All posts by Dave Cross

Week Notes 49 & 50

Another fortnightly “week notes”. This will probably be the last one of the year as I’ll be on holiday for the next two weeks. I’ll try to do a final round-up when I get back early in January.

Blogging

I wrote a blog post. It was about equal marriage. People seemed to like it. Some people didn’t understand it. Other than that, I wrote two classic album posts. All three of those posts were written on the same day.

Health

In the run-up to Christmas my weight is slowly creeping up again. Currently I’m about five pounds heavier than the lightest I got to this year. My current target is to stay under fourteen stone until the end of the year and then start with renewed vigor in the new year. I managed to lose over two stone this year. If I can do the same next year I’ll be at my target weight.

Speaking & Training

Perl School 3 took place last Saturday. It seemed to go well and the feedback I’m getting has been positive. Didn’t sell quite as many tickets as I wanted to. If I want to continue doing this then I’m going to have to get better at marketing.

And that’s all the training finished for the year. I already have three training sessions booked in for next year. Looks like that side of the business is doing well.

Technology

Had a bad technology week. One of the hard disks in my main web and email server crashed early on Monday morning. That’s ok though, it was only a secondary disk in a RAID cluster. Had I just asked the admins to replace it, then things would have been fine and my sites would have been back in four hours. But I didn’t, I tried to take backups of some important data before doing that, which meant it was three days before I got the server back. And at some point during the process an important database file went missing and four or five of my databases became unusable. Two of them were really quite important. Nothing that I can’t live without for the time being, but there’s going to be some work to fix them in the new year.

This is why I’m not a sysadmin.

Holiday

As I mentioned last time, we’re off on holiday this week. Don’t expect any updates from me until early next year. I expect I’ll still be active on Twitter.

Gigs

I’ve seen a few gigs in the last couple of weeks.

  • Elbow at the O2: The band were great but, once again, I had a terrible seat.
  • Beth Orton at the Union Chapel: One of the gigs I had been most looking forward too all year. Rather too focussed on her new album, but she was great.
  • The Men They Couldn’t Hang at the Borderline: This was ok. I don’t think I was really in the mood for it. Probably won’t leave it another twenty years before seeing them again.
  • Stealing Sheep at Bush Hall: Another gig I was really looking forward to. For various reasons I’ve missed every gig they’ve played in London this year so it was a year since I had last seen them. They were great a year ago, but they’ve become so much better in the last year. If they don’t become huge stars then there’s no justice in the music industry.
  • Ellie Goulding at Brixton Academy: Another one I wasn’t really in the mood for. I seriously considered just not going. But I went anyway and it was alright. Don’t think I’ll be rushing back to see her again.

Films

Seems ages since I saw a new film. But this afternoon I’m going to see The Hobbit. Reviews have been mixed.

 

OK Computer

Attempting to get less behind on the classic albums… The next one is Radiohead’s OK Computer.

Some Historical Context

Like REM, I don’t really remember when I first heard Radiohead. I expect I was aware of things like “High and Dry” and “Creep” when they were released as I’m sure they both had lots of radio play. I know I had bought both of their first two albums before this one was released. And I’m pretty sure that I bought this soon after it was released.

I’ve carried on buying every Radiohead album since. But, to be honest, I haven’t enjoyed any of their newer stuff anywhere near as much as I enjoyed their first three albums. And I think that OK Computer is the best of the three. But I haven’t listened to it all the way through for a couple of years.

The rest of this blog post will be written as I listen to the album.

The Songs

1. Airbag

Like many of these albums, I find that when I look closely at the track listing, there are many titles that I recognise, but that I can’t associate with a song. This is a good example. I knew the title, but I had no idea how it was going to sound. That’s true of about half of the tracks on this album. But, of course, I recognise it. And I like it. It’s an early indication that we have moved on substantially from the band’s first two albums.

2. Paranoid Android

This is hard to describe. It’s a 90s version of Bohemian Rhapsody. I don’t mean that in a bad way (overplayed and impossible to take seriously after Wayne’s World). I just mean that it’s a complex song that frequently changes its sound. When I first heard it fifteen years ago, it completely blew my away. Of course it’s now very familiar. And I have to say that the familiarity means that it has lost some of its power.

3. Subterranean Homesick Alien

Another “oh, it’s that one” moment. One of the tracks I really like on the album. I should really take the trouble to learn what it’s called.

4. Exit Music (For a Film)

Another good one that I always forget about.

5. Let Down

Like this one too. Not one of my favourites, but it’s enjoyable enough.

6. Karma Police

Best song on the album. Best thing that Radiohead have ever recorded.

7. Fitter Happier

I knew what this one was going to be. It’s the Stephen Hawking one. Probably my least favourite track on the album.

8. Electioneering

This isn’t that good either. Oh, it’s better than the Stephen Hawking thing, but it doesn’t really go anywhere.

9. Climbing Up the Walls

This one pretty much washed over me. It stopped played thirty seconds ago and I can’t really remember it.

10. No Surprises

That stuff I said about “Karma Police” being the best Radiohead song ever. I might have been wrong.

11. Lucky

This is nice. Very laid back. I recognise it, but I had no idea what it was called.

12. The Tourist

A lot of the albums I’ve been listening to recently end rather weakly. And this is no exception. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s not not a particularly strong end to the album. The album just kind of bumbles to an end.

In Summary

I still really like this album. It wasn’t anywhere near as disappointing as some of the other old favourites that I’ve been relistening to recently. But it’s still not quite as good as I remember.

Perhaps I should give some of those more recent Radiohead albums another go.

Equal Marriage

Over the last few days there has been a fair amount of heat and light coming out of the Tory party, generated by the discussion about equal marriage (or, as the tabloids like to describe it, “gay marriage”).

We’ve know for ages that David Cameron is in favour of it and that a lot of the Tory heartland isn’t. But at the end of last week Cameron said that he supported same-sex wedding ceremonies taking place in churches if (and that “if” is important here) the church is happy for them to take place. This hasn’t played well in the shires and various Tories have said a number of increasingly stupid things about it (for a particularly ridiculous example see Tim Fenton’s excellent piece on Nadine Dorries’ confusion over religious freedom and the ECHR).

The problem seems to be that all of the naysayers are illiterate. I said that the word “if” was important in what Cameron was proposes. To many of his critics it seems to be invisible. Where you and I are reading “churches may decide to hold same-sex wedding ceremonies if they want to”, Cameron’s critics are reading “churches will be forced against their will to hold same-sex wedding ceremonies”. They seem to be reading the story through some kind of middle-England auto-bigotry filter.

Some people on my side of the debate (in case that’s not clear, it’s the pro-equal-marriage side) have gone the other way – saying that churches should be forced to hold these ceremonies. I don’t want that at all. Here’s what I want.

I want churches to be stopped from marrying people.

Ok, that’s a deliberately attention-grabbing way of putting it. I should explain in more detail.

As I see it, there are two parts of a marriage. There’s the legal joining together of two people. And then, for some people, there’s a religious ceremony. What if those two parts were completely separated? What if churches lost the right to perform the legal part of the marriage ceremony?

This isn’t so strange. People do it all the time. If non-Christians want to get married, they have to do it in two stages. They go to the registry office to do the legal stuff and then they go to a mosque, temple or whatever to have a ceremony. What if all weddings worked like that?

So here’s what I propose:

  • In order to be legally married, you need to go through some process at a local registry office. This would be a purely legal thing. Bride and groom (or whichever permutation is appropriate) and a couple of witnesses. After this you would be legally married.
  • You then have the option to have some other kind of ceremony of any type you want. Many people would choose a church. Others would go to a mosque or a temple or whatever. You’d also have the option to do nothing else.

The advantage, as far as I see it, is that as the second part (the religious ceremony) now has no legal standing whatsoever, then the government would have no say at all about how it is run and whether or not churches or mosques or temples can run same-sex ceremonies. That decision would be unambiguously in the hands of the people running the organisation in question (but good luck getting a mosque to run a same-sex wedding!)

Of course, this is one of the areas where the religious playing field is uneven. Non-Christians are used to the set-up I describe above. The only reason that Christian churches get a special dispensation to carry out the legal part of a wedding is because they are the established church and therefore sometimes get to dabble in things that should completely off-limits to them.

All of which means that implementing my suggestion would be another step on the way to (or, at least, another very good argument for) disestablishment of the Church.

All in all, I can’t see the flaw in my suggestion. Can you?

Green

It seems that somehow I’ve got four weeks behind on the classic album write-ups. I’ll try to get through at least a couple today. The first one is REM’s Green.

Some Historical Context

I don’t remember when I first heard REM. I remember being aware of Document but I’m not sure how soon after its release I first heard it. I suspect that Green was the first of their albums that I was aware of as it was released.

I do remember that being into REM was a big test of someone’s cool back at the end of the 80s. And a knowledge of the albums before this one was a measure of exactly how cool you were.

In about 1997 a friend of mine met Michael Stipe in our local pub. True story.

The rest of this blog post will be written as I listen to the album.

The Songs

1. Pop Song 89

Pretty typical bouncy REM pop to start the album. This was a single and therefore got lots of radio play (I suspect I was listening to, the sadly missed, GLR at the time). Still sounds good to me.

2. Get Up

Another single from the album. Not as instantly recognisable though. Short and sweet.

3. You Are The Everything

There are a number of tracks on this album whose titles I don’t recognise. I’m sure I’ll know them all when we get to them. This is the first. And, yes, I know it. It’s the one that sounds like it should really be on Automatic For The People – lots of jangly mandolin.

4. Stand

Probably the best known song on the album. Probably one of REM’s best known songs. I still like this a lot.

5. World Leader Pretend

Everyone knows this one too. It wasn’t a single, but got a lot of radio play back then. Still sounds great.

6. The Wrong Child

Here’s one I really don’t remember. It’s ok. Nothing special.

7. Orange Crush

A jolly pop song about Agent Orange. Lovely. The album is called “Green” and its cover is orange. When “Orange Crush” was released as a single, the cover was green.

8. Turn You Inside-Out

Another title that I don’t recognise. But I know (and really like) the song.

9. Hairshirt

Yeah. I quite like this. But it’s nothing special compared to some of the other tracks.

10. I Remember California

Same as with Hairshirt, really. The album doesn’t end on a strong note.

11. Untitled

An untitled song that really doesn’t go anywhere.

In Summary

This wasn’t as good as I remember. Sure, there are some great tracks. But a lot of it is just ok. In retrospect it’s just marking time between Document (the album that first brought them to most people’s attention) and Out of Time (the album that made them really famous). I’d far rather listen to either of those.

Week Notes 47 & 48

As the year draws to an end I seem to have settled into a rhythm of fortnightly “week notes”. I’ll try to do better next year.

Blogging

One classic album review here (I’m now three albums behind on that!). But I’ve written four blog posts over on my Perl blog.

Health

My weight is still stable at about two stone less than it was at the start of the year. I haven’t been doing much exercise and I’ve been eating a bit more cavalierly than I have for most of the year, so I’m pretty happy with that.

With the festive season coming up, together with all the eating that entails, I’ll be happy if I stay at this weight until the end of the year. I can then have a fresh go at losing another two stone next year.

Speaking and Training

Last Saturday was the London Perl Workshop. I seemed to be speaking pretty much all day. Everything went well with one exception. On one of my talks I broke the second law of presenting and forgot to plug in my laptop. The battery gave out about two minutes from the end of the talk. Not very professional.

Next weekend is the next Perl School. Tickets are going well, and I’ve almost got the course written.

I already have three public training courses booked in for next year.

That last one is a new experiment. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes.

Holidays

A lot of the talk at my house over the last couple of weeks has been about our Christmas holiday. We’re going on safari in South Africa over Christmas before spending a few days around New Year’s Eve in Cape Town. It’s the first big holiday I’ve had for about five years, so I’m really looking forward to it.

Gigs

This has been a gig-free week. But I saw a couple of things the week before. On Monday 18th November I saw Gong at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. I’m glad I’ve seen them, but they went on a bit and I don’t think I’ll bother again. It was the least busy I’ve ever seen the Shepherd’s Bush Empire.

Then on Thursday, I saw The Magnetic North at the Purcell Room. If you haven’t heard their album then I highly recommend that you check it out. They were great live too, but I don’t think they have very many gigs planned.

The Joshua Tree

Last week’s classic album (I’m still a week behind) was U2′s Joshua Tree.

Some Historical Context

I don’t remember listening really early U2. I remember liking New Years Day when it came out. But then Under a Blood Red Sky was released and everyone played it all the bloody time. I grew to hate it so much that I didn’t give The Unforgettable Fire much of a chance at all. I still can’t listen to Pride (In The Name Of Love) without flinching – although I rather like the rest of that album.

It was The Joshua Tree that changed my mind and convinced me that U2 were worth taking seriously. I loved this album when it came out. I became a huge U2 fan and started buying all of their albums. It’s only relatively recently that I realised they’ve become really rather dull over the last fifteen years or so.

But I’m looking forward to listening to this again. I haven’t heard it for a while.

The rest of this blog post will be written as I listen to the album.

The Songs

1. Where The Streets Have No Name

One of my favourite ever openings to an album (but I’m beginning to suspect that I write something like that rather a lot). Although I’m starting to realise that I know find it hard to listen to without subconsciously mixing it into Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You. Thank you Neil Tennant!

2. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

Another classic. Perhaps I slightly prefer the version on Rattle and Hum with the gospel choir.

3. With Or Without You

Three songs in and it just gets better and better. A repeated four chord sequence never sounded better than this.

4. Bullet The Blue Sky

This is where the band unlock the stadium rock group they’ve been hiding away. This is a great song, but you need to hear the live version on Rattle and Hum to appreciate its true power.

5. Running To Stand Still

After the bombast of Bullet The Blue Sky, this is the perfect follow-up. It’s a lovely, gently swirling song with great hooks.

6. Red Hill Mining Town

Side two (remember vinyl?) doesn’t start anywhere near as strongly as side one did. That’s not to say that this isn’t a good song (it really is), just that it’s hard to compete with Where The Streets Have No Name.

7. In God’s Country

It wouldn’t be hard to believe that this came out of the same songwriting session as Where The Streets Have No Name. It has a very similar feel. And it’s similarly enjoyable.

8. Trip Through Your Wires

Possibly one of the weaker songs on the album. Not sure how much I like that harmonica.

9. One Tree Hill

One of the dangers of front-loading side one with all of your best songs is that the middle of side two can start to flag a bit. While I’ve been listening to these classic albums, I’m surprised how common a phenomenon this is. And this album is no exception.

10. Exit

I always think I can’t remember this one. And then it gets going about two minutes in and I think, “oh yes, I really like this one”.

11. Mothers Of The Disappeared

Another one that takes a while to get going. Not the strongest end to the album, but a good song nonetheless.

In Summary

I think this is U2′s best album. I know it’s unfashionable to like them these days. And I know that their recent output can be a bit ropey. But that doesn’t really matter when we still have older stuff like this to listen to.

Week Notes 45 & 46

Blogging

Surprised at how quickly those last two weeks passed. But pleasantly surprised to see I’ve managed two blog posts in that time – even if they were both classic albums.

Health

Still not losing any weight. But that’s not really surprising as I’m not doing anywhere near as much exercise as I was. Currently I’m just happy if I don’t put too much weight back on. I’m about four pounds heavier than the lightest weight I reached – which was back at the start of October. I’d like to lose those pounds again even if I don’t go much past that before the end of the year.

Training and Speaking

Things have been pretty hectic recently. I’ve known for months that I’ve got two training days looming, but somehow I’ve still left it to the last moment to get the courses prepared. By the end of today I plan to be ready for next weekend’s London Perl Workshop. That’ll then give me a couple of weeks to get ready for Perl School 3.

Films

Don’t think I’ve seen any films in the last couple of weeks. Oh, wait. I saw Aeon Flux. Or, more accurately, Aeon Flux was on while I was faffing around on my laptop. It really didn’t hold my interest.

Gigs

Busy couple of weeks for gigs.

Amy Macdonald – This was a bit of a random thing to see. I bought Amy Macdonald’s first couple of albums a couple of years ago after seeing her perform at the Kirsty MacColl tribute concert. They were good, but I didn’t listen to them very often. But in concert she was great. I’ll definitely be going to see her again.

The Divine Comedy – The Divine Comedy are always worth seeing. And this was Neil Hannon’s birthday so he put even more into the show than ever.

10cc – This was strange. I saw them in Croydon. And there’s only one member of the “real” 10cc left in the band. It was a bit like seeing Croydon’s best 10cc tribute band.

Tegan and Sara – Always love seeing Tegan and Sara. I don’t know why they aren’t better known.

The Killers – After my experience seeing Radiohead at the O2 last month I have been trying to sell my ticket for this. Having failed to sell it I decided to swallow my principles and try to sell it to a tout at the venue. He offered me a fiver (the ticket cost me £43) so I went to the gig instead. The Killers were every bit as great as you would expect. But the O2 is still a terrible terrible place to watch a band. And I still have a ticket to see Elbow there in a couple of weeks.

Rumours

Still a couple of weeks behind on the classic album project. Today’s album is Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours”.

Some Historical Background

I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t know and love this album. It seems to have been around forever. It has actually been around about thirty-five years. I guess that at some point I must have made the connection between this band and the old Fleetwood Mac (I know I had a copy of the single “Albatross”) but I don’t remember how I felt about the transition.

I had a copy of this on vinyl, but I have no idea when I bought it. I suspect it wasn’t long after it was released. It was also one of the first albums I replaced on CD.

One memory of this album. About twenty-five years ago I’m sitting in my flat listening to the album with a group of friends. We’ve been in the pub all evening and it’s now the small hours of the morning. Someone decides it is a good idea to start reading aloud the lyrics from the album as though they were poetry. They don’t really stand up that well. Hilarity ensues.

The rest of this blog post will be written as I listen to the album.

The Songs

1. Second Hand News

A slightly strange start to this song (and, indeed, to the whole album). There’s no introduction. You’re launched straight into the song. It’s like they were impatient to start and couldn’t wait for you. Given the strength of some of the songs on the album, this is a slightly weak start. Nothing wrong with it – there are just stronger songs that they could have used to open the album. It’s really short as well.

2. Dreams

And here’s one of the classics from the album. Does anyone not love Dreams? Actually, I’m sure there are plenty of people who think they hate it. Let’s not forget that this album was released at the height of punk rock and there were lots of people who would have hated all of this album on principle. They’re wrong though. I’m convinced that any balanced record collection has room for both Stevie Nicks and Sid Vicious. I love this song.

3. Never Going Back Again

After the swirling AOR of Dreams, this is a complete change of pace. It’s pretty much just Lindsay Buckingham on his own; picking away at his acoustic guitar. Another really short song though – just over two minutes. In fact the whole album only runs 36 minutes.

4. Don’t Stop

Another of the big songs from the album. Another song that everybody knows. I love it.

5. Go Your Own Way

If Rumours has a unifying theme, it’s the fact that the members of the band were all in couples that were splitting up while they were writing and recording it. Nowhere is that made more explicit than in the lyrics of this song.

6. Songbird

I mentioned that I thought the album started slightly weakly. And if I’m honest I think that side one ends even more weakly. This is probably my least favourite song on the album.

7. The Chain

In contrast, side two opens with what is, in my opinion, the best song on the album. The Chain points firmly in the direction of the slightly more experimental music on the bands next album, Tusk. And, of course, three minutes in the music completely changes and becomes one of the BBC’s best-known theme tunes.

8. You Make Loving Fun

This appears to be the antithesis of all the break-up songs on the album. Not sure how it got on here. Still a really good song though.

9. I Don’t Want to Know

Another quirky little tune that wouldn’t song out of place on Tusk.

10. Oh Daddy

Like Songbird, this is another one that I’m not particularly keen on.

11. Gold Dust Woman

As this starts, I always think I’m not going to enjoy it, but Stevie Nicks’ vocal noodling in the final two minutes never fails to draw me in and then I’m vaguely disappointed when it just fades out at the end.

In Summary

They don’t get much better than this. If you think you don’t like it because of preconceptions that you have about the band or the genre then please just try to forget your bias and give it a listen.

Songs of Faith and Devotion

I’m running a couple of weeks behind on classic albums again. Today I’m catching up by listening to Depeche Mode’s 1993 album Songs of Faith and Devotion.

Some Historical Context

Depeche Mode are very much my era. Their first singles came out in 1980 – when I was eighteen. But while I’ve always really liked them, I’ve only ever considered them a singles band – albeit a great singles band. The only albums I’ve ever owned by them have been compilations.

In the mid-80s I had some friends who were big fans and who played their newest albums incessantly. So Black Celebration and Music for the Masses are probably the only of their albums that I know well.

A little-known Depeche Mode fact for you. There’s a bar dedicated to them in Tallinn where they play their music constantly. If you’re ever in the city, I recommend a visit.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard this album all the way through. But I certainly recognise some of the titles from my compilations.

The rest of this blog post will be written as I listen to the album.

The Songs

1. I Feel You

We start with one that I know well. This must have been a single. It’s pretty standard Depeche Mode fare. But that means it’s really rather good.

2. Walking in My Shoes

Another one that I know well. I like this even more than the last one. This is definitely a band who are at the peak of their game.

3. Condemnation

I think they must be front-loading all the singles on this album as I recognise this too. This is one of their slower numbers. I don’t like it quite as much as the previous two.

4. Mercy in You

This is the first song that is new to me. It’s ok, but I can understand why the previous three would be chosen as singles above this one. Or perhaps it’s just my familiarity with the singles that makes me think they are better.

5. Judas

We’re now a couple of songs away from the comfort of stuff that I know well and I’m starting to get the first niggle that it might all be a bit similar. Not that it’s bad. Or even that it’s dull. I’m just not sure that it will hold my interest for the whole album. Oh, the instrumental bit that runs for the last 90 or so seconds is very nice.

6. In Your Room

And we’re back with the singles. Another one that I know and love. This was a very single-heavy album.

7. Get Right with Me

Another one that I’m hearing for the first time. Nothing that really grabs me here.

8. Rush

This is good. A little more going on than some of the other songs on the album.

9. One Caress

Ooh, strings. We like a bit of strings. Very nice. Yes, that was really good.

10. Higher Love

I like this one too. Pretty typical stuff, but it has a couple of nice little hooks.

In Summary

I said at the start that I always considered Depeche Mode to be a singles band. Listening to a whole album hasn’t really changed that opinion. It’s all good stuff, but the singles are head and shoulders above the other tracks. I can’t see myself rushing out to buy a load of Depeche Mode albums, but I’d definitely consider listening to this one a few more times.

Week Notes 43 & 44

Blogging

I managed two blog posts this week. One on MPs’ web sites and one on the Daily Mail’s paedophiliac tendencies.

Health

My weight has stuck on a bit of a plateau for the last few weeks. It’s oscillating around a point a couple of pounds heavier than the lightest I’ve reached. Need to do something to break that deadlock. And I know exactly what that something needs to be (start doing more exercise), it’s just hard to galvanise myself.

I’ve done a few long walks this week. On Tuesday, I walked all the way from Westfield to Victoria – about four and a half miles. And I’ve made a change in the tools that I’m using to track my walks. I had been using RunKeeper – but I’ve been getting some really inaccurate trails from it. So I’ve switched to Endomondo and, so far, it’s been far more accurate.

Training & Speaking

Lots coming up in the next few months. In fact, I’m starting to wonder if I’ve taken on too much. The complete list of things I have planned is as follows:

Films

I saw Beasts of the Southern Wild last weekend. Everyone told me it was wonderful, but I can’t really see what the fuss was about. Yes, the young girl playing the main part was very good. But the film just didn’t do anything for me at all.

Gigs

I’ve been busy in the last two weeks.

Deacon Blue: They were good. But they seem to attract a very strange crowd. The venue was full of middle-aged, overweight, over-emotional people who looked like they didn’t get out much.

Kate Rusby: She’s always incredible. And this show was no exception. It’s astonishing to realise that she was celebrating twenty years in the industry. One of the best shows I’ve seen this year.

Sparks: I’ve been a fan of Sparks since I first heard “This Town Ain’t Big Enough” in 1974. But I’ve never seen them live. But this wasn’t the best way to see them. The tour was called “Two Hands, One Mouth” and I should have realised that it would just be the two Mael brothers without a band. Many of their best songs were stripped of their power when the music is just a piano. The whole performance came over as amateur. This is obviously a minority opinion though, most of the crowd seemed to love them.

The Polyphonic Spree: This was a Halloween concert. They played a lot of the songs from Rocky Horror. But they were rather under-rehearsed and they missed out a couple of my favourite songs. The second half (where they mostly sang their own songs) put them on much firmer ground and they were far better.