Blissful

As I said before, this is blissful. Like a scene from a religious experience. The most uplifting song I’ve ever heard. I present the song Inní mér syngur vitleysingur by Sigur Rós, taken from the album Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust. Crazy Icelandics.

Link for those who can’t see the video.

No, you won’t understand it, it’s in Icelandic, but the title means “Within me a lunatic sings”, which is an incredible title for a song and the album title means “With Buzzing in Our Ears We Play Endlessly”. Unfortunately, it contains possibly the worst place to hit a bum note ever, but you’d never know unless you’ve heard the studio version, which is here. Go listen and make your day.

Happy With That

It’s not often that things satisfy expectations so I thought I should give some credit where it’s due. I’ve never bought digital audio in the past for a number of reasons:

  • Digital audio always seemed like an intangible product compared to vinyl and CDs, in much the same way as software did to computer manufacturers in the early home computing days. I’ve always preferred to buy something I can touch and hold as a testament to the beauty of it’s content, like a book compared to a computer screen. The artwork, the sleeve note and the packaging make it a valuable, desirable artefact. I much prefer to buy the CD over just owning the songs.
  • I don’t like much music, but what I do like I become utterly absorbed by. Consequently, for a lot of music out there, I might like one or two tracks on an album, but have to skip over the rest or put the songs I like in a playlist. At that point, buying CDs is uneconomical.
  • The marketplace for digital audio has always been dominated by a few suppliers who restrict their music with DRM meaning you need Windows, a Mac, an iPod, iTunes or Windows Media Player to play them. No good for Freedom loving Linux types like me. You can’t move your music files from one MP3 player or PC to another. DRM is deliberately unsupported under Linux.

Of course you can also download music illegally, but I prefer not to do that. I’m happy to make my own music available free of charge and am happy to pay for music if it is affordable and available in a format which doesn’t restrict my fair use. It’s only recently that that has happened.

Recently there have been a couple songs that I listened to on the radio which I really liked, but I suspected I wouldn’t enjoy the full albums as much so I decided to see how much they were as digital downloads. I vaguely recalled announcements by Amazon and Play.com that they were selling legitimate MP3s unrestricted by DRM. Amazon sold tracks for 69 pence each at 280 Kb/s, while Play.com sold them for 70 pence at 320 Kb/s. While the small price difference for the extra audio quality may have been worth it, I actually chose to go with Amazon. Play offers you a limited number of downloads of the same file in case you delete it accidentally or somehow fail to download it successfully. Amazon offer a single shot download but force you to use their Amazon MP3 Downloader application, presumably to ensure a successful download regardless of connection breakages.

What interested me was they had a Linux version. Not only that, but they had versions for a number of distributions, such as .debs for Ubuntu 8.10 and for Debian and .rpms for OpenSUSE 11 and Fedora 9. That’s far better than I would have expected. On the downside, I happened to be on a 64 bit Linux machine and they only offered 32 bit packages which gdebi refused to install. Perhaps I could have forced the installation on the command line though that might have demanded all sorts of 32 bit packages, when I already have the 64 bit versions, I don’t know. Additionally, what Gentoo, Slackware and all of those other popular distributions that don’t use a mainstream package manager are supposed to do, I don’t know. In reality, I think I would probably prefer a straight download with the possibility of going back if I lose my hard disk or something, but I was interested to see how this Amazon tool worked so I switched to a 32 bit machine.

Well it seems to be a native Gnome GTK application, Amazon provide you with an ‘.amz’ file which opens automatically in the downloader application and pulls down your music for you. It was really simple. It uses stock Gnome icons and obeys your desktop and icon themes.

So, while I didn’t try downloading from Play.com, I will, but I was very happy with Amazon and I will buy music downloads from them again.

All this inspired the renaissance in getting a Last.fm WordPress widget working, which in turn resulted in me changing my WordPress theme. I’d been using the Rubric theme by Hadley Wickham (sadly no longer linkable) as seen here since I set this blog up in 2004 and used the updated version hacked to work with WordPress 1.5 and later by Tom Raftery. Sadly though it seems a little dated now and didn’t support WordPress Widgets. Also, I’ve been updating WordPress from SVN since around 2.0 which means that it won’t update any files I’ve modified manually, which with a theme which doesn’t support extra functionality like Widgets was growing with every modification I made so I decided to start with a fresh install of WordPress and a new theme. At the moment, I’m using the stock theme with a few additions, I don’t expect to stay this way for long.

So anyway, I tried again with the Last.fm widget I installed a while back but the Flash file it called wouldn’t load so I had to look into the code. It’s basically just a WordPress Widget wrapper around the Last.fm widget, however Last.fm have moved all their widget stuff around which is why the Flash file won’t load. So I went to the Last.fm website and looked at the widgets. You set up your widget and it gives you the code, so I just removed all of the code between the $widget = <<<LFM and LFM; lines, replaced it with the code from the Last.fm website and hey presto.

As a result, I now have a nice, albeit temporary theme, widgets and a Last.fm box proudly displaying my musical taste. I also found a Facebook application which hooks into Last.fm on the Last.fm website so now there’s no hiding from the embarrassing songs in my collection.

Anyway, after all of that  waffling, I just wanted to say that I was very happy with the Amazon MP3 download service and will use it again. It’s nice to see a big retailer like Amazon consider Linux users and even more so, to actually realise that there is more than one version of Linux and not leave all of the users that don’t use an old version of Red Hat in the cold by providing a single, out-dated binary, as hardware manufacturers did a few years back, or making the same mistake with Ubuntu users in more modern times. Good show. Just build some 64 bit packages, 32 bit is edging it’s way out.

Influences

I was driving around today, listening to the NME Classics 3 CD compilation I bought a few weeks back when I switched to the 3rd CD (covering the end of the 80s and the 90s era) as Jenny wasn’t overwhelmed with joy over the contents of CD 2 which was all late 70s and early 80s and I jumped straight into The Stone Roses’ She Bangs the Drums when suddenly I was 18 again, buzzing from the blissful joy of the music and hammering away at my snare drum of a steering wheel. This was followed by The Happy Mondays’ Step On and I was back in my favourite nightclub, smashed out of my brains, surrounded by my friends in the middle of the stage at the front of the club, dancing my nuts off, co-ordinating the party (at least in my ruined brain) from the vantage point of the nightclub equivalent of the royal box, centre stage. Every weekend was like this back then.

This set me off on a train of thought about how different I am these days compared to back then, as I was a musician without bills, traditional full time employment or responsibilities and I started to think about the songs which document periods of my life or helped make me who I am.

Most people who know me well enough understand that I dislike most music and I’m hard to please but I also get completely and utterly absorbed and taken away by music which hits the spot and means something to me, so much so that it makes me emotional and sends shivers down my spine.

So, here is my list of 10 songs which mean a lot to me, which affected my way of thinking or which document periods of my life on this blessed, turbulent Earth.

  • The Clash – Complete Control

The Clash have been my favourite band since I was about 14. Complete Control is my favourite song, along with (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais, Cheat, The Prisoner, Safe European Home, Cheapskates, Somebody Got Murdered and Train In Vain. I could go on. I love the crunchy, slightly honky Les Paul and Telecaster guitar sounds against each other, which is exactly the reason why I own one of each, the fantastic guitar solo after getting only one verse in, then the extended play out and the lyrics about the external pressures of record company, management and Police interference pulling them in directions they didn’t want to go while trying to remain loyal to their ideals – “This is Joe Public speaking, I’m controlled in the body, controlled in the mind”. This song charges me up every time. It was produced by legendary reggae fruit-loop Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry after he heard their version of his track Police and Thieves. Everybody who’s heard of The Clash knows London Calling, Should I Stay or Should I Go and Rock the Casbah. London Calling is probably the band’s defining musical statement, but The Clash for me are about Complete Control, (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais and Safe European Home. In ways too numerable to explain, The Clash changed the way I think about the world and my place in it.

  • The Stone Roses – She Bangs the Drums

The Stone Roses were an obsession for myself and all of my friends from when we were around 17 through to around 20 or 21. We drove off everywhere in our first cars, getting wasted without alcohol where ever we were and just having a great time, never causing anybody a problem and being respectful as we went. She Bangs the Drums was almost a theme tune, like I said above, it lent itself ideally to banging as hard as you could on the old, hollow, rattly plastic shell of the steering wheel’s central cover on your first car. The sound of the Stone Roses first album and B-side compilations followed us everywhere and Elephant Stone, This is the One and I am the Resurrection were staples of the journeys and camp fires we had all over the area we lived. The Stone Roses were followed by Oasis in their policy of releasing EPs which contained tracks which were arguably as good as the lead tracks and often better than album tracks. There was no storing up of the best songs for albums and putting fillers on the singles. The songs were released as they came. In many ways, The Stone Roses were the Oasis of the preceding teenage generation. My own band covered Elephant Stone as part of our set and I remember our band manager telling us that we had to lose the Stone Roses obsession if we were ever to move on musically. Myself and 2 friends slept outside the Wolverhampton Civic Hall ticket office, as fans of many more sedate artists, such as Cliff Richard often did, to get the first tickets to see The Stone Roses when they finally toured their first album in 5 years. Wolverhampton always held The Stone Roses in high regard after the were in court here for trashing their former record company’s offices for re-releasing a single without their permission. She Bangs the Drums is just blissful, sheer joy and as complete an expression of being 18 or 19 with the whole summer ahead of you for you and your friends to go off, explore and celebrate your freedom as you are likely to find. The tag line of my blog, “Occasional bursts of brilliance shot through with a cloying sense of under-achievement” is an amalgamation of how I used to describe myself and my friends’ during this period and a description of the Stone Roses first single, as written inside the sleeve of The Complete Stone Roses compilation album. The Stone Roses disappeared for 5 years after their first album due to legal issues with their recording contract. While many fans disliked their delayed second album, The Second Coming, I saw it as somewhat variable in quality in places, but accepted that theoretically there should have been at least 2 albums in between documenting their musical progression. Consequently, the albums sound like 2 completely different bands, but I still get the feeling when I hear the first few notes of Love Spreads.

  • The Sundays – Can’t Be Sure

A friend of mine took a punt and bought a cassette single of a song called Goodbye by The Sundays. He’d never heard of them but the look of the cover and the sound of the band name made them intriguing enough to take a shot. We both loved it, bought the albums and would sit there in silence listening to the intricate, melodic guitar layers and inspirational soaring female vocals. We would be transfixed. I always described listening to The Sundays as being like lying naked with the love of your life in your arms on a thick woolly rug in front of a roaring log fire on a cold November night: warming, comforting and reassuring. The Sundays seemed to release an album every 5 years, leading with one single from it and have only released 3 albums in total, starting in 1989. We had the first 2 for around 5 years before they returned with the third album. I remember the buzz of excitement when I discovered a new Sundays track on a music industry compilation of pre-release singles which was delivered to our record company, I played it down the phone to everybody I knew who would care and waited desperately for the album to come out. Sadly the Sundays have since disappeared again as they always did following an album. Lead singer Harriet Wheeler and guitarist David Gavurin have been raising the children they have together and haven’t released a new album in 11 years which means we’re 6 years overdue with no sign of new recordings. As they only ever released one single per album, disappeared in between and were generally pretty shy, most people won’t have heard of The Sundays or at least won’t have heard their best songs, but you might know them better than you realise even if you didn’t know it. The song ‘Here’s Where the Story Ends’ released by Tin Tin Out ft. Shelley Nelson was a cover of the Sundays track and I don’t know anybody that heard the original by the Sundays and didn’t think it was infinitely better, like a book when compared to it’s film version. Ultimately the albums are the best testament but Can’t Be Sure as a single is one of my favourites. Here’s Where the Story Ends is probably more friendly and immediate, but Can’t Be Sure is beautiful, understated, doe-eyed, emotive and has a fantastic ending. The Sundays are often described as dream pop, that doesn’t say it all to me, but it’s hard to think of anything better. They are led by a fantastic, clear, emotional female vocal that makes you fall in love, with undistorted, chorused, arpeggiated, ringing, orchestral sounding guitars, melodic bass and thoughtful drums. They’re not for everyone and many have described them as boring but they are a must for people who love melodic British guitar music.

  • The Who – Won’t Get Fooled Again

I came across The Who through a video cassette of a Who compilation called Who’s Better Who’s Best owned by my friend’s dad when I was 16 or 17. I was blown away by Won’t Get Fooled Again played live at Shepperton Studios, the studio demo version of Who Are You and See Me, Feel Me and Pinball Wizard recorded at Woodstock. What struck me immediately was the awesome power and volume of the performances, the unrepeatable musicianship, the stage performances of Pete Townsend and rock lunatic Keith Moon and the physical presence they all had. I was blown away, suddenly every guitar god wannabe poser made sense, Hendrix and The Who were the real deal stage performance-wise and everybody else was pretending or copying. Listening to The Who took my own band from youthful, inadequate Sundays clones to heading somewhere different to every other band we knew. Suddenly we were loud and powerful as well as melodic. Suddenly, I played bass like John Entwistle and leapt around like Pete Townsend. My bass riffs quadrupled in complexity and my stage performance took on the same increase energy levels. The amount of guitar windmills suddenly increased too 🙂 Won’t Get Fooled Again is a powerful 8 minute epic, but my other favourite Who track, besides those listed already has to be Baba O’Reilly. If you don’t know it already, you’ll recognise it straight away when you hear the intro. Unforgettable rock classics, both of them. The power chord is dead, long live the power chord.

  • Stiff Little Fingers – Tin Soldiers

In the first year I discovered The Clash, I discovered that my form tutor at school was also a Clash fan and he lent me a couple of albums which he thought I might also like. One of them was a cassette tape featuring Stiff Little Fingers and Siouxsie and the Banshees. I’d not heard of Stiff Little Fingers at the time, apart from seeing their name in one or two articles on the punk era and while Siouxsie and the Banshees did nothing for me, I liked SLF instantly and pretty much wore the tape out before I got chance to buy a compilation album as my local music stores didn’t have any of their studio albums. I distinctly remember walking to and from a school hockey tournament in the pouring rain playing it non-stop when I was 15 or 16. Despite only playing hockey for around 2 months, playing left wing while right-handed for the school B team, I scored 3 times in 2 games and we got knocked out by a point. I remember walking a lot of places in the pouring rain listening to SLF. Years later I bought the SLF albums Inflammable Material and Nobody’s Heroes and realised the tape my teacher had lent me was an abbreviated version of Nobody’s Heroes. Tin Soldiers is the track given here as we did a class at school where the objective was to create a piece of artwork which represented a song. I had always been awful at art, I had absolutely no artistic ability when it came to drawing or painting and I had this fantastic vision of how to depict the song Tin Soldiers, which is about the anonymity of the teenage army recruit in Northern Ireland. Beneath a banner which gave the name and artist of the song in army stencilled lettering, I traced an image taken from a wartime photograph of my maternal grandfather in his army uniform and helmet with his rifle over his shoulder. I did 2 traces side by side and one I drew as a soldier with a question mark in place of facial features and the other I drew in punk clothing with spiky hair and the same question mark instead of facial feaures. Below this I drew a wall, covered with the sectarian murals of the Protestant and Catholic sides of Northern Irish society, with the song lyrics written over the top. It was the only piece of artwork I did at school which was of any consequence at all and it ended up on the walls until I left school. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to take it with me when I left. The stand out SLF album for me is Nobody’s Heroes and the stand out tracks, are Gotta Gettaway, Fly the Flag, At the Edge, Nobody’s Hero and Tin Soldiers along with early tracks Suspect Device and Alternative Ulster. If you want to know why commercial American punk such as Green Day or Good Charlotte sounds like it does, start here.

  • The Real People – Dream On, All I Know

Ok this is 2 tracks, but they are both of note, one is my favourite track from the album and the other is the most poignant for me. The Real People are probably unknown to a lot of people. Coming from Liverpool, they were signed to a major label during the Stone Roses era and had a hit with a track called Window Pane, but disappeared shortly afterwards and began to self-fund their career. They came to my attention when they signed to my own band’s record label to release their album What’s On the Outside. What makes them stick in my mind is that, of course I got a free copy of the album and we listened to it on tour a lot and we played a gig in York one summer Sunday evening in 1996 I think, they had it the album on the jukebox as they had played there themselves a few weeks earlier and were local favourites. We as usual were hanging around all day while we waited to sound check and so on and spent most of the day piling loads of money into the jukebox while playing pool and pinball, listening to the Real People. The album was played a lot on that tour and we used to have this saying, taken from a book of Clash photos, that getting out of a tour bus at a service station, radio station or at the evening’s gig venue after hours on the road was as close to feeling like an alien as you could get and the song All I Know often echoed that feeling of arriving somewhere feeling like an alien and then leaving a few hours later with nobody remembering your name. It was such an empty desolate feeling at times when you’re sitting in the front seat of a transit van parked up in the middle of the afternoon, wrapped in a duvet, somewhere 50 miles from Middlesbrough – or anywhere a million miles from home, looking at a map, trying to work out where you should head on the way to some gig. It was an empty feeling and the lyrics to the song seemed to sum this up for me. My favourite song from the album is Dream On and is a little more up beat, in fact so is much of the album. The album just reminds me of the sour side of touring, even though I loved the album, I liked touring and we knew we were building towards something bigger. The front pair from the Real People, brothers Chris and Tony Griffiths later produced a single for us though it didn’t work out, but while we were there, they did an impromptu acoustic duo thing for us and they a fantastic ear for each other’s vocal intonations and some really great songs. They often told us how they had been friends with Oasis and produced the Oasis debut single Supersonic, but were removed from the credits after they fell out with them for accusing Oasis of stealing their rich dual guitar sound. If you like Oasis and the Stone Roses era guitar indie bands then you’re sure to like What’s On the Outside by The Real People.

  • Bob Marley – No Woman No Cry

Growing up where I did, I heard a lot of reggae as a kid and some of it soaked in. A lot of it was what I’d consider cheap 80s reggae from the local pirate radio station, but some of it was what I, being a skinny white kid, would consider classic traditional reggae, real drums not cheap drum machines. Bob Marley was the main artist I recall as I never knew the names of most of the songs or artists I heard, but there was a lot of stuff ringing out of Jamaican families windows. In many ways I learned to appreciate reggae through The Clash who had their own reggae obsession through bassist Paul Simonon and their friendship Rastafarian DJ and film maker Don Letts. Many of the Clash’s inspirations, particularly their artwork were derived from reggae artists and their cover version of Police and Thieves led to Complete Control being produced Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. I admit that I’m a fairweather reggae fan, I’m not deeply into it enough to sound convincing, mainly because I wouldn’t know where to start with record buying, but I have a real thing for Bob Marley. It’s so relaxed, easy to enjoy and in many ways similar to The Clash with regard to being accessible protest music; No Woman No Cry has to be the classic reggae song above all others, at least for a skinny white kid.

  • Oasis – Cum On Feel the Noize

I first heard Oasis in the same nightclub I referred to above. At that stage they had just released debut single Supersonic. At this point, they were just a cool indie band, certainly there was no hint of the massive domination that was to come and I was only loosely aware of who they were. Live Forever and Cigarettes and Alcohol are now classics and it was the former which really made me pay attention. The first time I heard it, I thought it was a Sex Pistols song that I’d not heard before, such was the squalling ‘wall of sound’ guitars and snarling vocals. Once again, play it loud enough and I’m back in the nightclub, one arm round my mates, cigarette in hand, beer hand in the air, singing to the skies and feeling like I’m taking over the world. A year or so later and Oasis covered appallingly coiffured Wolverhampton legends Slade’s Cum On Feel the Noize. While I’ve never been one for powdered chemicals, the track is soaked in cocaine induced arrogance and decadent self-belief and the song itself is a fantastic statement of one’s self-belief in the face of your own most obvious failings and this along with the shattering guitar and vocal delivery, sets me on fire every time. I never liked admitting that I was an Oasis fan, it seemed so herd-following, but this is the song I’d like played at my funeral, it says so much about how I remember myself, emphasising my best and worst points.

  • RIP Groove – Double 99 (ft Top Cat)

Sadly by my early 20s, my beloved nightclub where I had spent hundreds of lost evenings ruling the world from centre stage had closed and the new places in town for myself and my similarly dispossessed friends were a little more diverse in it’s musical menu, in one case, a small hip-hop and funk club. By this time I was working in a city centre pub run by my sister and brother-in-law. It wasn’t the coolest or the nicest bar in town but we had a fantastic atmosphere and most of the staff and customers were good friends. It wasn’t a pub on my side the musical train tracks, so I became more exposed to dance music and also Fatboy Slim started to appear in the indie/alternative clubs. This didn’t go down too well with some of my musical purist friends but some of the tracks completely hooked me like Fatboy Slim’s The Rockerfella Skank, Ooh La La by The Wiseguys which we’d been hearing for maybe a year before it went mainstream and RIP Groove by Double 99 ft Top Cat. RIP Groove is wicked and reminds me of busting my ass behind the bar every Friday and Saturday night and loving every minute of it, spending every night after work getting wrecked and copping off all the time.

  • The Sex Pistols – God Save the Queen

The first time I heard The Sex Pistols was when I was 14 and knowing I liked The Clash, a friend of mine lent me a video he had recorded from the TV of some film or other, but which had been left recording and had the first three quarters of a Channel 4 programme of punk music, including The Clash, introduced by Tony Wilson of Factory Records fame. It opened with a live performance of Anarchy in the UK and then followed with The Buzzcocks, The Jam doing In the City, The Clash and so on. This performance alone was enough to make me realise the listening to punk music without including The Sex Pistols was a mistake not to ignore for long. For the those not into punk, many say, though The Pistols deny it, that it started with people like Iggy and the Stooges, The Ramones and The New York Dolls in New York but took off in the UK independently with The Sex Pistols. Joe Strummer realised his own band were history when he heard The Sex Pistols, that the new thing was here. Mick Jones and Paul Simonon had been trying to put a band together for a while when they came across Joe Strummer and invited to him to join their band, he agreed and they went on to become The Clash, doing punk their own way. Other punk bands came and went but The Sex Pistols were about anarchy, antagonism, individualism and throwing the old ways of thinking over your shoulder. They had the biggest, most immediate impact and changed music permanently. The Clash were more considered, more political and were constructive rather then destructive. While the Pistols imploded after a single album, The Clash survived for several years before slowly collapsing and their impact was more subtle and wide ranging. Nevertheless, The Sex Pistols are as important as Chuck Berry, The Beatles or Hendrix in musical terms and the sheer force of delivery is like being hit by a bus. I saw them live in Manchester in November and I couldn’t believe how hard hitting the constant the barrage of music was. Never Mind the Bollocks is a classic album and without it we wouldn’t have had Nirvana. My favourite track is God Save the Queen, though I probably couldn’t choose between it and Pretty Vacant. I also love New York, which tells the ‘punk came from New York’ theorists where to go in no uncertain terms and also EMI, which tells EMI Records where to go in similar terms. Fucking brilliant. Johnny Rotten was once the most hated man in Britain, but recent years have shown him perhaps to have been right all along and that the Pistols were the first to say that it was shit state of affairs in the 70s and to tell the people responsible and those with their out-dated traditionalist values that perpetuated the status quo to fuck off. A lesson not to forget. It’s been a long time since somebody stood up, cut through the bullshit and pointed out what a terrible state the world is in.

While I’m sure this is a meme that swept the various Planets over a year or more ago, I’d like to hear the 10 tracks which have defined your life so far, marked out periods of your life or changed the way you think.

Do You Know Whats Wrong With My Guitar?

Ok, I said had a few “Dear Lazyweb”s. This is the second in the series.

I put my home ‘studio’ back together to work on Jokosher as I had moved my PC, laptops, guitars and amp to my parents house before I went on holiday in case I was broken into while I was away. I have been twanging away quite a bit since I got back and now a problem with one of my guitars is really starting to bug me.

My Telecaster seems to have a tuning problem, it’s something that I noticed shortly after I bought it and at first I just thought I wasn’t tuning accurately enough, but it has become quite apparent the more I play it. It’s not that it won’t stay in tune which is a common problem with cheap guitars, more that it is out of tune after it has been tuned.

Basically, on a guitar, you have the body, which is the large part, the neck, which is the long thin bit with the wire strips across it and the head which is the bit on the end of the neck with with the tuning pegs on it. The strings are wound around the tuning pegs (aka machine heads) and then rest on a thing called the nut which sits on the join of the head and neck. At the other end, the strings rest on something called the bridge before going through the tail piece to keep them in place. When you pluck a string, it vibrates between the nut and the bridge and the vibration over the length of the string result in the pitch of the note that is heard. On the neck, those wire strips that go across the width are called frets and when you put your fingers between them, it causes the string to be shortened and hence create a higher note as the vibration is over a shorter distance.

Now, the problem I have is that when the the strings are in tune and played open, ie not using any frets, the note is in tune. When you play the note at the 12th fret, the string is in tune. If that isn’t the case it means the bridge or string saddles need to be adjusted. This wasn’t the case at first on my Tele and I had to adjust the saddles but it didn’t solve the main problem. The problem is that despite being in tune when open and when ‘fretted’ on the 12th fret, 2 strings particularly, B and G are out of tune on the second and surrounding frets, which makes playing chords or notes near that fret sound ugly as hell. Which means the guitar has a serious problem and can’t be played properly.

The problem gets better nearer the 12th fret, but that isn’t the point. The only other thing I can think of is either a) the guitar is fucked and needs to go back, which is a hell of a shame, or b) the truss rod needs adjusting, which is the limit of my knowledge about being a guitar technician and also, is beyond my experience which means it needs to go back to the shop. The truss rod is a metal rod in the neck of the guitar to keep the neck from bending or folding altogether under the tension of the strings. Anyone who knows better than me is welcome to make suggestions.

V Festival 2005

Ok, no updates for a while as I’ve been ill for the last few days of last week and I was at V Festival all weekend. This post is especially aimed at Rachel who asked me to write a new blog post because she’s addicted. Woohooooo hi Rach 🙂

Wow, V was great. So much happened this weekend, I’ll cut to the chase. The Kaiser Chiefs were fucking incredible and by most accounts stole the entire festival. Absolutely fantastic. I Predict a Riot was, well, a riot. The Ordinary Boys were also outstanding in my mind. As was pointed out, they do sound like most of my favourite bands (The Clash, The Ruts, The Specials and so on. I also hear hints of The Smiths and Shed Seven and… and…), they were excellent.

Also top memories were Goldie Lookin’ Chain, the whole crowd cracked up when they sang, “I wanna fuck yer sister. And yer best friend” before concluding “It’s not me you wanna worry about, it’s my brother, he’s fucking yer mother.”

I watched The La’s play, maybe 15 years since they were last seen together and they were… boring. It’s easy to forget that no matter how much ‘There She Goes’ plays on the heartstrings as an enduring, blissful teenage memory, they still only had one good song. I remember reading (after their demise) about how The La’s had been labelled as the new Beatles and the saviours of the British music scene, only for the recording of their debut album to be blighted by the sacking of various drummers, arguing, accusations of heroin abuse by Lee Mavers and problems with producers and so on. Most fingers pointed to Mavers’ being a talented but unworkably awkward arsehole. And well that seemed to be true of this weekend. While most people who know about The La’s probably would have liked Mavers to open his mouth to acknowledge the crowd, he saved his vocal chords for singing and shouting at the drummer. They didn’t know which songs were next and the sound was unbalanced though thats not their fault. I just thought that the set sort of meandered and even There She Goes sounded awkward.

The Doves, Good Charlotte and The Bravery were all great and Jet rocked hard even though I went to get some food while they were on.

Aside from all the music, there was great fun with the people I went with. Lindsay, Becky, Liz, Gemma, Pat, Simon, Kel(l?), Nikki and Rob. We had a great time, the first day is the official day of drinking. Lindsay had to be held up from around 5:30 onwards and I was so drunk and falling asleep by 10pm or so that we headed off to bed and so I missed Ian Brown, The Prodigy and The Scissor Sisters. Gemma told Lindsay it was about 5 in the morning in a bid to get her to go to sleep though we sat around doing impressions of the opening lines of Shameless while publicly urinating, some of us more shamelessly than others…

Needless to say we spent the following day shouting, “Sca-urh” and “Theh know ‘ow ter throw a paaaaar-eh” at each other and cracking up.

I woke up freezing at 7:30am and again feeling fuzzy at around 9:30am but was ok after a bacon baguette and a cup of greasy tea (wtf?). Oasis were the last band of the night and it was lighters in the air and arms around each other singing as loud as can be. I’m not much of a fan of the last few albums, but they they were cool, though I would have liked the rhythm guitar louder in the mix to get the wall of guitars sound they are known for.

I grabbed some food, said goodbye to everyone and headed to the car as I had to be at work in the morning. I was maybe half a mile from the exit and there must have been 1000 cars ahead of me, none of them moved in half an hour. So, desperately tired I elected to pull out of the queue and sleep in the car until it had cleared as I needed sleep and didn’t want to be awake until half 2 in the morning when I had to be up for work at 7. I slept until around 3, got home at half past, got to bed at 4 and woke up at half 7 and went to work absolutely shattered, but at least I got as much sleep as I could. Next year I will either sleep over the extra night or book the Monday off work.

It was an incredible weekend.

Regrets?

My girlfriend Jenny didn’t have a ticket and so couldn’t come with me. With the mobile phone networks struggling I couldn’t arrange to meet Dan or Rachel. I still haven’t learned not to drink all day on Saturday and then be too drunk to do anything by Saturday night, even though my hangovers at V clear quicker than any other time, anywhere else.

It appears that tickets for next year are already available at this year’s prices for a limited time only.

In other news, I might be moving into a flat with Jenny. If we can afford it this month, we have found a flat that we like. Weird. I might be all grown up or something soon.

The Secret Band

The band I mentioned a few weeks back, that are being looked after by my former band‘s lead singer with growing assistance from myself have been getting growing radio and news coverage. I will be responsible for the more business, communication and technology related side of things, while my former bandmate will be looking after the musical development and day to day handling (for the time being). I wrote a rather good press release a few weeks back and hope to put this with some good photos and a blistering 3 track demo CD, complete with ‘enhanced CD’ video footage which I can then tout to radio stations and record companies. I’m also probably going to be building and looking after the website and roping in people I know with expertise in graphic design and video editing.

These guys stand a great chance of breaking through if things go their way, they really are the only unsigned band I’ve heard in years that are good enough, they really surprised me as they all have quite serious behavioural and academic difficulties. It’s incredible how it all seems to work. I hope to be able to say more about them in the future, but it’s difficult at the moment as we’re trying to keep it under wraps due to the nature of the people involved while they develop and we get the surrounding infrastrucure in place to market them to A&R people. I’ll tell you all about them when we’re ready to go.

Busy doing everything and nothing

As always.

I’ve got a million things going on and not enough time to do them all. My cold has now gone thankfully, but I’ve spent the last week in a flurry of activity.

I’ve been trying to restore some order to the wreckage of my degree, but none of my lecturers seem to be replying. I’ve been trying to salvage myself from financial disaster by finding a job and selling everything I don’t need, thats spare machines, a lot of books etc. Although this is early in the process, again nobody seems to be replying. I think it’s overdraft extension time again, but this will max out the overdraft as far as it will go. I really don’t know where my money has gone. I know I’ve bought a few expensive things but they went on my credit card. I looked at my bank statement and can’t see what I bought. Food. A few nights out. Nothing that extravagant. I now have to tax my car and live on the change until I can find a job. Now consider that I don’t officially finish uni for another 6 weeks and I have bills in that period that total £220 (phone, laptop repayments, internet connection, credit card repayments…) not counting car tax, food, travel or entertainment.

Hopefully my ass on a street corner near you will not be amongst those things for sale…

So aside from all that I went away to Shrewsbury for the weekend 2 weeks ago (cost free!), with my girlfriend and a load of people from uni, which was great. I’ve been trying to give up smoking again and have been getting through a load of nicotine gum, though I’ve nearly run out and buying some more isn’t an option.

My beloved TFT monitor is being collected today as I’m sending it back for replacement as the image ghosting is not good enough for me, I spent a lot of my credit card company’s money on it and I’m not going to settle for an imperfect picture. So now I’m back on my big, dull, 1983 looking, uncomfortable feeling 17″ Dell monitor at 1024×768. Man, does it feel pokey and up-close after having a nice 17″ TFT sitting at a comfortable distance away at 1280×1024. I’ve been spoiled after only 2 weeks.

I’ve also spent a couple of days trying to sort out a decent CV and covering letter for my girlfriend who has been offered a place on a dental nursing course. To take up the offer she has to find her own placement in a dental practice, except all of the ones she’s phoned have just told her to fuck off. She’s never done anything like this and I’ve always been pretty good at getting jobs and doing interviews and so on so I did all the letters and CVs and prepared them all for being mailed out. The very day after the mail out she got a call offering an interview so I then spent the night prepping her for the interview before going for a few drinks with a friend of mine who has had some bad news about a family member.

On Saturday night I went with a few people to a friend’s house for a few late night beers. I don’t think anyone was sober but my friend started to embarrass me by making claims about my sexual habits in front of a few people I’d never met before. I decided to give him some back, which pissed him off and we ended up arguing and he asked me to leave. Prick. Seems it’s ok to say embarrass me in front of my new girlfriend and some people I’ve never met before, but another question entirely when I do it back, backed up by some evidence.

Today and yesterday I’ve mostly been trying to sort my life out as much as I have done every other day for the last few weeks. The list of things to do doesn’t seem to get smaller. Tasks for the next few days include go to the doctors to find out whether I’m losing my marbles or not, vote, go to the dentist which I can’t afford to pay for but they were going to take me off the register and I’d have to find a new dentist because I haven’ t been for so long, make some PCs to sell so I can keep my ass a narrow passage, try to get in touch with my lecturers again and try to find a job.

I think I have to go to Huddersfield this weekend, the petrol looks like it will be paid for but it’s still something I could do without as it will involve a night out and I can’t afford it.

Oh, I just remembered the main thing I wanted to talk about in this otherwise depressing post. Yesterday the former lead singer of my band gave me a call for the first time in a long while. He now works up in the Laked District as a sound recording lecturer at a college. He asked for my opinion on a band that he recorded.

They’re all 16, school dropouts on behavioural grounds, have been together for around 4 weeks and to be honest are quite possibly the best unsigned band I’ve ever heard. Now I was a professional musician for 5 years, I’ve seen almost as many unsigned bands as the entire A&R department of Sony and EMI etc put together. The songs are great, the musicianship is flawless and they have a male vocalist, a female vocalist and male rapper who all sound great which means they can pretty much do anything they want to. This is not some cheesy, bunch of shit, thrown together, ‘lets play crap pop songs’ effort. These guys are for real. After giving him my opinion, which was essentially (though naturally I was far more verbose at the time) that they’ve got it made if they can hold it together when the spotlight falls on them and that they are allowed to mature physically a little (they look young and their voices sound young), he asked me if I would be willing to get involved. I’m quite excited by this, people who know me well enough will tell you that my opinion on music is brutal and mostly right on the button. I either love it or hate it, which means they are great or it just may not be my taste, the alternative is that I don’t care which means they weren’t good enough to provoke a reaction. I have no real middle ground with good bands and this band amazed me. Unfortunately however, with all my crap going on I can’t really do much for now. I need a job and I need to sort out my degree. Then I’ll be able to think about it, but I won’t waste too much time looking a gift horse in the mouth. I think I can really help this band go somewhere and I think they’d appreciate my attention to detail and my ability to focus them into a cohesive unit and saleable product, which in terms of career prospects and their own success, is what needs to happen for them right now. Lets see how this one develops.

Anyway, I better call it a day for now. Apologies for the depressing drivel.

Peace.

Ubuntu Jingle released

It’s not great, it’s not pretty but I have finally made the Ubuntu jingle for LUG Radio. To be honest, after all the fanfare thats been made about it, it’s not even very good.

You can download it from here.

Well it’s been a nightmare to produce. 3 soundcards, 5 machines and 3 operating systems have been used during the process (Ubuntu, Dynebolic and ahem… Windows (for testing my soundcard against Linux)). It’s taken me 3 and a half months to get around to finishing it. Mostly due to other commitments, but there was a great deal of hassle with soundcards and machines.

The final version was done under Dynebolic Linux, although the drum track was made under Hydrogen in Ubuntu. It’s a completely open source project. Unfortunately Ubuntu just did not like recording a live voice from a microphone.

Well there it is. It’s done. Maybe sometime in the future I will get around to cleaning it up a bit. The vocal tracks need compressing and probably a bit of EQing as the B’s of Ubuntu tend to boom a little. In fact I just remembered that I didn’t add any echo or reverb so it will sound pretty dry. Perhaps for v 0.2?

In short it’s a bit crap and it’s been a pain in the ass to do, but I did it. At last.

Ubuntu jingle latest

As some people may know I’ve been trying to make an Ubuntu jingle for LUG Radio. So far this has been nothing short of painful. If you read this post you’ll see I bought 2 new soundcards to try to finish the job.

In the first instance this was to do with my crappy on board soundcard which seemed to enjoy chewing up anything recorded via the mic and line inputs. My laptop was away being fixed at the time so I tried Dynebolic Linux on my dad’s PC (soundcard wasn’t recognised even though it’s a Creative Soundblaster PCI 16, supported by the es1371 kernel module), on my university project machine (similar problem to main desktop machine – crap quality and crackly), on my laptop when it returned (Dynebolic wouldn’t boot with ACPI enabled and I couldn’t seem to use the sound device with it disabled. Haven’t had chance to install Ubuntu yet) and finally on my old Dell Optiplex desktop machine with an Intel i810 chipset and everything onboard, which has a lowly 128MB RAM and struggled to keep up (uses non-standard RAM so I couldn’t drop in a spare stick). All of the other machines were Via chipsets using onboard sound (except my dads PCI 16 soundcard of course).

Nevertheless, the best sound quality came from the i810 machine, so tonight I persevered and mounted the hard disk (dynebolic is a Live CD), copied the files across from my usb drive (causes stutter when running from it) and ran the project from there.

It went great at first but as I layered the tracks it started to slow down as the memory got used up, so much so that by the time I recorded about 4 vocal tracks (I’m simulating a tribe), the machine became barely usable and the kernel killed the Audacity process so I lost everything I had done in the session. I hadn’t saved it as I was technically testing how well it would work.

As Dynebolic is a live CD and runs in memory, I figured that maybe Audacity was saving some kind of user data in /home which is also in memory so I mounted the home partition of the hard disk as /home to see if that saved me a few MBs.

For some reason all this did was make the recorded mic stream slow, bitty and deeeeeeeep. Not to be denied, I unmounted the partition and remounted it under /mnt/home as it was before. I also tried to turn on the hard disk swap partition as swap space, but this failed as it turns out Dynebolic already does this.

Anyway I decided to try again, this time by saving the project every time I recorded a new audio track. I got to about 6 vocal tracks before it started getting flaky so I exported what I had as a wav and called it a night.

I’m not entirely happy with it, but at least I have a proof of concept. I’ll wait until I have my new Soundblaster and make a proper attempt under Ubuntu. At the moment I won’t post it as I’m not sure if it sounds crap or not, you know when you hear your own voice (and accent in my case) on tape? Terrible…

All Soundblasters are not equal

Recent readers will know that I bought a new Creative Labs Soundblaster Live soundcard as they seem to be very well supported under Linux, in a bid to finish this goddam Ubuntu jingle for LUG Radio. Well it arrived today and guess what? It doesn’t work properly under Linux at the moment.

It seems that there are two Soundblaster Lives and they use different chipsets. The older 5.1 is known to work perfectly under Linux using the emu10k1 kernel module and the newer 24 bit 7.1 card doesn’t (the numbers refer only to the number of surround sound speakers, not a versioning process like software release numbers).

Before I bought the card I checked the ALSA website which says here that the Soundblaster Live is supported by the emu10k1 module. I also searched Google for Linux support and read this. Sounds fine I thought at the time.

Until it didn’t work. After searching the Ubuntu forums for the SB Live, I read this thread which points out that the new 24 bit SB Live 7.1 uses a different chipset to the SB Live 5.1 and in fact uses the audigyls module which isn’t entirely working and also only available in v1.06 or above of ALSA, which isn’t available in Ubuntu yet. Why is it you only find this stuff after you buy it?

It also seems that the 24 bit 7.1 card is a piece of shit anyway. Rather than do onboard hardware mixing, it palms it off to the system CPU do do all the work and it is this that has made the driver slower to develop as they had to work out how to do this. Now I know that modern computers like mine are powerful enough to handle this, but would you be happy with a software modem if you were expecting a hardware one? Nowhere in the product spec does it say this.

So I had 3 choices:

  • Upgrade to Ubuntu Hoary
  • Compile the latest version of ALSA myself
  • Or forget it and buy a SB Live 5.1

I don’t fancy upgrading to Hoary as I have yet to hear if it works with the version of ALSA in Hoary. I prefer to stick with a stable version of Ubuntu now I’ve moved over full-time.

I don’t fancy moving to a compiled version ALSA as this means I will have to work out how to put the packaged versions of ALSA on hold in apt and risk making a mess of the sound system by compiling it myself.

So I wimped out and found a 5.1 from Scan for £10 or so. Thats something I could really do without to be honest. It cost me £26 or so for the first card at a time when I’ve just found out I am £3 overdrawn and have no money coming in until early April. I had to transfer money off my credit card to cover my bills for the next 6 weeks.

Well, I’ve made a big noise about this jingle now, I seem to be getting some decent traffic because of it, especially when I was linked by Jeff Waugh on Planet Gnome, Planet Debian and Planet Ubuntu. Also I told the LUG Radio guys about it nearly 6 weeks ago and they having been waiting for it ever since. I’ve had quite a few people post comments about it too so I now feel some kind of responsibility to produce something. God help me if it’s shit…

Don’t know what I’m going to do with the SB Live 7.1 just yet. I might try to sell it on ebay or something to see if I can make some money back, or I might keep it and see if a) it works under Hoary and b) if it is actually a better quality card than the 5.1 despite the hardware mixing cop-out.

One day I will learn that knowledge of Linux hardware support is not innate, nor is it as simple as it looks from a kernel perspective. The ALSA people are doing their job (although it would be nice of them to state that the 7.1 is actually a variant of the Audigy LS and not a variant of the SB Live as the name suggests, by listing the 5.1 and 7.1 separately), but it seems Creative have named the 7.1 based on where it fits into their range and not on what chipset it uses.

Bastards.

UPDATE:

After reading a lot of threads about this problem I filed a bug against the ALSA website to get them to point out that the 24 bit SB Live 7.1 uses the audigyls driver and to ask them to specify that the 5.1 and 24 bit 7.1 are different as it just said that the SB Live uses the emu10k1 driver, so as to prevent other drowning souls in the various support forums around the world from buying the wrong card. They have since updated the site to reflect this. Good of them to research this and actually do it.

Of course Hoary is now out and the 7.1 should be supported, but I have yet to open my box and swap the 7.1 in to check…

Ubuntu Jingle Update

After getting annoyed with the frustratingly fiddly process of getting some kind of decent input from my microphone via my soundcard and trying Dynebolic on various machines which run out of RAM as it’s a live CD or stutter because the audacity project is running from a USB micro hard disk (ie slow read/write access) I have bought a new sound card. It takes so long to check this and that with such granularity that by the time I come to the conclusion that I need to mount the hard disk to put the files on and run it from there it’s either midnight and I have to abandon it and go to sleep or I have more important uni work to do. So it was just easier to buy a new soundcard for my main desktop as recommended by Ant in my comments for the original Ubuntu Jingle post.

So on his advice I now have a Creative Labs Soundblaster Live on it’s way. After a bit of research I believe it uses the emu10k module.

Hopefully this will be the end of my complaining and I can get this jingle finished. Either way, I was starting to have other problems with this sound card, I just never worried too much about them before. For example when playing music files the sound would rise and dip randomly. It really is obviously a crap soundcard.

As my cousin once said to me, unless you’re doing real sound work, the soundcard is the last thing anyone ever upgrades. And it is.

I’m watching the Brit Awards…

I’m going out in a minute but I’m watching the Brit Awards (the British music awards).

Best British Rock Band…

Surely I can’t be the only person in the world that is able to recognise the fact that Franz Ferdinand are shit.

Can I?

At least it wasn’t The Darkness. Ugh.

Ubuntu Jingle

I decided to do an Ubuntu jingle for LUG Radio. If you don’t already know, LUG Radio is a Linux radio discussion show that goes some way to recreating the loud, opinionated and very funny nature of our Wolves LUG meetings.

The jingle was to be based on a running joke from LUG Radio and our LUG meetings, where Aq would sing Ubuntu to the Um Bongo theme tune. Um Bongo is a kids fruit juice drink with the coolest advert ever, available when we were kids and judging by the site, it’s still available now.

So, I set about making a proper version for a jingle. As a test case, I was determined to use open source software, in this case the Hydrogen drum machine software for Linux to make the drum track (thanks to Mr Ben’s reply on the LUG Radio forums) and the Eastern Hip-Hop drumkit.

After having trouble getting the JACK server to start, I had to abandon Rosegarden and Ardour, so I decided to use Audacity instead. It’s not that complex a project to require serious multi-tracking anyway.

So, export the drum track as a .wav out of hydrogen, create a click track in Audacity and import the .wav. All cool. Plug in my crappy PC mic into the mic slot of my soundcard, try to record my hideous tribal “Ubuntu Ubuntu” chanting. Play it back. Umph. Sounds like a crap, crackly mess with heavy breathing and unintelligable, slightly out of time words. You can’t really tell I’m talking at all. Try another 2 crap PC mics and get the same result. Double check Gnome sound controls, no problem there. Try Dynebolic Linux, a Linux sound recording Live CD, same problem but less out of time (probably to do with the low latency patches that help with sound recording issues under Linux). Try Audacity under Windows, even worse (ie no recorded sound at all).

So, I dig out my ‘proper’ mic from my musician days and buy an adapter to connect the quarter inch jack to a 3.5 mm soundcard input. Same problem. Shit.

So there lies my problem. I think this jingle would be really cool, I even had plans to make a version to submit to Ubuntu as a sound test wav file or something. No go. I think the latency problems with Linux sound recording can be overcome by using Dynebolic, but I think the main problem is my crap Via VT8233/A/8235/8237 AC97 Audio Controller (to quote lspci ;)).

So my fantastic project is on hold for now, until I can work out how to record a decent vocal track. I could maybe dig out my old 4-track tape recorder and use my mic through that and into the line-in or mic socket, but thats a major ball-ache.

Linux Sound Recording (with reservations) 1 – 0 Crap Hardware.

UPDATE 17/02/2005:

Dynebolic can’t play the file back without significant stutter on my laptop. It will boot on my dad’s machine but can’t recognise his bog standard Creative PCI 16 soundcard which I vaguely recall uses one of the ensoniq modules. Modprobing either ensoniq module supplied with dynebolic produces an error about depending on a PCMICIA module which blah blah… Audacity under Windows works great with my microphone on my dad’s machine. This means the problem with my machine is the soundcard.

I’m running out of machines. Don’t make me use Windows…

UPDATE 21/02/2005:

The latest developments are in another post.