Monday, 26 November 2007

Ten Years Gone

On Thursday afternoon I sadly bid farewell to an old friend of mine, and wished them luck on their journey to pastures new. After much prevarication, I'd finally sold my faithful little Gallien-Krueger 200MB bass combo on Ebay. Which was quite a wrench, I must say, given that it had performed admirably for me at hundreds of gigs, coped with falling pints (& punters, on a few occasions) in smoke-choked pubs, and survived the shoddy shock absorbers and shifting p.a. cabinets in the murky depths of many a hired van in the course of our decade-long relationship. All with hardly a murmur of protest, and only cosmetic scrapes and scratches to show for the indignities I put it through. Unfortunately, a condensation-related problem incurred when it was sitting in storage for a year had done for the speaker, and buying an entirely new amp with the insurance payout had proved cheaper than ordering the correct replacement from G-K, so with money relatively scarce, I could hardly justify owning two small bass combos.

Still, at least it went to a good home, with a great new owner who's going to give it a whole fresh lease of life making 6-string fretless noises through his array of home-made cabinets. (Plus he only lives 5 miles away, saving me all the hassle of packaging - what a nice man! ).

Seeing the wee beastie go did set me off on yet another nostalgia trip, though...considering all the guitars, basses, amps, and other multifarious musical gewgaws that have passed-through my hands, and wondering if there was anything I still genuinely regretted having divested myself of in my quest for personal instrumental perfection.

In the end, the list was very short. No basses - I've always been pretty good at "recycling" these. My first ever bass was a red Aria ProII SLB, bought in 1990 when I was at university, and still pretending to be a guitarist of some description. Lovely neck, perfectly sound instrument, it was eventually de-fretted when my Hohner JackV came along 3 years later - which was itself subject to a de-fret job when I bought a TobyPro 6 last year. Wonder what might just happen to that if I ever get offered a 6-string, headless version of one of these for free?? There's something I particularly like about de-fretted basses. Most likely the resultant position markers, which I find enormously helpful, being both far too lazy to bother to learn fretless properly, and extremely short of time to practice (thanks to the kids, naturally. Nothing to do with writing this nonsense. This hardly takes any time at all...errrr... ).

I was tempted to include my last guitar multi-fx unit, a Boss ME-8, whose qualities I only truly appreciated after I'd parted with it - but since it went to another excellent home, (my very good mate Martin), and I haven't played a gig on electric guitar since 1995 (or thereabouts), then I'm not going to complain about that one having got away.

In the end, the only 2 items of musical gear I wish I'd never part-exchanged, or sold in the desperate bid to finance the purchase of something more shiny, were my first decent guitar - a British-made Shergold "Custom Masquerader" , and the wonderful little Marshall "Lead 12" amp I bought with it. The Shergold was actually my 2nd electric, but the first one (a nameless East German Strat copy) was so bad, (and utterly resistant to being set-up properly - a lesson in applied Communism! ), that all I can recall of it was that it was black, in homage to Ritchie Blackmore, and that it was far more of a cheese-slicer than a guitar, to which the ends of my fingers constantly bore witness.

I spent £125 on the Shergold way back in 1986, and I loved it to bits. The neck and balance just felt "right", and with a bewildering array of switching possibilities on board, it was capable of producing at least 4 usable sounds - which is 1 more than a PRS! The pick-ups weren't what you'd call powerful, so it was never going to be first choice for your average shred-monster, but it could certainly hold its own in any heavy blues / jazz-rock / disappear-into-your-own-bellybutton-prog setting, which was perfect for me. I even, briefly, owned a matching 12-string model, but couldn't handle the tediousness involved in tuning the damned thing - remember, this was in the "olden days", the late Medieval/early Rennaissance era, when digital tuners couldn't be found easily for under £10. (I believe I also mentioned earlier my inherent laziness, too? I did? Just checking).

Relative poverty, however, meant that when I surrendered to the overwhelming seductive charms of a Patrick Eggle New York six years later, selling the Shergold was the hard, but necessary, part of the bargain. I've looked for another one in the last couple of years, but they appear to be "highly collectable" now, so I reckon I've got about as much chance of replacing my ugly-yet-beautiful "cherry" (although it always looked more "burgundy" to me) Shergold, complete with an old London bus ticket acting as a shim under the neck joint, as I have of finding a vellum manuscript of the Vinland Sagas in a local charity shop.

Marshall 12's, on the other hand, do still turn up in fair numbers, although the asking price for reasonable-condition examples has finally started to reflect their true quality. I had the basic, no-reverb version, and knew virtually nothing about amps, so when the opportunity arose to trade it in for something slightly more powerful that had a reverb unit in it, I stupidly, stupidly, STUPIDLY took it.

Seriously, a Lead 12 is one of the finest pieces of equipment Marshall ever built! Don't take my word for it -

"Lead 12: The Little Screamer
Greater distortion at low volumes was also the goal of one of the most interesting amps Marshall released in the early '80s – the model 5005 Lead 12.
A 12-watt transistor practice amp with a 10" Celestion, it retailed for under $200 and for many came surprisingly close to capturing the great, warm sound of the distorted Marshall amps of years gone by. It was a favorite of many working musicians, including luminaries like Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top."

(from "Marshall Amplifiers: A History", by Edward B Discroll, Jr. - well worth a quick Google! )

It was the baby of a whole range of solid state Marshalls, which are all well worth a look if you're after that tone, just without the corresponding hernia. And again, if I could spare the money for another one, I'd snap it up in an instant. They've got everything you could want for the price - a Lead 12 sounds great, looks cool, and it's so small you might lose it down the back of the sofa. Assuming your sofa is quite big, of course. And that you're somewhat careless with your musical equipment.

Anyway, to return to the original subject, selling my Gallien-Krueger has presented a common ethical problem balancing the wants and needs of the individual with those of the family/social group. I was intending to "ring-fence" the proceeds, (which were more than I was expecting ), with a view to buying a small digital recorder, so that, in addition to my semi-literate and almost-amusing blog postings, I could infect the internet with my musical ramblings, too. There is, however, the small matter of two ever-growing mini-blokes to be clothed, fed & housed in relative non-squalor, and limited funds currently available with which to do so. As any parent reading this will know, in the real-life game of "Tolerably-Coping Families" ("Happy" is a deeply contentious concept ), "kids" are always trumps, so I'll most likely content myself with the familiar, comforting lie that goes: "Well, I'll not spend that money now, but in a few weeks/months/years/lifetimes [if you believe in all that 'reincarnation' business - what an opportunity for long-term stock investment! ], when we can properly afford it, then I'll buy that [insert personal object of desire here] I've always wanted."

Except, of course, that's never quite how it works out. When we finally arrive at the designated future purchasing point, there's always been a fresh need/domestic maintenance issue/minor crisis that has cropped-up in the meantime, ensuring that our expenditures continually rise to meet our available budgets. A while back I sold an electric mandolin, supposedly for exactly the same purpose as the Gallien, and it ended-up paying the Council Tax bill for September...

Ah, well.

Never mind.

Anyone know the going rate for a kidney, hmmm?

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Dazed And Confused

All I seem to do these days is apologise for not keeping up with my good intentions with this blogging concept, and today is no exception. To be brief, there's stuff going on domestically which I'm not going to elaborate on, (since I never intended this to be the readily-available-almost-everywhere-online, tedious solipsistic wafflings about my innermost feelings regarding my daily family life, etc), but isn't exactly conducive to flexing the old 'comedy muscle'. I thought that trying to write some vaguely music-related nonsense would be a useful therapeutic contrast, but it looks like I was wrong - which is becoming something of a recurring theme these days.

Everything's in a state of flux. And I'm too close to the tip of the soldering iron for comfort.

'Normal' service may be resumed quite soon. Maybe.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Breathe... something I haven't been able to do for the last fortnight - through my nose, that is. Turns out my "bit-of-a-cold" that I'd had while up in Inversness has mutated gloriously into full-blown sinusitis, which is the main reason it's been two weeks since I last inflicted my ramblings on the world. Having finally got the kids in bed, I sat down at the computer last Sunday evening, fully intending to regurgitate further choice anecdotal witticisms regarding music shops I have known and loved (i.e. where the long-suffering staff tolerated me on a regular basis), but after several abortive attempts at an opening sentence, I succumbed pathetically to the lure of a comfy Ikea chair (one of those slightly odd, 'bouncy' ones) and thought-process-free television. (Oh, the privations I suffer for my art! ).

Trying to understand this interruption of my usual logorrheic flow, I originally came up with a (deeply uninformed) theory that the incredible pressure in my sinus cavities was somehow pressing on the brain itself, causing an impingement in the areas most closely associated with creativity, language, and drivel-related hormone levels. A whole five minutes' worth of careful research, however, demonstrated that this hypothesis was, in technical terms, "total bollocks". More likely it was just the amygdala, (due to intense irritability), lashing out and giving Broca's & Wernicke's areas (speech/language) a bit of abuse, resulting in it being served with an ASBO (for the non-British out there, that's the generally-ineffectual "Anti-social Behaviour Order", widely regarded as a 'badge of honour' amongst the Neds they're mostly handed out to. For those unfamiliar with the term "Neds", it is acceptable to substitute "Shuggies", or "Jaikies", instead, as in the common expression, "They Weegie Jaikies is aw monged oan ra Buckie, man!". Not, it must be stressed, to be confused with, "Gadgie", as in "Yon gadgie's a barrie radge, man!". That would just be silly), by my orbito-frontal cortex (inhibiting socially-unacceptable behaviour) acting as a cranial police officer. Or possibly not.

Anyway, as any singer will tell you - well, any singer who has half a notion of what they're doing, and roughly how to control the process (which is a frighteningly small proportion of all the "vocalists" out there)- sinusitis is a right bugger, since it completely screws up your resonance and pitching (quite apart from your face hurting - a bit like trying to play a 38+1/2"-scale, no-dot-markers-fretless, plastic bass that gave your fingers a small electric shock every time they touched the strings). Not that I'm doing any proper singing these days, I just felt like whinging a bit more . If I were still involved in recital stuff, by now I'd almost certainly have fallen-back on the old favourite cure-all, gin-and-lemsip...which works, but you really do have to concentrate a little harder....

Aside from the obvious (sore, tired, irritable, nose doing Niagara impressions - and thanks to the joys of hayfever, I've done gigs where I knew my nasal excretions were streaming steadily down onto my instrument, but couldn't stop playing to do anything about it - always nice at a wedding ), the biggest problems I've had are losing the senses of smell & taste (which makes cooking for the kids slightly tricky - just how many chilis did I put in this stuff, hmmm? Reckon it could do with some more...). On the other hand, no.2 son's nappies have been far more pleasant to deal with (how come we never seem to fully acclimatise to that particular odour?), and I can afford to indulge the "I-feel-ill-so I want-ice-cream" cravings with the really cheap stuff that would otherwise taste like petrochemical run-off. See? There's always a bright side!

Mind you, the more I researched sinusitis and its possible causes, the more I wished I'd left well alone - reading about all the tiny things that can go wrong with your mucociliary system, (the mucus that lines/humidifies/protects your respiratory bits, and the movement & drainage thereof - do blogs get more exciting than this? I mean, do they? ), is enough to turn anyone into a raging hypochondriac - I'm currently convinced I've got nasal polyps. Or non-functioning sinus cilia. Or both!

Seriously, though, the weirdest thing I found out was the huge economic impact of nasal/sinus conditions - I could only get stats for the USA (i.e. I had a brief look elsewhere, but rapidly lost interest when it became obvious that effort might be required), but I think (hope) you might find them as interesting as I do (N.B. I have no life/friends):

* Sinusitis affects c. 14% of the US population annually.
* It accounts for c. 28.2 million visits to the doctor per year.
* Almost $6 billion (!) p.a. is spent on sinusitis, of which c. $2.2 billion goes on medication.

Which just goes to prove the old saying - "Where there's mucus, there's brass!"

Finally, before anyone starts thinking I'm as obsessed with my nasal passages, (and what comes out of them in a multi-coloured form first thing in the morning - aren't you glad I shared?), as that old quackmeister Sigmund Fraud - definitely not about to try his cure-of-choice, cocaine - I'm going to lurch unpredictably off in a completely different direction. Now, anyone who knows me at all is aware that I don't dance. It may be slightly ironic that I spent 8 years in ceilidh bands persuading semi-drunk strangers to cast off their inhibitions and fling each other around by whatever came to hand, but I was never one of those callers who jumps onto the dance floor at the merest sniff of an opportunity to show off their twinkling footwork - giving instructions (and talking a load of old shite into the bargain ) was the full extent of my involvement in the enterprise. Nor, it must be said, have I ever had any great interest in, or experience of, "Latin American" music, except for what cropped-up in the odd bit of Jaco Pastorius / Weather Report.

Which is why discovering the incredible gorgeousness of Lidia Borda's voice and music took me completely by surprise. No disrespect to all the other vastly talented, original, brilliant, amazing, etc,etc (will that sycophancy suffice?) artists on my "friends" list - you're all fabulous, too, but you work within genres that I'm at least reasonably familiar with, styles that feel pleasantly comfortable, like a good pair of well-worn-in Marks & Spencer boxer shorts. Ms. Borda and her sultry tango songs (drown your ears in the vocal equivalent of molten 72%-cocoa-solids chocolate!) are an utterly new experience to me, and one which I cannot recomend highly enough to anyone reading this. Not that I understand a word of what she's singing, of course, but when it's so beautifully expressed, who cares? And the four tracks on her site are all available to download - for free! This could, might I suggest, even be the ultimate music for, er, "impressing the ladies", shall we say, chaps? Try slipping one of her cd's on in between the (more traditionally blokey) speed metal, obscure prog, and free jazz, and see what happens...

Not that I'd know anything about the noble arts of romance & seduction - just ask my wife!