Tuesday, 26 March 2013

no man is an island

. . . except the Isle of Man, of course.

When the night shows
the signals grow on radios
All the strange things
they come and go, as early warnings
Stranded starfish have no place to hide
still waiting for the swollen Easter tide
There's no point in direction we cannot
even choose a side.

I've been off ill for a couple of days and this morning spent a few minutes reading Tweets and checking emails. Nothing too strenuous as I feel quite grotty. However, I must admit that this Twitter stuff is a bit baffling.

I know I come across as a bit of a technophobe but I do struggle with some of the terminology and basics of the Digital World. Now, I assume that "following" suggests an action, you click on "following" to show that you are actively reading the tripe words of wisdom the person you are following has to say. When we need to see a rant from some misanthrope hiding behind a pseudonym and a picture of a Lego figure and actually read it we may want to read more of this twaddle interesting stuff.  We collect a few Tweeters we like to read and we click "follow" and avidly devour everything they have to enlighten us with. Or something like that.

So this morning I was delighted to find a rather attractive young singer-songwriter from Colorado had decided to "follow" me. Why? I haven't the faintest idea. There have been a few other fellow travellers who have decided to follow me too. When I checked on her Profile I discovered that she "follows" some 5,222 other Tweeters which might suggest why she hasn't got any gigs until later on in April. She will probably take that long to read them all and make sparkling and witty replies to. The truth is I'm guessing that there is probably some software that latches on to other people's profiles and automatically sends out a so-called "following" message as a form of self advertising. Thereby adding to the amount of junk and spam that seems to be a major feature of all this digital traffic. 

I could be wrong - I usually am when I try to get my head around all things digital - but there does seem to be more against using these ways of communicating than for. Still, it got me to write a song about it. Nothing special, certainly not an award winner. Well, unless there's a category for the least successful attempt to shoehorn the word "dichotomy" into a song, that is.

Talking of things digital doing my head in, this bloody laptop's keyboard is getting worse at doubling random letters and missing capitals out. All mistakes are obviously the laptop's doing and not my poor grammar - honestly. I actually can't bear writing on it any more.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

hey lord, don't ask me questions

Why do we never get an answer
When we’re knocking at the door?
With a thousand million questions
About hate and death and war.

I've never been a great church-goer. I remember being sent to Sunday school back in about 1965, running away from it and spending the afternoon hiding in a tree. Don't ask me why, maybe I was showing distinct pagan sympathies even then. Anyway, I found myself getting up early this morning to accompany Mrs Dave to her local church.

Notice I said "her" as she is a Catholic and I am not. Also, along with Father Dougal, I have a problem with all that "believing and stuff". However, despite not being a left-footer, I guess I felt guilty after spending most of dinner last night taking the mickey out of her. She had to read at church for the Palm Sunday service. There were to be three of them. Someone was reading the narrator, the Priest rather obviously, was reading the Big Fella's lines and she had to read all the other parts - Simon, the crowds, Pilate etc. I tried to get her to produce a range of different voices but mostly it tended to be of the Life of Brian variety along with John Wayne's "Awe, surely he was the son of God" ("A little more awe, John") from The Greatest Story Ever Told. So off to church we went this fine Spring morning after scraping the snow off the car.

I have obviously never been to a Palm Sunday service before in my life, certainly not a Catholic one. It must have been the strangest service I have ever been to. Now, as I have mentioned, I've never been a great church-goer. The last proper C of E service I went to must have been my father's funeral back in 1989, although my mother's was a C of E one but it was at the Crematorium and I chose the music. Every other church service I have been to since the late 1970s has been a Catholic one. I'm not a believer but I have done the real stations of the cross, visited yer man's birthplace (banged my head going down to it as they've built a church on top of it), stood in his tomb and climbed to Golgotha. But the most mystical and spiritually uplifting place I've ever been in is the Dome of the Rock at Temple Mount. It was nice shuffling about in bare feet amongst so many genuinely devout believers. Anyway, finding myself in church this morning, I, mercifully with merino walking socks and Gore-Tex boots on,  realised that there's always something new to experience.

Firstly, all the crucifixes were covered over with shrouds, even the one on the stick at the front of the procession. It looked like they'd been spring cleaning and forgot to take them off. I think it's all the ceremony that I have a problem with. There was no music to guide our singing although a few people knew when to spontaneously start. Whenever I try singing in church I always think of David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth. That's me, that is. Evidently there was no music because of the weather - nobody had turned up. Palm Sunday is supposed to be one of the big services leading up to the Easter one but the church was fairly empty today. Still, we were given palms to wave about at the start, that was thoughtful as unlike the crowds waiting for Jesus, we didn't bring our own along.

So, whilst Mrs Dave was up on stage refusing to perform a range of  voices which might have relieved the boredom for the assembled (small) crowd. At one point nobody knew what to do so there was a bit of bobbing up and down. I was bobbed up when I should have been bobbing down. But no one really got it right and on it went. Meanwhile, I did what I usually do in these circumstances - I start thinking about the big questions in life. What if there really is a God? When will we have peace on Earth? What shall I cook for breakfast? Whatever happened to Dwight Yoakham? Then my eye was attracted to the stained glass windows. They are quite nice ones from 1906. Under some of the windows were names of what I took to be Saints: Mark, the patron saint of notaries, Anthony of which there are several (my favourite being the hermit) but St MacDonald? Perhaps he was a wandering Scot who managed to be there in Jerusalem for the Crucifixion. They all have their own symbols: Mark with a book, Anthony of Padua a donkey and MacDonald a pair of golden arches? 

After much speculation and deep thought, and a better look, I realised that it was probably the name of the artist who made the windows, Mark Anthony Macdonald. After a quick Google when I got home, I discovered this: The stained glass window depicts the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary and was donated by the widow of Mark Anthony MacDonnell, a former MP and a Medical Officer in Liverpool who died in 1906. So I guess it was someone trying to buy her husband's way into heaven. And these new glasses may not be right.

There was another slightly bizarre incident when a bunch of children came in with banners saying things like Hosanna and Yay! Jesus or something. Then they hung a naff drawing of Jesus on a donkey and lots of writing about people shouting "Crucify him!" over the front of the altar whilst the Priest prepared a quick breakfast. Obviously, I can't have any of that as I'm an infidel. We had to all shake hands and mumble, "Peace be with you" which is always nice and optimistic, especially with all the "King of Israel" stuff they sing about given the state of that strange country. The priest looked at a mother whose child had taken to screaming with gusto because of complete boredom with a look of benign contempt and then it was all over. After another hymn that seemed to start spontaneously sung a cappella we all trundled out into the snow. 

Once again, an opportunity for Enlightenment passed by.  No big questions answered, really. At home I decided to cook a full English breakfast and if I can be bothered later, I can always look up Dwight's fate. According to the news, there's no peace on Earth in the offing currently, I'm afraid.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

howl on

I don’t like my voice
And my clothes don’t fit
And my gun belt hangs
On my skinny hips
And all I want to do
Is to be like you 

I have decided to dip my toes into the murky waters of the Twittersphere (?!). I'm not actually even sure if that's a correct term hence the interrobang.  A friend at work has been badgering me for months to get involved. I'm not really sure whether it was worth getting involved or not but there are a few interesting characters to follow.

The biggest problem when starting out, of course, is the fact that nobody knows who you are so it's a very daunting thing to take that first - and in my case, very - tentative step. Ah well, each journey has to start with a first step, I guess. I'll throw caution and natural reticence to the wind and off we go.

One of the problems with it is how daft it looks with zero followers but in truth, I'm mostly interested in following a particular few Tweeters (is one who Tweets a Twat?). If it all gets too embarrassing or addictive I can always just stop using it and delete myself, I suppose. Ah well. Any comments from those who have had a go or even do Tweet will be welcome.

Anyway, it's St Patrick's Day and Mrs Dave is half Irish, so we're mostly drinking Guinness. Sláinthe!

Thursday, 14 March 2013

in memoriam

So. Farewell
Ray Gorbing,
Or "Mr Stevenage" to some.

You planned the town
with no traffic lights -
all cycle tracks
and roundabouts.

Japanese tourists
came to take pictures
in their droves.

Keith's mum hated your orange box,
an eyesore by the station.
I'm sure Gordon Craig was chuffed.

In your young days you looked
a dead ringer for your son.
Without the pipe, of course.

He played violin in our first band.
You looked at me with disdain once,
and you didn't shake my proffered hand.
                                   E.J. Thribb (17½)
the gordon craig theatre

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

from a kitchen table

Upend the stick again. What happens next
Is undiminished for having happened once,
Twice, ten, a thousand times before.
Who cares if all the music that transpires
Is the fall of grit or dry seeds through a cactus?
You are like a rich man entering heaven
Through the ear of a raindrop. Listen now again.

I wrote my first decent song when I was about fifteen. By decent, I mean that it was considered good enough by some friends in a band to perform it live. That particular band continued to perform songs that I had written. I later formed a brief but productive partnership with another friend. I played acoustic guitar mostly then and he was a bassist. For the major few months we wrote together, he insisted on playing a double bass, which was great for writing around his house but a bit crap for trying to play them anywhere else. We actually went busking outside the Tower of London but we won't go into that here.

ancient and modern: the guitar is MUCH
older than the didgeridoo
I've had songs performed by other bands too. The first decent song I wrote mentioned above was called Painting in the Rain and was strong enough that many years later as an adult I could still remember parts of it - the first verse and the refrain (no chorus involved, as such). I had to remember it because the lyrics were lost in Time - scraps of paper borrowed, never returned. Still, I sat in an exam room a few years after qualifying as a teacher and re-wrote it. Now it became a song of an older, middle-aged man looking back at his life rather than that of a gloomy teenager looking ahead. In the years since, I've recorded it and on occasions written other songs mostly not as good.

Over the weekend I watched the Mark Lawson interview with Mark Knopfler and listened with interest (more about the way the article was presented than the content) to Broadcasting House* on Sunday morning as they tried to explore the music of Justin Bieber - someone whose celebrity seems to have completely passed me by, I must admit. Still, listening to the presenter trying to coax the female Musicologist into singing live on air with him was amusing. I'm obviously not the only person who finds songwriting a fascinating subject. I haven't even mentioned Desert Island Discs and how popular it is.

I've written elsewhere about early gigs and music that I have found important to me. Sometimes those posts have led to meaningful comments and points raised because the music has meant something to others. Last Friday evening whilst watching the BBC4 programme about 1970s music (mostly gleaned from old Whistle Tests and TOTPs) my phone lit up with comments from several friends and throughout the programme comments were made and passed amongst us. Okay, it may have been a bit of a nostalgic rush but the comments weren't always complimentary - sorry Babe Ruth - but there were pleasant memories invoked too - well done Maggie Bell, Scotland's answer to Janis Joplin, indeed.

This morning at work several members of staff were discussing Bowie's "best decade" in view of the fact that his new album was released this week, and prompted by an article in a newspaper, I believe. So, if this is all true, which it is, why the comment from Phillip Stone in today's Independent that ". . . books, like music, have almost no value." Now, I find that a very worrying comment. I get the point that's being made and I don't want to worry too much about books here. What I'm concerned about is the idea that's coming across that music has (okay, almost) no value. And not just for me. All the above and the preamble to this point seems to suggest to me that actually, music has a lot of value. Alright, I guess they're talking about monetary value but the term 'value' seems quite loaded. Just because many people - particularly youngsters - don't pay for music nowadays, does that mean they don't put any 'value' on it? I know many youngsters that DO put 'value' (whatever that is) on music. There's plenty of them playing guitars, bass, drums and even some writing songs. I've put on plenty of songwriting sessions over recent years (with others) and been into recording studios with various groups of youngsters who have certainly put plenty of value on the joy of the outcomes.

What I'm saying is that music is essential to many of us. As an exercise, I deliberately set my iPod to shuffle whilst writing this and in the last few minutes have been entertained by One Night One Time in America by Los Lobos, I Got The Blues by the Stones, Jackie Leven's setting of Robert Frost's Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening and now, as I type, Johnny's Far Away by Richard Thompson. It doesn't prove anything except my poor taste**, possibly, but it would be interesting to know what you are listening to at this moment in time, ie what's actually playing right now in your background. And I don't mean what you choose to tell me, I mean what is actually on now. Take a note of it and let me know, I'm fascinated, honestly.

Anyway, I remain devoted to listening to music and put enormous value on it. I will, I guess, also continue to pay for most of the music I listen to. Oh, and if anyone thinks music isn't important to people try reading The Train in the Night, A Story of Music and Loss by Nick Coleman to discover about the absence of music in a person's life.

There, I wrote about music without mentioning 'emotion' once.

*It's about 30 minutes in if you're impatient, or interested.
** Obviously I prefer the term 'eclectic'.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

the lark in the morning

lay me low
lay me low
where no one can find me
where no one can hurt me*

When the temperature rises a little and the sun smiles down on us, there's nothing better than to pull on the old walking boots and wander around the countryside. Well, there is and that's to walk up a hill. But I live in Suffolk, so that's not going to happen. Sunday morning and we're off up to Blythburgh where the best Suffolk pork comes from.

A walk along the banks of the River Blyth from the Blythburgh church and back through Wenhaston was a pleasant interlude. It had been an unusual week, to say the least. Other than when someone wants to talk to me, I quite like ambling along listening to the birds and seeing what's about. After the group of some eleven of us had upset an oystercatcher who piped his complaint for ages whilst we walked up past his patch, I settled into wandering along content with my own thoughts. I watched a great white egret fly lazily off above us and listened to the first of several skylarks. Spring seems to have settled in already - last week it was cold and now the gorse is in bloom and the larks are singing their hearts out. At some point a heron flew over too.

I've been blogging for some three years now and it was on my mind. Other than the fact that I seem to be getting quite a few spam messages from "Anonymous" (so these now go straight to the bin and  deleted) I have noticed a tendency towards the verbose. So, gentle readers, I aim to try to write with more brevity as from now, you'll no doubt be pleased to know. I will occasionally embed a video now that I know how to do it but I promise not to overuse it.

The point of the walk this week came from my inquiry of some of the more senior East Anglians amongst the group - yes, more senior in years than me - last time as to whether there is a pub with no bar around these parts. Some of you may be familiar with the Cock at Broom, Bedfordshire which was a popular haunt of mine at the tail end of the seventies and early 1980s. We lived at the end of Langford just around the corner - Jordan's Mill is between Langford and Broom - for a few years. I was informed that there was a pub nearby in Suffolk that was similar. One of the guys is a retired policeman from the Essex-Suffolk borderlands so seems to know the area exceptionally well and it was him that suggested this particular hostelry.

So after the walk we all drove down to Laxfield  for a pint or three of Adnams. It was a fantastic find - a real old-fashioned pub. I haven't bothered to write too much as the links will tell you all you need to know. One thing I will say though is that the pub is known as The Low House as well as its more familiar one of the Kings Head**. I notice that the Cock is still much the same and that there are only ten similar pubs in the country. I was pleasantly surprised to see a poster for Fordham's Ashwell Brewery (not a good snap of it but we had to  leave as time was getting on). This is not a Brewery I was at all aware of but perhaps Mr Cornell may be able to enlighten us further. I can't find a mention of it in Amber, Gold and Black, Martyn. ***

Anyway, suffice to say that a fine time was had by one and all. I mentioned last month about a community buying out the local pub and since then I've heard of more and more similar stories of communities getting together to save such venues. In fact, one of the guys with us was telling me of his retirement plan to put such a venture into being within the next year or so. If you're familiar with the lost folk singer Anne Briggs then it's the village where she rehearsed with Steve Ashley's band Ragged Robin for Sing a Song for You. Sorry if that's a little guarded but you never know who's listening! Anyhow, it's the pub mentioned in Steve Ashley's notes for the album. She's the Annie mentioned in Sandy Denny's The Pond and the Stream on the first Fotheringay album.

A great end to a bizarre week and now that the weather has improved there is a palpable feeling in the air of Spring. I always feel a bit better at this time of the year and I hope you all do, too.

* from an old improvised Shaker hymn
** no apostrophes used in pub names you've probably noticed
*** apologies Martyn - it's there in your other book Beer the Story of the Pint on page 243