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For if you gaze long into Van Gogh's ugly baby, Van Gogh's ugly baby also gazes into you.

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October 2019

Escape To New York

So, I mean, yeah. Still working from around 6.30am to 11pm (with a couple of breaks and commutes in between). Still doing the professional composing. Still got writers' block for my own music. This is still basically my only personal creative outlet. And yet...

This month somehow saw H & I unexpectedly whisking ourselves away across the ocean, on a super-secret mission of art, bagels and cat hair. All earlier attempts at a summer holiday had fallen through, and we were both feeling pretty meh about that. But thanks to H's wily cunning, some parental generosity and every favour we could pull, we managed to wrangle a week away.

And I'll go into details in a sec, but first...

In this month's recommendations we sing to high heaven the praises of the film The Peanut Butter Falcon, we fall in love with Ennio Morricone all over again, and we eavesdrop on a guitar jam from 400 years ago.

The projects I would have made had I had time: there is a ghost story which I wrote which chills me just to think about, as well as a couple of tech solutions. And, finally, a fashion brand. Maybe it was the Big Apple influence?

(Oh, and quick sidenote: the Bastard Session is a week later this month.)

We have a lot to cover, so let's move quickly...

Projects Which I Would Do If Only There Were 25 Hours In A Day…

I mean… some new music?

I know I know, I keep going on about it. But really, with more time, it’s what I would do.

These days I’m spending pretty much all the time that I’m not in an office making music for businesses. And I really enjoy it. (10 years ago I probably would have turned my nose up at it, before I realised that most successful filmmakers, graphic designers and novelists have been guns for hire at some point — that’s what forced them to get really good.) But it doesn’t leave much time to make the music I want to make.

Although it isn’t just a question of time. It is proper writers’ block, as I know I’ve mentioned before. Specifically it’s that the songs that I currently find easy and enjoyable to write are not actually the songs I enjoy listening to. My song ideas at the moment are generally political, or at least conceptual, and… I get the feeling they’d probably work better as either a blog, a research paper, or a tweet. They don’t feel emotional or immersive.

But I think the way that you climb out of writers’ block is by experimenting a lot, and that’s the thing I wish I had time for. Fingers crossed I’ll be able to find some at least before the year is out, though that may be optimistic.

‘Seven Stops To Hell’

Okay, if I had more time, here is the bare bones of the chilling Halloween ghost story I would spin out for you.

A young academic specialising in the medieval persecution of witches has travelled from London to a university conference in Edinburgh. After a Sunday lunch north of the city, she finds herself alone on a platform, on a dark and foggy winter’s eve, wondering if her train is ever going to come.

Suddenly a ghostly light appears, and through the mist creaks a locomotive that looks like it’s from another century. The carriages are ancient and decrepit and… it looks like there isn’t another soul on the whole train.

She takes her seat in the far end of one barely-lit carriage, and at the exact point when she realises her phone has run out of battery, she looks up. And there, at the other end of the carriage, she sees the silhouette of a figure, slowly approaching. Something about the way this figure moves makes the hairs stand up on her arms. Something… familiar, and… terrifying.

A sudden surge in the train lighting illuminates the face. And she shrinks back in horror.

It’s Lucy. From her university’s Finance team.

What is she doing all the way out here? And worse still… what are they going to talk about? They’ve both recognised each other, so they’re going to have to sit together.

And then the full horror starts to sink in. They’re going to have to sit together all the way to London.

But they have enough conversation to last them to Newcastle. Durham at the most.

“Well,” says Lucy, settled into the seat next to her, “it’s nice to see a friendly face!”

They both give a nervous laugh… and stare awkwardly into space…

[story ends]

Honourable Mentions


Google Drunk Translate

The idea of having a smartphone app that will, Jeeves-like, intercept your stupid/dangerous actions when drunk is not a super-original one, but that's clearly why someone needs to make it.

And I feel it would be particularly useful for when your phone detects a high alcohol level in your breath just as you start posting on social media.

So it will take the gist of your message… but express what your best self would say.

For example, when replying to a tweet from your political enemy, it would simply say "Friend, I respect your point of view, but we should agree to disagree on this!"


Tim Burton Menswear

I am semi-serious on this. If someone were to set up a shop that sells the clothes that Tim Burton characters wear, I would shut them up immediately and insist that they take my money.


Tour guide headsets for nervous fliers

On a flight you would get given a headset much like the ones you get given on a guided tour, with a voice powered by AI that will respond to every jerk the plane makes by gently whispering in your ear: “Don't worry, that's just turbulence on the wing aileron - it happens all the time and it's perfectly fine…”

Recommendation

THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON
"What's Rule Number One?"

I’ve tried plugging this film to people since H and I took a chance on it at a tiny cinema in London a couple of weeks ago.

“It’s about a guy with Downs Syndrome who escapes from an old people’s home and goes on the run through the North Carolina swamps with Shia LaBeouf, hoping to eventually make his way to wrestling school.”

I mean. I get it. Nothing about that story sounds promising. And the fact that the lead actor has Downs Syndrome only suggests that Hollywood is going to serve you something either insulting or mawkish or both.

The thing that did sound promising was the glowing reviews from film critics that I follow. Everyone said it was amazing. And both H and I agreed it was the best film we had seen in a long long time. We’ve both been playing the soundtrack ever since.

Everyone is brilliant in this film. All the central performances are great. Shia LaBeouf… is amazing! Seriously, flat out fantastic.

It reminded me a lot of one of my favourite films: The Straight Story. Similarly heartwarming and beautiful.

So if that’s you’re bag, go and fill it with this assortment of tricks and treats.

Recommendation

WHAT GUITARS WERE LIKE 400 YEARS AGO
Only For The Hard-Core, Only For The Hard-Core... 

Only for the hardcore YouTube folkie.

Not even folkie really: this one goes out to you HIPsters — HIP in this case being ‘historically-informed performance’.

If you’re interested in how long guitars, and guitar culture, have been kicking around, Rob Scallon and his interviewee Brandon Acker give an enjoyable walkthrough of what guitars were like in the 17th century.

Well, I found it enjoyable at least, although I can appreciate this one… is a little niche.

Recommendation

ROWLEY BIRKIN QC
I'm afraid he was very drunk...

Johnny Depp once referred to chameleon comedian Paul Whitehouse as ‘the greatest actor alive’, and from the late 1980s (as sidekick to British comedy giant Harry Enfield) through to the end of the 90s (in the much-loved The Fast Show), his characters became shared references for a whole generation.

And this one is my favourite. In no small part because it reminds me of my granddad.

His name is ‘Rowley Birkin, QC’, and he tells long anecdotes entirely in an incoherent drunken ramble, occasionally punctuated with lucid phrases, and always ending with “I’m afraid… I was very drunk…”

You always knew it was coming, but that was the joy of it.

Every once in a while I hunt these little sketches out on YouTube.

Watch for the one sketch (one of Whitehouse’s trademarks) that you suddenly realise is completely serious. And tragic. Particularly when it ends with that familiar catchphrase..

Recommendation

DAMIAN KEYES

"Every band and artist, needs to stop selling music. Change my mind..."

Damian Keyes is the kind of brash, blokey, super-confident insider that’s recognisable to anyone who has had any dealings with the music business. He speaks in that very particular cutting and outspoken tone that comes from spending years reading music magazines like NME and Melody Maker.

But one thing he shares with many similar music biz types is that he gives me the impression that he genuinely wants musicians to succeed. The more I see of his videos, the more I like him. He will frequently be blunt to the point of being rude, but that’s the blessing and the curse of this particular creative industry: they don’t mince their words. And I think that's okay, so long as the advice being given solid. And with Damian Keyes, I think it generally is.

This video is a good example. It’s a video that he received a lot of hate for, because in it he is trying to convince his predominantly Rock audience to stop selling music, and instead find other ways to use music to pay the bills.

I feel like I’m someone who has both feet very much planted in the music world, but I’m constantly checking out what’s happening in other creative fields (especially movies, as you may have gathered). So even if music is not your thing, this video might be something you find interesting.

Recommendation

NERDWRITER ON LEONE & MORRICONE

I mean... I just love this video.

This is a video essay by the YouTuber who calls himself Nerdwriter, and I’ve shared some of his videos before. He covers an incredibly wide range of topics: his titles include ‘Where Zombies Come From’, ‘How Trump answers a question’ and ‘Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban: Why It's The Best’.

Well, if you like cinema (yes, I do!) and you love music (yes, me! I do! I do that too!) then I think this video is a real treat.

It’s a look at the power of film scores, and particularly of one of the most famous collaborations in movies: that of director Sergio Leone and composer Ennio Morricone. And it’s a reminder of what movies and music can be when everyone is at the top of their game.

Upcoming Events

Friday 15th November

Every second Friday of the month. EXCEPT THIS MONTH!

Dear Diary...

So, we land in New York. A week of cat-sitting for a friend of H’s. Some of the sights. A lot of the food. Only one museum — which is surprising, as we thought we’d do a bunch. But time/money. And also, the first one we went to was the Metropolitan Museum of Art (‘The Met’), and it’s huge.

So big, in fact, that I was warned it’s almost too big. Museum Fatigue is a well-known thing, and we were concerned we’d lose the will having seen only a fraction of what’s on offer.

But then I learned it was okay to take photos.

And so I pretty much sprinted through the place, quickly taking a photo of everything that caught my attention. (I’m not one of those people that stands for long periods of time in front of one painting.)

For example.

I just love this painting, by a follower of Caravaggio. I think it should be titled ‘A Study In Side-Eye’. The fortune teller on the right is distracting the wealthy young man so that one of her accomplices can pick his pocket. But it’s almost better if you don’t even know that. Just the saltiest of facial expressions all round.

This is by Canaletto, and he is perhaps best known for his paintings of Venice. Which I imagine he was destined to do, because his real name was Giovanni Antonio Canal. Also, Canaletto sounds like an extremely rich Italian cream pastry, which is making me hungry just to think about.

Anyway. I noticed in another gallery a while back how canny Canaletto was, because so many paintings in art galleries just… sort of look like the paintings around them. Particularly from a distance. But (and it’s hard to see in a picture this small) all of the lines in a Canaletto painting are incredibly sharp, which has the effect of making it immediately look more vivid and interesting than the competition. Like he was the only one who knew how to use the focus ring on his camera.

I love this Van Gogh painting of an incredibly ugly baby. There were some famous sunflowers in the museum too, but this was what caught my eye. I love that he was like: “Okay, so, you’re cool with me painting your baby, Augustine? And… you know I’m going to paint her as a demon baby with black eyes and a face like a smacked arse?”

I played solo support for these guys in the Wheatsheaf in 2008, I think. They had a good Americana sound, but Jesus did they argue…

This is the kind of painting that literally (and by literally I mean figuratively) floats my boat.

I don’t know if you know your Greek mythology, but here is the famous moment in the legend of Orpheus & Eurydice when the two of them have travelled perilously all the way through the underworld, only for Orpheus to realise at the last moment that he didn’t pack his passport.

I love this type of painting so much, where it looks so detailed that you need to double-take and check that it's not in fact a photo.

I feel like I know this guy. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve had a drink with him. I think he was in that band I played support for in the Wheatsheaf. And this painting is from maybe 6 years later, and he was working at Waterstones and was just recovering from a bad breakup. Nice guy. Think his name was Jake. Or maybe Tim — there were a lot of Tims back then.

Another painting I had to check wasn’t a photo. Even more so this time. I felt we saw this guy around New York at least once. Apparently he’s a soldier fighting for the Ottoman Empire. This is a Netflix series I want to see. Game of Thrones on the Silk Road. If you’re reading this and you work for Netflix, DM me.

I discovered a whole sub-genre of paintings I didn’t know existed on this trip. A lot of really great French early 18th century rural paintings. A guy called Théodore Rousseau. His landscapes are red and violent, but I couldn’t capture a good sense of them on my phone camera.

Here is another beautiful one by another French artist. I’m titling it “Post No-Deal-Brexit Wonderland”.

The famous ballet dancer by Edward Degas. One of the many artworks that… perhaps I subconsciously feel is almost a cliché, until I actually get up close to it and marvel at how… specific it is.

Jake/Tim nearly got signed to Polydor as a solo artist. Jon Boden apparently played fiddle on a couple of his demo tracks.

If you happen to be in the museum after dark, and standing in front of this painting, and you invert a crucifix and then take out a vial of holy water and pour it on the floor… well, I don’t recommend it, put it that way.

There was plenty of other stuff that we saw and did. We went to bookshops. We went to the World Trade Centre memorial. We met a lot of nice people. H lost her mind in the wonder of Whole Foods, and tried to take all its contents home with her in hand luggage.

The taxis are tiny, by the way.

So What Have We Learnt?

Not a great deal this month, to be totally honest.

And not in a bad way.

We learnt that big art galleries are best enjoyed like a ninja.

We also learnt, or at least suspected, that H sent me this article a few minutes ago (at time of writing) about a couple falling in love all over again via an abandoned kitten because she secretly wanted me to share it with all of you, so here it is:

https://cupofjo.com/2019/10/kitten-story/ 

(Warning: contains snuggly kittens.)

Ask me things

If you have any questions then seriously, do please drop me a message using one of the pretty social media buttons below. About the recordings. About the gigs. About life. About the universe. About whether I did that holy water thing. About where Jake/Tim is now. He's doing good actually. He retrained as a sound engineer and now helps teach kids how to use mixing desks.

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PHOTO CREDITS:
  • Click on the images to see the originals. (It just means less admin for me this way.)
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