Monday, December 20, 2010

Like it or Not

One of the great things about prog rock is that nobody really takes it too seriously - especially those who love it. Hopefully even those who don't can see the funny side of this.

Southern Freeeeeeeez

If this is a review of the year, there is a nice, albeit freezing cold, symmetry about it. This time last year we were gazing out on a snow laden garden, impassable roads and shut schools, and for the first time in decades contemplating a white Christmas.

"Enjoy it while it lasts - it'll be years before you see it like this again", we told the children.

Not even a full year, as it turned out. Two weeks ago we couldn't even open the front door for fear of losing Oliver in a snow drift, and as I type this now, a fresh blanket in the last 24 hours has enabled Lin to build yet another gargantuan snowman on the front lawn. It looks like it's got better prospects of surviving till Christmas Day than last year's.

December 18th 2010

December 25th 2009

In between all this we've briefly had a summer and managed to get up to a few things of note. A few things of note - that's a good place to start:

Lin continues to play regularly with the East Peckham Silver Band, entertaining the public throughout Kent and East Sussex. She has also continued to fulfill engagements playing solo bugle at ceremonies and funerals, including Last Post at Westminster Abbey on Remembrance
weekend - just a bit nerve-wracking!

Lin has also started piano lessons - with an aim to be able to play fluently by the time she's admitted to a nursing home. At the moment she's sounding more like Les Dawson than Les Miserables.

Meanwhile, Jon is enthusiastically rehearsing with his works band. This year they've played 50% more gigs than last - a grand total of three, but still managed to help raise £900 for various charities in the process. There's a number of other entries on the blog if you're interested in learning more.

Talking of work, things have been quite settled there. Lin is still doing three days a week as practice manager at a local GP and Jon will be "celebrating" ten years at Teligent in 2011. With the "Televote Season" now over, he's looking forward to a quiet Christmas and the chance to enjoy Saturday evening TV without one eye on a computer screen and one ear on a BT conference call.

Emma and Oliver are a constant source of enjoyment. Emma moved up to Year 1 in September and is doing very well - "Unerringly polite" was one of the comments on her school report - that was a shock to us! She also contrived to win the Plaxtol Village Duck Painting contest for the second year running, and followed this artistic triumph by winning first prize in a competition run by Tonbridge Council to celebrate the centenary of the town's swimming pool - see elsewhere in this blog for a picture of her receiving her prize from Duncan Goodhew.

Oliver started nursery school in September. It was typically traumatic to start with, but he's settled in very well and the staff are having no trouble with him.

He's still quite a baby at heart; rarely stringing sentences of more than three or four words together, never far from his dummy and comfort blanket, and totally disinterested in using the potty - so it's a real shame he's developed a taste for chicken jalfrezi.

With children turning three and six in March we are very much looking forward to a magical Christmas. Of course we are playing the Santa card at every opportunity to make sure they go to bed on time, tidy up their rooms and generally behave properly. On the other hand we are constantly moving the chocolate decorations onto higher branches of the Christmas tree as the pair of them devise more and more devious and dangerous ways of reaching them - skipping ropes, practice golf balls, radio-controlled helicopters; anything is fair game in the pursuit of chocolate.

For anyone interested, I'll be posting up a new album of pictures from the year during the next couple of days - there will be a link on the right here somewhere. In the meantime, drive carefully, stay safe and have a wonderful Christmas and a prosperous new year.

Jon, Lin, Emma and Oliver


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Good Morning Judge

It was Oli's nursery school Nativity play this morning. Once again, a triumph of saccharin-sweet cuteness over any semblance of artistic integrity; but to be fair, the rehearsals were snowed-off last week.

When Emma was at the school (and always cast as an angel) I have to admit to being envious of the parents who got to see their child dressed in the fluffy sheep costume that always drew "Ahhhs" from the audience. Our patience was rewarded this year when Oli emerged from the wings in that prized outfit.

On closer inspection, we actually think it's a rabbit costume. Or a High-Court Judge. Either way it's stretching the the Nativity story a bit.

Still - "Ahhhh"

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Where Does The Time Go?

Five months!

Sorry - I've been busy. Must be something to do with having two children under six that means that there are no idle moments in which to disgorge my random thoughts. Of course this gives me an ideal opportunity to post some "Review of the Year" type entries without being repetitive - if I can find the time.

Maybe the intensive band rehearsals haven't helped - although once a week on Wednesday evenings is hardly intensive. Still, it was good enough for us to pull off a pretty decent performance in Strood at the weekend. Having warmed-up with a three song set for Children in Need a few weeks ago we upped the ante to a full fourteen song set last Saturday and managed to raise £420 for charity at the same time.

  • Stand by me
  • I’m a believer
  • Make me smile
  • Baker Street
  • Ain’t no sunshine
  • All of my life (Phil Collins)
  • Candy (Paolo Nutini)
  • Sweet Home Alabama
  • Don’t look back in anger
  • Take it easy
  • Lido Shuffle
  • New Shoes
  • Hey Jude
  • Santa Claus is Coming to Town
This was the first time we had performed Boz Scaggs' Lido Shuffle; a song I have wanted to have a stab at for years and years. Having lost a rehearsal to snow recently it was touch-and-go whether it would make the final set, but I'm so pleased we persisted. Some audience comments afterwards said it was our best song - presumably in recognition of how difficult it is, as there were some slightly ropey moments during the performance, but from a purely personal point-of-view I was so relieved to nail the synth solo. I just wished I'd turned myself up a bit more!

Sadly our vocalist has confirmed that was his last gig - he's never been comfortable with the more rocky stuff we do - and whilst there are two or three of us who chip in with backing vocals I don't think any of us will be stepping up (certainly not me!). Auditions start in January I guess.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Having spent much of the day basking in the 30° heat what better way to unwind in the evening than a gentle swim in the pool followed by a barbecue - very Caribbean. Only trouble is, we don't have a pool. Or a barbecue that hasn't succumbed to rust over the years.

So it was rather convenient that our artist in residence (Emma) had followed her duck decorating triumph by winning a junior colouring competition held as part of the celebrations of the centenary of Tonbridge Swimming Pool. Her prize is a month's free access to all Tonbridge's leisure facilities, which will be very useful over the Summer holidays, and equally appreciated, entrance for the family to the birthday pool party and barbecue that was held this evening. Tickets for this event sold out long ago, and were limited to only a couple of hundred people, so by Tonbridge standards this opportunity was quite a privilege.

The evening more than lived up to our expectations, with all four of us enjoying a 90 minute swim - the longest either of the children have spent in the pool - and if it wasn't for the overwhelming smell of burgers cooking outside we would have stayed in longer. Before all that though, we had the unveiling of the commemorative plaque by the Mayor of Tonbridge, Councillor Sue Murray, and Olympic Gold Medalist Duncan Goodhew MBE, and the presentation of prizes to the colouring competition winners - sorry that Emma couldn't manage a smile; these artists can be very difficult to please.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Crumbs, loads of stuff I could have been writing about, and now the month is almost over.

The last entry finished with the family trotting off to the Plaxtol village duck race. Amazingly, Emma won the duck decorating competition for the second year running. They had raised the age group to under-6, so she had the advantage of being one of the older entries, but it was still pretty impressive to beat the dozens of other entries.

Since then we've had a lovely half-term break down at the cottage in Dorchester, rediscovering old haunts from my youth, such as the beach at Burton Bradstock, and finally visiting Portland Bill for the first time. It's not a bit how I expected; I assumed it would be quite bleak, but it's really quite beautiful in places, not unlike villages in Cornwall. All the more impressive when you realise there are no trees.

Since then I've been preparing for TMC's first public performance of the year. It was at a school summer fair last Saturday, where the bass player's wife is a teacher. We played the same 40 minute set twice (with a 90 minute gap) in the main school hall. Most of the events were taking place outside, but it was noticeable how many more we had watching us for the second set - presumably good reports had spread. I reckon we had about 250 people across the two performances.

Since it was a infant/junior school we thought we'd better play some more modern tunes. Then we realised that just about everything we play has featured in a TV advert or programme in recent years, so they were all introduced in that context.
  • Stand By Me (Ben E. King). One of the dullest songs I've ever played - the verse and chorus are identical, but it gave our violinist a chance to be heard during the strings refrain.
  • Take it Easy (The Eagles). Given the lyrics, we thought it was hardly appropriate for a school fair, but it's a fun song to play, so we kept it in.
  • I'm a Believer. It's all about that organ sound, isn't it. Fortunately I've got it.
  • Baker Street. Our sax player bought an alto recently - I always thought it sounded OK on tenor, but he's nailed it with the new one. I love the piano part for this, it never takes over, but it's always there holding the song together. It was always a challenge getting the piano, strings and pad sounds at the right time, but the s90xs makes this a breeze now.
  • Make Me Smile. We have got this very tight now - although I forgot to tweak the mixing desk for the spanish guitar solo during the first set, much to guitarist Aaron's annoyance. We need a sound man!
  • Glorious (Natalie Imbruglia). For obvious reasons, vocalist Chris really doesn't like doing this. We play a much rockier version than the original, but then with three guitarists it's hard not to.
  • Don't Stop Believing. The Journey version rather than the Glee cover. This wasn't my choice, but when somebody suggested it I jumped at the chance. I seem to remember rehearsing this with some success back in the early 90's with the legendary "Fishmongers", but I must have improved since then as I can play the right-hand chord rhythm against the syncopated bass-line without too much trouble now. I always used to simplify it before. We got this to performance quality in the space of three or four rehearsals, so I'm really pleased how well it sounded (and was appreciated).
  • New Shoes (Paolo Nutini). Just about the first song we learned when we got together last August/September, and still a band favourite.
The audience applauded politely after each song, without ever going mad as it were, so it was a pleasant surprise to have people coming up afterward to ask where they could see us again. The teaching staff have asked us to play at their end-of-year party and one of them even inquired about playing at her wedding!

We'll be reconvening on Wednesday evening to see what we want to do next. The original idea last year was to get together to see if we could play a few songs at this year's works barbecue. Ironically that was yesterday, and we didn't play - having played in front of the staff last November we didn't have anything to prove. I know that both myself a Chris the vocalist would like to move away from what we call "busking" songs into something more challenging (we'd started work on Carpet Crawlers and Romeo and Juliet), but when you have nine members it's very difficult to keep everybody happy.

Still, onwards and upwards.....

Sunday, May 02, 2010

No More Tiers (Enough is Enough)

Well, here it is; in all its glory, my current keyboard rig. It could also be considered a tribute to Yamaha's technology over the past 25 years or more.

Starting from the top: My DX7, bought in the summer of 1984, when they had yet to completely consume the music industry with that ubiquitous '80s digital piano sound. I'd seen Yes at Wembley Arena on the "90125" tour a few weeks earlier, and although I have always preferred Yes with Rick Wakeman, what Tony Kaye did that night with a couple of DX7s was astonishing. I'd been given a bit of money following the death of my father that year and ended up blowing most of it on a DX7, flight case, amp and speaker. I'm sure there were some raised eyebrows at the time, but until then I'd played in bands using my home-made Maplin kit keyboard, a monophonic Davolisint and a borrowed Hohner Pianet, so this was going to be a quantum leap forward. The fact that the DX7 is still with me, and has been a part of my life longer than my Father was, is probably testament to my profound thinking at the time. Alas, it doesn't come out much these days - this was only the second time in about the last six years - but it still works perfectly, even if it's a bit bashed about. Clearly I'm never going to part with it, for sentimental as much as economic reasons - I'd be lucky to fetch £30 for it in its current condition - but I think it will be a long time before it emerges from its case again.

In the middle is the wonderful SY99 - bought new in 1992 when it was the flagship of the Yamaha synth range. I'd already acquired a Yamaha PF70 electronic piano (lovely touch, lousy sound and long-since gone), but I was really looking for something that had better master keyboard capabilities for controlling all my other equipment. The SY99 gave me this, together with a broad canvas of sound capabilities. It uniquely fused the FM synthesis technology of the DX7 era with the sampled sound playback that continues to dominate today, with the ability of the latter to modulate the former, producing weird and occasionally wonderful sonic textures. These are still highly regarded and sought after, with perhaps only half a dozen or so appearing on ebay each year, helping prices stay at around £500. I would dearly like to keep mine, but I fear that a lack of space may force me to sell it.

And finally, my latest pride and joy: a brand spanking new Yamaha S90XS; a full 88-note keyboard with a stunning S6 Grand Piano sample coupled with all the sound generation of the Motif XS synthesizer engine. I've only had it since Wednesday (it should have been Tuesday, but City Link managed to ship it to Portsmouth by accident), so I'm still finding my way around it, but it is...well I hate to use the over-blown adjective...awesome. If I have a criticism it is that you pay all this money and only get a pretty basic hard-copy user manual, with the full version coming on an accompanying CD. When I've got a week to spare I'll print it out, so that I can read it in bed, on the loo, during party political broadcasts and all those other idle moments.

I could go on, but we're off out to the annual Plaxtol village duck race. You may remember Emma won the under 5's decorated duck competition last year; she won't be winning anything this year - she's in the next age category and she insisted on using paper glue to try to stick sparklies to the plastic duck, with inevitably disappointing results.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Watch(er) of the Skies

Wahoo! It's my birthday next week, so I've had the usual inquiries from family members as to whether there's anything I'd like. As usual I've procrastinated in my responses and now it's pretty much too late for them to get anything, so I've resorted to the tried-and tested "please donate towards this really big (and expensive) thing I'd like to get". Well, that "big thing" has been ordered, and I CAN'T wait for it to arrive, but until then I shall keep quiet, in case it all goes horribly wrong.

Meanwhile I was perusing the latest issue of Smartlife magazine in case there is some new gizmo that I never knew I needed but couldn't possibly live without. And here it is......

It's called the Meteoris and is made by Swiss watchmaker Louis Moinet. Put simply it's an electro-mechanical planetarium mounted on a metre-high plinth which also houses four tourbillon watches. Now if that doesn't sound expensive enough already, the watches and the planets are coated in dust and powder from Lunar, Martian and other meteorites that have found their way to Earth over the years. And the price for this completely insane statement of opulence? $4.7 million.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Twilight Alehouse

I've been decamped in my favourite hotel on the outskirts of Oswestry for the past four nights. Just to be clear, it's my favourite hotel on the outskirts of Oswestry, not my favourite hotel. It's always a sticky wicket when you talk about your work on blogs - customer, employer and employee confidentiality and all that - suffice to say we've spent usual ridiculous hours deploying our latest software masterpiece onto the Great British telephone network.

Each evening the team has flicked coins to decide where to eat. Except for Friday night, when we were too knackered after the drive up, so we ate in the hotel restaurant. And Saturday night, when we were too knackered after a 12 hour shift and got back so late that the only place we could go was the hotel restaurant.

At least the six of us got out last night, but then the majority vote went with a trip to the Simla Tandoori in downtown Oswestry. It's a decent enough place, and my Jalfrezi was perfectly palatable, but it seemed a waste of an expenses-paid opportunity.

With half the team heading back to Kent at lunchtime, the three of us who remained behind were able to finish the last bits of work at a sensible time and head to one of our preferred hostelries, the White Lion in Whittington. There's always plenty of mouth-watering dishes on the menu, and a nice guest ale to wash it down with. So I was a tad surprised and disappointed to walk in there tonight and see Shepherd Neame's Spitfire on tap. This ale is synonymous with Kent, where SN own about 50% of the pubs (probably not that many, but it certainly feels like it) - it's a not unpleasant beer, but I certainly wouldn't drive halfway up England for it. Still, the food was lovely.

We set off home straight after breakfast tomorrow. I've really missed the family and I believe they've missed me - apparantly Oliver won't play with his train set without me, and Emma is asking whether I'm bringing her a present back. I'll have to pick up some motorway service area tut on the way back to make up for my absence. And probably a nice bottle of Burgundy for Lin too.

My only dilemma now is whether after four nights away I can get away with going to band practice on Wednesday night. We're meant to be working on Carpet Crawlers this week, so I think they might miss my arpeggios if I'm not there.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Things That They Say

I think I inadvertently found myself in a hitherto unseen part of a Two Ronnies sketch tonight.

I had just put Emma to bed and read her a couple of stories when I noticed some laundry that had yet to be put away. Being the "new man" that I am, I thought it would be a good idea to sort it out now, and set about placing each item in its appropriate place in her wardrobe. Socks, knickers, vests and jeans all posed no problem, but then I picked up some kind of dress she had been wearing yesterday.

Unsure of its normal home, I turned to Emma and asked her where it belonged.

"In the top drawer" came her reply, so I duly opened the top drawer, which was full of fleeces, and proceeded to fold it neatly away.

"No Daddy, the top drawer" said Emma. Somewhat puzzled, I removed the dress and realised that it obviously belonged in her other set of drawers on the opposite side of the room. I duly crossed towards them, but as I was about to open the top drawer Emma leapt from her bed, took the dress and put it in the third drawer down of her wardrobe.

"In here - the drawer where I keep my tops". And off she toddled back to bed.

Ronnie Barker would have been proud of her.