Monday, April 26, 2021

“Everyone else is doing it - so why can’t we..?”

Back in the opening overs of the Great Unpleasantness, we were just about gearing up for Helstock (see blogs passim.) which in a different universe would have* taken place about a week after we were all finally told off and sent to our rooms to think about what we’d done. 

A year later, it was looking as if we were going to have to postpone or cancel again, before someone in Posh North Essex suggested we (or rather, ‘they’) host one of those online virtual festival thingies that we’d been hearing so much about recently - that way we could get more players in, there wouldn’t be a venue capacity on attendees, the queues for the toilets were definitely going to be a lot shorter, and no-one would have to get nailed to anything.

Helen and The Neighbourhood Dogs had a couple of remotely recorded and edited audio-visual submissions accepted, and having been invited to submit something of my own for consideration, I went back to the neglected corner of the bookcase where I keep my big book of things I’ve made up out of my own head, blew the dust off the spine and pored through the contents with a rheumy old eye until I came across this old thing, originally written on the back of a boat** somewhere up an Irish river, probably in Cork, and originally committed to hard drive some years later on the first Songs from The Blue House album, on which Olly from Crouch Vale played spoons.

Originally a quasi-comedy interlude in gods kitchen gigs (how dare you mock my suffering!) we ended up playing it at a lock-in back in Ireland some years later which was quite the blast but, as befits my advanced maturity and attendant gravitas, I decided to rework it in a more reflective manner hoping to reach out to those many fellow travellers on the road to love’s redemption I’ve shared asphalt burns with over the years.

I believe Clapton tried the same thing with ‘Layla’.

*And indeed still might have done, depending on your philosophical bent and/or outstanding view on String Theory.

**Whilst travelling upon, not literally marked up in anti-foul paint on the stern.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Helen and The Neighbourhood Dogs - New Material for 2021

I am pleased and proud to announce that we have new product dropping this week*.

‘Hollow Man’ was recorded remotely in lockdown by the entire group, and is coupled with a new version of crowd-pleasing, set-closing favourite ‘Nelson’.

Both songs will be available on our Bandcamp site from Sunday March 21st.

Two accompanying videos will be aired as part of ‘What the Helstock?’ virtual festival on the Blue House Agency Facebook page livestream on Saturday the 20th - scheduled showtime is around half past eight GMT depending on prevailing winds and weather conditions in the East Anglian region -

This is a digital only release, but you can listen to it a couple of times for free online before you make your mind up as to whether you want to own it or not.

We also do parties, festivals and house concerts, so once we’re up and running again, if you like what you hear, do get in touch.

*Ed - please check with the young folk to see if this is still what they do.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

“He’s thrown a kettle over a pub - what have you done..?”

You would be surprised - although not unduly, I feel -  at how little I make from this Blog. I know you like to think of me descending from my Dubai apartment in order to do a little light dictation between mocktail shoots, but it’s not all like sourdough and circuses in my career. That’s why I work in a car park, and you don’t*. 

Looking back - as I frequently do - over past chapters (mainly for throwback posts originally published on the same date as whenever I find myself in a contemplative mood - which is most of the time, these days) I sometimes wonder why certain entries have caught, if not the Zeitgeist, then occasionally eine vor├╝bergehende Stimmung. As it turns out, this is usually when someone with more friends than me has reposted something on Facebook. I remember looking at the visitor count when it got to twenty thousand and thinking that was pretty impressive. I could visualise it as a well-attended Cropredy Festival, which was pretty special for me. Most individual entries get forty or fifty passing views, which if translated into a pub gig, would keep me more than happy and entertained for an evening (as, hopefully, I would them) so I’m quite happy essentially scribbling in the margins, occasionally making a grab for attention when I get involved with one of my celebrity friends.

It’s a very similar take on what I do with what I occasionally refer to as my music ‘career’. A few folk gathered together - every so often a festival crowd, and/or some perfect strangers taking the time out to let you know how they enjoyed the show. This is obviously a lot trickier than simply sitting down with a hot cup of tea and - very much in the manner and spirit of Led Zeppelin, simply rambling on. We have to get into a room, make things up out of our own heads, play them all at the same time - one of the issues with the great unpleasantness over the last year or so has been that even in times of reduced lockdown, allowing six people to meet in a socially-distanced scenario doesn’t really help if you’re in a seven piece band. You can’t always leave out the banjo player... 

As part of our prep for this year’s What the Helstock we have written, individually prepared, recorded, videoed and remotely submitted our parts for a brand new song, Fiddly has lovingly assembled, cut and pasted, re-worked, mixed and sent out rough mixes (that’s six other opinions to wrangle, remember) as well as revamping the band favourite (we usually close the first set with it) that we’ve been working on and tweaking via electronic mail and dead letter boxes for about a year now, and we won’t even be able to hear the applause when it goes out. A fellow traveller colleague spent hours on his multi-tracked, loving synchronised, cross-cultural, split-screen recording and was encouraged that it had clocked up a couple of hundred views on YouTube in under a week. One of our workmates whipped out her phone and navigated quickly to her sister’s TikTok. “She’s had one point one million views” she explained. We looked on, impressed. “What did she do?!” we breathed in wonder.

“She got bored one day and dyed our pond blue”.

*Big up to the Park and Ride Massive. Whaddup, Beaches?


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

What the Helstock!?

Casting a rheumy eye back over blogs past in an effort to keep up the flow of
content – albeit reduced, reused, recycled or remixed content that makes little sense beyond the universal themes of getting, playing or regretting having played gigs – it seems that the overarching theme at this time of year is always “What are we going to do about Helstock*?”

Last year this was quite a simple task in that a suitable venue had been secured, folk were already eyeing up the cheese stall at their local farmer’s market** (entry is traditionally by interesting cheese) and I think we’d even put out a set list so that we could ignore it on the night at our leisure. Then of course came the first wave of the great unpleasantness, and even before you could say “Black Bob’s your uncle” folk were politely declining the opportunity to drive across county or even country lines in order to sit in an enclosed space with thirty or forty other people, some of whom would be projecting across the room as boisterously as possible, and even with your own microphone that’s a hell of an aerosol storm to get caught up in.

Fast forward to 2021*** and ruminant minds were already considering how best to go about marking the passing of another orbit around the daystar on Helen’s behalf. Virtual events seem to be in vogue this year, and so rather than gather the clans around a fixed point in the universe Blue House Music impressario and shed magnate James Partridge agreed that he might curate an online festival of the arts, combining live performances with pre-recorded inserts, and juggling the whole thing from the security of his own bunker (if nothing else, the backstage area is likely to have slightly better laundry facilities than he’s used to).

This obviously opened up a whole new world of opportunities for us in Helen and The Neighbourhood Dogs in that we could contribute from the safety and security of our own bubbles AND none of us would have to appoint a designated driver to get us home afterwards.**** All those livestreamed events though? All a sham. Those bands aren’t playing live from their respective bedrooms, bathrooms or libraries (and I’ve lived in flats where that’s all one room, by the way), they’re carefully syncing up to a pre-recorded track, contributed ad hoc and carefully pieced together by a skilled engineer in his home studio – or workshop, since we’re getting Fiddly to do ours. It’s a bit like being on Top of the Pops in the olden days. 

Fortunately, Helen and I had a co-write all ready to go, so all we needed to do was to sync the parts, add a count in, make sure everyone had access to appropriate recording facilities and - I won’t lie to you – cross our fingers. I mean, if nothing else, it’s taken a shorter time to get through the process than our last effort, which I see from my notes involved Tony doing a squeezebox part on March 13th last year and hasn’t seen the light of day since. It’s not like we’ve been holed up in Rockfield drinking cider and harassing the local dope dealers for the good shit, either.

I myself have contributed a pre-recorded solo performance which I’m rather hoping doesn’t get excluded for reasons of time, or insufficient global appeal, as it’s also my birthday around this time of year, and it means I get to piggyback on the celebrations (and occasionally the celebrants) without having to organise my own party. At least there’s a fair chance that I’ll make the cut in that I won’t have to fill in several pages of application form and contribute a short missive on what Helstock means to me before being considered (and ultimately ignored) by a committee of the righteous*****. Ironically, given the bits and bytes I’ve devoted to Helstock over the years, I am ideally situated to contribute just such a prize-winning essay, but hopefully it won’t come to that.

If it does, I might send this one.

Helstock will be broadcast live on YouTube on March 20th

*Every year we get together around the time of The Fragrant and Charming Helen Mulley’s birthday for a shindig involving friends, relatives and, usually, one special guest whose actual job it is. Search the blogger tags for ‘Helstock’ and you’ll get the idea. There are so many on here that I once gave her a small book compiled of the entries as a birthday card.

**Mine was principally Italian in origin, which gives you some idea that the market was local, and the farmer was not.

***Or [Needle scratch] “You’re probably wondering how I ended up here..?”

****Although I did walk Helen home through town on a Friday night after we’d decamped to The Steamboat one year and I didn’t see a look that simultaneously appalled and bewildered until years later, when we put on The Chemical Brothers at Glastonbury while she was napping.

*****Obviously one way around this process is to be of a level of talent which means that you are invited to participate instead of having to submit a recent photograph and a YouTube video via email, but fortune has not smiled sufficiently on my endeavours thus far, The Star Club and Picturehouse aside. So, yeah, it has actually.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Another Frowback Friday


On January 30th, 2006 I sat down after a gig and wrote the first entry in one of these ‘Blogs’ I’d been reading so much about on the internet. I was in a band called Picturehouse (still am, or rather am again, if truth be told) whose mission statement was, and remains, “It’s like going to the pub with your mates”.

In the succeeding decade and a half we split up, reformed, played in (at least) half a dozen splinter outfits, formed bands, recorded albums, went to festivals, and I started reflecting on not only our life in the slow lane, but that of my friends, colleagues, family and contemporaries - many of whom are the same people. I got a job in radio, I wrangled some Americana, and at various times shared a stage with at least one ex-member of Fairport Convention, a Grammy winner, and the drummer out of Cake (not all the same person).

Occasionally I rustled up the blogs and made them into books - hence my CV, which begins “Bon vivant and best-selling author...”*. Obviously, recent events have meant that the juggernaut of breathless prose and reportage has been slowed from a deluge to a trickle, hence the recycling going on over the past few months, but I’m keeping my head above water. There’s a weekly cover version going up on my Soundcloud page - it may not seem that impressive at first glance but if this pandemic goes on much longer it’s going to make a hell of a Spotify playlist of the originals - and we in The Neighbourhood Dogs are dipping our collective toes into the wellspring of remote recording. Maybe we’ll get one of those Celebrity Squares-type videos out for you.

If you’ve been on the bus for a while, thanks. Make a seat for yourself and make sure you don’t eat your sandwiches too early - there’ll be nothing more until lunchtime. If you’ve only recently joined the company, welcome aboard. Enjoy the ride. What a long, strange trip it’s become...

It doesn’t.*

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The Word Bin.

 ‘What word would you bin (get rid of) and why? 

A 5 minute-ish podcast in which you will hear 3 people binning a word of their choice and explaining their reasons for doing so.’

I’m on this one. Listen to me channel my inner Phil Bryer as I make a wild claim about Neil Young and - as anyone who has spoken to me before about five in the afternoon in real life will be able to attest - attempt to not make it obvious how enjoyable those first three glasses of delicious New Zealand Pinot Noir were. Many thanks to Nadia Kingsley for having me, and do feel free to chip in with a word of your own!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

“I thought that if you had an acoustic guitar it meant that you were a protest singer.“

A couple of blogs ago I wrote about writing and recording with my long-term Ingenious Gentleman of La Mancha Tony James Shevlin. He sidled up to me at the office. “I don’t know about the intrinsic artistic integrity of the recording in terms of fully mastered digital release - do you want to make a video?” (I’m paraphrasing). So we got together again and made a stripped-down, if you will, ‘unplugged’ version with him on the expensive acoustic guitar he bought in Nashville and me on what they call, just North of the Humber, the Durrbrurr.

We’ve decided to put it out there in the online wild partly because we feel we need to make a statement upon these crazy, unprecedented times with our crazy, unprecedented rhymes, and partly because these things otherwise tend to sit unloved in musty drawers until they’re old and irrelevant, and no-one wants that, least of all us. Not at our age. 

It’s not the longest protest song ever written - I mean, it’s got one less verse than ‘The Times They Are a-Changing’, which Bob Dylan wrote when he was only twenty two. Mind you, I could play that when I was twelve, and I think that says quite a lot. 

I showed it to my wife. “Remember” I said beforehand “They say that the camera adds ten pounds.”

“Christ” she responded. “How many cameras did he use?”