Week from Monday 5th May 2014

Yet another BANG COLLAR DAY. They come thick and fast at this time of year. It was probably Thatcher who put a stop to all that socialist "May Day" workers' holiday stuff... so nowadays they take the nearest Monday to the first o' the month and call it "EARLY SPRING BANK HOLIDAY" (Catchy title, Bob!). That means that this year we accidentally find ourselves celebrating CINCO DE MAYO instead. ¡Ay caramba!

I had a fun afternoon digitizing some VINYL, including that newly acquired WAS (NOT WAS) album. I'm sure this is NOT what those well-meaning back-to-vinyl junkies have in mind ("Hey! Let's have a Record Store Day every year! No, wait... there aren't any record stores anymore..."), but it works for me. Vinyl records CAN sound pretty nice, I grant you - as long as they're in 'MINT' or at least 'EXCELLENT' condition. But the only way to ensure that they stay like that is... you must hardly EVER play them! So if I stumble over a desirable piece of twelve-inch black plastic (normally it's something that I can't get in any OTHER convenient format), I then create a "BACK-UP" that I can actually LISTEN TO more than once. In the old days, that meant a good quality tape. Nowadays, it's all pooterised, o'course. That 'WAS' album is in really good condition for its age... but even then I had to visually remove a few pops and crackles from 'THE QUIET BITS' during the course of my conversion/editing process. Imagine, blowing specks of dust from a WAV file...



But now to something REALLY important in the musical calender (yeah right!), it's EUROVISION TIME!!! Last year we were in MALMUUUUUURRRRRRR in Sweden. This year we've hopped the shortish distance over the Øresundbrøn to KØBENHAVN. Nowadays, it should really be called the EURO-PIDGIN song contest, as only a handful of obstinate diehards still express themselves in their native language. Instead, they all employ a curious BROKEN ENGLISH... which mostly consists of EVERY well-worn cliché from EVERY mainstream pop song of the last twenty-odd years (Groan... how many more times must I hear "you and meeeeee" rhymed with "fantaseeeeeeee"?), strung together at random, seemingly via some algorithmic process know only to the ancients. The sheer banality of most of the songs makes you die a little inside the very second the words come oozing out of some poor sod's unfathoming rictus. But occasionally, this process can yield something approaching ART - 'found-poetry' gibberish that wouldn't be out of place on any prog-rock album (lest we forget that Pete Sinfield once wrote lyrics for Bucks Fizz)! Turn on the subtitles and gaze in baffled wonderment!

What with THAT INTERNET THEY HAVE NOW, many really keen enthusiasts will have heard the songs BEFORE the competition itself comes around. Some of them are already big hits. I choose to hear everything for the very first time as it is broadcast. That means that I will hear some of the songs no more than a couple of times before they disappear back to where they came from (good thing too, in most cases). I find myself making notes as I 'listen' to them, because experience tells me that I will have forgotten what they sound like about five minutes after they have faded. Many of the notes don't make much sense five minutes after I've written them either (see below). There are now so many countries vying for inclusion, that this televisual feast is spread over three evenings (yay!), starting with a couple of eliminating semi-finals during the week. This is usually where you hear the REALLY MAD stuff now...
ARMENIA - The vocals are nothing to write home about, but the song is lifted by a really snazzy orchestral riff that pops up now and again...

LATVIA - Irritatingly jolly skiffle number about cakes (failed to qualify)

ESTONIA - Mainstream pop garbage. What the f*** does the much-repeated line "Stay amazing lie" mean? I really wish they'd gone with the death metal wookie trapeze act! (failed to qualify)

SWEDEN - Very popular this one, so I'm told. This is probably the first of several 'songs' this year that are (ahem!) "influenced" by Loreena's big hit of a couple of years ago.

ICELAND - The opening lyrics are encouraging ("La la la la la la..."), but this is basically the kind of plastic punk powerpop that was all over MTV in about 1983. Only with beards.

ALBANIA - They love this sort of thing in the old east: a big power-ballad with sub-operatic vocals and a guitar solo. Plus tonight's most extreme example of a "so-bad-it's-good" lyric. (failed to qualify)

RUSSIA - With much booing from the audience and Eurovision being as 'political' in its voting system as it is, I don't think Russia could win this year even if they surprisingly came up with the best pop song in the history of the world ever ever. Which this isn't. It's utter tripe... delivered by a pair of identical twins with hair-entanglement issues. (groan... why am I torturing myself with the subtitles? It's just embarrassing now...)

AZERBAIJAN - This is freaking awesome!! Like a lot of the tunes this year, it starts with a solo piano and then builds from there... and boy does it 'build'! It's that rare thing in Eurovision, a song with a little musical imagination... the clever, quirky orchestration sounded like something from a Jimmy Webb album, but with added doudouk. Also, the accents were so thick that you could turn off the subtitles and kid yourself that she wasn't singing in "english".

UKRAINE - The only thing anyone will remember about this performance is the bloke in the hamster wheel. The song itself is very very ordinary.

BELGIUM - a chubby Demis Roussos clone warbling some awful sentimental twaddle about his mother. Hopeless. (failed to qualify)

MOLDOVA - This sounds like one of those crappy latterday James Bond themes, you know the ones that 'stick to the tradition', but throw in all kinds of trendy effects to force it to sound 'contemporary'? (failed to qualify)

SAN MARINO - ...and so does this one. She even has a voice like Sheena Easton. San Marino have tried (but failed) to qualify for donkey's years. I can't see this nondescript item changing that situation (but stranger things have happened in Eurovision)

PORTUGAL - The first of only two songs tonight in a native language. Yay! Go Portugal! Pretty good effort actually, it's got a lot of afro-latin percussion and a big chorus that sounds like something by Anjelique Kidjo. (failed to qualify)

NETHERLANDS - Now this I do like. Someone has obviously been giving "Raising Sand" or the "Nashville" soundtracks a spin! A pretty good shot at spooky-twangy contemporary country (although if it WERE real contemporary country, then the lyrics would have more substance than this)

MONTENEGRO - As in the case of Armenia's entry, this so-so vocal effort benefits considerably by the employment of an orchestral arranger with some actual musical IDEAS. There were some lovely little instrumental touches that sounded both Balkan and Celtic in origin. It was also sung in its proper language.

HUNGARY - This native New Yorker lad is apparently the son of the jazz-rock bass player Fernando Saunders. Then he should know better than to perform schlocky sub-boy-band drivel like this.
As is so often the case with Eurovision, the interval show had far more entertainment value and had more effort put into it than did the entries themselves. This time we are treated to a series of 'rock ballet' interpretations of some of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales, complete with some stunning projected plasma effects as part of the light show... something to feast the eyes on while the rest of Europe gets on with its voting... so that's Tuesday's semi-final heat dealt with, whittling the first sixteen hopefuls down to a round ten. More to come on Thursday. Isn't this fun? In addition, the BIG FIVE countries (United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain and Italy) - plus Denmark themselves - AUTOMATICALLY qualify regardless of the quality of their songs, because they're PAYING for the whole shebang. I probably won't hear these 'songs' in their entirety until Saturday... Okay, Thursday night, then...
MALTA - hammed-up lyrical drivel performed in the unaccountably popular style of Mumford & Sons (with the additional of a squawky female middle-eight section).

ISRAEL - A robust contralto warbling nonsense in two languages, over a hackneyed techno beat (What the flip does "I'm skinning you out..." mean anyway?) (failed to qualify)

NORWAY - Here we go, yet another piano intro... a miserable, mumbled, broken english verse (a bit like that theme to "The Bridge") followed by a big string driven ballady chorus...

GEORGIA - This is fantastic! It's BONKERS!!! A yodelling drummer, plus flashy flamenco guitar and fretless bass, a percussionist suspended on a parachute, mad complexity (progfolkjazzrock!), like seven different songs all in different time signatures crammed into two and a half minutes! Wow! (failed to qualify)

POLAND - Wooh! Now you're talking! Warsaw Village Band with added sex! Smutty polska-beat folkloric rap song, complete with striptease and a suggestive butterchurning routine. (Insert politically incorrect joke about Pole-dancers here)

AUSTRIA - The only memorable thing about this performance is the much talked about "Bearded Lady". The song itself is an undistinguished dirge.

LITHUANIA - Utter twaddle. No redeeming features whatsoever. It's 'slick' and 'modern' and 'commercial' and sums up everything I hate about contemporary pop in one stinky little package. (failed to qualify)

FINLAND - Horrible, modern, stadium rock lite. This is what I imagine ninety-percent of the indiepop bands at Glastonbury probably sound like these days.

IRELAND - okay, now I'm just bored. This a completely ordinary, formulaic pop song with some gratuitous token "celtic" bits grafted on (kilts, pipes, riverdance bla bla bla) (failed to qualify)

BELARUS - What? Another song about (cheese)CAKE? This had some nice choppy instrumental touches, but the bloke can't sing for toffee and the dancing is CAK(e).

MACEDONIA - Tiresomely upbeat, it 'insists on itself'... but it follows EXACTLY the same formula as several other entries this year. There's a bloke in a white hoody running around the stage. He has no discernable dancing talent whatsoever. (failed to qualify)

SWITZERLAND - A jolly skiffle-rock knees-up, slightly reminiscent of a Barenaked Ladies song. Christ alone knows what he's singing about ('cos HE certainly doesn't!). Some nice banjo and fiddle work though.

GREECE - It's WHAM, basically. With a duff rap. And a trampoline. Horrible.

SLOVENIA - The vocals are truly awful (I think she went out of tune several times, if indeed there WAS a tune to go out of). But it had some nice flute playing. I can't help thinking I've heard this one before somewhere.

ROMANIA - The backing track is a Faithless song, I'm pretty sure. It has lots of 'hip' production effects to keep it 'modern'. Derivative in extremis.
It came as no surprise to me that my very favourite song of the evening, a song that had more actual MUSIC in it than the rest of the competition put together, "THREE MINUTES TO EARTH" by THE SHIN & MARIKO EBRALIDZE, scored 'null points'. Georgia's THE SHIN are my NEW FAVOURITE BAND, as I just HAD to go to 'That YouTube They Have Now' to find out what the rest of their stuff sounds like. Traditional Folk -> Prog/Jazz-Rock with unfeasibly fiddly classical guitar and bass riffs, plus some of those distinctively Georgian choral harmonies, touches of flamenco and a little yodelling thrown in. THERE, HOW'S THAT? For their Eurovision entry they were joined by the lovely MARIKO, who is a top jazz singer back home. The song they performed had mad time signatures all over the place, twangy bass runs that Chris Squire would be proud of, and some crazy lyrics about freefall skydiving (I think?). I warmed to it immensely, as would anyone who'd grown up on Gentle Giant and Renaissance. But it failed to wow the average European equipped with a mobile phone app. (I bet some Italians voted for it though!)

If I had to stick my neck out and pick a winner for Saturday, (and I'm INVARIABLY wrong about these things. What do I know from pop music?), I would go for POLAND's sexy-as-hell presentation. It SHOULD win on so many levels: {a} It's an unashamedly upbeat song called "WE ARE SLAVIC", so it should be popular across the whole of eastern Europe. {b} All of the Polish folks living over here in western Europe will vote for it too. {c} It's performed by some incredibly pretty blonde ladies, with lots of cleavage on display, featuring a very suggestive way of churning butter. So every red-blooded man in the rest of Europe will vote for it as well. Or anyone who likes Benny Hill or "Carry On" movies. Finally, and most importantly, {d} it's a VERY catchy song and DESERVES to win on merit.

I still haven't heard to any of the 'big five' (or 'six') entries all the way through, but I have now listened to more than enough of the UNITED KINGDOM song to have established that it is absolute arse-gravy of the lowest order. The FRENCH, meanwhile, are fielding a novelty song about moustaches. I will learn more come Saturday... T  H  E     B  I  G     O  N  E  !!!
GERMANY - "Is It Right?", goes the song. No, it's not... it's an accordion-led oompah two-step with big brassy vocals that say nothing whatsoever.

FRANCE - an embarrassing silly novelty song about moustaches. It's irritatingly upbeat with contrived 'modern' touches and it's stubbornly sung in French, so no one will vote for it.

ITALY - a reasonably well-constructed (i.e. ripped off) punky power pop anthem. Being in Italian makes it more palatable (for me, anyway), but it's still a load of old bunga-bunga party nonsense.

SPAIN - show-offy X-Factor vocal performance. It's yet another one that starts with just solo piano and then builds. The melody of the chorus is STRONGLY 'reminiscent' of something else... I think it's an old After The Fire song... I can hear it in the back of my mind, but I can't put a name to it...

DENMARK - the home team come up with something called "Cliché Love Song". Nuff said. "Scooby dooby wap wap, Wooh ooh oh!" it goes, with a Timberlake-lite performance to really drive it home. Aarrgghh!

UNITED KINGDOM - All the other songs can blame their lyrical retardation on the fact that they are not written/sung in the native language of the writers/singers. So what's the UK's excuse? Is this the best they could come up with? "We are the children of the universe dancing at the edge of time... so power to the people!" Cretins!
...and there we have it. It's all over bar the long drawn-out SCOREBOARD part of the show, arguably an entertainment in its own right (like trying to second-guess who's going to vote for who, based on socio-political bias rather than "artistic" merit). The significance of tonight's interval show was lost on me (unfunny musical 'skits' performed by the three hosts? Something involving people singing "Ode To Joy" badly on top of ladders? Bring back the Ugly Duckling 'rock-ballet'!).

I told you I was always wrong with my 'predictions', didn't I? My own pick for the top, the adorable Poles, came somewhere non-descript in the middle of the voting table. But I was not that surprised to see that the UK entry did too. The Copenhagen audience still booed every time someone voted for Russia (yet Russia voted for Ukraine, Ukraine still voted for Russia... and Belarus... and Azerbaijan... and Lithuania and Latvia... Armenia too... you know the political drill by now). The Netherlands' strongly out-of-[Euro]character country'n'western number did very well, I'm glad to say, and would have WON too, if it wasn't for that meddling female impersonator from Austria. Yes, the "Bearded Lady" won it, based ENTIRELY on freakshow/novelty value rather than any of the musical kind. I've already forgotten what the song sounds like (it's a unique zen-like thing; a song you can't remember while you're still listening to it), but his/her/its face will be all over the papers for days. I believe Les Moustaches Françaises came in last with their particularly stinky brand of merde. C'est juste. Now excuse me while I go and listen to "My Lovely Horse"...

Week from Monday 12th May 2014

I've been designing and assembling a new desktop 'environment' for this here LINUX LAPTOP (something I can comfortably 'live with')... Now that I've GONE DEBIAN, this task has been undertaken without the benefit of PPAs from NoobsLab and the like, hence the 'EXERCISE'. My latest exploratory adventures have now been gathered together in BLOGSPOT form.

I did consider going to the RECORD FAIR in Guildford on Saturday. But the sound of the rain and wind battering the windows suggested that I'd be better off staying in. My mind was made up for me when I found that the train fare to Guildford is now nearly £25!

The weather has also been affecting my internet connection this past couple of days. The GIRO D'ITALIA website took absolutely ages to open and even then there was content missing. But I got the gist of what was going on. I got the RESULTS from the GUARDIAN pages instead (and a blow-by-blow description of the entire stage). I don't have the TV channel that is carrying the race, so I have to use my imagination! It's a bit like the 'old days' when folks would listen to the radiogram to follow their sport in the form of a detailed commentary (I WAS going to type "...folks would gather round the wireless..." there, but then I realised that means something completely different now).

But this morning, I'm recognising a 'PATTERN' with our weather. Lately, we've been getting all the nicer weather at the beginning of the week (when I'm busy and stuck indoors), then it changes for the worse towards the end of the week (when I want to go out).

A while back, I discarded an old DIGITAL TV RECORDER that had ceased to function properly... but before I binned it, I took out the hard-disk, thinking that it might "come in useful someday". As you do. Yesterday I was in Southampton, so I paid a visit to the big branch of POLITICALLY CORRECT WORLD and bought an empty USB enclosure, so that I could make it into an EXTERNAL hard-drive that would plug into any of my computers. On this sunny occasion, POLICE CONSTABLE WORLD was woefully understaffed and I had to wait an age for someone to man the tills. Long boring story short: the disk doesn't work. Upon connecting the drive to the mains, there is no motor activity whatsoever. That certainly explains why the TV recorder didn't record TV anymore! A short early morning disassembly later, the enclosure kit is back in its box (waiting for another free disk/DIY opportunity to come along) and the hard disk is in the bin. Oh well.

The LINUX MINT COMMUNITY are falling over themselves to be the first to have VERSION 17 up and running. Everyone is arguing over its merits and shortcomings on the various forums. Okay, so this one is "LTS" (long-term support), but apart from that... meh! Is it really worth the effort? Right now, I'm feeling pretty smug about my decision to settle on the DEBIAN platform, so that I don't have to go through all THAT again... The subject of CONKY came up again on the Googlepluses and someone recommended the CONKY MANAGER. I installed it to give it a try on my own setup... but while I was impressed with some of the flashy themes on offer, I felt I'd got more of a sense of ACHIEVEMENT from having written my own Conky, almost from scratch, without the aid of any graphical interface. It just seems a more 'LINUX' way of doing things, somehow. Using the Manager is fine and all, but it takes some of the fun out of it. What you get, essentially, is a collection of READYMADE TEMPLATES that'll make your desktop look similar to everyone else's (well, everyone else who has downloaded the DELUXE THEMES PACK, anyway!)... I can feel another blog coming on...

Week from Monday 19th May 2014

It's that time of year when I find myself typesetting a list of all the obscure little villages in Hampshire... Since we've got lost in many of them over the years, I can tell you it's a pretty big list.

MIXED FORTUNES IN LINUXLAND... First of all I succeeded (second time around) at upgrading the Linux Kernel to the latest stable version (this time last week, it didn't work at all!). But then, DISASTER! I was fiddling around with some 'THEMES', installed some extras that I probably shouldn't have (some archaic GNOME-related stuff) and I screwed up the whole bally shooting match. I broke the bootup sequence, then broke the GRUB trying to fix it! The only surefire way out when something like that happens and you paint yourself into a corner (as I have found several times now) is to START AGAIN with a fresh install!!! It serves me right for repeatedly telling everyone that Debian/MATE is virtually unbreakable! I managed to put it all back together again in one early morning session, but I'll know not to fiddle with that sort of thing ever again! To celebrate, I created a new 'FANFARE' sound (which plays automatically on start-up) and selected a new desktop wallpaper...

I've concluded that, although I'm growing to love the 'new' FIREFOX on my WindozePooter, the Linux version is still a little bit glitchy. When entering text into an online text editor (such as when I write THIS diarynonsense via CoffeeCup or offer comments on social pages), I find that the contents of the text window will lag. Sometimes it will suddenly 'shear', making it impossible to continue writing. It seems Firefox just can't keep up with my (unconventional but still fastish) typing style. It's a display compatibility issue - I'm guessing they've somehow optimized this feature for folks using their thumbs to type on those plastic lunch trays they have now (it's only the version on my Linux laptop that does this). Another death-knell for 'traditional' skills.

So I'm switching over to CHROMIUM for the time being. It's FAR more stable... although being a GOOGLE product (Chromium is the Linux version of Chrome), you have to use a third-party CLICK&CLEAN plug-in to look after your privacy settings. Chromium won't automatically delete your browsing history when you close it. I was slightly disappointed to find that the latest Click&Clean has been given an ugly 'WINDOWS 8 TILES' look (whether you want it or not!). This means it looks horribly out of place on my GTK Linux theme, as does Chromium itself. A brightly coloured plastic toy left in the middle of an elegantly understated living room. But I'll grit my teeth and put up with that, as long as it does its job!

I went for a walk up the hill to vote in the EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT ELECTIONS. Like the vast majority of people in this country, I have absolutely NO idea who my Euro MP is currently, so voting for a new one won't make a lot of difference to me. But if my vote will help PREVENT any of those jingoistic xenophobe candidates getting a say in our political affairs, then I'm happy to do my bit. The ballot paper features a long list of scary loonies, from UKIP and the BNP to some very unpleasant EVEN FURTHER TO THE RIGHT nominees. Remember all those Anti-Nazi League and "ROCK AGAINST RACISM" rallies we attended in the late 'seventies/early 'eighties...? Apparently, nothing's really changed much since then!

Week from Monday 26th May 2014

Ooh! must be time for another BANK HOLIDAY, we haven't had one of THOSE for a couple of weeks now... Actually, I expect I'll be doing some proper WORK later. I'm expecting phone calls. But first I'm compiling the latest batch of "HOT TICKLES" onto seedydisk. That makes VOLUME 57 (well, they've all got to go somewhere!) This disc includes some delightful acoustic covers of Steven Wilson songs by the Mexican-based duo ROCKSFERRY, not to mention a handful of those STORMY'S MONDAY DOWNLOADS we've all come to love. Usual kind of eclectic mixture, really.

This week, I'm doing the artworks for the BIKE-RIDE-O-THON-O-RAMA-LAMA-DING-DONG-X-TRAVA-GONZO job (even later than usual!) But this year, I'm determined NOT to get caught up in all the stressful shenanigans of last year (and previous)... just takin' it easy and lettin' it come to me. Let someone ELSE suffer for their blood pressure for once... Talking about 'blood', my current fave daytime listen is the "TRUE BLOOD" soundtrack album, recently picked up secondhand from a JERRIDY SHOPPE. Mmmmm, mah kahnd o' swamp moosic!! (I can't wait to play Shelfy that country-f[r]ied version of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" by The Watson Twins). As I never tire of telling people, I definitely prefer MY 'folk' music to have an American accent.