•22 January, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I realised something this afternoon that shocked me a little. This year is the tenth anniversary of Nevermore. This means I’ve spent ten years of my life, on and off, spreading my thoughts across this quiet corner of the internet. I’ve looked back from time to time at old posts, and it really is incredible how much I’ve changed over the years, with certain parts of my core remaining the same.

I don’t know exactly when the anniversary date is, if I’m honest. Or even when I should count it from even if I knew. This blog didn’t explode into existence, you see. It faded in. And it began with an email account.

When I was in sixth form, and just getting online in free periods at school (it was 2001 and I lived in a tiny rural village – home internet was not a thing for me back then) most of my friends used an email service whose name I can’t even recall anymore. The only real selling point was that it allowed you to create multiple email addresses using a plethora of domain names that they’d registered. Unlike Yahoo! or Hotmail, they weren’t backed up by other business interests, so they started charging around 2005, prompting me to move to Yahoo! However, before they began charging for their service, they tried splashing adverts on the logout confirmation screen. And those ad’s were for a website called 20six, offering free “weblogs”. In 2004, I’d never even heard of weblogs. It would be another year before “blogging” became a feature of virtually every internet service offered and “Web 2.0” would be discussed endlessly in magazines. So, having some time to idle in Cambridge Central Library’s computer room, I typed 20six.co.uk into my address bar to see what I could see.

What I found was a community, mostly based in London, who communicated with each other over 20six like an open version of a social network. They chatted via comment threads on each other’s posts, they exchanged “sweeties” (sort of a cross between a currency and a “like” system that encouraged people to read around) and most of what they posted wasn’t the kind of vanity journalism blogs are made of today – the posts were often a more verbose version of the triviality of twitter.

There was one user that got me into blogging. His username was Oberon and he was telling the tale, blow by blow, of a difficult divorce. His posts were literate and moving; his blog was like a mini soap opera and the tale unfolded beautifully. (Too beautifully. Months later it would turn out that Oberon was a pseudonym for another user using parts of divorce anecdotes he’d heard to inspire this first-person story that he was writing essentially as a literary exercise. He cut it off because he got rumbled and didn’t want people close to him to think he was writing about them per se.) Seeing what a blog could be, I decided to sign up to 20six and have a go at this online diary thing myself.

Is the day I signed up to 20six my anniversary? Even if I knew what date it was, I’m not sure it counts. My first post was just a quick “under construction” note; I wouldn’t actually get round to writing anything for a few weeks after that. Even then, I was tied up with a particular group of bloggers and posted mostly snippets and in-jokes like everyone else. It was only after I moved to Birmingham to begin university that I started to treat blogging like Nevermore was a weekly column and impose a word limit and deadline day on myself. Back when I started, in fact, Nevermore wasn’t even called Nevermore. My original blog was called The Lost Child. Also the title of a rock song (W.A.S.P. if you don’t know it), it reflected how I felt about my life at the time. The problem was, 20six had a stats page, much like WordPress uses now, that told you what search terms had been used to find your pages. Inevitably, some of those search terms will be odd. But when I found somebody had turned up my page with the phrase “Giving a little child a birthday spanking” I decided enough was enough. I put my blog’s name up to a public vote from a short list of titles, and “Nevermore” won.

However, even that wasn’t the birth of this blog in its current form. 20six would eventually dismantle itself by making sweeping changes to its platform after a consultation with only its German users. All the things that made it a blogging community went out of the window. The stats page, vital for the egos of us vanity publishers, vanished. And the new platform was just plain ugly and hadn’t been fully translated into English. Many of us voted with our feet, and I ended up hopping over to WordPress with the encouragement of fellow ex-20sixers Mikeachim and Boso. On moving, I actually transferred my posts manually rather than using the migration tool, so I would only keep the posts that I thought were any good. A lot of meaningless fluff has been lost, and the dates I posted them vanished into the ether, too. (Incidentally, I think it says it all that 20six.co.uk only returns a 404 page now.)

So where does that leave me? Well my first quality post (still under The Lost Child) was in July 2004, but I’m pretty certain I’ve been doing this since April. I suppose I could delay my anniversary angst until ten years after going to WordPress, but in my heart, I’ll still know I’ve been doing this for three years longer. So all I can do is call this my anniversary year, and stuff the exact date. By August, I’ll have lasted longer then Bigger Than Cheeses, even if I’m not so widely read…

Digging My Heels In

•30 November, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Here we go again with another one of those “statement of intent” blogs (that I’m probably not going to deliver on if all its predecessors are anything to go by). My month of silence has stemmed from the fact that I’m in a bit of a squeezed situation at the moment. I have a four-hour round trip to my “day” job that means I have far less spare time than I’d like, especially when I need to be working on finding a job to replace it. The constant wrestle I always have with depression isn’t helping matters, of course. I find I’m not motivated to do a lot of little things, especially when I’m tired, so I’m finding myself spend a lot of time on facebook and twitter refreshing pages and waiting for someone to pay me some attention. So it’s time to get a grip.

I’ve been overloading myself with personal demands – things I’ve been doing to increase my skills and improve my physical fitness and mental agility. Unfortunately, I have to accept that the thing I should be paying most attention to is my mental health. So I’m reading on my journeys and my plan to do crosswords be damned. My attempted exercise regime was taking too much time away from my evenings, so I’m scaling it back to a more manageable time commitment. I still want to be able to play the piano by the end of the year, and I find it therapeutic, so I’ll phase practising the ivories back in. And I am going to write more.

Why? Well, at the end of the day, being a writer isn’t something you choose to do. It’s a pathological need. A compulsion. A productive sort of mental illness. And the fact that I’ve just not been doing as much of it as I was five years ago is doubtlessly contributing to my feelings of listlessness. So I’m setting a little task for myself. I’ve been reading Black Library Publishing’s “Horus Heresy” series when time permits for the last few months, and I’ve kind of had an inkling to start writing reviews. I’m only five books in, and I’m reading them slowly, so reviewing them won’t be an onerous task. And besides which, I want to. So I’m giving myself mental permission to have this as a hobby. Furthermore, politics are getting interesting again, and I’ve always found it therapeutic to rant against Left and Right alike over their idiot reactions to party politics. So maybe more of my political ire should be splashed across these pages. I mean, I don’t think I’ve said a lot about the state of the British political landscape since the last general election…

So with two reasons to write, maybe I should let the fire in my heart do its thing. I can only feel better for it, surely?

Adventures in Leicester – Part 3

•20 October, 2013 • Leave a Comment

The sound-check passed without incident. As it happens, our own equipment is pretty loud so we ended up not putting a microphone on the guitar amp and just letting the engineer balance the rest of the band through the PA system against the guitar’s volume. The monitors were feeding back through the mic’s more than I’d have liked, meaning I was having to listen to myself more from the main speakers (i.e. getting a muted sound because I was standing behind them) but I’ve sung under worse conditions. Afterwards, the band split up a bit. Andy the drummer went to visit a brother who lives locally, and André the guitarist and his wife went across the road to get something to eat. I went back to the car park to retrieve my stage gear and get dressed.

I caught André and Monique up in the local Wetherspoons and grabbed myself a quick bite along with another couple of pints. You’ll remember from the previous instalment that I’d bought some trainers earlier in the day and had a bit of a rigmarole in Sports Direct. Well, as André went off to the toilets to change into his shirt and waistcoat, I started getting my new trainers out of the box to lace them up and wear them for the show. It was only as I was lacing them up that the penny dropped. These weren’t the Puma tennis shoes that had been put behind the counter for me. This was another, very similar pair with laces instead of velcro straps. In fact, this was the pair I wanted but had been told were out of stock. I felt a small pang of guilt that whoever else had wanted these trainers was now without, but Leicester’s Sports Direct really didn’t have their shit together that afternoon, and all I could now do an hour after closing time was reap the benefit and be cheered by my good luck. And they are very nice trainers.

By the time we’d crossed the road back to the venue, the opening act had finished and we were due on stage almost immediately. Knowing that this was a weekend event we were playing for, I’d already planned a few weeks ago to try to get a chant going from the audience for RvB (the convention in question) while the band started the introduction to the opening song behind the chant. Any doubts I had about that coming off were quickly dissipated, and people from the main part of the bar upstairs were soon coming down to see what was going on. Frankly, we rocked. And the level of response we got from the audience that evening was a vindication of what our stage show had been about for the preceding twelve months. We got the same nodding heads, tapping feet, dancing, and applause from a crowd of strangers that we were getting in Birmingham from the friends and family that were the bulk of our audience there.

Adventures in Leicester – Part 2

•5 October, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Having wrapped up at Phoenix Square, Ed and I had an appointment to keep. A week or two earlier, my author friend, Cathy, had put out a call for offers to occupy a rare free weekend. I suggested she join us for the gig, and she took the opportunity to meet up with a Leicester-based friend in her literary circles. She called us just before the interview session, so afterwards Ed and I started walking to the station. As it happened, there was some kind of caribbean carnival going on that weekend, so we got to see a few of the floats and dancers on our way out of the station as we searched for a pub.

I suppose the important thing from the point of view of this tale is that lunch happened. And so did another pint of cider. I chatted about wrestling and martial arts with Cathy’s friend and we went our separate ways: Ed and I to the Crumblin’ Cookie for a sound check, and Cathy and her friend for a proper catch-up.

If I’m honest, although Reebok classic trainers are what I wear day-to-day, I think they’re too bland for stage gear. So I decided to “nip” into Sports Direct for a pair of Puma tennis shoes. Three pints down and not having had much sleep, I was a little bit tipsy. In this slightly glazed state, I found my way to the Puma trainers and saw a black and white pair I liked. And a pair with pink trims I liked slightly less. It was late afternoon on a Saturday, so of course it was going to be busy. Having managed to get a member of staff’s attention, he radioed the stock room. Then I waited for over half an hour (this is not an exaggeration, I checked my watch). I had to collar the original guy again (and he was very helpful) and he radioed again, only to be now told that they weren’t in stock in my size. Nor were my second choice. Eventually, I was offered something similar to the first design, but with a velcro strap instead of laces. Reluctantly, I accepted them, and in typical Sports Direct fashion, they guy put them behind the till for me along with a pile of three other boxes.

I didn’t see exactly where he set them down. After queueing briefly, I got served at the till. I told the girl there that I had a pair of Pumas waiting for me, and she went to the nearest pile of boxes. But the first Puma box the girl behind the till produced did not contain my trainers. So she tried again with another box from a different pile. Seeing the black leather and white trim, I thought she had found the right ones, so I paid up and left, closer to sound-check time than I’d have liked.

Next week: the sound check and the gig

Adventures in Leicester – Part 1

•4 September, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Well, it’s about a month after the fact, but I probably ought to tell you all about Harlequin’s Kiss’ adventures in Leicester. The gig itself was a long time in the planning from our point of view. The promoter, Jason (an old school friend of Ed the bassist) had been wanting to get us in on something in the town ever since he’d attended our first gig in the Gunmakers Arms over a year ago. As such, when he began arranging an afterparty for the RvB:UK gaming event, we were given a spot in the middle of the bill early in the planning. It did make me smile that the promotional literature described “a surprise appearance” from us as Birmingham rockers, given that we were actually booked a couple of months before the two local acts for the event.

That was the background and, frankly, we were looking forward to it. A new town, a fresh audience from all over the country, and a well-known venue to boot – the whole thing would be a fresh experience for us. Furthermore, this was the first time we were tied to time. Previously we’ve headlined self-promoted gigs, so having to trim our set to forty-five minutes was a new experience for us, meaning we were putting together a show that would always be at least a little different to our previous efforts. In fact, we had a gig coming up at one of our usual haunts that we used as a testing ground for some of the elements we intended to include. For one thing, a change of closing number.

3rd August rolled around. Ed and I had agreed to do an interview as part of the event earlier in the day, and we had less equipment to transport than André and Andy, so we set off late morning and caught up with Jason at Phoenix Square, where the gaming was taking place. He’d offered to prepare some business cards and more professionally presented versions of our demo CD, and we were pleased to hear that a few of our cards had already been picked up from the merch and tickets table. The CDs were still being put together but would be available in time for the show.

Ed and I had some time to kick our heels, so we had a nose in the café bar where, coincidentally, a local promoter was showcasing Leicester’s young talent. So I spent some time sipping cider and listening to some pleasant teenage singer-songwriters. Eventually, we joined The Citizens’ Eye Community News Agency in a small studio room for a brief promotional interview. Most of the interviews with forum panellists across the morning were apparently audio only, but we were asked to speak in front of a camera. The results can be seen here on youtube:

Next week: Rob gets drunk in Leicester and buys some new shoes.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

•12 August, 2013 • Leave a Comment

The traditional British comics have been dying one by one. Whizzer and Chips, The Beezer, and The Topper all sang their swansongs in the 90s, followed by the demise of the goliath that was The Dandy, barely shy of its 75th birthday, last year. And now I hear a bell tolling from the hill again. I think it’s the death-knell of The Beano.

I’ve been a Beano fan since I was a kid. I always preferred The Beano‘s characters to The Dandy‘s and Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx, Roger the Dodger, and the Bash Street Kids were as big a part of my childhood as they were of anyone’s in the thirty to forty years preceding. When I started work in Cambridge, I used to buy The Beano and leave it in the staff room. Testament to its enduring appeal is that it always made its way to the managers’ office after a day or two. Back then (about 2004) it was really funny, even to my adult mind. Then my circumstances changed and I stopped buying it for a few years. Other things on my mind.

Fast-forward to 2012 and, in the summer, I bought an edition or two. Nigel Parkinson (still the funniest cartoonist on their books) was still drawing for them, but the gags weren’t funny anymore – just puerile fart jokes. The Beano had, bizarrely, become more kiddified and less sophisticated than it had been eight years before. And then The Dandy died. With increased attention from the loss of its sister publication and the resultant nostalgic final edition, The Beano had its own nostalgia market to tap into. It was printed as a new, glossier version with collectors’ covers – and the funny stuff was back. The thing that made me happiest here was more of “Calamity James” (always the funniest page in there by far), but even “Dennis the Menace” had a surreal Brit-comedy edge. I’ve been buying The Beano every week since late December.

Apparently, nostalgia hasn’t been enough. The comic is, predictably, packed with more advertising than ever, for one. And, despite the success of the 1981 Summer Special being reprinted as an extra feature a couple of weeks after Matt Smith’s Doctor Who was seen reading it, it’s been all-change again. There’s been a re-shuffle of artists, with “Roger the Dodger” and “Bananaman” both moved on to new cartoonists. Younger cartoonists with a scrappier, post-Nickleodeon drawing style. The 75th anniversary edition that kicked off the latest round of changes was packed with damp stories featuring celebrities. Numskulls has lost its normal human agent to be replaced by the numskulls of a different celebrity every week. It looks like a desperation move. Celebrity toons were not enough to save The Dandy as its circulation dropped. And if trying to appeal to an adult audience has been scaled back after less than nine months, I don’t hold much hope that The Beano can save itself by using younger artists to increase its child appeal.

A Day in the Studio

•15 July, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I’ve neglected my writing far too much of late. No more excuses – it’s time I got a grip.

The major news of the past few weeks has been developments with Harlequin’s Kiss. We’ve been intending to do it for almost a year, but now we can say that we are definitely playing Leicester. We’ll be at the Cookie Jar in the middle of a bill that includes Preacher and the Bear and some stand-up comedians for an afterparty at the end of the Red vs Blue gaming convention. The gig is taking place on 3rd August.

Oh. You want to hear what we sound like? Well, that’s my tale for the day. A while ago, we booked ourselves in for a half day in Robannas (yes, I’m plugging everyone today) to get a decent demo recorded. Sure, we could have gone DIY, but drum recording is a ball-ache. It started off as a plan to get one song done, but by the time we got into the place last weekend it was suggested that we should get three tracks down at once. The usual producer wasn’t around that day, but we still ended up with a top bloke (called Bob), and I have to say we were very happy at the outcome in the end.

It takes a while to set up the mic’s. Bob’s plan was to record the music “live” then put the vocals on afterwards. Full albums tend not to be done that way these days as the sounds of the instruments bleed into each other’s microphones, so mistakes can’t be completely covered up. With only four hours to record and mix, the setting up and balancing of the umpteen mic’s on the drums does eat some time. And that was before we ended up having to try out five different snares because of various issues with their sounds.

In the event, we did all the backing tracks in two takes apiece before setting up to record the vocals. Again, it was two takes each to lay those down. Studio perfection wasn’t an option, but we were pretty happy with what was recorded. A quick break while Bob cleaned the tracks up later, and we started mixing properly.

Sadly, I don’t have time to describe what decisions we made and why, but the result was three tracks that I wouldn’t be unhappy with representing us on the radio. Bob said at the end that this was the best sound he’d heard from a band since he’d started working at the studio in September – and that was entirely down to us. I think we had a good working rapport with him, and we were certainly impressed with the sound he made from our work. Hopefully, we’ll get to work with Bob again. Heck, you must be doing something right if the engineer’s humming the chorus of one of your tracks while he works…

The finished results will be available for your listening pleasure very soon.


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