Thursday, January 15, 2009

Leaving The Village

A shame that Patrick McGoohan has finally left the village, aged 80. He was the star and occasional writer / director of the cult 60s TV series The Prisoner, set in Portmeirion, an Italianate community designed by the architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, in north Wales. The original facade of Bristol Omnibus Station was dismantled, moved and rebuilt there. (Bottom right in photo)

In the late 80s I was lucky enough to spend a few days in one of Portmeirion's astonishing self catering chalets. My then girlfriend, a radical feminist who'd made me read Valerie Solanas' S.C.U.M. Manifesto (Society for Cutting Up Men) had been invited there by a couple of her friends and I was allowed to come too.

I took my bike on the train while my girlfriend went with the others by car. Perhaps there wasn't room for me ? Whatever, I remember taking the last part of the journey on the Blaenau Ffestiniog railway.

Portmeirion has since been used as the location for an episode of Doctor Who, Cold Feet and a Supergrass video. Paul McCartney and Jools Holland have both visited, the latter reportedly basing the design of his studio and home on that of the village. Patrick McGoohan, who turned down the role of the first James Bond, apparently not liking the way the character treated women, later appeared in Scanners, Braveheart an episode of The Simpsons and much more besides.

Be seeing you ; )

Monday, January 12, 2009

Blue Monday

How do you wake up ? Maybe your partner whispers softly in your ear, perhaps the kids, dog or cat come barging in, or the radio alarm goes off and John Humphries picks an argument. Any of those would be preferable to being woken at 6 a.m. by a 750cc motorbike starting up 20 metres from your head, the owner leaving the engine running for a good five minutes while he popped in and out of his house before roaring up the street, setting off car alarms.

After a crap start to the day, it didn't get much better. The gales had smashed an olive pot in the night, the queue at the bank was longer than I can ever remember, the grocer had run out of free range eggs, the bloke in the pet shop indulged the elderly woman for aions before serving me and it poured with rain, making cycling round this city of petrolheads a nightmare.

To be honest, I was in foul mood before I went to sleep. The tenants next door were shrieking and banging about at 1 a.m. and Guy Garvey had been a self-important prick on 6 Music, after an evening of repeats on the telly.

Psychologists with even more time on their hands than me, have deduced that the worst day of the year is around the 21st-24th January, so unless things are going to get worse, I've peaked ten days early.

Worst Day : Google

Still, I came across some excellent electronica from Sensiva a guy from the north of Russia whose album Giosun sounds a bit like Boards Of Canada and helped dry my bones.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Stayed up last night and watched Snow Cake (2006) in which Sigourney Weaver plays a high functioning autistic woman whom Alan Rickman befriends after a tragic accident. A touching, well acted film, only spoilt by the presence of the Stereophonics during parts of the soundtrack / plot.

Fortunately, as an antidote, I'd earlier found Jazzflora - Scandinavian Aspect Of Jazz a compilation of brilliant contemporary Nordic jazz, some of which I've heard Gilles Peterson broadcast before, especially the marvellous Kuusumun Profeetta.

Being Sunday, later on the ubiquitous Stuart Maconie will be broadcasting his Freak Zone on BBC 6 Music, featuring Professor Justin Spear's University Of The Strange, which is always a better option than the Top 40 or Songs Of Praise.

Also got my head around The Bug - London Zoo which has half a million hits on MySpace and comes high on lists for last year's best albums, but had passed me by. I probably wasn't looking that way after everyone ranted about Burial the year before, which I found undynamic and dull.

Much less paranoid and more chilled and meditative are Swod whose album 'Sekunden' on the City Centre Offices label I got hold of lately. I've been listening to loads of ambient / drone during the last year and like the stuff with treated acoustic piano, although if it's the glitchy type, which sounds as if maybe the CD / mp3 is skipping, it's just annoying.

Friday, January 09, 2009


Not sure whose work of genius this is - not mine !

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Love Nor Money

Mark Lawson had a good feature on Front Row (BBC R4) last night, in which he talked to representatives of the music industry, the PRS, PPL and commercial radio, about charges levied and royalties collected from radio broadcasts, including the requirement for workplaces in which employees listen to the radio to buy a licence.

Commercial radio and small business owners now argue that airplay constitutes promotion for bands and want to wriggle out of paying for licences. The PRS and PPL deny that airplay influences the public to buy music, either in the traditional record shop or by purchasing mp3 downloads, especially in today's economic climate and are desperate to hold on to their income streams, if only to preserve their very own existence.

In theory, artists receive a royalty each time their record is broadcast. The larger the listener catchment area and the higher the audience number, the greater the fee. Last time I checked, daytime airplay on national BBC Radio 1 would earn you about £75 a time. Trouble is, until shockingly recently, nobody kept full details of what was played and a method known (ironically) as sampling was used, in which the radio playlist for perhaps one day a week was analysed and extrapolated to give a figure for the week. In practice, this meant that your record could be played ten times a day, six days a week but you wouldn't receive a penny if they happened to have sampled details on the seventh day.

This system was great for the likes of the major label artist, your Madonnas and Take Thats and Phil Collinses, not to mention the royalty collection societies themselves, who had a good slice of pie, but the independent artist was left out in the cold. The sheer amount of paperwork involved in ensuring that everything was correctly registered with the relevant organisations was beyond most people and often, unscrupulous small labels would sign the rights to royalties over to themselves without the band knowing.

The era of the mp3 download has spelt disaster for the complacent suits at the MCPS/PRS alliance, who invited an instigator of the British occupation of Iraq, Geoff Hoon - of all people - to be the guest speaker at a recent AGM at Abbey Road, paid for out of the royalties and licence fees meant for artists. The independent artist, however, at last has the chance to earn an income from mp3 downloads which hasn't been picked over by half a dozen industry suits up the ladder and is no worse off than before.

Yet, there was a middle of the road songwriter, who also happened to have something to do with the PRS, bleating on Front Row last night about musicians and artists not being able to survive, tying in quite nicely with the series of programmes with Melvyn Bragg this week about evolution : If you can't survive, give up, roll over, there are plenty behind you who will continue to make music - have always made music - for no financial reward and very often, that's where you'll find the innovators, the talented, the fresh and those worth listening to. This guy really believed that unless songwriters got paid, there'd be no music.

Doh !

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


For once eBay wasn't the cheapest option when deciding what external hard drive to get. Maplin's are selling a 160 GB Trekstor for £34.99 so I trekked to the store (geddit) by bicycle, to get one - not before ringing up first to make sure they had some in stock and I wasn't going to waste a visit in sub zero temperature.

My PowerBook's only USB 1.1 and this is USB 2.0 so it's taking its time to have a dump. Still, it'll be good to have lots of space again and not have to compromise. I know I should only use it as a backup really, but I'm not going to go out and buy another one. I've already bought a different one for my daughter, which unbeknown to me, required two USB ports - hence I had to buy one of these ...

... a Pluscom 4 Port USB (though I actually got 2) on eBay for £3.50 each including postage, which a frozen postman brought this morning and as I write, doesn't seem to be working. It's supposed to be Mac OS X and USB 1.1 compatible and yet ? I'm hoping the other one will work on my daughter's old PC laptop, in combination with her external drive.

(UPDATE: Oh no ! This is turning into one of those lengthy, frustrating climbs up the learning curve - as I realise that USB 1.1 is hopelessly inadequate for both of us and I need to get a couple of USB 2.0 PCI Cardbuses, one for a Mac, one for a PC, both compatible with their respective machines and operating systems and both independently powered. There are cheaper unpowered ones around which still wouldn't power more than one USB device at a time. In the meantime, backing up stuff is painfully, ridiculously slow and I'm limited to one USB device at a time. There is another USB 1.1 port or this machine, but it's never worked. It has Firewire, which is capable of very zippy transfer rates, but the external hard drive doesn't. I should have known all this before I bought things.)

My Mum's been trying to get the hang of her USB radio / mp3 player, which is definitely working, but needs taming. My Dad, who was carrying radio valves around Normandy in 1944, has just started to take an interest in uploading digital photos to my Mum's laptop and editing them with free software.

Yet lots of people of my generation and older, some younger, still don't have a computer, or don't like them or know or want to learn anything about the basics, or don't see the advantage of the internet. My daughter's primary school was like that and I fully approved - there was plenty of time for that at home, or later on. As I've demonstrated, even for a part time geek like me it's a real struggle to keep up with technological progress, though most of the headaches occur because I can't afford to buy a new computer every couple of years - which is what you're expected to do and avoids problems with obsolete peripherals, while introducing new ones with untested bugs and gremlins in new software and hardware.

Perhaps the CD industry should be very grateful to those who, for whatever reason, don't really 'do' computers, for they are possibly the only ones left buying them, as everyone decamps to mp3 land. I wonder how long they'll stay around. I have about five CD players / burners in varying states of repair, most of which are obsolete and should be thrown 'out' / recycled somehow - along with a dead PowerMac and another very old one.

Lest I start to go on like Lord Stephen Fry (man can he rant about technology !! - and afford it all).


Monday, January 05, 2009

Remix Revisited

Came across the Kasia Klich Remix wot i done in Koszalin a while back, being given away as a free download on last fm. Hi Yaro & Kasia ! I still wish I'd done more with the drum track, but there wasn't much time and they weren't my toys. Still, it could be the only track ever recorded with a xaphoon and someone laughing in the middle. Think it came out on Sony Records (Poland) which is the closest I've ever got to a major label. Even the major labels can't sell CDs for more than a few quid these days.

Thursday, January 01, 2009


Online and back in the city for the start of another year.