Category Archives: Diary Entry

Retrospective posts, usually aimed at generating enormous surges of cloying nostalgia.

Writers Retreat

Carefully removing the wedding ribbon from the car, The Dapper Swindler and I leapt out of London for an entirely platonic Valentine’s Day Long Weekend in an isolated cabin on the Jurassic Coast. The day was gray, and the first service station we stopped in had no fuel or food of any kind. “Hmm”, I said. “Well”, said the Swindler.

The next service station had five separate Starbucks. This blog is occasionally prone to exaggeration, so I feel I must stress that there really were five of them. “Nnaha”, said the Swindler. “Ahh”, I said. Over the long cold bridge, a Waitrose outlet had run out of everything except Extra Virgin Olive Oil Hummus. “I forgot my skillet”, said the Swindler, settling back into the sheepskin he’d placed in the driving seat for added comfort.

(The Swindler drives now. And if you add all the previous adventures to the accumulated bus fare he owes me from school – plus interest – he owes me quite a few miles of quiet panic from the left hand side).

AAAAAAAAA

AAAAAAAAA

Service stations having failed us, we stopped at a surprise Minster in the middle of nowhere for a brief cultural experience. The Minster was closed. We made tea in the car park. “Raw milk?”, said the Swindler. “Delicious”, I replied.

Our romantic serious writing cabin was in a little wood down the end of a grey country road which resembled a large-scale concrete ryvita. It would be inaccurate to call it “pot-holed”: rather, occasional bits of road stuck out of a long, thin hole. The Audi (yup) fought its way through the gloaming. “Here we are”, said the Swindler, brightly. It was four hours since we left London. The rain picked up a little bit.

2017-02-14 21.18.08Inside the cabin, the situation dramatically improved. Friend Naomi had laid in plentiful supplies and the Swindler unloaded a collection of artisanal meats and cheeses into the fridge. The woodburner was going. The Mario Kart was chronic. The guitars were in tune. In the morning, business took us over the nearby cliff on an unsuccessful fossil hunt – atop the precipice, a lone tree stood bravely against the elements. “Let’s write a song about it”, said the Swindler.

2017-02-14 12.37.24Almost immediately I lost my voice, then the Swindler got a temperature. We over-ate to compensate, the Swindler stood by a massive picture of a sandwich, the artisanal Steak went off before we could cook it, I tried to write some lyrics which were physically impossible to fit into the demanding  rhymescheme and gave myself a migrane, and the Swindler wrote a guitar part which wore out his fingertips so thoroughly that we had no choice but to play Mario Kart over and over again whilst the fog thickened outside and the tea brewed gently in the Yugoslavian kettle I’d saved from the Peug. In short, you already know what I’m going to say: it was an ideal trip, and I will rush towards the next one. 13/10

Rebellious Subtitles

Like any good trekkie, I’ve turned the subtitles on for my fifth or sixth rewatch of Voyager so that I can be sure I’m not missing the spelling of any important names/people.

Look at them!

Look at them!

There’s plenty of important ways in which subtitles change the experience of the casual* Trek viewer, but one of the things it gives you is insight into how the people making the show** see their work. Take this, for instance:

2017-01-29 23.13.44The ‘triumphant theme’, for anyone who doesn’t recognise the tail end of that distinctive solar flare (FOR SHAME) is, of course, the Voyager theme itself. It is, I suppose, a triumphant piece of music – but that’s not the first adjective I’d have gone for, so it’s interesting that that’s how it’s seen here. In particular, it’s interesting because Voyager‘s setup – each episode (bar one) always-already closing with the ship’s continued isolation in the delta quadrant – seems ill-fitted to the idea of a perpetually triumphant signature tune. That, arguably, speaks to one of my broader ‘issues’ with Voyager, which is that it simply isn’t unpleasant enough (we are told that Ron D. Moore writes Battlestar Galactica, with its very harsh emphasis on survival in space, as a direct reply to the unusually cossetted lives of Janeway & co). But let that pass. The point is only that the use of the word ‘triumphant’, here, not only imposes partiality on a supposedly neutral relation of audio, but surprises us by demanding that we read the theme music in a new way.

So far, so obvious. You’ll imagine how far I sprayed my doritos, though, when whilst watching the very next episode I looked up and saw this:

2017-01-29 23.57.30Majestic! Now here’s a word we (or at least I) can more instinctively accept. The Voyager music is slower, warmer, and perhaps less ribald than the themes of the original series or The Next Generation. But it doesn’t have the ponderousness of the Deep Space 9 theme, either: unlike that music, which triumphs in establishing the mood of the first Trek show which is not predicated on the idea of movement, the Voyager music soars, rather as does the (literally) more aerodynamic little starship over the opening credits. But of course the exciting point here is not that we’ve found a better word to describe the music, but that our source for both words is a subtitle to the exact same shot. Since the credits sequence itself does not change at all between episodes, either visually or aurally, this little incident only serves to draw our attention to the fact that it inevitably reads (and, more, asks to be read) differently depending on the material which precedes and succeeds it.

That the same text can have its meaning altered by context is no new insight, but I hadn’t thought about it in relation to to the credits sequences of late-nineties science fiction shows before. The first screenshot comes from the season 4 episode ‘Retrospect’, which opens with the Voyager crew setting up an arms deal with a sinister local – the pre-credits teaser closes with Seven of Nine punching the local in the face, a sight which will never be entirely devoid of ‘triumph’ for me. ‘The Killing Game: Part 1’, meanwhile, which is where our second shot comes from, opens one of the season’s lavish two-parters, a deliciously ambitious holodeck saga at the start of which the Hirogen have already subdued the crew of Voyager and taken over the ship. ‘Triumph’ hardly seems fair in these circumstances, so the remooding of the credits music invites us to focus, rather, on the spectacular nature of the show in general and of this promising double installment in particular.

Tinged, now, with a growing nostalgia was well as with whatever prejudices about orchestral music and long opening sequences we might bring with them to the beginning, these identical sequences are already highly unstable. Netflix’s recent Series of Unfortunate Events acknowledges this by altering the lyrics (and some visual details) of its opening sequences between episodes; Game of Thrones, of course, changes the geography of its cartographical titles to match (roughly) the settings of each instalment. What Voyager‘s subtitling crew reminds us – urges upon us – is that even when these overt changes are not made, no title sequence is the same twice.***

NOTES.
* it is possible, I will admit, that I’m not in this demographic
** okay, probably some guy on minimum wage in a company contracted by the distributors of the people making the show, but let’s just breeze past that
*** FYI, I did some further checking on other episodes: many don’t have a subtitle on the solar flare shot at all (WHOLE SEPARATE BLOG POST), others seem most commonly to reuse ‘majestic’, but ‘triumphant’ makes reappearences too. I’ve yet to see a third adjective in play, but I’m only at the end of season 4.

So Very Long 2016

2016 was not an annus mirabilis for FaceOmeter, but that’s okay – it wasn’t an annus mirabilis for anyone else (nice) either. Given world events, it feels even more self-indulgent than usual to draw attention to the benighted progress of a white, male singer-songwriter; compared to what others are living through, “I only wrote four songs” is positive tickertape fodder. There are other senses in which my unproductive and unenjoyable year was an extraordinarily privileged one: I have a house, now, and there’s a cat who lives in the house, and I pay extra to have garden waste removed. There are profound upsides and downsides to all three, but fundamentally it’s good.

I also rediscovered the baked egg; bought card sleeves and a hat on the back streets of Huddersfield; varnished a floor; got up early to look at the wreck of an incompetantly-designed ship; took an abbreviated tour of Cardiff’s major arcades; bought a deckchair; queued for twenty minutes in a hotel ballroom and then left as soon as I got to the bar; swam with an actual wild dolphin; carried a whole tree; accidentally shared a cab with a major novelist; did a midnight dorm party in Lancaster; smashed up a light fixture; fought knotweed; established a games night; bought a record on spec because it was for sale in the pub where it was made (it was good); got given nuts by the world’s fastest airline stewardess; watched the pterodactyls in a geodesic garden; publicly interviewed a television personality; saw a light sculpture of a lily pond on an actual lily pond; got taken out for an alcohol-free Lebanese; danced like a maniac to the Psychadelic Christmas (not for the first time); hung out on the most gratifyingly dog-heavy beach in the South West; was made egg tea in a Badger’s den; fed the pigs; noted hammocks and chalk on a sunset campus square walk; woke up at a chicken farm; went to sleep in the basement of a deli; crafted far too much game pie; did an ad hoc performance with the brides at a garden wedding; MC’d a Victorian slideshow; rued the ill-preparedness of Duncan; failed to see the Mappa Mundi; picked wild domesticated raspberries and made amazing jam out of them; battled illness to play supergrass chords in a fake Cuban village; bought ice cream from my alma mater; got a hero of mine to draw herself as a stick figure; invented a video game in a twisty Cornish garden; flew in a chair over the city of Stockholm; cried at a puppet bear; toured a hydropathic museum with an Egyptology section and Michael Fassbender’s coat; returned to an alligator golf course; got a summerhouse; greeted a rooster who was roosting on a shed threshold (Bernard for life); ate buffet near a famous comedian I like (didn’t say hi); cowered before the Kate Bush impersonator; made a sulky phone call to catering in a geology museum; sat up late discussing periodicals with a bluegrass afficionado; took the lead in a rainy boule championship; ate concept amuses bouche in a super dapper restaurant; chained an extraordinary amount of bedridden Netflix (The Expanse season 1 in a single day kids); stopped for chips in Stoke’s Croft; got some gluten free vegetarian fish and chips; hunted Pokemon on the set of Doc Martin; followed a trail of blood past Birmingham Cathederal just before a Dracula screening; and saw the only dodo soft tissue in existence. There was definitely more than that, of course – this, as ever, is a sampling, a random collection of most- and least-notable moments. Reading it through, though, does restore in me some kind of hope for the next twelve months. I certainly hope they are kind to you!

So Very Long 2015

Glancing back at the blog, I notice that I really haven’t been updating it this year. Too bad, because a lot has happened! I’ve played a show in an indoor forest and eaten two separate gluten-free pizzas; been behind the scenes at three different natural history museums; hailed a Christmas llama; listened to Sibelius on swans; had my first real stint of copyediting; been offered strange drinks in Newcastle; attended a Victorian Magic Lantern show and a present-day wedding powerpoint presentation; discussed wine with a group of French philosophers in an 18th-century restaurant; been pissed on by a pretend camel in a listed building; climbed Glastonbury Tor for sunset to the accompaniment of savage beats; sung along to the mariner’s revenge; awoke with Port Meadow’s wild rabbits; carried a curry past an idyllic cathederal; had a reassuringly pink breakfast out; accidentally attended a birthday party; gone back for extra tea in the Sainsbury’s café (the quiet café, we call it) and for one last one in the Railroad; failed to buy a copy of Empire magazine; become, with about three minutes’ warning, the Archangel Michael; had my car smashed up; slept next to a famous diplodocus; found out what a steam room feels like; belatedly discovered Adventure Time; appeared on a covers album; attended a public talk about sleeping on roundabouts; been trapped by seaside cows; been decimated in a Necromunda tournament; learned about unclaimed babies; eaten the best mozarella in history; attended a print exhibition at a Quaker retreat; conspired with the Muse about how to use a door; run a stage at the Moseley Folk Festival; survived swimming in the Irish Sea; bought a house (nearly); bought a hammock (emphastically); had a bucket of water dumped on me by a zip line; talked to teenagers about bad writing; rearranged the tracks on an old friend’s record; cycled the perimeter of an entire submarine base; had a suspciously nice Holiday Inn breakfast; brainstormed in the Royal Society; and lectured on Jekyll and Hyde at a Catholic College. I’ve lost three mobile phones – two to drowning – and ended up with one I really like (cyanogen ftw). I saw the new Star Wars and didn’t die. I wrote about five songs – but I really like them! – and I started a new performance arts night in Birmingham (the next one is this coming Monday!); I also started writing about stupid games in the Catweazle Magazine, which has been a really fun project. My game of the year is Desert Golfing, but of course Mario Kart 8 is right up there. Next year, I suspect, will be about firming up a lot of stuff that is already in process – but Hatstand needs to be successful and FaceOmeter needs a definite next project, and these are my two ambitions as far as you’re concerned!

I’m certain I’ve missed a whole raft of amazing things about 2015 here. I always do, of course, and that’s part of what this annual post tradition I’ve got going on is – it’s a core sample, not a complete planet. Nevertheless, it’d be good to take some better notes next year, so I suppose I’ll add that to the list of resolutions.

You may or may not have a list of your own. I wish you well if so – I thank you for continuing to read this site and to listen to my foolish rhymes, and I trust that we two have many more such capers ahead of us. Forward, and onward, and be well. Happy New Year.

The Elephant in the Room

This is a song I finished lately. It’s about living with an elephant. Don’t think this is an elaborate metaphor for anything! It’s about actually living with an actual elephant. I’m in Robert Frost country here; metaphors are banned.

Before you left,
The times we had!
Two very different bodies
With the same crockery.
In the same warm and immense
Companianable silence –
All our thoughts unexpressed.
There’s no problem with that.

You’d pour the tea –
Your special knack.
A little crackle from the fire
All our hearts could desire.
No need for conversation,
Warmed by our conflagration –
Quiet cameraderie,
From which nothing detracts.

I should have guessed,
I should have guessed I never could know
What’s going on,
What’s going on behind those bright eyes –
How much espoused in their discretely curving brows
Was only my surmise?

I had a dream
That you came back –
Settled into your sofa
Crumpets stuck in the toaster.
And the evenings got longer,
Leaves turned russet round songbirds,
And we sat on serene;
It’s a matter of tact.

I couldn’t say,
I couldn’t say without you starting
What’s going on,
What’s going on when creatures share lives –
Assumed one scene could hold the hopes of different beings
Regardless of their size.

I should have guessed,
I should have guessed I never could know
What’s going on,
What’s going on behind those bright eyes –
How much espoused in their discretely curving brows
Was only my surmise?

Self-Assembly

The Hatstand night is developing apace. I just put up this short film, in which I test metaphor to its limits by building an actual hatstand as a promotional exercise.

If you’re in or near Birmingham I’d love to see you at our opening night on December 7th! More details on this post below.

What else has been going on? Well, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the company of this insane beast:

2015-10-20 00.28.15There is a small prize for guessing the species.

I’ve just finished a new song called ‘The Elephant in the Room’. It’s about the experience of living with an elephant. So I suppose “living with different animals” has been the theme of recent weeks. But I’ve been having other experiences, too – I’ve been seen at a few Catweazles recently, popped over to see a teen pop sensation thriving at an open mic in Edgbaston, and I got my hands on a first edition of The Hunting of the Snark today. Slow and steady wins the race!

Recent Events

Dear all, I have for too long neglected this here account of my travels through adventureland. You needn’t think that this is because I’ve been idling, though – I’ve had some mad fun lately and I’m here with you for some edited highlights:

I opened for Thomas Truax in Oxford, which was a real delight. He is a gent of the old school and a fierce mind withal. I suffered a couple of cancellations after that, but I did a few Catweazles to keep me going and I surfaced last Friday on the Catweazle stage at Tandem festival (an indoor book-forest barn stage in the Oxfordshire countryside), where I debuted a new song I’ve got guest-starring Rosie Caldecott. Very excited to play that, especially as Ditte Elly was also there – we sang ‘Child of Monkey Horse!’ together which always makes me feel privileged and special.

2015-06-20 00.18.01It occurs to me to tantalise you with a few song titles. ‘More Like Spring’s Heath’. ‘Big Duck On Campus’. ‘Sad Songs for Happy Occassions’. ‘Several People Whom I Have Known Called Matt’. ‘The One-Part Prelude’. ‘Hippo Calypso’. There are the new generation of tunes I’ve been working on since Why Wait came out last year – some are finished, some are only nearly finished. More are on the way. They’re slow but they’re coming. Stay tuned.

At Tandem I saw lots more of my special friends including two thirds of Robot Swans, M Sage himself, and the inimitable Patti Dale. Then I buzzed off to a school in Somerset to award some poetry prizes and have an individual in a black morph suit with a harlequin mask dance around me with a small rubber duck. Another day at the FaceOmeter office.

There’s been much else besides! I’ve seen Jurassic World and seen loads of awesome people pick up degree results, and I’ve watched a lot of Gilmore Girls. There is the vague sense of an upswing in all of this. It could be deceptive, but things feel pretty good right now in a gentle sort of way. I’m glad you’re all still reading!

Incoming Shows

Dearest friends, I have three wild gigs coming up which I’d like you to take note of..!

Oxford – The Cellar – May 2nd
This is a show supporting Thomas Truax, and it looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun! It’s likely to sell out so you may want to grab tickets in advance!

Brighton – St Peter’s Church – May 6th
I’m turning up at this well-located and atmospheric establishment to show the South Coast what I’ve got! Doors at 7:30!

Birmingham – Glee Club – May 16th
I’m appearing at the first ever show in a new space run by the Glee Club. This’ll be an afternoon show, running from 2-6pm. I’ll let you have more details when I know them!

I was in the studio with Dean McCarthy today to record a little something for the Magic Lantern. He captured this dramatic picture of his new record-o-box, also featuring my feet.

CDWnnapXIAEyT3iPlayed the Catweazle Club last night and got a third song (a great honour) for only the second time ever – the set was ‘Hippo Calypso’ (that’s a new one), ‘Unwillingness to Dance‘, and ‘A Strange Visitor‘. I’m also in the latest issue of Catweazle Magazine with a new column about stupid games! In print or live, Catweazle is one of my favourie places to be – it’s been a treat!

The Newcastle Statement

Those who think that writing music is pretentious are right, of course: at least at the level of the indie singer-songwriter, we show off in front of crowds because it suits us. The crowds are often small, and the applause is sometimes unwarranted. We play because we believe that someone else will like it, and there’s an arrogance in there that simply can’t be avoided. There’s something else too, though: that music is the crowd as well as the artist, is the Ritz-trained baker who gave me free dessert, is the stranger who dropped a decent sum of money on a t-shirt of mine for reasons which remain obscure, is the young couple on the sofa who laughed right through my set and meant it, is the older couple at the back who’d never been to a show like this before but said they’d come again.

This is the usual line with which we justify ourselves, but the truth is that we can go so much further – what ever it is, it’s also the tiny café where we did the show, and the two guys whose homemade pizzas made the venue smell amazing and whose hand-decorating made it look warm and welcoming. It’s the taxi to the venue, as well – the driver trying to enter the postcode of the place into his satnav whilst negotiating vomiting Geordies, the slight sense of panic, of being late, of not having a clue where you are, and then of seeing a waving stranger step out of a building you’ve never seen before and knowing, just like that, this is me, I’m here, I’m home, it’s fine now. It’s the train to that taxi, the hour’s delay in the overcast midlands, the overpriced cup of tea which breaks things up at York, the Northern scenery through new headphones. It’s the party after the show, too: always an unpredictable affair but in this case a gentle exchange of vice versas and most-hated tracks taking place in wood-floored flat in Jesmond where people you’ve only met fleetingly before hand you lemon curd cocktails and complement you on your socks. It’s the cocktails themselves. And it’s midnight Müller corners in a window burnt by reflected sunlight, it’s homemade hash browns the next morning, and it’s a sewing room and notes on Pokémon and the theme tune from Wolf Hall and a discussion about the function of craft in the age of mass reproduction. And it’s that walk – one a.m. in a strange city, biting wind, a dangerous bridge, clear skies, bright stars, scary parks, winding roads, the feeling of being shown a place by someone who cares about it. Perhaps more than any of this, it’s the moment when the train home pulls away and you put on some music that’s totally appropriate for the occasion and think the person I just left made this – it didn’t exist before, and then they came along and now I’m here.

I’m not there without them. Without music, not a word of the above – not for me, at least. Every thought of it impossible. Now multiply this list of my own particular experiences, some of which probably don’t say that much to you, by the number of people who were in the crowd last night. What an unthinkable spread of thoughts and actions to have kaleidoscoped together in one room! What an incredible privilege to be the focal point of that vitality for a few minutes, to get some sense of its size and complexity before the kaleidoscope turns and we all roll away again. It’s not that I think my own music – the stuff I write, the stuff I’m playing – directly causes more than a superficial fraction of the adventures which have briefly huddled together in that place. But if I pick up the guitar in tribute to that, if I can reflect some of that energy back to the people who have brought it along, who have made stuff and done stuff and ended up here too, then surely it isn’t just my own conceitedness that makes me do it?

Of course it’s self-indulgent, but it indulges in everyone else as well. It’s brought me friends, and food, and memories, and adventures, and I believe that I am not the only one. It is not the best way to live, or the only way to live, but until further notice, and speaking, now, with some experience, it continues to work for me.

I wrote this on the train on the way there:

It’s just running up to Leeds that the excitement finally kicks in. Three hours on a train, one stationary in a grey field south of Burton-upon-Trent, the other two spent dozing between the pages of a textbook on metaphor, failed to set a mood. The expensive rail fare, the hours travelling – why do I do this? Ever harder to set up shows, to make time to play them. But I’ve always needed reminders (perhaps the reminders themselves are the reason?) and outside Leeds the latest one arrives: twilight replacing the grey, the train’s atmosphere moving from stifled to cosy, my faithful guitar in its battered case perched indecorously in the overhead. The reminder is a physical reaction to some combination of these, or none of them, a tightness of breath behind the sternum, anticipation mixed with uncertainty. Once again, and for the first time in a while, I do not know where I’ll be in two hours, physically or spiritually. But this isn’t a quest for the arbitrary, a wanton desire to full up on new experiences of any kind, whatever the cost: I don’t know where I’ll be, but I know what I’ll be doing. And to remember the what, in this moment, is also to know the why.

At Leeds itself I stand in the doorway and take a breath of fresh Northern air mixed with lashings of Yorkshire rain. The lights of the town burn brighter as the train begins to accelerate away from them – the woman in the seat in front of me plays solitaire on her phone, the large train manager pushes a trolley service of drinks and light refreshments up and down the aisle. Life is a fabulous adventure.

So Very Long 2014

We’re down to the wire here. 11:10 on the last night of 2014 as I sit down to type my customary end-of-year blog thing. I’m on a borrowed MacBook and I’m late because I found a DVD of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (the 1980s BBC one obviously heathens, look at this realistic dragon) in the Edwardian Reading Room I find myself in in the wilds of North Yorkshire. Hoar frost nibbles at the windows, an AGA burns inside, the last of the Christmas walnuts remain to be cracked in front of me, and the previous tenantry left a nearly full box of Earl Grey in the cupboards. And so ends the year.

I cannot do my usual list – not exactly. 2014 was different. Don’t think that things didn’t keep going on, that there wasn’t a narrowboat cat and a coven at a bonfire and a five-person wedding moshpit at a leisure centre in Portsmouth and amphitheatre films and teddybear picnics and continental canals and Welsh meercats and festival honeybees and Neutral Milk Hotel and fifties American diners that do kebabs and Frankenstein cupcakes and SO ON AND SO ON AND SO ON. But 2014 will always be a year dominated by what is frequently (and wrongly) called ‘big stuff’ or ‘life stuff’. Jobs. Cars. Weddings. Visas. Children. Rabbits. None of it is suitable subject matter for this blog, but all of it has happened this year, and it’s been crazy and it’s been weird and it’s been so, so hard and I am so, so tired, and I am delighted with how it’s gone and determined never to have another year like it. I put out an album which I recorded and released while everything was going on, and that was difficult too but I’m really happy with it. And I worried that I lost my creature impulses a bit in the midst of it all, but in the last few weeks I’ve put a new song together and I’m delighted to inform you that FaceOmeter has a present and a future as well as a past.

It will never be quite the same, but I think I’m holding onto the things that matter. I have not forgotten – and I won’t forget – that ‘life stuff’ does not equal ‘life’. There are exciting things lined up for 2015, which will be a very different kind of fish if my suspicions are confirmed: less intense, more productive. And with more gigs! Those are my three resolutions.

So, without further ado: farewell, 2014. You have been insane. I am short of breath, but still on my feet, and I am so so so much luckier than so many people, and it’s time for the next chapter.