Personal blog and comfy corner of Lyra Rhodes: musician, cake aficionado, whinger...maybe just a place where I can stuff things (words!), rather than them falling down the back of the sofa

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Lonely Road

This post is about my (albeit crappy) songwriting. Beware!

Son no.1 said to me "that's like nothing I've ever heard, and not in a good way".
But I wrote this anyway, and for the home recording hobbyists, here's a kind of amateurish "studio log" and some notes.

Normally, I write a song on the guitar. It lives with me for months, even years. My friends then protest that what I record "sounds nothing like that acoustic song!". And I agree. But do it anyway.
Really, it's not the recording or playing I enjoy, but the overall composition, the bringing in of other background instruments and mixing something new that comes out of it.
And these previous "songs" that I do, can take months to record and finish.
This time it was different. My achilles heel has always been the bass sound, whether recorded, existing loops, or synth bass.
And that's because I start with the song.

This time, I started with a bass line that I liked, added in drums, mapped out a verse chorus, verse chorus, Bridge structure, and played some guitar on it (which I then looped).
I mean, for a singer/songwriter kind of person, this is a different approach for me, but probably better given the home recording / DAW kind of setup I have.
After all, when you are musician, lyricist, engineer, producer, mastering engineer....all of these things yourself, there are no other musicians to "spar" with, and bounce ideas off. I think it's easier sometimes to be inspired by the rhythm section, and getting that right first, or at least adding it to a known guitar song, then rewriting the guitar song to fit (if you know what I mean) in an iterative kind of way.

Moving on, it then became a rush. Are there lots of things I'd like to go back and edit and change and fix and tweak?
But I then began to rush even more, to try and turn the months (inbetween working for a living) of writing and recording and mixing, into a matter of weeks. 2 1/2 weeks in this case...

So I probably didn't do as much mixing or mastering as I would normally do.
Perhaps the key recording/mixiing/mastering differences here for me were:
(1) high level of limiting at the recording stage for the guitar loop, and then very few effects afterwards
(2) real double-tracking on the guitar (as opposed to software double tracking)
(3) nectar essentials (who produce "ozone" and such like) on my (crappy) vocals, but at least they sound a little better & tuned - the idea is very much that they're not full and forward
(4) a stronger bass sound
(5) less synths than I would normally use
(6) I normally AVOID huge compression and limiting, but this is often at the expense of loudness and a sound that "gels". Mastering compression is a tricky art, after all. This time I mixed straight into a limiter, driving it harder.

Things were a lot more complicated than I would normally do, and this is probably where more effort went.

The song was mixed into a "tape" saturation compressor to warm things and rolloff bass rumble, then a Compressor in mid/side mode, and a mid/side clipper, and a multiband limiter. Finally some very light/long release "tube" compression and EQ to balance the mids.
The aim of this was to gain loudness, smooth things together, whilst avoiding the strong centred bass "pumping" the song, and keeping the L/R double tracked guitars in focus. So I think the mid/side stuff was key here. True, looking at the waveform it looks a bit nasty, but at least transients are a bit controlled.

If I was to go back and improve anything it would be:
(1) some tighter editing of the vocals, riding faders too, avoiding some "ch" and mic chatter/essing a bit more
(2) ducking levels of guitar a bit more here and there
(3) some volume changes to avoid repitition and listening fatigue (the waveform is tiringly loud)
(4) roll off a tiny bit of mid and treble on the acoustic guitars
(5) EQ the bass a bit more (still a bit boomy)
(6) up the level of the electric guitar in the fadeout section
(7) lengthen the bridge - work a bit more to ease the transition into it! I spent a fair bit of time on that, and still never got it fully to my satisfaction, but despite listeners protesting, I liked it overall and kept it.... :-)

But overall, I think the sound quality is a wee bit better than what I normally produce.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Tasty PI.. tasty HiFi


Rather than eating cake, or playing my guitar, I've been listening to much much music recently (retaining sanity 'n' all that).

Remember the days of CD players? Remember them? Like my 1980s Marantz CD-40. Even that was easier sometimes, easier than all this streaming nonsense - playing music files from a NAS drive, via flaky DLNA, involving BluRay players and variable volume levels...
And, regular readers will be aware that I'm just not-that-type-of-girl to put an iPod into an iPod dock-thingy, and be done with it. That seems to be what folks call HiFi these days. OH NO.

You don't always get what you want

So, being of an IT-geek persuasion, I put together a MoSCoW list of requirements, boring myself in the process.

(M)UST have:
1 - ReplayGain (this is like that "iTunes sound check" thing, stops a quiet then loud song blasting your head off
2 - Playlists
3 - Gapless playback (not that I possess Dark Side Of The Moon but just in case)
4 - full playback in the digital domain ("bitperfect"), no altering of the source file straight through to the DAC in my Onkyo amp (as you do)

(S)HOULD have:
1 - a nicer way of controlling the music than BubbleUpnp (it's not too bad)
2 - better library management than pesky DLNA and its media scanners, and SMB (or even NFS) file access would be nice
3 - reasonable hardware, ie don't particularly trust some random chinese Android box, for instance, I could stream direct from my phone, but the sound quality isn't quite there with that (yes, I've tried Neutron) & it locks the phone to that usage
also, SP/DIF or preferably digital coax is a must, don't trust (resampled) sound via HDMI for instance

(C)OULD have:
1 - ease of setup, but I don't mind faffing with it to set it up really
2 - ease of use by my better-half, perhaps even on smartphone

The problem

Holding all your music collection digitally then creates its own set of issues.
Much like the first digital camera you buy.
What to do with the files? How to make it easy to listen to them?

Sonos do this, as do many other companies now like Denon and Bluesound.
But they charge several arms and legs for it.

We've all been using iTunes, Winamp, JRiver etc etc from our PC's for many years, playing our music collections. Thus, we have to keep a desktop or laptop turned on, and connected. And they are often noisy things too.
Smartphone bluetooth to bluetooth adapter or speakers? That's not HiFi. Not even with aptX. Ironically, the iPod classic with its digital dock connection ain't that bad an option. But, it's limited by the Apple ecosystem and dedicated storage. And don't even get me started on "Apple Music"....

So, a mini PC, server, some kind of device, switched on all of the time, or fast turn-on, is the answer.
Cambridge Audio, Naim, Linn, NAD, Denon, Yamaha, they all produce "HiFi streamers", starting at about £350.
These devices often come with their own branded app, or else utilise DLNA. That makes me suspicious.
And the cost of suchlike is high....

A Raspberry Pi as a HiFi

The Raspberry Pi is pretty darn good at being left switched on all of the time, running well below 40 degrees and can hold a bespoke Linux build dedicated to HiFi type stuff.
I suppose when you think about it, that's all a dedicated HiFi streamer is. Anecdotally, such boxes run with customised versions of MPD (Music Player Daemon) that I've intended to use on the Pi.

So.... I think this is a good propostion, for me it ticks all of the boxes. After all, I'd kept my PC switched on in the past to play music. We all do it.
This option is way cheaper than a Cubox, or a NUC intel box.

Show me what it looks like then

This Pi 2nd generation has a "HAT" (Hardware Attached on Top) Digi+ sound output board on top made by a company called HiFiBerry which provides digital Coax and Optical outputs.
In my case that then feeds direct to my Onkyo amp, which has digital inputs.

Standard Pi recommended power supply, but many folks go the extra mile with a Linear power supply (like in a Desktop PC). At the top is my digital Coax connection, and ethernet on the left side of the pic.

How does all the software work?

I'm using Volumio.

From what I can see, it's basically Raspbian linux with MPD (Music Player Daemon) and Samba stuff thrown in.
Very clever.
Optimised, stripped down, and very very fast.

Then, MPDroid software on my Android smartphone is very good, or Cantata on my Windows PC to control it all, simply acting as a device to manage playlists, view album art, and next track/pause/play etc.

I tried all kinds of other software, like the Squeezebox architecture stuff, ie PiCorePlayer with a LMS server on my Synology NAS, and there's also MoOde, Archphile and many many more.

How do I set one of these up then?

Build the Pi, plug the Digi+ board on top and put it in the case.
Build your MicroSD card as per Volumio instructions, insert into Pi and power up.
Configure your NAS connection and other parameters within the web-based Volumio menu.

The forums are full of folks building these, putting them in custom cases, bolting on their own DAC, power supply, LCD screens, volume knobs, you name it.

But I kept it simple.

So what does it sound like? Is it usable?

Pretty good. I mean, it's not top-flight hardware, but I think there's a certain simplicity to picking up a FLAC file from a NAS, and then sending it digitally unaltered out of the digital Coax output.
For me, my money is better spent in the Analogue domain, rather than getting obsessed over the latest and greatest DAC (the one in my Onkyo amp is fine), or obsessed alongside every other audiophile with Jitter...

The overall system is VERY usable, and works very fast, instantaneous seek, play/pause/stop. It's one less thing to switch on I think, like a CD player, streamer, BluRay player (what I was using previously for DLNA).
All I have to do to get music is to turn on the Amp.

Can you give me some more detailed instructions?

Yes, I can. Because I had to pull this together from a few websites and forums (fora?). Particularly getting album art etc right is a slight challenge, and the whole process can be time consuming. However, if you library is well setup (tagged, organised) in the first place, that will help too.

I've put my very detailed instructions elsewhere on this blog so just click here.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Cakes, Guitars, Handbags or Gadgets?

Sounds like a Rod Stewart song.

This weekend I've sampled most of these, in an attempt to make sense of the stress of things, and regain a bit of normality to the merry-go-round of work, kids, lack of sleep, family issues, and general stress. Sadly, recently, cake hasn't been able to solve most of these. Not even a Manuka-honey-propolis-seagrass cake could fix things recently. Nevertheless, I played my guitar for the first time in about 3 months yesterday, remembering that the songs I wrote a few years ago actually weren't TOO bad, and remembering how to play with any kind of speed. Even a passing neighbour who popped in to say hi grunted "quite nice" lol

On gadgets. I bought my 2nd Chromebook, the latest full HD Toshiba Chromebook 2.
Most folks LAUGH at these things.
Well, I bought one a few years ago, but Son no.1 kind of grabbed that, and I haven't really seen it much. The simplicity is outstanding.
We're all sick of how long it takes to setup and keep running a Windows laptop, from antivirus, spyware, controlling wanton windows updates, cleaning up.
Plus the Chromebook auto updates, and starts in about 3 seconds, works immensely fast for Google drive/docs, Facebook, Hangouts, Gmail, Spotify and ZX Spectrum Games... ;-)
I also prefer it to a tablet, especially a clunky bluetooth keyboard option.

Plenty of things still need Windows of course, like Calibre, using a separate browser like Firefox, FLAC ripping, phone backups, loading up & setting up my NAS, VLC etc etc
But this list is getting less and less I think.
Chromebooks are still much more than simple consumption devices, I've got my Galaxy Note3 phone or Android tablet for that.

Here's a picture of a Toasted Teacake I also had today in a cafe with my Dad, as I've been forgetting what cake and life is like.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Why iPod docks have SUCH a lot to answer for

Here's the thing.

When we had HiFi at home...

Do you remember when most folks had a 'HiFi' in their lounge? Perhaps a 'music centre' or even a separate amplifier, cd player, turntable - that kind of thing. Do you remember that? It's not so long ago really, I don't think I'm referring to the dark ages as such.......
Along came these things called 'mp3 players', from manufacturers like Archos, Zune, Sony, all kinds of little things. But we all waited for the iPod...didn't we? A cute little thing that could store your whole record collection, and using this piece of software on your home computer (iTunes) to create playlists....
And we could then put SO SO much of this music onto these devices, and carry them around with us. Like being 80s kids (that was me) with our Walkman devices again....
For me, that never worked.
The sound quality has always been poor on these devices.

I might well be an Audiophile...

You might paint me as an "audiophile", eh? That the sound is "good enough", and I must be some kind of purist, and why would I need amazing sound when on a bus, or in a crowded shopping centre? Hmmmm. Let me think about that. You see, mp3 (and the Apple - albeit much better .m4a replacement) was never designed to sound GOOD. It was designed to compress the filesize, based on what it considered the human ear could not register. I'm not going to bore you (hell, I bore my loved ones and myself enough) with the science behind that....but suffice to say, there is way too much of "just good enough and if you want more, you must be an AUDIOPHILE grrr" going around in audio right now, yet curiously.... curiously this doesn't seem to apply to Video movies, where everyone fully embraces BluRay..... yet mp3 is the equivalent of a VHS tape.....
But back to the subject.

Should we really care about sound quality?

So, we ended up with an iPod, holding vast quantities of our music collection. And how can we tell the difference, how do we know whether it's a "quality" sound or not? Do we care? Well, your average minidisc (remember those?) or CD walkman CARED. But now we don't. Tape walkmans with Dolby-S cared. And now.....now.... disk storage is cheap. Broadband speeds have increased HUGELY. So why do we still need mp3? The premise, the demand, the need - is broken.
Except, it isn't.
Because along came the iPod dock.
And we propogated this problem into our home, our listening environment, our ageing stereo systems which ended up in the loft, bought perhaps by the man of the household for his Pink Floyd collection, got covered in dust.
A lovely single box, popular in the home perhaps? Takes up much less space than a big ugly hifi (all those cables!) and the iPod that makes the bus or Tube journey simply slots in.
I *hate* the sound of these things.
The effort taken by a musician (I pretend to be one sometimes) to create an album on Vinyl or CD, is compressed to 1/20 of the size, and that piece of CD plastic... where is it? In your loft? Sold to music-magpie, or eBay? Or did you buy the music from iTunes or Amazon as an mp3 in the first place? That plastic then goes unused...

It's all down to personal choice...

Would Ridley Scott want you to view his latest masterpiece on VHS? Filmed in the latest HD technology, but you choose *all of the time* to watch it on a black and white portable telly? Of course.... this comes down to CHOICE, and that may be your choice, your economy, your lifestyle to do so, it's not for the director or the music produce to mandate the hardware upon you. But in the case of iPods, that have propogated, that choice has been dictated somewhat. I think that's my point.....
Plus movies are heading for 4K!!
But hey, you just like it for the convenience, and that Album Art, eh? ;-)

Is there an alternative?

So why hasn't someone come up with an alternative?
Well.... they have tried.
Heard of "Sonos"? Huge expensive home audio systems, very lifestyle, very designer, but still compressed audio, not even the level of a CD.
What about Bluetooth? I can do that to my stereo, even my car stereo, right?
You can.
But even aptX is compressed audio.
You fool!!! ;-) Fool!!!

I've heard of HDTracks, what about that?

These guys seem to have the answer, but isn't that just for 'Audiophiles"?
Well, hdtracks.com has been around for a while, and recently launched in the UK too. And it's true, that downloading audio at greater than CD quality, ie from the studio masters - high res - is desirable. But only if the production standard, mixing and mastering lives up to that. Case in point - much gritty 70s/80s recorded material was produced on 8bit hardware, or even designed to be "dirty" in the first place, without high-end recording techniques - purposely, or just a sign of the times...not much point in listening to that at 96kHz 24bit....
However, get that amp and those speakers out of the loft, THAT technology - particularly speakers - hasn't changed much in 30years, why does it need to? It's analogue.
As for HDTracks itself... in the right setting, with the right album, it can be good. I've used it. But you'd better have researched how that album was recorded - and you won't be doing that, will you?

This is besides the point, but what is?

Let's not get distracted talking about Hi-end audio. All we're asking for, well "I" am asking for - actually, I'm not asking for anything really.... is to just unlock those CDs again, I'm not even an exponent of Vinyl.... hell, I accepted the compromise of CD years ago, and digital done right (no excessive compression/loudness/remastering debacle aside) can sound smashing.... and I'm not just talking about the absence of crackles/pops/rumble that we were all originally sold on.

But here's why even Neil Young is too late

Well, yes, he might be.

It looks nice. But, too late. Everyone - as I've said above - believes that ANY level of quality music is ok for on the bus, in the car.
I've always wondered why we settle for this. I can tell the difference. However, we've heard mp3's for so long, that kids these days PREFER it, the increased treble ("tsssh" sound) is more enticing... the human ear hears these sounds, and in short comparison tests it sounds *clearer*. Yes?
This article also agrees that it's too late, and kids prefer mp3.

Should I just plugin my CD player? (if I've still got one)

Well, yes.
It would help.
By all means listen to your low quality mp3's on the bus, but not in the house.

Or, check your BluRay or DVD player. How do you have the audio connected up? You've got a shiny new LED/LCD telly, yes? Soundbar? Stupid surround sound cables and speakers everywhere? If the latter, is the BluRay player connected to an AV amp by optical cable? Well hey, maybe just pop that CD into the player then, and see what it sounds like. Your ears are the judge. Find an album you used to listen to, and the *sound* of it always captivated you. Not Rihanna's finest please, hey, I'll even allow you to find that Enya or Clannad CD you once had.

But this is the better answer - check your iTunes settings

I don't use iTunes. But if I did, I'd go into Edit -> Preferences menu, and click on "Import Settings". And then I'd change it to "Import using AAC Encoder". That way, you don't stupidly squash your music to a small file size (eg. for mp3 or m4a). You've got a big hard disk computer now, haven't you!
Then carry on using your iPod.
Change the firmware on your iPod (a bit like "jailbreaking" it) to use Rockbox.
But only if you're a geek.
A music geek.
Or just someone who doesn't see why music should DELIBERATELY SOUND BAD.

Like me.

PS. The first, YES, the first person to tell me that 320k mp3 sounds just as good as anything else, and is fine, and is good enough, and not even EXPERTS can tell the difference between it and a CD original.... that person will.... get ignored.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

My Month Without Sugar

You CAN have too much of a good thing, kids.
Even the UK NHS says "sugar should be halved", here.
So who am I to argue?
Well...I'm the girl who loves cake...
So on 1st Jan 2014, my partner and I set out to drastically reduce our sugar consumption: no cake, biscuits, puddings, desserts, chocolate etc etc etc you get the idea. My only concession was sugar in my tea or coffee, and "natural" products eg. honey and fruit. Now...I know there's an equal debate starting up about fructose...and honey...but hey.
I did it once before.
Years ago, when I was "diagnosed" (although it was a little bit of quackery) with "food intolerances", I elimnated a lot of the usual foods for several months - wheat, dairy, yeast, that kind of thing. As a by-product of that, I reduced sugar intake, thus...the whole fermenting mess of wheat, dairy, sugar was reduced. Result? Healthier. Hard to explain. It's all about digestion.

This morning is February 1st, so the plan was CAKE FOR BREAKFAST. !!!!
But I didn't feel like it.
I'd got used to my bowl of (no sugar) muesli, so I had that.......

I might have to change the title of this blog ;-)

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The first Single I bought (oh dear)

ABBA - so cool...
Head over Heels (with "The Visitors") as the B-side, by ABBA.
Yes, the first single I bought. I was 13.
I could've bought "Run to the Hills" by Iron Maiden, or Golden Brown by The Stranglers.
But I was into Kate Bush, The Beatles, Police, Dylan, Blondie.
I was only thirteen.
My mum liked Abba. I liked Abba. Everyone liked Abba! Didn't they?
I didn't have to buy the others I mentioned...my elder brothers already did... I just scratched them (not deliberately).
Our copy of The Beatles White Album had a serious scratch 4 seconds into Martha my Dear, that I *still* hear to this day...even though it's long gone on my CD version...
So there you go. I love music, listening, making, studying...I try to be knowledgeable, but I'm so not cool... ;-)
By the way, it's still a good song! I listened to it tonight, but...the B side is better...all moody synth pop, Abba trying to move with the times.

Monday, 25 November 2013

There be Albums!!?

When did you last listen to an Album? Using whatever electronic or manual device, wax cylinder or holographic playback, iPod, computer or Walkman?
I mean the WHOLE album, not a compilation, not a greatest hits, not on 'shuffle', not a playlist, and not with gaps between the tracks, but in the order the artist intended.
Did you listen without volume 'normalisation' or 'replay gain' (see me afterwards if you're unsure), ie with the dynamic range, the light and shade that the artist intended?
Hey, I'll forgive you for using EQ. It makes sense.
Where was I?
My boys said "but why would you want to listen to all those tracks by the same person?"
Am I old?
Absolutely not.
An album is a glorious thing, and I relish *so* much the snapshot it gives, the imagery, I am transported to a different place, on a journey they intended, or perhaps accidental.
Like a good book, your imagination can run riot here, the immersion is absolute.
Now, if you're listening to Rihanna whilst you're reading this (I hope not) then you probably won't get what I'm saying.
Maybe that's the equivalent of musical-snobbery....?
Apologies! From the heart of my bottom!
But seriously, albums are cool.
And, despite what I said at the beginning, it doesn't matter what the medium is, doesn't need to be vinyl or 8-track, as long as you listen to the whole thing, and appreciate the order of the tracks, the story, the effort, the selection of tracks that the artist has made.
Appreciate the sound, the production, purchase every album by an artist, listen to the differences, what era it's from, and what musical styles seep in.
Are there artists you like, favourite albums of theirs...maybe there are albums you're missing?
They're often better than the obvious singles.
What made the cut, what went as a B - side.....?
Do those even exist anymore!!!?
This isn't a whinge about the state of the music business, or the charts, because the simple truth is that there's great stuff out there, on every single era, that doesn't change, you just gotta look hard for it...and tools like Spotify, last.fm etc etc just make that easier to link from artist to artist, and that's gotta be a good thing!
Trying to teach my boys to step outside the TV music channel into the world of ageless music from every decade, now that's another thing.
Maybe then, they'll Love Albums Too.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Songwriting - personal style in melody

I'm reading an interesting article about how recordable "melody style" is with some singers... The more I read, the more music theory is thrown around...that turns me off a bit I must admit...still, I agree with what's written here, even though I find it all a bit...well...over-analysing, a bit like reducing famous artistry to numbers...but no, the analysis and *understanding* and interpretation is very valuable...

OR....it's all just a right LOAD OF NONSENSE?

"When Morrissey came to fame as vocalist of The Smiths, I often heard or read the opinion that the band's songs sounded too similar to each other. One major reason for this was Morrissey's use of certain step-wise movements in his melodies, regardless of what the chord sequences were doing. He was fond of starting tunes on the fifth note of the scale and moving step-wise down: 5, 4, 3 and then to 1. He also excluded any blues notes and blues-influenced phrasing. This gave The Smiths a more English sound. Around the time of the albums Green and Out Of Time, Michael Stipe of R.E.M repeatedly moved from scale degrees 1 to 4 and 3, exploiting the tension of the 4. Joni Mitchell often ends phrases on the blue b7 note and the rises slowly to the 1. Her melodies are also full of unpredictable leaps and descents. Paul Rodgers of Free established and immediately recognisable style with heavy use of blues notes, especially the b3 and b7. Many classic Beach Boys tunes have phrases that end with a decorative 5-4-3 flourish, a trick copied by 1990s bands like Supergrass in "Alright" (bridge) and Foo Fighters in "This Is A Call". Natalie Merchant's melodies with 10,000 Maniacs were often similar to each others. During the mid-1960s Dylan often created tension in his melodies by singing the fourth note of his underlying chord."

Thursday, 24 October 2013


I love my Kindle. With it, the number of books I read has increased tenfold. But, today, and many many days, I'm sat in a bookshop, holding (analogue) books, smelling them, whispering quietly (yet it isn't a library) like everyone else.
It'll be the absolute crime of the century if book shops disappear, leaving only the soulless in soulless supermarket shelves...

Band On The Run...better than Sgt Pepper

Sure, sure...a weird thing to say? 

Preferring Wings to The Beatles? (you might prefer neither) 

Well, no.
If you like early era Beatles, kinda up to and including Revolver I suppose, then you'll have a good argument. However, I prefer the later stuff - White Album etc
But there's a problem with that. Mecca was no longer co-writing much with Lennon on this later stuff, and for every "Blackbird" there was an "O Bla Di O Bla Da". You see?
Denny Lane filled that gap I think.

Which means that I hugely prefer Band On The Run to Sgt Pepper... :-)

(favourite track - "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five") 

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

One of the many (MANY) reasons why I love Caitlin Moran

"Who?", you say? Well, wise up. She's a pretty damn (and pretty) witty broadcaster, author, tv critic... that kind of thing... one of the reasons I used to buy The (UK) Times newspaper. Anyway, that's what Wikipedia is for.
She wrote the following ages ago, and it shows IMHO why she's an all round good egg, and lovely person n that.  One particularly smashing paragraph is:
"One of humanity’s less loveable tropes is an ability to get hurt, self-righteous and huffy about someone else’s problem. It’s amazing that “normal” people would turn on some transgender kid and go, “But what about meeeeee? What about myyyyyyy kids?” It’s a bit like those dads in the maternity wards who complain about being exhausted."


Funny, clever stuff too.

(c) Caitlin Moran, Moranthology 2013
In Wolverhampton in 1991, we had two male-to-female transsexuals, who would unfailingly be in the chip shop at the end of Victoria Street at 2 AM, sobering up on curry sauce and chips after a night out clubbing.
As I went past them on the 512 bus, I would feel a kinship with them—a kinship that I would try to project through the glass.
“I feel as if I were born in the wrong body, too!” I would think, loudly, at them. “You were trapped, unhappily, in the bodies of men. I too am unhappily trapped—in the body of a fat virgin with a bad haircut. I wish I could have an operation to sort things out, like you guys—I mean ladies.”
I was reminded of what a moron I was this September, when a ten-year-old boy returned to school after the summer holidays as a girl. As the media coverage made clear, some parents at the school claimed to be “outraged.”
“We should have been consulted,” one said—presumably imagining a scenario where parents regularly throw open the raising of their children to a school-wide committee of other parents; possibly via a Facebook page called “Penis or Vagina: YOU Choose Which One You Think Suits My Weeping Child Best.”
Then, last week, the Department of Education announced that it was considering that schoolchildren be taught about transgender equality—which was greeted, again, with a predictable series of complaints.
Margaret Morrissey, founder of campaigning group Parents Outloud, said: “We are overloading our children with issues they shouldn’t have to consider.”
This is an interesting stance to take on an issue—mainly because of its unappealing and extreme impoliteness. We have to remember that the descriptor “our children” includes both transgender kids (0.1 percent of the population), and kids who live in a world with transgender kids (the other 99.09 percent)—thus comprising 100 percent of all the world’s children.
With those kinds of stats, it seems to be a good idea to enable children in learning about it nice and early on—before they start getting the kind of weird ideas adults have. We constantly underestimate children in these situations. I recall, when I was a teenager, the suggestion of “lessons” in homosexuality being decried for similar reasons of “complexity.” A generation later, and I watch kids in the playground, arguing over who should play the bisexual Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who—who fancied both Rose and the Doctor. Not only do they seem to have got their heads around it quite easily—but they’re incorporating it into games involving time-travel, wormholes and paradox, too.
And, anyway, as a general rule of thumb, I don’t think we need worry much about overloading kids with interesting philosophical subjects that help them develop both understanding, and tolerance of, other human beings. That’s like worrying that the Beatles might have made Sgt. Pepper “too good.” That’s what’s supposed to happen. Carry on! Everything’s fine!
One of humanity’s less loveable tropes is an ability to get hurt, self-righteous and huffy about someone else’s problem. It’s amazing that “normal” people would turn on some transgender kid and go, “But what about meeeeee? What about myyyyyyy kids?” It’s a bit like those dads in the maternity wards who complain about being exhausted.
And as a strident feminist, I’m always saddened by other feminists who rail against male-to-female transgenders—claiming you can only be born a woman, and not “become” one.
Holy moly, ladies—what exactly do you think is going wrong here? Having your male genitals remodeled as female, then committing to a lifetime of hormone therapy, sounds like a bit more of a commitment to being a woman than just accidentally being born one. And, besides, it’s an incredibly inhospitable stance to take. Personally, anyone who wants to join the Lady Party is welcome as far as I’m concerned. The more the merrier! Anyone who’s been rejected by The Man is a friend of mine!
Anyway. Since I was an ill-shorn sixteen-year-old on the bus, I’ve found out that the word isn’t “normal”—it’s “cis.” In Latin, the opposite of “trans” is “cis”—and so most of humanity is “cisgender.” This opens language up to a subsequent possibility: finally finding the “otherness” in transgender fascinating, and useful. We’ll hurl satellites out into space, in order to find new and enthralling wonders—but we could simply turn to someone next to us, and ask a question about their life, instead. We endlessly debate what it is to be a man, or what it is to be a woman—when there are people who walk the Earth who’ve been both. If transgender people didn’t exist, we’d probably be trying to spend billions of pounds trying to invent them. Instead, we won’t even tell kids they exist.
I think Caitlin was probably talking about a famous schoolgirl case the year before last (Livvy James), and it saddens me to have to link to the disgraceful Daily Mail, but there you go.  The biggest issue in the case was "what the other parents might think".  Exactly.

The whole book is highly recommended (as is her previous one) and can be found at UK Amazon here:

Friday, 23 August 2013

Lipstick for a week

It sounds unbearably vain and prissy for a 44 year old woman to wear lipstick as a challenge, every day, for a week.
Was I serenaded or given gifts by strangers?
Did I garner more respect in meetings?
Neither really.
I probably just felt even more self conscious than usual, and hid it behind the usual veil of snootiness... (I do a good line in this)
Didn't get any "are you going out tonight?" comments either.
Just lipstick on my drinking mug.
I've had a busy week at work. Very busy indeed. Things such as lipstick aren't really that important in my world... but, when you think about it... EVERYTHING is important, isn't it? The little things? Little things that make you feel better, or little changes?
There's nothing wrong with confidence building... or challenging yourself.
Of course, for some people, that's kayaking down the Nile, or Extreme Ironing.
I think I'll continue the experiment.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Lloyd on Swedish Telly

Lloyd Cole - Period Piece... of course, the original video is better, this isn't his best performance, but it's the first time I've seen him on telly for many a year
The original video is always here http://youtu.be/YCBJ8BVy49w

So here he is last month on Swedish Telly

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

A Bit Of Love For Neil Finn

I was in a bad way in 1993. Not all that long out of University, I thought I could handle a job with a top company (Oracle). Many things happened. Some of them worked out. A lot of them didn't. A lot of them are a long story.
But I knew a couple of folks a bit, and they invited me to Crowded House playing in Manc, I think it was. I invited them to see Tori Amos (!) We both agreed, after her gig, that the latter was a terrible gig, so full of herself! (but these days, I quite like some of her stuff, back then she was just aping Kate).
But in my arrogance, I turned down the Crowded House gig.
They never went with me to a gig again.
So so stupid.
A few years after they'd (Crowded House that is) split up, I found my love for them.
"It's Only Natural", as Neil would say (no lols there).

This is his best album (although "The Finn Brothers" is pretty close)
Any album that uses an E-Bow is cool? Like REM! Look it up :-) :-)
This album had a US release, that was produced slightly differently, and had a different running order, and replaced a couple of duff tracks.
It really benefitted from that...I'm still a big believer in ALBUMS... and the order and feel of the tracks, it as a piece of production in its entirety, you know?
Bob Clearmountain also had a hand in some of the USA version (called "One All" as opposed to "One Nil" for the UK/Europe) that was released 14 months later!  Also in the credits is Mitchell Froom (married to Suzanne Vega a way back, and you'll see him on her albums),  and Sheryl Crow.  All good stuff, agree?
These guys credits...just speak for themselves.
But, then again, I'm one of those people that read the liner notes...
Do you?

So let's have some Neil Finn love.

Here's my playlist (why not?) :
She Will Have Her Way
Rest Of The Day Off
Say That Again
Driving Me Mad
Even A Child
Better Be Home Soon
Don't Dream It's Over
It's Only Natural
Four Seasons In One Day
Last To Know
Recurring Dream
You Can Touch
Disembodied Voices
Won't Give In
A Life Between Us

And I wish I'd gone to that gig.
Never did see them, or him live.
The Apollo in Manchester, I think.
I might be wrong.

So let's not forget that Neil is a master songwriter.
Never more so than in this company of Graham Gouldon (10cc) and Roddy Frame (Aztec Camera) on the BBC Songwriter's Circle programme I watched a few years ago.
Watch him tell the story of how he wrote "Better Be Home Soon" within 5 minutes of getting out of bed.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Over The Bridge!

Ok, I'm gonna talk about songwriting a bit. Feel free to switch off! ;-)
I reckon that songs need a "Bridge".
"What is it?", I hear you ask? Or maybe not. We're in a virtual world, after all...
Well, if you read Wikipedia, it goes on about offering a "contrasting section" to the verse/chorus of the song. I tend to disagree, or add that I feel it offers an alternative viewpoint in terms of the lyrics... and quite often from a distance or a distance in time, a reflection...
The link below (NME website), gives quite a few examples of songs, and how important the Bridge (or "Middle 8" - used more in the UK I'd say) is to the song. I totally agree with their example of The Beatles "We Can Work It Out" and Lennon's "Life is very short.." Bridge/Middle8 line in response to Macca.
You know it?
Take a look.

Or for a more amateur example, take a listen to my "Are Ya Happy Now" (blog music section), where I whinge about "There could be hope in many places" as a response to the depression described in the verse/chorus lyrics. The only problem with it? Well, most songs with a regular structure involving a Bridge would have Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus-Chorus. But when I recorded that, it ran to more than 4 1/2 minutes! And I felt it was too boring, so cut out a verse in the editing, throwing in the Bridge after the first Verse/Chorus. The result is a satisfying 3 minute song, but it actually feels unbalanced, because I wanted to have a quite Verse1/Chorus and then a build up in Verse2, without the Bridge inbetween!

Having said ALL OF THIS, there are loads of songs that don't have a Bridge, and way many that don't actually have a Chorus either.
Quite often, a song sounds like it has a great deal of different elements, but these can be a "PreChorus" - simply something that hints that a chorus is coming, and builds musically to it, or even a song with only Verses.
The principle and important element (at least if we're gonna listen to it lol) is a "Hook" (ideally several of these), and a great Payoff of course is to hear the title somewhere in the song... rules are meant to be broken... in fact, there ARE no rules, rather, these are ideas, techniques, theories that we've all documented based on songs folks have written!

Here's also an interesting blog on song chord progressions, for the Bridge.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

More than 6 inches please

Everything is getting bigger. People. Food portions. Cars. Phones.
Waiting in the dentist surgery the other day, she saw me reading a book on my Galaxy Note... "is that an eReader?", she said. I replied that it was a phone...
(I didn't use the word "Phablet" to her... I was too worried about the upcoming dental work...)

A couple of years ago, folks LAUGHED at such things... more than 5 inches was just... painful!!
But now... Everyone can't get enough. Neither can I. The Samsung Galaxy Mega? 6.3 inches please!
Or I might just wait for the Galaxy Note 3...
BUT NOT IF IT'S LESS THAN 6 INCHES! It just makes YouTube, books, web browsing, Facebook... everything better. I make most calls in the car, using a headset, I only occasionally look stupid putting it to my head.
I think that there's a reason that these are increasingly marketed towards women.
...because we carry a handbag/purse...so pockets aren't an issue...

And I can take the size...

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Mini guitars - form or fashion?

Joan Baez (martin 045)
Mini guitars have always been around.
Particularly in blues and folk, the term "Parlour Guitar" has been used.
But I think it's always been more suited to the folk ethic, and particularly suits finger picking.
Take a look at this pic of Joan Baez playing a Martin 0-45 (courtesy Wikipedia)
They just sit in the lap better, easier to lean back on your sofa (risking a bad back, use plenty of lovely cushions lol) and while away the hours plinking and plonking away.
A real good example of a modern smaller form-factor guitar is the Taylor GS-Mini like in the pic below. I've got one of these, and I was blown away by the sound when I tried it out. It has a slightly rounded out back.
Amazing thing.
It just lacks a pickup, and the one you can buy for it doesn't seem all that amazing.
And they do one in Mahogany as well...which to me sounds a bit unnecessary...it's already quite a hard sound.
For me, Ed Sheeran takes it to the limit, with his "baby" guitar. (his gear guide is here). Apparently, it's a Martin LX1E. Of course, the Baby (and "Big Baby") Taylor has been around for a while, but this is a *Martin* and is electro-acoustic too...
Do I like it?
Yes actually.
These guitars are also useful because they don't have too much low-end "boominess" which is a real boon when recording, and sometimes DI from the pickup also works surprisingly well.
I mean, for your typical singer-songwriter, a Dreadnought or a Jumbo aren't particularly appropriate, not least they're a bit massive when stood up and finger picking.
Suzanne Vega favours an "auditorium" style guitar, which is entirely another subject, and given she's an idol of mine, one which I won't go into here... It'll take too long!
So, recently, given that I started out playing a classical guitar when I was a kid, I think there's a place for "crossover" guitars. I've seen some artists playing electro-classical guitars... and particularly when it is coupled with a low profile fast neck, then I think it's a winner... I even went to the extent of buying a Taylor electro-nylon guitar... but I sent it back, as the neck was still too wide, and the guitar itself too large... it was essentially "grand auditorium" as opposed to "travel guitar".
And that's the last phrase I'll leave you with... Travel Guitar. Would you take your fancy Martin or Taylor mini guitar travelling with you? Well... guitars are meant to be played, so why not!!!?
The Holy Grail?
A travel/parlour/mini guitar (whatever you want to call it) that's actually got some colour and design and style to it!! I've way too many beige guitars!!!
What about this mini Ovation / Applause? I had a larger "Applause" when I was a student, and the playability and Bass was outstanding. Why did I get rid of it? Why are they no longer in fashion, being something of an 80s thing? Dunno... thoughts on a postcard.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Songwriting - a terminally inadequate approach

I'll never be satisfied.
In the context of living a life with regrets, is "not being able to write songs that are any good" an acceptable one???
"Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets" - Arthur Miller.
That. Makes. Sense.
I play the guitar, but struggle with not being in the right LIFE position to write songs...always working, dealing with kids, sleeping, finding a house, eating cake (the last bit isn't so bad).
I remember writing one particular song in 40 minutes. Sat at my guitar, leaning over a notebook (old fashioned paper style...you think I type my songs!?) alternating between a pen and a plectrum in my mouth.
And that was good. Life was sweet. The song? Heartfelt, quick, reactionary, immediate, raw. As you'd expect!
I read something about the approach that Elton John takes, to writing music at least. He will often hear or copy something, then change it beyond recognition. I've been trying that recently. It's a common technique. Also, with lyrics, key phrases, sayings, adages, maxims... these are all really really important, so the Interwebs is a useful thing to search them out.
My mum asked me once..."what comes first? the music or the lyrics?", and the fact is, everyone does it differently... some songs they kinda happen together. A lot of music comes to me when I'm falling asleep, and hardly ever to I get out of bed and write it down or record it. Quite often, with a guitar at least, your fingers start to follow a set-pattern, a well-worn and travelled route...and this doesn't lead to anything *new*, so songs can end up sounding the same... My brother once told me many many years ago that "you should play what's in your head, find a way for your fingers to play it". That's so so true. Not always possible, but true. I try. It isn't easy.
I don't know what the answer is. Sometimes I think that really bad things must happen, to give inspiration!!! Other songs I write from memory, drawing on past experiences. Suzanne Vega is very much an observant artist, imagining scenarios for strangers. Lloyd Cole has been married since his 20s, but still writes great angst-ridden songs that whilst not speaking of heartbreak as such, describe the coldness that can exist in a relationship, for instance. I heard that his wife was a touch upset by one of his albums!
So, it's tricky.
I think the best songs, or at least the best ones I imagine, or have created a bit...are those where the songs has an instant and obvious "attitude" or style... and this isn't always easy, when dealing with acoustic guitar focussed music. Because, I write in the context of the whole song - "Are Ya Happy Now" isn't a guitar song, for me it's more about the drums and the synths in the later part - I'm most proud of a 5 second section where the synth strings swell to a climax just before the closing section.
So in conclusion, maybe I need to be more goal-oriented for a while at least, and finish a song, or write a new one and take it to full conclusion and recording. That'll help my feeling of inadequacy...and satisfy my occasional geeky computer recording and mixing side ;-) (the downside being that it means many VERY late nights...*sigh*)

My Amazon LLoyd Cole - Standards review

This is what I want from a Lloyd Cole album.
I was highly privileged to be part of a group of select fans who received this early, so I've had a couple of weeks to listen.
It's the strongest A side since Rattlesnakes (remember the Perfect Skin, Rattlesnakes, Forest Fire combo?), with California Earthquake (a cover, rare for Lloyd) kicking things off, and Period Piece, Women's Studies and Myrtle and Rose being VERY strong songs. The latter is now one of my all-time favourites, Lloyd's voice is mature and strong on this. It's a very powerful song.
Side B (do folks still talk about "sides"?) has Blue Like Mars (would easily sit on the Commotions "Mainstream" album in my opinion) and Opposite's Day...the latter is a very contemporary sound in my opinion.
The only thing that lets down the album is the pace... there are some forays into deeper "country" music territory than has been usual for Lloyd, never more apparent than the end of side A ("No Truck").
My HUGE realisation is that this album...well... ROCKS. The energy and vigour is amazing (apparently motivated by Lloyd reviewing Dylan's new album and realising what energy the 72 year old icon still throws out in his albums).
This is a wonderful album, and I'm stunned by it, to be honest...

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Lloyd Cole - Standards - DN.se Kultur (swedish) review

Translated on Lloyd's facebook page (with some grammatical corrections):

Once he was described as "the Dylan of the 80's", and as a "talkative bookworm". He´s still happy to discuss and talk, still a dedicated golf player...who never smiles in pictures...Lloyd Cole.

He's bang up to date with his new electrified disc, "Standards", and is in good spirits despite a few hours of sleep. He has just arrived from Malmö to Stockholm on his month-long European tour, that doesn't consist of performances - just interviews about the new album "Standards" for newspapers, television and radio. But he notes that it is probably the last PR trip he will make. It takes too much energy, costs too much and delivers too little back in record sales and therefore un-economical.
"If the "Standards" album will not sell much more than my last album, I will continue to focus on getting my records to those who already are my fans. Chasing new listeners costs too much, and if I only lived to make records, then I would have gone bankrupt long ago", says Lloyd Cole and points out that it´s the concerts that enables him, after all, to be doing well. "I'm not young, I'm not new, I'm not particularly exciting, and even if you like my music and have a lot of my records, perhaps you maybe will feel in the end that you have enough. So I will make music as long as I have the ideas and motivation. But to reach the mass audience...no...those days are probably past." In the 1980s and early 1990s,

Lloyd Cole, first with The Commotions and then solo, was a genuine pop star - one whose picture covered the music newspapers, and he became accustomed to being hailed for his academic centred lyrics that were packed with references to literature and were beautiful songs too. Despite record label hassles and a music industry undergoing significant change - and despite the hype - he has continued to do what he has always done : music with an intellectual touch. "In 1984 I thought I was the one of the world's best songwriters. I still think I have something of my own, something no one else has. Although no one will care", explains Lloyd Cole with a wry smile. After many years of stripped-down/spartan acoustic music, he felt that he wanted to play with a rock and roll band again, the very same as the time when he worked on the acclaimed discs "Lloyd Cole" and "Don't get weird on me, babe" 1990 and 1991.

Thus, for "Standards", he has brought along drummer Fred Maher and bassist Matthew Sweet, but also his son Will Cole on guitar. "I've lectured on songwriting and like to analyze, ponder and discuss pop music, but the songs I like best are the ones that just come...those that can not be explained. So it was now...for the first time in a long time I dared to be more bombastic and epic in my lyrics. It feels so good, not to be cautious or restrained", Lloyd Cole claims.