WH Auden

Two quotations from WH Auden that might explain why I like his work so much.

"I was — and in most respects still am — mentally precocious, physically backward, short-sighted, a rabbit at all games, very untidy and grubby, a nail-biter, a physical coward, dishonest, sentimental, with no community sense whatever."

"Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh."


Self Help

When I was in my twenties I spent a lot of time in the company of people who loved self-help books. In one case there was an entire shelf of the things on their book case. Not content with reading the books, these lovely, well-meaning people would go to seminars, discussion groups and talk endlessly about improving their sense of well being.

This all comes from a good place. Who doesn’t want to feel better, be more successful or more loved? What made this love of the self-help book more noticeable was that many of the people who owned and read the books were completely fucked up and miserable. Quite a lot of them were successful in their own field, but screwed up and sad with it.

I was reminded of all this last year when forced to go on a one day course which involved arrow breaking, bar bending and a day of time wasted on mumbo-jumbo, adrenaline boosting tosh. I may come across as a little negative so, in fairness, I should say almost everyone else who attended enjoyed the day, even if it seems to have had no long term benefits for them. I was sceptical and instead of being caught up in all the positive energy, I became angry and annoyed.

Recently I started pondering on whether I was wrong to be so negative. Maybe there is something fundamentally blocked or closed within me that stops me progressing. Perhaps the seminar wasn’t full of bullshit party tricks and short term nonsense.

So, in order to get another hit on my 50 at 50 list I’ve decided to (deep breath) read a self-help book all the way through and maintain a healthy, positive attitude while I’m doing so. The book I’ve chosen is ‘ShiftYou Thinking. Change Your Life’ by Mo Shapiro. I chose this because my highly motivated and successful sister-in-law gave me her copy (years ago) and it’s only 80 pages long.

Let’s see what happens. Oh, if you’re interested in all this stuff I suggest taking 30 minutes out of your ay and watching this.


Sovereign Housing and the ongoing nightmare

Tonight I came home at 6:30pm and could hear the neighbours music pumping away from the street outside. I'm writing this at half past ten in the evening and have just had to listen to their music reverberating through our house in short, very loud bursts. This is not happy party music. It is them targeting us and acting with impunity.

Since this has been going on for over a year, and the formal paperwork started flying around from last May you might think Sovereign Housing (who are effectively the neighbour's landlords) might have detected a sense of urgency. Our family has been battered by noise, swearing, smoke and intimidation. These people are clever enough to know how to keep this out of the hands of the police. Tonight's up and down music does the job of putting us on edge and robbing us of sleep (including my young children). The snide comments and looks are enough to make us feel on edge and vulnerable but impossible to capture in a way that would help us in court.

But, the neighbours are supposed to abide by the rules of their contract and they are not. Sovereign Housing has allowed them to continue in their behaviour without sanction. Sovereign ask us to write it all down but this gets us nowhere.

Someone in that organisation needs to grow a heart and think about the hell we are going through. Someone needs to start caring.


And back to music

So many things happeneing this week. The most exciting being a return to the rehearsal rooms to try out the newly written lyrics for a tune that has been an instrumental for most of its life. If it works (and we think it will) our next stop will be the recording studio.

Two Dogs Revisited

Two dogs by WJCruttenden
Two dogs, a photo by WJCruttenden on Flickr.
10 Years of Flickr. Here's the first photograph I posted there. The photograph was more successful than the gig it was taken at.


Playing with Stories

Last year I mentioned the practice of Textual Intervention in this blog post.

This weekend my daughter said, while in a huffy mood, that she had nothing to play with. I told her to play with a story.

"You can't play with a story!" She said, in that tone of voice that conveys how hopelessly clueless a parent can be.

"Yes you can." I replied, then explained an abreviated version of this technique I had used as part of my English degree. She got it straight away. We took Goldilocks out of the three bears story and the wolf out of Little Red Riding Hood, both with surprisingly interesting results. Then we removed Hansel from Hansel and Gretel and added made up and extra chapter for a few of her favourite stories.

What did I learn from this? Don't patronise a six year old, play is good and academia has more uses than you might first think.


Unrecorded Beam

I was lucky enough to get my hands on an early copy of Unrecorded Beam by Billy Bottle and the Multiple. I’ve had three listens to the album and it’s been a strange but rewarding journey.

At first I was half hearing it playing in the kitchen with the noise of family life competing for attention. What I thought I heard was Canterbury style English Jazz-Folk and I feared that Unrecorded Beam was going to be a wistful meander through well-trodden territory. Knowing this wasn’t going to be a fair listen I played it again in the evening, with headphones on, and heard a completely different sound. Yes, there were stains of the Canterbury scene, but also a far more direct and jazzy feel. There were some lovely chords and changes, whole raft of beautiful vocals and a plentiful supply of great musicianship which had found that difficult line between technique and feel. Everyone playing on this album sounded like they were doing it for love. The rhythm section of Gary Evans and Mike Outram provided exactly the right base to build the songs on and instrumentalists like flutist Vivien Goodwin-Darke made a huge contribution without over-playing.

On the third listen, also with headphones, I heard the extra layer. If a good part of my life wasn’t taken up with playing and recording music I might not have understood how important this layer was. But there, for me to enjoy, was the crisp production and masterful mixing of Lee Fletcher. There too were the numerous subtle touches which marked this out as a 21st Century project. Moments of soundscapes, post-production tweaks of voices and instruments and more other-worldly moments. Markus Reuter’s Touch Guitar on Outward Morning is part of this modern yet timeless feel and fits in perfectly with the more traditional sounds of soprano sax, flute and violin.

There’s a lot to love here and, as with all the best music, each replay rewards you with something new to hear. Pop over to Bandcamp for a listen and to buy it.