music

A Gig, and the astonishing price of beer

I went to see a band at Cheltenham Jazz Festival last weekend. I went on my own – on my Jack, so to speak – as my wife was holidaying with old school chums, their annual get-together.

Cheltenham is just up the road and I know it well enough to park for nothing, despite the crowds, and walk the ten minutes to the gig. Still, it felt weird going to a gig all on my lonesome, for the first time, I thought, until I remembered this is what I did when I arrived in Sydney, Aus. I found out the Opera House hosted free concerts some days and encouraged by this, I even went to a few paid events. Anyway, that was years back and it felt strange all the same.

I went to hear the relatively new Scandinavian trio, Rymden. While I’m not familiar with pianist and composer, Bugge Wesseltoft, I knew of the other two, Dan Berglund and Magnus Öström – double bass and drums, respectively – from their time in the Esbjörn Svensson Trio, or e.s.t., as they became. I had planned to see this band sometime but, sadly, Esbjörn Svensson drowned in a tragic accident whilst scuba-diving. The two remaining members went their separate ways, I thought, until I saw this gig advertised. So, there I was! It was a good gig; I enjoyed it.

Magnus Öström handled the introductions and mentioned their was a CD out, but he also said it was available on Spotify, but if you listen to it on Spotify, he joked, you have to listen to it a lot of times!

This obviously implies that certain artists get a lean deal with the streaming platforms and perhaps buying a recording is better. I have said that buying records isn’t necessary now – the ownership argument notwithstanding – as everything is usually on the internet somewhere, and CDs aren’t cheap – and vinyl is, I see, even more expensive!

It’s not like I’m paying for Spotify either – I find I can bear the ads – but now I must admit I’m feeling a bit guilty. Or am I looking for an excuse to buy?


Whilst on the subject of shelling out, do you know what the average price of a beer is in pubs and bars in the UK?

I’m here to tell you it’s £4.40 – and that is 60p more than the average Brit expects to pay! These figures are from 2018, the latest I could find, and I had to look it up as I’m one of those people who doesn’t check the price of everyday items. I’d be perfect for interviews as a Home Secretary or Minister for Food.

However, my suspicions were up at the festival bar when I saw – unless my eyes deceived me – a pint of beer costing between £5.50 and £6.00, depending on brand. The daft thing is that Cheltenham isn’t a remote festival where you are a captive audience. It is slap bang in town, surrounded by numerous pubs and bars. They were even serving it up in plastic “glasses”. There are some things beyond the pale.

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Roll ‘em: Robert Johnson & how to properly pack a bag

Down to the crossroads.

My Youtube suggestions unearthed an old documentary on the legendary delta blues musician, Robert Johnson, yesterday. It had up till now escaped my notice but if you’re at all interested in the blues genre, it’s well worthwhile. (Link below.)

The label “legendary” or “legend” might be bandied around too casually these days as if it equates to just being famous but in Robert Johnson’s case, it is arguably apt.

So, in a nutshell for those who may be unaware, I shall attempt a precis of the salient points. Johnson, then known by his step-father’s family name of Spencer, aspired to be a musician, and not a farmer or farm labourer as was the usual work of his peers. His early attempt at music was to hammer nails into the outside of his mother’s house and string three wires between them and wedge a bottle under to provide tension; then he would pluck those wires to make music.

He would visit the bars and juke joints to hear the travelling musicians. He begged, amongst others, Son House, a loan of a guitar to practice on. But, according to House, the neighbours complained of the noise and so the guitar had to be taken away form him and subsequent begging turned down.

And here’s the legend part: Johnson took off, it’s not sure where, for six or seven months. When he came home, he begged to show how he could play. Of course, they feared the worst but it turned out he could not only play but play better than anyone around. It was said of him that he must have traded his soul to the devil to be able to play so well in such a short time.

He became an itinerant performer and a successful one. He was invited to Texas to record his music – 29 songs recorded off one mic in a hotel room, straight onto a disc. He was, by all accounts, a nice person but he had a thing for the ladies and it is suspected that he was poisoned by a jealous husband of one of his lovers. Or perhaps a jealous woman. The poison was hidden in a glass of whiskey handed to him during a performance. He died in pain the following day.


I followed her to the station, with a suitcase in my hand.

I had heard the stories before but there was a little gem within that made me smile. It was recounted by his travelling companion and fellow guitarist, Johnny Shines. He said Johnson had a routine of rolling up his suit, together with a white shirt inside, and carrying them around in a paper bag. When he put on his suit – presumably for a gig or a date – his clothes looked as if they were freshly pressed.

Why does this interest me? Well, for a while now, I’ve been rolling my clean shirts to put away rather than folding them, and when I pack to go away, I roll most of my clothes up. It seems to work, saves space, and avoids the creased look.

I got this tip from the Gentleman’s Gazette guy, Sven Raphael Schneider, the urbane, dapper dresser also featured on Youtube. Then, a while ago, I saw this packing diagram on Pinterest. It’s the new thing! Or the old thing, if we think about Robert Johnson.

For sure, it’s the small things in life which can bring the most pleasure. 😁


Can’t You Hear The Wind Howl? | The Life and Music of Robert Johnson (youtube)

If Our Books Disappear

As a Kindle shopper, I hadn’t been aware of the fate of Microsoft’s ebook store. Apparently, the company have decided to pull the plug on it due to its lack of profitability. If and when this happens, any books purchased through this shop will disappear. It’ll be like a virtual book burning session and there’s nothing those customers can do.

It’s worth some consideration, if you’re an ebook buyer, or whether you buy any virtual product, that what you are actually buying is not an object to own, in perpetuity, but a licence or permit to use that thing, maybe for an unspecified period. As long as you know this, I can’t see much wrong with it; you pay your money and you take your choice.

In the UK, at least, ownership of anything and everything is a relatively new social concept. I remember as a small boy, almost everyone rented their TV and music systems, a lot of household stuff was on hire-purchase (colloquially referred to as the never never because you paid but never owned it). My parents were the first in our extended family to own their home – through a 25 year mortgage deal, mind – and everyone thought they were odd, or even mad. Renting and hiring was the norm.

Getting back to books – and thinking about music, too – there is this idea of owning a collection, something which I had mindlessly fallen into as well. I think the craziness of it first surfaced when a colleague explained how he had fallen out with his partner after commandeering the second bedroom of their small, two-bed apartment and had installed wall to wall, floor to ceiling shelving to house his record collection. He had amassed many thousands, apparently. I asked if he actually listened to them all regularly and he said, of course! I doubted that: knowing my own habits and then doing the maths, there hardly seemed enough hours left in a lifetime to indulge in that level of listening, and that supposes that we won’t be seduced by any later offerings by artists and the industry.

It’s exactly so with books but worse. Reading a book is a lot more demanding, intensive and time consuming than listening to a record. While a favourite album might be on repeat playlist for a year, how many books do we return to that often? Of all the books I have reread, probably fewer than six had retained the impression of the first read. Quite a number had felt diminished, knowing the plot, the characters and the ideas within.

Not wishing to decorate my home with expansive shelves of records and books – I much prefer paintings and other images; and space! Let’s hear it for a clutter free existence – we found most of our unread books and unheard music had been confined to packing boxes under the beds or in closets, out of sight, out of mind. We took the step to cull most of it, offering them to charity shops and other collectors, keeping back a small number which we considered having special qualities, but even these rarely get looked at or listened to.

With music, it’s more convenient to pick something from an online platform, I never feel I have to own it to enjoy it. With books, I often find good literature on offer for less than a couple of quid each. There seems to be no end to these offers and I am in danger of collecting a virtual library of more books than I have time left to read. I’m not expecting it to disappear before I do but if it does, I think I’ve had my money’s worth. Owning stuff is not so important to me now, as long as I have access to books, music and art some other way, that’s fine. I understand the deal.


When this ebook store closes, your books disappear too (BBC News)

Labels are for luggage

Thinking about the previous post, Willem de Kooning’s aversion to being labelled inspires me to write about my own disregard for labelling. Honestly, I don’t know my abstract expressionism from plain, old abstractionism. I read a book by the late and erudite art critic, Brian Sewell, in which he said, all paintings are abstracts, really. I had a tutor once who explained how impressionism was coined as it was known as a preliminary stage in traditional painting techniques and not, as I thought (and still do to be honest), a sense of something being seen concisely without the need for ansolute realism. But why should we care? Shouldn’t we either like something or not, and to hell with whatever school the thing belongs to?

In my youth, in my corner of the world at least, there were two types of music you’d listen to (okay, three if we include classical music but this wasn’t part of youth culture). There was Pop and there was Rock. You effectively picked your camp and were judged by it. The fact that my music loving Uncle introduced me to soul music was something I didn’t reveal to my mates; it was a private indulgence.

As too was watching the Oscar Peterson Show with my mother. I don’t think she was into Jazz really but in those days there was just three tv channels and often not much on.

My taste in rock music would gravitate towards the jazz influenced artists, though I wasn’t greatly aware of jazz at the time. Electric guitars were okay but a sax, a flute, and even a rare horn solo, would turn my ear.

If the advent and brief existence of Punk had any redeeming feature, it was probably to shake up the snow globe of acceptable taste. I felt we came out of it into a music scene devoid of hard labels. Not only was it cool to like anything, it was all available to listen to.

Yet I still hear folk talking about genres in a way which makes me think of olde world cartographers inscribing their charts with the words, Beyond here there be dragons! They have made up their minds and have absolutely no interest beyond what they know and like. That’s fine but you can’t make sound judgements based solely on secondhand labelling.

Labels can be useful in hinting what to expect but that’s all. Experience is everything and by restricting yourself on hearsay and prejudice, you’re likely missing out on a lot.


image: Stack of luggages by Erwan Hesry via Unsplash.com

My playlist is a Memento Mori

Peter Tork, the unusual one from The Monkees, has died. Unusual in that he seemed the least like an actor and the most like a proper musician. He was actually an accomplished folk artist before auditioning for the part, and played bass guitar and keyboards. I just about remember The Monkees; it was youthful, subversive and wacky.

“Hope I die before I get old”, sang The Who‘s Roger Daltrey, around the same time. The words are Pete Townsend’s. Both are still with us. Yet they, and those like them, weren’t meant to die or grow old. It’s all about youth and youthfulness, permanently fresh and stretching out into infinite.

I don’t have The Monkees on my 750 song playlist in the car. I’d happily include The Who but I haven’t got around to it. It has become increasingly obvious that a lot of the artists on my playlist are no longer here. This is partly my fault because my tastes go far back to a time before I was born. Yet so many have fallen off the perch in recent years, not by misadventure but through boring old age.

“He’s dead, oh, she’s dead, is she gone now?, I imagine he’s no longer with us, I wonder if she’s still around…”

Does it matter, listening to dead musicians? The music still sounds good. And I think any reminder of mortality is an awareness of life. Rock on! While you’ve still got breath – live!


image: The Monkees (Peter Tork, far left)

Lists: What are they good for? I know, let’s make a list…

I’ve made a start boxing up stuff in preparation for our house move. Lidl’s “Unwaxed Lemons” boxes are a good shape and size for CDs; you may find me in the supermarket, furtively decanting nets of lemons from the top box into the one beneath.

While packing the CDs, I thought I’d make a list at the same time. I don’t like list making but I have a fear of buying a CD I already have. This is a bit nonsensical and made worse by the fact that it’s been a while since I listened to a CD; I’m content to stream these days. But, who knows, I might be tempted by an offer.

It’s become a truism that there’s an app for everything and I didn’t want to be typing out each damn artist and title. The first few CDs I picked up had barcodes….hmm, interesting… but I went down the voice-recognition-transcription route instead, using the Evernote app. on my phone.

It worked so well, it made me chuckle – even when it made the occasional mistake. I was really impressed when it heard me say “J.J. Cale”, initially transcribed it as JJ Kale, then, within a nanosecond, corrected it perfectly. It must have learnt it from some other user, I suspect.

Unfortunately, my little collection of lesser known African artists defeated it. Or maybe it was my bad pronunciation. No matter how many times I said (shouted!) the name of the Congolese singer, “Tabu Ley Rochereau” into my smartphone, sounding increasingly like, and eventually surpassing, Peter Seller’s Inspector Clouseau, Evernote insisted I was simply saying “Table Lay Rush Hour”. Eventually, I had to type it out myself, just to keep the peace.


As I say, I’m not big on lists but sometimes they can be interesting. I had been looking at a poem on the Lit Hub blog this morning and I noticed how it went into a kind of list of things in the middle part, for about six lines, before returning to its main theme.

I admit that often I regard a lot of poetry as being lists: it’s all that stacking up of words, I guess. I think it was the writer, William S. Burrows, who sometimes wrote using a technique of cutting out words and rearranging them on his desk to make a new work. I also read it was a method adapted by musicians such as David Bowie and Ian Dury. You can hear it in the latter’s Reasons To Be Cheerful Part 3; it’s a list rearranged to form a lyrical piece.

Then there’s My Favourite Things, crafted by lyricist, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Paul Weller’s That’s Entertainment, a song I’ve always regarded as hauntingly resonant.

Cole Porter’s I Get A Kick Out Of You is essentially a list. Only three items though, each with accompanying explanatory words underneath, comparing his true desire with the thrills which come into many an over privileged lifestyle.

Leonard Cohen’s Bird On A Wire is another which sprung to mind; a list of similes, if you can bear it. And Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start The Fire; who could forgot that one?

There are so many, I imagine the list is endless but it’s that which gets left off any list which makes lists infuriating.

And that’s why I don’t like them. (Lists, not the songs – they’re okay.)


image by Elijah O’Donnell via Unsplash.com

Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3

My Favorite Things

That’s Entertainment

I Get A Kick Out Of You

Bird on a Wire

We Didn’t Start The Fire

Smorgasbord Me

Blogger BeetleyPete is currently showcasing some of his favourite followed blogs. It’s interesting to see what ideas bloggers have and I am inspired to give this one a go as it could be fun. (As I think it may be to promote authors, and as I am not one, I will just keep it to this place.)

The request is to write 100+ word responses to five of the 52 prompts listed. For an extra challenge, I dialled the Random Number Generator 1-52 to select the five questions from the list.

12. What is the one ambition that you still have not achieved?

I know the permanent answer to this is a peaceful departure. The old joke which tickled me on hearing went,

“When I die, I want to go like Grandfather, dying quietly in his sleep – and not like his passengers, terrified and screaming behind him on the bus.”

I wonder how we would be if we all knew precisely how and when we would die, whether it would be worse or better, psychologically. Of course, we don’t until near the very end and so we convince ourselves it’s best not to know, and so there’s hope. It’s difficult to view it any other way.

45. What is your favourite vegetable and how do you like it prepared?

I love veggies, and don’t really go in for favourites, but I will say Asparagus. They have to be fresh, and they cannot possibly be too fresh, which means growing your own. Once they’re cut, the sugars begin to starch up and they lose that desired sweetness. The season is quite short in England though, about six weeks, and then the plants need to revive and replenish. Fortunately, we used to grow them and will try to do so again soon.

We’ve tried all kinds of ways to prepare asparagus, and all sorts of dressings, but we always liked simple steaming, and a dollop of yellow butter and freshly ground black pepper over to serve.

They make your pee smell funny, that’s about the only downside.

3. Tell us about your craziest experience.

Looking down the list of prompts, I see this could also be the answer to question 14 because my craziest experience has to be a recurring dream. We all dream but the idea is that we shouldn’t remember them upon waking; this, I’m told, is the healthy option. As a rule, I can’t recall my dreams but during two, separate periods of my life, I have experienced troubling recurring dreams. The latter one in adult life, I can probably explain was triggered by stress. It’s the earlier one that’s a puzzle.

I had it from before I can properly remember much else of my life and came often up until the age of about seven when it completely disappeared. It was a very intense and abstract dream, beginning with just a long sensation of passing blindly along a passage or tunnel. Then suddenly, I’m aware of being in a room full of regular geometric shapes: pyramids, cuboids, cones and cylinders. I am perfectly still in this space though not calm. Then the dream ends. That I can remember this vividly after so many years adds to the mystery. I wonder if it has anything to do with the naturally forgotten experience of being born.

42. What is your favourite music genre and why?

I’ve had so many, I might have had them all. My most recent habit is Jazz though it’s a big field and I can’t say I love all Jazz. The thing I like most about it isn’t so much the composition as the instrumentation. I got into Jazz as an antidote to electric guitar bands, in particular Indie rock/pop which was indistinguishable from any other rock/pop to me. The sound of Miles Davis exquisitely soloing a muted horn was instantly attractive, as was a Joe Morello drum solo, an Oscar Peterson-Count Basie piano duet, and a Dan Berglund augmented double bass intro.

I’ve always loved Jazz, to be fair. I was brought up in the period when Jazz was the go to sound for incidental music on movies and dramas. It was in the air, as much as pop music is now – but it had no longer been youth music and so I had to get youth out of the way first and become educated. Now I like to hear lots of different music but I’d probably put Jazz top of the list.

5. If you were to become invisible for a day what is the one thing you would do?

I have a mischievous character and a healthy amount of curiosity – and I also live in a town which boasts about the excellence of its cctv security below its welcome signs – so such a thing could be like all the Christmases and birthdays happening at once. My immediate thoughts, however, are overwhelmed as to what I could do.

As a foodie, I may find myself in some unaffordable restaurant – unaffordable to me but not them – sampling my way through the menu. Maybe get into a West End show gratis.

I feel a lot of obvious things might actually be disappointing. Peeping into any person’s private life, for instance. I’ll probably stick with a bit of free grub.


inspired by and borrowed from Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Music: De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum

I was reading an article last week about different country’s attitudes to social media interaction, which must include blogging, and those “taboo” controversial subjects – religion, politics, sport, and music/movies.

Not being religious, I don’t want to be one of those aggressive, brute, atheists I often read in the comments section of national newspapers. I don’t wish to pour scorn on people’s personal faith. Politics, I just don’t understand enough about to argue. As for sport, it’s games – fun to play and all that, but what’s with the tribalism? I never got it.

I was surprised to see “music/movies” included. What can be controversial about those? Surely, both are fair game for social topics. I know there are significant numbers of people who still hold faith in power of The Beatles, and others who feel the same about Led Zeppelin, but generally I’ve found people to be open-minded and curious towards music.

I’ve probably written before that my first foray into blogging was themed around music. It was simply something to write about; I wanted to try blogging and couldn’t think of anything else to write about. It’s often tempting to go back to that theme and write around music till the cows come home but I’m mindful to avoid it. Mainly, I’ve found music to be a personal journey, one not easily put into words. I could do a mix-tape – been there, done that, on a blog, weekly – but who’s interested?


But as it’s Christmas, and I seem to have had a bit of time on my hands this morning, I’ll let the guard down slightly and offer a glimpse of my musical tastes. Bandcamp, whose blog I follow on WP, have posted their top 100 albums of the year and I’ve listened and selected three of those which I quite like (I was happy to hear all of them though some of them once only),

It’s annoying that I can’t get an audio clip to stop playing once another clip is selected. I did try some code – it didn’t work – sorry but life is too short.

Immediately this felt like familiar turf. It’s what I’ve concentrated on for the past decade. I started exploring bebop, and jazz in general, just to get away from pop and the dull, time-worn ubiquity of electric guitar bands. I’ve always had an ear out for jazz, or at least jazziness, but it got serious when I gave Miles Davis a chance. Not being a musician, I wouldn’t say I get the theory involved, but I love the instrumentation, and the sense that they are virtuoso players, not people making sound with the minimum of education.

There’s a whole wide world of music out there though most are content with what’s in their own back yard. It’s a shame, I think. I didn’t know this performer. Though the style is pretty familiar, the vocal is in Korean. I find electronic music – synths and stuff – can go one of two ways, but carefully composed, it’s delightful. I love to get my ears inside those layers of simple, repetitive beats and rhythms. I like mesmeric sounds too, though not necessarily electronic.

I like folk, and I like country. And I like to hear an acoustic guitar being picked, and I like meaningful words. This is a proper ballad, it tells a story, it draws you in, it’s interesting. A ballad isn’t just any old quiet number in the repertoire of a hard rock band. Do me a favour! It’s quite dark this one, isn’t it? I like the ‘cellos too.


What people around the world do and do not talk about on social media.

Bandcamp’s Top 100 2018

What is Love?

What is Love? as Haddaway once sang (over a rather catchy electro-funk backing track which, in case you’re unfamiliar with it, I’ve linked at the bottom of this post a version of it with some natty street dancing licks.)

What is Love? We know when we feel it but what is it? Is it inexplicable, as is God and Art?

Of all Art, the most inexplicable form, probably, is Music. What is Music? You should hear some of the things I hear presented as Music; it’s hard to differentiate it from just Noise.

But then I was once asked to listen to an egg frying as a piece of, well, Music, in as much as it was featured on a music programme. The recordist had put a contact mic on a pan and recorded from beginning to end, the frying of an egg in some fat. Listening through earphones, is was wonderful, though it did make me hungry.


As promised, here’s Haddaway. Now, does it make you wanna Dance too?

image: “Lovers’ Hands on Sand” by Wilson Sánchez via Unsplash.com

Radio Days

I’ve been watching a BBC iPlayer programme about Reggae and David Rodigan. Rodigan is the white, Oxfordshire born guy who “looks like a dentist” and has dedicated his long career to promoting Reggae music in the UK and, it appears, all over the world. He is much respected in Jamaica too.

I remember Rodigan on the radio during the 80s. He would be on the car radio, broadcasting out of Capital FM, a new commercial station for London. It brings back good memories of driving through the city in my first car, streets tinged with the orange glow of low pressure sodium lights, and maybe some reflecting drizzle, and the radio, with Rodigan, emitting this swell of warm, exotic, heavy rhythms and beats interspersed with reverberating, and sometimes intriguingly incomprehensible, soundbites and jingles. And Dub and “Version-Excursion”.

I had heard Jamaican music before this. My uncle’s fabulous collection of records included The Wailers’ Catch A Fire at about its time of release. There was, very occasionally, ska and reggae records in the pop charts earlier too. One memory I have is from Junior School, sitting near the front of a coach for an educational trip and being kept waiting for some reason. The coach driver turned on the radio and the first song we heard was Desmond Dekker and The Aces, Israelites, and my friend and I tried to sing along. Yes, it was a bit get up in the morning wantin’ my breakfast; me ears are alight; and you’re too beefhead, but I remember it well.

But Rodigan made me want to buy the records: Johnny Osbourne, Pablo Gadd, Barrington Levy, Burning Spear, and Black Uhuru are a few names who come to mind and, of course, Gregory Isaacs and Dennis Brown.

It pains me sometimes that I don’t listen to enough music now. In my youth, I’d immerse myself in music and into my 40s, I’d still be listening almost daily, and my very first blog venture was musically themed. Reggae is just one of the genres I loved to hear. I’m going to try listening to more music again. New year’s resolutions!


Reggae Fever: David Rodigan (BBC)