Friday, 30 March 2012

Chasing the Dream

Work-Life Balance

Yesterday morning I woke up at the usual time of about 07:00 tired and bleary eyed but so much more joyful about the day ahead. You guessed it, annual leave from work was the reason for this strange yet very welcome difference.

I gleefully imagine this is what life would be like were I to be working for myself and from home. A typical day might run a bit like:

07:00 - Wake up - Morning cup of tea followed by breakfast. Read book, news or magazine.

08:00 - Daily ablutions commence followed by another cup of tea or coffee.

08:30 - Work out! Either a run, some weights or a combination.

09:30 - Bath or shower.

10:00 - Begin morning of work.

13:30 - Break for lunch - half hour if staying at home. Perhaps up to 90 minutes if popping into town for a lunch meeting (work related or personal) and a coffee.

14:00 - Begin afternoon of work.

17:00 - Prepare evening meal but continue working if things still to do.

18:00 - Eat dinner.

The remainder of the evening is one's own although naturally having such a relaxed and fulfilled day means if there is still a little work to be done, no bother, one will feel happy to get on it. In fact at such a nice pace of life even if there were still a lot of work to be done after dinner which ate into one's evening now and then I think one would still be inclined to just get on with it.

I think this kind of schedule is the key to removing unnecessary stress and resentment from our lives. It certainly takes into account that all important 'work-life balance' people are always harping on about. If this balance is so important why has it not been cascaded to all corners of the working world yet? With currently spending nine hours or more out at work in jobs that make us struggle to believe we're anything but robots and getting a paltry twenty days annual leave (for most workplaces) how can this be considered anything other than a very poor 'work-life balance'?

I guess rather than complain I should get working my ass off on coming up with an idea I can put into practice to make this so. In the meantime I will enjoy my annual leave by actually living life and not having to perform any robotic type tasks. Even successfully administering the cat's medication twice daily makes life more interesting.

Normal Service Will Resume Shortly

Reviews are coming, I promise. I'm just finalising one for the Seth Lakeman gig last Saturday. The Cyndi Lauper one will also be ready very soon.

Band of Badgers Presents... Episode #1 The Pilot really is almost complete. I am however still the same perfectionist I was last week but thankfully with the time I now have not being at work I can get it ready for publication. After a mini trip to Brighton and Eastbourne of course. It's all recorded and the tracks lined up accordingly. I just have to make sure the bits featuring me rambling on sound just right.

One thing is for sure, I will be getting a better microphone. Granted I only bought the one I did for practice and playing purposes. Little did I know I'd get so into it and enjoy it as much as I have done (as long as it can take to edit) I'd want to continue doing it in a very semi-serious way.

Last night was the Noah and the Whale gig which I'll also review in due course. They were amazing though I will say that much.

Tonight is Shearwater in Brighton as I've mentioned which makes three gigs in six days. Why can't life be like this all the time?

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Interlude #2: Update

As you can tell I'm having to just interlace these blog posts with write ups for reviews for last year's gigs. At least I'm still including them. There just isn't enough time in the day for me to complete everything I want to. I'm not complaining though (well perhaps just a little bit) because I'm actually writing more than I have done in years (technically not including last November's NaNoWriMo but that was fantastic practice), which is the whole point to wanting to write I suppose. Quite why I didn't just do this long before now I don't know. Better late than never so they say. 'It's never too late...' sang Kylie.

I have decided not to write up anything about last year's Seth Lakeman gig purely because I'm attending a gig on his current tour this month (actually this Saturday *excited*). Therefore I will write up a more comprehensive review of that one. I must add, however, he is  a very humble and charming individual to meet. I was fortunate enough to meet him after the gig at the Derngate Theatre last May. He signed my ticket as I'd already got all of his CD's (but foolishly didn't take one along) and it was here I purchased Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman's second album, 2. And thus is how my love affair with Kathryn's voice started! Thankfully I was not in the completely inebriated state I was when I met Tom Mcrae after the first of his gig's I attended in November 2003.

Alas! The podcast isn't ready for publication yet and the article I am writing has turned into a three part series taking in the recording of it, editing it and finally publishing/uploading it to a website. The first part has been really well received so that must mean I'm doing something right.

It shouldn't take me too much longer however, the editing is what will delay me. What can I say? I try and be a bit of a perfectionist even though errors do seep in. Those tricky pesky little bastards! I'm sure they must lie in wait for you to hit the submit or send button confident you've rid your work of all of them. Hit that button and forget about it for a little while. Next day or the day after go back for a quick glance over, just to make sure you really did get the writing voice and flow as it should be. What do you know? A little sneaky bitch of an error. A your instead of you're. This usually annoys me in general posts, updates and emails. I'm not perfect of course and I never make a fuss for this and many other reasons but that doesn't mean I can't still feel annoyed by it.

I've almost finished doing a write up on the bands and artists on the playlist for the pilot so I at least do the right kind of promotion for them directing people to the websites. It's pretty straight forward but time consuming in itself. It is nevertheless interesting as although these are people I've read about in coming to their music there are parts I'd only skimmed previously for some of them. I've loved it all so far and hope I can carry it on.

Anyway things seem to be coming together quite nicely this year and I have several things on the way to keep me busy so expect some write ups of more stuff in the coming weeks.

I've almost finished a review of the Cyndi Lauper gig from last June - what an awesome dudette she truly is.

I want to get up a review of Troll Hunter because for me that film was a real breath of fresh air. I recommend it to anyone looking for something different. This weekend gone I also watched The Iron Lady, the biopic of Margaret Thatcher. Meryl Streep is amazing isn't she? Is there any role she can't play? I'd put good money on her even pulling off a turn as Gandalf in Lord of the Rings. Or perhaps Brad Pitt's part in Fight Club? I mean this just to emphasise how great she is. Other actresses must really hate her. Jealousy only of course. She deserves all the success that comes her way and can be forgiven for the Mamma Mia fiasco.

Next weekend I'm seeing Noah and the Whale in Wolverhampton followed by Texas band Shearwater in Brighton the following evening. Then there's the play Anne Boleyn, commissioned by Shakespeare's Globe (Shakespeare's Globe sounds to me like some kind of medieval medical complaint) also in Brighton.

In between trying to work through my 'to read mountain', writing weekly articles for the Graduate Game website, planning and recording Band of Badgers Presents..., updating this blog and planning a late summer trip to Norway I do not know how I'm finding time to sleep at all. Add to this trying to keep up with new music, attend gigs, catch up with TV series I follow (I rarely ever have the TV set on, ever but The Apprentice starts up again this week meaning my BBC iplayer desktop is going to fill up quickly...note to self - must watch Dirk Gently ASAP) and writing my own stuff I really do need to get that time machine sorted. Or at least get working on the time freeze machine Valerie (the banjo playing badger) began before he fell in love with playing the banjo.

Until next time people. Keep well and stay happy!

Friday, 16 March 2012

Life Knocks Well and Truly Rocks!!!

Life Knocks by Craig Stone: A Review           5/5

After reading The Squirrel That Dreamt of Madness, I was eagerly anticipating the release of its follow up, Life Knocks. With the severity of my withdrawal symptoms beginning to cause some rather painful physical problems (trust me you really don't want to know) I took it as a miracle (as a rule I don't believe in miracles but this is an exception) it was released only a few weeks after I'd finished Squirrel. Again, this is a self-published e-book available via the Amazon Kindle Store but there are a number of e-readers available which make it accessible for those without one.

To be faced with something equally wonderful and enjoyable yet profoundly different in style to its predecessor I devoured the book in a manner not unlike that of a vulture stumbling across fresh carrion. It gripped me and pulled me in as if I were connected to it via an umbilical cord I couldn't detach myself from even when I had to get my ass to work. Indeed every time I got to the end of a chapter I continued reading on regardless of the time. The result was many a very tired morning and eyes looking like I'd done a few rounds in the boxing ring the night before. Sacrificing sleep was well worth it and I'd actually consider sacrificing weekends off work and annual leave if it meant being assured either a follow up to the adventures of Colossus Sosloss or something completely different from this talented young writer.

We have in Craig an intelligent, humorous, hopeful realist with an ability to render you a laughing mess on one page while pulling firmly at your emotional heart strings the next. He is someone who writes from deep within but based on spot on observations of himself, others and the experiences that ensue.

This is a life story and a love story but like it says on the tin there is no Hollywood ending. With Life Knocks you don't just get what it says on the tin either. Craig offers so much more whether it's musings about why black stains mysteriously appear overnight in his unused sink ('the pixie slaves forced to march across the sink in dirty boots after mining jewels for evil fairy overlords') or calling into question our use of general sayings ('...we need to start saying we had a whale of a time only when backed into a corner and harpooned to death'). There are countless more of these in addition to much sharp observational humour so rich in description you can't help but feel like you're physically part of the story, watching from a bush or a nearby pub table.

Primarily this book acts as a prequel to the events in Squirrel. It begins many months prior to Colossus' voluntary homelessness detailing the trials and tribulations which led to him making that particular decision. Where the non-Hollywood love story ties in is in a beautifully interlacing history of how he met his love, travelled with her, set up home in Hawaii for a while before the relationship began to break down. Make no mistake, this is no mere run of the mill romance yarn but a full on autobiographical adventure story. It's perfectly paced and the two differently timed stories of the main character merge together so effortlessly you cannot but want more.

Why I think Craig's writing works so well is that everyone can draw or take something from it in the positive way you'd expect to in taking out the time to read something. When you reach the end there's a feeling of reward in the way it has all flowed to its conclusion. Dare I even say I felt somewhat enlightened? I believe this makes it completely accessible whatever genre may be your usual preference. 

I urge you to go now and buy this book because if you don't you're seriously in danger of missing out on one of the best independent writers out there today. Plus you'd potentially be responsible for the worsening problems caused by my withdrawal symptoms which have returned with a vengeance since completing it. I sincerely look forward to the next offering.

Thanks Craig for another great read.

Monday, 12 March 2012

The Water's Edge - Luke Ritchie - Album Review

The Water's Edge - Luke Ritchie - Album Review          

Twitter provides an amazing arena for new and up and coming bands or artists to connect with their potential audience. The sheer volume of new music continually being introduced may be a little overwhelming but if you're a big music fan it won't take you long to get organised and start enjoying artists you may otherwise never have come across.

This is where I stumbled upon the precious gem that is Luke Ritchie whose debut album The Water's Edge was released in November last year. Except it feels more like a second or even third offering from an already well established singer-songwriter. It comes as a result of a mammoth project Luke began when he started writing a song each week for six months back in January 2010. Each song was released as a podcast which I definitely urge you try out if you like what's on offer on this album. With added involvement from composer Nico Muhly, (who has collaborated with the likes of Bjork, Jonsi, Anthony & the Johnsons) and award winning producer Paul Savage (Franz Ferdinand, Mogwai), this album was born.

Opening track The Lighthouse feels like it tries to be many things and succeeds flawlessly at every single one of them. After almost four minutes it reaches an even higher level, setting up the perfect atmosphere for what follows. The ending provides a sneaky glimpse at the true power behind Luke's voice while Nia Lynn's backing vocals add a depth that almost drowns you in a heavy shower of angel tears. It makes for a perfect starting point by the end of which your daily worries should have been packed into the tightest space imaginable leaving behind plenty of room for you to sit back, relax and enjoy the remainder of the ride.

Nico Muhly's piano on Words combined with Luke's vocal creates a moving aural experience. These however are only the foundations on top of which builds a musical skyscraper with a whole host of other instruments joining the journey along the way. Imagine the Empire State Building built entirely from pianos, guitars, violins, cellos, drums and soulful vocals; that would be this track.

Wrap up warm for Northern Lights because the sublime arrangement of the strings, with an, if possible, even softer vocal from Luke might carry you off on a journey far into the north. Not only my mind but my body too floated gently on the breeze, seeking out the most perfect spot to view the lights. I'd actually go as far as to say this song is as magnificent as the phenomenon of its title. It would certainly feature on my soundtrack to the Northern Lights.

While there are a number of slower sounding songs of a melancholy nature, tracks like Shanty, Cover it Up and Lonely Second have such an upbeat rhythm I'd require video evidence from anyone denying these didn't bring out at least the leg jigger in you. Each gets my legs jigging so much it's as if they've been replaced by Muppet legs (perhaps this occurs while fully immersed in the opening song). Then there's Butterfly which has the habit of squatting deeply inside your mind even after just one listen. So when you're going about your day at work and you're humming it over or it is playing on your mind radio and you wonder what it is, this is likely the one. It's a lively number but with interestingly subversive lyrics, 'Even the kids here would tear its wings, rip out her colours all paper thin.'

Contrast these with Looking Glass which is so delicate it almost passes by without much notice. The extended instrumental that kicks in after the vocals cease add some musical depth to what starts out as a very delicate charmer. One of the most poignant songs is penultimate track, Right Then and There. The haunting harmonies sound so beautiful there's a need to make up a word to better describe them. Baunting: a beautiful mix of melodious yet at times haunting vocal sounds. The backing vocals penetrate the ears so deeply, burrowing right into the root of the soul where they don't rest until they've wrapped tightly around it and fallen asleep. The lyrics appear so simple and yet are strikingly evocative. 'As I got dressed, soon I felt, as though I could see through every cloud. Right then and there, I saw my life, as through a lens.' It uses the metaphor of a hair cut to illustrate a significant moment of epiphany. It's just so wonderfully constructed.

Wrapping up with Song to Sundays ends on a cheery upbeat note. Play it as soon as you wake up next Sunday and feel the slight cool breeze of a perfect spring morning blow on your face as you lie back in bed puzzling out the mysteries of your ceiling. For that matter play it every morning as an experiment to see if it works for them too. In fact, we should all petition Luke to write and record a song for every morning to get us through the week. This should of course be a walk in the park for someone who managed to bash out a song a week for six months.

A rollercoaster ride this is not but it doesn't ever try to be, nor does it need to. It's more like one of those magical day trips out where you feel like you've imprinted yourself on the surroundings. The Water's Edge imprints itself leaving you wanting more from this clearly very talented musician. Perhaps it is unfair to pigeonhole Luke into the nu-folk category but amongst the recent successes of Laura Marling, Noah and the Whale and Mumford and Sons to name just three, he's in fine company if this is where he does end up as a result of this debut.

Now I find myself frantically trying to rearrange my social calendar so that I may be able to take in a gig at some point in the near future.

Music of the moment:

Mutineers- check out their album Friends, Lovers, Rivals because it's damn good!


I've recently finished Life Knocks by Craig Stone which I urge you and every member of the human race (and also all the members of all alien races for that matter, and if animals could read I'd urge them to part with their animal cash too for another matter) to check out. A review will follow soon.

I'm currently reading That Bear Ate My Pants! Adventures of a Real Idiot Abroad by Tony James Slater which has me crying with laughter at the scrapes he's finding himself in out as a volunteer in Ecuador. You know what to do. Check this one out too!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

COMING SOON: Band of Badgers Presents...

Please excuse me for not having uploaded a new post so far this week but I am currently working on putting together a podcast. This is taking up most of my free time at present as I'm getting the tracks together, requesting permissions from the bands and artists I'd like to involve as well as learning how to actually record the thing.

Saying I'm excited would be a big understatement. I just hope I can pull this off and do the music proud. Ah! So if I do a good job and get a good level of hits helping to promote some really fantastic music I think deserves more exposure I believe I will be ready to talk to Heather.

I will be able to sing aloud in full force (and in my very best Heather Small impression (which I don't think is that great but, you know, points for effort)), 'What have you done today, to make you feel proud?'

I've missed that at work. Oh Sabina, hurry up and return from your travels down under as we are long overdue a Heather incident. 

I'm digressing aren't I? Apologies. Back to the podcast.

I am writing an article for the website Graduate Game on how to record a podcast so I thought why not jump right in and record my own. I won't deny that when I was younger I may have pretended I was a radio presenter. Playing tracks from my various cassettes at the time (only huge sums of money will get me to divulge what bands or artists this involved – it was the very early 90’s) and just rambling youthful nonsense I can't imagine it was much cop. But it was just for fun. I was a child. It was one of those things to do.

As you may have already got the impression I'm a big fan of music. My interests are quite varied even if I have particular soft spots (or shouldn't this be I have large spots? I have huge spots...regressing to the teenage years I think. Not a big pimple....ooh...pimple...what a word that is, pimple, pimples) for rock, alternative and indie. 

With the volume of new bands and artists I'm still being introduced to via Twitter in addition to coming across them via the other ways I'm used to, I thought it would be cool to use the medium of a podcast to play some of this music.

So, Band of Badgers Presents... will be my opportunity to play a set list of tracks from some of these artists and bands in the hope I can aid in the promotion and exposure for them (if nobody downloads it this will slap me in the face so seriously hard I will have permanent black eyes. This will not be a good look. There's no way I can afford to keep buying the make up to disguise permanent black eyes. Jeez, how do you ladies (note: non-sexist question here, I’m just generally curious) afford to keep yourselves in this stuff? Saying that, there are plenty of gay men, even plenty of straight men who spend a fortune on their cosmetics so I extend this query to all of you? Answers on a postcard please....but don't phone it's just for fun and unfortunately I don't have a premium rate phone line you can call to line my pockets. Perhaps I should enlist the help of ITV for that one? Unless it’s still a sore point? I really do go for it on these asides sometimes....STOP!).

Band of Badgers Presents...The Pilot episode will hopefully be up and available sometime next week. This is subject to a number of things not least the fact I've never done anything like this before. 

I'd like to take this opportunity (but I will do so again countless times) to thank the bands and artists who have already given permission for me to play their music and who have provided words of support and encouragement. I really hope I can do you [Heather Small voice please] proud!

Under A Banner        
Angel Kelly     
Gypsy Fire