the sense that it's closely allied to something constructive and creative.

The main thing is, I'm starting to achieve a sense of continuity with what I'm working on, and that feels very healthy. It's also a balance against the things I'm pissed off with, and as such is much-needed. I'm already having the occasional stab of anxiety: what if things go wrong? Well the fact that things will be actually going in the first place is enough at the moment.

I hope to post more on this as things progress. But it makes me reflect on just how stupidly negative I can be: in general, when I've felt like work or other things are grinding me down, I manage to think of all sorts of disincentives for working on music (or anything else creative for that matter): yet on the occasions when I've actually made a start, suddenly I feel like I'm in my element and that everything is all right with the world again.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Light and shade

I awoke first thing, to notice that the same unearthly quality of light that defined yesterday's dying sun also illuminated its initial showing this morning: an all-encompassing sulphurous yellow glow which appeared not so much to bathe, but to positively drench all in its sights.

I returned for a while to sleep. When the alarm aggressively brought to an end some quite vivid and telling dreams, the first thing I noticed was the change in the light again: the warmth of its previous state now replaced by a frosty, foggy whiteness.

A fine day, then, to follow through with my plans to head back up to Matlock for another day of walking. I was on my own this time. Company brings with it a completely different set of dynamics on days like this, whereas on my own my thoughts and moods tend to ebb and flow - in accordance with probably a whole number of factors - to sometimes seemingly bipolar extremes.
By way of illustration, here's a not entirely scientific equation:

Mood + thoughts = level of physical exertion +/- blood sugar levels +/- level of hydration (directly influenced by last night's alcohol intake at the pub quiz) + x (where x equals immediate surroundings and my response to them) + y (where y = any amount of memory triggers) x z (where z equals the amount of mental space for reflecting on recent events).


So whereas at many points on my perambulations today I was eager, enthusiastic and full of energy, then at certain moments I either actively avoided particular places due to the memories and feelings they evoked, or I trod a very careful path through them to say the least.

On the one hand, the contrasts experienced on a day like this - warm, bright sunshine, yet with snow and frost underfoot - can be breathtaking, regardless of the relatively modest scenery of Matlock. On the other, it can be like returning to an old photograph: a reminder of absence, or of something diminished - a trigger for recollection, but always linked to the awareness that the moment, in being captured, is gone forever. Thankfully the former took precedence over the latter.

Taking a sidestep from all that, I found myself wondering if I might ever reach a point at which I feel I've taken enough photographs with the camera pointed directly against the sun: on the evidence so far, that looks pretty doubtful.

Oh, and I made friends with another cat.

Monday, 18 February 2008


Two posts in one day? Cor blimey, anyone would think I was starting to become prolific. But late this afternoon the light had a really unearthly quality to it. I don't think the photos I took do it full justice but here are some of them all the same.


Following on from the booze references in the previous post, I was reminded of something very much alcohol-related from a few years ago.

One of the bands I used to play in never got beyond the rehearsal stage. This was never a problem for us, I always looked forward to the rehearsals: it was me and a couple of friends and a few gadgets, and one or two nights a week we would improvise music in the comfort of the house of one such friend. The stuff we used to churn out was epic, mesmeric psychedelic stuff which ebbed and flowed: sometimes very structured, other times completely eschewing any kind of order in favour of a formless wash of sound. Hark at me with my grandiose descriptions.

One significant feature of the rehearsals, and which surely both helped and hindered our musical noodlings in roughly equal measure, was the bottle of spirits which we would usually get from the rather quaint off license a few minutes down the road. Usually this was vodka, though from time to time we would sample other interesting concoctions on the recommendation of the owner. A number of times we would go for the imported Polish vodka, I remember not the name, but it was the ridiculously strong stuff (hence the title of the post) which to the uninitiated wouldn't smell or taste much different to some form of industrial furniture polish. Which probably counted us as being among the ranks of the uninitiated.

Still we would drink it anyway, a couple of capfuls each when each piece of music we were playing wound down to a natural halt (or if one of us needed the toilet). Despite the occasional grimace as this heady stuff hit the back of the throat, it gave a pleasant warming sensation, and served to increase our ability to shut out practically everything else apart from the music.

One of the residents of the house was a marvellous, genial and very knowledgeable chap called...well, let's call him Dave. He too was known for liking, and being able to hold, his drink. Occasionally during our rehearsals he would pop his head round the door to have a listen, perhaps share a capful or two of whatever our chosen poison was that week, and then leave us to carry on.

One evening we were taking a break as he looked in, and we invited him to share some of the strong Polish vodka with us. To our faint surprise he turned it down. Later on when we had finished for the night, we were sat talking with him and during the conversation I asked him if he didn't like the vodka. He then launched into an incredibly authoritative, technical and scientific-sounding description of the chemical makeup of this type of vodka - I still remember him talking about polymers and other such things in great detail, and was astounded by the eloquence of his explanation - and how it wasn't just stronger by volume, but potentially so much more volatile in its effects on the body. "Bad Shit" was how he summed it up at the end of this lengthy but fascinating discourse.

So we heeded his grave advice and decided to leave it alone, and at our next rehearsal a couple of nights later we reverted back to standard strength vodka. Later on when once again we were in conversation with Dave, we offered him a glass, pointing out that we had followed his advice from the other night.

"What advice?" he asked, looking slightly puzzled. I recounted to him as best I could the explanation he'd given, making sure I put the word polymers in there at some point, and how he'd basically shocked us into leaving the stuff well alone. By the time I'd finished he was in fits of laughter, making me wonder aloud whether I should be embarrassed about the inadequacy of my explanation.

"No, it's not that," he said, "it's just that I realise this must have been Tuesday night you're talking about. I can't remember saying any of it: I was, completely and utterly, pissed out of my face!"

Thursday, 14 February 2008


I was going to do a rant about V********s Day, but I really don't think I'm all that bothered about doing so. It was going to be a good excuse to use a terrible title though, something along the lines of Anti Valentine's Day Macassars. Never mind. Maybe next year eh?

But! I, amongst others, did get one of these - well, two in fact - the other day, thanks very much to queen vixen and pixie: nothing to do with V********s Day either, but why shouldn't I mention it today?

I'm away for the weekend, going to see a good friend of mine for intelligent conversation, a sing-song at the piano and...nah, chances are we'll get rather pissed, and I'm looking forward to that especially since I won't be turning up to work on Monday bleary-eyed and groggy: mainly because I'm not at work next week.

So if I do post anything at the weekend, I wouldn't expect it to be anything approaching coherent. Time will tell...

Tuesday, 12 February 2008


Thanks in part to the unseasonably good weather round our way, there's been an odd (but not unpleasant) atmosphere in the city this week. I think it's probably compounded by the fact that the schools are on half term holiday, which makes travelling to and from work a far less fraught and frustrating kind of experience. It also means I don't have to get up until 20 minutes after I usually would, since the roads are so quiet: well, relatively quiet anyway. Even the bus drivers are uncommonly cheerful, which is actually quite unsettling, so rare is it.

But - it's more than just a case of being quieter on the roads either side of the working day. Nor is it merely a case of the change in atmosphere being due to the unexpected sensation of the city being drenched in glorious, golden sunlight.

What has struck me, as I've walked along at the beginning of my day, is that it reminds me of a very early morning in late spring or summer: bright, pleasantly warm, and almost eerily still. Stop walking and, save for occasional birdsong, the quietness has been amazing.

The equivalent happened as I headed through the backstreets of town on my way from work this afternoon: it felt like a late spring evening, and the atmosphere practically demanded of me that I take my time and enjoy the moment. Even the car parks and industrial buildings, the alleyways and the canal where the drinkers congregate seemed pleasant enough places to take pause for a few moments (I could be cynical and say that this was because the sun was in my eyes and it was difficult to see at all, but I'll let that pass).

I suppose the slight feeling of eeriness that I'm getting at is because, whilst in no way unwelcome, it's way too soon for us to be having such a spell of weather. At this time of year, such conditions seem to alter the sense of time, so that my first couple of waking hours feel like 5am in June, and the late afternoon sun feels like 9pm midsummer. Take the school run away from the equation, and that just intensifies the whole feeling.

Mind you, thinking about it, this state of affairs also reminds me of the opening weekend of the 2002 World Cup finals. That was over the course of a bank holiday weekend in May (I think) and, since the tournament was in Japan and South Korea, many of the pubs were opening at ridiculously early hours of the day and serving breakfast for those who wanted to watch the first games. Come 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the legions of diehard footie fans (and drinkers), spurred on by fine weather and a long weekend before they had to return to work, were as inebriated as they would be at the end of a hectic Saturday night.

I remember wandering through the locale and feeling like I was walking through the village of the damned (I haven't seen the film of the same name but the phrase seemed to fit): all the carnage of a late night illuminated by the bright afternoon sun. A couple of inert bodies lay in the gutter; two people were stood in the middle of the road (there was barely any traffic since everyone appeared to be in the pub) trying to have a fight, violently swinging punches and looking puzzled as to why they didn't connect.

The fact was that these inebriated adversaries were a good ten feet away from each other, and it would have been amusing to watch - were it not all so odd and faintly grotesque. Further down the road a man in a similar state of intoxication tried and utterly failed to jump over the wall, 1ft high as it was, that stood between him and the entrance to the off-license.

Well, back to this week and its altogether more pleasant sense of disconnect. May as well get used to it, I'm sure we'll have much more of this kind of thing in the years to come; on the other hand, I may as well make the most of it for now, since the forecast indicates rain and snow come the weekend. At least it'll actually feel like February.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Receive an award, award an ASBO

The kindly dj kirkby has presented me with another award to add to the virtual mantelpiece, this one prompted by a shameless display of my tattoo - with accessories - on Caroline's blog (no I'm NOT providing a direct link to the post: I've already indulged in enough shameless self-promotion!). Thanks dj (and Caroline too), greatly appreciated!

Whilst this is graciously accepted, I'm going to do my usual thing of ignoring the conditions for passing it on to others, but I do think it would be appropriate of me to bestow it upon one particular blogger. His comments and his posts often puzzle me to say the least, but they are often punctuated by flashes of sheer brilliance; I recently suggested that he has the knack of expressing completely the opposite understanding of the point of many of my posts; he's also been consistently making cryptic (what else?) references to darts on my recent comment threads.

So I'm awarding zola this particular badge of (dis)honour, in light of the fact that not only did he finally answer my pleas to actually write a post about darts, but I also found it to be a cracking read (From Football To Darts, posted yesterday). Blogging above and beyond the call of duty, as far as I'm concerned. The only thing is, I don't think he'll accept this award unless I manage to convince him that it's actually an ASBO.


(I wonder if that'll do the trick)

Well it's there for him if he so wishes: zola take a bow.

Sunday, 3 February 2008


Typical that, just as my self-imposed teetotalism comes to an end, I end up suffering with what we shall euphemistically call a delicate stomach. I'll provide you with no more detail than that, despite the temptation to go into all sorts of intricately gory descriptions. It's a relief in all sorts of ways though, not to feel quite so - how shall I describe it - centrally governed today. It wasn't the norovirus that the very eloquent but why? has had the misfortune to suffer, I think it was something I ate which decided to rather violently disagree with me.

Enough of that already. This is one of those blog posts which feels a little bit aimless, but which doesn't necessarily feel like a bad thing. Often I find myself thinking about what to write about, and imposing certain tacit conditions as to whether I should write about something which is current, relevant (to me at least), structured, or in other words not so completely random that I wonder why on earth I might write it or why anyone might read it.

Not good. It's good to have certain conditions (not in the sense as that described in the first paragraph) otherwise this really would end up as the blogging equivalent of eating spaghetti without cutlery, on the other hand I don't see why I shouldn't write something purely because it might not flow or sit well with other topics.

So, earlier, I was thinking about the work of the painter, Mark Rothko. Possibly because, in a couple of weeks, I have some time off work: I've decided I really ought to go down to London and look round some of the galleries as well as doing some record shopping and whatever else may crop up. I haven't been down to London for quite some time.

When I first began attending art college, Rothko was for me the epitome of all that was dubious if not downright shit about art. This says much about my ignorance at the time, and it's not easy to remember the reasons - if indeed there were any clear ones - why I held this view so firmly. I know it's because I couldn't read his work in the way that I felt I could read that of, say, Picasso or Cezanne or Monet, but I don't recall whether I had a problem with it purely because it was abstract: I'm sure I did like other abstract works. I'm not sure either whether my disdain fell into such crass territory as that old chestnut, anyone could do that, what's so special about it?

But, I didn't like it. His work didn't speak to me, it was cold, dark, devoid of emotion, depth or feeling. On my visits to the Tate (before it diverged into Tate Britain and Tate Modern), I would wander through the room devoted to Rothko paintings, barely pausing except to register said disdain.

One day, on such a visit, I paused in the Rothko room. It was more dimly lit in there than in most of the rest of the gallery, which had added to my list of disincentives. I may have just decided to sit down on one of the seats for a few minutes and take a rest from the influx of quite intense visual information that can sometimes feel like sensory overload when looking at artworks over a period of time. By the time I left the room however, I was a convert. I have used this phrase often, but for some reason while I was sat in that room, something clicked.

Just as I've found it hard to pinpoint exactly what it was that had previously made his work seem so lacking, it's just as difficult to describe this complete and sudden turnaround: but sudden and complete it was. The simplest - and thus hardly the most accurate - way of describing it would be to say that whereas previously I just didn't "get" it, now I did, at least on my terms. Now that really isn't satisfactory at all, but for now it will have to do. Years later, when these works had been relocated to the Tate Modern, I took the train to London with the specific intention of spending a lot of time in the Rothko room: it was something I felt I needed to do.

I think I was in there for four or five hours, sometimes studying the individual paintings closely, other times standing back to view them in relation to one another and their surroundings, and still other times just being there and not focusing on anything specific. It was quite an intense experience, ranging from claustrophobic to something quite liberating and very lifting. In the end I had to leave and get out into the fresh air, but I was glad to have done it.

I'm also reminded of an anecdote of a friend of mine: an art lecturer, he accompanied a rather cynical acquaintance of his to some of the galleries in London. In a manner not dissimilar to my own, he was at his most cynical upon entering the Rothko room, stating that he didn't know what the work was about or even for, nor what effect he might expect it to have on anyone. To which my friend replied, "why are you whispering then?"

I'm already looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with them and with a whole host of other paintings and artworks.

Friday, 1 February 2008


My mobile stores the last 25 text messages I've sent. Here they are (less than 25 in fact - that's due to messages which have failed to send) - some are to the same person regarding the same subject, but I thought it better to leave any further context out of it so that you can make your own narrative should you so wish. They are in order of sending though, the earliest first:

*Anything on or you just having a sit down?*

*Stop avoiding the question*

*What is it?*

*Stick with it son*

*Did they rock? Do you need counselling? Which one is your fave? So many questions...*

*What a price to pay for love...*

*A bit of SPK might do the trick*

*Is tonight the night that two become one?*

*Don't remember that one*

*Paws duly crossed. Miaow*

*Oh good, v glad to hear it. Ta for letting me know*

*Yes for a bit. You?*

*See you there*

*Ok, bring drumsticks*

*Aye, will do*



*You in tonight, or are you FUCKING OFF OUT AGAIN?*


*Correct, you start tomorrow morning if that's ok*

*How is the little furry feller?*

*No worries. Just fed him earlier, seems content enough*