All Cats Are Grey

Posted on 3rd April 2021

This week's poll year was 1981. Quite a influencial year for me, as it was the year I first started going to gigs. It was also the year I discovered we would be moving from Cheshire down to Leicestershire. I was going to miss the record shops in Crewe, and that amazing second-hand shop near school, where I spent a substantial amount of time and money on vinyl from around 1978 onwards, thanks to recommendations from various Radio One DJs, and friends.

My picks from this year, all had made an impression on me from previous years, so it wasn't too surprising they featured highly in my list. However, there was so much I was buying and listening to, I feel I need to put in a top 100 for 1981 (and I will likely have similar for the other years 1978-1984, when we finally get to them!).

My top choice, The Cure I was lucky enough to hear their first single played on late night Radio One (I think John Peel played it) in 1978, so I already knew and had records by the band. However, Faith was the first album that felt like a complete experience from beginning to end. From the opening of The Holy Hour, you knew this wasn't going to be a light-hearted listening session. Other Voices, back then and still now, is the stand out track on the album for me. I can't explain why, it can just stop me in my tracks when I listen to it. There really isn't a dud track on this album though, and I frequently still play it now.

My second choice, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, I first heard (as I recall, although I may have heard the previous singles on a Peel/Jensen show) via the single Messages. This their third album was a mix of their pop leanings and the experimental sounds that has frequented many of their albums. I was fortunate enough to see them on this tour at The Apollo in Manchester, and still remains one of the best shows I've seen them perform. She's Leaving and Georgia are still my favourites songs from the album.

New Order, although this being their debut, obviously were well known and anticipated in the months after Ian Curtis' death the previous year. Although they didn't exactly sound like Joy Division, you could still hear that musical progression from the previous few years. With the band members all trying out the vocals, before they finally settled on Bernard being the vocalist, each song has it's own subtle sound differences, even though musically it's all the same band. I remember playing it the first time with eager anticipation on my Dansette record player, and having the feeling that whatever came next, this band were not going to disapppoint. As we now know, they didn't ;) My favourite track changes, but for the moment Dreams Never End is the one I'm drawn to.

My next choice, Rainbow, had been a personal favourite for many years after becoming a Deep Purple fan, when I was recommended to buy a copy of Made In Japan from that second-hand record shop in Crewe. When Ritchie Blackmore left Deep Purple and formed Rainbow, for me it felt like a natural progression. Although Down To Earth was a striking change in direction, Difficult To Cure with new singer Joe-Lynn Turner gave the band a fresh lease of life. I got to see them on this tour (my second gig!) at Bingley Hall in Stafford, where upon arrival discovered the venue was not much more than a massive barn, where they auctioned farm live stock! As it turned out, it appears to have been one of Ritchie favourite venues, as the two shows I saw them play there (I saw them again in 1984 on the Bent Out Of Shape Tour) they were the longest sets on the tour, clocking over 2 hours for both shows, whereas tapes from other shows I have, usually just hit the 90 minute mark. Favourite song from the album was Can't Happen Here

My final top 5 choice is Stiff Little Fingers. My school friend Alan played me Alternative Ulster back in late 78, and I was hooked. A new form of punk was emerging, and SLF were the front runners. By 1981's third album, they had honed their craft, and were turning out cracking songs with ease. Gate 49 is easily my favourite from the album, and is the Gate at Heathrow when flying to Belfast, which explains the lyrics. Although, I didn't get to see them on the tour for the album, I did see them on the short tour in January 1982, when new boy Dolphin Taylor was introduced to the fans. It had been snowing heavily, so even though the show was sold out, several people never made it. As such, seating wasn't really being checked, so as a couple of my mates were slightly smaller than me, we opted to head up to the balcony. We had an hilarious time pogo-ing on the walkway between the front and back tiers of seats. Years later, I got to do a lighting gig for SLF at the Institute in Birmingham. I felt like that teenager again :)

And so to my top 100...

1 The Cure Faith
2 Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark Architecture & Morality
3 New Order Movement
4 Rainbow Difficult To Cure
5 Stiff Little Fingers Go For It
6 Duran Duran Duran Duran
7 Toyah Anthem
8 Ultravox Rage In Eden
9 The Go-Go's Beauty And The Beat
10 Rush Moving Pictures
11 Rush Exit...Stage Left
12 Black Sabbath Mob Rules
13 The Beat Wha'ppen?
14 Classix Nouveaux Night People
15 Budgie Nightflight
16 ABBA The Visitors
17 Debbie Harry KooKoo
18 UB40 Present Arms
19 Gary Numan Living Ornaments '80
20 Motörhead No Sleep Til Hammersmith
21 Pat Benatar Precious Time
22 Iron Maiden Killers
23 U2 October
24 Kraftwerk Computer World
25 AC/DC For Those About to Rock We Salute You
26 Gary Numan Living Ornaments '79
27 The Police Ghost in the Machine
28 Depeche Mode Speak & Spell
29 Spandau Ballet Journeys To Glory
30 Stevie Nicks Bella Donna
31 Blue Oyster Cult Fire Of Unknown Origin
32 Foreigner 4
33 Journey Escape
34 Ozzy Osbourne Diary of a Madman
35 Simple Minds Sons And Fascination / Sister Feelings Call
36 Bauhaus Mask
37 Gary Numan Dance
38 Madness 7
39 Killing Joke What's THIS For....?
40 Jean Michel Jarre Les Chants Magnétiques
41 INXS Underneath the Colours
42 John Foxx The Garden
43 Prince Controversy
44 The Moody Blues Long Distance Voyager
45 Twelfth Night Live at the Target
46 Echo & The Bunnymen Heaven Up Here
47 Nazereth It's Naz
48 Thin Lizzy Renegade
49 Whitesnake Come an' Get It

I should mention that most of the albums 1-50 I own. However, for those in the list 51-100, I mostly have listened to initially from friends albums, but have discovered others in more recent times. Having said that, there are more than a few that I hope to add to my collection at some point.

50 Saxon Denim and Leather
51 Styx Paradise Theatre
52 Genesis Abacab
53 Gillan Future Shock
54 Journey Captured
55 Eurythmics In the Garden
56 Tangerine Dream Thief
57 Sheena Easton Take My Time
58 New Musik Anywhere
59 Bow Wow Wow See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah, City All Over! Go Ape Crazy!
60 Nazereth The Fool Circle
61 ZZ Top El Loco
62 Blackfoot Marauder
63 Judas Priest Point of Entry
64 Van Halen Fair Warning
65 Secret Affair Business as Usual
66 Siouxsie & The Banshees Juju
67 The Pretenders Pretenders II
68 The Buggles Adventures in Modern Recording
69 Landscape From The Tea-rooms of Mars...
70 Au-Pairs Playing With A Different Sex
71 The Stranglers The Gospel According to the Meninblack
72 Brian Eno & David Byrne My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
73 Split Enz Waiata
74 Heaven 17 Penthouse and Pavement
75 Billy Joel Songs in the Attic
76 Midnight Oil Place Without A Postcard
77 Neil Young Re-ac-tor
78 Kiss Music From 'The Elder'
79 UFO The Wild, the Willing and the Innocent
80 Def Leppard High 'n' Dry
81 Tangerine Dream Exit
82 The Stranglers La folie
83 Men At Work Business as Usual
84 The Human League Dare
85 Vice Squad No Cause for Concern
86 Stray Cats Stray Cats
87 The Psychedelic Furs Talk Talk Talk
88 Girlschool Hit and Run
89 The Undertones Positive Touch
90 Altered Images Happy Birthday
91 Wall Of Voodoo Dark Continent
92 The Sound From The Lion's Mouth
93 Tom Tom Club Tom Tom Club
94 Phil Collins Face Value
95 Afraid Of Mice Afraid Of Mice
96 Bob Dylan Shot of Love
97 Wah! Nah=Poo – The Art of Bluff
98 Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft Gold und Liebe
99 Nick Mason Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports
100 King Crimson Discipline

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Gimme Chocolate!!

Posted on 27th March 2021

So this week's poll year 2014. A lot of rock/metal and progressive rock albums this year, and a few folk entries too. 

To date, BABYMETAL are now the last band I've seen live, back in February 2020, at my old haunt the Manchester Apollo. I discovered them around this time when I caught a feature of them on a music channel, possibly Kerrang!. I was both impressed with the songs, but also the ability for the Kawaii J-Pop sounds to mix seamlessly with the power metal of the Kami Band, forming the unique Kawaii Metal scene.

I've been a long time fan of KMFDM, and this album was instantly among my favourites on first listen. From the introduction by Miss Annabella, Lucia and Sasha's daughter, through to Make Your Stand, an electronic beat tour-de-force all the way. Respeckt!

I discovered 3TEETH a few years ago, and now wished I discovered them even earlier. This, their debut album, set the scene for what was to come, and from such an awesome beginning, it's been great to see them only grow. 

With NMA I have been very fortunate, as I've known them since their very first record. A friend of mine was the boyfriend of Rob Heaton's younger sister, and when I went to visit him back in Holmes Chapel once, he persuaded me to buy the single Bittersweet from him (he was doing a good sales job with all his friends), but he knew it was my kind of music. He wasn't wrong, and I've been a fan ever since. This album was a solid companion to 2013's Between Dog And Wolf, offering both studio and live tracks.

Mogwai, I saw in the late 90s, but mistook them for another band, who I wasn't impressed with, and ever since had not really paid attention to them. Until 2019, when I happen to listen to one of the albums and realised my mistake. I have since gone back and listened to all their albums, and hang my head in shame that I missed out on this band for so many years. Their more recent albums, include Rave Tapes, are a pure delight.

And on to 2014's top 50...

1 Babymetal Babymetal
2 KMFDM Our Time Will Come
3 3TEETH 3TEETH
4 New Model Army Between Blood And Wine
5 Mogwai Rave Tapes
6 Die So Fluid The Opposites of Light
7 Among The Echoes Fracture
8 Servers Leave With Us
9 The Birthday Massacre Superstition
10 Savlonic Red
11 IQ The Road Of Bones
12 Vice Squad Cardboard Country
13 Arch Enemy War Eternal
14 Within Temptation Hydra
17 Amy Lee Aftermath
16 Linkin Park The Hunting Party
15 Live The Turn
18 Seether Isolate and Medicate
19 Pallas itiswhatitis
20 Kate Rusby Ghost
21 Suzanne Vega Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles
22 Lacuna Coil Broken Crown Halo
23 Epica The Quantum Enigma
25 Prince & 3rdeyegirl Plectrumelectrum
24 Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited:Live at the Royal Albert Hall
26 Train Bulletproof Picasso
27 Judas Priest Redeemer of Souls
31 AC/DC Rock or Bust
32 The Foo Fighters Sonic Highways
28 Pallas wearewhoweare
29 Steve Rothery The Ghosts Of Pripyat
30 Melissa Etheridge This Is M.E.
33 Gandalf's Fist A Forest Of Fey
34 My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult Spooky Tricks
35 Semblant Lunar Manifesto
36 Bruce Springsteen High Hopes
38 Prince Art Offical Age
37 Yes Heaven & Earth
39 Simple Minds Big Music
40 Blondie Ghosts Of Download
41 Natalie Merchant Natalie Merchant
42 Pixies Indie Cindy
43 The Twilight Sad Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave
44 Transatlantic Kaleidoscope
45 Stevie Nicks 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault
46 Transatlantic KaLIVEoscope
48 Johnny Marr Playland
49 Mike Oldfield Man On The Rocks
47 Buzzcocks The Way
50 The Pretty Reckless Going To Hell

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You Are the World

Posted on 20th March 2021

So the first poll year is 1991. In my original list Tribe's Abort came top, and while I still love the album, having listened to several other albums I bought at the time, my preferences all got scrambled again!

+Live+ were a band I discovered thanks to their song Pain Lies On The Riverside, from my new top choice, Mental Jewelry. I went to see them on their Throwing Copper tour in 1994 (well I actually crewed the gig they did at Edwards No.8 in Brum ... supported by Catatonia), and have been a fan ever since.

So my top 50 for 1991 ....

1 Live Mental Jewelry
2 REM Out Of Time
3 Crowded House Woodface
4 Pearl Jam Ten
5 New Model Army Raw Melody Men
6 Tribe Abort
7 Levellers Levelling The Land
8 Marillion Holidays In Eden
9 The Wonder Stuff Never Loved Elvis
10 U2 Achtung Baby
11 Therapy? Babyteeth
12 Jethro Tull Catfish Rising
13 The KLF The White Room
14 Prince & NPG Diamonds And Pearls
15 PIG Praise The Lard
16 Front 242 Tyranny (For You)
17 Cranes Wings Of Joy
18 INXS Live Baby Live
19 Genesis We Can't Dance
20 Nirvana Nevermind
21 Rush Roll The Bones
22 Metallica Metallica
23 Into Paradise Churchtown
24 Chapterhouse Whirlpool
25 Type O Negative Slow, Deep And Hard
26 Queen Innuendo
27 Mariah Carey Emotions
28 Guns N' Roses Use Your Illusion II
29 Pat Benatar True Love
30 Indigo Girls Back On The Bus, Y'all
31 Ozzy Osbourne No More Tears
32 Neil Young Weld
33 Temple Of The Dog Temple Of The Dog
34 Pixies Trompe le Monde
35 Guns N' Roses Use Your Illusion I
36 Belinda Carlisle Live Your Life Be Free
37 The Orb Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld
38 Massive Attack Blue Lines
39 Motörhead 1916
40 Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Into The Great Wide Open
41 Yes Union
42 Lynyrd Skynyrd Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991
43 Billy Bragg Don't Try This At Home
44 Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark Sugar Tax
45 Electronic Electronic
46 Slowdive Just For A Day
47 Siouxsie and the Banshees Superstition
48 Kirsty MacColl Electric Landlady
49 Simple Minds Real Life
50 Soundgarden Badmotorfinger

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Where the Bands Are

Posted on 20th March 2021

So my good intentions with writing up a diary entry once a month with some of the bands and artists I'd been listening didn't get very far. Sadly events of last year proved too overwhelming to write more. I still have several draft entries for some of those I had planned to feature, so I hope to finish them off over the coming months.

Although writing proved tough last year, I did get involved with a Twitter sensation of ranking albums released from 1965 to 2005, and the associated decades, thanks to the idea of Richard Shaw (@RichardS7370). Together with Mark (@marksmusic1977), Iain (@icrawford17), Si (@SimonFarrier1@jhoburgh, and several others, music polls have been the thing that has helped me to keep lockdown fatigue at bay.

Rediscovering albums, bands, and songs, as well as listening to several I'd never heard before, has been a delight. 

This year Richard has decided to turn things around slightly, and while we once again revisiting several of the years featured last year, he is extending it to feature the years 1963-2021. As such, I will also be revisiting my top 50s that I was posting, reviewing, and reposting an up to date version here. 

Let the listening begin....

File Under: music / polls / twitter
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Where The Pieces Lie

Posted on 26th April 2020

April's Artist of the Month is Wheel.

I accidentally came across Wheel while listening to a few other bands, and a suggestion came up for a song off their latest album, Moving Backwards. Trying to find more information about the band initially proved awkward, as the band's website was inactive (it's back now). Thankfully, after a bit of searching across various website, provided me with their Twitter and Instagram handles. From there I discovered a few more bits of info.

The band hail from Finland, although vocalist James Lascelles is from the UK. Moving Backwards (2019) is their debut album, and was preceded with two EPs; The Path EP (2017) and The Divide EP (2018). They have since also released a combined CD with both EPs. They've been touring for some time, but mostly across Europe so far. With the state of the world and gigs at the moment, it might be a while before they head out for a more extensive tour, but hopefully they fit a few UK shows into their itinery.

The band have a sound that is very reminscent of Tool in places, but at the same time I can also hear influences of Porcupine Tree. However, those comparisons might mislead you, as the band have their own style, which builds on these influences, but gives something else in return. I've heard a few bands recently, some well known, that seem to have similar influences, but for me Wheel have something that is just that extra special, and given the right exposure, will forge their own identity.

The songs are a blend of rock, metal, progressive, hardcore, and maybe even a bit of grunge. They have the complexity of what you might expect of a modern progressive rock band, but it's underpinned by some solid bass and drums, allowing the guitars and vocals to weave their way into and around your mind. The song Wheel being a good example, as the bass and drums lay the foundations and settle you into a groove, when the guitar riffs start infiltrating the flow, and almost without you noticing, the bass and drums have been getting harder and more infectious. The vocals then appear seductively drawing you in, until they have you and then drag you raging through the chorus. 

Several of their songs clock in over 8 minutes, but while listening to them, you become so engrossed it's easy to think they finish far too soon. It's become acceptable now for the progressive rock/metal bands to clock in long songs, but I do remember the days when anything breaking a 5 minute barrier was frowned upon by the metal press. Wheel strike a good balance between the song lengths, with each song sounding as long as it should. It wouldn't surprise me if at some point they come out with a 20+ minute epic, along the lines of Dream Theatre.

If you only see Wheel as another band influenced by Tool, then I think you'd be doing both bands and yourself a disservice. Most bands start with their influences, but those with talent and substance, quickly evolve their own personality. Judging from the early EPs to the debut album, Wheel are doing exactly that. Personally I can't wait to hear what comes next. I'm also hoping I get to see them live at some point.

Favourite songs: Wheel, Farewell, The Path

Check them out at wheel.band

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If I Knew What I Know Now

Posted on 30th March 2020

March Spotlight is Vice Squad.

For those who remember the days of Punk during the 70s, may well remember the band coming to prominence from 1979, when they formed, through the early 80s. They were a frequent addition to John Peel's playlists during those years, and it's how I first became aware of them. The early singles Last Rockers, Resurrection and Stand Strong were firm favourites. Then in 1983 singer Beki Bondage, left the band (to form Ligotage and later Beki And The Bombshells), and while a new singer, Lia, was signed up, the band only continued for a couple more years.

During the mid/late 80s and 90s, Beki continue to gain a small amount of success with her bands, and featured in several of the music magazines (mostly rock) that were also gaining success, such as Kerrang! and Metal Hammer. I even met Beki at a few Marquee gigs around this time, and it was always a pleasure to see her as she always seemed really positive about the music she was making.

Then in 1997 Beki relauched Vice Squad with members of The Bombshells, performing with a more "old school" punk than they had been as Beki and The Bombshells. Since the relaunch, they have now released 9 albums, and their latest planned for a 1st May 2020 launch date. Singles and EPs have been forthcoming from the band at a frequent rate, and it's also great to hear some of these older songs re-recorded for B-sides, with a fresh fire. 

While they're still a punk band at their core, their sound has a more edgy rock feel to it. The band provide a tight and solid backing to Beki blistering vocals. I have yet to see them play live, and I sadly missed out seeing them in 2019 due to other commitments, but hopefully I will in the not too distant future. I can imagine their live shows are an intense frenzy from start to finish, with everyone dripping with sweat on the way out.  

I used to love the raw angst of the band in the early 80s, and I'm pleased to hear a lot of that frustration and defiance still continuing today. Recent album Cardboard Country, tackles subjects such as tabloids, reality TV, and the wealth and class injustices we still see today. The Angry Youth (pun intended) of 40 years ago, is still angry and rightly so. 

The new album, Battle Of Britain is due out soon, and if the recent single releases are anything to go by, it's going to be another classic. I for one am looking forward to hearing it.

80s era favourites; Stand Strong Stand Proud, Out Of Reach, Gutterchild
latest favourites; When You Were 17, You Can't Buy Back The Dead, Ignored To Death, If I Knew What I Know Now

Check out Vice Squad if you're still a punk at heart.

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Under the Oak Tree...

Posted on 29th February 2020

So for the February spotlight, I'm going to look at a band called Cellar Darling.

The band are from Switzerland, and grew out of a band called Eluveitie, which has been around since 2002, mixing folk, symphonic metal, rock and death metal. Think All About Eve combined with Killswitch Engage, singing in a language you've never heard before, and you'll be close. All three members of Cellar Darling were in Eluveitie. but left in 2016 to form Cellar Darling.

There are some elements of Cellar Darling that will be familiar to fans of Eluveitie, but Cellar Darling have a much more accessible style, taking just the folk rock and symphonic rock elements with them. Anna, vocalist, flautist, synths and Hurdy-Gurdy player, brings the folk style, while guitarist/bassist Ivo and drummer Merlin bring the symphonic style to the band. For me Cellar Darling bring a cleaner style to the genre than some other bands, and without meaning to be detrimental, they have a refreshingly simpler sound. As a consequence, they breath life into songs and stories, where other bands often sound like they're trying too hard.

Their first album, This Is the Sound, was released in 2017. It manages to conjure an almost medievel landscape though the words and music, and maybe because I know where the come from, they evoke visions of Alpine escapades through forests and over mountain trails, somewhere around Switzerland, Austria and Southern Germany. It's a wonderful mix of ethereal folk, driving rock rythmns, together with some atomspheric synth sounds. As a debut album, it certainly packs a punch and sets the table for a successor.

That follow-up came in 2019 in the form of The Spell, a concept album, which portrays some very Grimms Fairy Tale style storying telling, with contemporary themes, and poignant lyrics. Once again that driving rock soundscape underpins a very classical influenced vocal. The folk elements are deliciously woven throughout the album, with flute, hurdy-gurdy and acoustic guitar all making appearances. In the song Death, there features a middle section apart from the rest of the song, and I can't help be reminded of the song Black Sabbath by (obviously) Black Sabbath. Both pieces are haunting, atmospheric and sinister, and although the two bands are quite different, they both capture that dramatic feeling, drawing you into the story and taking you to another world. Burn also has that undercurrent of early 70s Sabbath influence too, but again woven intricately with many other influences too.

All in all, they are a fine addition to the Symphonic Rock genre, which they seem most often attributed, but they are so much more than that too. I look forward to them touring the UK, as I can imagine they are quite something to see live. Favourite songs currently are Black Moon and Death. If you want to find out more, head over to
https://www.cellardarling.com/ and check them out.

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Sea Of Faces

Posted on 31st January 2020

So what is this monthly blog post idea I had. Well, over the years I've happened upon some wonderful music, and some amazing musicians and songwriters. Some have gone on to great things, others have left their mark, but not necessarily found their audience. It has always frustrates me that record labels turn their back on some of these great bands and artists, until they are a "success". Social Media has really helped over the last 10 years or so, but I thought it might be nice to highlight some really interesting bands and artists that I come across. Some might have been around for a while, some are fairly new, a few are either on hiatus or have split, but all are still worthy of spreading the word, as someone else may discover and enjoy it as much as I have.

 


So who is first up?

I very recently came across this band while looking through bandcamp. The band are Code Ascending, who have been performing since around 2015, releasing two EPs, and more recently an album. They are 3-piece hailing from Crawley, West Sussex, where a certain other band started as a 3-piece, and went on to major world wide success.

The first EP, What I Choose To Forget, was released in April 2016, and showcases a band that are slightly rough around the edges, which personally I love, but still have at their core a very focused sound and identity. The second EP, Pre-emption, released in March 2017, takes a step forward in the production, and brings more of the band's character to life. With their first album, Dark Taxa released in December 2019, comes a much more polished production with an audible step up in song-writing, and some wonderfully brooding soundscapes.

The band remind me to a degree, of some of the indepentdent bands I picked up on during the early to mid 90s. In particular, some elements of Prolapse, Thrum, and Ride are in there, but overall Code Ascending have brought ahard driving background to their songs, thanks largely to a great bass sound and some solid drum work, with some delightful riffs and solos weaving between them. The vocals fit the music perfectly, and in many ways are a subtle accompaniment to the music, rather than necessarily being the focal point. All this belies their ambient and showgazing tags, as there is so much more to them that this. Not quiet sure what tags I would include though, as they are the kind of band that touches on the fringes of several genres, without establishing themselves in any particular one.

I'm really hoping that they get to make it to the midlands for some gigs in the not too distant future, as I have no doubt they must be formidable live. In fact, I really hope they get interest from promoters to take them up and down the country, as I have no doubt that they could easily take their sound from small clubs to major arenas, given the chance. 

Favourite songs so far have been, Blink, Black Ink Ocean, and By My Side, but the rest are no slouches either. This band will be on my playlists for a long time to come.

For more information see their bandcamp pages: codeascending.bandcamp.com

File Under: music
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Reanimator

Posted on 30th January 2020

So it's been a while since I posted, and there are several reasons for that. Mostly the fact I have been busy with real life, including family and work, and haven't had the time, inclination and/or ideas to put thoughts down in this blog. However, I'm going to try and change that this year, and start a series of blog posts with themes, that I can pick up in parts over the course of the year. The aim being to post at least once a month.

This month you'll get this post, which is mostly an apology, but I have another that I have planned as the beginning of a regular once a month post. 

As you can probably tell if you've read my blog posts, my main interests are music, gaming, Perl and exploring. I've done precious little of that last one over the past few years, but hopefully that will change. Perl is still my focus at work, but my OpenSource projects have largely taken a notable backseat. That is something that will be definitely changing this year, with maybe even the occasional blog post, as I want to update a lot of the code that has been sitting around on my old laptop, waiting to be released. 

I'll take an aside here, briefly, as back in 2015 I bought a new Linux laptop, but sadly I dropped it, and damaged the screen. At the same time, work gave me a brand new laptop, so the impetus to get the personal laptop sorted fell by the way side. And by the time I thought to get it fixed, it had just passed it's warranty. I couldn't use the work laptop for my OpenSource projects, so they got put off, with minor fixes here and there, by using my webserver as a dev box. It kind of works, but not ideal for how I was used to editing, commiting and deploying to test environments. So they have languished a bit. Ok a lot! 

However, Gaming and Music have both had somewhat of a resurgence in my interest these last few years. 

Music never really went away, but my gig attendance had dropped off during the earlier part of the decade. That kind of changed when a lot of the bands I hadn't seen in a long time, or had never seen, all happened to start touring. This year I have several already booked throughout the year, so expect the odd review now and then too.

My gaming exposure, aside from board games and mobile gaming, has seen a lot more of me watching and enjoying the current retro gaming community. Many of the games I've never heard of, and those I have, I haven't played since the 80s, so it's been wonderful to see that era of gaming, a time that saw me get more into programming, come to life again. I'll never be a streamer, but I'll quite happily watch the fun of someone else playing those games now. The retro gaming community that I've discovered, also happens to have some of the loveliest people around. It's the kind of gaming community I wish I had been a part of back in the 80s ... even though there wasn't really one like there is now.

With the lack of writing over the last few years, I've been out of practice with blog writing, so you'll have to forgive my rambling for a while. I might get there one day!

Any road up, expect some music posts, Perl posts and maybe other rambling, notes and rantings. 

File Under: games / life / music / perl / rant
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Fly By Night

Posted on 31st July 2017

In the summer of 2015, there was an art project in and around Birmingham called The Big Hoot. It consisted of 90 large owls (The Big Hoot) and 108 little owls (The Little Hoot), sponsored by various businesses, communities, schools and artists, in aid of the Birmingham Children's Hospital (and two other charities), and was run by Wild In Art

The owls were mostly in open areas, so could be seen 24/7. However, some, particularly the little owls, were indoors. It did mean you had to choose carefully when you went hunting for the owls, as not all the places were open at weekends, even Saturdays, which is when the majority of people had time to take their kids out and about. With so many owls to find, and spread over quite a wide area (including Rainforest at Twycross Zoo), it wasn't a hunt you would be able to do in one day, which meant you could plan trips to different areas of the West Midlands to "collect" a small parliment of owls at a time.

Ethne and I downloaded the app, planned out several weekends worth of bus, car and walking trips, and went hunting. Mostly we used the bus and walked, particularly around Brum city centre, but you really did need a car to reach those owls a bit further afield. It was great fun, and although we got to see all the big owls, sadly we missed out on the small owls in Sutton Coldfield, as they were taken away before the end of the event for the big owls, as we hadn't been aware of the different deadlines for the little and big owls. 

The app was a great help, as in some cases some of the owls weren't in obvious locations, and the location map helped to show where we were in relation to the owl we were looking for. The rewards were mostly discounts for things we weren't interested in, but some we did get to enjoy. In particular many thanks to Best Western Premier Moor Hall Hotel and Spa, who gave Ethne and I each an owl shaped shortbread biscuit for finding the Love Owl. Definitely our favourite reward. That was the end of one particularly long day and we took the time to have a lovely cup of tea (for me) and a hot chocolate (for Ethne) as well.

Each owl had a QR code on the base to use with the app to mark the owl you'd found, and potentially unlock an applicable reward. It was a handy way to quickly check off the owls as you found them, but did mean you need the app and a mobile device that could recognise QR codes. As such, we did see several people resorting to pen and the Trail Map to tick them off.

Ethne and I didn't have one particular favourite, as there were far too many great owls on display. However, if I could have afforded it, I would have loved to have bid on Ozzy's Owl or Dr Whoot. Either would have looked great in our garden :) In the end, the auction of the owls raised £508,035 for three charities, the bulk going to Birmingham Children's Hospital, with £15,000 going to Edward's Trust and £7,800 going to Birchfield Harriers.

Despite the disappointment of not getting to see all the little owls, it was a great opportunity to travel to parts of Birmingham, and further afield, that we might not otherwise have done. It also meant Ethne and I both got to travel the full route of the No. 11 bus round the Birmingham Outer Circle for the very first time.

Below are our collection of photos of the owls, selfies and some extra scenic photos we took along the way. 

File Under: art / birmingham
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