Thursday, February 12, 2009

See, Emily plays - the Fender Telecaster

Why does the Fender Telecaster give me so much pleasure? I mean, I know there are better guitars. (*)
There are those who claim that it's just a posh banjo. (Actually there aren't, I made that up.)
OK, but like the banjo, the Tele plunks and plonks a lot: it's to do with the single coil pick ups. I'm told.
And like the banjo, its aficionados all wear beards, plaid shirts and sandals.
No, i made that up as well.
Sid Smith once said to me that it didn't matter what i plugged my Tele into, it still sounded like my Tele. Always polite, Sid didn't mention that it also sounded like everybody else's Tele. Only not so good.
I guess that's true ... plunk plonk, clonk.
One of the lovely thing things about a Fender Telecaster is that it's dead simple. Just stop and go, really.
Stratocasters have wiberly woberly controls - five positions to choose from. And then some knobs and a whammy bar thing. What's that about?
And Gibson Les Pauls, well, look what happened to Paul Kossoff. He's dead. And I'm not prepared to change my name, anyway.
My bank manager (yep) was telling me the other day that her pal bought a £4,000 Les Paul called the Jimmy Page.
Which is weird because, as legend goes, Jimmy played a Fender Tele on Led Zep's famous first LP. (It's kak, btw.) And Jimmy isn't called Paul. Or Les.
So, of all the famous Tele players, who's my fave?
Well, the chap from Booker T and the MGs who did all those minute masterpieces for Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, et al is really good. He played In the Midnight Hour one way ... and then backwards for Dock of the Bay. And he's not dead.
But no, not him.
Oh there's an endless list. Keith Richard? Oh crumbs, no, he's a rare beast. A dull Tele player.
No, my top of the pops has to be Syd Barrett. Oh bliss.
All those lovely noises, rattles and trips.
The lovely Syd is another example of that, when it comes to the Fender Telecaster, the less you do, the better it gets.
And, as Sid Smith said to me, no matter what you do, it still sounds like a Tele.
(*)This article first appeared in my head. Only it was better.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Why do we get up?

It's tough being a human. You get born, you die; it rains on your holiday, cats puke and the plants need watering.

So, after a couple of million years, you'd think we'd have given up and just bought a caravan, or something.

But no, we keep on keeping on, rubbing the sticks together and having haircuts.

Surprisingly, while there have been umpteen attempts to lend sweetness and explanation to the experience of existence - God, mammon, the Fender Telecaster, for example - there have been surprisingly few attempts to explain our basic human behaviour, which we might typify with the question, Why do we get up? (*)

In truth, for many years I tended toward the simple get-out answer, Because we can't find the off switch.

But of late i've puzzled further, consulted widely and stood in the queue at Marks and Spencer. And as a result i am now prepared to make an attempt to move the debate forward.

I am indeed prepared to submit that there are, in fact, three unique human dispositions UHDs.

These powerful forces may be likened to the fundamental forces of physics which acting together, shape our universe. They are of course, gravity, the strong nuclear force, electromagnetism and err... the hunt for spangles.

Anyway, there are three, much clearer forces at work which underpin all human behaviour:-

  • Self-pity ... known as the dark force and which may yet prove to be the unifying force long-sort by philosophers and Sunday magazine editors.
  • Self-delusion ... unique in the whole universe to the human experience, it has, for example, the capacity to generate a billion twitters and blogs every day. So strong indeed it is thought that self-delusion created IKEA within the first few seconds of the human condition.
  • Bad taste ... considered for many years to be a simple by-product of existence, but bad taste is now understood to be one of three pillars of all human motivation and experience. Without it (and it's twin, self-delusion) we would have long ago run out of excuses for all those tile shops, the continued production of German pop music ... and tinned spaghetti hoops.

Now i recognise there may be some among us who would prefer the more comfortable, traditional answers to the Why do we get out of bed? question ...

  • we need a new mattress
  • my partner farts
  • the cat puked

... honestly, i know, i've tried out those answers. But believe me, in the end they are unsatisfactory, hollow ... self-delusional.

Be brave. Open your mind. NO ! More than that, open your Yellow Pages and see the truth for yourself. Really, only my new three UHDs can explain all those kitchen show rooms, tile shops and the continued success of IKEA.

Oh crumbs (self pity) back to my banjo practice (bad taste, self delusion). Be of good cheer.

(*) OK. All those aged 12 -19years are excluded. They are aliens, never get out of bed and therefore lie outside the scope of all human explanation.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Childhood #1

I only ever wrote one poem...

What a lot of red cars there are in the yard
The teachers are coming!
The teachers are coming!

What a lot of red cars all shiny and bright
That come in the morning
And go home at night.

...I was soundly ignored.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The pressure in my chest ...

BBC something or other has been running early 1970s tapes of American ancients; James Taylor, Crosby/Nash, Neil Young et al.

And Joni Mitchell.

Crumbs she is so good. A stunning body of work, headed by Blue - which is what she played chiefly on this show; recorded just before the record was released, I think. She sings 'My old man' and says it's not yet finished.

I'm really sorry she seems to have been fed up with things in recent years. Her achievement is huge. Of course, lots of records have the capicity to move us, inform our lives and to be cherished. Heavens, J Martyn just popped his clog.

But Blue is one of a very few records which maintains its capacity to delight, surprise and connect deeply on every occasion. Maybe the McGarrigle's first record does the same. But there are two McGarrigles! And frankly they don't have anything like the same body of work in depth.
Joni M has done it dozens of times.

Blue is ... transcendental or something, the kind of event which justifies the whole planet...

ZOG: "And what did you achieve, Earth?"
EARTH: "Well, from time to time we thought that we ought to behave better toward each other ... and we gave the universe Joni Mitchell."

Friday, February 6, 2009

With one bound

A lovely evening.
Fish, rice and peas for supper with the boys; then the 'original' Superman comics, with Alexander doing all the voices.

"THE MAN OF TOMORROW" leaps giant chasms in a race against time and the raging torrents. Al, of course, has plans already to collect every Superman comic ever published - and wants to order them from Amazon in the morning. I suspect he knows my account details.

Meanwhile, Sammy opens his own Amazon package and is delighted with the new Pigeon story, in which , "The pigeon finds a hot dog."
Sammy loves these stories - especially the bits where the pigeon shouts out in frustration,
"PLEASE LET ME DRIVE THE BUS" etc. and this 5year-old clearly identifies with his feathered anti-hero. He is now as fearless at reading as he is at crimefighting, bug splatting and Darth Vader battling.

Both boys are cute readers - and demonstrate hilarious vocal skills as well as a rather worrying capacity to typecast and stereotype their pals from the CMYK world. "Vee 'av vays of eating wo yoh-gutte, Thoopermann."
I'm under some pressure as the family's over-actor.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Jade Goody

I really don't care a fig about Carol Thatcher. She's just another Prince Phillip act-a-like who has run into one of those all-too-few, 'gets what she deserves' situations.

In brief, a bad egg masquerading as a good egg.

Same applies to Jonathan Ross, who let's be honest, is dull and well past his sell-by date.

Chuck Jeremy Clarkson into the same pot. Oh, and also that tosser who writes just about everything in the Sunday Times. Who cares if he didn't like his lunch?

But I am upset about Jade Goody.

She was on some TV programme, was taught to scream in pain for the viewers - and now seems to be dying for the benefit of some newspaper editor and his circulation figures.

I'm fortunate. Mostly these people don't impact on my world. I don't see them, don't know them and usually, don't care. I live on a different island.

For the most part these people are professionals who take their chances and take the money. If at some stage they get caught in bed with Frank Bough or John Major, well that probably gets turned into cash and paid into their pension fund.

That's not Jade Goody.

Certainly no role model. God forbid. But this woman will not be paying much into her pension fund. And even less will she have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of her fame and notoriety.

Are there any of us who don't believe that her illness is a direct result of her last few years? Of being turned over, laughed at and buggered by 'the editors' into whose clutches she fell. OK, leapt.

She is no innocent and the racism parallel with Carol Thatcher is not lost on me. But the Jade Goody story fills me with terror, with horror.

For, on a day that cervical cancer vaccine became available for all teenage girls in the UK, it seems that women like Jade Goody still can expect no protection from the media men.

Higher education

Happiness is big business nowadays but at Chipping steam fair you can get a degree in it. So i'm going to get a little engine too, when i grow up.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What's it all about, Alpha?

What's the point of the alphabet?
And have you ever considered that we could get rid of it?
I mean, at least, we could get rid of A,B,C, etc.
Is there any advantage in being able to recite those 26 things in that particular order?
Would it make any difference if we learned the letters backwards? Or from the middle outwards?
And is there any particular significance in having A at the front and Z at the end? Forgive me, perhaps those with Greek will know the answer to that.
But what if we all did learn it backwards. Would that be ok?
Well, wait for it, here comes another one.
What if from tomorrow, we all had to learn our QWERTY .... instead of our ABCs? See where i'm going?
If it doesn't matter which way round you say the letters, then why not learn them in a way which iwould be helpful throughout our lives? Crumbs, we're all at the keyboard from the age of 6months nowadays.
And hang on.
We could extend the idea. Throw in a few extra bits like ; and @ and //.
In fact, why don't we extend the new QWERTY to cover the whole keyboard? OK, that would be more than 26 things to remember - but think of the advantages.
Don't know about you, but I can never find % and $ and # on my keyboard. In particular I can never find the #. Well here's the answer. A veritable revolution in education - and one that actually has a purpose.
Wouldn't that be useful? I mean really useful.
OK, there you go.

Picked and mixed

So, the Barclay Brothers have bought the Woolworth brand name. Some would say a good portfolio match with the Daily Telegraph which they already own. Cold, empty and deserted.
And what a track record they have....
  • Bought the European newspaper - closed
  • Bought Littlewoods - with their mates at HBOS. Ha ha
  • Bought Scotsman - 7 editors in nine years. Sold it
  • Relaunched Sunday Business paper - sank
  • Bought Telegraph - 100 journos sacked
  • Bought channel island. Held election. Lost. Sacked island.
Only issue is, amid all this slapstick, how did they ever find the time to make that Crazy record?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Darts for art

I was going to do one of those list things. Films, i thought, that's what i'll do.

Well there's Aliens, in which Sigourney W makes both a promise to a child and a dead-exciting film.

Then there's Blade Runner, best watched while eating Ben & Jerry's Phish Food and drinking Gold Label Lanson. And err, that's it.

Oh, I could run off a few Euro oldies .... The Fireman's Ball (was that Milos Forman?) and stuff like that. But I haven't seen them in years. And then I thought, 'why not?'

I mean, when I was a little lad they used to play them all the time on BBC2. French, Italian, Czech, Japanese films. They ran the mesmerising Strike by Eisenstien which made a huge impresion on me - and the whole of Ivan the Terrible. Yep, BBC2 showed the whole thing.

But now, not a jot. What happened? Squeezed out of the schedules by darts and estate agents?

Washed up

I read that on planet Zog their top-of-the-range washing machines have special paper hankie dispensers.
Just in case the owner forgets to leave a kleenex in their pants pocket, this clever little gadget automatically dispenses attractive sticky white bits throughout the Zogian wash. Smart egh?

Plink, plink

Seriously, what IS the point of the mandolin?
It sits in the corner of my room like a pet pekingese; snuffly and disinterested - doesn't even respond to dusting.
Now, the ukulele is up for fun. It bites your ankle and demands a romp. SO cheerful. Everyone loves it. Reggae Leonard Cohen? No problem. Chuck Berry - easypeazy. Mozart horn concerto? (Well, maybe not)
And even the banjo has its moments. More like a big wet labrador. Comes in, shakes itself and slobbers hello. Wags tail, knocks your tea over. And everyone in the street knows you've got one.
But the mandolin. Why, oh why, oh why?
It seems to have two possible functions. Either it's the snare drum in a band that can't afford a drummer. Or it plays ridley-didley-didley-didley while someone else does the real work. And in that respect - and only that respect - it's like the clarinet chap in a trad jazz band; mindlessly playing scales and filling up all available spaces.
The wonderful Miles D said it was what he didn't play that made the music great. Well, I've learned from that.
And I don't play the pekingese.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Germany calling

If you live in the north east of England you get used to hearing lots of foreign channels on your radio. German, Dutch, Danish et al. Very nice too.

I guess folks down south are equally well-resourced by the likes of Radio Free Jersey or the Barclay Bros morning show ("You're all sacked, now then, now then".)

But many must wonder why their favourite BBC stations are so often drowned out by this pan-galactic jibber jabber. Well, we say to ourselves, Europe's kind of close and err ... well that's probably as far as we get.

But then we go west. To the far west of Ireland as far away from mainland Europe as we can get. And we hide behind some big lumps of Connemara Bens where no one in their right mind would expect to pick up a radio station.

And we're half right. No BBC 2,3,4 or five or world service. Not a peep. Oh, lonesome nights.

But there ... right there, just where they always are, are dozens of German, Dutch, Danish radio stations blasting away across AM / medium wave like there was no tomorrow.

What's going on?

WiFi winner

I don't know about you (well that at least is true) but i'm so disappointed with digital radio.

I mean, for just how long can the BBC justify recycling 'The Navy Lark' round a two week loop on Radio 7?

Now I admit that Andy Hamilton's 'Old Harry's Game' is the funniest thing ever produced at any time, in any place, on any planet. But even I don't think it warrants the complete restructure of the airwaves. And then there is the rather important matter of reception. It's rubbish.

Ofcourse I know that there are other channels on digital - however most of these seem to be made up of failed ex-panel members of some failed half-wit BBC tv show playing kak music.

BUT THEN there's Internet Radio.

Oh i'm in heaven. My perfect Pico WiFi (thing) picks up 15,000 stations, has more volume than a locked-out drunk, and works anywhere in the house, with or without mains. Err, i love it.

Christmas was spent listening to a chap in Samoa playing his two records and his one advert. (20% off surfboards at 'Jimmi's on the Beach' if you used your South Sea Airline loyalty card). Bliss.

This weekend, with our visitors, we played the new parlour game 'Spin the WiFi Dial' ...
  • Country ..STOP!
  • Form.......STOP!
  • Station....STOP! and then guessing what we'd tuned into.

Actually, usually it was someone or other singing 'Over the Rainbow' on a uke and in one of around 20 languages. But the Australian bush radio station feature on drought and 'difficult wives' was very informative over Sunday lunch. Guess what? It's rabbits next week.

I've read stuff from people who say that their WiFi radio doesn't work. In that case be careful what you buy but my Pico REVO (£150) is terif and was working in less than five minutes. So that's no more Navy Lark, then.

Recession - it's all over !

It's official.
Shops and OOTs were heaving over the weekend as UK citz and our own jolly pair of Irish visitors decided they were fed up, with being fed up.
JG Windows, where i got the new banjo throbbed with the cash-rich middle classes. Here at least autoharps and dobros seem to have replaced 'Smoke on the Water' and stomp boxes. Just for the moment, perhaps.
"We have more tills, downstairs" called the ecstatic cashier as half Jesmond elbowed the other half's kids in the scramble for old fashioned, analogue culture.
Meanwhile, Tony at Hound dog music in Whitley Bay declared that he was busier than pre-Christmas. "Been like this for two days", he said.
Anyway, we just had to join in, what with the afore-mentioned new 5string twanger for me - and Rob's beautiful Kala f hole electric ukulele from Hound dog.
But Suzie got the real bargain. A pink flying V ukulele, with a white V shaped gig bag ... all for £25! And even cheaper in her euros.
Now, that's culture.

Hair today

I've noticed that many male banjo players on You Tube wear checked shirts, have lovely deep Mr Sulu voices and big moustaches.
Haven't had a moustache since Stan Gamester took a photo of me playing at an after-show gig in 19XX. I shaved it off for the second set.
Synchronicity, but Rob mentioned that very photo yesterday - and he lives in Dublin. Where did he see it?
Do moustaches have after-lives ...? Do they hang around in some corner of the ether, waiting to confront you, years later? I stand accused.
Wait. If Stan took the photo, who was playing drums?


Why are banjos so loud? I conceive of little rubber finger covers - kind of the opposite of finger picks - so i can play more delicately.
Now for an attachment that will make me play well.

Out of sight

Not a day for dashing about but I must start to empty the rear attic. Six months of house moves and houseworks have made it a most unfriendly place. Yet somewhere in there are half a lifetime of musical instruments and delicate recording equipment.
More coffee, Vicar?

Up and ... away

Not an auspicious start.
Up at 5am to run P to the airport. Snow. All planes delayed.
So while P sits it out at NCL, I eat a toasted, wholemeal seedy bagel with crispy bacon - back here in Ilium.
Through slush and snow storm the plane eventually took off an hour or so late. Told P to sit next to Harry Gregg. Poor joke.