October 14, 2006
October's eMusic Downloads
I got this idea from Ortho_Bob. But my selections are less weird than his. Perhaps.
Show of Hands: Backlog 1987-1991, Covers, The Path and Lie of the Land. A ton of Show of Hands turned up and I took the opportunity to pick up all the stuff I didn't already have. Show of Hands are Phil Beer and Steve Knightley. Knightley writes songs and sings and plays several instruments very well, and Phil Beer sings and plays loads of instruments very well indeed. They regularly win awards for 'Best Duo' (although there are often three of them these days) or 'Best Live Band', and they're massive festival favourites. The core of their music is songs by Steve Knightley, telling tales of the West Country, often political. But they're quite careful about this; they're never so determined about their rural England politics that it might turn off their large town audiences. Nevertheless, they're one of several bands that are wildly popular with festival crowds but get zero radio play, and we assume that's because they're too political for the BBC to have any truck with them. They normally sprinkle in some more historical songs, the odd traditional song, a cover or two and some instrumentals.
Lie of the Land is the odd one out here; it's a perfectly ordinary studio album that I just happened to miss in my long habit of buying Show of Hands. The Path is an instrumental concept album; the sights of the South West Coast Path depicted in music. Backlog 1987-1991 consists of the best tracks culled from their early cassettes. I'm a bit grumpy about this sort of thing. As with the Oysterband's Before the Flood, I'd be much happier if they released this material complete. But I understand that these 'best of our juvenilia' compilations are much more likely to work commercially. Finally, Covers is just what you expect. Some of these songs, like Tom Robinson's "Rigging it Up, Duncannon" or Billy Joel's "Downeaster Alexa", feel very like Knightley's songwriting; contemporary tales of men at work.
Värttinä are not a heavy metal band, despite the ümlauts. They're a Finnish folk band who have broken away a little from the tradition of women singing unaccompanied. They came to my attention because they played with Eliza Carthy at Wychwood last summer. I didn't see them there, but friends did. Iki is a fairly recent studio album, and I found it on eMu by seeing what else had been issued by Westpark, Bellowhead's record label. Reviews of this album say 'they've shed their frantic edge', so I suspect I may have to go and find some earlier stuff; I do like frantic edges.
The Handsome Family, of course, played with the Big Session at the Bush Hall recordings. The Oysterband fans find them weird, but I quite liked them; modern songwriting and reinterpretations of the American versions of the murder ballads. But not quite enough to buy full price, and there was only a live set on eMusic (which I have). But eMusic UK is not the same as the original eMusic, and the Handsome Family is one of the acquisitions. Unusual this; the girl writes the songs and the boy sings. Last Days of Wonder is their new studio album. Over at their website (which they do themselves), the 'news' page gives you helpful Halloween advice on the discovery and capture of witches.
We saw Jo Mango supporting Alasdair Roberts at the Luminaire a year or so ago; she had only an EP then but I marked her as one to watch. This is her first album, Paperclips and Sand: sweet, fragile music.
Another band we've seen live is Old Crow Medicine Show; at the Cambridge Folk Festival, and they didn't really make much of an impression. Big Iron World is their new album, and I've downloaded it to give them another chance. I think they play lively, bluesy bluegrass, but, as I said, they didn't make much of an impression. Lots of people I respect rate them though.
October 13, 2006
I have a cold and am feeling very sorry for myself. I have stuck to my resolution not to play video games, despite the fact that at my current intellectual level, I could no more write my dissertation than fly.
My mood was not improved by attempting to preorder a Wii from a large and formerly reliable games shop: it's rejected both my credit cards on a range of different browsers. I conclude that it's just overloaded or something. Phone booking line is closed; I'll try again tomorrow.
On the other hand, Cute Overload has capybaras today! Definitely my favourite Rodent of Unusual Size. Also in the blessings count; I ordered a tshirt of my melodeon marmite design (reworked into a more tshirt friendly shape) from TShirt Studio. I picked them more or less at random because they had the colour of shirt I wanted (oatmeal) and their site didn't break using Camino. But the tshirt is lovely; by far the nicest custom shirt I've ordered. It just doesn't have any of the normal flaws of custom shirts. So I'll be using them again, for sure.
If you haven't yet voted in the Cumbria Top Dog competition, then by all means go and support the very sfnal Hugo "PaperbackWriter" Gernsback, the not-so-tiny Basset Hound.
I ordered and received Maggie's Melodeon, a D/G tutor book with CD. It's a very agreeable tutor, starting from 'this is which way up you hold it' and taking you through to 'off you go to a session and practise'. There's a strong focus in this one on learning to play the basses rhythmically (in march, waltz, jig and hornpipe), with only a little at the end about different bass patterns, different bass rhythms and row crossing. I could have really done with this book six months ago, before it was ready! Now it feels like good material for consolidation but I find myself faunching for the next book. The key thing I want to know: how, when you hear a new tune, do you work out which basses will sound really good with it? I suspect this is a bit like chicken-sexing, and after you've played for 10,000 hours, it's easy. Also this week, I have for the first time managed to play a song and sing along to it at the same time without it sounding absolutely awful. The song is Burl Ives' The Lollipop Tree (sorry, the official Burl Ives website is so ghastly I can't link to it), which I was very fond of when I was six or so. I need to do a photoshop to go with this tune though, ready for when I record it in Garageband.
Make it Folky, one of my favourite podcasts, on Cambridge Community radio, has a new episode available. They've also started pledge-driving, so I've sent them some money and offered help with the show. I also renewed my membership to Radio Britfolk, who hadn't emailed me to let me know it was running out, apparently in an effort to avoid spam. Also in my 'recently added' music are a couple of free Tom Waits downloads from eMusic, and the Spiers and Boden Womad set from Radio 3 (you'll need Audio Hijack or similar to save it). But about 60% of my listening at the moment is still Bellowhead. I'm sure I'll get tired of it at some point.
Back home in Walthamstow, the big event tomorrow is our Apple Day celebration at the Vestry House Museum. A grand day out to be sure. Last Sunday we went on the Walthamstow Family Bike Ride for the first time and had a very jolly time. It's really rather nice to be riding out with a group of people who understand the business of taking children on bikes. That ride happens on the second Sunday of the month, but I think November (which we will miss) will be the last one. We fetched up in the forecourt of the Nag's Head for a well-earned pint, fortunately before their 7:30pm Child Curfew.
October 09, 2006
A Girl Can Never Have Too Many Small Screwdrivers
My beloved Sony Ericsson K750i, the best phone I've ever owned, developed a fault. The camera stopped working, all of a sudden. No damage or anything, no sign that anything was wrong, no pictures. I don't want to replace it just yet because its obvious successor, the CyberShot phone, feels rather 1.0 to me. Also, it's bigger than the K750i and I'm not sure I want a bigger phone. So I want to wait for the next generation of camera phones. And having had a camera phone for over a year, I find I can't live without that sense of always, always, having the camera with me.
I'd never properly opened up anything as fiddly as a phone before. And I needed a new screwdriver! A Torx T6. I had some larger Torx, but none of the tiny ones. By a strange coincidence, Maplin has just opened a branch on the Strand, for all my superfluous technology needs. Got the driver, did the repair (as well as the T6, I needed my tiniest Philips, and a flat thin piece of plastic to free the cover clips -- they recommended a guitar pick, but I used a 16Mb SmartMedia card), and my phone works again.
October 07, 2006
The tube is covered with ads for Squeezy Marmite. You either love it or hate it, with artwork of things we love or hate, mostly hate.
A typical ad:
I fell to thinking. Squeezy is the nickname of famed melodeon player John Spiers. And melodeons are the sort of thing you either love or hate, right? And it was ages since I'd given my Intuos a proper workout.
One slightly altered Squeezy Marmite ad.
Spiers is of course the melodeon player in Bellowhead, and the much anticipated album launch at Bush Hall last night was Just Fab. Victorian costumes in profusion and great music.
October 02, 2006
The Vow of Electronic Chastity
Well, I have missed the deadline for my dissertation. Desperate measures are called for. I have vowed to play no video games* until it is complete. That little asterisk is the exceptions, which are:
- I can play DDR, because it makes me fitter and because I can't play for long enough to truly bugger up the dissertation.
- I can play Nintendo or moby games if I'm stuck somewhere unexpectedly with nothing to do.
- Er, that's it...
This still rules out 99% of all known games. And I have done no gaming since Thursday. Which has given me plenty of time for non-gaming activity. Like, say, blogging.
I definitely need to plug Fission, which is the new stripped down lossless audio editor from Rogue Amoeba. Rogue Amoeba's products seem to be designed to reflect real life workflows. They observed that many people were using Audio Hijack Pro to grab a lengthy audio file, and then needed to trim it a bit and split it into tracks. And the programs that could do that were either high-end, complex or lossy. Or all three. Fission still feels a little bit 1.0ish, but it basically does the exact task that I need to do all the time. And I think the icon, which is dead simple and reflects both audio editing and nuclear fission, is perhaps the finest I have ever seen.
I basically love it; it replaced a minidisc which I'd used for several years after buying super cheap on eBay (I would still, I think, recommend second-hand minidisc recorders as a way to get started recording on the cheap). Basically, the festival workflow went from 'look for blank minidiscs, curse lack of blank minidiscs, try to find somewhere that still stocks minidiscs, fill backpack with minidiscs, put blank in recorder, record, curse lack of adequate level meters, keep eye on watch because disc runs out in 80 minutes and many sets are longer than that, keep eye on watch because batteries run out completely randomly, make sure minidisc record-protection is set because it's incredibly easy to tape over them by mistake, carefully spend spare time at festivals labelling and sorting minidiscs, get home with massive pile of minidiscs, slowly get round to transferring them at 1-1 time to the computer using Audio Hijack Pro over the course of the winter' to 'put R-09 and mic in pocket (and it doesn't actually matter if you forget the mic, which is a win), record, change batteries between concerts, transfer files in a couple of minutes when you get home'.
When I first started using it I was using a 2Gb Kingston card and it was apparently prone to corruption; I didn't lose any files but I did have to transfer some of them at 1-1. I have since switched to Sandisk since when I have had no problems. Touch wood. Weirdly, I am fairly sure my Sandisk card is a fake. But it works.
The only other criticism I have of the R-09 is that it has a massive and incredibly obvious red light-up record button. I am sure this is handy if you're recording legitimately, but given how small and inconspicuous the R-09 is otherwise, a record button that's clearly visible 100 yards away and incredibly distinctive is not the perfect choice for anyone who might be stealth recording (perish the thought). It is the same weight and very slightly larger than a minidisc recorder (but substantially smaller than, say, a minidisc recorder & a pack of five discs).
I mostly use my R-09 with my Sony ECM-719 mic; I've done test recordings with the internal mics and they sound fine. I am not a good person to judge audiophile quality. I am rarely recording material where purity of sound is the key consideration, and I am a coarse recorder to boot; I record in MP3 and I leave AGC turned on. (Because recording is normally very much a secondary consideration; I'm mostly there to enjoy the music).
I probably should also have mentioned that it runs on AA batteries (good!) but that the battery case is so badly designed they ship a special warning (bad!). And there have been reports of weaknesses in the mic input.
Anyway, the combination of the Edirol and Fission mean that there's some realistic chance of my processing all the live recordings I make now. I do still have a big minidisc backlog.
Headphones for neighbours appeal: One of my 101 things is to play in a band. For the last few days, Steven, Marianne and I have been playing Rakes of Mallow, very slowly, on recorder, fiddle and melodeon. Marianne doesn't have all the notes yet (one of the trials of violin is that it's taught in a way that means you can't play tunes for ages). But she's just got her music for the 'Violin III' line in the local primary school string orchestra; given that the song is Sloop John B, we expect to be able to join in in yer actual harmony.
Keep music live: we've been getting out a bit, in fact. We saw two shows in the Spitz festival of folk, Jim Moray and Show of Hands. Show of Hands was very lively, with them obviously relishing playing in a pub full of enthusiastic fans. Jim Moray was capably aided by Jamie Delarre on fiddle and Nick Cooke on melodeon; the overall sound was very good at this one and I hope he continues to tour with traditional musicians. I don't think it's just my folkie predjudices that cause me to prefer this to his electric band.
We saw Jah Wobble and his English Roots Band at the 100 Club last Friday. We'd only previously seen an excellent festival set at Cropredy; JW had cancelled a planned gig at the Bloomsbury because it's a seated venue. We did have seats for this one, by arriving early, but abandoned them when the main band started.
We're terribly apathetic about our excellent local folk club, ignoring one choice guest after another due to inability to stir ourselves on a Sunday evening. But we couldn't ignore that their 5 November guests are Spiers and Boden, and they decided to ticket that night by selling tickets at other club nights. So we thought we'd better go along and get tickets, which would give us a chance to see Mick Ryan and Pete Harris. I knew nothing of their work, though I quickly turned up the fact that Mick wrote a song called "The Widow's Promise", covered by the Poozies as "The Widow". Marianne had remarked on it, in fact, the other day, asking me what it meant, and when I prevaricated, saying "that's because it's naughty, isn't it Mummy?"
Well, they were great; entertaining songs with uniformly good choruses, and cheery patter in between. Well worth catching if they're in your area. They were launching their new album The Island of Apples last night; they played half a dozen songs off the new album, all strong.
This week we have tickets for the Bellowhead album launch party. Can't wait.