“Horizontal” by The Sombre Reptiles

January 28, 2023

The waiting is over! The Sombre Reptiles are back, and possibly still on their backs!

Get Horizontal on Soundcloud!

Thanks again to my good friend John for all his hard work and patience.

The only way is down!


Scared

January 13, 2023

Well I’m scared

I’m scared of the light

Scared of the light in my head

And I’m scared

Scared of the dark

The thing that’s under the bed

And I’m scared

Well I’m scared

I’m scared of you

You scare the hell out of me

And I’m scared

Of what you do

When you stand behind me

I turn around and you’re not there

I can’t see you anywhere

I go into the room that we used to share

I put my hands on you but there’s nothing there

And I’m scared

I’m scared of the night

I’m scared of the day

I’m scared of the voices

That won’t go away

I’m scared of my kitchen

I’m scared of my food

Bananas are scary

Disgusting and crude

I’m scared of the rich

I’m scared of the poor

I’m scared of the people underneath the floor

I’m scared of the water

There’s blood in my beer

It’s terrible outside

But it’s brutal in here

(Lyrics to “Scared” by The Sombre Reptiles)

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Merry Blogmas! Part 1

December 23, 2022

It’s been a great year for music.

I’d like to thank all those musicians, artists and stars who have given me so much pleasure, joy and excitement this year.

In no particular order:

Broken Baby (@brokenbabybaby). Their track “Make Manager” should be on every single “best of” list published in the world.

A VOID (@avoidinyou). Album of the year for me.

Otoboke Beaver (@otobokebeaver): band of year, conquering the world, one Instagram post at a time.

Alice Longu Gao (@alicelongyugao): all I can say about Alice is that anyone who happens to read this should GO AND FOLLOW ALICE RIGHT NOW AND MAKE HER THE GLOBAL SUPERSTAR SHE DESERVES TO BE!!!!! #OMGAO !!!

In live music, I cried at an amazing concert by RYMDEN (I don’t think I’ve ever cried at a gig. Crying at a jazz concert? What!), I marvelled at Gabriela Montero‘s ability to create beautiful music straight from her brain, soul and heart, and I shouted “Off with his head!” at a Witch Fever (@WITCHFEVER) gig. In case you didn’t know Witch Fever are the best live band in Britain.

I still haven’t worked out how to embed a Spotify playlist into a blog post. Here’s a link to my best of 2022 playlist.

And here’s a link to my family’s best of playlist. We rock!

To anyone reading this: thank you for the music!

Have a great Christmas one and all.


Scared by The Sombre Reptiles

December 3, 2022

The Sombre Reptiles return.

Understandably, they are feeling scared.

Thanks to John for his patience on this one.

Taken from the forthcoming album “Triple Lock”.


BBC. Music. #BBC100

October 18, 2022

I work for the BBC. The BBC is 100 years old today.

I love music.

It occurred to me how important the BBC has been in bringing me to music that I love.

If you can remember where you were the first time you heard a track, that means it must be good. So here are 6 examples:

1973 (1): Bob Harris – “Mother of Pearl” Roxy Music

If you are 13 and well cared for the world looks like a decent place, even if there’s weird stuff going on. I was vaguely aware of strikes, power cuts and gloomy headlines. But I was more aware of music.

The country was in a state.  Even Radio1 was rationed, broadcasting ceased at 7 and then switched on again at 10 o’clock for the evening “specialist” shows (John Peel, Annie Nightingale, Bob Harris).

Well past my bedtime, so I would sneak a radio into bed and listen to it under the bedclothes at very low volume. It was on Bob Harris’s show that “Mother of Pearl” zinged into my ears.

I’d already seen Roxy Music on Top of The Pops. They looked different, weird, interesting. They were noisy. I persuaded my parents to buy me “Stranded” as a Christmas present. I don’t think they liked the sleeve

1977: Alan Freeman’s Saturday Show – “Shoplifting” The Slits

On Saturday afternoons I would do my homework. “Greetings music lovers!”, Freeman (otherwise known as “Fluff”) used to say. I was a music lover. Freeman was a brilliant radio DJ who produced a highly polished, fast paced show packed with jingles (cut ups of classical music) and pleasure. He was a music lover, the progressive and heavy rock of the day.

Legend has it that John Peel, who got on well with Freeman, persuaded him to broadcast the Slits first session (recorded for Peel’s programme) before Peel did.

When I heard it (those high pitched squeals!) my 17 year old self thought “ What was that?! I like that?! Can I have some more of that?!”

43 years later there is a lot more of that. There’s a straight line from The Slits’ Peel sessions through Bikini Kill, #riotgrrl, L7, right though to my current favourite band Witch Fever.

A new music genre had been invented. I heard it first on the BBC.

1979: Friday Rock Show – Tommy Vance – “Touch Too Much” AC/DC

Everyone (including teenagers) thinks that on a Friday night teenagers are out having fun. Many aren’t. For some (including me) the only bright spot on a Friday night would be the Friday rock show.

I was sitting on the sofa in the lounge next to the family’s radio gram when this burst out of the speakers.

It’s still one of my favourite pieces of music of all time. The sheer brilliance and power of the arrangement , the simplicity of the chords (it’s E, G and C again and again), the way it builds relentlessly up and back down from climax to climax, the off the scale hysterical bawl of Bon Scott’s vocal (his tongue firmly in his cheek, or more likely someone else’s – someone who has “the body of Venus/with arms”)… even the guitar solo is good. A masterclass…

1983 (2): John Peel – “Smile” The Fall (session)

I was in Birmingham. In a bath. The bathwater was getting colder but I didn’t want to get out because I was listening to Peel on the radio and this Fall session was well… extreme even by their standards.

I didn’t know what I was doing with my life. I was drifting. You could drift in those days. The country was in a state but the benefits regime was less brutal. About the only thing I knew for sure was I loved music. And I was one of that small band of people of lived their lives around the timetable of the next Fall record or Peel session.

Rock music is about lust and anger. “Touch Too Much” is lust, “Smile” is anger. It sounds like they walked into the studio and vomited it out, a barrage of rage about, who knows, the state of the country? The nature of consciousness? Some bloke whose face he didn’t like? (says the lickspittle Southerner).

Five years later I got a job at the BBC. Making music programmes for the radio. I won’t go into all the fantastic music that I learned about (e.g. Mingus) or the fact that I got to work with Tommy Vance (they were paying me to do this, don’t forget). Then I got a different job at the BBC. And apart from an all too brief period when I worked for the online version of BBC Music (this saved my life – but that’s another story. And I also met my good friend Simon Hopkins – @DGMFS1) I never “worked” with music again.  So let’s fast forward to…

2017: Iggy Confidential – “Dispatch from Mar A Largo” L7

I’m not listening to a radio anymore. I’m listening to my mobile phone. On a marble surface in the kitchen. I was probably making tea. But Iggy Pop is on demand and he’s one of my heroes. On a mobile phone everything sounds tinny but this was at the very edge of distortion.

It’s a fantastic track: a head on collision between “Nutbush City Limits” and “Anarchy in the UK”.

That genre that started with the Slits seems alive and well.

2021: Bob Harris Country – “When You’re Wrong” Brandi Carlile

Once again the country is in a state. This time there’s a lethal disease out there so you hunker down at home. I was on the exercise bike temporarily installed in the hall, listening to my phone again.

I’m not an expert on country music. But when I want to go country I go listen to Bob Harris. Country is music for adults and by this stage I’m definitely an adult. My ear was caught by the moment at 4’43 when Brandi starts to keen like the wind in an empty desert. I’ve listened to Brandi’s music a lot since and if she ever tours the UK I’ll be first in line for tickets. I will cry, I have no doubt.

This list starts and ends with Bob Harris. But then Bob, I think, is a music lover. Thanks Bob.

The BBC. I’m not an unbiased source. But without the BBC (3) I wouldn’t have heard any of this. Happy Birthday.

Notes:

  1. Although I have checked the dates of the pieces of music, I have not fact checked the rest of this blog post. So if anything’s wrong, blame my failing brain.  
  2. Don’t believe the look back bores. The 1980s were shit. The only good thing to come out of the 80s was Hex Enduction Hour by The Fall.
  3. It’s impossible to over estimate the importance of music to the BBC. I once looked at an edition of Radio Times from the 1930s. Apart from a few odd talks and news bulletins the schedule was all live music, concerts, recitals from all corners of the UK.

You Tube playlist as Spotify doesn’t want to work – sorry about any ads
Spotify Playlist: BBC. Music. #BBC100


London Steps

August 28, 2022

The word “subtle” has never been used to describe my clarinet playing.

But when I listened to this track I thought “there’s some subtle stuff going on here”.

So any subtlety must be due to the excellent guitar playing of my friend Simon Hopkins

Here’s another version of this track – by the Sombre Reptiles:


The Price Of A Song

August 20, 2022

More superb guitar playing from my good friend Simon Hopkins:

This actually is a song in another incarnation. Lyrics are here.

Once again thanks to Simon for his time and indulgence.


Don’t Lean On Me

August 13, 2022

So every year my good friend Simon Hopkins allows me the indulgence of playing music with him.

Simon has been immersed in music this year, studying for a Masters at the University of Surrey, and he has blogged extensively about this. His music brain is now operating at a level I suspect I can barely comprehend.

I was interested to hear whether his guitar playing had changed as a result. I think it has but I couldn’t tell you exactly how, except to say that what he does from about 2’30” in this track is just fabulous.

Thanks as always to Simon. It was an inspiring session!

P.S. here’s an example of what’s Simon’s been doing…


Scared

May 2, 2022

New song… Crafter guitar sounding great… (bananas are scary)…

…inspired by The Sombre Reptiles track below… I turned the vocal part into the guitar riff, although it’s in a different key, different chords etc etc…


Who’s Afraid of Elena Ferrante?

April 22, 2022

I’ve just finished reading “The Waves” by Virginia Woolf.

Virginia Woolf has become one of my favourite authors. She’s the Joni Mitchell of modernism: doing everything the men do, but a million times better.

“The Waves” isn’t my favourite book of Woolf’s, but at the very end her prose rises and compels in a powerful monologue by one of the characters (Bernard): defining life and defying death.

Why are people so scared by and confused about the human imagination? Right now people seem very confused about what is fiction and what is fact. They police fiction tyrannically but spread lies casually.

Why does it matter whether Dr Who is played by a woman or a man? Dr Who is a fictional character, an alien, not a human being. A product of the imagination. S/he has two hearts. That’s not real. So s/he/it can be anything.

Bernard in “The Waves” is an elderly man. Virginia Woolf was a woman. Can a woman tell you what’s in a man’s mind? Many of the greatest novels about women have been written by men. William Faulkner (a white man, whose grandfather was on the Confederate side) wrote great novels about racism in the American south. Why do people care so much about the identity of the author and so little about their writing?

For example, at the end of this piece about Elena Ferrante, Ann Manov poses the question:

With Ferrante revealed, one would have had to grapple with a question both tedious and unanswerable: can a rich woman write a poor woman’s experience? Well, yes, it would seem so. But only in secret.

This is question which you don’t have to grapple with much. It is tedious, but it is answerable. The answer is simple: yes, it is possible for a rich woman to write a poor woman’s experience. Nor is Ferrante’s identity really a “secret”, since many authors over the centuries have changed names, used pen names, chosen anonymity for a variety of reasons. It’s not a secret. It just doesn’t really matter.  

It did take a little of the magic away when Ferrante’s identity was supposedly revealed. But deliberately revealing someone’s identity for no good reason when they don’t want you to is also, frankly, rude.

And if you’re a writer why wouldn’t you want to be hidden in a world where we have sold our names, our words, our memories, our pictures, our personal information to lords who rent them back to us? We toil like medieval monks on a never ending manuscript of the self for someone else’s benefit.

If Elena Ferrante had not been a very good writer no one would ever have heard of her, and the name she uses would not have mattered. Her real identity still doesn’t matter.

Elena Ferrante’s Naples is not the real Naples. She’s not writing a documentary. In principle anyone who has a great imagination and skill can write anything about anyone, anywhere. But people who can actually do that are rare.  

We all like to be entertained. Pretty pictures and flashing lights. Attractive people doing exciting and dangerous things. I’m no exception. We also all like to have our prejudices and opinions reinforced. We all like to be told we are right, and we are good, and that others, whoever they are, are bad and wrong. Heroes and villains.

But if Virginia Woolf can inhabit a man’s skin in her imagination, then maybe the others are like us.

Maybe, being right or good are just ways of avoiding the question of who we really are and who we might be.

Is that what people are afraid of?

Who’s afraid of Elena Ferrante?

Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Me.