Another early start and befuddlement as the alarm goes off at 4.15am. Ryanair’s flight to Dublin sets sail at 6.30am and we need to get our skates on. On arrival we found Leeds Bradford Airport (40 minutes drive at this ungodly hour) was gridlocked as other airlines also had Stupid O’Clock flights to Greece and France departing. Getting through Security involved patient queuing with hundreds of others. The present Mrs Ives was in meltdown about them shutting the Gate and our missing the flight. She had to dawdle in a long security queue, however, we got to the Gate 20 minutes before the flight took off.
The flight to Dublin was attracting weekend revellers. In my adjoining seat was a chap leading a stag weekend. It had started the night before with 5 pints at the Saltaire Beer Festival. Add to this only 4 hours sleep and he wasn’t in great condition for his first Dublin drink at around 9am (followed by karting at a nearby track). He’d never been karting before and so looking at images of the outdoor track on his phone we discussed how to cope with wet asphalt, late braking and other tactics. Continue reading Ireland – Four Nights in the Republic – September 2018→
Another entertaining piece in this occasional series by Matt about the challenges of writing… or not
There is a fly buzzing somewhere in the room. You can hear it, but you cannot see it. You stop what you are doing and turn your head away from the task at hand and attempt to search it out. Whilst looking, however, you realise the buzzing has stopped. How odd… You turn back to the task at hand, the page before you, and you consider the next move. You find that a part of you longs for it to begin again. Then you hear it. A gentle thud suggests it just dozily bumped into the window pane in an attempt to flee and thus you jerk your head to the window in a swift movement. On and on this little routine goes, this little dance between yourself and the shadow-fly. Eventually you simply abandon your task and take to searching for it. You intend to swat it, to erase it, to free your mind up. There is a slipper in your hand and you silently patrol the room on high alert. If it buzzes again you will get it.
You just wait for the buzz. It has done its job.
We all have flies in the room. Those little annoying creatures that distract us from being productive. Now, sometimes, this takes the form of an actual fly, but more often it takes the form of something else. Social media is the 21st century culprit for many people. The constant connectedness we feel, especially whilst at our computer desks, means that distraction is never more than just a double click away. The Twitter feed… the news page… the YouTube video that you were told you had to watch because it’s the funniest clip ever made and simply cannot wait. Oh, have I got any emails? No? Let me check my spam folder… Oh, I’m on Google now, let me type my name in and see what that entails…
Procrastination is not quite the same as distraction but they are cousins who get a little too close during the family Christmas dinner. To procrastinate is to actively seek out means by which to defer work, whereas distraction is the fly buzzing in your ear when you are trying to focus. It’s like being told there is a chocolate digestive hidden somewhere beneath the water biscuits.
I will admit I have fallen prey to both, like most of us have. Even writing this piece, I have procrastinated by scouring Spotify for the perfect soundtrack to writing, and have been distracted by the sounds of Richie Rich playing on the television in the next room. While I can close the door to Richie Rich (thankfully) there are other distractions that are trickier to shut out. There is the constant desire to have a break, to begin reading my book, or to make a cup of coffee. All serve the same function in delaying the time I have to sit down and write this piece.
So what advice can I give to people in the modern age who wish to minimalise distraction? Whilst procrastination is something that cannot be advised upon easily (it’s simply a mindset), there are means I take to reduce the amount of distraction while I write. I still procrastinate, but I know I’ve done my best to ensure that when I do, I cannot blame anyone but my own ping-ponging attention span.
1) WRITING SETUP. When I write, I use a program that utilises a full screen mode. Word has a full screen mode, but there are still distractions, even then. You have banners inviting you to fiddle with font type and size, to adjust spacing between the lines and to even change the font colour for crying out loud. No, these are not what I want to be staring at me, winking their devilish winks and luring me into distraction. I am writing this with Ulysses, which is a markdown software which aims to make writing solely about the words. You have to go through two different menu clicks before you can change anything other than font size (and even that is simply a keyboard shortcut and not a glowing neon button). When in full screen mode, the whole of my screen is black and white, the page and the words. There are no windows, the internet may as well be a distant memory, out of reach. Now, when I write, I am simply as one with the words.
2) BACKGROUND SOUNDS. I find it very difficult to write in complete silence. I think most people do. This is why so many aspiring novelists tuck themselves away in coffee-shops; the clattering of mugs, the generic hum of conversation and the burr of the coffee grinder stop your own thoughts from creeping in, making you less self aware of what you are doing. And, if I have learned anything, if a writer pauses for even a second to consider that they are actually writing, they halt, like the bee who was wondered how she could fly and then fell from the sky. Any one of these sounds, isolated, could be a problem, but melded, their sweet cacophony produces an almost zen-like environment, and you find yourself sinking down, away from awareness, and you lose yourself.
I appreciate that not all writers can, or even want to, do this. At almost three quid a pop, that would make writing your novel fuelled by coffee-shop visits a bankrupting endeavour. Fear not, because there are means by which to aid this, and not all of them, thankfully, rely on you actually having to fire up the internet. You can, of course, go to YouTube and search for rainstorm music, or anything like that, but there are apps (some free, others very cheap) which you can fire up which emulate a variety of soothing situations. The one I use, Noizio, has adjustable bars for ‘Deep Space’ (great for writing that SF epic), ‘Coffee Shop’ (great for bringing you Costa without the cost), and even, bizarrely, ‘Farmyard Sounds’ (great for… writing that stable boy/ lady of the manor romance?). You are at risk of procrastination when you begin playing with different combinations. For example, mix a bit of Deep Space with Farmyard and you have Cows in Space.
Outside of this, I would recommend movie soundtracks which closely match your chosen genre. Lyric-free music is always recommended, as you wish to avoid music that means you can be easily distracted by.
3) DISCONNECT. Oh, how easy it is to simply click the little wi-fi icon in the top corner and deactivate your system’s connection to the internet. Simple, but we rarely do it. This not only prevents you from easily keeping updated on your feeds, but also prevents the annoying notifications that pop up, the digital equivalent of a mermaid’s siren song.
There is a fly in the room. You can hear it, but you cannot see it.
The first thing that strikes you on Eady’s seventh release is the quality of the playing. On the opening track, “I Lost My Mind In Carolina”, a real steering wheel tapper, you hear his band fire up. The album was recorded live and acoustic. Such a platform means that fiddle and banjo are immediately important in the mix. This along with the lyrical content takes you back a decade or two for how chart popular Country used to sound. Eady may be new to you but he’s been around a long time and garners much respect from his musical peers.
“Happy Man” is in stark counterpoint to many of the songs here where struggle and moving on are the theme. With the type of sentimentality that only Country music can ever feel confident to cover we hear of a contended life with many blessings of marriage and family. “Calaveras County” (in California) hits a familiar rhythm and his wife and solo artist, Courtney Patton, joins him on the first of a number of harmonies. The story has its origins about when his father broke down short of petrol in the middle of nowhere. His salvation came in the form of a hippy in a multi-coloured VW camper van that took him to fetch the fuel. This story of kindness has stuck with him ever since.
“She Had To Run” slows the album and is reminiscent of Alison Krauss and Union Station with a tale of a woman thumbing a lift to escape an abusive partner. Fiddle and dobro intertwine in a haunting and melancholy duet as his masterful baritone recounts this getaway with a passenger in peril and distress.
“Pretty When I Die” is a bluegrass outing and sumptuous husband and wife harmonies sit on top of the hoedown. As the band take their solos he extols the virtue of hard work and living life to the full to avoid the ignominy of dying pretty! “I Travel On” is his most memorable vocal and takes us on the road with this lilting ballad from Monterey to Richmond:
“I’m out here searching,
For cities made of gold,
I don’t know what is real,
Just some stories I’ve been told,
Maybe someday I’ll find out,
Somewhere on this road I travel on”
This is a beautiful authentic Country album of considerable lyrical and musical craft. I can understand the affection that follows this Texan troubadour. Sadly, given the industry’s predilection for formulaic Country Pop music purveyed by 30 somethings males in Stetsons and blue jeans then this won’t be anywhere near a Country Music Association nomination for album of the year anytime soon but maybe that tells you how fabulous it is.
“That’s the end of the death portion of the show” chirped Jim White after five of his 15 songs. Maybe the ‘death’ section of the show has finished but White has had a troubled life and in this couple of hours you get a tour through his taxi driving, homelessness, depression, failed marriages and then his emergence into the sunnier uplands through not least the joy of his daughters.
A rapt audience of around 100 are holding onto every word as he recounts this personal journey between songs. He is a storyteller. The sublime virtuoso Clive Barnes accompanies him on electric or acoustic guitar adding atmosphere to White’s wry, observational, seldom judgemental, and brutally honest confessional musings.
“A Perfect Day To Chase Tornados” from his 1997 Wrong-Eyed Jesus albumis met with delight as the gathering discover that White is about to revisit some of his most cherished songs. The complex lyrics illustrate that you are in the company of a thoughtful yet often conflicted craftsman:
“Sometimes I think that the sky is a prison and the earth is a grave. And sometimes I feel like Jesus, in some Chinese opera. And sometimes I’m glad I built my mansion from crazy little stones. But sometimes I feel so goddamned trapped by everything that I know. And I wish it wasn’t so, cause the only thing that anyone should ever know Is that today’s a perfect day to chase tornados. Yeah, when the wild wind whips around your head you know, That you have found a perfect day to chase tornados. To rapturous applause he quips that the song was ‘wrote before I was a rock star.”
Sat still with the guitar on his lap we work through songs off five different albums, with five coming from his 2017 release: Waffles, Triangles & Jesus.Torn between poet and raconteur we have asides about the commercial success (or not) of his releases.”Objects In Motion” he declares come from the album “that ended my career” – Drill A Hole In A Substrate. With relish he advises that the song was probably the least popular track on the album “judging by the meagre couple of cents I get from royalties then it had two plays, probably, in Namibia and Iran”. However when the laughter subsided we had a haunting and atmospheric song sung and half spoken.
Highlights are many but “Wound That Never Heals” about a female serial killer spins you off kilter. The story is dark with murderas its main theme. I suppose against the backdrop of White’s mental challenges then you never quite know where the fiction or autobiography might collide. “Silver Threads” from his latest album recounts the difficult parting from a girlfriend of four years after initial promises of marriage. However, don’t be glum “she’s happy now with a Norwegian!” “Bluebird” off the album “that ended his career” starts with the matter of fact declaration that he conceived a child with a woman he disliked and with fragile vulnerability and bleak loneliness he sings about the daughter:
“Bluebird on a telephone line How are you? I’m feeling fine Sweetly do I whisper your name Lonely solo taxi ride to a cheap motel”
Before a sentimental closer he sang “Christmas Song”, the most autobiographical of his songs. Marooned in a Greyhound bus station on December 25th1998 after his transportation broke down. At this time separation from his child is the most agonising and the scatter of words spill out his pain, anguish and the realisation that he is in many ways a mess and maybe he’s the problem.
If you haven’t caught him then you must. He is a one-off: capable of stories, vivid images of America, delicate yet compelling melodies and an interpretive (yet never hurried) delivery that is like no other.
First impressions bring to mind a Nordic Noir box set: brooding, complex and menacing. It’s as if it was recorded with colour repressed and black and white prevailing. The album’s narrative is often beyond dark and the mood is sombre and serious. However, spending time with this masterpiece enables you to discover the personality of the main protagonist, composer, vocalist and bandleader, Felix Bechtolsheimer. You warm to him and soon subtle melodies spill out and you find yourself reaching the choruses before him. It’s genuinely one of those albums that you could play back to back several times.
“Valentine” starts the eleven-song outing with an industrial beat and a union of voices. Soon a scraping guitar ups the song’s raw edge. This hypnotic paean to a lover involves the unlikely involvement of daggers and bullets. It’s here that Bechtolsheimer’s backstory of heroin addiction seeps through many of the lyrics. He says he’s moved through this phase of his life but had some songs left from his earlier release, Severed,that needed to see the light of day.
Throughout, the hypnotic and atmospheric rhythm section of Charis Anderson (bass) and Neil Findlay (drums) lay down patterns on a canvas that Bechtolsheimer paints with words that illuminate and challenge, “Kathleen” is such a track:
“Bricks and buildings they don’t mean nothing to me anymore
And the cars driving by they don’t touch me like before
Down in the gutter is where I pretend to be free
They’ve got eyes that shine like the sea”
The throbbing bass-heavy “Blackout Fever” is surely indebted to The Trogg’s “Wild Thing” signature rhythm but with Bechtolsheimer leading a chorus through abstract lyrics of mayhem. Musically the tone of the album lightens and whilst “No Trouble” visits a troubled relationship, the easy pace and melody delight not least with the outro guitar solo and muted horns.
“Leuven” was inspired by his grandfather’s experience of being in a train crash when returning from a football match in the 1950s. The experience left him with mental scars after witnessing the deathly aftermath. The song starts with a personal tone as Bechtolsheimer ‘talks’ to his brother. In the background the soundtrack builds with strings and the dialogue continues. A drum beat quietly starts to give some propulsion to the song and Joe Hazell’s stupendous guitar playing leads the song into an anthem.
“And as the train left the tracks on that December’s day
There were men singing songs about lands far away
And the women they loved and the lies that they tell
And the eyes of Leuven all turned away
And the sirens they screamed and the kids went to play
Out in the fields where their fathers fell”
I think I can declare with certainty that As I Fell will make a hatful of end of year lists. The British five piece (taking their name from a Hunter S Thompson book) led by Bechtolsheimer (ex Hey Negrita) have a giant atmospheric soundscape of an album. Whilst this is Bechtolsheimer’s second collaboration with producer Oli Bayston, this is the first withhis current line up. Written and mainly created in London, the definitive versions were laid down at a studio in Joshua Tree, California. The ghostly heat, space and landscape of the desert appear to inhabit the recordings, but this may be a figment of your imagination…
Bechtolsheimer’s confessional, and often spoken, vocals may possess you like Jim Morrison but for me there’s some of Mark Knopler’s conversational and cadenced storytelling afoot often backed by the fluid and complementary guitar playing of Hazell.
With Rock dead, or on tour supporting Def Leppard, we’ll quickly and happily claim this for Americana. Rush out and get your copy (preferably on vinyl).