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.”





All gone.

Every single mp3 file on my external hard drive has been scrambled into gigabits. 44Gb of white noise, with maybe a hint of pink thrown in. And who is to blame? Virus? One of the major computer manufacturers? Geothermal energy production?

No, it was me. My fault. I clicked on an ‘Ok’ button when I should have paused and taken a moment to reflect. My punishment? Well, this blog post for one – I expose my self to all of my follower as a fool who should have read the warning. But like a typical Activist/Aries/Bloke I just went ahead and clicked. The other punishment? Re-ripping all my CDs.

Fortunately, I’m relatively old fashioned in that I like to have a CD rather than a collection of ‘0’s and ‘1’s. So at least I know that 90% of my music collection is intact. But there are soooo many CDs!

It’s not the first time I’ve lost data. I am missing two years worth of digital image files as a result of corrupt DVDs (my back up media of choice in the 90’s). My photos are now backed up three times, on separate hard drives and the PC.

And it makes me think that all this stuff about cloud computing is only as good as your internet link and the reliability of the storage technology.

Funnily enough, I still have photographic prints on silver halide paper from 1983.



Another day of fun

Another day off today – where does all that leave come from and how does the office get by without me? Answers to these are on my other blog – “101 improbable things”.

First stop, the bank to pay in some change I’d collected, and a cheque for £1.08 being the extra interest I’d earned on a now closed account. I was surprised to see that they had already started to demolish the buildings of St David’s shopping centre. I managed to get a few photos of the area so that i can compare them with photos taken after the demolition. I’ve been snapping around Swansea for years so that i can record the changes.

Then it was off to pick up Rufus for our day of fun. The weather forecast was for heavy showers so immediately after I picked him up, we went to the site of the old Felindre steel works, a local favourite of ours. We had half an hour of chasing sticks and stones before the drizzle started. So off we went to my house for food and to wait out the shower.

Eventually, it cleared enough that we decided to head off to Gower. Cefn Bryn is a ridge running along the peninsular at around 200m. If I remember my ‘O’ level Geology course, it’s made of Old Red Sandstone, which means at some point it was under the sea. It was just as wet as we set off. The rain was blowing into my face, covering my glasses water. Rufus was happy – he always is regardless of the weather.

Not long after we left the car, I had my head down against the wind and I heard Rufus yapping. It’s not like him and I thought something was wrong. I looked up to see him chasing a rabbit. The rabbit was making sharp turns to stay clear and Rufus, being a large dog, couldn’t make the turns. But he was keeping up with the bunny. I managed to reach them just as Rufus chased the rabbit into a clump of gorse. The rabbit got away.

We managed about 3km in total before we were fed up with the weather and headed home in the car. I practiced a bit on the guitar while Rufus slept his chase off. Rufus has a chew that he leaves at my house and rather than chewing it, he carries it around, placing it in important places during his stay. He likes to tease me with it too and every time I try to get it off him, he walks away. This time I walked after him, and a very slow game of chase developed.

I had to take some photos of guitars that I’m selling and I had to fix strap locks to one of the bass guitars. Then I could relax and take it easy for a bit.

Tomorrow we head for the hills, so it’s an early night for both of us. In fact, as I type, one of us is already snoring quietly in front of the TV.

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A difficult gig

We played in a holiday village pub on the coast as a four piece last night.  Great venue, lost of people there. But it was a difficut one for all of us because a great friend and long time member of the band, Neil, wasn’t with us.

Neil passed away on Wednesday.

When I played regularly in The Insiders, Neil and I would almost always travel to gigs together. His car swallowed all our gear with room to spare but if he wanted more than the odd pint at the gig, I’d take my car and the squeeze to get all the kit in was more of a challenge. We’d have lively conversations about new songs to play or the latest guitar he’d bought or his experiences while he was in the RAF.

At the gig, we’d alternate between playing bass and guitar for a half. Neil was an excellent guitarist and he had a really clean sound on his Telecaster which would cut through the combined noise of Stuey and me. He’d played in bands for a large part of his life and this experience showed in his attitude and playing skill.  He showed me a much quicker and more accurate way of tuning the guitar and he set up a couple of my guitars for me – a job that not only needs skill but patience too.

Neil and I would usually stand to the right of the drums and he would stand to my right. In small venues, we’d share a microphone. If I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be playing, I’d look over and get a good idea from Neil. We’d both moan at Stuey to turn down, with little prospect of any results. Instead, we’d share a joke and have a laugh, sing the (somewhat risque) wrong lyrics to ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and try and out do each other on guitar riffs to ‘Summertime Blues’.

I have many happy memories of Neil, which is how we should remember our friends and loved ones. Some are hard to share because they depend on the moment, others raise a smile when I tell them. I can picture the moment we started playing in a social club and I turned to my right to see Neil facing away from the audience. He’d spotted an old age pensioner dressed in an outrageously tight pink plastic dress dancing with an short old bloke in a terrible wig. Neil was laughing so much he couldn’t really play properly and had to look away. In the end, we all had to avert our gaze and we chuckled for most of the night. Another time, he turned up for a gig in front of the Mayor of Swansea slightly worse for drink after having spent the day watching Wales beat England at rugby. He grinned all night, but he was still the best musician on stage. When I think of Neil now, I think of that grin and that he was always smiling on stage.

Before the first half of last night’s gig, we didn’t really say much. I certainly felt subdued and I think Stuey and the others did too. We played the songs and when it came to ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, I deliberately looked over to my right where Neil should have been. There was a big gap that we couldn’t fill but I sang his words and they made me smile again.

During the break, Stuey and I talked about playing a song for Neil. In the second half, Stuey introduced ‘Hey Jude’ as a song for a friend who couldn’t be with us. It’s a great song but this added something to it and the lump in my throat came very soon after we started playing. The tears came during the chorus part at the end (as they are again now, as I type this). It was a good version, worthy of his memory and, as Neil would have pointed out, we played it loud enough for him to hear wherever he is now.

We went down well at the pub. We had a guest singer who did a great version of ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’. Surpassing the usual situation where Stuey tells me that we’re playing a song I’ve never played before, last night we played a song and I still don’t know what it was. I couldn’t hear Stuey from my place on the other side of the drums and before I knew it, I was busking along to the song, trying to make out what chords Stuey was playing whilst being blinded by the flashing stage lights. It wouldn’t be the same without the adventures and challenges Stuey sets.

When I started loading the car up at the end of the night, I found that some joker (not the original word I used) had prised the mirror out of the housing on the driver’s side of my car. It went back but I haven’t been able to check it properly yet.

It was a lonely drive home

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This time, the phone call came on a Friday. I was in the gym, working up a sweat (it was hot in there) but I managed to answer the phone. It was Stuey.

“Mumble mumble mumble gig mumble mumble Sunday.”

Maroon5 were blasting away in the background. They were moving like Jagger. I was moving like Jagger’s granddad on some machinery of torture.


“Mumble mumble move like Jagger.”

“Stuey, are you okay?”

“Can you play on Sunday?”

“Yes. Where, when, what… Stuey, are you there?”

He rang again on Saturday. I missed the call but managed to get a message to say it wasn’t that Sunday but the following one – yesterday. I had another call to say it was at the Gelli Aur club in Grovesend. I dug out the kit and got myself ready. I didn’t bother to try and find out what songs we’d be playing. There’s no point. It won’t be the same list on the night.

Another phone call told me we would be a three piece. The same line up as The Insiders (note the s, not z) first gig at the Fleur de Lys club in 1997. The classic line up. I was looking forward to it.

On the day, I headed out for the club only to find it had changed it’s name. In the confusion, I sailed past and it took a little while to find a place to turn around. By the time I got there, the others had set up. I quickly got the gear in and started to tune up. I looked around.

“Stuey, what time are we starting?”

His reply of “Heroes in E, one… two… three… four…” was not the one I was hoping for. Luckily, I know Heroes well and was able to start on cue. Luckily the bass was in tune. Luckily, the amp and speakers were working properly. I noted a microphone in front of me, too. I hadn’t sung with the band for several years. Some would say I had never sung with the band and only made odd, vaguely musical sounds.

After the first couple of songs, it felt natural, as if we’d always been playing together. Chris is a loud drummer, but he has a great sound from the kit and his harmonies are spot on. It was reassuring to have that familiar sound behind me. For the songs I hadn’t played before, I could see Stuey’s fingers on the fretboard and I could figure out what he was playing. We had dancers up from pretty much the start and that always helps. I found I was enjoying myself.

The second half was better, apart from when Stuey went in to ‘I Predict a Riot’. I know and like the song but I haven’t played it for five years or more. I fumbled through the crib book of chords but couldn’t find it. By the time I’d located the page, we had segued into another song (I think it may have been ‘Hound Dog’). I may have played three notes of ‘Riot’. One of them may have been the right one.

It was an early finish (school in the morning) and we spent some time talking about future plans. As we always do post gig. “It’s gonna be great,” etc etc. Then we packed up again and after a 38 point turn in the car park to get my car facing the right direction, it was off home to a cup of tea and bed. Ahh, the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle!

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Tonight’s Gig

I shouldn’t be writing this now. I should be concentrating on playing bass. But quite frankly, the guys are getting on with it and I can play the riff with one hand on open strings, so I’ve got the iPhone out and I’m blogging with the other hand. It’s slow but I can do it and it will give a unique ‘live’ feel to the blog. I’m in the corner with Mike drumming to my right. In front, Stuey is on guitar and vocals. No one can see me properly.

I may be interupted now and again if the key changes or we do a different bit in the song. I’ll let you know when.

There. Just did an improvised middle eight, walking the bass up to the octave. Cool, even if I say so myself.

So we turned up at the pub and the other band sharing the bill were starting their second set, late. The pub was pretty much empty. The weather, which turned nasty this evening… oh, wait, a tricky… stretch my fingers to get this run… there… where was I? The weather probably put a lot of people off. By the time we were ready to go on, the pub was actually empty.

Oh wait, end of song. Better look up at the rapturous applause. Yeah, thanks. Cool. I have to listen to what Stuart is saying to try and guess which song we’re playing next. I know I have a set list, but that only hints at what we might be doing… what? What did he say? In what key? ‘J’? My bass doesn’t go up to J. Excuse me, reader, I have to fake a song in the key of J. Only Stuey…

… well, that worked, just.

We could have cancelled the gig. I remember one fabulous weekend a few years ago when Stuey and I, as a duo, were booked to play a three gigs over the weekend. We were going through a busy period and this was the norm. We turned up at the first gig on the Friday night, in a pub in a holiday resort, to find used nappies under the table a drug deal going on in the corner and no one else in the pub. Wait…

… That was close. They decided to end that song early and if I hadn’t been paying attention, I’d be playing a solo now.

Anyway, the landlady told us that we wouldn’t be starting to play until about 10.30 as that was when all the resort staff would finish for the night, and they would be the audience. We decided the money wasn’t worth it and we didn’t like the dodgy surroundings, so we walked out. The following night we were due to play in a pub in Carmarthen. When we got there, there was a disco in full flow and the manager said we’d have to use the disco PA and none of our gear. There was no room to set up and no sign of the disco stopping, and it would have been rubbish to use that gear, which wasn’t up to it. So we walked out. We ended up in Llansteffan, eating chips on the sea front. The rock star lifestyle…

… here’s one I haven’t played before. Turn the volume down, smile, move my fingers around a bit. Nod my head in time with the bass drum…

On the Sunday, the gig was cancelled before we left the house. It was a welcome break in a period when we were playing a lot of gigs.We were dobled booked a few times when the Agent, who got a percentage of our take, failed to do his job properly. The rule for a doble booking was the first band to set up played, so we would race to a gig if we got a hint that there might be a problem.. tricky bit coming up… bom bom bommm… there… but double bookings were always frustrating.

Oh no. I missed what Stuey said. I don’t know what we’re playing. Again. I’ll jut see if I can work out what Stuey is playing. Nope. Oh dear. It sounds like ‘Teenage Kicks’. I’ll play that one. No one will notice. ‘Teenage kicks right through the night, alright. Da da da da dadadadaaaa!’ Yeah, Thanks,  awesome.

That’s the first set over with. It went quite well.

(This post was brought to you by the imagination of Franticsmurf. His conscience would like it to be known that tonight’s gig was cancelled due to lack of interest. Town was empty.)

No photos – below this are adverts that I don’t personally recommend.

That difficult third post

Bands always quote ‘the difficult third album’. The first album is the breakthrough product; it is a distillate of the songs the band has been writing and honing since it started. (I’m talking about proper bands here, not manufactured acts). They’ve had the filter of time and usually a number of live performances to weed out the weak stuff. The first album is quirky, it’s new and it defines the band. You buy/download/blag the album, listen to the tracks and decide whether you like it.

The second album tends to be the leftovers. The first album was a hit so the label wants more product, quickly, to ride the crest of the publicity wave. Maybe the band did Glastonbury or one of the other festivals. The second album can appear a bit weak or, if material has been written specially for it, disjointed.

If the band lasts until the third album, most people agree that it’s the hardest one to do. And that’s not a bad thing. Putting effort into the songs can create tension and tension can lead to some fantastic creativity. It can also destroy the band.

I’ve played in bands since the late 80’s. We started off thinking we were going to ‘make it’ and I’m not ashamed of that. After all, why start off thinking anything else? We had our own unique sound. For months it was a dissonant cacophony but it slowly came together until one venue owner described it as ‘post punk’. That was a little disappointing as we were all heavily influenced (so we thought) by 70’s rock. It was edgy (their word), complex (our word), loud (several venue owners comments) and progressive (we told the press). We played any gigs we could and some we shouldn’t have. We did back garden parties, charity gigs, last minute replacement gigs (we were the fourth emergency service for one Swansea venue), festivals and ‘battle of the bands’ competitions.   We even released an album and, more surprisingly, sold some copies.

Fame, fortune and stardom  wasn’t to be, though. We had personnel issues (we found it hard to keep bass players for some reason), some people were less enthusiastic than others and eventually, the band faded away.  It briefly resurfaced, in different forms, over a few years but it was never as popular and we were never as enthusiastic. Eventually, after the band was dead and buried, I started playing in a duo which quickly expanded to a trio and manifested itself in various guises (including a short lived 6 piece with female lead singer) over the years.

I enjoyed the 12 years or so I was with them. The only instrument I didn’t play was the drums. We had some fantastic laughs. I remember the whole band being in hysterics just before going on stage in one club for no real reason. We had wound ourselves up and someone suggested, for shock value, going on stage naked. We didn’t but the first three numbers were played with tears in our eyes and very shaky vocals.

We played a club in the Welsh valleys where the entertainment secretary complained that the previous weeks act, ‘Abbamania’ only played Abba songs. He was genuinely surprised at this. We played a holiday camp and went on immediately after the furry mascot (played by a very hung-over student) and our screaming audience consisted of 50 or so 5 year olds.

We endured the inevitable bingo, support acts that were better or worse than us, dodgy venues that we really didn’t want to be in and some fantastic venues that we wanted to be in more often. We played a last minute gig in a pub to a largely silent and well dressed crowd.

Suits and ties were the norm but there was no reaction from them after the songs despite lots of alcohol flowing. To end the first half, we tried to re-energise them by playing a full-on, heads down rocking version of ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’.  Still no reaction. Which was understandable when the landlord told us we were playing at a wake.

I stopped when my mum was ill and I had to spend time looking after her. It was the right time to take a break because the late nights were taking their toll. I found I didn’t miss it as I expected I would. Other things took over and while I miss the camaraderie and the adventures, I don’t miss playing the same songs every night three or four times a week. I still play occasionally – special guest appearances (which sounds great but the reality – fumbling to remember a chord sequence I haven’t played for several years while trying to look cool – isn’t so good).

We never got as far as the difficult third album. I beat you, bands. I got the third post!

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