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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Birthday Greetings Bottle Of Wine

I’ve never been one for big birthday bashes but today Deb and I really pushed the boat out, heading to Newcastle and then over to Gateshead and the Metro Centre.

Apparently it’s the largest shopping centre in Europe although we were only interested in two or three of the many shops it had to offer. Heading into Ikea we indulged in a bit of window-shopping for kitchens as the rumour is that we should have a new one up and running in 2007.

After purchasing a couple of things we never knew we wanted to buy (isn’t that always the case with Ikea?) we moved over to Asda to get some tomatoes for a ragu I had my heart set on making, closely followed by a trip to Music Zone to take a look at the 80% off sale.

Despite this generous reduction and having some birthday finance burning a hole in my pocket there was nothing that caught my eye and we left carry our Ikea receipts, a bag of tomatoes and nothing else.

Back home I played with the pasta machine Debbie bought me for Christmas whilst wearing the rather red pinny my sister gave me. There’s something very satisfying about making your own dough, turning it into pasta and getting it on the table all within an hour of breaking open the eggs.

To round off this perfect day I’m going to watch the first episode from the first season of The West Wing – yet another birthday present from Debbie who knows I always wanted to watch the show but never found myself in front of a TV at the right time with any kind of reliability.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Things Overheard Today

I came across an exchange between some music fans who were justifying their attempts to make the music of a particular artist freely available for download. Big Fan had personally shelled out on the artist’s albums in various formats. So, he argued, the artist shouldn’t be upset if his music was now being given away for free via the internet. Big Fan estimated that the artist was rich enough to be able to afford it anyway.

I don’t know what line of work Big Fan is in but I wonder how he might feel if the shoe was on the other foot? Let’s say someone who knew nothing of his personal circumstances and responsibilities decided that he’d earned enough and could afford to have some of his income given away. How keen would Big Fan be about that?

On a different kind of witlessness…

Overheard at the shops today. A mother who is allowing her very young child to run around a crowded shop gets upset when she sees the child pushing at the exit. “Don’t you dare go out there or the immigrants will get you!” she barked.

Not at all witless…

Overheard in the bakers. A young labourer in his late teens waiting to buy a sandwich is talking to his mate who also works on a building site in the centre of town. “We found some really old newspapers inside one the cavity walls we were knocking down today” he says excitedly. “Yeah, I heard about that” says his mate, “What year were they from?”

“Oh they were ancient. 1992!”

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Pangs, Bugs And Learning Curves

Pangs of anxiety derail me today when I realise just how close Christmas is and just how close to the wire I’m leaving things. I’m in a different place right now and not at all focussed on the festive season. I need to change gear but I’ve been finding it difficult being so plugged into work and other tasks.

I spent a bit of time on the blower this morning with Bill going over some bits and pieces. I’m still on a steep learning curve which is getting steeper by the day.

Joseph is down with a cold but desperate to get into school and so does the brave thing. Tom on the other hand is down with one of the non-specific viral bugs which keep him off school. He basically sleeps all day, apart from when he takes a bit of water and Paracetemol. Debbie has a nerve trapped in her shoulder. She’s had this for some time but has now got to the point where it can’t be ignored. Her spirits however remain high as ever.

And as I look back over the last few weeks of this blog it seems I’ve forgotten to mention that we’ve got the builders in demolishing our old kitchen and putting a new one in. Yep. Getting the builders in a fortnight before Christmas. Not the cleverest of strategies really.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Street Life LIII

Up early doing various web-related things. My head was down so much, what with that and getting the kids ready for school that I almost missed this gorgeous sunrise.

I dropped what I was doing and immediately went out. It was freezing cold – no, I mean really cold – but well worth it. Without doubt this is my favourite time of year.

As I headed down the street I could tell from the glow on the houses on our side of the street that something spectacular was in the offing. I was not disappointed.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Consultations With The Future

Yesterday I completed sleevenotes for a forthcoming album release and began researching for another. I try not to work on Sundays but with this kind of thing, when you’re in full flow you simply have to go with it. That and a couple of looming deadlines are wonderful ways of concentrating the mind.

Deb and I have been like ships in the night as she embarks on the round of social engagements related to her current job and all the folks from her previous job. Tonight we managed to catch up long enough with each other to figure out that we need to do some shopping for food and the like. Apparently it's Christmas soon.

As I delved into a bit of filing today I discovered some old notes from an I Ching consultation from around four years ago. It was on a personal matter about life choices. Four years on, exactly what was said at the time has come to pass. Spooky or what?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Ed Reardon's Week

Joy unconfined here in Whitley Bay that a) internet access seems properly restored and b) Ed Readon’s Week has made a triumphantly curmudgeonly return to the airwaves yesterday. Not sure if people outside the UK can get this or not but it’s the best comedy series on the radio at the moment.

Radio comedy formed such a part of my life. You’ve only to mention the likes of The Goons, Hancock’s Half Hour, The Clitheroe Kid, The Navy Lark and Around The Horne and I come over all misty-eyed.

Ed Reardon’s Week is more than worthy to be rubbing its stooped, careworn shoulders in such illustrious company.

And do I identify with the old bugger? Well, just a bit!

Thursday, December 14, 2006


A day spent trying to catch up on some email that I’ve missed. Sometimes when working between laptop and desktop I forget to go back to mail already previously opened but not actioned.

Trawling the internet for certain leads and contacts in relation to a job I’m doing. After an hour plus of checking out links I’ve gone quite literally Google-eyed. Matters are not helped by the fact that internet access this week has been fairly intermittent. A telephone call to the cable company reveals that there are network issues in Whitley Bay.

It’s scary how dependent I’ve become on having internet access in relation to work and play. How did we all manage before the internet?

Speaking of which...there are some pics of the recent KC lecture in Mestre here

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Keeping Busy

One way or another it’s been a busy couple of weeks. There must be something in the air at the moment as the work seems to keep rolling my way. No complaints from me at all. The next four to six months are pretty solid with commissions, and that's just way we like it.

Also managed to update some of the blog. Regular readers will have noticed a certain tardiness in postings of late. Mostly this was due to some weird issues to do with Blogger (I lost a bunch of posts and stupidly hadn’t backed them up) and then some access issues, and then some being too pushed or unwell to blog.

But for those who are interested in some back issues…

Back In Italy contains updated information and pictures

Street Life XLIV has some snaps of a cold but always alluring Venice

Last Night In Mestre has an account and pictures of last month's prog rock lecture (not for the faint-hearted)

Bill Phones demonstrates you never quite know what's going to happen when the phone rings but you'd better be ready when it does.

Talked to my sister today. It seems I passed on my chest infection to her when she visited recently. We discussed my unexpected and impending hospital appointment following a recent visit to my doctors on an unrelated note. These things unsettle us but I take a leaf from my mother's book - it's better to know what you're up against and deal with it, rather than ignore it. Too true.

I've noticed that some of the subject headings in my spam folder have been getting very poetic of late. My favourite today...Watercolors Cosmonaut

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Indoors With Bill Bruford

Gatwick airport, London

A useful and productive day which for me started at 6.00 a.m.

After making a cup of tea for Debra I gathered up the office and headed off once more for the joy that is Newcastle airport in the cold light of dawn.

Today I was heading down to Gatwick for a chinwag with Bill Bruford. When Bill and I arranged this get together a couple of weeks ago I naturally looked into the different options of getting of getting down South. The train (which I actually prefer) was beaten hands down by the cheapness of a flight – and a BA flight at that.

Of course if I had of got the train the journey time would have been three hours, then a tube across London and a train out the wilds of Surrey. I would have been frazzled to the extent that there would have been little point in meeting, and there would have been no way I could have made it back to Newcastle in the same day.

So today I’m letting the plane take the strain.

Bill, as ever, was in good fettle and we spent the day talking about all kinds of possible developments for the future. What’s interesting about Bill’s labels is the way all of these releases add up to a body of work which is very distinctive and different (jazz and prog) but which remains cohesive. It’s apparent that Bill cares deeply about his catalogue and is keen to see it develop and expand.

After a spot of lunch and a couple of pots of tea we looked at the online world and the kind of things that might be possible and desirable, recognising along the way that the two things aren’t always compatible.

After we’d covered all we needed to and our throats too dry to do any more serious talking, Bill drove me back to Gatwick where we hatched a cunning plan to stay in touch on a couple of things.

Gatwick is full of seasonal cheer…

As I wait for my flight I can’t help but be drawn into the family drama that unfolding beside me. A husband and wife with the three pre-teen children are all arguing with each other. Not the loud shouting, no-holds-barred variety, but that vicious hissing where whispers are as sharp as a stiletto.

Somehow their trying to contain the anger and frustration they feel toward each other by keeping it quiet actually ends up amplifying things. They are so unhappy. I inwardly thank the stars that Debbie and I aren’t in this kind of situation. And now I just want to get back home to all that love.

Monday, December 11, 2006

SOS Skidmore Osborne Surman

Saving the soul of British Jazz...


out now

Don’t believe the revisionist tosh going about that British Jazz at the end of the late 60s and early 70s was in decline. As this welcome reissue demonstrates, (its first time on CD), it was an innovative feast of mystery and imagination compared to well-schooled but pale fare that’s often served up these days.

SOS – Alan Skidmore, Mike Osborne and John Surman – were one of those myriad formations in British jazz that used to briefly swirl together, play a few gigs sweeping off again. They blazed a meteoric trail that started in 1973 and finally burnt out sometime in 1975.

Charting their path during this period (which took in European tours, BBC radio and TV appearances) one is struck by how incredibly fertile the period truly was, and how lucky we are that they recorded one album for the nothing-short-of-miraculous Ogun label.

Blessed with absurd amounts of creative firepower, their freeform capacity is neatly counterbalanced by a series of carefully-drawn, brightly engaging compositions designed to ensure that this would always be more than three jazzers trying to out-honk each other. This, and the addition of drums (played by Skidmore), and rudimentary keyboards and electronics (lashed together by Surman) lent the group a lively and occasionally spooky ambience.

Yet there’s no denying that it’s when all three saxophones come together it’s a joyous blast that lifts the heart like nothing else. Whilst Skidmore and Surman burn and blaze as you would expect, it’s Mike Osborne’s constantly athletic runs that delight and dazzle with both their dexterity and unabashed lyricism.

The aptly titled “Country Dance” is guaranteed to have even the curmudgeonliest amongst us smiling. The nimble theme of “Where’s Junior” and its shadowy relative “Cycle Motion” anticipate some of the repetitive, tightly coiled tunes which Michael Nyman would later write. The title “Calypso” may be innocuous enough but in reality it’s a nuclear winter of a track, a powerful drone-based closer with Tangerine Dream-style sequencer, populated by banshee screams and terse hair-raising skirmishes deep down amongst the brasswork.

It’s easy to look back on the past with rose-tinted spectacles, to kid yourself that things back then were great. But you know what? They really were that great, and the proof is this remarkably fluent album. Not only is it as startlingly fresh as when they first laid it down 31 years ago, it sounds fresher than a lot of what passes for cutting edge jazz-groups today.

You can buy this album direct from Ogun

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Podcasting and posting

I took part in a podcast tonight with Steve Turnidge, Jeff Duke and a surprise guest, Ian Wallace.

We were there to chat with Jakko about his new album and his recent live work with Mel Collins. I think it went OK although it can be difficult when there are that many people talking what with delays on the line etc. Hopefully, Jeff has enough to work with.

Ian sounded strong and indicated that his throat cancer would be operated on this coming Tuesday.

I found a recent thread on a King Crimson fan site that purported to carry news of Ian’s condition but which took the opportunity to make a couple of jokes at his expense along the way. Talk about monumentally insensitive and breathtakingly moronic.

"But we were only joking" they bleat and smirk. The internet does strange things to people.

Perhaps it’s because I know several people currently battling against the odds with cancer or perhaps it’s that I lost my mother to cancer earlier this year, but you know what kids, that joke just isn’t funny.

Friday, December 08, 2006

A Progtastic Quiz Team

Back home after a brisk 24 hours in London.

Last night I attended the Eclectic Discs Christmas party bash in the 100 Club in Oxford Street.

I’ve done a couple of bits and pieces of work for the label in the last year, and there’ll be a couple more items in the New Year. So, with this in mind it was nice to meet up with people I’d only previously spoken either on the blower or via email.

Aside from a bit of chinwagging with Vicky and Mark from the label, another enjoyable aspect of the evening was the music quiz.

Now given that is a record label event, and a small indie one that cares passionately about music, this quiz was always going to be an anorak affair.

Casting my eye around the room it was obvious that the crowd was knowledgeable and ready to show off the extent of their nerdiness. Just as well that the team I was on consisted of Jakko Jakszyk, Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree) and Woolly Wolstenhome (and his partner, Sue) from Barclay James Harvest.

As we worked down the pages it was frightening how much we all knew individually and truly frightening when we pooled that knowledge.

Talk about a misspent youth! What is it that makes young men learn the minutiae of line-ups, labels, writing credits, chart positions and all the redundant ballyhoo that goes with it?

Whatever it is, it stood us in good stead because we ended up winning the competition and getting a big bottle of bubbly to celebrate.

Hurrah for us!

All this and The Edgar Broughton Band too!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Who Will Rid Me Of This Spot Of Turbulence?

Tottenham Court Road, London

Newcastle airport was virtually empty this morning.

Even though I thought I was running late, I was actually perfectly in time. I cleared security in no time at all and came out the other side to see my gate number already announced.

As I arrived at Gate Number 3 they asked those with speedy boarding passes to come forward.

Before I knew it I was sitting comfortably and waiting for them to begin.

You know that moment when a member of the cabin crew tells you to fasten your seatbelt as we are about to encounter what they innocuously call a “spot” of turbulence? Mostly it results in a minor bump or two, akin to driving over a small section of pot-holed road.

This particular “spot”, as we flew into Stansted, was a real buckaroo and a half. We rocked and swayed in our seats as though we were clattering up and down some big dipper ride.

Even though I’m not a great believer in that big imaginary friend in the sky, I could help but start the “Look, if I get out of this, I start eating my greens and stop cussing” bargaining of the craven kind. If he does exist then he must be rather soaked judging by the sleety elements which jabbed and poked our at our skimpy fuselage.

It was only much later in the day that I discovered that London had been visited by a tornado. No wonder we were being thrown about the place.

The centre of London was actually very dry and temperate. My destinations included a brief tour of Notting Hill Gate and Tottenham Road where I established base camp in the large branch of Borders’ Book store.

Perusing the shelves I’m tickled pink to discover that Edward Macan’s voluminous tome on ELP (aptly titled The Endless Enigma) references my Crimson biography several times during the chapter on Greg Lake.

Of course I’m not meant to be doing that but rather reading up on all things Hawkwind following a phone call yesterday asking if I could do some notes for a forthcoming archive release. They need them by the weekend. So no pressure there then.

And now, I’m off to the 100 Club in Oxford Street for my very first Christmas Party of the year.


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