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 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 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...

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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...