This time last year I was with my mum and the rest of my family, at Blenheim Palace, celebrating mum's 90th birthday. My neighbours were becoming unbearable again and I was making plans for how to best look after my mum, whose Alzheimer's was increasingly affecting her.

In these last twelve months my family and I got out of our house, lived in a hotel for a while, moved in with my mum to try and care for her and then rented a place of our own when it became obvious that two small children and a 90 year old with dementia were not a good mix.

I hired carers to come in and check on mum when I wasn't around. Then I started to get calls from her, asking me how she should go to bed and whether she should visit her parents (they had been dead for decades). my wife and I took mum to various nursing homes but none were quite right. Either the residents were too far gone or the home wasn't geared up for dementia at all. I was at the end of my tether and wondering what to do when fate stepped in. Mum got an infection and ended up in hospital for weeks. Instead of sending her home they recognised she needed more care and sent her to a home which, at first seemed just right.

But it wasn't right. So my daughter and I visited another, more local place and deemed it suitable. Mum moved from one home to the other but gradually realised she wasn't going to improve. The dementia worsened, and she started to  lose some of her legendary optimism.

At Christmas she stayed with us and, when it was time to go, admitted she had had enough.

In January she caught another infection and the doctor suggested a trip to hospital might not be the best thing for her. We visited regularly, noticing that mum was sleeping more and more. On one visit mum was laying in bed, unable to speak. She tried to say something to me which was, I thought, "I'm not going to go on."

The next day she couldn't get any words out at all.

The day after that my wife, who had been reading to her, called me and suggested I come over.

I sat with mum, talking to her and looking into her eyes. She seemed to want to sleep. Then she opened her eyes wide, as if to take one last look around, closed them and I hear d her breathing slowly quieten, fading to almost nothing. I listened hard, just like I do with my children some times, staring to hear a breath. There was no breath.

Mum had left the world with grace and dignity. We gave a her a good send off with remain gin family and good friends attending the funeral. I've been busy with paperwork and all the usual fall out from the death of a parent.

Today though, is her birthday. Her 91st. Her optimism and kindness live on and those of us lucky enough to know her have plenty of great memories.

This next year is going to be full of challenges and adventures and I can't wait to get started.


Top Ten Albums (sort of) of 2016

This has been another great year for music, if not for musicians. It's always hard (as well as probably pointless) to compile a top ten list of albums and this year it's as hard as ever. If I'd compiled a 'most listened' list it would quite different though. That's mostly because musicians I love kept dying and I wanted to remind myself of their work.

The biggest surprise was that my most listened to albums were by, to all intents and purposes, a cover band. But what an amazing cover band. The Security Project play, mostly, the early material of Peter Gabriel and they do it magnificently. Once you get past the question of why they are doing it, their two live albums are a treat for the ears. As a long time fan of Trey Gunn’s work on the touch guitar I was delighted.

The other great surprise was Neil Cowley’s Spacebound Apes. A concept album by a jazz trio who aren’t a jazz trio. Anyway, here, with links and in no sensible order, is my list.

Spacebound Apes – Neil Cowley Trio
In Movement – Jack DeJonette, Ravi Coltrane, Matthew Garrison
Live 1 & Live 2 – The Security Project
Beyond Now – Donny McCaslin
Fool of Music – Markus Reuter
Blackstar – David Bowie
Cap Waller – Bertrand Belin
The Stone House -Wingfield, Reuter, Stavi, Sirkis
Charentsavan – Arsen Petrosyan
Continuum – Nik Bartsch’s Mobile
Diwan of Beautyand Odd – Dhafer Youssef
Emily’s D+ Evolution – Esperanza Spalding
Event Horizon – Mark Wade Trio
Frequent FlyerLive – Lorenzo Feliciati
How Near How Far – Etienne Mbappe
Into the Silence – Avishai Cohen
The Magical Forest – Sinikka Langeland
Near LifeExperience – Scott Kinsey
Prog Noir – Stickmen

Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind – King Crimson

and EP2 by New Accelerator


Four years

It’s been four years since that terrible, inevitable drive through the night to my parents’ house. Four years since I arrived and found I was twenty minutes too late to say a goodbye. In some cases time heals nothing and in this case I miss my dad.


Warming up and the car-crash fingers

I decided it would do know harm to try an instructional video on bass warm up techniques. My usual warm technique is 'take the bass out the bag and tune it up'.

I scoffed at the five whole minutes of physical warm up suggested before picking up the instrument. I heartily laughed at the initial exercises.

Then I tried again.

Although I could easily play the opening exercises it seemed worthwhile to look closely at how I was playing. My fingers were not doing what the pro was doing. In fact, my fingers were going through something of a car crash compared to his graceful manoeuvring of the fingerboard.

I looked really carefully at what was going on. Instead of each finger of my left hand falling neatly on each fret in turn I was seeing index, middle finger, little finger and little finger again. Or, worse, index, middle finger, ring and middle finger fighting for the fret, little finger. Rubbish. I went over this again and again, trying to get the fingers to do the right thing. It turns out that decades of bad technique don't go away that fast.

So now I have a rather more humbling practice regime. And I have stopped scoffing at the physical warm ups. There is always something new to learn.


NaNoWriMo or no?

November is getting closer. I have an idea for a novel and the yearly, NaNo event is the perfect way for me to get it written. There are two nagging doubts to overcome.

Firstly: will it be worth writing? I had promised myself to make the next book (this is number four) the best one. To be sure of this I’m creating a more solid plot outline and some sample chapters.

Secondly: is it the right book? Writing a thriller (which is what this is) is something I seem to be able to do. But I feel there’s something different I can do. I feel if I can write the blurb for the back of the book, I can write the book. Perhaps this is a sign that the idea is not ready yet, or that I’m just clueless and not a proper writer.

All these things are possible.



New Accelerator has been expanded. We’ve been lucky enough to have Colin Henney play on our recording sessions but it’s been impossible to have him along to regular rehearsals and song writing sessions. Thanks to our fabulous drummer, Bobby, we now have a full time keyboard playing member of the band in Adrian Coles.

Having another instrumentalist capable of playing lead of rhythm parts has made a real difference. We can now play the songs as they sound on record, although it hasn’t taken long for us to start mucking about with arrangements and delving in to all the new sounds and possibilities. We can also integrate the keys into songs as they are being written. There are challenges too, as we find the right sounds and make sure we’re not stepping on each other’s toes.

Exciting times ahead.


Stars revisited

Good old Facebook. Today it reminded me of various things that happened on this day over the last few years. There was a photograph of my then six year old daughter with a large plastic horse, lots of posts about working on new songs (now all complete and available on Bandcamp) and, from 2012, a poem about my dad. It’s not a great poem but it worked well enough at the time for me to let it out.
I love reading and studying poems but I don’t write many anymore because I’m just not good enough to write anything that stands up to the 24 hour test. That is, being able to be read 24 hours later and not seem like crap. This poem though, this poem was written in the heat of the moment and posted before I could get too precious. Then I forgot it, until today. For once in my life I actually wrote a poem that works. For the record, my dad died two months after this was written.

The stars are markers of the past.
They tell the tales of giants and dwarves.
Their light conveys the stories although
That light has left them long ago.
Just like the boy with a catapult,
Whose lengthy journey through the years
Has stretched out and almost erased
His adventures.

The stars are makers of the past.
They are calling,
My dad,
Every morning.

Every morning as they fade
They invite him
To join them.

The twinkle,
Twinkles in his eyes,
But one day soon,
The stars’ delicate light,
Will catapult him,

Into the past.