Microsong (n.): a song that I basically make up on the spot while on camera.

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August 2020


Okay, we're back with some actual new music now for a change. I've spent years now putting the breaks on making and publishing new music, for a number of reasons – but they all came down to not being satisfied with the results. I'm now happy enough with what I'm writing that I'm indulging in this fun little project: switching on a camera, sitting on the sofa, and essentially making up a song on the spot.

I call these 'microsongs', and at the moment at least I'm finding them surprisingly easy to do. I've been songwriting for... Jesus, over 30 years now. And I've done a fair bit of composing professionally to a tight deadline. But the big shift for me now is that I'm working on album tracks that are pretty ambitious, and that means I'm currently much happier with throwing quick microsongs together and not worrying if they're really saying or doing anything new.

Now, these songs are totally daft, let me just be clear on that.

But actually, that's part of the point. They exist to be posted on social media to cheer people up. Which I feel is increasingly important 6 months into a global pandemic.

I'm not promoting a new album here. I'm not asking you to watch my half-hour live stream. These are songs to be quickly consumed, hopefully smiled at, and then quickly forgotten, like the old-fashioned broadside ballads and music hall songs.

So, in this month's newsletter we're going to kick off with 3 of these microsongs. We're also, in good folk tradition, learning about What We Did On Our Holiday, and yes, there will be drones.

On the recommendations front, I have finally got into Scandi folk music, so that obviously means you're never going to hear the end of it. We also have some delicious political paranoia, a bit more of Harley Quinn, and... the strangest video on the internet. Even if you are a Star Trek TNG fan.

But first, let's just get one thing straight...

This Is A G Chord

At least this is something we can all agree on.

The Ipswich Tragedy

This is actually nothing to do with Ipswich.

Tough Inner City School

Warning: contains swearing. And Oscar bait.

Upcoming Events

Friday 11th September

Every second Friday of the month. And not every fortnight.

This is an online version of the Bastard English Session which has haunted the Isis Farmhouse Pub in Oxford for over a decade now.

And please note... WE HAVE A NEW ZOOM LINK!

You simply click this:

And then enter the password, which is:

  • bitshowy

And a reminder of the New (well, now Old) Bastard Protocol:

  1. If you’re performing, you’ll need to change your Zoom settings to ‘Use Original Sound’.
  2. It’s a one-at-a-time performing thing, and I have to mute everyone during each performance (because of audio lag) (and also, because I get an enormous kick out of it).
  3. Feel free to use the Chat function throughout!
  4. Also, I find all Zoom calls weirdly tiring, so feel free to hide your video, and wander in and out.

All my recorded music thus far...

Oh... yeah. It occurs to me that, since I've stripped the newsletter format down for lockdown, I don't actually have any links to the website. So I thought I might as well just chuck this in here.

Click on the image above for a link to my (now... kinda old) music. (I mean, even the stuff that wasn't old when I recorded it is now kinda old.)



It's worth it for the count-in alone...

All the cool kids in the folk music scene love Scandi folk. And frankly, I hadn't heard much until relatively recently.

First it was Swedish band Väsen, on the recommendation of my brother.

Then it was Gjermund Larsen (thanks for the tip off Rebecca Ritchie-Timms!) I recommended this amazing track in the newsletter a while ago.

But right at this moment Scandi folk is pretty much all I listen to.

Here's my latest obsession. In English their name is slightly rude. In Norse their name is the Queen of Heaven. And in Finnish this is everything I love about folk.

Seriously, just watch a little bit of this video, and check out the sheer white hot intensity of their hard-rocking geek energy.


A YouTube documentary about Britain's dark present.

You... know Britain still has an empire, right? Colonies, around the world, yeah?

We only ever hear them referred to as "a hangover from Empire". But what if these colonies are just as much of a source of wealth to Britain as the old colonies were at the height of the old empire?

Not as lands where locals are reduced to serfdom while their financial and cultural assets are stripped.

But as off-shore black market banks, supplying money laundering, tax evading and any other financial crime to rogue politicians and top-level criminals around the world.

Sound far fetched? Maybe.

But what do you actually know about the Cayman Islands?

What do you know about the City of London Corporation? Which is technically a separate city – literally, a separate city, with its own seat in the Commons – within London.

This is why I love YouTube: how I got onto this twisted tale I'm not 100% sure, but this documentary strikes me as the kind that's too political to be on mainstream TV.

That said, that's not necessarily a good thing. Flying under the radar as it does, they're less likely to get into shit if they get their facts wrong, so I personally see this as a jumping off point.

But even if it's partially true, it's not just our dark history that we need to worry about...


Does exactly what it says in the title.

Yeah yeah, I'll get to my own drone footage in a wee bit, but first...

This is everything you think it's going to be. But it's also just one video in a whole subgenre of YouTube videos.

I actually wonder if the whole point of buying a drone is so that it can run out of battery over the ocean, so that its slow descent can catch your increasingly panicked rescue.


"Coz I do not bring snaaaaacks..."

A while back I ranted about how much I loved the movie Birds of Prey – in which Margot Robbie played the DC Comics antihero Harley Quinn.

I have it on good authority that the recent Harley Quinn cartoon is also fantastic, and I've been meaning to watch it.

But I asked Hannah yesterday: "Hannah, there's a series I really want to watch on Channel Four's online platform... is it worth the frustration and rage?"

And she replied: "I'm really sorry, I don't think it is."

Anyway, one running joke is that the terrifying supervillain Bane from Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises movie is reduced to a loveable bumbling sidekick.

But he still has the strange and utterly unique accent that Tom Hardy gave him.

You'll either find it incredibly funny or childishly stupid.

I find it incredibly funny.

Dear Diary...

Over the last few months, the grip of pandemic lockdown has gradually started to loosen. And in the first month of August, H & I were actually able to go on holiday to the seaside – a luxury that seemed unlikely as hell in March.

But now I think we're entering a phase with a new kind of challenge: we can't loosen the rules indefinitely, because the coronavirus is still a major threat. In fact, as the weather gets colder, we're probably going to have to tighten them.

And some countries have managed this skilfully, but because England implemented the lockdown rules in such a shambolic way the first time, the government has given itself an impossible task in bringing them back.

How impossible? Well, I suppose we'll soon find out as Oxford is now on the watch list of places with rates rising at a worrying rate. Added to this, the British Medical Journal has very recently published an article revising the social distancing recommendations. No longer is it basically fine to gather outside so long as you are more than 1 metre apart.

When H & I got back from our holiday, we both resolved to go back to the lockdown lifestyle we had before. We'd had our fun. But that's actually easier said than done, as now there's much more of an expectation that socialising is "fine so long as you're outside", or even "inside so long as you're careful". I feel like once again I need to get my thinking cap on to process how I deal with this.

But at least we got a holiday.

And we were really lucky on that. We normally go to Sidmouth Folk Week, and we hadn't been able to go last year, so we had the whole week booked this time. And seeing as it was AirB&B, and we could do our own cleaning and our own cooking, it felt safe.

H & I, as you might remember if you've read a few of these, tend to like going back to the same place for holidays. There's something really comforting about coming back to somewhere that (a) you know really really well and (b) that you're basically only ever in when you're on holiday.

And stepping out of lockdown (which we'd been following pretty strictly even after it was no longer enforced), getting in the car, and heading down to Sidmouth... really was all of the feels.

Driving past the (empty) Sidmouth folk festival campsite.

I really noticed in the car what an oddly thrilling sensory experience it was to get all this light and colour and sound and motion.

And it was a truly delightful week. We ate fish and chips on the beach. We fought our usual battle of wills with seagulls. We read. I ate a LOT of ice cream. We even did a top secret underground edition of the Bastard Online Session from our basement flat.

Oh, and the Bastard Online Session is going back to its normal monthly home. I put the call out at the beginning of the pandemic how frequently we should do it, and the consensus was once a fortnight – but that was in the height of lockdown. The Sidmouth session was quiet (I think 6 people in all?), and we agreed the need had changed. We're all socialising with other people in person now. So it's back to once a month, which feels more appropriate.

In other news, and I've teased you enough... I got my first proper test of the drone in the wild. I'm still really at the testing stage, and haven't had time to organise getting the footage that I originally bought it for. But, as I think you can see, I've already got quite accomplished.

This is in 4K, but the thumbnail does't seem to realise.

I wish I'd put it through its paces a bit more. H did keep saying "Come on, you've brought it all this way: you should go out and really test it." But it was just my second outing with it, and I'm not yet at the stage where the controls feel automatic.

I'm still loving that experience of seeing way up high though. I'm seeing a lot more (in a socially-distanced manner) of my dad at the moment, who's health is not super-great at the best of times. We went for a good walk yesterday, and I hadn't realised that my love of long walks was something he shared with his father, in the Scottish highlands. Anyway, one of the joys of walking a route that you've never walked before is to suddenly come over the brow of a hill and to see the views open up around you. For me, every drone flight feels like that.

But curiously, the car journey down was actually the highlight for me. Would definitely recommend. 5 stars.

"I'm on my way... driving at 90..."

So What Have We Learnt?

Chadwick Boseman, much-loved global superstar, died on Friday. Lots of other people will write about his life and work much more eloquently than I could. But I was really sad to hear that he'd died – for me he was one of those famous people with only positive things attached.

This video is Boseman's commencement speech at Howard University (indeed, their 150th commencement speech).

Chadwick forever.

University commencement speeches are often some of the best things their speakers have ever done. You can see why people worshipped Steve Jobs when you watch his Stanford commencement speech in 2005 (also just a few years before his death from cancer). Likewise with the Harvard commencement speech by J.K. Rowling (whom I'm going to refrain from judging here about transphobia, because I still don't know enough facts for an informed opinion – and in a global pandemic with all its knock-on political problems, I'm not prepared to step into the Twitterstorm just yet to find out).

The format of these speeches is that a very successful person passes on their wisdom to the university graduates, and so this format is an opportunity for someone to give their life philosophy. Or at least their career philosophy.

Basically, watching them is a good opportunity to strip all the hype away and see what the fuss is all about, if anything.

Boseman's speech is just shy of 35 minutes. Most of us are pretty busy, but today's a bank holiday (in the UK at least). My chief recommendation in this newsletter: watch it all.

Technically, it's a beautifully written speech. He starts off establishing ideas that he weaves throughout, finally bringing them all together at the end to tidy up.

But technique aside, for me it captures the clarity, intelligence, seriousness, empathy and generosity of the new generation of artists coming up at the moment – so different from the posturing, fragile and narcissistic artists that I remember when I was younger.

Enough to even make a person feel optimistic.

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 folk session. About life. About the universe. About what a G chord looks like. I'm here for you.

  • Click on the images to see the originals. (It just means less admin for me this way.)
Copyright © 2020 House of Lyra, All rights reserved.

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