Monday, 29 June 2009

Still life with wheel spokes, grazed elbow and knee

That's my elbow on the left, if you were wondering: it was difficult to get everything into one picture.











Thankfully only a mishap: I braked a little too late at a roundabout in a high gear. Typical really, I was two minutes from getting back home after an exhilarating hour or so in the countryside in torrential rain. The rain had now stopped, the road wasn't actually busy, but a split second of misjudgment saw me slide ever so gracefully (I use that term mendaciously) onto the tarmac.

Nothing more than superficial harm done though (except I'll have to have a look at the brakes), and I'd had an otherwise fantastic time. The sense of freedom of going out in such weather, combined with seeing the steam rise off the road like early morning mist, once the rains had given way to sunshine once more - I wouldn't have missed it for anything.

Friday, 26 June 2009

The potential for devastation

It was on my mind all day. Not necessarily at the forefront, but certain triggers would bring it right back into sharp, tense focus.

Waiting for news: not wanting to phone but wanting to know, being sure that the phone call would come eventually.

The sometimes unbearable bliss of ignorance in the meantime, and the occasional moment of actual forgetting.

The forgetting is the worst, I remember vividly the times when I would forget that my father was terminally ill: you can't hold these things in your mind all the time - not if you want to retain at least some sanity - yet I would feel bad upon realising that I had experienced moments, however brief or long, of having forgotten.

(How dare I forget?)

Today I was forcefully reminded just what a tapestry can form in one's mind during the waiting: a multitude of potential outcomes. Not daring to hope that things might be ok. Yet also being aware that what for me was still a potential outcome was already an actuality, albeit one I didn't know as yet.

I made sure I ate something as soon as I got home, just in case the news, when it came, might render my appetite redundant for the foreseeable future. I sat in the "now" of the moment, wondering whether this "now" might also come to form a significant sense of "before."

The phone rang.

My heart, oddly enough, didn't leap into my throat. I was calm.

So was my mother.

Things are ok, at least for now, thank goodness. The subtle yet palpable charge in these moments, that electricity, I wish I could harness it somehow, to use that energy to propel so many things forward and onward.

Yet it seems to me - rightly or wrongly - that such electricity is only generated in these painful, special moments of waiting.



The rain has eased, outside is calm too: I'm sat quietly in the half-light of the evening.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Good things

Thanks to having to take on some extra work of late, I've had little time to think properly. One might argue that when I have all the time in the world, my thinking is somewhat deficient, but that's beside the point.

I don't mind working hard and taking on a bit extra, but it becomes a problem when that work encroaches into my personal time and takes small but significant chunks out of my evenings and also my weekends. It's a bit demoralising too when there's no apparent end to all this extra stuff: no wonder there's been a faint whiff of mutiny in some quarters.

Anyway I was musing on all this mid-morning - it's interesting that recently my main thinking time has been whilst travelling and grabbing a little breathing space between work appointments - and I was feeling faintly resentful that, as a result, I've not been able to do much in recent weeks. No writing time, no making music time.

No *whisper* cycling time. I mean, come on! What's that all about?

It suddenly became apparent, as I decided to take an early lunch rather than head straight back to the office, just how distant I feel from considerations such as making music and the frame of mind which is intrinsically linked to such processes.

Bugger, I thought. Yes, if nothing else, I've retained my powers of articulation.

Oh well, I thought (continuing the already-established trend of cogent wordsmithery), as I finished my lunch and began my reluctant stroll back to the office.

As I walked, I bumped into an acquaintance. Let's call him Dave (name changed from Colin for the purpose of this blog, to protect his identity). We had a chat for a couple of minutes, just catching up, and then he mentioned he's organising a gig, aiming to get a few bands together for an event in the late summer. Would I be up for playing?

Sure, I don't see why not....in fact yes, definitely.

Now that served to immediately cheer me up. We talked through a few details and he promised to send me some information, and then I carried on back to work feeling much lighter in mood. For one thing, it immediately reduced that sense of distance I mentioned above, and I found myself already thinking about what ideas I could develop, what existing ideas I could brush up or alter, and so on.

For another thing (and a far less important one) it means that, as long as it does go ahead, then I will have maintained an unbroken run of only playing when asked. I don't hold this as any kind of principle, it's merely that I came to the realisation that I've never actually requested to play a gig or event of any kind, I've always been asked by others. I just quite like it being that way. Well regardless, it's something new to focus on and look forward to.

When I got back to work, I found that many of the work issues which have been exercising me as mentioned above, have largely been resolved. Which didn't exactly do my mood any harm either. I needed not to extend my work commitments into this evening, for once.

Which therefore meant that I could get a decent bike ride in this evening, making the most of the beautiful weather and enjoying every moment out in the countryside. Perhaps a shame then, that my thought processes extended no further than to think of song titles and to change them to have cycling references in them.

The only one I'll mention though (because most of them are awful) is that old garage-punk classic, 96 Gears.

I know, it's not good is it?

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

A tenner for your thoughts

I was walking along through a shopping arcade today, inbetween work appointments and (hence) much that is annoying me.

When I saw it.

a £10 note (overseas readers should use the currency converter for a sense of the true import of this).

Glinting in the sunlight, diffuse as it was through the overhead decorative windows: sepia-toned (I'm not sure if that was the note itself or the dreamlike state I found myself in upon spotting said item), inviting me to reach down and pick it up.

I did, and immediately felt guilty.

Being honest/stupid (delete as appropriate), I walked up to the person twenty feet ahead of me and asked if he'd dropped any money.

Thankfully he was as honest/stupid as me, and said no, he hadn't. So I am £10 richer.

I know it's not the most exciting thing to blog about, but it's the best thing that's happened to me all day.

So far, anyway...

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Jazz

I'm away from home til later, but I wanted to remark upon the fact that I'm listening right now to Count Basie on crackly old vinyl, plucked from a clutch of old jazz records a friend acquired from his father (partially so that he can record them onto cd for him).

It seems a very appropriate way to remember my own dad, being as it's Father's Day.

The sun is shining outside, and the birds are singing: it's a lovely morning.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

...les autres

I've just been out onto the local high street to run a couple of errands. Had a perfectly pleasant morning, getting up quite early and just pottering around the flat - feeling quite clear-headed and refreshed.

It's slightly odd at the moment when I walk out and round the corner. The house next door has been vacated recently, and is still standing empty: no curtains or nets, and one can see from the front window right through to the back of the property. In the large, empty front room, all bare walls and floorboards, is a single chair: its wooden surface disguised by cracked white paint; sat on it is a golden-haired doll, staring blankly.

It's rather eerie, one can begin to construct horror-movie narratives, especially when espying the doll on returning home in the late evening.

Anyway, I walked along the street, and as I neared the high street - the main shopping area in this part of the city - I felt my otherwise light mood start to plunge.

Saturday morning - therefore, other people. Lots of them.

My tolerance isn't what it used to be, and I think that's quite an understatement: years ago, back when I was still alive, it didn't seem like a Saturday unless I'd gone out on the bus and spent some time in the city centre, amid the throng and the bustle. These days I can hardly bear it, and unless I'm heading into the city for a specific reason, I'll avoid it like the plague. In fact I'm far more likely to get on the bike and head in the opposite direction, into the bliss that is the countryside.

There's nothing that winds me up more than people who either don't look where they're going - or worse still, don't care that they bump into you as though you're not there, who seem to act as though the street is solely theirs, or who seem surprised when they (say) take a few backwards steps, that there are actually other people behind them. So surprised that they don't even think to say sorry to the person they've just inadvertently elbowed or stepped on or whatever.

Surprised or ignorant, or both. People who never care to admit that they might be in the wrong.

So it's not without trepidation that I realise that, in an hour or so, I'll be heading out into the city centre. Thankfully, the reason for the journey is that I'll be going straight to the train station, off to go and see friends elsewhere, and it takes mere minutes to get from the bus stop to the station. I still know that there'll be way too many opportunities for my tolerance levels to be severely exercised though.

In an aside, I recall one of my more recent Saturday jaunts to the local high street (relatively bearable, at least compared with the hell that is the city centre) - one of my favourite shops is on a quieter side road, and I'd been perturbed to note that the shutters were down.

I bumped into the shop owner that same evening in the local pub - a nice enough bloke, but the weight of the world often seems to be perched upon his shoulders. I asked if everything was ok, I'd noticed that the shop wasn't open today.

The crestfallen look of sheer gravity and despair on his face was quite singular, and the ensuing conversation was a bit of a struggle: I was rather reminded of a certain comedy sketch - thankfully in this case, no fatalities ensued as a consequence.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Space, silence, and birdsong

Here's a little bit of footage from Lud's Church.
video

I realise I haven't done much by way of actual writing on this here blog of late, but my head is a bit too crowded, things are hectic, and I haven't much space to allow the thoughts and words to flow at the present time.

Spaces like the above are a suitable antidote, it would be nice to have more of that.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Drive

I went for a walk with Fire Byrd today, but since she's posted a number of photos on her own blog, I thought I'd add a clip of us driving through the countryside: it was just as enjoyable in itself (I'd suggest turning your sound down a little if you're watching).
video

I may post more photos or film clips in due course, but this will do for now: I'm pleasantly tired after three hours or so of walking in amazing scenery, including the rather stunning Lud's Church - atmospheric at the best of times, but especially so today. The silence demanded that you stop and listen to it - demanded stillness and reflection. Occasionally, it was punctuated by the sound of beautiful birdsong which filtered down and reverberated subtly against the rock.

Had we not had a good few miles more to walk, it would be easy enough to have remained in that place for a long time.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Endless Endless

I've been delighted by some recent reissues of material by one of my favourite bands from the late 80s/early 90s. I'm reminded, amongst many other things, of one warm, balmy summer evening back in 1987, as I was listening in the front room back at my parents' house to John Peel (surprise surprise) on the radio.

I can easily forget just how frustrating it could be at times, listening to his show. There were frequent "bad"nights in which he played little or nothing which I enjoyed or was amazed by. I would keep listening though, just in case: the other side of the coin was the glut of "good" nights in which there was a whole embarrassment of musical riches.

On this particular summer evening, I recall becoming greatly enthused and excited by a track he was playing: I didn't know who it was by or what it was called, but it demanded my attention more and more. It was all on the same note, a constant, repeating single-note fuzz-guitar line over a more melodic but equally repetitious bass riff, all underpinned by a basic but highly propulsive drum beat. Above this were some vocals, heavily reverbed, alternating with multilayered but gloriously simple lead guitar lines.

As one "verse" ended, the guitars kicked in, then the next verse, then more guitars, and so on, all underpinned by this primal, mono-toned rhythm section. The net effect was that it became more and more mesmeric, gaining momentum by sheer repetition, and I was immediately hooked. Peel subsequently announced (in typical lugubrious style) that it was called Spinning, and was by a band called Loop.

So, right now, I'm in the middle of a marathon session of listening to The World In Your Eyes, a career-spanning 3cd compilation which brings together all of their singles, b-sides and so on.

This compilation, in addition to their three studio albums - also reissued with various extras - seems to be affording Loop a bit of a critical reappraisal: thoroughly deserved, in my opinion.

Early on (and to some extent, throughout their lifespan), they were frequently compared - usually unfavourably - to psychedelic drone merchants, Spacemen 3. It's not hard to see why, since their respective sounds had many elements in common - drones, feedback, elemental and repetitious riffs, fuzzed-out wah-wahed guitars in abundance, and a clear nod to the likes of the Stooges, Velvet Underground, MC5 and many distinctly more esoteric purveyors of spaced-out, hypnotic music.

Spacemen 3 were seen by many as being the more authentically trippy, out-there experience.

In retrospect, I think that's a fair summation, though one which does no disservice to Loop: their sound developed (not entirely smoothly) away from the dense slabs of psychedelic guitar sound of their first album, Heaven's End, into something different and more distinct: refined, darker, and yet more satisfyingly powerful than these earlier efforts.

The second album, Fade Out, is a transitional affair which has greatly improved with age, to my mind: I gave away my vinyl copy at the time, it seemed rather patchy and uneven, though it had clear standout tracks - yet the album makes much more sense in retrospect. It paves the way for their later work, veering in places into more experimental ideas and expanding their sonic palette, whilst still grounded by crunching, monolithic riffs and a minimalist ethic.

By the time of their third and final album, A Gilded Eternity, they had progressed from operating very much within a "rock" template, and more towards using the elements common to "rock" music as a point of departure: a means to explore much more esoteric, textural, but also dissonant and jagged territory. Some of the song titles are telling: Vapour; Afterglow; From Centre to Wave. What remains are the elements which render them hypnotic, mesmeric: the repetitious riffs, rhythms and drones, now sitting within a more finely-considered, almost glacial soundscape. A soundscape which still, somehow, emphatically rocks.

In fact this final album is their strongest work, an excellent album by any standards, and it contains perhaps their most complete moment - the epic melancholy of Be Here Now. Ten minutes of richly evocative music - all interlocking guitars hinged around a haunting central riff, pinned down by drums and bass, but which positively soars.

It makes that first track, I mentioned, Spinning, sound rough and primitive by comparison: but the common thread between them is that insistent, irresistable sense of repetition which serves to propel it ever onwards, spiralling upwards.

That memory of hearing Spinning for the first time remains just as vivid, just as exciting.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Conflicted

I'm currently sat at home watching the Turkish Grand Prix live. Ok, to be more precise, I'm currently sat at home blogging about the fact that I'm watching the Turkish Grand Prix live.

It feels very odd, being currently sat at home doing what I've just described above, since I don't have a telly. Haven't had one for years.

I've just about got my head around the fact that I can, should I so wish, watch various programmes on iPlayer - though so far I've only done so once: there are reasons, after all, why I have no television. But if there's anything which I do tend to miss (aside from decent documentaries and so on) it's being able to watch football and Formula One.

So it feels like a real novelty to have been able to write the first sentence of this post - iPlayer is one thing, but being able to watch the Grand Prix live is quite marvellous.

But it's just weird: I somehow feel like I shouldn't be doing it, as though I've compromised a principle or something.

Well that's just silly.

What preceded the beauty

There's a glut of writings about the 65th D-Day anniversary, of course there is. Many poignant photographs too, of aged gentlemen in their uniforms stood on the beaches at Normandy, alone in their thoughts. One can only wonder.

I feel fortunate to have read this article, it manages to strike a fine balance between the business of the anniversary, and the drama of the landings themselves. The paragraphs in particular detailing what happened to many as they landed on the beaches - beginning at the third paragraph - I found to be incredibly affecting.