Thursday, 21 September 2017

Inelasticity

Okay, so I left school 28 years ago. It's a long time since I studied Physics formally. But I still remember all about springs.

A spring at rest just sits there, doing nothing. Slowly put some energy into it, say by stretching it, and it gets longer. Stop putting energy into it - let go, in other words - and it releases that energy, recoiling back into its rest state. It can recoil because it has the property of elasticity - it pings back to its pre-stretched state.

Now, the more energy you put into a spring - the further you stretch it, in other words - the more energy is released when you let go and it returns to its rest state. In other words, the recoil is louder and more violent. However, it still goes back to how it was, because of its elasticity.

But (sorry, there's always a but) what if you stretch a spring too far? Eventually, it will go past its elastic limit, the point beyond which it can no longer return to its rest state. It deforms permanently, in other words. From childhood, you may remember this as the point at which you knackered your Slinky.

Here's the part where I leave established science behind and go into personal opinion. Ready? Here's a picture of a giant spring, courtesy of NASA.

And every day we're stretching it further, with carbon-fuelled climate change, pollution, overpopulation, and more. Is it any wonder then that the recoils (hurricanes, earthquakes, monsoons, landslides, and everything else) are getting more frequent and more extreme, as the spring tries to return to its rest state? What will happen, I wonder, when this spring is stretched beyond its point of inelasticity?

Apologies. I'll get back to blogging about music and television soon enough. After all, "Earth as a spring" is just a theory that I haven't described very well, cannot evidence with demonstrable science and cannot prove. Can't help but feel that 7.5 billion researchers are working on that proof every day though.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Spent the day in... the car

With three lots of roadworks and an RTC to contend with, getting out of the village to go to work this morning was like... well, it was like Schneider trying to get to the London Road...

On the plus side, this meant I was still in the car for the first play of Spent The Day In Bed. For me, the jury is undecided. I mean, it's Moz, so I'll buy it regardless. My first instinct is that this isn't classic Morrissey... but it's better than no Morrissey.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Fantasy Cover Version #7 - if King Creosote covered "Keep The Car Running"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

Seventh guest contributor is Stevie, who many of you will know from the excellent Charity Chic blog. And it's a blinder! Stevie writes:

Can I make a suggestion for a fantasy cover version? Scotland's own King Creosote is no stranger to a cover you would not think of:

If he can cover Prince with such aplomb I'm sure he could also turn his hand to Arcade Fire's "Keep the Car Running":

However it worked out I'm sure he would not be one bit ashamed:

What a voice on that Prince cover! Can only imagine how that would translate to the Arcade Fire track... Oh, and if Stevie is reading, sorry, I had to use a different video for your second YouTube choice as I encountered copyright problems embedding it. Hope you approve of my substitution.

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck. The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Cross-pollination

I don't often do this, nor will that change, I promise. But I wrote a book, so I need to make a little bit of noise about it, somewhere that gets a few more readers than my other, writing blog... In other words, please excuse the blog cross-pollination.

<plug class="shameless">Anyway, here are some links, on the off-chance</plug>:

Paperback

Ebook

Pricing is a bit volatile at the moment, so I can't guarantee that it won't be cheaper later. Or dearer, for that matter. So why wait? And if you like the book, it'd be lovely if you could leave a nice review on Amazon or Goodreads, or wherever you write your reviews. Feel free to blog or tweet about it, if you like. On the other hand, if you don't like it, pop over to Twitter and tell me why. Cheers.

And yes, music lovers, I did borrow my novel's title from Gene. But I didn't steal it.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Margins

I went to a little festival this summer - you know the sort, it's in a village you've never heard of, with a mostly unknown line-up, and they big up their family-friendly credentials. I sound a bit cynical and jaded about it, sorry - I really shouldn't because it was terrific and I had a great time. But it did get me wondering about the fine margins that exist between bands that make it and those that just plug away forever, trawling round the local gig circuit but never making that "jump" to the next level.

The festival headliners on the Saturday night were Dodgy. And they were alright, even if it did seem at times that they were going through the motions. But even Dodgy wondered aloud how they were going to follow the preceding act, the glorious Sam and the Womp, whose combination of Ida Maria-esque vocals and trumpet-wielding sideman were perfect festival fare. But Dodgy made it, to a level that Sam and the Womp probably never will. Why, I wondered...

The festival highlight for me though was The Naked Lights, who played two sets - the main stage on Friday night and, better still, the acoustic tent on Saturday. On their website, the band describe their sound as "a ragged adventure, with songs veering from bass-driven gospel, through electronic guitar-house to fuzzy Brit indiepop, all polished with pop melody." Now the pedants amongst you might wonder how you can polish with melody, but you know what they mean, right? What I would say is that the description does come close to summing up the range of styles they deliver. Most of all though, they remind me of early 80s guitar-based New Wave - in fact, the closest comparison I can think of if The Vapors who, coincidentally, I wrote about earlier this year. But anyway, early 80s guitar-based New Wave: that's a good thing. Here's a typical example of how they sound, and why I make that comparison, from their current album, The Fear Of A Morning. It's called Here Comes The Feeling.

In fairness to the band, they're very open about their influences - there's even a song on the album called (Echoes of) The 1980s. But where was I? Yes, I really enjoyed both of the band's sets, so much so that I bought their album from the merchandise stall, and have played it quite a lot since. But... it all comes down to those slender margins, I think. The band are great musicians, are tight live, get the crowd going and look the part... so why aren't they bigger?

The answer came to me in the acoustic set, as The Naked Lights included an eclectic mix of covers including Ice Ice Baby (yes, really) and, best of all, the theme from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, which was the absolute festival highpoint for me - the tent went mad. And that's when it struck me - there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of very competent bands doing the rounds nationally, with a high level of musicianship, the necessary social media presence, maybe even albums to tout. But they don't make it if they don't have a song that exceeds the norm, that elevates them to a different level, that is transcendent for the listening audience. Having the right song, maybe that's what makes the difference, that's the fine margin.

Here's another Naked Lights track, this time from their eponymous debut album. It's called We'll Revolution With You.

At first, I thought this might be the song that elevates them, that provides the transcendent moment. Certainly it had ear-worm status for me for most of the week after the festival. But it's not. In the unlikely event that the band are reading this, this is the direction they need to head in, more tracks like this, album-closer These Walls.

But what do I know? With my beautiful acoustic guitar that I never play outside the house... and the electric 6-string gathering dust, that never gets plugged into my home-made amp... and the trusty old 12-string, currently gathering dust at my parents' house, and down to 11 strings... What do I know about being in any band, let alone a successful one? (Apart from margins - I'm right about those)

Monday, 11 September 2017

Fantasy Cover Version #6 - if Tony Bennett covered "Anarchy in the UK"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

Sixth guest contributor is Mark who, you may remember, contributed last week's Lisa Hannigan FCV. You may also remember that Mark is a brilliantly talented writer whose latest collection of short stories, Process of Elimination, definitely deserves your attention. Anyway, what of his second FCV, I hear you ask? Mark writes:

My other choice (and just to prove I haven't gone completely soft) would be for Tony Bennett to do a cover of Anarchy in the UK, sung to the tune of I Get a Kick Out of You.

My reasoning being that it would upset and annoy a large and satisfyingly diverse amount of people, which - if you think about it - is far truer to the subversive spirit of punk than any of the attempted revivals. Also, it would make a wonderful Christmas Number One.

An inspired choice from Mark that deserves a bonus +13 kudos points for the idea of singing one song to the tune of another, I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue style. Brilliant.

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck. The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Fantasy Cover Version #5 - if Lisa Hannigan covered "Dream a Little Dream of Me"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

Fifth guest contributor is Mark who has been kind enough to submit two FCVs for the price of one (part two next week). Mark is not only a good friend and former colleague, he's also a brilliantly talented writer. I've previously reviewed some of his books on this very blog and his latest collection of short stories, Process of Elimination, is, I think, his best yet. If you like any/all of Ballard, Brooker, Dahl or King, you should definitely have a read of Mark's work. Now, back to the FCV, Mark writes:

First off, how about Lisa Hannigan covering "Dream a Little Dream of Me"?

The Mama Cass version is and always will be the definitive rendition - no question, but the combination of LH's voice and those lyrics would, I think, make the perfect audio comfort blanket for troubled times - which we appear to be living in right now.

A great choice from Mark, I reckon. I should point out that the evidential Lisa Hannigan track was my choice, so I hope Mark approves. And if you think this is an intriguing FCV, wait until part two next week, which I think is an even better concept.

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck. The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Guest appearances (or, deferring the decline)

Here's a graph of monthly page views recorded for this very blog, for the last 3⅔ years. Look what's been happening.

Until recently, New Amusements was just bumbling along, with a handful of core readers. My December round-ups of the year would provide a tiny bump in the figures, but that was about that. Indeed, 2016's figures suggested a decline from even those low levels. The end might have been in sight...

... but something has happened this year. After 12½ years of plugging away, I have some traffic. There are, I think, many factors in this. I'm now in the blogroll sidebar of a number of far more popular blogs which, if my statistics are to be believed, does actually generate traffic (I will post some other time about the serendipitous joy of blogrolls). On top of my constant readers (step forward The Man Of Cheese, Mark, Rol and a couple of others), I've somehow snagged and retained some new regulars too, one side-effect of which is increased activity in the comments. For me as a blogger, the increase in discussion "below the line" has been a real boost, and gives me what I've always wanted from blogging: the online equivalent of having a chat over a pint.

I think another factor in adding traffic, especially in the last month, has been my attempt at starting a series, in the shape of Fantasy Cover Versions. It's stalled already, of course, but you can still contribute. You should, by the way - your ideas would be excellent, I know it.

Over and above the blogrolls, new constant readers, active comments and series, the other factor that has really helped this year is, slightly counter-intuitively, writing elsewhere. And I'm not talking about my efforts with fiction - that really does continue to decline - but rather writing this kind of thing in other places. I can't recommend this highly enough; it gives the "other place" a chance to write about you, to link to you, and to send new readers your way, some of whom stick around. So far this year, I have these guest appearances under my belt:

  • a Radiohead Imaginary Compilation Album on blogging hero The New Vinyl Villain's site;
  • thrillingly, a reminiscence on the cinemas of my youth on Andrew Collins' new blog, Digging Your Screen. Yes, really. That Andrew Collins, off the telly, The Radio Times and The Guardian;
  • and, maybe as thrilling, I don't know because I haven't seen the end product yet, but a gig reminiscence of mine about The Wedding Present is set to appear, in some shape or form (maybe a line, maybe a paragraph, maybe the whole thing, who knows), in a new book entitled Sometimes These Words Just Don't Have To Be Said. Order your copy now, and see how much/little of the original article makes it in.
So, being elsewhere ... I recommend it. Hey, why not send me your Fantasy Cover Version suggestion and I can write about you...

Thursday, 24 August 2017

The Styles council

I heard that Harry Styles solo single on the radio at the weekend. You know the one, where he goes from all gravel-throated Kelly Jones-lite in the verses to helium-powered tenor in the chorus. Sign Of The Times, I think it's called. Anyway, whisper it quietly but I don't mind the Kelly Jones-lite bits. The helium-powered bits about bullets I can leave, if I'm honest.

Thing is, I'm not mentioning Harry in a blatant stab at pulling in readers - I don't think the average Directioner is going to have much time for New Amusements. No, the only reason I even mention this is that, on hearing the song on the radio, I was struck by the feeling that it really, really reminded me of something else ... but I couldn't put my finger on what. And it bugged me for the rest of the day. Do you ever have that feeling when recall is almost within your grasp but it remains just beyond your outstretched fingertips? That's how I felt all day on Saturday.

But then, thank God, it came to me that evening. It's not the whole song that's similar, but there's one particular chord change at the end of the verse that reminds me so much of the end-of-verse chord change in this song... a song which is right up there in my oft-mentioned-but-never-actually-compiled list of favourite songs by anyone, ever.

Whatever you think of Travis, this, my friends, is solid gold.

P.S. If you've been thinking about submitting a Fantasy Cover Version, now's the time to do it as nothing, at present, is scheduled for this Monday. You could jump straight to the front of the queue...

Monday, 21 August 2017

Fantasy Cover Version #4 - if John Lennon covered "Yesterday"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

Fourth guest contributor is John who, I think, has had a stroke of genius here. John writes:

Before he bought the farm I would have paid good money to hear Lennon covering "Yesterday".

The case? By the end it was all Lennon could do to keep a civil tongue in his head whenever Macca called - which had grown more and more infrequent.

But, if he'd played it with a straight bat - and at that white piano - then who knows? I for one would bet that sparks would be coming off those ivories.

An intriguing suggestion, I reckon. Although the lyrics to "How Do You Sleep?" suggest John grudgingly admired Paul's song ("The only thing you done was yesterday"), I admit it's hard to imagine (see what I did there?) John ever covering this, even if he hadn't bought the farm. But oh, if he had...

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck. The list of past submissions may inspire you.