Ideal Hallowe’en music

My big birthday present this year is a Trace Elliot Super Tramp Twin 100W amplifier, and I receive notification that it has been delivered to my pa’s house (makes more sense than delivering it here, honest) at 7:30 this morning, a deivery time which is almost as anti-social as the amp itself. I will collect it later.

I dither around getting prontouts of the Britten thing to send to George and Sara and also getting the compilation CDs into a package with the notes, so that I can go to the post office and do them all in One Fell Swoop.

Actually get successfully to the gym, hurrah, although my exercise isn’t what you’d call strenuous – I feel really washed-out – but it’s very nice to sit in the hot room and become clean clean. I think it’s one of those things that the Romans had a point about, sitting in hot rooms to get clean clean. Unlike wearing bedsheets, which I think was one of their Bad Ideas. Invading places and giving them long straight roads sits somewhere between the two extremes.

Mad rush around doing money stuff, going to post office and doing a shop, and then I go to pick up the amp. It’s quite hefty – I think that it’s trying to position itself in the same market as the Fender Twin. I had tried to get it’s big sibling, the Quad Chorus, but they’d sold out. They being Thomann, the very fine (and quite cheap) German musical equipment retailer.

I seem to have a soft spot for Trace Elliot, probably largely because it was TE gear that was available at my price-range when I needed it. I have one of their bass combos and a couple of acoustic effects pedals. They’ve always struck me as a very solid-sounding and reliable manufacturer, although it has to be said that I’ve not exactly shopped around in my time. This particular amp seems to have discarded theit trademark green (the bass amp is both green and furry) in favour of Basic Black, although with nice clean lines. Still, I’m happy with it. It has the potential to be upsettingly loud, too.

Heh heh.

The other problem is that the best place for it (over by the bookshelf, raised up on a chair) is quite a long way from any electrical sockets, so I’ll need to get an extension for it. And another dual footswitch (you can use two, and they provide one) and I can play all day – louder … not so loud … louder … fuzzy … fuzzier … reverb on-n-n-n-n-n-n … reverb off … etc ad nauseam or at least until the neighbours complain.

So for the second night running I fail to get out to an open mike. Bad boy that I am.

Ben gave me a copy of Disco Volante by Mr Bungle for my birthday and I finally listen to it. It is completely insane, a combination of Metallica, the Beach Boys and Carl Stalling with a touch of jazz thrown in for good measure. I actually find its aggressiveness a little bit disturbing. It’s always jabbing at you, and it’s impossible to have on as background music or any other way… how is one supposed to listen to it? It’s a great steaming Pointed Stick of a record, as soon as you think it might be settling down it changes tack again, violently and unexpectedly. Perhaps it’s actually four completely different records, cut up into strips and then reassembled at random.

Ideal Hallowe’en music, that’s for sure.

I add something that I’ve been looking for for ages to the CSS for this site. So basic that I’m embarrassed to admit what it is. Still, I do get one step closer to creating a template (though not for this site) that’s based completely in CSS. Of course, only a few of the more modern browsers would be able to render it properly, but I’m more interested in the elegance of the solution than any practical considerations. Sometimes one can give Jakob a little too much credence.

the ordinary common-or-garden bloke-with-a-record-collection

I spend a lot of time getting the Britten thing together – I think it looks good, but it’s not quite there yet.

I try to call up Debbie at Up All night to try to get a spot (this seems to be the way to do it, rather than just arriving early), but there is no reply. So I don’t get out tonight.

I finally get round to listening to the Manic of the two CD compilations I made a couple of weeks ago, writing notes on each of the tracks on the CD so that the recipient will have some justification for choosing it. I always worry that perhaps my choices are a bit strange for people. I suppose I don’t have that cool self-confidence in my own taste that marks out the DJ from the ordinary common-or-garden bloke-with-a-record-collection.

unexpectedly corkscrewed, much like Einsteinian space

Another rehearsal at Daves for the new Jeays Meisterwerk, this time with Janet on accordian. I think it’ll be good. An especially slippery customer (Ruben Garcia) seems to be coming under control, and Deathbed will hopefully be the Big Terrifying Noise that we always knew that it should be. Hmm. Of course this means that I’ll have to practise at home. Long rehearsal too – 1:30ish to 5:15ish. That’s long for us.

Back home I play with trying to design a site totally in CSS again – the problem with it is that it will do exactly what you want (a menu column and then a text column, for example) and then for no (apparant) reason the whole thing will go wrong. It seems to be more like working clay than programming – you squidge something into shape, and when you give it that final touch that you’re sure it really needs, the whole thing falls to bits, so you try to put it back together and then it seems to work again, and then falls to bits again. With clay there comes a point where it dries out and you just have to give up. Or live with a really ugly pot. Is it the sign of a good pot that the volume it contains is greater than the volume of the container? Is deciding it was just a paperweight all along an admission of failure (after all, everything is a paperweight, the QE2 is a paperweight if you can find a desk big enough. Ditto ashtrays)?

Flash looks straightforward until you actually try to do something interesting with it at which point it is unexpectedly corkscrewed, much like Einsteinian space.

Flesh-eating pigs and brain-surgery. Pah.

A lot of sitting around – I have a headache and although I don’t feel as ill as I did yesterday, I certainly don’t feel like skipping around or indeed even doing anything useful. During said sitting around I watch: Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey, the curiously affecting story of Lev Termin inventor of the first electronic instrument, Clara Rockmore (the greatest player of the instrument), Robert Moog (enthusiastic builder of Theremins and later creator of the first modern commercial synthesiser) and various others. Watching Rockmore play it is extraordinary – it’s all done with tiny gestures and shapes made with the fingers, allowing her to play staccato and arppegiato, whereas most people just wave their arms around in front of it to make wailing noises (which can more easily and cheaply be done with a metal detector).

After that I watch the second disc of the top left-hand corner of Hannibal. Flesh-eating pigs and brain-surgery. Pah.

Later I turn to Little Red Robin Hood Hit the Road, an Italian television documentary about Robert Wyatt, for some reason it’s in black and white (possibly to lend an equal weight to the modern stuff and the archive footage of Soft Machine, although there really isn’t very much of that, possibly because it looks arty). Dave H calls in the middle re problems with his girlfriend’s mac. I try to talk him through it, but it turns out that I need to see what’s going on. I’ll try to get over there tomorrow afternoon.

Or at least the top left-hand corner

Up, into W. via the doctor’s where I pick up another prescription for Indomethacin, the wonder-drug. All right, it’s not actually a wonder drug, per se, but since it stops my foot from inflicting appalling agony on me I’m willing to flatter it a bit.

I take my guitar with me so that I can go on to the Spice of Life straight from Walker’s, and indeed spend some of the lunch hour practising. However, by 4:00 it’s obvious that I have a cold, and really oughtn’t be going to a smoky pub this evening. So I go home and pick up some Lemsip Max Strength on the way (the one adverrtised with the odious executives who one would rather see dead from bubonic plague than cured of the flu).

When home, I call Debbie and say thanks for the heads up about the open mike, but s-choo, and she books me for a gig in November at the River Bar, with the heavy suggestion that I only get more if I bring lots of people. Given that when I played in Islington a couple of weeks ago it was (a) local to a number of people (or at least easy to get to) and (b) free and (c) fairly early and still a number of things came up that got in the way of them actually getting there, the chances of me rustling up a thronging mass of people are very slim, but I’ll try to go through with it, hand out the fliers and whatnot. Exactly how many people they consider to be "enough" is open to debate, anyway. I’ve done the night-running thing. I know the problems, and the pain of not getting anyone in. Oh well. Not to stress about it, eh?

In the evening I watch the last two episodes of The Prisoner (Once Upon a Time and Fall Out). Very well made, and nobody today would have the nerve to use All You Need is Love over shots of people being machine-gunned.

And then the first disc from one of those Far Eastern bootlegs of popular films. In this case Hannibal. Or at least the top left-hand corner of Hannibal. Not up to the top left-hand corner of Silence of the Lambs, I must say. That was about the fear of confronting the Other – Lekter is an almost supernatural force, with a supernatural understanding. This film seems to be more concerned with the schoolboy practise of finding the ickiest thing one might think of. Or at least the first half. Of the top left-hand corner.

and indeed get completely lost

Into Walker Books to work on the Adventure Stories book. I’m becoming increasingly attached to the Minidisc player – jog-free, long battery life, joyously up-to-date technology and it hasn’t developed any peverse kinks yet. I have this corrupting effect on technology – after a while machines in my prescence develop an evil and twisted personality, inflicting cruelty for the sake of it (for example the way the PBook has been behaving recently). I set the CD jukebox up to make a whole bunch of comps last night. Very much a grab-bag but wtih the occasional serendipity. For example an ambient/world set into which drops Dick Gaughan (not a huge leap, but not one I would have made) and Purcell. I must hold forth on my theory of Randomness some day (very similar to the programming policies of Late Junction, and also Joe Q’s L.O.D.S.O.S.).

There’s a message on the answerphone from Debbie at Up All Night regarding an impromptu open micke at the Spice of Life tomorrow and possibly doing another gig for them.

In the evening I explore the intricacies of CSS (and indeed get completely lost) and try to get this diary up to date. I almost succeed, too.

older than sin and twice as ugly

Happy birthday to me. I am now, as I tell the patrons of the Purple Turtle later on, older than sin and twice as ugly. At least.

My mother gave me shirts. I can’t argue with that, as the shirts she gives me are invariably so much better than the shirts I buy for myself that people come up to me and say, "that’s a nice shirt John," at which I have to admit that it was a present from my mother.


The day begins with me looking for the mic to take to the Jeays rehearsal, to no avail, or at least no evident microphone. The attempt to make this discovery results in terrible chaos. The number of places that the microphone definitely isn’t are now huge, and the only problem is that the microphone must be in one of them.

The computer is kind to me, however, and allows itself to be fixed with hardly any bother at all.

I have a bath and pack up all the stuff to take to Dave’s. Just as I am about to leave, I find the mic behind the practise amp I’m taking with me. Because that is The Way Things Are, is it not?

Another, hopefully, successful rehearsal at Dave’s. I think that I manage to record all the bits that I’ll need to remember for next time. I think the electric guitar bit on When The Sun Goes In will be effective (that is to say, more effective than the same bit on any other guitar).

I leave the Microphone behind at Dave’s. Of course.

I get back home to pick up email in the wreckage of my living room. One message is from Bath telling me that my tardiness at sending a demo has resulted in my losing a slot on the 11th of November. I can’t say that I’m surprised – I think she’s right. My tardiness is terrible in that respect.

Gathering what’s left of my wits, I make my way to the Purple Turtle for tonight’s gig.

On the way back, I encounter a drunken couple on the tube. She is convinced that my guitar is a ‘cello. Or perhaps she’s pretending tp be convinced. I am quickly confused and keep changing my storyin order to stay one step ahead of the game. There’s nothing worse than being a very sober person outwitted by the very drunk. It’s all benign, though.

Another Tuesday, another hangover.

Another Tuesday, another hangover. Hmm. That’s not the way that life’s supposed to be. Wrong day, and the fact that I don’t drink ought to preclude it. I put it down to the fact that I was in such a smoky atmosphere last night.

I don’t manage to achieve anything concrete until the end of the day when I crash the computer again. No, tell a lie, I rejig the Britten Programme, fairly extensively. I fail to send it off before the crash, though. Oh, and I manage to burn the copy of Road Movie that I’ve only been promising Ellie for, what, two, three months?

is shirt is more than consolatory

I must have done constructive things during the day – a typeface, perhaps, some practicing. That sort of thing.
In the evening I go to do a spot at the Half Moon in Putney. So, up to Waterloo and onto a train out. I stop to buy batteries for my camera. (hence the photos below).
On the approach to the Half Moon, there’s a shop with a sign advertising "antique cocks" – I wonder if anyone warned them of the dangers of having such a business next-door to a large pub with a heftily rock ‘n’ roll clientele. Probably not.
I am, incredibly, on time, but Steve Wyatt, the chap running the evening hsa been delayed, so I sit in the bar and read the programme of the events for October. It has to be said that there are far too many tribute bands around now, although perhaps this has resulted in those bands not inflicting their own material upon the world. Or perhaps not. I reflect on which tribute band I would join, and I suppose that the only one that would attract would be a "Classic Crimson" band, playing Red, ITCOTCK, Larks Tongues in Aspic Part 2 and, oh God, Fracture. Oh well, it was a nice reverie while it lasted. Of course I’d have to be the guitarist. Duh.
I enter the arena and sit and retain buddhist poise
It turns out that I’m on first. When Mr Wyatt does appear, his shirt is more than consolatory (no photo – I can’t imagine how I missed that). We do some checks (is the guitar working? How does it sound?) and I leave it on a stand on stage.
Judith arrives, having had a Journey From Hell to get here across London.
I’m up – I’m increasingly critical of the way I sound through a PA. Partly, I think, this is because the criteria that sound people use for acoustic guitars – that it be bright-sounding and twangy – really doesn’t help what I’m doing. Certainly the best sounds I’ve got have been at places where there has been minimum intervention or somewhere like the Ross Bandstand, where the sound people are used to having to mix all sorts of things, and don’t just dial in the "Acoustic Guitar eq". And the Spitz, as well, actually, where the engineer was a woman with a real attention to detail (I remember doing a long soundcheck for that and then playing completely different material during the gig and sounding much better for it). I suspect that the problem is one of Density – the acoustic classical has a lot of it, acoustic guitars through a PA are thought not to need it. Should I bring my own graphic EQ? A compressor? Get one of those Shadow in-guitar microphone thingies? Just live with it and stop whining? Crispy sound: everybody’s cursed with it, but what can one do?
Perhaps I can make my fortune designing an outboard box specifically designed to give acoustic guitars a really good sound.
Then Judith goes up, plays a couple of new songs and one that she hasn’t played for a while.
After that, various others – a chap from America, another more local (as far as I can tell, a regular at this night), and then a trio of lads, who have brought most of the audience with them. So one shouldn’t complain about the fact that they take the length of a floorspot set to set up and then a huge amount of time between songs bantering and arguing. Hugely entertaining, though perhaps not in the way they intended, but then I don’t think they really care that much either way. The songs themselves are strummed anthems of defiance – I Will Be What I Want To Be, They Can’t Tell You What To Do, that sort of thing – of a style made so popular by the Gallagher brothers and their imitators. The songs also feature three-part harmonies, which the trio hurl themselves at enthusiastically, full of the Dunkirk spirit.
After them comes Kat Parsons, the second performer from the other side of the Atlantic tonight, who does bluesy, rocky sort of songs, and has one of those big, authentically American voices that they don’t really do as well over here. Perhaps it’s a question of accent – actually having an American accent probably gives you a head start. A great voice, though.
Ms Parsons also acts as the backing singer to tonight’s headliner Doug Hoekstra, Mr Hoekstra is more of a Dylanesque, Pettyish performer, and the most effective parts of the set come from the interplay between his reedier voice and her fuller more confident one. They have just come from Holland and are about to Do the UK, including Mike Lance’s marvellous pub The Greys in Brighton (highly recommended for everything, especially dutch beer and food and the music. It’s one of the nicest acoustic venues there are) and also Berwick on Tweed. There is a certain groundswell of derision regarding Berwick on Tweed as a rock and roll destination, but I seem to remember that they Come From Miles Around up there, and that the venue is famous (didn’t Rob at the Glasgow Herald travel all the way there to review Nick Harper a couple of years ago?). Ah well, Go Kat! Go Doug!
I mention this site to them afterwards, with the promise of photographs. I think I say that the pictures might be blurry. I’m not sure that I say exactly how blurry they might be. Or indeed that the performer invariably seem to be hidden by a mic stand. All these things are forgotten in the excitement of the moment. I do hope that if they find their way here that they do not consider it to be a wasted journey.
Judith gives me a lift to the station and I wait on the platform for a while before the train comes. On the train, someone has left a couple of pages from a chinese or Japanese newspaper, including Dilbert in whichever language it is. This had a certain amount of significance at the time, but then I’m very tired.

(Puts finger in mouth sideways and makes br-br-br noise.)

I get up, sit, have breakfast and then go back to bed. Since a long period of Trying to Make the Powerbook Work Again is on the cards for today, I’m not in any rush to get into it. Anyway, I feel tired. I get back up at ten and have another breakfast. A two-breakfast day. Having a two-breakfast day is sort of an admission of failure, as though you’re in denial about getting on with the day at all. Which, of course, I am. I have also managed to get a headache while I was lying down (probably because I was lying down). More karma, no doubt.

I hook up the PBook to the desktop Mac and try to clean install a new System. In fact this is a complete success, but now the computer refuses to recognise any System at all and will only start up from the Norton CD. Sigh.

I try running Norton, but by now the battery has completely run down and I need to jiggle the mains adaptor to try to get some kind of power into it. So I leave it for the afternoon in order to recharge it. Chat to Sara about the Britten thing (with the proviso that the computer it’s on doesn’t seem to be working at all) and then go and lie down again.

As a bit of side-nonsense, I’ve been trying (as the various processes have taken place) to do short improvisations o the guitar, just to see what happens. I decide to record some of them (to see what they’re like in retrospect) and so subsequent failures with the Mac are paralleled by my failure to find the microphone, although I do manage o reduce the living room to a nice chaotic mess while I’m at it. So now on BBC Me, a choice of viewing: on Me One, Abject Failure – John tries to get technology to behave as though there is some rational sense behind it; and on Me 2, Abject Failure 2: This Time It’s Personal, John attempts to find an object that he’s sure he saw only a few days ago, but which is small enough to be anywhere, particularly in an environment as chaotic as his living room is at the moment.

(Puts finger in mouth sideways and makes br-br-br noise.)

Later I get back to the (now recharged computer). While a version of Chekhov’s Ivanov plays in the background (rather good: a lot of wittering about torment and so forth, but so much better than Radio 4 drama, which demands very simple motivations for the characters and that the dialogue explain exactly what’s going on in minute detail all the time) I tinker with the PBook, to no avail until I decide to try copying the System and Finder files that I installed this morning into the old System Folder. Which works as though nothing had been wrong. Two divergent thoughts: the rational part of my brain decides that the people who designed Limewire, rather than writing a piece of Mac software, have just written their own emulator that the regular software sits in (in fact I think now that it might have been right there on their homepage). When it crashes (definitely not if), it has a pretty good chance of corrupting the system that is running it – the Mac OS and in particular the Finder (the GUI element of the Mac OS).

The other thought is that my Mac is playing some kind of quasi-S&M game with me, requiring me to give it attention and refusing to play until I’ve satisfied its demands, and then pretending there was nothing wrong with it in the first place and what are you angry about, don’t be a beast, I was only playing. In a couple of weeks, exactly the same thing will happen again, I’ll try the same solution, but this time, it won’t work: a completely different solution (which will once more take a day to find) will be necessary. I just have to let it know who’s in charge, that’s all.

(It knows perfectly well who’s in charge. And it’s not me)

And of course after feeling sluggish all day , when I go to bed, I’m wide awake, although I’m relaxed enough to just lie there and wait for unconsciousness, even if it does take a while.

I think I might need to introduce more comedy into my life, or at least more comedy that doesn’t involve slapstick. Please, no more slapstick.