Monday, 30 May 2011

Pick your own "Desert Island Discs"

The BBC radio show "Desert Island Discs" is built on one of the simplest of ideas. If you were marooned on a desert island with just eight pieces of music, which eight pieces would you choose?
Each week, a different guest is asked to make their selection of music and also pick a book and a luxury item to make their exile more bearable. The show, devised by Roy Plomley, was first broadcast in 1942 and is the longest running factual programme in the history of radio.

For a short period, the BBC have given all those of us who are never likely to be invited onto the show, a chance to make our choices. So if you fancy registering your particular desert island listening faves, check out the "Your Desert Island Discs" web-page.

Just for the record, (no pun intended) the songs that I picked are:

"Harry's house/Centerpiece" by Joni Mitchell
I'd have to take something by Joni Mitchell. She was probably the first female singer/songwriter that I picked up on and she will always be the bench-mark. She's written so many outstanding songs over the years that I could have easily used up all eight choices from her back catalogue. This song is a perfect evocation of a particular American lifestyle. It also has the advantage of being two songs in one, so I effectively sneak in an extra choice. Smart, eh?

"One of those days in England (Parts 2 to 10)" by Roy Harper
An anthem of nostalgia for an England that may well have existed and that I can almost remember. I was too young to remember ration books, but I do remember the smell and heat of steam trains and how, if you were lucky, the engine driver would acknowledge with a grin if you'd waved at him.
The song also begins with references to "signing on" at the dole office. That rings a few bells too. 

"He's on the beach" by Kirsty MacColl
This is a song that I could imagine being sung by everyone who isn't on my desert island.
It's also fabulously upbeat. 

"Watcher of the skies" by Genesis
I can remember exactly where I was when I first heard this track. The mellotron introduction was like nothing I'd ever heard before and it made me realise that there was a whole new area of music out there that I could enjoy. A shared appreciation of this type of music led to sharing flats and houses with a whole raft of friends and this song is for them.

"Black light machine" by Frost*
The first time I heard this, I could not believe it. As with the Genesis song, I know exactly where I was for that first time. It had probably been decades since I'd been so joyfully surprised by any piece of music.
Ten minutes of almost perfect "prog" and it also includes my absolute favourite guitar solo.

"You've got a friend" by James Taylor
A song for me to sing along with while I watch the sunset and think about all my friends back in civilization.
"Bring the rain" by Judie Tzuke
Another female singer/songwriter. If there's a British Joni Mitchell, this is her. I've never understood how she failed to get the recognition that she really deserves.
A lovely song.

"Winter wine" by Caravan
This track is taken from "The Land of Grey and Pink", the first album that I bought. That record was played almost to destruction in a flat that I shared with some friends back in the 1970s.
If there's a single lyric from any song that I feel sums up how I'd like to live my life, it's in this song.

Life's too short to be sad, wishing things you'll never have
You're better off not dreaming of the things to come
Dreams are always ending far too soon.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

You find out who your friends are when you've got no toilet

There aren't many scarier DIY jobs than removing a lavatory, especially if it's the only one in the house.
This is a task that I've had to do a couple of times, but this time, as we needed to clear the bathroom of everything that could be removed ready for the plasterers, we knew that there would be no opportunity to refit it for at least two days while they did their stuff.

Luckily for us, our neighbours were kind enough to offer us "unrestricted access to their facilities".
This was a considerable refief, so that's a big "Thank you" to them.

It could have been so much worse...

Friday, 27 May 2011

Plumb Crazy

This is just a quick update for those of you faithful followers who may have thought that I'd moved to Alpha Centauri. Alongside all the normal excuses for not posting; work, gigs, rehearsals and chronic laziness, I've been doing a bit of DIY.

A couple of weeks ago, we started renovating the bathroom. This is a project that we've been contemplating for several years, so I surprised myself by agreeing that we should get the job done this year. Before I knew what was happening, we'd bought a bathroom suite, ordered a load of new tiles and arranged to have the room re-plastered.

As our house only has one bathroom, comprising bath, washbasin and our only lavatory, the logistics of ripping out the old fittings, knocking all the old plaster and tiles off the walls, getting the walls and ceiling re-plastered, re-tiling and installing the new suite was never going to be plain sailing. If nothing else, we knew that we'd be facing at least two days with no operational toilet once the room was stripped clean for plastering, followed by a period with a jury rigged bath on flexible plumbing and a WC that is only flushable with buckets of water.

I probably would never have considered doing this type of job myself if I hadn't installed the old bathroom, nearly thirty years ago. After all, I'm older and wiser now and plumbing technology has moved on, so it should be dead easy now...

Here's how it looked before we started.  

to be continued...

Friday, 6 May 2011

The spirit of "Spinal Tap" is alive and... well

My band, "Nightflight" had a gig last Saturday at one of our more regular haunts, "The Old Ship" in Macclesfield. 

This is a great little boozer. We generally have a good time when we play there, so we're always happy to accept a booking. 

Up until about a year ago, the space available for setting up the equipment was pretty cramped. We had to find a way of shoe-horning four people, a PA system, a bass amp and speakers, a drum kit, a keyboard and sundry microphone stands and foot-pedals into a small alcove surrounded on three sides by bench seating and an upright piano. Playing in tight spaces is difficult enough, but setting up the gear is even worse. Everybody is in each others way and it becomes hard not to have a massive sense of humour failure.

Fortunately, it's much better now. The landlady had all the benches taken out, along with the wretched piano and installed some extra power sockets and a nice new floor. We've got sufficient elbow room to set up the gear without constantly bumping into each other and our performance is less likely to be marred by the guitarist getting  a cymbal stand jabbed up his rectum every time be takes half a pace back from the microphone.

So the gig went pretty well. There were quite a few familiar faces there, so we played the usual mix of classic rock covers and our own original songs and this was very well received. We had a good time. In fact I think I may have been enjoying myself  a bit too much.

A couple of our most loyal fans had come along and as they are keen on our version of "Holding out for a hero", we decided to finish the night with it.
Yes, I know it's completely cheesy and that Bonnie Tyler should never be forgiven for inflicting the song on humanity; but it's fun. There is no way that you can overdo this song. It is an excuse for all manner of over the top power-chord nonsense, monstrous drum rolls and neo-operatic vocal drama.
The fan club was lapping it up, everybody was up and dancing and "Hero" was going down a storm. 
For the big finish guitar solo, Dennis, taking advantage of his wireless guitar rig, set off across the bar into the midst of the dancers, so I decided to join in too. As we shredded away surrounding by the bopping throng, I had a brilliant idea. 
"I'll try that thing they did in the Spinal Tap film, where the guitarist does his solo and leans backwards so far that he ends up lying on his back, still playing."

It started well enough. I went into a sort of limbo posture and dropped down on my knees, then gradually leaned further backwards as I pounded out a thundering bass line to underpin the howling guitar solo. 
Further and further backwards I went until, inevitably I lost my balance. 
My shoulders hit the floor and I continued playing. as I lay on my back surrounded by completely perplexed punters.

Now why I ever thought that this would be a bit of quality showmanship, I have no idea. After all, in "This is Spinal Tap" it didn't exactly end well, but at least they looked the part. Check out the video clip of the trailer at about 2 minutes 30 seconds, and you'll see what I mean.

When I did this, I just ended up looking like some poor old bloke who'd "had a fall".

It was a very long way from rock and roll...