One regular guy. One crazy year. 80,000 years of uploaded video. What couldn't go wrong?

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June 2020

Lost in YouTube

I mean, what else is there to do, right? I’m lucky, I have work, and have some really nice neighbours, and am even luckier to be under house arrest with H. But aside from work, and music when I can, what else is there to do? And yeah, okay, lockdown basically lifts (for now at least) on July 4th, but… I’m not still not going to town. Not for a long time.

So, every recommendation this month comes from YouTube. I mean… these recommendations are all usually from YouTube somewhere, but this is specifically about things that live on YouTube. Or even that were born on YouTube.

So this month we’ll be binge-watching gourmet fast food. We’ll be falling back on some tutorial videos. We’ll be saying hello to three of the YouTubers that make me smile on a fairly regularly basis.

And we’ll be getting some advice on what happens when the project that you’re working on… just sort of falls apart in front of you.

We’ll just be hanging in there, basically. Surviving. Waiting for a vaccine.

So come and hit the red play button with me, yeah?



Pastry Chef Attempts to Make Gourmet Cadbury Creme Eggs

I don’t think H will mind me saying that her life in lockdown has been utterly dominated by the YouTube channel of US food magazine Bon Appétit. And if you are also looking for probably over 100 hours of easy, funny, charming low-stakes viewing, this might be for you too.

We first stumbled onto this channel when the Almighty Algorithm recommended this episode, where Claire Saffitz (Hannah: “She’s me! She’s so me!”) makes a gourmet version of a Cadbury's cream egg. Since then, the Test Kitchen team have only increased our obsession with grilled cheese sandwiches.

It’s just a joy to watch so many culinary experts clearly enjoy their work, and have fun with it.

Just… don’t… google Bon Appétit right away. Don’t look up why they’ve stopped making videos.

Enjoy your innocence for a while.


What to do when projects fall apart

These days I spend a lot of time watching YouTube videos about film-making, weirdly. Or… actually, it’s usually YouTube videos about making almost any kind of art, although I find that making films and recording music seem to have a great deal of overlap.

Anyrod, this is one from the channel of an award-winning US film-maker, Darious, and I thought I’d share this video particularly because I think he gives some really good advice about what to do when you’ve put a ton of energy into an artistic project and it suddenly falls apart. And he ties it into good wider advice about how to keep artistic momentum up during a global pandemic.



If people ask me who my favourite comedians are I tend to say that I’m not really into comedy at the moment. Morecombe & Wise, maybe? But when I think about it, there are quite a few YouTubers I follow fit that description. And they tend to have a fairly similar style, which I really like. (All of them do sketches in which they play all the characters.)

A Casual Chit-Chat Attempt During a Pandemic and Revolution

First up is Julie Nolke, a Canadian comedian / actor who went a little bit viral with her “Explaining the Pandemic to my Past Self” videos. Her recent videos are a bit dated because they’re from, like, weeks ago, when the world was completely different. (2020 weeks are like dog years.) But the one above is from the point in lockdown where casual conversation that didn’t involve current events was… basically impossible.

If Dreams had ads

Next up is Nathan Zed, who… maybe has the best comic timing on the Internet?

This is basically his version of Inception.

Except it makes sense.

Just think about it for a while. You'll agree.

And lastly, Craig ‘WheezyWaiter’ Benzine. The same. But weirder.


All the cool kids are still making face masks. Here's how.

But as we know, YouTube isn’t just about jokes, filmmakers and cream eggs. Fundamentally, it’s about saying to people “Oh, yeah, of course I know how to do that!” and then google it and then frantically scrolling through YouTube videos that tell you how to do it.

‘Face coverings’ as we’re calling them, are still not seen as a super-big-deal in the UK. But when it gets cold again and socialising outside becomes less practical, it’s pretty likely they will be.

So here’s a handy video by a nurse-turned-fabric-shop-owner-turned-mask-maker, giving some good guidance on what to buy and/or make.



There is so much that is wrong with the world, but these are adorable.

Exactly as it sounds. Tiny drums.

Upcoming Events

Friday 10th & Friday 24th July

Every other Friday. There might be a goat.

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 last week the bar was raised impossibly high, when Hannah hired a goat to crash the session. This ingenious 'Goats on Film' enterprise was provided by Cronkshaw Fold Farm in Lancashire, and was such a success that there was talk of of moving it away from the folk music and more towards the farmyard animals.

But for as long as it's still folk music based, here is how you log in.

You simply click this link:

And then enter the password, which is:

  • bitshowy

And a reminder of the New Bastard Protocol:

  1. If you want to perform something, click on 'Raise your Hand'.
  2. If you’re performing, you’ll need to change your Zoom settings to ‘Use Original Sound’.
  3. 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).
  4. Feel free to use the Chat function throughout!
  5. 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.)

Dear Diary...

Yesterday I found myself saying to Hannah that, for me, getting old is all about watching people who do evil getting away with it.

I’d come across a media story (on YouTube, obviously) about sexual abuse in the music business, which looked to me like a deliberately diluted version of the real horror of this most toxic of industries.

I’ve noticed a change in my 40s, in that I find it so difficult to enjoy any kind of media, because I just see bias and conflict of interest everywhere.

I’m turning into my dad, who just didn’t seem to enjoy culture when I was growing up for exactly this reason. He seemed to find fault with everything, and that’s exactly what I do now.

I used to read books, I used to be immersed in cinema… I used to love nothing more than watching a 3-part documentary series on BBC4 – and now my only culture consumption seems to be entirely bite-size dopamine chunks from YouTube. Podcasts are as long-form as I go.

Is it an inevitable part of ageing that eventually we find out how the sausage is made, and we can’t enjoy it anymore?

This has been what’s been occupying my thoughts recently.

Earlier today, however, I’ve started to wonder if I’ve actually understood this problem all wrong. Is this really a problem of getting older? Have my critical faculties or my standards of proof raised so dramatically since, say, my 30s? I don’t actually think so.

But the world is on fire, right? That’s what I’m seeing, right? It’s not me, it’s the world.

Well, I was in my mid-twenties when the World Trade Centre was attacked, and the US/UK coalition responded with a terror campaign across most of the middle east: the world was literally on fire then.

And yet I was still able to find comfort in a cosy English identity as a moderate and reasonable (but not unflawed) citizen in a moderate and reasonable (but not unflawed) country. Which I absolutely can no longer do.

So, here’s the conclusion I’ve come to today.

The reason why I find it so hard to enjoy any kind of culture at the moment is not because of my advancing years, or the political state of the UK.

It’s actually because of YouTube.

So much of the culture that I used to get lost in was all about England and Englishness, and that has become more and more difficult since I’ve started watching more and more YouTube. Why?

Well, this I’m finding a fascinating revelation, but… for pretty much all of my life all of my culture came – directly or indirectly – from one source, one institution: the British Broadcasting Corporation. The BBC.

There were other TV channels and other newspapers and magazines, but the BBC set the tone. The BBC got me into music through Top Of The Pops. The BBC channelled my interest in folk music through televising Celtic Connections and Folk Britannia. The BBC basically educated me through endless documentaries, and through late-night BBC2 crossover courses with the Open University.

I loved the BBC. I defended the BBC. I felt like they weren’t a perfect institution by any means, but they tried hard to present the cutting edge of debate from academia, journalism and the arts. And more than that, they were kind of the glue that bound the UK together. They created a sort of consensus of opinion about who this nation was and what it stood for.

And then along came YouTube. Chaotic, overwhelming, addictive, bizarre, unreliable, funny, misleading YouTube.

I can’t remember when I decided to really try to invest my time in YouTube to find what the fuss was about, but it was years ago now. But gradually I stopped following the Beeb completely.

Then, one day, I dug up and watched an old video of a BBC4 documentary, and god how I had missed it! God how I had missed a three-part hour-long historical series that taught me about a specific field of study. Why didn’t BBC4 make this kind of thing anymore? Why did I have to make do with these 10 minute factoid YouTube videos?

The thing is… something else was going on with me and YouTube that I wasn’t aware of, and that I think is only just dawning on me now. It wasn’t reducing my concentration span, or increasing my dopamine dependency. In my mind, it was eroding that BBC consensus of opinion.

Bit my bit, opinion by opinion, voice by voice, external culture by external culture… it was changing the way I saw the world, England, and my place in both.

And today I feel like I’ve woken up to the fact that… that BBC consensus is fucking toxic. THAT is the problem right now. That lazy, shallow, cowardly Oxbridge consensus.

And, to be clear, I believe it was conceived by Lord Reith, and has been maintained by his successors, with relatively benign intentions: to educate the masses with authoritative insight and opinion from the most respected academics, journalists, politicians and artists in the country. Sounds reasonable, right?

Well yes, if we live in a democratic meritocracy where those people really are the best and brightest amongst us. Now, I come from an upper class family and I grew up and have always worked in Oxford and I always knew that not to be the case, but somehow I didn’t have a problem with it from the BBC, because it didn’t seem in any way malicious. And again, I do think it was never intended to be malicious.

But YouTube is just a completely different way of looking at the world. Anyone who can get hold of a smartphone and a camera can become a broadcaster. And the vast majority of their videos are probably not very good, but YouTube never shows them to me. Instead, it shows me those who have learned how to make engaging work that says something interesting and insightful.

These YouTubers haven’t had get a TV production company on board, or get internal approval from senior BBC management, or risk offending some important politician or journalist who will give the BBC governors grief. They can just make videos, and if those videos are interesting enough to enough people then they get a lot of positive feedback, and they make more.

Here’s a fairly random example. It’s a 25 minute video made by a teenager who moved with her family from Tennessee to Gambia, talking about all the Pros and Cons.

Pros & Cons living in Africa (GAMBIA) as an African-American Teen

There’s just no way I would get this kind of perspective from the BBC. (It would probably need to be ‘balanced’ by reminding the audience of all of the negative stereotypes of living in Africa.)

But after a few years of absorbing YouTube videos – which are mostly people just sitting in front of a camera and talking about their lives – when I occasionally come back to watching the BBC… it looks like it’s from another century.

And although intellectually I can see why it might seem like a good idea to create a broad, homogenous, centrist consensus culture that we can all get behind… it now seems clear that doing so involves sweeping mountains of collective trauma under the carpet.

And there’s something else.

I always felt like I was aware of the inherent flattery of British, particularly English, culture in the BBC’s outlook. Of how you could flip through the TV guide and every documentary or reality TV show was ‘The Great British…’ or ‘A Very British…’ or ‘Britain’s Greatest…’

My view, I suppose was that of course a nation’s broadcaster should champion that nation’s culture. But now, it’s so over-the-top… it just seems kind of unhinged.

Anyway. To cut a short story epically long, today I’ve come to realise that I have underestimated how good YouTube can be, and how bad the BBC can be.

And that yes, I miss the BBC’s sense of consummate storytelling. And I don’t think that I necessarily need to get all of my culture from YouTube instead. But I do feel like I need a reset: to a cultural identity where England isn’t, come one, if we’re honest, the most important culture in the world.

I just can’t go back to the Great British Fairytale.

So What Have We Learnt?

Back in December 2019, just over 6 and a half years ago, I wrote in this here newsletter about how I was going to try to come out of the hiatus that I had imposed on the James Bell Central website, and I was going to try to start releasing some new music again.

And I did get started on that. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, the pandemic lockdown put that on pause, at least to begin with, but I quickly realised that making music was one of the best things I could do for my mental health, so it’s still bubbling under.)

But during this time, I’ve shifted my focus a bit. I’m not going to concentrate on the website, or on social media for that matter.

I spend most of my downtime on YouTube. I’m going to see what I can do on YouTube.

After all, yes, the BBC gave us David Attenborough. But it was never going to give us Boba Fett dancing to ‘Rasputin’ by Boney M.

Boba Fett dancing to Rasputin

On loop.

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 how to put a face mask on your goat while it's playing a set of tiny drums because all of its other projects have fallen apart. Actually, tell you what, you google it...

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