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...!