A Scandinavian Feel

“Could you play the drums with more of a Scandinavian feel?”

This is one of the oddest lines I’ve ever heard in all my years of being terrible at music.

It was 2005 and A Sweet Niche were rehearsing for a summer of gigs by flailing around in a pile of instruments in our saxophonist’s living room. I was upstairs with Ollie Saxface printing out music whilst Tom The Drummer was getting instruction from Keir, our singer/guitarist/Justin-Timberlakealike-to-the-French (that’s a whole other story). Dunc (the other guitarist and 90% legs) was probably off being useful to society or something. I nipped downstairs to the kitchen and overheard Keir uttering the Scandinavian line and thought I’d run it by Ol when I went back- maybe he’d know what it meant as the two of them had written the stuff we were learning.

Not a clue.

I asked Keir about it that evening whilst out for a drink and it emerged that HE didn’t know what that meant either. he just thought Tom would.

This is one of the things I miss AND don’t miss about being in bands. Or at the very least that band. Rehearsals for us were like  playing in the Cornish equivalent of the Tower of Babel, except closer to sea level and with far fewer builders. In the later post-drummer pre-me-getting-kicked-out version of the band, learning songs was a wonderfully glacial process as everything had to be filtered through the rest of the band before it made sense to me.

I can’t read music. I’ve tried, but it doesn’t stick. What I do have is a fantastic memory, so when we were doing crazy avant-garde weirdiness, I couldn’t understand how they could just read it all off of sheet music, and they couldn’t understand how I could just remember the entire set.

Now, the process of getting it into my memory in the first place was a little tricky as it would invariably start with Ol attempting to explain it in a way that contained the deepest amount of theory and the maximum amount of musical philosophy. When this was met with bemusement, Keir would step in and try and convey it to me by invoking the feeling of the piece using a series of abstract metaphors. Dunc would then pick up a guitar and show me that it was just A# for two beats then slide to F, hold, little triplet run then a harmonic. Good times.

A Sweet Niche

A Sweet Niche – spot the odd one out

My band history’s never been the best- I mean, I was once apparently in a band called Beef Treats with some guys at college who had added me into their band without telling me, then insisted that I’d been a member after they split up.

Like a lot of people I started out in a godawful punk band at school with bi-weekly name changes. We were called things like Nomad Soul and Bad Salad beofre settling of the still fairly terrible Gunbunny. We only got round to writing one song- ‘I Will Trade You For My Cow’, which for some reason referenced David Essex, even though it was the late 90’s and we were 14.

Next up was the Truro-College-practice-room-only band, Kettle Whistle. I was going through an obsession with trying to play slap bass at the time which always made the guitarist- a widdly hair-rocker with a leopard-print Marshall amp – collapse in fits of laughter, and since our drummer’s musical tastes ranged from Radiohead to Muse, then back to Radiohead and occasionally some Radiohead, it was difficult to play anything that didn’t fir to the beat from ‘The National Anthem.’

I got roped into starting a pop-punk band with my friend Tim a little while after this, but since he was one for fads at the time, he quickly ditched guitar and decided to take up drums after about a month of practices. He ended up buying a set of flat drums– not electronic drums- actual flat acoustic drums that flapped around if you breathed heavily in the same room as them. They pretty much sounded like a cardboard box during a hailstorm but you could get them in a tiny car boot, so he was happy. We ended up turning into a metal-prog band called Cabal after bringing in a new guitarist and spent a few months doing a bad impression of Tool and repeatedly playing the intro to 3 Libras so that Tim could remember how 3/4 time was supposed to go. Drummer-Tim then left and a Vocalist-Tim joined – I’m not sure we ever managed a full lineup in our surprisingly long time together doing drop-D noodling bar one time where the guitarist’s 14-year old neighbour sat in on drums and never uttered a word.

Singer Tim

After a brief stint of being unaware of my involvement with Beef Treats I started work on Project CKPa “band” with more members than songs and was 75% made by me. The name came from the Chris Key Players, one of the hundreds of fictitious former bands one of the guys had been in. His role was shouting Japanese volleyball terms through a vocoder and pretending that he was going to learn the synth. We had a tromboneless trombone player, a programmer who repeatedly insisted that 213bpm was the best speed for any track and and a drummer who couldn’t understand why none of the songs had him on them, despite the fact that he went to Germany when I’d booked him in for studio time. The whole affair was a wonderful shambles – everything broke whenever we made things with real instruments, I attempted guitar solos on more than one occasion and we always forgot that it’s a good idea to write lyrics before you hit record for the vocal track.

Fewer Canadians than you'd think

Bits of Project CKP in our be-hatted beardy glory. Fewer Canadians than you’d expect.

It was three years with the Niche after that, either as the bassist or hired-help-bassist (depending on when you ask them). The latter probably doesn’t count though as noone ever really paid us for gigs. Seemingly the thought was that they were letting these guys play their weirdy avant-garde nonsense in public and scare their customers away, so that should be enough, thankyouverymuch.

And they were probably right.

The band’s still going,of course, albeit in a rather different and reasonably productive version (and obviously without me) but you can never beat the days of being properly terrible in public and loving every minute of it.

Bands, eh? Who’d have ’em?

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Neruda

My brain’s too frazzled to write anything today so I’m just going to leave you with a little bit of Pablo Neruda writing sexy words

My words rained over you, stroking you.

A long time I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your body.

I go so far as to think that you own the universe.

I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, bluebells,

dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses.

I want

to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.

 

 

Mis palabras llovieron sobre ti acariciándote.

Amé desde hace tiempo tu cuerpo de nácar soleado.

Hasta te creo dueño del universo.

Te traeré de las montañas flores alegres, copihues,

avellanas oscuras, y cestas silvestres de besos.

Quiero hacer contigo

lo que la primavera hace con los cerezos.

Every Day You Play…/Juegas todos los días… (1924)

‘Pawnee: First in Friendship, Fourth in Obesity’

Parks and Rec

With the news that BBC4 has bought the rights to the first two seasons of NBC’s Parks & Recreation, I thought I’d write a few words about why I love this show and why you should too.

One reason:

Heart.

This, above everything else, is what I adore about Parks. It’s a comedy that makes you care about the characters, care about Pawnee – the little Indiana city with a questionable past record on race relations and an over-reliance on sugar – and care about Leslie Knope’s tireless quest to make a difference by Doing The Right Thing.

The first season, as even the most hardcore P&R fan will admit, is rather flat and has a myriad of problems– understandable when you learn it had to be rushed due to Amy Poehler’s pregnancy, but once it finds its feet at the start of the second, it becomes something glorious, something that you want to share with people, like you know you’re introducing them to their future best friends. The writers clearly have a huge affection for these characters and the world they inhabit, and it shows; there’s a warmth and a wonderful, infectious positivity rippled through the episodes that’s so rare in TV these days. From Leslie’s unshakable belief that Pawnee is the greatest city in the world, to Tom’s slightly misguided entrepreneurial ambitions, Parks is full of characters – no, scratch that – Pawnee is full of citizens that you grow to love and root for at every turn.

And Jerry.

I say ‘citizens’ because Greg Daniels and Michael Schur didn’t give us Chuck Lorre-esque one-dimensional “joke” vessels, they gave us fully-rounded characters with hopes, dreams, ambitions, flaws, and a proper appreciation of breakfast foods, goddammit. Even Tom with all his ridiculous cartoonishness gets regular humanising moments to let us see why he’s the ridiculous man that he is. The turnaround they managed with Andy –  a slightly pathetic, occasionally unlikeable figure in early episodes – and seeing him grow as a person into the loveable, semi-responsible man-puppy we have now feels like a perfect symbol for how the show has progressed- from mooching about on The Office’s sofa to standing on it’s own two feet and giving you the biggest bear hug of laughs whenever you stop by.

It reminds me a little of another Inspirational-Small-Town-America effort from the NBC stable – Friday Night Lights. It’d be a whole other post if I were to go into this properly, and a quick Googling suggests that I’m clearly not the only one to think this.

Friday Night Lights

The much missed Friday Night Lights.

It’s to the show’s eternal credit that it can bring the sentiment without ever getting schmaltzy or overly saccharine (I assume the latter would be driven out by Sweetums anyway) and the quieter moments never feel forced. There’s a moment in the latest season (and if you watch the show you’ll know what I mean) that had been possibly coming for a while, but when it happened it brought a bigger smile to my face – not from laughter, but from happiness – than any show I can remember from the past few years.

So please, if you’ve never watched Parks and Rec, give it a chance. It’s silly, it’s wonderful, it’s warm, it’s charming, it’s inspirational and it’s downright hilarious, which is everything you could ask for in a sitcom.

All of this and I haven’t even mentioned Ron.

And I shouldn’t have to.

He’s Ron F*cking Swanson.

One. Two. Teehee.

Starting a fresh blog is always a daunting task – I’m the same when confronted with a blank, pristine notebook. I never know if I should do an introductory post or just dive right in. The latter, you say? Well alright then, I should probably listen to you after that thing that happened with the thing.

You know the one I mean.

Right, so: comedy.

Now, comedy’s always been something I’ve taken very seriously (yes, I know, I’m the worst sort of person), and it’s something I wish I’d have been able to go into, but being a big blithering stammerer means that a solid six-minute bit would be more like ten and an hour’s set would end sometime during the next ice age, and I just don’t own enough scarves for that. And yes, I know that that didn’t stop Kitson, but the Big D does manage to balance that out by working bloody hard on immaculately structured shows to showcase his extraordinary comedic gift. The closest I have to an extraordinary gift is my surprisingly hard shins, and I don’t imagine that I could stretch that out with an audience for more than twenty minutes.

Half an hour tops.

With that in mind. I’ve decided to get back into writing. This is partly to keep my eye in by making myself post regularly, and partly to spur me into writing some sketches and hopefully the book I’ve been kicking around ideas for for a while. Incidentally, if you see me out and about, feel free to kick me around for a while if you find out that I’ve not been getting on with any of those.

One of the things I always try to do when writing “the funnies” is to keep away from crude jokes, dirty jokes and, to a lesser extent, swearing. I don’t see myself as being “above it” or anything pretentious like that, it’s just that whilst it can be easier to get a laugh with a dick joke or a well placed swear, it’s a cheap laugh and I’d rather try and push myself to get the laugh without resorting to that. The nice side-effect of this approach is that if and when I do decide to drop in a bit of left-field crudity, it has the double impact of the joke itself coupled with the unexpected nature of that joke coming from me.

Twitter is also something I’ve found to be a bit of a godsend when it comes to honing my writing. I’ve always had problems with being a bit of a rambler, and having to constantly pare a line down to 140 characters really helps you see the dead wood that you might otherwise have left in. Brevity is the soul of wit and all that. I’m not so much one for regularly posting joke after joke on there; I find if more useful to look for tweets to reply to to give me something to spark off and it means that I’m constantly scanning for joke opportunities on whatever subject rolls up in my feed.

Whilst I use it as a practice tool, there are some who have taken it to extraordinary places as a medium for comedy. Steve Martin, despite the questionable direction his film career’s gone in the last 20 years, has become a master of the form. His habit of using acronyms and abbreviations in a tweet whilst then explaining what they are short for and the fact that they are being used to save space in that same tweet, is, to me, a perfect bit of comedy. It’s clever, it’s funny, it’s completely silly, and it exploits the medium perfectly.

For now I’ll end here and come back with a more focussed piece in a day or two. Maybe sooner if something grabs me.

I’ll leave you with this: