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Yeah yeah, Happy Halloween, but...

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October 2020

How’s Christmas going to work
this year?

We all know that you're not allowed to even acknowledge the existence of Christmas until Halloween is over, but (a) I think this year is an exception to pretty much every rule and (b) it's the actual day – that's close enough, right? I just think that, even though for many of us Christmas this year is just going to be a stripped down version of every year, for some it's going to be a particularly difficult emotional hurdle to get over.

But I'll get into the weeds of that in a moment. First the usuals.

This month there's actually a lot more of my music. I've been a busy boy, I realise. Three collaboration videos and one new microsong. (Catweazle, folk sessions and some All-Stars: all the bases covered, I think!)

On the recommendations front, we have Bill Gates discussing misinformation in the digital age, and a number of great video essays: Nathan Zed talking about what makes albums great, and Dan Fox (new to me) on what gives a story charm.

We also dip our toe into some indoor skydiving. And take a ride of terror through Oxford's underground waterways.

Buckle up your squeams, it's going to be a bumpy (and very pink) All Hallows Eve.

New Tracks This Month

A lot going on this month!

Let's kick off below with a cover of a Leonard Cohen song.

'Anthem' by Leonard Cohen

Of the various activities that are now impossible in the pandemic, I think going to the Catweazle Club is the one I miss the most. So when Phoebe sent round a message to a bunch of the regulars asking if they'd contribute something for a birthday video, I decided that this was a project I wanted to go all in on. I tried to think of a cover version that would be... kinda Matt Sage-y, and Leonard Cohen sprang to mind. Specifically the song 'Anthem', which has that great line: "There is a crack in everything – that's how the light gets in."

Microsong #7 - 'The Question'

Just the one microsong this month (although I've lined up a bunch more). As I mentioned in the YouTube blurb, I'm aware it's a deeply contentious topic, and I certainly don't claim to have any answers!

#IsolationPubSession - October - Back in the swing of things

I've been meaning to join in on (Bellowhead) John Spiers's virtual 'isolation' folk session for ages. In fact, there are a few online music things that I've been meaning to get involved in. My time is really squeezed at the moment, so I can only get to them one at a time. Anyway, I finally got to this one!

I apologised to John for my timing being so wonky, and he said that might have been in the editing, as there was something weird about the frame-rate of the video I sent.

This was a problem as I was to get to know intimately, as I edited together this rich and complex political allegory by Samantha Twigg Johnson, featuring a few familiar faces:

'Sh*tshow'

One of my big internal artistic conflicts right now is between on the one hand saying "Make sure the sound is good and just rush through everything else without worrying about the mistakes" and "Dammit, why has YouTube cropped it in to 480p? It looks like 2007!"

But it was really nice to do something with the old gang again!

Upcoming Events

Friday 13th November

Every second Friday of the month. Which is about as much Zoom as I can manage.

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...

I mention this each time now, but 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.)

Hope you enjoy! And now, here are this month's recommendations:

Recommendation

STAGED
Michael Christopher Sheen & David John Tennant

H & I are very very late to this party, but this really is great. If you’re not familiar with it, this is a partly-scripted partly-improvised BBC comedy in which actors David Tennant and Michael Sheen (playing themselves) are cursed to rehearse their latest play at home via Zoom because of the covid pandemic.

I think I avoided it because I wasn’t 100% sure they’d be funny enough, and if they weren’t then the whole thing would fall flat. But they nailed it, and it's rather splendid.

Recommendation

TRILL MILL STREAM
The Trill Mill stream. Oxford. Underground exploring.

Thanks to Angie for this. This is mesmerising and terrifying.

And even for those not local to Oxford, it’s kind of fascinating that there’s this underground waterway running right under the city. Which, it seems, you can walk through.

If Inspector Morse were still a thing, I bet the tunnel would be thick with murdered academics by now.

Recommendation

NATHAN ZED (VIDEO ESSAY)
The Lost Art of Album Sequencing

I shared a Nathan Zed video a while back – this one particularly appealed to me. Like him, I am also of the opinion that a very large part of what makes an album great is the order that the tracks are in.

When it’s done right, the album becomes so much more than the sum of its parts. When done wrong, I seldom get past track 4.

Recommendation

BILL GATES TALKS TO HANK GREEN
How Do We Handle Misinformation - A Chat with Bill Gates

Bill Gates talks to Hank Green about the challenges of life in the Misinformation Age. Gates is obviously the father of office computing and knows a thing or two about the digital realm, but there are also few people as up to date on The Algorithm (on whatever platform you can think of) than Hank Green.

Is it reassuring that both of them seem a bit terrified and have no idea to fix anything? Er...

Recommendation

INDOOR SKYDIVING
How This Girl Takes Indoor Skydiving to the Next Level

Yep, it’s a thing.

It does look kind of fun! And pretty social-distancing-compliant.

(H would love this, actually...)

Recommendation

DAN FOX (VIDEO ESSAY)
Show & Tell ('Charm' in Film)

Never watched any of this YouTuber’s videos before, but this is a great video essay on the importance of charm in cinema. He talks about how hard it is to get right, and he gives a few examples.

And then (spoiler) he confesses that he has been sneaky, and actually this video is not about the importance of charm: it’s actually about how great animation is. Which he suggests are almost the same thing.

Really interesting for any fans of cinema, I think.

Dear Diary...

So… Christmas is going to be kind of weird this year, right?

I mean, for some it will probably be exactly the same. For those that usually spend it with their immediate families, that may be what they do every year.

But there’s a lot more to it than just the Christmas meal. There are all kinds of rituals that are now prohibited: extended family get-togethers, carol singing, midnight mass, even the Christmas shopping and the Boxing Day sales.

And unless there’s radical improvement in the UK’s pandemic trajectory (pretty unlikely) it probably won’t feel much of a celebratory time. Particularly as government and media figures will likely keep boasting about how they’re breaking the rules, and then use that boasting as a political football.

BUT.

Let’s not get all Christmas Cheerless before the season has even started!

How can we be creative here, in making the best of a bad situation?

I’ve been thinking about this recently. My first thought is that maybe, just for this year, it might be good to shift the focus away from family and more towards community. The people in close physical proximity – those we know and those we don’t.

Let’s… park the idea of Zoom meetings, shall we? I’m still ploughing ahead with the Bastard Zoom Sessions – and I love them and do really think they work! –  but that is 2 hours once a month, and I don’t have the energy for more social Zoom functions than that.

But other random ideas include:

  • stopping by at friends houses on Christmas Eve/Day to drop off small gifts and say a quick socially-distanced greeting
  • sending short video ‘Christmas cards’
  • or organising walks (broken into groups of 6, assuming that’s still the rules)

Some of these things will work for some people, some for others…

But one thing I think we can all do is do our best to chat with people – in our neighbourhoods or on social media – who we know are living alone and having a hard time of it.

Actually, for all its nefariousness, this is something social media can be really good for! Just making people feel like they’re connected, and letting them know that people who care about if they’re okay.

And then, of course, there’s the people that we don’t know personally.

There’s community organisations, charities… in Oxford there’s the Oxford Hub, which has been everything the name implies throughout the pandemic:
https://www.oxfordhub.org

And there’s Oxford Mutual Aid, who are in particular need of delivery drivers right now:
https://oxfordmutualaid.org/volunteer/

Oxfordshire Age UK is looking for telephone volunteers who can provide… basically just some company for older people who are chronically lonely:
https://www.ageuk.org.uk/oxfordshire/get-involved/volunteer/telephone-befriending-volunteer/

And for all you (well, us) creatives, I see that the Oxford Winter Light Festival is still on! https://www.oxlightfest.com 

There may well be other community arts projects looking for applications.

Basically, a lot of us have had our Christmas plans shot to shit. But ask yourself: what would Charles Dickens do?

So What Have We Learnt?

Oh, and, er… one more thing to psychologically prepare for.

How do you feel about New Year’s Eve?

If you’ve had an AMAZING year then it’ll probably have fairly joyous connotations. Maybe next year will be even better!

Anything less than that and… I don’t know, NYE is always the trickier one for me. Christmas is great food and families and telly. New Year is just ghosts whispering “What have you actually achieved this year? Is your life actually going anywhere?” over and over again.

We all achieve things each year. We learn a little more about the world and about ourselves. We have highs and lows that we tend to forget when Auld Lang Syne kicks in. This year, for example, we have all survived a deadly global pandemic. In years to come, that’s probably going to seem like one of the big achievements.

But whatever: like birthdays, the end of the year is a great big unavoidable symbol of time passing.

I reckon that this year it’s going to be particularly important for us to find ways to occupy ourselves. There aren’t that many options available, but if you’re of the “All of the Star Wars / Lord of the Rings / Harry Potter movies in one day” sensibility then that might be something to try.

Or perhaps, that’s the day to read that book you always meant to get round to. Or even to finally start writing a novel.

But yeah, maybe worth just starting to think about now?

All of which reminds me of the irony of the song in my newsletter from New Year's Eve last year, a cover version which… maybe I thought was about 2019. Turns out, it was actually about 2020.

I'm going to make it through this year...

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 which mobile phone to buy. Buy a Xiaomi. Seriosly.

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