Ch-ch-ch-changes

•11 January, 2016 • Leave a Comment

[Edit: I set the title yesterday when I scheduled this post; I wasn’t expecting to read this news today. I’m sorry to disappoint if you were hoping for reflections on David Bowie. May he rest in peace.]

As I mentioned before, a lot has happened since I last mentioned the band on this blog. I left the tale on a bit of a high. We had two guitarists, were looking for a drummer, and I was confident that we were still enough the same band not to require a name change with the loss of momentum that would create. It was all going swimmingly.

I don’t really know what happened next. One Monday, our lead axeman, Brett, is telling Rob (the owner of our regular rehearsal venue) how much he’s looking forward to the night’s session. Two or three days later he tells us that he doesn’t think the project’s for him. And that was that. Brett was kind enough to make sure we had all the material we’d jammed with him, and when the album comes there’ll be a royalty cheque with his name on it. In the meantime, Ed and Matt and I began the audition slog again.

It wasn’t as bad as we feared. Where it had taken us several months to pick up Matt and Brett after our short spell with Kev, our new lead player landed in our lap within a couple of weeks. Mike (for it is he) was a very easy fit with us, from what I remember of his audition, and from a writing point of view has had a synergy with Matt that I could never have hoped for. With a drum machine behind us, we were getting ready to conquer the world.

The drum machine was a bugbear. Many auditioning guitarists hated it so much that it was a deal breaker. But what can you do? Either not gig until some nebulous point in the future when you get a real player, or gig with a machine in the meantime, even if it’s subideal. I’d managed to get a passable sound out of a very basic machine, and it turned out we needn’t have worried. We only had to gig with the thing once.

Taking on Mike in March last year, by June we went to the Roadhouse (drum machine in tow) for a short open mic spot. By the next week our online ad’s had brought Chris to our door.

Ed and I had a good feeling. On meeting him, he reminded Ed and me of a mutual friend of whom we’re very fond. He fell quickly in to the kind of nerd talk that makes up half of the band’s conversations. And he’s a shit-hot drummer to boot. We had a hairy moment soon after we gave him the green light when we all thought he looked awfully young and I realised I hadn’t actually asked him his age, but it turns out he’s just baby-faced.

So there you go: that’s how the second gigging line-up came to be. I’ve been pleased to find that our on-stage energy has only increased, and 2016 is already leading us on to bigger things.

2016

•4 January, 2016 • Leave a Comment

So 2016 is upon us. Facebook for the last couple of days has been full of “New Year, New Me” bollocks, and it’s funny how people use the arbitrary change of the calendar year as their impetus for making such changes. Funny, because it’s also very probably the reason those changes are doomed to failure. Yeah, sure, the turn of the year does engender reflection (especially when one has spent the last week in the company of loved ones one hasn’t seen in a while), but a long list of failed resolutions by both you and your friends is all the evidence one needs that, once you’ve returned to real life, that reflectiveness soon fades. And you fall into the same traps you did last year, because every year is the same.

What I’m saying is: if you’re unhappy with your life in June, start making your changes in June. It really is as simple as that. At least then the changes are not a decision you made while essentially on holiday, away from your normal life, and your normal life doesn’t intrude on your new regime after 3 days – you’ve made your changes intrude on your old routines instead.

But, hey, why should I lecture you? I’m doing much the same, albeit by accident. I’ve been meaning to get a grip for a while – regular readers will have some inkling as to how far my mental health has spiralled downhill in the last six months. I was wanting to get a grip in December, but I didn’t have the will to do it while it meant missing out on the partying of the season.

I’ve been away between Christmas and New Year, spending time with people I haven’t seen in too long and really should spend more time with. It’s not made me reassess my life, but it has proven to me that some of the things I’m aiming for are worthwhile. It’s also demonstrated to me that I have to acknowledge and work to satisfy a need that I’ve been trying to bury and ignore. Yes, that’s deliberately cryptic.

So what does my New Year hold? It’s time to give myself permission to do all the things that I’ve been treating as low priority. I spend a lot of my time not-entirely-consciously trying to live up to the expectations of perceived authority, and That. Shit. Is. Over. I need to move away from my mum again to get properly out of that headspace, but I can still work harder to prioritise my own projects in the meantime. I need to work to improve my mental health, too. If only to keep on an even keel in what could prove to be a very busy year. I need to write again, and this post is the beginning of that. And the band has big things ahead over the course of the next few months. I’ll tell you about that next week.

A Head ’Round the Door

•7 December, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I daren’t check, but this is probably the longest break I’ve ever had from blogging. I tend to stop writing when life gets on top of me. It’s an anxiety thing, mostly, stemming from the fact that I always seem to have a heap of conflicting priorities. As I get overwhelmed, I start to feel paralysed, unable to start one thing as there’s a part of me that screams that I should be doing something else (and something else again if I start doing that). My writing, being something that I do solely for my own benefit, tends to be the first thing to suffer.

Fortunately, I have enthusiastic friends. Apparently several of my long-standing friends read this little corner of the internet (and I suppose it saves me writing one of those Christmas news letters…), the knowledge of which is often the tipping factor that allows me to give myself mental permission to actually write these posts.

Sadly, this short transmission isn’t an indication that I’m getting better (and I wrote it two weeks before I got ’round to posting it). Parts of my life have been out of control this past year, and I’ve been ground down quite badly. My housing situation is uncertain, and the full-time job that I was initially relieved to get has been something of a nightmare in reality. Things at work have begun to improve, but it’s likely to be a while before things settle down.

So here I am. Blogging. Often my first posts after silence have grand promises about what’s to come: more reviews, more fiction, more about the band, etc. etc. Today I can promise nothing. I have spent most of the last week off work trying to recover from a stress-induced physical breakdown. (Editor’s note: that was actually mid-November…) I’d have pushed the point with my GP, but actually being signed off sick is the last thing I can afford. My determination right now is to get my overdraft and credit card paid off so I can start doing something about moving on. One thing I can say is that I feel as though I owe Nevermore’s regular readers an update about Harlequin’s Kiss, because a few things have changed on that front since I last wrote wrote about my musical work. I might even manage to write it for next week before I disappear back into my depressive fug.

I’m hoping I can start to recover. The causes of my work stresses are in the process of being tackled and the fact that I’ve even managed to write this gives me some hope that I can get a grip of the other trailing cables in my life. I’m still a bit of a wreck at the moment, but I can feel a breeze from the end of the tunnel. If I can work out where it’s coming from, I might even find a chink of light…

On Gyms

•20 March, 2015 • 3 Comments

Everywhere you look nowadays, despite any number of vacant retail units to testify that our economic recover is only on paper, one thing seems to be curiously ubiquitous on the high street: gyms. They’re everywhere. Maybe the so-called obesity epidemic has something to do with it – they’re making their money off the backs of people’s paranoia. I don’t know for certain and I don’t care. Because I’ll be damned if I ever set foot in one. Why? Well I’ll tell you…

“I conceive of nothing, in religion, science, or philosophy, that is more than the proper thing to wear, for a while.” – Charles Fort, Wild Talents (1932)

This is as much the case with fitness. You’ll notice that, outside of actual sport, there is now One True Physique. It’s a fitness model’s physique, based on weightlifter’s muscles and a lack of body fat. It requires a relentless diet of protein. And it’s a fad. It has blown up over the last five years, and in another ten there’ll be a new beauty ideal. Personally, I can’t be arsed with it, because it requires gyms. To spend a day each on a number of different areas of the body in order to build it requires an amount of weights and equipment that simply cannot be contained in the average person’s home. So you give someone money to use theirs. And for what? What is fitness?

The problem these days is that it’s basically bodybuilding. Not to the insane levels of a competition bodybuilder, but nevertheless modern fitness seems to require the artificial packing on of muscle – muscle that you only use to lift weights whose only purpose is to build your muscle. That’s not worth £40 per month. Sure, on top of this bodybuilding nonsense you’re encouraged to do some cardio and get some flexibility. Fine. Do some yoga and go for a run. Yoga video – £10. Running – free.

The other thing I detest is the fad for personal trainers, because they are snake oil salesmen to a man/woman. Consider this: they advise you on the best way to train, and the best diet for your workout regime. Any fitness buff tends to give their two penn’orth online for free anyway, and reading that information tells you exactly what quacks personal trainers are. Simply put: there is no personal trainer out there who is worth a bent drachma unless they have a degree in sports science and proper qualifications as a dietician. What various fitness experts will tell you on websites is idiosyncratic and contradictory. Why? Because at best they guess which of their personal, unqualified prejudices will work for you. Have you seen the arguments about burpees? Furthermore, a friend of mine told me that his personal trainer told him that you can damage yourself by only doing one kind of press-up, so you need to do five variations. There are over a hundred variations available. And no website anywhere says you need to switch it up in the first place. Quacks, I say!

10,000 BC (Week Three)

•26 February, 2015 • 2 Comments

Given that I take a certain amount of pride in watching very little TV, I’m not sure how I can justify sticking with this show. I was hoping for some insight into the stone-age way of life – God knows the best way we could learn such things is to go out and do as they did – but the format was never really going to achieve that. As I said in my previous week’s review, the production team should have made a choice between a survival experiment and a social experiment. Doing both at once was doomed to disaster and disaster it became. This show is a car crash.

In my review last week, I’d forgotten that Tom, a male model but also a keen outdoorsman, had dropped out in the aftermath of the starvation debacle. The tribe were down to twelve once Josie had recovered from her illness. And then disaster really struck.

It had been unseasonably warm when the tribe first came to camp, resulting in some unfortunate incidents with maggots getting into their starter carcass and their furs. Suddenly, there was a cold snap and eight inches of snow fell overnight. As the snow continued through the day, the weight of it was snapping the branches of the trees in the forest, making any attempt at foraging or hunting unsafe. So the tribe were immediately evacuated back to the hunting reserve’s lodge. In the aftermath of this, despair had set into the five-strong Harding family and, despite Steve telling them the story of his surviving a capsizing ferry in Indonesia, they all elected to leave. A twenty-strong tribe was now down to seven before the half-way mark.

And it was then that the producers and Klint Janulis did what they should have done in the first place. The next few days were spent on a “Stone Age Boot Camp”, teaching the remainder the skills they needed to actually complete the experiment. So much of this nonsense could have been averted if the original twenty had been given this training in the week before they went out. When they were finally allowed to return, they had new rations and a new deer carcass to butcher. But settling back in wasn’t going to be easy and the group needed to form new dynamics.

Firstly, Paul the lorry driver cum trapper had a hissy fit when he found that some of the others had tried to sneak creature comforts back from the lodge. He tried to leave immediately, and Klint talked him out of it, leaving the others with the perception that he had tried to blackmail them. Personally, I sympathised with his position – there was no point in continuing if they weren’t going to do it properly. Then Steve ended up having a childish tantrum of his own.

Early on, he was voted in as the tribe’s leader. In the interviews, he made it clear that he thought in ‘alpha-male’ terms that all men want to be the leader. So Klint tried to give him leadership lessons during the boot camp. Unfortunately, Steve was (as it turned out) a bad leader. Firstly, he didn’t step in to try and deal with the Paul situation. Secondly, he doesn’t deal effectively with challenges. Given a new carcass and having what needs to be done impressed on them by Klint, and with Klint’s supervision for another day, the tribe had a quick discussion and Paul reckoned two people were needed for butchering and Klint said that they needed to know how to strip birch (the bark being a key to making certain tools). So Steve argued that more people were needed on the carcass, and told Klint (the external expert!) that they should forget the birch exercises entirely. With fewer voices in the camp, genuinely dominant voices like Mel and Paul were able to speak up, and Mike switched his allegiance to Mel. Steve, miffed that the tribe were listening to the experts rather than his wisdom, left.

Does a tribe need a leader? No. A tribe needs leadership, but not necessarily a leader. If you look at small communities, those that aren’t militaristic tend to have a council of elders who are trusted to make decisions as a small group for the good of the larger group. Certain elders may have areas of expertise. A single leader tends to only be needed in war and modern business, where a quick and decisive strategy is needed. Frankly, Steve was even failing at that.

Personality Crisis

•23 February, 2015 • Leave a Comment

What defines a band? It’s a tough question. One work colleague of mine said that a band should change its name if they change lead singer, but AC/DC and Iron Maiden both hit their stride after their original singers departed. How long does a single line-up have to be together before any change is unthinkable? How far do the musicians define a band’s sound? And if a band changes direction, should they still use the same name just because they are the same musicians? Pantera and Deep Purple both made their names after changing style, but Status Quo had some success as a psychedelic pop band before turning to three-chord boogie. At one extreme, Joy Division had an agreement to change their name with the line-up, and would have changed name even if it had been Stephen Morris who departed first, not Ian Curtis. At the other extreme, Dr Feelgood has continued without a single member of the original line-up since Lee Brilleaux died. If a band name is the name of a brand, it carries the weight of customers’ expectations. If you buy an album or see a show, what is it you expect to see and hear when you pay money for a given band? Obviously, this has been on my mind over the past year, so you may as well know my thinking where Harlequin’s Kiss is concerned.

It wasn’t a question until recently, and I’m not sure how it became a question. It just seems like, for the space of about a month, whenever we were booking a room at Robannas Studios, Rob Hoffman (the owner) would ask us, “Are you still keeping the name?” This went on across November and December after we took Matt on. I’m sure Rob didn’t ask us this when we were playing with Kev…

It is certainly true that André did a lot to define our sound when he joined us. His riffs are behind the songs that defined us to our audience, and even two of the blues songs that Ed and I laid the groundwork on were given their final form by André. At the same time, Harlequin’s Kiss existed for over a year before we started working with André, and our career with André and Andy amounts to only nine gigs over two years. In fact, you’ve probably not heard the original Harlequin’s Kiss – the only people who have were the Lamp Tavern’s Monday night regulars from 2010.

So if there ever was a question over our name, it was one of sound. How much have we changed by replacing a single Ibanez with twin Gibson SGs? While I didn’t lose sleep over it, I had a nagging doubt. That is, until Matt sent me demo’s of two new riffs a few weeks ago – all my doubts vanished when I heard them. Trust me, we are still Harlequin’s Kiss and we still play the same brand of catchy rock ‘n’ roll.

10,000 BC (Week Two)

•17 February, 2015 • 1 Comment

Never has a social experiment show been more predictable. Take twenty British volunteers, only a quarter of whom have any survival skills, and drop them in a hunting reserve in Bulgaria with only stone age tools. Tell me: what do you think is going to happen? Especially if you give them no training or supervision beyond day two of fifty-six?

There were two drop-outs across days one and two. Caroline collapsed with heat exhaustion before she could even change clothes and Perry was at a bad time in his life and simply needed to be home. So the reduced tribe of eighteen… erm… meandered. British people are peculiar. We don’t like treading on toes when we don’t have a formalised hierarchy, so without a nominated leader, we tend to mill around like lost sheep. On day two, the tribe did elect Steve as leader, but as most survival training is geared towards individual survival, there were several concepts that even by day nine had evidently not occurred to anyone.

Concept one: everything has to be a continuous process. On day one, four people stripped a deer, one person spent most of the day trying to light a fire, and the rest foraged a pretty meagre stock of berries and nuts. On day two, Paul and his lovely assistants made a half-baked attempt at setting traps not very far from the camp. These were not finished until day three or four. Sometime around day six (i.e. far too late) Steve decided a group should head out on a recce to find the lake they had been told about. On day two, not enough additional fires were set and no concerted effort was made to smoke the deer carcass. Two thirds of it was wasted. If you look at modern hunter-gatherers in Africa and the Amazon basin, in a day a small party will do the high-risk-high-reward stuff (hunting) while a larger group will forage concertedly, and another group will maintain the homes and fires and do other work in the village. Like sheep, this tribe have to do everything en masse.

Secondly: on screen, for the benefit of the viewers, archaeologist Klint Janulis said that the tribe would need to set several different kinds of fishing rod on the lake shore to find out which worked. Apparently, he neglected to tell them that. For two days’ work at the lake, the tribe amassed fourteen crayfish and a mouse to try to bring fifteen people back from starvation (Kym, Oliver and Terri having left on day seven).

In the meantime, the young and the dumb of the tribe couldn’t seem to get their heads round the fact that they were likely to starve if they didn’t start working to help themselves. They snacked selfishly on food rations and fart-arsed about while others worked. Yeah, they knew there was a safety net and they wouldn’t be left to die by the production team. The great British public, folks! I have no doubt that the two biggest culprits were picked because they were likely to behave that way, but that factor was bound to cause the team to collapse entirely in an experiment where inadequate training was given to start with.

By day nine, the tribe was down to twelve and the medics had been in to bail them out with food. Because modern gender divisions don’t encourage women to build muscle mass, naturally the women of the tribe were hit hardest by starvation. Kym was a vital part of the group’s dynamics, but had hit the end of her tether very early on. Terri hit the wall at the same time and her boyfriend, Oliver, left with her. Aamer, realising his own total uselessness, left after the bailout and Kam decided she couldn’t go on after the rescue, either. Josie, the resident vegetarian, was just plain too sick to go on. Unfortunately, at the end of episode four, the proactive part of the tribe are still stuck with a dead weight in the form of JP.

This whole debacle is the production team’s fault. If they wanted Big Brother Does The Flintstones, they should have kept Janulis around longer and watched the sparks fly as the cold of November kicked in – circumstances where the lazy part of the tribe were at least not endangering anyone. Likewise, if they wanted to see how modern man copes, they should have only taken people with outdoor hobbies. Instead, this over-egged pudding has failed as experiment and drama.

 
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