Thursday, 31 December 2009

A Musical Career

New Year's Eve. I'm looking back on around 39 years of making music to entertain the public. So next year I can do the 40th year tour!

I was 12 when I got my first guitar and it was four years before I felt myself ready to sing in front of others. The first group was known as the Heywood Senior High School Folk Group... I know... We were never going to trouble the charts of 1970 against the likes of Marc Bolan - though The Beatles were sufficiently worried and disbanded shortly afterwards... I'm on stage with Bill Lloyd and yes, that's me with all that hair and yes, it really was all mine... These days I'd need extensions to even consider a comb-over...

We played folk music, both contemporary and traditional and we played local folk clubs and had a huge following amongst the 13 and 14-year-old girls at school...

The next year, Bill and I were joined by Barry Lord and we changed the name of the band to Anacreon. We added some three-part harmony to such staples as "Oh Sinner Man" and "Sun Arise", by heck we were really with it, man...

By 1972 I had left school and was approached to join a band as lead guitar. This was Spiral. We were young, keen, skint and so we stayed until I got married in 1976.

I dallied briefly with a band on the outskirts of Preston for a while. We never got round to doing any gigs and I sort of lost interest. Music took a back seat for a while as my daughter went through her childhood.

Then computers entered my life in the form of a Commodore 64. It had, for the time, a quite sophisticated music chip that few games took advantage of. By 1984 I was producing stuff like Sweet Georgia Brown, triple-tracked on an Akai reel-to-reel tape recorder that made it sound as though I had an orchestra of computers. It took ages to do this sort of thing, programming each note separately. I invented a programme to do either a "bum-cha, bum-cha" or a "bum-cha-cha" backing and then put melody lines on top. It took about a week's worth of programming to do the whole song! Forgive the hiss and the crackle of static electricity on old tape!

Then I bought a keyboard and gathered family members at weekends to sing old music hall and comedy songs. I gave them all word sheets with the bits they had to sing underlined. It meant I could get them to do things that sounded as though we'd have to spend ages rehearsing, straight off in one (well... ten...) takes - taking into account people making remarks, missing thir cue or simply belching at the wrong time... Singing went well with wine somehow... An example is The Old Bazaar In Cairo.

And then at Christmas, 2000 Creeping Bentgrass came together by chance, playing carols for the students at our workplace, Myerscough College. We agreed to carry on and are seen here as a foursome playing the Windows on Art Festival at Kendal on 8 September 2001.

Helen Fenton left and we carried on as a trio. The music, which had started out very folk-based, started to move towards 1960s pop and rock and roll! We released three CDs, see the band's website for details and more downloads.

Then this year Bob Snape dropped out to concentrate on his ceilidh band and we now carry on as a duo with myself and David Lancaster. The repertoire is currently expanding rapidly and creeping into the 70s, 80s, 90s and up to more modern songs. Our roots are in the 60s though and sixties music will always be the main feature of our act.

Doing the Sunnyside weekend with the other artists from the Billy Fury website was a highlight last year and we are thrilled to have been asked to headline on the Friday night for 2010 at the same event. It gives us a chance to give the regulars a feel for a Creeping Bentgrass gig - with a short set last year we had to cut out a lot of the music to get the jokes in!!!

We normally do around a dozen gigs a year. 2009 has seen us do getting on for 20 and next year is looking good already. As a belated Christmas (or New Year) present, here for the first time is our version of Billy Fury's Halfway to Paradise.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Blackpool Trams You've Seen Before

It's not only the blog that's been a bit neglected of late, it's the Flickr account as well!

Although there have been a few updates there even if you haven't noticed. This is because I am now re-scanning photos in widescreen format that had previously been uploaded in 800x600 format.

Have a peek in the Blackpool Trams set for instance and you'll see not only scans in new sizes, but I've managed to get the colour balance a bit better too! Some of these old negatives are horrendously mucky though, with hundreds of bits of dust stuck fast against the emulsion of the film. It takes ages cleaning them up and I have a limit of half an hour before I just think "Sod it..." and save the file as it is!

But that's not normally so bad! These two photos were taken early one evening in September 1985 as the illuminated trams came up the the North Pier pickup point for the Illuminations Tour.

Anyway I suspect scanning may be suspended for a couple of days! Miss Franny and I now have a very rare few days at home together! After all my chasing about, this week I've been working at home whilst Fran has been doing some grotty shifts. She had a 5:30am start, a midnight finish (thankfully not on the same day!) and both of my journeys to take her and pick her up saw me scraping snow off the car and coping with the festive skating rink that is our road. Last night as we got back around a quarter past midnight I thought I'd reverse into the lay-by at the end of the cul-de-sac but reversing and turning at the same time was out of the question. I could move sideways quite nicely but that would have ended a bit disastrously so in the end I gave up and parked outside the house again where the car had had two near misses during the morning.

A care worker had done a graceful and ballerina-like pirouette and parked abruptly rear onto the pavement just a few inches from my front bumper and some twit in a taxi sat for ages spinning his wheels like the clappers behind my car, turning the snow and ice into an extra slippery sheet whilst sliding uncontrollably sideways first one way and then the other. Being a professional driver obviously doesn't require you to necessarily have much of a brain...

It's thawing nicely now and hopefully by tomorrow morning even our grit-neglected road may be back to normal! But don't worry kids because Santa's sleigh always works because that clever old Santa has glued some snow to the bottom of the runners!!!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Movies on TV in 2009

Ages since I did a list entry so here for your edification, enlightenment and incredulity, here are ten movies I watched on Sky HD during the year. If nothing else you will be amazed at my ability to watch anything...! :-)

In no particular order. Well... ok, they are pretty much in alphabetical order, which means nothing...

A spoof... made me laugh so that's good!

First seen as a silent movie on an aircraft - no way will I pay extortionate prices for earphones that won't stay in my ears anyway - though I always end up watching and wondering what on earth they are saying...

Chick flick - you just know it'll be alright in the end...

Marvel comics bring out the best in Nicholas Cage. Although when he's a skeleton he really comes to life...

More superhero antics from an actor who is far better when the director turns his volume control down! I saw him once - I was passing through Leicester Square as he turned up for the premiere of I Robot. An over-excited girl asked me if he was going to sing. I'm afraid I burst out laughing...

Yes... well... Oh come on... I've reached a certain age you know...

Will Smith again! Oh my God... Am I a fan? (Checks pulse, sighs in relief, thinks "no...")

Chick flick - you just know it'll be alri.... actually she gets her head chopped off... They don't show that bit...

But this one makes up for the lack of any blood in the last one! Watched Son of Rambow too which I thought was more entertaining than this!

Brendan Fraser does what he does best - well pretty much does what he does always...

DVD covers shamelessly filched from the Internet - if any company or copyright owner is outraged at my advertising of their product please let me know and I'll take them down and make horrendous fun of you! I did watch more than ten movies but these covers all came from the same convenient website... Not that I wouldn't have gone on visiting more websites had I not reached the magical figure of ten! Nothing is too much trouble to entertain my readers!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

It's All White...

By heck! It's been a busy few weeks and the blog has been a little neglected I'm afraid. But as we count down to Christmas - and count up the inches of snow - the travelling has come to an end for this year with a three day trip to Edinburgh at the beginning of last week. where I ran a couple of sessions at the Winter Fayre of the JISC Regional Support Centre for Scotland North and East and then ran a Project Management workshop with Clive on the 16th.

This week the big news has been the weather - rare for Blackpool to get any snow. Even more rare for it to stick. But that means gritters are rare too so if it freezes after snow then it stays around for days.

Looks nice but when Fran starts work at the unearthly hour of 5:30am it could have been a slippy slidy journey first thing. However there was plenty of fresh snow and unlike modern drivers I was taught to use my gears to slow down at junctions so any driver my age, as long as they change down early enough will be alright. Modern learner drivers are told stay in top gear and put brakes on and so they slide all over the place in snow and ice...

So Christmas is nigh and then the New Year of 2010, the end of which will mark the first completed decade of the 21st Century. Only another 9 of those and then that's another century gone! Time flies when you're enjoying yourself!

I think the main resolution for next year must be to use my camera more!

Saturday, 5 December 2009

It Was Almost The End of The World!

Just a thought... ten years ago (my God - is it really ten years?) we were dithering and wailing and predicting the end of the world as computer systems would come crashing down due to the Year 2000 bug - known as Y2K.

The problem was that most computer systems had been written with the year only having 2 digits instead of 4 and as 1999 became 2000, to most computers the year would change from 99 to 00, causing the computer to assume 1900 and close down systems because they were 100 years overdue for a service!

They now say, with a great deal of scepticism, that computer bods created a load of hype and scaremongering and that, as not many instances of disaster occurred, we must have made it up to become rich on consultancies.

But I seem to remember some bloody hard work at the time, as people frantically re-wrote systems and checked whether the computers we had would work or not in the new Millenium.

I had just changed jobs and had been at my new college for just 2 months before the big day. I was taken to see an ancient mainframe computer that was controlling the heating and environment system for some large greenhouses at my place of work.

"Will they still work next year?" I was asked. How the hell should I know, I thought and installed a fool-proof get-out system on my keyboard just in case...

Friday, 4 December 2009

Ford Mondeo Mk IV

At last! I managed to get my hands on one of the new Mondeos from Ford this week. First time I've managed to drive a James Bond car - Daniel Craig drives one near the beginning of Casino Royale!

My own car is a MkIII Mondeo and I had a MkI for years - it had done 195,000 miles by the time I swapped it in!

So how did I find the MkIV? I was quite taken with it actually, although I did have a couple of niggles. For one, it felt cramped inside! Now that, I think, is only due to the fact that it had bucket seats whereas mine has fairly flat seats and the new ones, shaped more are wider. What it means is that if you want to adjust the driving seat to move it up and down (electronic) or to adjust how reclined it is (a manual knob) you can only do that by opening the door because there just isn't room to shove your hand down between the seat and side of the car to get at the controls.

But the model I had was full of features. The media player was a multi-CD player which took mp3 CDs. This meant I could have taken enough music to have driven right round the country without having to change a CD. The onboard computer has an easy to navigate screen between the speedometer and rev counter that allowed me to use controls on the steering wheel to select any track from any folder from any CD - or do the sensible thing and just start at track 1 on CD 1 and let it do its own thing!

The power outlet is set to the left hand side under the stereo unit and caused no problems with gear shifting and trapped fingers - definitely a point scored over Vauxhall's Insignia! The gear lever has a nice solid chunky feel to it and reverse now has a lift-ring before swinging the stick to the left and forward. The 6-speed box coupled with the 2 litre diesel engine was smooth and reliable, though an experimental quick start made me purse my lips at the delay before the engine started to rev - had I been trying to nip out into fast traffic I'd have been frightened at the lack of movement for a couple of seconds!

But I don't drive hard and fast much these days and definitely not at the beginning of December! As I drove out of Blackpool almost every lay-by had a small group of hopeful traffic cops, none of whom were in the slightest embarrassed at my stolen VCR never having been found and returned after all these years...

So once on the motorway I whipped it up to 70 and engaged the cruise control. As the speedo reached 70, my SatNav showed 67-68 which is not so bad. My own car shows 67 on the SatNav at 70 on the speedo and the VW Golf I had last week showed only a measley 64 mph!!! That's why so many people are driving about at 25 these days!

At 70 (or 68 depending on which you believe) the Mondeo is so smooth you think "Surely I'm only tootling along?" The clock goes all the way up to 160 and at 70 you believe the car would do it without any problem. Certainly the once or twice I dipped the pedal to go past someone doing a mile-an-hour less than me had the car leaping forward rewardingly. I nipped past them and let it slow back down to the cruise control - a very nice car to drive!

The cockpit had independant left and right temperature control. I set them in tandem and it kept me happily at a constant comfortable temperature whilst outside the temperature dipped and rose with the weather.

Had I had any passengers in the back seat, they even had face-level ventilation from the side strut between the front and rear doors.

I drove from Blackpool to Taunton on Tuesday, from Taunton to Brighton on Wednesday, from Brighton to Oxford last night and then back to Blackpool today. After starting with a full tank I just put in a coupe of gallons at Warwick services on the way back then filled up when I got home. I'd used 76.44 litres to do the entire trip of 720 miles and I make that almost 43 miles per gallon which isn't bad at all! Bear in mind I've driven on cruise control at 70 (or 68!) most of the time so I haven't been taxing the engine at all!

The petrol cap was a surprise - Ford have gone for a simple push from the outside and it will spring open. There is no unscrew cap inside, it has the new style spring-loaded flap that you push open with the nozzle from the pump. I presume that the petrol cap locks as you lock the car to avoid tampering. Locking was another of my niggles - the buttons on the key are not the small circular buttons that I have on my MkIII. They cover the entire width of the key and as you grip the key to pull it from the ignition - you lock the car. I did it every single time I took the key from the ignition. The first time I set the alarm off by opening the door. After that I learned to unlock the car after taking out the key! The actual key is a flat blade too, unlike my circular shaft with a broader end. The ignition slot can't be seen at night - no light shines on it and it was fiddly putting the key into the slot. I never thought there was anything wrong with keys dangling from the dashboard myself...

Other snippets? Locking the car swivels the wing mirrors inwards automatically which is a nice touch and this morning I got in a deep frozen car with thick ice on all windows - the heated windscreen and rear screen were clear in a short time and all side windows not long after.

The hire guys just came round to collect it. As I opened the door they started singing Christmas carols. I told them to bog off... I want to keep it...!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

A Weekend in London

From Shrewsbury I drove into central London where we would spend the weekend. Fran was already in the hotel, having struggled with late trains due to the horrendous weather that was spreading over Scotland and the Lake District.

Gill and Eddie had been down to Disneyland Paris for a couple of days and we met them at St Pancras station off the Eurostar train.

On Saturday we spent the morning in the British Museum.

I was keen to see the Elgin Marbles, having been to see the Parthenon in Athens earlier in the year. The row of sculptures here come from one of the great triangular pediments.

You can see here a copy of the horse's head in situ - it was coming out of the sea, pulling a chariot that is still beneath the waves. The next figure is Dionysus and to reconstruct any further figures the Greeks are shaping stone to reconstruct the pediment itself.

Lord Elgin had permission from the Turkish Ottomans to remove sculptures and he took around half of them. It has been much criticised since and the Greeks want them back and certainly the Parthenon would look much better with the sculptures in place. Set against this however is the fact that, at the time, it was reported that any marble that fell from the Parthenon, ancient sculpture or not, was being burned to produce lime for fresh building work. So if he had not taken the sculptures we can assume that some at least would not exist today.

Then we had a look at the Egyptian galleries with their mummified figures and sarcophagi. It's a bit spooky really. These are real dead people. Britain doesn't do death well - we are not allowed to look on death. When it happens in public the police immediately seal off areas, close roads, erect screens and keep us away. Even if it's a poor Celtic serf whose bones have been dug up after 1600 years.

And lastly, the magnificent bronze ceremonial Roman helmet, found at Ribchester in Lancashire where the Romans had a cavalry fort, Bremetennacum Veteranorum.

After lunch Eddie went off to watch Blackpool play Reading and we, inevitably, hit the West End shops. We met up again and enjoyed an excellent meal at The Mermaid's Tail on Leicester Square. And then somehow I pulled the muscle in the back of my leg as we were heading back to the hotel and by the time we got there I was in agony. Fran also had a massive bruise by the time we got there because as we walked (or hobbled in my case) through Russell Square Gardens I trod on a fallen branch, the other end of which whipped up and dug into her ankle.

But we soldiered on gamely and walked down to Covent Garden on Sunday morning where Eddie and I had a look round the London Transport Museum whilst the ladies indulged in yet more shopping!

Monday, 23 November 2009

A Week on the Road

It was a hectic old week last week. Early Tuesday morning I was on the motorway, heading for Birmingham for the Association of Colleges conference. This was at the ICC, the International Conference Centre.

Over the three days of the conference I spoke to lots of old friends from my 18 years in Further Education colleges, met and chatted with Ruby Wax who since leaving the world of television has retrained in coaching skills and is now qualified to coach executives and spent some time on the exhibition stand with my colleagues from the world of JISC (it used to stand for Joint Information Systems Committee, but it's best to just to think of it as "JISC" these days in the same way you don't try to work out what FORD is an acronym for...)

I sat through some interesting sessions from Lord Peter Mandelson, Minister Ian Wright and Leader of the Lib Dems, Nick Clegg and an absolutely spot-on assessment of the world recession by a Swiss chap, who managed to make it utterly entertaining.

There were lots of student demonstrations (of work, not of students getting uppity). Barnet College had a diversity display. I signed my name in Gujerati, feeling ridiculously pleased with myself when they pronounced it readable...

My hotel was a bit too far away and the receptionist asked if I wanted a room "with a bath?!?", managing to imbue the question with outraged astonishment as I checked in.

The Big Wheel outside the ICC looked nice but didn't actually spin round very much. Time did though and so on Thursday I left the delights of Birmingham and headed for Shrewsbury where I was to meet up with Clive and run a Process Review workshop on Friday.

The Lion Hotel in Shrewsbury has seen a few distinguished visitors in its time. Kings, Prime Ministers, stars of stage such as Paganini, stars of the written page, such as Charles Dickens whose favourite room bears his name. He wrote The Pickwick Papers there.

Our favourite spot is in front of the log fire in winter. As yet, it was just too warm for the fire to be lit. We sat in the bar and yarned and planned the following day.

The event went well. The delegates seemed pleased and possibly relieved to find the day was not going to be as dry and boring as they had feared.

Clive and I split up. He was heading back north to home. I was heading south, to join Fran, Gill and Eddie in London. More in the next entry!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

New Christmas CD

The band are featured on a new CD that has been released by billyfury.com in memory of forum member Pauline Swindells, who passed away recently. Johnny Storme, a great singer from the Isle of Wight, as nice a fella as you could hope to meet, sings a brand new song, Christmas Day Again, written by another forum member, Steven Sinclair

Good King Wencelas by Creeping Bentgrass is one of 9 tracks on the CD which can be ordered from the Billy Fury site above or direct from Amazon. Proceeds from the CD will be donated between the Earl Mountbatten Hospice, Isle of Wight and the Heart Fund at Alder Hey Children's Hospital, Liverpool.

Monday, 16 November 2009

A Billyant Bit of Post!

It was a fairly normal day. I say "fairly" normal, because on most "normal" days I'm hundreds of miles away from home. But today I was sitting quietly at home at my work station, tapping creative and scholarly thoughts into a new online resource for colleges and universities when there was a clatter of post falling from the letterbox and I looked up to see the postman walking back up the path.

He was wearing shorts. He's a bit of a stand-in for our usual post person who is in fact female. She too wears shorts quite a lot and I have to say they look a fair amount better on her than they did on this chap. On her, shorts look cool, elegant and classy and just a tiny bit phwoar! On him... he did look a bit of a twonk... Especially in the monsoon that we're currently in the middle of...!

There was the usual bumph and junk mail. Another begging letter on top from Michael Parkinson - sorry Parky, I know you're wanting to make a come back as chat show host and yes I may be a potential ace guest, but I'm too busy just now...

Ooh... An envelope with lots of colourful stamps and an airmail sticker! This bears a closer coat of looking at!

The small package - for such it was, rather than a mere letter - had reached me at Bispham in Blackpool, despite the clearly labelled address to Bispah, Beackpool... It had several stamps all with a picture of sheep in a field.

"Now who could be writing to me from Wales?" I thought. But then, surely that was Lake Coleridge in the background? And the bit of address cunningly obscured by a New Zealand postal service - alias sl... which I suspected could be alias Sloop (as in Sloop John B you understand!)

And a half obscured outline of Billy Fury on the front - again half obliterated by a frustrated Elvis fan in the postal depot in that antipodean land. Well, that's what comes of spending your life upside down...

So here I am - barely concealing my excitement as I carefully and slowly rip open the envelope with gusto. (Gusto is just out of shot on the photo...)

There are two badges and three pieces of paper. The badges are the famous, desireable, much sought-after Billy Badges sent by Billy's most loyal (ie bloody fanatical) fan, (fanatical is actually where the word fan comes from - slipping back into scholarly mode there for a moment) Moya!

One piece of paper says "4 U Sloop & 1 4 Miss Franny. luv M."

Another says "ciggies, wine, loo roll, ciggies, shampoo, wine, bacon, ciggies, milk, wine, bread, more wine, tins beans, ciggies" which I suspect was Moya's shopping list - hope she's already used it, I'd hate her to forget anything...

The third says "Please John??? Sending this via Moya... Parky"

Thank you Moya!!! xxxxxxx!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Rockin' in Eccleston

We came, we saw, we rocked! St Agnes Social Club in Eccleston near Preston was our venue last night and the large audience was superb. They sang, they clapped, they danced and they laughed at all the jokes - I think we may take them on tour with us...

Against a pantomime backdrop (yes we did - no we didn't) we went through our first half selection of country, folk and Irish.

In the second half we almost turn into another band as we go through the 1950s, 60s and 70s through to line dancing and then rock and roll and Status Quo and then last night we went through a few ballads too as folk flocked to the dance floor.

Our host Len, was very funny on the mic and we enjoyed a hotpot and trifle supper between spots too. Oh yes... and that's the New Year's Eve slot taken care of too!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

More Downloads from the Band's Website

I've had a go at improving the download area of the band's blog. I had previously had all songs available for download in alphabetical order, but I've rearranged them so that you can now see which album they come from and they are in track order from those albums too.

Keeping On... was our first album from 2003 and a couple of the original tracks were recorded before we brought keyboards into the act with the result that they sounded a little empty in comparison with the other tracks - no drums etc. Those two tracks were re-recorded a while ago to replace the others on a Special Edition release. Seven of the album's 14 tracks can be downloaded.

Kites was our second album from 2004 and includes some of our favourite tracks. There were only a few available as downloads so I've now added the title track, Kites and two of the other most popular tracks, the album opener, Sunny Afternoon and an Eagles track, Peaceful Easy Feeling to make seven tracks available from the album's 15 tracks overall.

Right On The Line was the name of our third album from 2007. We had spent almost three years making it and we felt it represented a bit of a step change for us. The sound was becoming a fuller sound (if a little harder to reproduce fully on stage!) but it also included a live track which captured the atmosphere at the end of a Creeping Bentgrass gig.

It was also the album that introduced us to the Billy Fury fans at http://www.billyfury.com after the lovely Moya, who used to run Billy's Manchester fan club, got in touch. A couple of covers of Billy's tracks appeared on the album: Last Night Was Made For Love and Somebody Else's Girl and as we got to know the fans on the forum of Harry's wonderful site our lives changed a little for the better.

My mum had been a fan of Cliff Richard and I wasn't as familiar with Billy Fury as I am now! The album also featured one of Cliff's early ballads which we usually play at weddings for the first dance of the happy couple unless they have a special song they want us to play - see later! This track is the beautiful ballad Constantly.

We also included a couple of more recent songs with Billy Joel's My Life and Westlife's hit from 2006, The Rose. The Beach Boys' hit Help Me Rhonda has just been added to the downloadable tracks to make 7 tracks (counting my solo effort I Try To Think About Elvis available from the
16 album tracks.

The new album hasn't got a name yet and therefore no cover either, but already there are eight tracks from a total of 19 or 20 available. The album has no less than three Billy Fury songs on it and some cracking versions (well I think they are and hope you do too!) of some well known songs. Available to download are:

The Gambler - the Kenny Rogers song which was specified by one newly-wed couple as their special song... must be a story there...!
When You Say Nothing At All - Ronan Keating's tribute to the perfect woman...
Be My Baby - that'll teach David to suggest a Tamla Motown song! (Yes I know, not strictly Tamla anyway!)
King For Tonight - it was one of Billy's B sides, somewhat updated here.
The Night Has 1000 Eyes - one to fill the dance floors!
Forever Autumn - hey, we'll have a go at anything!
24 Hours From Tulsa - always goes down well on stage.

All other songs not linked here can be downloaded from the Creeping Bentgrass blog

Oh - and don't forget some of my solo efforts linked in the left hand column of this page!

Friday, 13 November 2009

Great Train Journeys

This week has been a train week. Monday down and up to London and back. Tuesday down to Plymouth. Now that is a train journey. From Blackpool it was a six and a half hour train journey that lengthened into seven and a quarter hours because of getting late into Birmingham, where my third train of the day had already left.

The trip had so far taken 25 minutes from Blackpool to Preston and around an hour and 40 minutes from Preston to Birmingham. The long haul comes after that. Birmingham to Plymouth is around three and three quarter hours.

From Bristol southwards I was on the GWR line, God's Wonderful Railway, as they would have it down there. But I was sitting in a DOP - the Devil's Own Pendolino, with my shoulder jammed against the wall of the train and the back of the seat in front around 3 inches in front of me.

It's a heck of a journey from Birmingham. Cheltenham then Bristol. Taunton where you think you must be getting close, but then another hour to Exeter and even then a final hour to PLymouth. But then, that includes the bit that makes it worth it.

As you come down the side of the River Teign the train runs literally along the river bank and then curves round at Teignmouth along the coast with the sea a few mere feet away. Unfortunately by now it was quite dark and so I could only just make this out. But I resolved to sit on the right side of teh train for the return journey yesterday, which was undertaken at the start of the day.

I only had my phone with me to take photos on and in any case couldn't do anything about the reflections on the glass of the window, but it gives you some idea.

Luckily I didn't miss any connections coming home. Unluckily - for them as well as me and my fellow passengers - someone drove into a railway bridge between Crewe and Warrington and we sat at Crewe for 40 minutes before carrying on via Chester. So the journey home took almost 7 and a half hours.

And of course, Fran was on an early shift today... (yawn) - oops, pardon me...

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Don't Forget The Fruit Gums, Mum

Are these still going? I have a feeling they might be actually. Unlike many of the sweets I enjoyed as a child.

Some of them just changed name - like Marathon becoming the slightly disturbing Snickers, or Opal Fruits (didn't like them - they used to make my mouth water...) becoming Starburst. A snazzier name it may be but Opal Fruits described them better and even after however many years it's been I can still remember the song...

"Opal Fruits made to make your mouth water
Fresh with the tang of citrus
Four refreshing fruit flavours
Orange, Lemon, Lime, Strawberry...
"

Ooh ah... Come on now, admit it... how many of you were singing along? How many people can sing the Starburst song??? Is there even a Starburst song?

And whatever happened to Spangles, Tiffin, sweet cigarettes and a stick of licorice in a quarter pound of kay-li? Or Space Dust from the 1970s - now that was a surprise, the first time I tried it!

Anyway, Fruit Gums! Remember the satisfaction when your teeth finally met in the middle of one?

The Night Has 1000 Eyes

Always a good one to belt out towards the end of a night on stage, I've been putting guitars and bass on Bobby Vee's hit The Night Has 1000 Eyes this afternoon.

That makes it 15 songs finished, one still needing guitars and 2 or 3 more to start for the new album. One of those will be the song that we sang at the funeral the other week to fulfil a promise, although it is a wonderful song anyway, very emotional and a little unusual for us in that it's not a well-known song.

We've not yet decided whether to put a solo one from me on the album. The three albums we've done so far have all featured a solo track - Great Balls of Fire on the first, Fleetwood Mac's Need Your Love So Bad on the Kites album and the relatively unknown I Try To Think About Elvis on the last one.

So the album is moving closer bit by bit... I bet you're fed up of me saying that, aren't you...?

Friday, 6 November 2009

Remember, Remember the 6th of November...

When I was a kid it was always foggy the day after bonfire night. All that smoke heading up into the atmosphere the night before just bounced back off the clouds and hung about for most of the day on the 6th.

And of course by "fog" I mean "fog" - not a little bit of haze like you get these days. Crumbs, the warning lights come on the M6 nowadays if you can't see Carlisle from Birmingham!

By fog I mean hold your hand up in front of your face and wonder where it is... Anyone under the age of forty will think I'm joking when I say that but we know, don't we?

The day after Bommy Night before smokeless zones, before global warming, before getting out of the way of a pensioner in a wheelchair meant having to run, was guaranteed to be a day of thick, blinding fog. A thick mist was not being able to see the houses on the other side of the street. Fog was not being able to see your own garden wall. A pea-souper was the hand in front of the face job.

I can still remember the smell and the taste of it... Bits of soot and grit between the teeth... A yellowy cast to it. Motorists leaning out of their side windows, trying to see the white line in the middle of the road, banging heads as they passed each other... All of them with plastic yellow filters stuck on their headlights because a yellow beam cut through the fog slightly (ie slightly) more than a white beam which caused more flare.

Anyway, I was in Newcastle yesterday and came home mostly after dark, thanks to a horrendous queue on the A1M going south. I saw one or two fireworks but not a single bonfire in 140 miles.

I had planned on going straight home but it took me so long (4 hours!) I stopped in Kirkby Steven where there is an excellent chippy restaurant. The plate was overflowing with gravy and mushy peas (hence my shirt, sorry Fran...) and it was unbelievably good!

After all the rain we've had, perhaps people were waiting for the weekend to have their bonfires. Or perhaps, this year, Guy Fawkes has had a reprieve...

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Spiral - Unsupergroup

I think I've now finished going through all the slides in my collection and putting them through the scanner. At least, all of my own. There are some of a great-uncle's still to go through but they are mostly scenics of Switzerland dating from the 1950s, with only a few of people I know.

But then as I was coming towards the last few slides, this turned up.

It shows me aged 18 or 19 and the band that I was in at the time - Spiral. It was taken at a time when band members of famous bands were starting to break away and form new bands which were dubbed supergroups. So amongst ourselves we used to refer to ourselves as Spiral - unsupergroup! From left to right are: me, Ian 'Oz' Rostron, who was Best Man at my wedding to Fran, John 'Johnny' Briggs and Gill Lovett.

Gill went off to Wrexham to university and we carried on as a threesome for a while until I got married and moved to Blackpool. They were good times. We didn't play nearly as many gigs as I do these days with Creeping Bentgrass but we used to spend most evenings together, rehearsing or writing and arranging new songs. Ian and Johnny were the songwriters. I contributed one or two but it was never my strong point.

Here we are in 1973 on stage, topping the bill at a memorable gig. I remember it particularly for a guitar string breaking and bizarrely whipping up to gash my cheek. We finished the song with blood running down my face and the other bands afterwards were amazed that we hadn't stopped. "You must be professional?" one bloke said to us. Ah... if only...

Happy days!

Monday, 2 November 2009

As the Sun Sets on Film Photography...

Back in 1998 I started experimenting with digital cameras. At the time they took a very unsharp photo at 640x480 pixel format and I used to halve that to 320x240 and sharpen it as best I could.

The photos here were taken at Fleetwood on the evening of 29 August 1998. What digital cameras did, that was very tricky with conventional film cameras, was to deal with low light situations like this with no fuss whatsoever.

With film you had to use a light meter, either on the camera or off, which would have over-compensated for the sky and reflection on the water here.

And then when light levels got really low you had to suck your finger, stick it in the air... and decide how much extra exposure to give depending on what type of film you were using, because they didn't cope that well with really low light levels. Colour casts, lots of grain and flare from any light source were common.

I was impressed when I got these back home and onto the computer. The problem was the small size. I have a few years' worth of photos that will forever be no more than 320x240.

This one shows the light from the Pharos Lighthouse - "Top Light" as the locals call it. The lighthouse system at Fleetwood had a tall lighthouse - seen here - and a smaller one on the sea front. Boats approaching Fleetwood in the dark lined them up, one above the other and then knew they were in the deep water channel.

It's moved a little apparently, but they left the lighthouses where they were anyway...

Looking at these again makes me want to go and sit in the car on Fleetwood sea front, waiting for an opportunity like this to present itself to my more modern digital SLR camera! One day...
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