Tag Archives: music

The Defamation of Strickland Banks

Album cover for The Defamation of Strickland Banks

Candice: I’ve not been driving around much these days. Usually, a long drive is my opportunity to sort through the thousands of songs I have on my iPod and pick something I haven’t listened to for a while, or something new. Or listen to that new album I have bought, all the way through.

We don’t consume music, books, TV or film in the same way that we used to. Everything’s short and sharp, a quick fix for instant gratification. I buy as many singles as I used to buy when I was a DJ back at University, or I just listen to new songs in Spotify. Occasionally an artist comes along and I think, I might want to listen to your whole album and I buy it on download. I don’t even do CD’s any more, which I used to always have to keep.

This dipping in and out means that the concept of an whole album seems alien to a lot of people, we only listen to the tracks we want to hear. But that doesn’t always mean you get the best stuff, just the dance track which will sell well in the charts.

What I have been doing on my shorter drives in the car is to put the iPod on shuffle, which means it can throw me a weird and wonderful collection of stuff including things I haven’t heard in years. Up popped the other day a song by Plan B, actually from the album Ill Manors, but it reminded me of his ‘concept’ album – The Defamation of Strickland Banks. The album is a story in itself, telling the tale of a man wrongly accused of raping a woman. The premise is clever as each song leads from the other as he goes from having a big night out, a one night stand, court and then jail. The subject matter is tough but the songs relate the feelings of the character as he goes through each stage of the journey and it certainly doesn’t glamourize prison and what happens ‘inside’.

I mentioned it to Phil the other day and he professed to have not heard of the album, and said it wouldn’t be his cup of tea. But Mr Parker I think you need to give it a try. Even if you don’t like the tunes, the lyrics are worth a listen. My personal favourite is ‘Stay too long’ – its got a thumping beat and a catchy hook, though I can’t play it in the car with my daughter as the language degenerates at the end!

To me songs can be just as interesting as books. They tell their own story and after often created as a cathartic experience for the writer. Phil and I write stories, but to a lot of artists their album is a story. In this case it’s a very clever one and I encourage to go back and visit this album even though it’s 10 years old if you fancy dipping into something new.

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Christmas is here

Image result for drunken christmas party

Candice: I’ve let Phil do most of the writing on the blog this year.  Being a parent and working full time does not allow a lot of time for thinking so I keep it for book writing and editing rather than blog writing.

But I felt we were  missing our traditional Christmas blog post about photocopying bums at Christmas parties.

The first book finishes with a Christmas party, and I still like the way that it opens.  I can still see dry ice and characters walking through the fog in a ‘Batman and Robin’ style.

I had my work’s Christmas party last week.  I can only just write this blog now as my head is still recovering.  I am not the best drinker so try to keep the alcohol intake to a minimum, this was not the case with my work colleagues who also decided that, as organiser of the Christmas do, I should have lots of free drinks as thanks.  One of those was a Jagerbomb…

I sloped off at midnight as I’d had a good two hours dancing and drinking since a lot earlier, I was an early bird compared to most.

I have a love/hate relationship with the Christmas party.  I pretty much always end up organising it, because no one else will, but it also means I have to spend a lot of time dealing with people asking stupid questions – what time does it start, how much is it etc.  But once the meal part is out of the way – ‘ herding cats’ is how a colleague described it, then I got what I really wanted. A chance to show that Mrs Demure in the office knows how to shake her butt.  Think more Tracey than Kate.

The other thing I had to organise was the Secret Santa, yet another herding cats experience.  However, I ended up with a well thought of present… a magic mug with that – when you put hot water in to it, the book appears.  Someone had been listening then.  So thanks to Secret Santa, I’m chuffed with it.

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Listening to music while writing

Phil: When team NolanParker meet up, we like a bit of cake. And quite a lot of chat. Sometimes though, we need to get some words on the screen and then everything changes.

Laptops out. iPods on.

The iPods are an essential piece of kit. For a start that stop us talking to each other. Mostly though, it’s all about blocking the rest of the world out and helping our concentration.

We have both spent years of our lives in noisy offices. Environments where you learn to tune things out. I know that I now can’t work in a silent room. The walls seem to close in on me and the lack of noise become oppressive. I like to use this as an excuse for my poor exam performance rather than admitting I’m just a bit thick.

Is this just a comfort thing though? It appears not. Reading this fascinating blog post by author and expert Nicola Morgan, there does seem to be science to back all of this up.

Most interesting is how the choice of music matters. It must be:

  • Familiar
  • Music you actually love
  • More than one song – an album or playlist
  • At a volume that doesn’t intrude on your thoughts

Which probably helps to explain why I get more done with the iPod on than the radio.

Even with over a thousand tracks on shuffle, it’s rare that anything surprises me. My memory for music isn’t bad.

The radio, on the other hand, will play tracks that I don’t know so presumably, part of my limited brain capacity feels the need to pay attention. Part of the historic response to danger we developed as cavemen, although more to avoid being eaten than exposed to something new by Harry Styles!

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So THAT’S what the song is all about.

Phil: Last week, Candice was blogging about one of her earliest favourite albums – Phil Collins “No Jacket Required” and by coincidence, I was listing to a show on the radio about one of mine.

1985 saw the release of Suzanne Vega’s eponymous first album and to promote it, the first single “Marlene on the Wall” enjoyed heavy rotation on Radio 1. What I should have done is rushed out and bought the album, but in those days, my local library loaned proper vinyl albums out so I simply borrowed it and made a tape using my sisters record player and the tape recorder I used for my ZX Spectrum. Obviously this is bad so don’t do it kids. As they said at the time, “Home taping is killing music” even if the phrase “It tapes tapes” appeared on every stereo system in my mum’s catalogues at the time.

Anyway, while I liked the songs and the imagery, the inspiration for the lyrics was always a bit of a mystery. Until I heard Johnnie Walker’s Long Players last week. The program covered the album track by track with explanations of each from Vega.

Much of it was slightly disappointing, stuff about songs being something to do with whoever she was dating at the time but for pure weirdness, the track “Small Blue Thing” wins.

Inspiration struck when she saw the blue doorknob in a boyfriends apartment. In the centre of the knob (stop sniggering at the back) was the image of a blue eyeball. All of which inspired the opening lines:

Today I am
A small blue thing
Like a marble
Or an eye

Utter barking mad, but oddly, still sounds good today.

So, songwriter, get down to the ironmonger’s for your next hit. It just shows, ideas can come from anywhere.

Mind you, if you think this is oddball, I’m working out how to shoehorn a Lieutenant Pigeon joke into our latest book just to see if anyone spots it…

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In the air tonight

Candice: I have just finished reading Phil Collins’ autobiography.  I actually bought it for the other half for Christmas but had finished my previous book and was looking for something else to dive in to.  It was collecting dust on his bed side table so I took the opportunity to steal it.

Well I’m glad it did.  I like bios – either self written or by someone else, though the autobiographies are always better as they are closer to the truth.  I like to know how celebrities ended up where they are as its often a strange collection of happy accidents as much as their planning to get famous.

Phil’s is a bit of both.  He was determined not to follow his father into insurance, a family tradition, but also had a wandering streak so when presented with a drum kit at an early age decided he wanted to do something really different from an office job.  It did help that his mother got involved with a talent agency and he ended up performing in ‘Oliver’ at an early age, whetting his acting chops.  But music was his real thing and by his mid teens he was a jobbing drummer looking for a band.

Though contacts and coincidence he ended up  auditioning for ‘Genesis’ an up and coming band with an already tight knit group of players.  Phil passed the audition but struggled to fit in.

There is a lot of talking in the book about his relationship with Peter Gabriel, the original lead singer in Genesis.  The rumour mill insists he was pushed out by Phil, Phil says it was all for Peter’s personal reasons and he was reluctantly made the new front man when no one else stepped up to the plate.  Reading the rest of the book you find out what a driven man he is so I think this is six of one and half and dozen of the other.  Phil’s Genesis explored a different musical route so I also think this would have been an influence.

The rest of the story takes me to the time of Genesis that I remember, and also Phil’s solo career.  He is one of the few people to have run concurrent careers, which meant a punishing schedule of touring and writing for both projects.  It made him a rich successful man, but also lost him three marriages in the process.

And then he decides to retire, and falls of a cliff.  With no focus for each day, alcohol takes over and he quickly becomes an alcoholic. The stubborn person he is it takes a few goes at rehab and arguments with family and friends before he realises it was give up the alcohol or life. Hence why the book is called ‘Not dead yet’!

I really enjoyed it, especially when it was at his peak as each record mentioned brought back memories of different part of my youth.  I can remember playing ‘No Jacket Required’ a lot, especially round at my friend Kathryn’s house for some reason.  I will be going out and buying the ‘best of’ album.

However, Phil is an interesting character.  He is focused and ruthless, there is no other way for him to have got where he was.  The book is quite open and I don’t think he would realise how some of the things he says or did would make some of  us wince. The music always came first, and pity his children, wives or even sleep if they got in the way.  I think his brush with death made him realise that there is more to life than this, but only just.

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Rick Astley nails it

Phil: So there I am listening to Dermot O’Leary on Radio 2 last weekend and he’s interviewing Rick Astley about his return to prominence and No.1 album. Suddenly Astley says something profound:

“It’s never been easier to make music that gets ignored.”

By jove, I think he’s got it!

It’s true. Anyone can cut a track (I know all da modern lingo daddy-o) sitting in their bedroom fiddling with a computer. They can even knock together a video and release it to the world on YouTube.

And the world probably won’t even notice.

The same thing is happening in publishing. Whereas writing used to be the preserve of a select band of people, monks mainly, now any numpty can string together some words and stick them up on Amazon for the world to buy.

The trick is to MAKE the world beat a path to your door, or at least the webpage selling your book.

So the skill is no longer making the product, it’s selling it. Marketing people are the new kings. Nolan is going to be insufferable now I’ve worked that out…

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Are you being safe today?

Candice: No, this is not a reference to Fifty Shades of Grey (I am not going to see the film even though Phil seems to think I should) but an unashamed plug for a project that I worked on.

Last year I was working for the Farm Safety Foundation (aka Yellow Wellies) encouraging people to be safer when they farm.  Being a highly dangerous profession (just check out the HSE stats) I thought this was a worth while cause.

One of my projects was to find a way to connect with the younger audience – and between us on the team we came up with re-recording a song that struck a chord with the farming community, ‘I’ve got a brand new combine harvester’ by The Wurzels.

Well with some negotiating and an trip to their recording studio, we came up with a new version. In fact I had a lovely day hanging out with the lads making their part of the video (and being invited to get ‘scrumpied up’ with them!) I then left for pastures new and hoped my little project would come to fruition. And this week it did.

So you can see the new version ‘Farm Safety is the Key’ on You Tube. So if you know anyone who works in a dangerous job, farming or otherwise, send them this funny video and let them think a bit more next time they want to cut corners. And if you watch it to the end you might just see my name in the credits.

Enjoy!

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Here comes the rain again

Candice Phil’s last post was about how songs can transport you back to a place and time. This ringing a real cord with me as I am in to my music and there are definitely songs that have strong memories for me, and I am always trying to find new music in which to build new memories. I associate Clean bandit’s ‘Rather be’ with being at home with Erin, and am quite into Sam Smith ‘s new album at the moment which is creating a whole new set of memories.

Well Monday was a complete wash out in the Midlands, typical bank holiday weather. Hence the reference to the Eurythmics’ song in my title. I can remember first seeing Annie Lennox on ‘Top of the Pops’ with her red hair and androgynous clothes and everyone saying was it a girl or a boy, but that voice gave it away. However, it did allow me to get things done round the house I wouldn’t have if the sun had been out.

I don’t know about everyone else but if there is sun outside I want to be in it, which often doesn’t bode well if I have things to do inside. I’m self employed which often means I have work things to do evenings and weekends, but a nice bout of sun can make me struggle with work versus fun. I’m missing the lovely sunny weather we had this summer, and the warmth too, but at least I had a chance to catch up.

The same could be said for writing. I can remember trying to crouch over my lap top doing some work in the conservatory, and struggling with wifi and seeing the screen. I could have done it faster if I’d just given up and worked indoors but the pull of the sun was too strong.
I’m off on holiday again soon, and in the meantime I’m hoping Phil and I will get more feedback on our book so we can soon see it in the public domain, but woe betide them if they try and give them me things to do on holiday. That will be an epic fail.

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The People’s Songs

Peoples SomgsPhil: Does a song transport you back to a place in time?

If it does, then you’ll probably enjoy Stuart Maconie’s latest book, The People’s Songs. Although nominally about music, it’s really a history of the UK from World War 2 to the present day focussing on youth culture. We kick off with Vera Lynn and the sentimental songs that everyone wanted during the war years and finish in 2012/13 with Dizzee Rascal and Bonkers.

The concept is sound enough but sometimes the author’s position firmly ensconced in the media bubble as assistant editor at NME shows through. I’m never convinced that punk (for example) was as important to the world as it was in London. Even those heavily in to the scene at the time like Danny Baker have suggested that the whole thing was overplayed by a metropolitan media.

Which makes you wonder how much the music reflected the time and how much it drove the mood. For example, Ghost Town by the Specials is a fine reflection of the period but in the same year (1981) we also bought two different versions of 9 to 5, Antmusic and Girls on Film. Duran Duran came from Birmingham, The Specials from Coventry – 25 miles apart by road but separated by a million miles in terms of musical style.

There’s a distinct hint of shoehorn in the way some tracks are tied in to the histories. Maconie likes to make sure we get some Smiths so there is space for a few quotes from Morrissey. I’m assuming the singer has some incriminating photos of Maconie as he pops up in every book with no hint of derision no matter how ridiculous he is being. Some of these aren’t so much People’s Songs as songs that tie in with the period and say something about it.

Overall though, this is an enjoyable read. I had the advantage of knowing most of the songs, but if you don’t then you’ll probably be scurrying for YouTube to fill in the blanks. Take it as a history of pop culture and enjoy the many tangents the text heads off in. The 50 chapters are bite-sized and idea for commuting or grabbing in short bursts of reading when you don’t have time to wallow in anything longer.

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How to win X Factor

X Factor CakePhil: Last week m’collegue wrote “I really I need to go on the X Factor but I can’t really sing and hate ballads !” on the basis that it’s a lot easier to get published if you are famous already. I had this explained to me by the prolific and succesful author Gervase Phinn a couple of years ago. He’s a really nice bloke and makes huge amounts of time for his fans but is quite realistic about the challenges for new authors.

However, I don’t see this as a problem. All we need is for one of us to become famous and the world is our oyster. That means Nolan just has to win X-Factor. Nothing could be simpler.

You are probably thinking I underestimate the size of the task but I have a secret plan. Ten years of spinning the disks of death on the wheels of steel at our local hospital radio station have given me a pretty good understanding of the music industry. Add to that the fact I’ve played with Pete Waterman’s train set a couple of times and that the first person to pay me money for something I wrote now runs the country’s top mobile disco then my contacts in the biz are all I need.

First up, the “can’t really sing” problem. The solution is Autotune. For the civilians out there, this is computer software that takes in a voice at one end and spit out a tuneful voice at the other. It has been suggested, by cruel and jealous people, that some of the soap starlets who go on to have a recording career, owe a lot to this sort of assistance.

Next, we need a suitable ditty to warble. Ballads are out it appears. Never mind, although we’ve never swapped iPods to check out each other musical tastes, I know Ms Nolan tends towards the rockier end of the spectrum. Having seen her other halfs CD collection, I can understand this. After all, if you know you all three original Spice Girls albums are hidden in the loft and reducing the value of your property, then you need something to drown out any attempts to retrieve and play them.

My suspicion is that the iPod contains lots of Swedish Death Metal tracks. Before you head to Wikipedia to work out what I mean, perhaps I can help with some lyrics, reproduced here in the original Swedish so you don’t miss the delicate nuisances:

Arrrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggggggggggg!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Wooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Deeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaathhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!

These will be accompanied by half a dozen guitarists sawing away on their “Axe” like crazed lumberjacks and a drummer making sounds like the very bowels of Hell are being torn asunder. All amps will be turned up to 11.

This is probably a bit esoteric for primetime ITV but I think we can still work on it. Maybe we kick off with some Kaiser Chiefs.

Retirement would do:

I want to retire
No longer required
I want to get by without the man on my back
A tear in my eye
With a heart full of pride I must go out on a high
And tell nobody why

That sums up our dreams – not lazing around on a yacht, but the freedom to create and do something interesting to be remembered by. You can see what I mean about not requiring great singing skills from the YouTube clip, budget cuts at the commercial channel will soon mean everything is recorded on mobile phones.

Perhaps I’m not being radical enough though. How about some thing from American band Monster Magic ?

Powertrip would probably do the job:

I’m never gonna work another day in my life
The gods told me to relax
They said I’m gonna be fixed up right I’m never gonna work another day in my life

“You’re just being silly”, I hear you cry. Well, no I’m not. Those of us old enough to remember the Top 40 in the days before X Factor, when music was music and not the stuff we get now, will recall that the week after Christmas often saw some METAL at the number 1 spot. Why ?

Simple, all the METAL fans knew this was their chance. They would wait until the Crimbo number 1 chart, and then head down to Woolworths and buy something newly released by a suitable METAL band. Because the post festive chart was compiled on the smallest number of sales of the year, there being no internet and the shops being shut for several days, the single would rocket to the top slot and then vanish the following week.

So, the plan is simple. Lots of noise, plenty of head banging (I’ll need longer hair to help with this so we’ll have to wait a while), get the METAL fans onside. Add in all those who hate Simon Cowell and we can’t lose.

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