The shopping of the beast

On the way to yesterday's rehearsal I bought some food and bottled water to keep me going through four hour's playing in the converted meat-locker that is our room of choice (it's very nice inside mind you). My bill came to £6.66.

OK. During the rehearsal Richard guitarist was playing his new Tokai (great tone!) and noted his amp controls were at 6, 6 and 6.

Hmmm. Went out in the evening to celebrate Dave (trombonist's) birthday. A great night in a classic Cowley Road (Oxford's most ethnically diverse road) curry house. My bill came to... £23.00. Phew!


Some sad news to report too. Steve, the bass player with local band, The Drug Squad, died last week. He leaves a wife and three children. Both Soul Beaver and Bridge Street will be getting together to play a tribute night, possibly at Oxford's Zodiac. Details will be posted here and at the main Soul Beaver site.



I was going to bring some much needed trivia to the blog with news of my cutlery (don't worry, it's coming) but before I had a chance I was tagged. So here are the answers to some fascinating questions.

Four jobs I've had:
Suit salesman
English Teacher

Four movies I can watch over and over:
Three colours: Blue
Lost in Translation
The Philadelphia Story

Four places I've lived:


Four TV shows I love:
The Simpsons
Any music documentary

Four places I've vacationed:

Four of my favorite dishes:
Cheese and chive pie
Peanut butter sandwich
Anything Italian and veggy
Onion tart with goat's cheese

Four sites I visit daily:
DGM Live
BBC News
Postcards from the yellow room
Its your turn

Four places I would rather be right now:
In a Parisian cafe (preferably the one in Three Colours: Blue)
In Borders' Cafe, Oxford
On stage playing exciting music
Anywhere (although NYC would be cool) with my wife



If you think you've had a domestic bust-up, check out the news item linked above.


A big disappointment last night as the band were double booked and didn't get to rehearse. Much loading of gear in and out of the car in the cold for... well, nothing.

A rehearsal is planned this weekend for Bridge Street though. I'm planning some loud Stick noise. The one useful thing I did last night (besides lighting the fire) was to play the Stick through the Boss Mega Delay pedal and RTFM at last. Now I finally have a chance to do some proper looping and sonic experimentation. If I get there early enough on Saturday I can try out the full 'new' rig (Stick - Roland Guitar Synth - multi-effects footboard - kitchen sink - amp) without embarrassing myself.

Tonight I watched Stephen Fry discovering his routes and felt some of his anger as he learnt that one family member after another died because of "that bloody word, Auschwitz." He mused on his luck at being alive at all, let alone into a society where he could prosper in his own peculiar way. Gripping telly.

Current listening: The ConstruKction of Light - King Crimson (live in Kingston, New York 2003)


Get Happy!

If I heard right then today is the most miserable day of the year. There is evidence for this on quite a few of my favourite blogs, where all sorts of fine people are feeling down (mostly for very good reasons).

I heard recently that a fellow bass player in a popular local band has only two weeks to live. This news hasn't caused me to re-evaluate my life or have any profound thoughts. It does make me want to play my bass more and live in my experiences, not my expectations.

If you're feeling low and can't think of a way out, click the link in the title.



I bought the Sunday Observer today just to get the free DVD. Sad, but true. It was 'Dune,' a film lambasted by critics for many good reasons but which has a lot of things going in its favour.

I saw Dune at its London premier and got to chat, briefly, with Grace Jones (great fun), most of Queen (a bit pompous) and Andy Summers. The premier was great fun and my friend and I who attended it enjoyed celebrity spotting; me more than him as he was, and still is, not so easily impressed with shallow celeb achievement. We also discussed the film and decided it was rubbish. Any film with a line like "I'm Mapes, the housekeeper." is not going to rock anybody's world, is it?

The other good thing about Dune, besides reminding me of fun times and being satisfyingly bad, is that it features a Chapman Stick and a pair of flying underpants.

An advert for a bank, in the Observer, used a variation on a Buddhist saying to help with the ways many of us feel about Sunday nights and the nasty black cloud sense we get from the impending Monday morning. It said "The problem with Sundays is that we live in our expectations, not our experience."

I've had a great Sunday. Saw Brokeback Mountain, a film about the joys of herding sheep, and had a satisfying meal with J in Swindon.

The day the sky fell in

On Friday night J and I got to go into Oxford to celebrate the birthday of Soul Beaver's lead singer, Emma. Good company and good food combined (as they usually do) to make for a satisfying evening. More Beavering should be occurring soon.

Yesterday we drove to Cardiff to see J's sister and to have a quick guided tour of the city. I was 'left' in Spillers (one of the oldest record shops in the country) for ten minutes. During this time I found and bought Crimson's 'Beat' and the Zappa DVD 'Dub Room Special' which had been recommended to me the previous night by Rod, Marillion's sound, sound person.

We continued the tour, keeping myself away from the many interesting bookshops and eventually ended up in a large, Swedish home-furnishing shop. This blue and yellow themed place featured cabinet handles with sharp edges, badly fitted doors on wardrobes and a floor plan which didn't seem to match up with the building we were in. Most spectacular of all was the moment in the cafe when, having noted and heaped praise on all the child friendly options available (baby food sterilizing, 'feeding station' etc.) the ceiling over the child's play area collapsed. No children were hurt, no crying was heard, but it was pretty shocking. We bought some hangers and drove home.


Wilson Pickett

Wilson Pickett has just died. He sang Mustang Sally, the most requested song in the Soul Beaver song list, even if I try never to play it.

The Crazy Cat

I heard this on Today this morning.


George Galloway's a Mystery cat; an enigmatic puss
Who slinks around the BB house and kicks up quite a fuss.
When his fellow housemates diss his thesis based on Alienation
Of the lumpenproletariat George fears for his reputation

As Galloway, George Galloway, there's no-one quite like Galloway
He sees the world in black and white and scorns the very thought of grey
But in the BB house he's just another famous face
And we're watching and we're waiting for each famous fall from grace;

George Galloway's a smooth old cat; his voice is pure shot silk
And his tache is dripping sexily where Rula spilt her milk
And folks like George go in the house to show the watching youth
That politicians aren't just crooks who like to bend the truth...

But Galloway, George Galloway, be careful you don't throwaway
Any respect you might have gained; rejection's just a text away
Cos in the BB house you're just another Z-list mug
To be laughed at then ignored and then discarded with a shrug;

George Galloway's an MP, but the voters stand in line
At his vacant MP's surgery, while he sits quaffing wine
With a basketball sensation with the manners of a bear
And when constituents bring their complaints, Well Galloway 's not there!

Oh Galloway, George Galloway, you thought that you were well away,
Until an ancient DJ wandered in the house the other day
And Rula Lenska flicked her tail at Jimmy Savile's hair
Cos when it comes to true star quality
Galloway 's not there...

© Ian McMillan

T.G.I. Thursday

It's still only Thursday but I'm going to risk suggesting this hasn't been a bad week. The day job has been interesting, with more students demonstrating their skills and interests in presentations. This is part of the GCSE syllabus, but essentially great fun and always illuminating for me as I see what makes my students tick. I feel lucky to work with such a fascinating bunch.

The musical part of my life has been bouncing around in unusual directions too. The nasty cut on my finger and a brief period sounding like a dalek kept me from Soul Beaver rehearsals. That was frustrating as I could have done with the charge of playing live with others. On the bright side I've knocked out some tunes on the Stick and have re-edited a track I'm working on which hadn't settled correctly before. I've also managed to write out, in some detail, the way I want two other new pieces to sound. When I finally have more than few hours free I'll get recording.



In Italy
Originally uploaded by Roostar.
Yesterday is usually a half day at the day job. I had to return for an evening shift but had a big chunk of the afternoon free, so J came by, picked me up and drove us to the nearby town of Burford. After an amazingly filling meal we walked up and down Burford's long main street, sampling the shops' delights. There were cake shops (yummy macaroons for me) and an old fashioned sweet shop to indulge in.

Even now, twenty four hours later I am still riding high on the sugar intake and the delights of spending time with J. That is my excuse for posting a photograph of us with my friend's children, sitting at the base of Brunelleschi's dome in Florence. I seem to be conducting...


Yesterday morning J and I braved the rainy weather to walk up the White Horse Hill again. We both need to get fit and so we made our way out of the village and up the road that leads to the hill itself. Water was coming down the road like the jungle slide on "I'm a Celebrity..." and the mud was good and slippy.

We trudged up until we were level with the chalk horse and then sheep appeared. There are always sheep on the hill but this day they were having some sort of family get together. Sheep to the left, sheep to the right, sheep in front of us and... hey, they're heading our way, making (for sheep) quite aggressive noises. We walked slowly and purposefully back down the hill.

Then I did something odd. I walked back up the hill and had a quiet word with the ringleader sheep and it's close friends. I showed my hands empty, in case they thought I'd come to feed them, then spoke a few words in an effort to convince them to go back up the hill. After my uncle died around eight years ago I went back to his house to spend a few days and get my thoughts together. On the last day I went for a walk in the Kentish fields I had grown to know so well. Over the tracks of the steam railway and deeper into the countryside. I sat down in the corner of a field to do some writing and small flock of sheep appeared. They made some non-aggressive baa-ing noises and watched me write. I had a few quiet words with them and they headed off to, I presume, pastures new. So did I.

Back on the hill, the sheep took the hint and went back up to their usual grounds. Thoughts of my family started resonating. My dad, who has always had a way with calming animals (and people), my uncle, who I still miss, and my great-grandfather, who was a Shepherd.

Bridge Street guitarist Richard got a new guitar. This is a further sign that we need to make a loud musical noise soon.


Let's gig! Soon.

Behind the bass
Originally uploaded by Roostar.
A mostly good week is over at the day job. It was one of those rare weeks where colleagues were still rested from the holidays and not yet totally stressed out by work. I witnessed some truly inspired presentations from students and had the man from the exam board arrive to check we were doing things correctly. Which, as it turned out, we were.

Guitar and Marillion man Colin called to tell me about Guy Pratt (multi-talented Pink Floyd bassist) and his solo shows. We're hoping to catch one of these in the near future.

Guitar man Richard has emailed to tell me of a new guitar. This news, along with my frustration at not yet having made enough noise with my Stick (it's a musical instrument people!) means some gigs should be happening soon. I'm going to put together a new web site for upcoming gigs and projects as I'm getting a lot of emails requesting information. The new MacBook Pro is out and has software included for web design, an improved version of Garageband and a high enough clock speed to make all these things work properly. I'm quite excited.


Derrida, lamps and ... OW!!!

At the day job I got to enjoy being an academic and joined in a discussion on Jacques Derrida and his literary theory of binary opposites. This was sandwiched between another conversation about dealing with the knowledge that someone close to you is dying, but doesn't know it, and the marking of an essay so badly written it made my brain hurt.

To contrast this I came home and 'helped' J to unpack and fit some new lamps for the bedroom. My help involved me cutting a plastic tag with my Swiss Army knife and slipping the tip of the blade into my index finger. Much pain, quite a bit of blood and that odd feeling for the next hour that everything in the house had a sharp edge.

If I believed in signs I would note that the injury rules out playing the bass for a while but still allows me to play the Stick. I tried both: bass=pain, Stick=music. The only thing this really signifies of course is that I need to be more careful with my knife.


Cow twins

Cow twins
Originally uploaded by Roostar.
I thought you might enjoy the Cow Twins too.


Originally uploaded by Roostar.
Another day of contrasts. J and I had porridge for breakfast (wonderful) and then walked up to the White Horse Hill via the muddy steps (pictured), took a turn around the ancient hill fort and then returned home.

In the afternoon we had some home-made soup and I marked A level English essays. This was not the highlight of the day.

In the evening we ate stuffed pumpkin, I reprogrammed my Roland Guitar synth pedal board and we watched too much telly. I could be wrong but Invasion seems to have borrowed the musical themes from Lost. I'm not as engaged by this show, even though, as I type, we're only a few seconds into episode two. It is suffering from being compared to Lost, whose first episodes were watched in an isolated cottage in a bleak part of the Isle of Harris. I'm not too proud to admit that J and I were truly terrified by this. A hard act to follow.

Washing up, a glass of wine and some practicing before bedtime.



In Waterstones bookshop today two yoofs were overheard saying (in huffy tones), "it's like a bloody library in here."

Goulash repercussions

A full day at work followed by a quiet night in with J. She cooked a veggy goulash (despite reminding me of the higher qualities of a meat based dish) and it was sublime. An increasingly relaxed evening suggested I was going to have an early night but... just as I was about to settle down I felt a burst of energy (although it could have been the goulash) and left an already sleeping J so I could play the Stick Bass in the back room. Out of much fiddling around with modes and runs came a melodic idea which is still with me now. Amazingly, I'm still happy with it so it's time to click Garageband and make a quick recording for future reference.

The Fripp soundscape I attended is now available at DGM Live. It's a beautiful piece of music and I recommend a listen, if not a purchase.

J starts jury duty soon. I'm not sure if she will be allowed to tell me any details but it should be an interesting experience.


Bass notes

I'll put a permanent link up soon to the DGM Live site. Especially as that nice Mr Smith has used part of my review of Robert Fripp's Ely Soundscape on the news page.

If you read my comments on the recent Soul Beaver gig I urge you to go to guitar man Colin's blog (From the Surface of the Moon - over there on the right) to see the night from his point of view.

A new piece for the Stick is coming on. I need to play it through speakers though. Headphones are all very nice and polite but if you are (as I am) a bass player and a lover of the low frequencies, you don't get the full dose of pleasure until the notes you play make you trousers flap about.


Video Blogging?

The new year is going well so far, I've almost finished the book I've been reading for months (that's the problem when you're an English teacher, you never have time to read for your own amusement) and I've put in a few extra hours on the Stick. The highlight of the break has been seeing more of J. We need a long weekend away though, even though most of the house hassles have now been dealt with.

I can't imagine ever having the time to blog with video, but if you are interested the BBC's new video archive might be useful to you.