The value of things

“What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare. No time to stand beneath the boughs and stare as long as sheep or cows.” (William Henry Davies).

I don’t really have time to think, let alone stand and stare, in the office. So a lot of my thinking is done when I’m out walking. This evening, as Rufus was taking me for a walk, I got the brain kick started and set some braincells firing. As is often the way, my thoughts started off on a completely unrelated track . We’d been talking about eBay in work. eBay was where I bought some of the musical instruments that I used when playing in bands. That got me thinking about music and in particular the album on the mp3 player plugged into my ears. An old album called ‘Olias of Sunhillow’ by Jon Anderson. I remembered when I first heard about the album (it had been released about 5 years before that) and I decided to try and get a copy. There was no online route to buy obscure albums then, so I had to find a way of getting hold of a copy somehow. I ended up purchasing it from Virgin records in London during a school trip a few months later. I can picture myself now, sitting in the back of the minibus on the way home reading the album cover and wondering what it would sound like. With no Internet, there was no way to even listen to a sample.

By the time I got home, it was too late to listen to it, so I had to wait until the following morning. When I finally got it playing on the turntable, headphones on, it was as good as I had hoped. And by that time I had developed high hopes.

And this is my point. I had to work to get that album. It took about 6 months from start to playing the disc. By the time the needle hit the vinyl, the effort had given it a value far above the cash price. I suspect that even had it not been good, I would have liked it. (This happened years later when I got the latest Hawkwind album, after waiting weeks for its release. I loved it then but playing it again several months later I found it wasn’t as good as I had originally thought).

The anticipation made it special.

It got me thinking, now that I can hop online and download or stream a track to a mobile device or PC, does that devalue the product, make it less special? It makes it so much easier to obtain the music, and it does take away the anticipation. Does that affect they way I perceive it?

I have certainly found that music plays a different part in my life now. It has become the background noise to things I do where once listening to music was the thing I did. I don’t listen properly to the music any more. When I got ‘Olias’ I listened to every note, several times over. I still haven’t listened properly to the last album I bought – David Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’. It has been on – in the car and while I’m on the PC – but never while I’m doing nothing but listening. And that’s a shame.

I need to make more time to listen, and to give more value to the music.

“A poor life this if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”




Elvis has left the building

Many years ago, I started working with a guy who had the same mischievous sense of humour as me. That’s all I really ask for in a work colleague. We made work fun (which was necessary in those days), we made our colleagues laugh and we became friends. Andy was introduced to me as Elvis, as he had recently won a competition by impersonating Elvis and singing some of his hits. I saw him perform shortly afterwards at another work night out. He was very good. Being in a band, I found we had a common interest. Andy decided to make the most of his talents and started gigging. I was at his first evening and he was brilliant. From there on there was no looking back and he worked with other talented musicians in acts that encompassed Elvis, The Beatles and Roy Orbison (to name but a few). In a few years, they were one of the most popular (and certainly the busiest) acts in the area.

Andy was always up for a charity gig and I was fortunate to share the stage with him on several occasions. I remember lending him my smoke machine and to the thundering strains of ‘Phantom of the Opera’, the stage curtains opened and Andy stepped out in a thick fog of smoke. It worked though, and that was another good gig. I was part of his act twice, again both charity nights. As ‘The Bootles’, four of us played Beatles covers at the Pontlliw Village Hall. My lasting memory of that night was Andy suddenly appearing with a full wig and beard and very good Liverpool accent to be John Lennon for the finale, which was ‘All You Need Is Love’ as I recall.

On another night, and once again demonstrating his generous nature (it was a weekend and he could have been earning good money) Andy and I performed as a duo for a fund raising night for a colleague. As we worked through the set, Andy kept handing me hats and wigs and other props and it was all I could do to keep up. He was totally professional, of course, and knew exactly what he was doing. He guested at one of my band’s gigs, where he sang a few Elvis numbers in a packed pub in Ammanford.

Off stage, we often ended up at the same works nights out even though by now we were no longer working together. I remember towards the end of one such evening, when both of us had consumed a shandy or two, performing that ‘Madness’ dance, (you know the one) to ‘Baggy Trousers’. I sang a duet with him at his 30th birthday. In the silly days when I smoked, he would sometimes bum a cigarette off me. And I from him on occasion.

Our paths crossed again in work and he started to tell me about his guitar collection. It took days as he had so many (and I thought I had a few!) It took so long that he was adding news ones before he’d finished telling me about the existing ones.

I was devastated when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour and then relieved when it was operated on. When Andy returned to work it was great to see him fighting back and not letting a trivial thing like brain surgery get in the way. He was even planning on getting back on stage and I believe he had already sung with some of his duo colleagues. I last spoke to him a couple of weeks ago, just before I went on leave. He wanted to know when my band was playing so he could come along and watch.

So to hear today that he passed away yesterday was a complete shock. I’m still not really taking it all in. Sometimes, as friends and colleagues struggle to find something to say, the words can sound false or twee. I’m struggling to find words so I’ve let the memories tell the story, as they will for all his friends and family. Andy was a person that no one had a bad word to say about.

Andy, I can’t believe you’ve gone before you finished telling me the history of your guitar collection.

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Next Gig

Looks Like Rent-a-Bass is up for another gig. I got the phone call last night. The gig is at 9pm on Sunday 29th  in the Strand in Swansea – pop along if you must. This time it’s the full band with drummer.

I always enjoy the challenge. It’s not quite the same with a proper set list, and understanding of the keys involved and an assurance that the songs will be played the same way we did them last time. Now I have no excuse as I played a few weeks ago. That’s enough practice, surely?

Keep an eye out for the gig report.

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Today, two days after ‘Giggling‘, I played with the Insiderz at a pub in Swansea. It had been about two years since the last time I played, and I hadn’t really touched the bass guitar at all for a long time.

The ride in the van to the gig was the usual mix of trying to find out what songs we’d be doing later, plans for the future and a short introduction to the rest of the band. Which tonight, Matthew, would be without a drummer.

That was probably a good thing overall, as the pub was tiny. We dumped all the gear in the lounge and waited until the end of the football before setting up, as we were in front of the TV. The line-up tonight was two guitars, keyboards and me on bass so there wasn’t much room. We decided on a relaxed approach; chairs and stools were procured and we sat down to play.

It was a good night right from the start. I was glad to be back playing again and happy to be in the company of some good musicians. I had a proper set list in front of me and I recognised most of the songs. A few I hadn’t played before but I reckoned I could busk those. The pub wasn’t packed (the football crowd had left about an hour before) but the people that were there were in good spirits and danced for most of the evening. It always helps when we have a responsive audience.

Of course, this was an Insiderz gig so the set list was largely ignored, two of the songs I knew well from pervious gigs had changed completely and one new one, the music for which I had been given earlier, was in a key that bore no resemblance to the notes on the page I had. But that just adds to the challenge. It wouldn’t be fun if it was easy.

I enjoyed the night, smiled for most of it and welcomed sitting down as I’d developed cramp in the legs during the afternoon.

I hope there’ll be more giggles. If there are, I’ll share them with you. And photos, if any are taken.


“I don’t want to worry you but we’re gigging on Saturday and are you available to play bass?”

Two whole days of preparation? I was honoured. I said yes without really thinking.  Then I thought.

I haven’t played in a band for more than a year. It’s probably closer to two. I used to gig regularly with the Insiders (now known as the Insiderz) and was one of the original three who played the first Insiders gig in the Fleur de Lis rugby club. My experience of playing with the Insiders has been a largely fun one, with the occasional trauma, moments of stress and some boredom. It all adds to the adventure. Some of the stories have been told elsewhere. So I was quite pleased to be asked to play again.

Of course, when I actually sat down to play the bass again I realised how big a task I had to get myself back to a standard of playing that I would be happy with. Since I’m busy tomorrow and Saturday, I don’t hold out much hope! Nevertheless, I spent most of this evening playing along to familiar tunes and shaking out the cobwebs and dust from my fingers. I was used to not having much rehearsal time as that was how the band worked when I was with them before. It just added to the challenge!

So far so good. Keep an eye out for updates.