You can call me Al

In the day, the discovery of ‘new’ music was down to tuning into radio stations, maybe watching a TV programme, or very simply heading for your local record store and browsing through the trays.  Nowadays, it’s all down to algorithms.  Listen to something online, and before you know it ‘we have recommendations for you’; because you listened to <….>, you might like <,,,,,>.  So here we are: my personal algorithm, I’ll just call him Al, thinks he know more about my musical tastes than I do.  Not something I would readily agree with, but every so I have to begrudgingly accept that he seems to hit the jackpot.  Recently, my other music buddy, YouTube, with Al’s help, has provided me with an endless stream of videos of musical performances by an assortment of artists that I didn’t know I liked.  Amazing!

When earlier this year, the world ground to a halt with the coronavirus pandemic, music became one of my personal outlets – plenty of time to delve into the musical treasure trove in search of material that hadn’t previously registered on my radar. And my buddies were right on the case, ready to open up Pandora’s musical box.   If Al had the chance to explain, he would tell you that my musical tastes are predominantly guitar-centric, somewhat rootsy, melodic, and with an emphasis on vocal harmonies.  I have an assortment of early influences that good old Al has worked out, and which has enabled him/it to throw a plethora of recommendations my way.  So, many is the hour, in these isolated times, that I have been able to check out whether or not Al is my new, best musical mate. 

So, here’s the top three in my new musical world, but before we go any further, how on earth do these guys dream up their band names? The Milk Carton Kids, Mandolin Orange, The Civil Wars – how does this happen?

The Milk Carton Kids are an American indie folk duo from California.  Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan are both singers and guitarists, who began making music together in early 2011.  In terms of genre, they are labelled as a neo-traditional folk duo, whatever that is, but now and again, their harmonising has a Simon and Garfunkel feel to it.  Their live performances are characterised not only by the quality of their musical material, but an extremely dry sense of humour, targeted at each other.  

Watch them performing Maybe It’s Time

Mandolin Orange is a folk/country/bluegrass duo based in North Carolina The group was formed in 2009 and consists of the group’s songwriter Andrew Marlin (vocals, mandolin, guitar, banjo) and his wife, Emily Frantz (vocals, violin, guitar).  They have a very distinctive sound characterised by Andrew’s southern accent and his exceptional mandolin playing.

Watch them performing Wildfire, in somewhat unusual surroundings.

The Civil Wars was an American musical duo comprised of Joy Williams and John Paul White. Formed in 2008, The Civil Wars won four Grammy Awards prior to their 2014 breakup.  What is most remarkable about The Civil Wars is their live performances, and you just have to see them to understand (or not) the chemistry between them.  It comes across as far more than musical chemistry.  There is an untold story about their breakup, and there’s endless speculation in the comments sections on all of their videos, but the comments also include some absolute gems such as ‘I could watch them filling in their tax returns’, or ‘I think I lost my virginity listening to that song’.   You just have to see them to get this!

Here they are performing a cover of Michael Jackson’s song, Billie Jean

So, thank you Al, and thank you YouTube, for providing a glimmer of musical light in the pandemic tunnel. 

Schrödinger’s Mouse

Its Thursday 9th July – I’m hosting another lockdown Zoom call for about 20 people at 5:30pm. At 5:25pm, I bring up the Zoom App on my iMac with a couple of mouse clicks. The call is set up on the Zoom schedule, so all that is needed now is to click the start button, but there’s still a couple of minutes to go, so I pop into the kitchen to grab a glass of water. A minute or so later, I’m back at my desk, a quick check of the time, it’s 5:29pm, so I reach across for the mouse to click the start button, but the mouse isn’t there!!! Where is my mouse???? Where has it gone???? . . . → Read More: Schrödinger’s Mouse

Social Distancing

On each of the last three Sundays I competed in the Bentley Priory Social Distancing 8K Event. A fine event, held in Bentley Priory Nature Reserve, which provides a good challenge with its undulating, all weather pathways. As my days of participating in running events are history, I opted to walk. In the true spirit of social distancing, I was the only competitor, and I won! But I also came last!! The officials would have been impressed with my performance, if there had been any. Likewise, there weren’t any of the usual army of volunteers there to hand out water and medals at the finish. It’s a lonely life being a Social Distancing competitor.

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Where Have all the Loo Rolls Gone?

Solitary confinement isn’t a lot of fun, but today I was let out on special license, with a shopping list. My local supermarket isn’t the biggest, has an idiosyncratic stock control system, but the staff have a reasonable command of English and are generally quite helpful. Regular visits are a necessary chore, best dealt with as early in the day as possible, to offer the time to rehab, and seek alternative suppliers when their stock control fails you. But today, OMG! Armageddon – I still can’t come to terms with the fact I had to queue, just to get into the car park. The fight for car park places and trolleys, just to get a front row place in . . . → Read More: Where Have all the Loo Rolls Gone?

Only the Lonely

A few days into social-distancing, self-isolation, or solitary confinement, whatever the authorities call it, I was so looking forward to the neighbourhood throwing open their windows (not too many balconies around my way!), and bursting into patriotic songs, like ‘We’ll Meet Again, Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When”, “Only the Lonely”, “You Ain’t Going Nowhere“ or other songs from the self-isolationist’s song book.

But it was not to be. As we struggle to deal with Covid-19, it’s sad to report that my household has been struck down by the virulent Décor-8, known to induce back pain, angst and depression. There’s no known cure that doesn’t involve domestic violence: the symptoms generally clear up in time, but the scars can . . . → Read More: Only the Lonely

Taking pictures

I’m not too sure how this all came about, well I am really, but it’s the law of unintended consequences, if there is such a law. I can attribute photography to be one of the more innocent pastimes of my youth, which has now become an incredibly enjoyable ‘senior’ activity. I have vague, early recollections of wrestling with conventional film, loading it into a camera, retrieving it 24 or 36 shots later, and then sending it away to be developed and printed. At some stage, the acquisition of developing tanks and an enlarger, resulted in converting the bathroom in my parents’ house into a dark room (temporarily, after checking nobody would need the facilities for the next hour or . . . → Read More: Taking pictures

Spying on the Scammers

Somewhere in the depths of this blog is a personal account of one way in which I dealt with a potential scammer.  We all know that these guys represent some form of low-life, devoid of any sense of honesty, and who prey on vulnerable people to make money under false pretences.  BBC Panorama recently ran a programme exposing some of these practices, “Spying on the Scammers”.  The programme was based on material supplied by Jim Browning (not his real name) who was able to contact a scammer in Dehli, allowing the scammer to connect to his PC, but then using some technical wizardry, Jim was able to reverse the connection. This allowed him to see exactly what the scammers were doing, not . . . → Read More: Spying on the Scammers

When will they ever learn?

From today’s Guardian: “May held her farewell drinks in Downing Street on Monday night with MPs from across the spectrum of the Tory party and the Democratic Unionist party in attendance, telling them in a short speech that their priority was stopping Corbyn entering Downing Street.”

It adequately sums up a disastrous reign as Prime Minister – shouldn’t their priority be to represent our citizens and deliver a programme that builds a successful national infrastructure, and a platform for everyone to achieve a satisfying and rewarding life? But no, the priority is to engage in petty, nasty and spiteful inter-party battles, through fear of the gravy train coming off the rails. When will they ever learn?

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Staring into the abyss…

Bird & Fortune, from 15 years ago..

Stop the world, I want to get off

It’s reached the point where it’s impossible to find anything original to say about the absolute shambles this country has been led into by a succession of useless governments. The complete failure, and total incompetence that they have masterminded beggars belief, and leaves us wondering whether there is any hope of a solution or even a partial recovery.  The very fact that their complete and utter failure to achieve anything in the way of resolving the Brexit crisis has now left us watching in stunned disbelief as the next group of incompetents, vye with each other to ‘lead’ the train wreck of the Conservative party…… into what?  Cameron screwed up: May screwed up: and Johnson is waiting in the . . . → Read More: Stop the world, I want to get off