Get Some Perspective (Part Two)

No, I didn’t know there was going to be a part two either! Until after I’d written this and decided to call this post that. ^

No one should ever know too much about their own future,” so says Doc to Marty in the Back to the Future movies.

Well, indeed. I completely agree. If I’d know what was to come in life, with the mindset I had back then, I’d have probably never have got out of bed after 1994! But let’s have some fun and play devil’s advocate for a moment and imagine I could now go back in time.

Having recently read my old diary from exactly twenty years ago, I’d love to be able to go back  and give my 19 year old self a great big walloping dollop of  advice. She wouldn’t take it of course, because she knew better. Doesn’t every 19 year old? *sigh.

However, let’s ignore her and press ahead with:

Advice I’d give me at 19 based on the stuff I wrote when I was 19. (a 26-step plan). :)

a) When your mum loses her dad at the age you are now, (just think about that, 39 year old me) don’t spend all the preceding days of the funeral stopping out at your friend’s houses, not having dinner at home and, when you are home, spending most of the time on the phone organising your social life. Be more sensitive for goodness sake.

b) Enjoy university. For crying out loud, you are privileged to have got in to one, given your socio-economic background, a Tory government and the measly 2 a-levels you managed. Stop whining about it and bemoaning every minute you are there and everyone who is there. These will be the easiest (well some of the easiest) years of your life. You love history and you find it interesting. If someone told you at age 40 you could go and sit in a 6 hour history lecture, you’d jump at the chance.

c) Stop using the word depressed/depressing so casually. Remember when you were a kid and your mum used to tell you off for using the word starving when you were merely hungry? It’s kind of like that. You have no idea. Yet…

d) Really! Stop drinking so much alcohol and fizzy pop. And eating so much junk food. You’ve let it become a habit. I know, I know you’re a size 8 now and fit and healthy, but…old habits die hard. Just saying.

e) Don’t let your life revolve around one person (man/bloke/boyfriend/object of affection). You are more multi-faceted than that.

f) On that note, don’t be so needy and insecure. Yes, you are. Stop arguing with me. No-one wants to spend 24 hrs a day/ 7 days a week in anyone else’s company. Not even you do if you’re honest with yourself. Don’t expect it from them.

g) Be nicer to your best friend. All that weird acting up he’s doing and not wanting to come out on nights out. He fancies you, you twerp. But you’re going out with someone else, so it’s hard for him. Be kinder.

h) When your dad goes into hospital in August with quite a life threatening complaint, go and visit willingly before your mum has to step in and tell you to do so, and then you feel bad for not doing so in the first place. Save yourself the hassle and the heartache.

i) Stop bossing your younger siblings around, especially brother number 1. If you end up with a hot cup of tea poured over your clean white blouse don’t be surprised. He’s 17. He will bring girls and friends back to the house and make a mess when your mum’s out. Remember when you were 17 and the family all went on holiday except you and you had all your friends over without telling your parents? Oh yes…stop being a hypocrite.

j) Realise that boys/men will fancy you and will flirt with you and some, some will even try and take advantage of your trusting and friendly nature. Don’t be so naive as to think no one finds you attractive because you don’t look like a supermodel. They do. You might try and pretend they don’t because it makes you feel uncomfortable or you don’t believe them, but they do.

k) Save some of that wedge of money you’re earning from working at the umbrella factory. And the stints of babysitting and random other sources of income from interviews in a teen magazine or from odd jobs at the college. Save some. Just a bit. Your mum and dad really aren’t taking that much from you for rent, even if you feel hard done by. Your record of shopping sprees, nights out and trains up and down the country testify to that.

l) When your mum and dad have their two married friends round for meals, hang around. All night if need be. Make it awkward and uncomfortable for your dad. It might not change anything ultimately, but at least you’d have tried.

m) Do keep spending some/most of your spare money on CDs and music. (the bits you’re not saving) You need it. It’s good for you despite the jealous accusations from your boyfriend. He doesn’t mean well, he’s actually being a bit of an arse.

n) That bloke who’s new in the factory? Steer clear of him. Don’t accept lifts in his car, even with your boyfriend in tow, or invitations out for work’s drinks or breakfasts at greasy spoon cafes before work on snowy days. None of those things. Just say no.

o) Go to a doctor about your extreme period pains and wild pendulum-like mood swings. These are not teenage hormones. Believe me. They are not. You need some medication to sort those. Really.

p) Keep writing all those letters and making all those phone calls and keeping your friends together. They may moan sometimes and may let you down about going out, but they do and will always appreciate the effort.

q) when your sister’s boyfriend’s mum turns up at the house and has a slanging match with your mum on parenting, DO NOT GET INVOLVED. Your mum is perfectly capable of fighting her own battles and your sister doesn’t need to feel like her sister isn’t on her side. You are not the goody-two-shoes you try and portray so stop pretending to be and trying to win favouritism. It won’t work anyway, your mum finds you all equally troublesome and irritating! Er… I mean loves you all equally, yes that’s what I meant. :)

r) Nothing is boring about Much Wenlock Priory or the churches/abbeys/cathedrals you are shown in France on the history degree field trip. In fact nothing about your life is boring. Be grateful for every second, every experience you have at this time. It’s your time.

s) You have to actually have had sex to get pregnant, so when your period is two days late, stop panicking about it and making plans in case you’re pregnant. Really, I know you were raised as a Catholic and the sex ed wasn’t up to much, but you’ve read enough copies of Mizz and Just 17 by now to know you won’t get pregnant anyway else.

t) When your boyfriend asks you to marry him after yet another drunken row, saying yes is probably not the best idea.

u) Don’t drink gin. If you do still insist on drinking, don’t drink gin.

v) All your friends are going through all the same confusing, emotional shit as you are. Remember that. Stop wondering what’s wrong with them and dismissing them as moody. Instead ask them what’s wrong and listen.

W) Stick to your guns about not moving into that student house. You may wish at some point you had, but your instinct here is right. Always. always trust your instinct. It’s better than you think, Miss Dilly Dally.

x) When your best friend discovers a new religion to follow she is not becoming part of a cult. Don’t fear. And she needs your support, not you playing diplomat and talking with her mum behind her back to try and dissuade her from joining a different church.

y) It’s okay to find other blokes attractive even when you have a boyfriend. It’s normal. And its normal for him to find other girls attractive. Flirting is also allowed. Neither of you should feel guilty about this at your age. Quit being so serious.

Z) 1995 was not a “crap year” as you say on December 31st. Don’t “Thank God” it’s over. Really…you don’t know what 1996 has in store…yet! ;)

 

Ah…hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? :)

 

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Get Some Perspective

I’ve often heard people say: “What’s the point in studying history?” This, to me, as someone who did study history at university (and who still studies it to a certain degree), is rather a stupid question, but then I would say that wouldn’t I? This is not, however, going to be a post about why there is a point to studying history as such. My GCSE history teacher answered that for me long ago in one sentence. “To know about the future, you must understand the present. To understand the present, you must learn about the past.” Simple. I like simple, what with my brain been so crowded and confused about 99.99% of the time.

No, this post will kind of touch on that, but more it is to blog about how knowing about history, and learning certain aspects of it, can help us to understand ourselves as humans. Which in a global society is, I’d say, pretty important.

Now history, as a scholarly pursuit, probably has a bad name because it was so often a subject in which dates were to be learned and committed to memory for no apparent reason. Fortunately we trashed this idea of what teaching history should be a while ago, well until Michael Gove stuck his oar in and decided to go all Victorian on us, wanting 10 year-olds to learn dates, facts and figures and understand the parliamentary constitution. Snore. Now, I love history, but even I find certain aspects of it as dull as dishwater. I certainly can’t be doing with the whole reeling off dates of battles thing. What is the actual point of that, other than to feel smug when you can answer a question in a pub quiz?

Anyway, I haven’t geeked out on any history for a while, but a few weeks ago, on the back of writing my V post for the A-Z blog challenge I watched The Bounty (the 1984 movie depicting the notorious mutiny on HMS Bounty in April 1789). Now, I’ve always loved the film, it’s simply a very good film. But it’s the real story which is fascinating for me, from a historical perspective. The circumstances under which it all happened and would things have been different if X hadn’t happened and Y had?  The consequences upon far flung lands and cultures; the story of the people and their motives and the consequences of their actions. Isn’t this always what is most interesting about History? And what does it mean for us now and in the future? The history around how Christianity came about is a perfect example of this, or of how and why Henry VIII started the Reformation. These parts of history, the small human motives and ultimately actions behind things which then become so big without the people who were involved ever realising it, are far more interesting than knowing that Nelson won the battle of Trafalgar or that William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings. Isn’t this the difference between good history teachers and the not so good ones? The ones who pepper their lessons with the human stories behind these big events?

Anyway, on the back of watching the film, I dug out a history book I first read about twelve years ago by Caroline Alexander entitled: The Bounty: The True Story of The Mutiny on The Bounty. And here the geek out began in order for me to compare the reality with what was portrayed in the film. Yes, I know, I know, films are there for entertainment and there will always be embellishment, but still, this is what I started off doing.

However reading it again became a revelation in different ways. First off ‘characters’ (they were real men after all) I had long held sympathy for in the film, I found I loathed having read the wealth of historical documentation presented, whereas others I was spot on about. It seemed the film did portray most of them as they really were. Moreover I realised this one thing. No one will ever know the entire truth of those events because, despite the historical documents presented (letters, diaries, biographies, ships logs, court martial records), most of these things are written from one person’s perspective. And humans always strive to cast themselves in the best light, even if guilty of terrible acts. William Bligh, the captain of the ill-fated ship, was for years cast as an ogre. A man who harshly disciplined his crew to the extreme. However, when you read the words of his log or of his personal journal, you realise Bligh was simply a man of duty. He was doing his best in the circumstances he was given. Whether right or wrong, he sought only to do that one thing; fulfill his duty. It turns out he never was one to like the floggings and took pride in the first leg of the journey to only have had to do so once. No, it seems it was his verbal rants which gave him such a bad name and this in the days corporal punishment was acceptable and expected, especially in an institution such as the Royal navy. My own view in reading the book was that perhaps he had been too lenient in some respects and when he did finally have to put his foot down, resentment grew. (Why teachers always say they start off hard on new classes and work their way down!) Some documents in the book support that view of Bligh, the duty bound, peaceable, humane officer whereas others give the view that he was an impatient, overbearing, tyrannical captain. And there’s the crux. Everyone he came into contact with would have had a different opinion. Some would have sympathised with his actions and ways. Others would have resented him for it. Everything we read or see (think media or even the work colleagues you interact with) has some form of bias attached. Yes, some forms will bare out the hard, raw facts, but even with those everyone will form their own conclusions as to what went on and why.

The other thing which was made clear to me from reading this book was that there has never been equality in terms of wealth and never will there be. In any society. This is something history can teach us. It won’t stop us striving for it I don’t suppose, but we are foolish to think we will ever achieve a world where all men are equal in terms of material wealth. (I use the word men as in mankind before any feminists start an uprising.) It fascinated me that the mutineers who were picked up off Tahiti two years later and faced court martial back in England, of those who were tried it was the ones from wealthier families, those with connections who received the King’s pardon and were not hanged. It was the poor and illiterate who were hanged. Money is extremely powerful. Words and the ability to use them in the right way is also very powerful. This was true then and it’s true now, and it will continue to be true. Depressing as that is. The historical documents bear this out undeniably. All of us who strive to gain equality in this way would be much happier in accepting there will always be a hierarchy. There I go simplifying things again to suit my own brain!

But the biggest point of this ‘delve’ into the history of this story became for me all about perspective. We are all wrong and we are all right, because we all hold our own view and opinion and really, if we are honest, we are all out for ourselves. Self preservation. I mean not all the time obviously, but if we find ourselves in the pooper as, say, Peter Heywood did, a few good connections and the right words would no doubt help us out of a sticky situation and hang the truth of the matter. Enough people gave evidence against Peter Heywood yet despite being found as guilty as, say, Thomas Ellison, Heywood was pardoned, whilst Ellison wasn’t. Both used their young age and inexperience as a form of defence for their actions in 1789, yet Ellison, poor and illiterate with no legal representation and no good connections, hung. Justice? Well that would depend on your point of view. When I watch the film, Heywood is portrayed as young and innocent, a likable character, somewhat in the background, on the fringes, but swept away by all events as they unfolded. I liked and sympathised with the character in the film, but when I read the historical documents I couldn’t stand him. Rich and privileged and embellishing facts to cover his own back. But would any of us be much different if faced with the hangman’s noose? I wonder.

The historical picture of the events of 1789 are still blurred because we rely, not on facts, but on the perspectives of human beings to tell the story and this is in itself fascinating. You ‘hear’ every man speak with their own biases and judgments, (James Morrison’s accounts are some of the most thought provoking as are what happens later on when Fletcher Christian’s brother publishes his own take on things bearing in mind he has money and interviews the pardoned mutineers), and you are left to make your own. Which only goes to prove it is never the facts of history which are interesting, more why these men did as they did, said as they said. The accounts from Pitcairn island are also deeply fascinating and accounts from just one person differ wildly which shows we often adapt a relating of events to suit our audience or our needs. What we can learn from this is that everything we see and hear even now in the present, in the media, from our friends, is presented with their own bias. That is what we can learn from studying history about ourselves as human beings.

This idea of bias and perspective then hit me again head on yesterday, when I was at my sister’s house. She had dug out some of her old diaries from around 1993-94. We were having a good old giggle at them. Unlike many diaries they were not full of really personal revelations about thoughts and feelings, but actually read more like a ship’s log detailing mainly events and facts. Interesting to me, as I remember that time in our family, but to anyone else it would be dull as dishwater in all probability. The same as Bligh’s log would have been without the mutiny and the subsequent navigation undertaken in the ship’s launch when the Admiralty, in 1790, and historians ever since have tried to look for clues and explain the actions of Fletcher Christian. My sister says she wrote like this as she was worried at the time I’d have a nose and read them, but only because she used to sneak and read mine and so tarred me with the same brush! What I found interesting about my sister writing a diary in this way is how, even when people are writing in something privately, they can write with an agenda. They don’t always write the whole truth down and of course they always write with a bias.

Anyway, looking at her diaries prompted me to look at my own from that time in order to compare. Would we record the same events? Would our perspective be the same? Well of course not. We were teenagers and teenagers are notoriously wrapped up in their own very ego-centric world. So other than a few key events and logs of what was at number one in the charts, you’d hardly think we lived in the same house. Or indeed that we had three brothers and parents! Her diary is all about her and her boyfriend (nothing dodgy, damn!) Mine is all about the intricacies and gossip of a very complicated network of friends and my pursuit of boys. Every now and then my family got a mention but not often.

Then this morning I read the back end of my diary from 1995. Wow. Talk about intense. Now I keep diaries because I don’t trust memory much. Memory is a truly fascinating thing. How it alters and changes and blurs things over time, or how it changes from person to person even when at the same event. Now having read about Christmas 1995 I’d love though to see (if the rest of the family had kept diaries) what they would have written. My sister had had a night away with her boyfriend. She was 18 at the time, I was 20. My mum went a bit mad about it and there was a whole slanging match between my mum and my sister’s boyfriend’s mum. It seems I’d taken my mum’s side, outraged by my sister’s behaviour! Gosh really? Who was I to judge? Here, in my own words from 20 years ago, I heard me, the oldest sibling, full of duty; Captain Bligh, ever duty bound even if misguided. (Actually if we’re going to assign Bounty characters to my family at the time we’d have to say Mum was Bligh: pretty verbally tyrannical, but having the whole picture in mind, trying to do her best with and for a motley rabble in the long run with no back up from the Admiralty, ie, my dad. I’d have been the insufferable John Fryer; wanting to be in command, always thinking I knew better than the captain and always eager to point out the faults of those below me, ie, my younger siblings. My sister would have been Fletcher Christian. Liked by everyone, but quietly rebelling against the captain with piercing her ears and off out clubbing with the natives; generally disillusioned and discontented, ready to jump ship any moment. Brother Number One would have been Quintal or Churchill or Purcell, the carpenter. A rebel without a cause and getting himself into fights with authority or picking them. Anyway er…that was a digression from what I was saying. Where was I? Oh yes..

Of course my sister’s point of view of the whole incident would be very different, and naturally so. My mum’s would be different still. Among all this going on apparently, around the same time, my brother hit my dad (unrelated I think) and my mum and dad were constantly rowing. (I’d imagine by this point my dad was having the affair which would split the marriage six months later). Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how they all related events around that time? Though only I, to my knowledge, have any written form of thoughts and they are all very much about me and how I felt or what I saw from my perspective. (Where my, at the time, 10 year-old and 15 year-old brothers fitted into this drama I have no idea as they don’t get a mention!) But this is the point. Seven people (plus others) would mean that, if any other written accounts of that time exists, there would be seven, eight, nine maybe more stories to tell and historians would have to build up a picture which would never really satisfy those involved. It would tell people something about our characters and how human beings react in different circumstances, but the truth of the events would always be clouded by bias and perspective. The chaos of the events and each individual bias, like that of the accounts of the morning of the mutiny on HMS Bounty, would cloud  any account of what actually happened, so no one could ever really know. There would of course be things we would all agree on, but our own perceptions would be wildly different and the way we would report it would be wildly different. Even in diaries or letters.

So studying history is important, in my opinion of course.  Understanding the bias of documents is important to help us navigate our way through this media saturated world for a start. However it also serves to help us understand, not the facts about what happened in any given event necessarily, but to understand human nature. To find out why and how we think and act as we do; to think about the consequences of past actions and how that may help us in the future and to find out if we, as humans really do ever learn from our past mistakes and glories.

As my last post was May the 1st, please forgive the epic length of this. Quietness clearly clogs me up! :) Thanks for reading. If you did manage to get to the end :)

 

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Sing Your Life: April A-Z Blog Challenge: Post-Script

Hello music fans!

Well, we made it. We started our journey around my musical history a whole month ago in Sweden and have since travelled in space and time from the 1960s through to the present day, across the Atlantic a few times, over to Ireland, to Norway as far afield as Australia and done a pretty comprehensive nationwide tour of Britain all from the confines of out digital devices. Phew!

It’s been fun delving back into my musical memories over the past month, and I’ve remembered things that I’d forgotten until I began writing something. However, it’s also a little sad that it’s now ended. So… I thought I’d wrap this series of posts up by sharing a few of my more recent finds in music, just so you don’t all think I’m totally stuck in the past with my life and music!

I’d also like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to all of those who have read all these posts, and shared them and most importantly enjoyed them. I set about simply writing this for myself. I’ve only shared the posts a couple of times a day on Twitter, but other than that not given them much publicity, as to be quite honest, I didn’t think anyone would want to read them! However, proof that music is a big part of bringing people together and quite often of shared memories (not so much the personal ones of course, but certainly the cultural ones), I’ve a had a hard core audience follow me on these exploits this past month, which has been really lovely. With that in mind, I’d like to spread the love, and of course the good music as a thank you. It’s been lovely to have people say they are going to check out an artist after reading my blog. It’s that bringing people together thing which makes writing all these things worth it, even if I did only set off to write it for my own benefit.

Anyway. The following are all bands and artists I’ve discovered in the past four years. There have been more, but here are my top 10, listed alphabetically (of course), along with a small taster of what each has to offer via our friends at You Tube. Most of the artists here are fairly new to the music scene, though a couple are more well established and I just happened to cotton on to a bit later. Some are more obscure, but all are on my playlists. Enjoy, and adieu mes amis!

1)All We Are

Check out their eponymous EP from 2011 and the 2012 EP We Hunt for a decent flavour. Sooner or Later, my favourite ‘train’ track of theirs, along with Trainspotting of course are well worth a listen. :) Then there’s this more recent offering:

2) Broken Bells

Probably my number one favourite find of the past few years. Two albums in to their career – 2010’s self titled debut and last year’s After The Disco – Both flawless.

3) Courtney Barnett

Australian cooler than cool rock chick who I happened upon after Tim Burgess shared a link to this video below. Saw her live last year at a small gig. Very cool, very quirky, great sound. 2013’s Double EP (basically her debut album) is fantastic, if you want something a bit different. Listen to Anonymous Club –she didn’t do it live and I was so disappointed. Also check out her new one: Sometimes I sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit.

4) Django Django

Scottish band discovered after they did a blinding remix of a Tim Burgess track (I’m NOT obsessed with Tim, honestly), but loved their sound and so checked them out. This is great but you may have to Google the lyrics, as they are super fast! :)

5) Dancing Years

Mentioned already in my D post. First time I’ve listened to this since that birthday I talked about, and just wait til about 2 and a half minutes in. Beautiful.

6) Field Music

I have no idea how I came across this group, however, writers – great writing music. Atmospheric. This from the same titled album one of my favourites.

7) Foals

Most commercially successful of this bunch – again discovered them when Tim Burgess was Dj-ing on Radio 6 Music back in February 2013. Heard My Number and as a result checked them out. Amazing, amazing band (from Oxford, which you’d never guess really, listening to them.) Saw them live last year. Even better live. Blew me away.

8) Pond

Already expounded their greatness in my P post. Here’s one of my favourites.

9) Stealing Sheep

Trio of lovely ladies from Liverpool with the voices of angels. This, one of the highlights from their debut album, Into The Diamond Sun, which I’d highly recommend.

10) Warpaint

Been around a while, though I only discovered them the back end of 2012. Female four piece, again with the most beautiful voices. This track in my top 5 of theirs.

And that really is all folks, for this series of posts. Catch you soon, on what topic I’ll be rambling on about is anyone’s guess.

And in the words of The Charlatans…

or if you prefer…

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Sing Your Life: April A-Z Blog Challenge: Z

Well comrades, we made it. I almost feel zombie-like having finally reached Z! I must say, there was that mid point slump all writers go through, when you want to close down the project, but like any Wednesday of the week, or middle section of writing a  novel, the hump must be overcome, and once it is it can feel like plain sailing the rest of the way. The middle ‘slump’, FYI, hit at about Q which technically is over half way, but hey, who’s counting?

Well ME as it happens! Here we are…letter 26, the letter Z. Oh and it’s always going to be tricky isn’t it? Actually…no. I knew what Z would be for at the start, I mean I didn’t see I and U coming and how tricky they would prove. The rogue letters of Q, X and Z have been easy in comparison.

So for all of those loyal readers wondering what curve-ball I’m throwing out there today, I can rest your weary minds assured that Z is not for ZZ Top. Or The Zutons, who are the only Z options I can think of other than my choice for Z which is…

Zero 7

Zero 7’s sound I guess would be described as ‘ambient electronic’ yet there are strings galore with guitars, bass and violins, as well as trumpets, various percussion, and even flutes weaved in with the keys. The group hail from here in Britain, although their sound is probably more European, in keeping with the club scene of Ibiza, though the more chilled, relaxed, early hours Ibiza, than the raucous upbeat up all night Ibiza. Consisting of the nucleus duo of Sam Hardaker and Henry Bins, both are former sound engineering students who started their musical careers in studio engineering. It is no surprise therefore that they delved into this electronic, synthesized genre of music even if it is overlaid completely by more classical instruments. A win – win music situation in my opinion.

Their debut album Simple Things was released here in 2001, and I cottoned on quite early to them, though I cannot recall exactly where I first heard the group. It might have been from hearing the song Destiny on the radio. It may have been that I’d heard remixes of a Lambchop track or Love Theme From Spartacus on an Ibiza Chilled album I had and decided to buy it. It’s maybe that I was still reading music magazines at that point and read a good review as it had been nominated for a Mercury Music Prize (usually a good sign in the UK an album’s any cop.) Whatever, it’s all a bit hazy.

Anyway, unusually for me, I did buy it either having only heard one track or none at all, but it was an album which had instant appeal upon first listen. It is startlingly beautiful, haunting in many places, and features the female vocals of Sia Furler and Sophie Barker on a few of the tracks. Most of the tracks are instrumental though, being as the brains behind Zero 7 are sound engineers and not singers. And  it is the instrumental tracks which hold more appeal to me in actual fact. Many of you may be more familiar with the track Home from the follow up 2004 album When it Falls; another superbly produced album, but never held the same sway with me as the debut. The debut is very much like a film score, (think American Beauty theme, but with strings added), particularly End Theme, which fittingly ends the album and is a plethora of strings, bass and percussion to transport you somewhere else. The wonderful thing about the music here is that you make the movie pictures in your imagination rather than associating it with any known film. I guess I liked Zero 7 because I liked such artists as Vangelis and Camel. This new wave of classical electronic ambient music sweeping in during the late 90s bought some of that back but with a modern twist.

And just in case you feel as though you want to know what the heck I’m yabbering on about…

Now of course, as with all of these posts there has to be a specific memory attached to the music , not just the film I think I see in my head when I hear it.

There is an entire decade of my life (possibly slightly more) that is a bit of a haze for me and almost feels as though my brain is trying to shut it out and not remember it, and with very good reason. The years 1998-2008, saw me really concentrate on my new career in teaching and then try and climb the proverbial ladder (before crashing back down in 2009), whilst at the same time navigating my way through the waters of two successive, very difficult, romantic relationships which were actually far from romantic. Music at this time (if you’ve been keeping up) was quite sparse in my life. You’ll notice the posts (with the exception of K and Y) are from my childhood, teenage years or post 2010. Those wilderness years of my twenties seem to be just that, even though lots did happen, but I have little in the way of music to hang memories on. For that I am a little grateful. My twenties were not the highlight of my life. I discovered little new music and in fact listened to a lot of chart and dance and club stuff for much of the first decade of the 21st century unless I was delving back into my comfort zone of the past. Anything I did discover I rarely listen to anymore, maybe because there seemed nothing of any note about or maybe I just wasn’t focused on music as much after I started teaching. Looking back though, maybe it’s because I seemed to always be trying to blot something out, forget about the crap that seemed to surround me, whether it be my parent’s divorce and their woes, my emotionally abusive relationships, my brother’s mental breakdown and the subsequent fallout or work itself. The lack of depth and emotion in club and dance music probably helped with that, everything back then felt unreal and superficial, as it was with my choices of music.

The funny thing with Zero 7 though is that I do still listen to them quite often and, whenever I do listen to that first album, it does transport back to a specific time in 2001/2002. By then, I’d been in a relationship with this older man for five, nearly six years. I worked full time teaching, but I also used to help him out in his job, which at the time was a milkman. Yes, he delivered milk in a milk float, though upgraded to a petrol van pretty quickly!

Anyway, to cut a VERY long story short, I used to help him because he emotionally blackmailed me and I was too stupid to realise that’s what it was, and probably too nice to ever tell him to sod off. (You’ll remember this guy from my U post – same one who took me to the dodgy dive bars in the back streets of Birmingham – yep, him.) In short back then I was a mug. A complete and utter mug.

So there would be times when I’d get up at midnight after maybe 4 hours sleep, then do a milk-round until 7am, go home get ready for work and do a day’s teaching. I didn’t do this every day of course, only occasionally, but I did help him out most of my school holidays on a daily basis. I must have done. I could still do that round in my sleep and I recall all too readily the silence of the air on freezing cold autumn, winter and spring mornings, dew on the grass, frogs in the gutter, hedgehogs scuttling past, all of us waiting desperately for the sun to rise.

But no matter what week it was, I would get up on a Saturday morning and go out collecting the money from his customers. This would start at 9am and I’d usually finish about 4pm. He’d be doing the milk round of course and collecting some too. Often I’d go out on a Friday evening as well and collect, especially in the summer when I’d want more time on a Saturday.

When I think back, I have to wonder what the heck I was doing, even if it means I have the ability to carry 8 glass bottles of milk without dropping them. You live and learn. Always.  Anyway, where do Zero 7 fit in to all this? Well this bloke had a nearly new Vauxhall Vectra at the time and it had controls for the CD player on the steering wheel, which I thought was super cool. Which it was. Even cooler was that when I was out collecting money on his behalf I got to drive around in it, which when all you have is a 12 year old 1 litre Vauxhall Nova ‘Life’ then a Vectra seems height of luxury to drive.

Of course when I bought Zero 7’s album I used to pop it on in his car when I went out collecting money. It was an album which instantly transported me away from the mundane. For everything was mundane and hopeless and sad. That album allowed me to almost forget where I was. I am sure I listened to many other CDs too, but for some inexplicable reason whenever any track from that album is playing it takes me back to those days. Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t happy memories. They link up to a whole host of other memories which make me want to build a time machine out of a Vauxhall Vectra and go back and give my twenty-something year old self a good telling off for being such a sucker – such an idiotic fool.

However, the music is too flaming good to not listen to, and I suppose if my conscious brain actively blocks all that time out perhaps, just occasionally, it’s good to be reminded subconsciously of it all, so as to ensure I never make that mistake again.

On the bright side, I met some lovely senior citizens on that round and used to enjoy many a chat. :)

And that’s it folks…!

It’s over…

Or is it?

Look out for a special edition post-script blog post for the challenge tomorrow as I don’t want to end on a sour note, but knew this post always would!

Thanks, all, for reading.

Goodnight.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. :)

 

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Sing Your Life: April A-Z Blog Challenge: Y

I’m not generally a fan of vocalists. I prefer to listen to bands, where songs are written from the heart, instruments are played with passion and so often the singer’s voice is incidental. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the vocal elements of a song, not at all, but you won’t necessarily find me going ga-ga over an artist who sells their music simply on being able to reach the high notes. (Mariah Carey, take note.) I’m also not a massive fan of ‘pop’ music these days either, although I realise there have been a few examples to write home about so far in this blog challenge from my early days.

So today’s choice may surprise some of you, as this artist’s voice is exactly what he sold his brand on, and what hooked me into his music initially. I say his music as what actually started his career was the commercial venture of the TV show Pop Idol. Yes, today, Y is for

Young, Will

 

Before the days when X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and The Voice took over Saturday night TV (and the world – overseas readers simply insert your country’s name into above titles) right through from January to December every year; Before the days when the formula became sullied and impure, there was the prototype. In 2001 the first ever televised talent show specifically looking for singing talent hit the UK’s TV screens. The aim was to find a new pop band, one who ultimately the public would choose after a little bit of initial steering from a panel of ‘expert’ judges. The formula is so familiar and part of our culture now that it’s hard to imagine it is nearly 15 years old in concept. The first series “Popstars” gave Britain a five piece band called Hear’Say (don’t ask me what the random apostrophe is about). The following year its sequel Popstars; the Rivals produced the all female band, Girls Aloud, who had a lot more success than their predecessors. Not content that the formula hadn’t been squeezed enough that year, the autumn of 2002 also saw Pop Idol come to our screens. This was different, slightly, in that it was looking specifically for a solo singer rather than group. It was the precursor to X-Factor, and I personally think they should have left it there, once it was done.

Like with many of these so called ‘reality’ TV shows, I tend to watch the first series out of curiosity and often enjoy them. Big Brother, I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, The Voice etc..etc..but, then the greed of TV companies and Simon Cowell kicks in and of course we know what happens. We are then subjected to years upon years of the same rotting formula clogging up our screens. Celebrity versions, American versions,  (cos if you miss UK X-Factor in its break months you can watch more from over the pond). More of the same, the same, the same. Repeat to fade… or death, whichever comes first.

X-Factor has ruined the excitement of the Christmas number one singles chart in this country and that is a fact. It’s just awful. It is like painting by numbers with music. There is no heart or soul and the winners rarely go on to make it past that first single simply because we have an over saturated market of bland crud. The X-Factor (et al) are also, in my opinion, responsible for the myth which seems to have transcended into our children’s minds that even if you have no talent, you can become rich and famous, and moreover that if you have a sob story that’s even more likely. No need to work for what you earn. Actually there’s probably more truth in that myth than I’d care to admit. Fame is probably down more to luck than much else, a lot of the time. Sure, once you gain the success in the public eye you must work hard to maintain it, but perhaps you don’t have to work that hard to gain success in the first place. You just have to be in the right place at the right time.

Anyway, I ramble, as ever.

Will Young was a contestant, for those of you who don’t know, in the first Pop Idol. I recall hearing his version of The Doors’ Light My Fire and being blown away by his voice. This does not happen to me very often. So what made this cover stand out from the bland mediocrity of what else was on offer? Firstly, the musical arrangement of it (soulful, jazz like) was different and so more appealing than the rest, but also his voice was more unique than any of the other contestants. Soft in the right places, soulful and intensely strong where needed. Never contrived or over-done.

However, his success through the rounds of the competition probably had more to do with, sadly, his standing up to Simon Cowell in one of the early rounds. A slice of that luck I was talking about – the voting public being more a sucker for a ‘cute’ face and a sob story of a boy who stutters (Gareth Gates in case you couldn’t read between the lines), yet overcomes that when he sings (kind of like watching The King’s Speech but on a pop stage) than actual talent. But Young’s verbal stand-off with the high and mighty, opinionated Cowell (who I mostly agreed with I’ll add here) made the nation sit up and listen. Cowell was always cleverly portrayed by the editing team as the bad guy. He called it as it was and so became the pantomime villain in the public’s eye – and they mostly disagreed with him, just for the sake of it, even if he was right. This time though, he did call it wrong, stating Young’s version of Light My Fire was ‘distinctly average’ to which Young politely and respectfully retorted “I don’t think you could ever call that average.” The dim-witted public, thus far not paying much attention to Young, of course turn more on Cowell as that’s the expected behaviour and in doing so, rally more around Young, because anyone who stands up to Simon has to be okay, don’t they? For once the public’s sheep like actions do the talented individual a favour. Not to take away from Will Young’s talent. If he had been rubbish, I’d like to think he’d not have won the nation’s hearts just for that…but subsequent X- Factor shows have told a different story.

Once it got down to the final two of course the media frenzy set in. Gareth Gates was northern and working class and Young was southern and middle class (even had distant relations in the high military and aristocracy), so they were pitted against each other as arch enemies which was a load of media invented tripe. (Trying to re-create the whole Blur/Oasis thing more than likely.) The bookmakers, knowing full well what a sucker for a sob story and mediocre music the general British public are, had Gates as odds on to win the competition despite the voting evidence of previous weeks to the contrary. Ah, how the media love a bit of hype. It caused debate in our house too. My sister backing Gareth Gates, (still don’t know why) and on vote night I think I voted for Will Young at least three times just to ensure I cancelled out her vote. This is the only time I have ever voted on any of these contest shows. I actually felt quite passionately about his talent and wanted him to win, but didn’t trust the British public enough. As Young won by only 500,000 votes, my suspicions of voting idiocy were correct. I’m glad I voted. I’ve never participated since, in fact one series of X-factor in and I’d had enough of the formula.

Young was by far the better singer and deserved to win. Simple as that, as being a good singer was the premise of the whole show. (Unlike with X-Factor where you just have to have that ‘Je nais se quoi’ rather than it being solely about the voice. Unlike The Voice which is meant to solely be about…er… the voice, but clearly this sense of purpose has been warped as yet another series rolls by.) Ho hum. But Will Young’s voice was far more versatile, far more interesting than Gareth Gates’.  You only have to listen to their duet of Long and Winding Road (if you don’t fall asleep before Young’s voice kicks in in the second verse) to hear that.

The longevity of Will Young’s career since 2002, is also testament to the fact that on that night in 2002, the best man did actually win. He works hard, but I do feel, for all that, his unique voice and beautiful songs is what keeps people buying his albums. Subsequent winners or even the runners up on X-Factor have had no where near as much success. He has even managed to have some success in acting, and I was thrilled to see him appear in an episode of Marple (The Mirror Crack’d) – yes Agatha Christie being another passion of mine. :)

So, pop music?  I thought I’d pretty much left that behind with the 80s and Debbie Gibson, so why my love of Will Young? It can’t just be his voice can it?

Well no. Quite simply, many of the songs, although essentially pop songs, have heavy jazz, soul and funk influences. There are some classic ballads too (All Time Love being just one example), but it is the musical arrangements of many of the songs matched up to his voice which I love. It’s pop but a little different. The first single, Evergreen, which was put out after he won Pop Idol is dreadful. Not his voice as such, just the predictability of the pop arrangement. It’s dull. Is this what we as a public show we want music producers we want? Well, in a word, yes. Unfortunately.

The track may as well just be Westlife singing their original recording.  It may as well be Boyzone or Take That, because nothing very different was done to Young’s cover, suiting the undemanding British public well enough. Thank goodness Will Young did Light My Fire and showed us what he could do, and the style which suited him, for I’d have never delved into his music otherwise. Also thank goodness he went on to make other albums, for there are some much better tracks than that first single on his debut album, From Now On. (Compare Light My Fire, You and I, Lover Won’t you Stay – there are  violins – and Over You with the rest which is ‘distinctly average’ pop.) The follow ups, 2003’s Friday’s Child (with the famous Leave Right Now on), and 2005’s Keep On are so much superior.

Keep On is my favourite overall, as it has a great mix of uptempo tunes (the title track, Switch It On, Think It Over to name three) with a funky sound, even some Latino sounds in there, alongside some slower, deeper ballads, means it works well as a whole piece. I actually got to see him live in 2005 (oooh that rhymes) on an arena tour with that album, and despite him having a really croaky sore throat, he carried on with the show, and was still amazing.

The 2008 album Let It Go (no not THAT Let It Go) has my favourite all time Will Young track, Love, on it, but seems so unknown. I don’t know what it is about it I like. I can never put my finger on it, but it’s six and a half minutes of utter joy. To me at least!

Overall, if you mix basic pop music with trumpets, violins, sax, double bass, a range of guitars and a stunning versatile vocal, you get something far more interesting than the norm.

The producers of TV programmes like X-Factor embrace and cash in on the fact that the public seems to embrace bland. And they do, for about half a second until the next brand of bland is spoon fed to them. But the real good stuff, the real gems, those which are only found once in a blue moon, like Mr. Young stay put and keep on.

Added to all that, Will Young is a nice guy. And I’m a sucker for a nice guy. If he can make great music into the bargain, well I’ll be a life long fan.

I’m going to leave you with a small playlist of some of my favourite Will Young tracks, especially for those of you who don’t know who he is. Enjoy!  :)

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Sing Your Life: April A-Z Blog Challenge: X

It’s mid May, 2011. The warm spring sun has woken me early, but I lie watching the dreams flicker over his face as he sleeps.

By nine o’clock we’re up, and whilst I wash in the windowless bathroom of his first floor flat, he pads into the lounge and completes his daily ritual of booting up the P.C and selecting some tunes to make breakfast to.

He turns the speakers up loud, so he can hear it from the kitchen, as he makes breakfast -buttery toast and hot, steaming extra large mugs of tea – and bans me from the breakfast preparation area, as he always does. I can hear an atmospheric instrumental piece of music playing as I come out, all bass and synced drumbeats. The music makes me move in a different way, enticing me towards the expansive wooden floored living room as though it were a purpose made dance floor. Once there, I saunter over to the huge floor to ceiling window which extends the whole width of the lounge. The small slatted venetian blinds are about as useful as a chocolate teapot as the startling bright sunlight streams through the streaked window and casts a warm, almost ethereal, glow in the room.

I stand and gaze out across at the park over the road. The leaves on the trees are greener than they have been, or ever will be again that year, having basked in weeks of warm sunshine and April showers have fed their growth. Splashes of reds and purples, yellows and orange peep through from the abundance of spring flowers embedded in neatly attended to patches of composted soil. The sky is a deep blue, and the day stretches out before us, full of promise. No worry of work, no responsibilities. Another, slower track plays, ethereal too, matching the light in the room perfectly.

The familiar scent of toasted bread wafts in though the semi open door and I breathe in its comforting smell deeply, hungry and salivating at the thought of it in my mouth.

And then I hear this:

And suddenly a wave of complete and utter happiness sweeps over me. The guitar, and then the bass, thumps through the floor and up through my entire body and I smile a huge, satisfied grin of utter contentment. And it is at that moment I realise I’m in love. Not with The XX, but with him. Him in the kitchen making me breakfast and knowing the day ahead will be just me and him finding out more about each other. At that moment I know I am completely lucky and blessed. And yet again there is another soundtrack to another chapter of my life.

A chapter now closed, but not one I’ll forget. For those few precious moments of simple joy come so rarely in life, they should be cherished.

And as it happens The XX weren’t a bad find either.

Thanks for reading.  xx

 

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Sing Your Life: April A-Z Blog Challenge: W

So to W.

It’s Monday night, it’s already 8pm and so this is going to be a quick one not only for that reason, but also for the reason W is one of those letters where whatever I write about musically is going to be sparse and substandard in terms of memories and anecdotal evidence.

Don’t get me wrong, plenty of decent artists out there for W, just none who give me much to write home about.

The Who? Before my time.

Wonderstuff? Yep, I like them, but nothing special.

Wham? Yes, if you’ve kept up with this blog you may well have had me down as a Wham fan, and, whereas there’s nothing more I like than dancing around my kitchen with a banana in hand ‘singing’ along full throttle to The Edge of Heaven, they never really featured heavily in my music box. Neither did Westlife or The Wanted, but hey, you’d guessed that!

Paul Weller would probably be your number one contender for a good guess, I suspect, but nope. I liked Wild Wood and a few other bits and pieces of his in the mid 90s, but nothing to set my musical soul alight.

I could blog about Warren G and my brief flirtation with rap (that one song, Regulate – that was it!), or Barry White,(oh… yeah *adopts deep voice), or Bill Withers (actually do love a bit of Bill Withers), Kim Wilde (oh so 80s), Wings,(hey, they did some good stuff),  Wang Chung (Dance Hall Days – love, love, love it!), Whitesnake (“Is this love?” *screeches at top of lungs whilst crouching down low holding extended microphone at 45 degree angle ensuring splitting of tight white jeans. Oh yes, I did like a bit of 80s soft rock from time to time). Wet, Wet, Wet could have been very close contenders – little bit of a crush on the keyboard player around the time of Goodnight Girl), Robbie Williams (and how much I detest his smug mush), Wilson Phillips (and my overplay of their hit single, Hold On, on repeat on my walkman on a train journey down to Torquay when I was 14), The Whitestripes, The Wombats, The Wombles, Wizzard (“Oh I wish it could be Christmas everyday” – not anymore I don’t – all that work!). I could talk about the wonder that is Stevie Wonder and how I hated I Just Called to Say I Love You, as my mum played it far too much when we were kids and, as a result, I didn’t have much time for the great man. Until I heard Superstition and knew that I was wrong, oh so wrong, and realised what the funk soul he was really all about. Jeeze, that’s one damn good tune.

So yes, W has quite a plethora of artists, but I thought I’d do what I did with P and give you one of my more recent and more obscure finds to check out.

Today W is (not just for all that above) but also for…

Widowspeak

Who? I hear you ask, and might well you do.

They may look like a throwback from the 70s (and much of their sound is fairly reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac – if I had to make any comparisons to give you a pointer -) but Widowspeak only formed in 2010. They are an indie, folky type band from Brooklyn, and I found them completely by chance when I heard a preview for a TV show on BBC One which kept playing a cover of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game.

Now, I’d always loved the song (though not that video with Helena Christensen – I always wanted to tell her to stop biting her nail varnish off and I was only about 16 at the time!), but upon continually hearing this advert (it was for some epic Sunday night medieval costume drama of which I can’t remember the name of), and hearing this different version of the track, I immediately fell in love with this new-fangled, wistful female led vocal cover. Now, I’m generally not one for covers. Word Up by Gun – yes, Wonderwall by Ryan Adams – yes. I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston – NO! (and any other cover version you care to mention ditto above). But this one sounded great.

So I went on to Spotify and searched Wicked Game and the closest version I found was one by Widowspeak. Now, I have no idea to this day whether their version is the one the BBC used or not, but it was very close and it prompted me to listen to more of their stuff.

And so that is what I did. The 2013 album Almanac is really a quite simply beautiful album full of dark, brooding, folky rock tracks, starting off with Perennials and its pitter-patter of rainfall set against the almost mandolin type sounding guitar notes. Followed in with its jangling guitar and the husky, dreamy vocals of Molly Hamilton and the song takes you off to another place. Oh and it’s definitely become one of my new travelling by train tracks! The end refrain of “I’m afraid, nothing lasts, nothing lasts long enough,” speaks volumes about lost love and of course the song itself doesn’t last, and that’s quite sad. Until you realise there are a further eleven tracks to take you further away from time and into space.

And that’s all I’m going to say, other than here’s a taster acoustic version of Perennials on a rooftop. Enjoy.

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