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Saturday, 14 February 2015

Don't throw stones at Arnold!

Now and again, when the thought takes me, I‘ll listen to an audiobook as I work.  Recently I listened to ‘Total Recall‘ by Arnold Schwarzenegger and I have to admit having read his book (and listened to it again) I find his life very inspirational.

It is not often you’ll find someone with such drive and ambition. He set out to be the worlds best bodybuilder, make millions from property investment, break into film and then become the highest paid action star and become Governor of California.  And he managed it all!!  Like he says, not bad for someone from a small Austrian village.

I also frequently listen to an excerpt of a commencement speech he gave. You can find it on YouTube as his 6 rules to success.

I especially like the last rule, ‘Give something back’ and this is something I am currently working on.  It’s all well and good making a success of your life (in whatever form that takes for you), but it is equally important to give something back in return.

I listen to this clip for his rules to success on a regular basis and I have added two extras of my own.

  • If something is upsetting you today, stop and think about whether it will bother you 5 years from now.  If the answer is yes, then do something about it, but if the answer is no, then do your best to let it go.  

I know this doesn’t apply in all situations, but it is a good way to get some perspective and not be affected by the day-to-day work politics that can quickly drag you down.

Linked to this idea about non-engagement with negativity is a quote I love from Winston Churchill.

  •  “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.”

I have printed this off and stuck it to the wall at work.  Whenever I receive another trivial email, or someone tries to drag me into another petty argument I read and remember this quote and don’t engage. After last year ended in a particularly stressful way, it has been an invaluable mindset to put myself in.

There are plenty more quotes, philosophies and ideas that inspire and guide me, but these are the thoughts that are helping me at the moment.  I’m sure in time I’ll move onto other sources for that extra boost I need, but I hope by sharing these with you they will help as much as they have been helping me.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Traditional shaving.

For a long time now, whenever I shaved, I always found myself with a terrible shaving rash and red, bumpy skin. It got to the point when I could only shave twice a week as it was just too uncomfortable to shave any more than this and it looked unsightly and raw.

I, like the majority of men out there who wet shave, used a cartridge razor (like the Gillette Mach 3) and store bought gel and it got to the point when I started wondering whether it was these very things that was causing the problems I was experiencing.

I looked at some male grooming websites and quickly came across the advice that traditional double edge razors may actually alleviate the problems I have been having and give me a closer shave to boot. All the sites seemed to say cartridge razors basically rip the hair out, rather than cutting it neatly and whilst 5 blades and moisturising strips may sound fancy, you only really need one sharp blade and good technique.  It seemed incongruous to me that something that was meant to be improved upon by disposal cartridge razors could actually be better, but the more I read, the more the advice concurred that this was the way to go.  I also read that these self foaming store bought gels are so full of chemicals that they aren’t great for skin either.

I went to a shaving website ( and got some fantastic advice from their advisor (a very helpful guy called Brian who I heartily recommend you contacting if you want more info) and after a few emails back and forth I ordered a DE Safety razor, some traditional shaving soap, a badger brush, an alum block and some blades.  The initial outlay for a DE razor is obviously more than a cartridge razor, but the blades are a small fraction of the cost and you will very quickly recoup your costs.  It seems the disposal cartridge razor may have been partly developed by the companies to make more money, as they sell these at a higher cost and on a more regular basis.

Now I won’t lie, the first time I used the razor it was a little bit of a blood bath and it is a steep learning curve from cartridge razors to DE razors. I did the prep by softening my stubble in the shower, I lathered and applied the soap and I shaved going by the advice from some great YouTube videos. (Geofatboy is easily the best, by a wide margin.  I finished up with the alum block and some moisturiser.  The result was a smooth shave, but I wasn’t fully sold yet.

I tried again a few days later with much more success and finished with easily the closest, smoothest shave I have ever had. I can honestly say the last time my face was that soft and smooth was before puberty and starting to shave!!  Even better the shaving rash was now a thing of the past.  Over the past few months I have gradually gotten better with my technique and I have a nice routine in place now.  There is something Zen like about the whole routine and it is great to take some time just for me to focus on a task and fully immerse myself in the process.  This may sound silly, but it is something just for me, as my wife obviously doesn’t need to shave; so the creams/soaps, use of the badger brush, shaving process and end result is a very masculine time from start to finish.

Eventually I would like to try a straight razor, but I will continue using DE razors for the time being.  One thing I have noticed is it has given me more pride in my appearance and grooming overall (although I wasn’t a slob by any stretch of the imagination beforehand) and it feels more serious, grown up and dare I say manly than my old routine.  Needless to say I will not be going back to cartridge razors and I can whole heartedly say if you’ve not tried it then give it a go.  It may take slightly longer to do, but that is actually a positive part of it for me now and it has made a daily chore something actually quite enjoyable. It is well worth the effort.

Here is my routine in case you wanted to know:

  • Pre-soak badger brush in cup of hot water.
  • Soften stubble whilst in a hot shower.
  • Use brush to lather up with traditional shaving soap or cream.
  • Shave with the grain.
  • Rinse and re-lather.
  • Shave across the grain from ear to nose.
  • Rinse and re-lather.
  • Shave across the grain from nose to ear.
  • Rinse and re-lather just to shave any last minor areas against the grain that may need it.
  • Rinse fully, then rinse again in ice cold water to close pores.
  • Wet alum block and run over face to close and treat any nicks and also find which areas I may have shaved too hard and I need to focus on next time.(You can tell this as Alum is an astringent and antispetic and will sting lightly).
  • Let alum sit on face for a minute, then rinse.
  • Pat dry face (never rub dry).
  • Apply moisturiser or aftershave balm.
  • Spend rest of evening noticing just how soft my newly shaved face is!

And there you have it.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Is it better to go short or long on Hemingway?

So, my dad emailed me about some books yesterday and I found the exchange so rewarding that I thought I'd include it here (with a few edits for clarity).  OK, so it's not music related, but I thought f**k it, it's my blog and I'll do as I damn well please. I hope you feel like this is a worthwhile read.

My dad emailed me and asked,

"I read on holiday, for the first time ever, "Catcher In The Rye" and "To Kill A Mockingbird" and loved them both. In the back of one of these books they recommended the "First 49 Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway". I read a few of his novels in my younger years but had no idea that he had written many short stories. Have you read any? Would you recommend them?"

My reply is as follows.

I read 'Catcher in the Rye' many moons ago and whilst it was a good enough read, I failed to see quite why it had such an impact. I think it may be one of those books that had such a kick due to the time it was published etc. 'To Kill a Mockingbird' however, I could see why it was such a classic. Wonderful book, well written.

Hemingway? Hmmm. I have mixed feelings about him now. Yes I've read the 49 short stories and enjoyed them immensely. They were written at the start of his career when he was fresh and full of vim. They are very much in his early journalistic style and very enjoyable. I have read every single one of his books and adored a handful of his novels, was ambivalent about most of the rest and thoroughly underwhlemed with another handful. I remember one particular part in a generally underwheming book 'Island in the Stream' which broke my heart though. It describes the loss of a son and the way it is written breaks you. Hemingway makes you love the boy and then when he dies it crushes you.
I like how his novels (the good ones anyway) kinda mirror life, in that they have moments of great happiness, moments of great sadness, but mostly end with tragedy. 'Farewell to arms' is one like this, such romance and passion and yet such sadness in equal measure, that you feel all the more because of the prior romance.
My aunt and I have spoken about Hemingway in great length (at times heatedly when I was younger!) and we have come to the conclusion that Hemingway is great for adolescent or young men and if you find his work at that time (such as I did) then you love the machismo and message, but if you find him later (or even as you grow up) the appeal wears off. He used to be my favourite author, but that hasn't been the case in a long time. Now I adore with an unbridled passion the work of Steinbeck and having read all of his novels I can say, whilst some are slightly less powerful than others, all are beautiful and emotive.
I took pilgrimages to Hemingways house and haunts when in Cuba, in fact it was a big part of my decision to go there. I took even more of a pilgrimage to Salinas and the Steinbeck museum when in California and again his books were a big part of my decision to go there.
What can I say, books move me to take pilgrimages!

Anyway, I digress. Yes read Hemingway's short stories, but if I had to recommend a short story collection right now I would suggest 'My Fathers Tears' by John Updike. I only found Updike in the past 5 years or so and fell in love with his style immediately. His style grips me in my stomach and twists the whole time I read him. 'My Fathers Tears' was his last collection before he died and I love it.
Another short story collection I recommend is 'Eleven Kinds of Loneliness' by Richard Yates whose style is very similar to Updike."

After this there was some other points about other books that aren't relevant here. But that was the crux of our exchange.  What are your thoughts on Hemingway, Steinbeck, Updike and short stories in general? Hells, as this was originally a music inspired blog, do you read in silence or do you play music as you read?  I'd love to hear your thoughts?

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Musical eye matchsticks.

Man, I’m tired.  I mean I am really shattered right now. It’s been a while since I wrote anything on here and that is largely due to the new job completely wiping me out.  I am working 6 day weeks and flat out to keep on top of things.  But you guys didn’t come here to hear me complaining about my work situation. (To be honest I’m not complaining too hard.  I may be tired and propping my eyes open with matchsticks, but the job is certainly rewarding and even enjoyable some days).

But more than ever I have realised again and again how music can keep us going when times get tough.  I have found it especially hard to gee myself up when I was working another early Saturday morning and made up an ‘Upbeat Mix’ on the ipod to blast out loud and proud as I work away.

It has taken some tweaking with some songs removed and others added over the weeks, but now I have about 6 hours of songs that keep me positive and bouncing along when my determination starts to waiver.

The problem I had is that while I adore some songs (like ‘Black flies’ by Ben Howard) the tempo is way too slow and the song is too atmospheric and moody to keep my feet tapping. So I had to choose songs that had enough oomph to give me a boost and which had a good tempo to keep pushing me onwards. Some people would refer to a list like this as an exercise list and I guess you could use it for that.  But for me this is a playlist that buoys me up and keeps me positive as I work away in the darker autumn and winter months.

I’ll give you a brief run down of some of the tracks.

So I start off with ‘Impressions’ by Wes Montgomery. A nice jazz number to ease me into things, before hitting a rock n roll section with Johnny B Goode by Chuck Berry, La Bamba and various tracks by The Beach Boys amongst others. This leads into some old skool soul, most notably various tracks from The Blue Brothers soundtrack. I then jump to rap and more modern stuff, this includes Will Smith, Eminem, Black Eyed Peas, some more dancy stuff from Moby and my one kitsch, camp indulgence ‘Call Me Maybe’ by Carly Rae Jepson (god damn it, I know I lose cool points for that last one, but I love that catchy little number!).
    We move onto the rock and metal section with AC/DC, Electric Six, Foo Fighters, Iron Maiden, Metallica, System of a Down to name but a very few. We now go onto a bit of a mish mash to finish things up. This includes Huey Lewis, Mumford and Sons, Two Door Cinema Club, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Imelda May and long list of other artists where I have chosen a single or maybe two tracks of each.

All in all this playlist does its job very well and not only does it push me to work harder when I am flagging, but I often finish it in a better mood than when I started. I know I have spoken about the medicinal benefits of music in the past, but this playlist is a perfectly tailored, aural neon pill that motivates and inspires me every time

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Playing everything I own.

What with recently moving house I’ve had certain financial restrictions in the past few months and my music purchasing has dwindled to zero.  As many of you will know this is unheard of for me and I have a wish list on Amazon that is growing by the day.

But to keep me going and stave off those musical purchase cravings I have been doing something that has been an interesting way to experience my music in a whole new light.  I have put my ipod onto shuffle for every track I have.  I started this on the 8th August and yesterday reached a quarter of the way through.  I have already heard so many tracks that I haven’t played in years and I love it when an old favourite pops up as well.  There are other tracks or artists that I’ve heard that made me think ‘what the hell was I doing buying that’, or made me realise how my tastes have changed over the years.

It’s made me realise that, despite my vast collection, I have a core of a few hundred albums that I play frequently.  There are certain artists that I play a lot and some I played once when I bought the CD and then never again.  The eclectic, sometimes ‘out there’ world music I own may be interesting to experiment with, but it is not something I play on a regular basis.

Many albums that sit in this core are ones that I grew up with, either listening via my parents or in my teenage years and strangely enough another handful come from albums in the past 3 years.  I may enjoy new music, but I have my old fallback options that keep popping up.

The only tracks I have skipped so far have been audio book tracks, language course tracks and the odd Opera track when it doesn’t flow without the wider composition.  Apart from that I have played everything.

As songs have come on and I’ve re-experienced them with a new mindset and view, I have been making mental note to play certain albums in their entirety when I go back to playing music in a more selective way.

I guess at this rate I have at least another 8-9 months before I have played my whole ipod through and I doubt I can hold off buying new music in this time.  I will play these new albums at home and continue with the shuffle at work and not update the ipod until I’ve reached the end.

So far I’ve come across some lost classics and realised my core listening may not be as varied as I’d once thought, but I guess this is probably true for all of us.  We don’t mind an experiment now and then, but we like to come back to what is comforting and familiar.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but just maybe playing everything I own in this way will push my core of music out that little bit further.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Organising your music collection.

It’s been a hectic few months that’s for sure.  What with starting a new job and selling my house, I have been up to my neck in work and various chores.  But, now we are getting closer to the moving date, I have been packing and organising my music collection.

A big part of this is making sure everything is packed in a way so that it won’t get damaged.  I have had to ensure the boxes are thick enough to protect the CD jewel cases and tall enough so I can store my vinyl correctly.  It has been interesting finding some gems that I forgot I owned and enjoying seeing my complete collection of certain artists as I pack them securely in their boxes.

Once I move I will have to think of a way to store and display my collection in a suitable way.  Over the years it has kind of grown out of the various shelves and became jumbled and now I need to impose some order upon it again.  My father recently helped my brother build some bespoke shelves for his music collection and maybe that is something he’d be willing to do again.

Now the old question.  Do I display everything alphabetically and risk having Mozart being bed fellows with Madonna (I‘m not sure how either would feel about this arrangement)?  Or Seasick Steve and Sepultura next to each other vying for the dubious honour of most outlandish guitar sound.  Or even Will Smith with his modern rap style nestled next to Winston Churchill and his traditional English language during his war time speeches, each mildly offended by the other.  Or do I do it (as now) by genre and have my blues, jazz and metal collections all sitting in their own respective niches?  Never the musical twain shall meet on the shelves, as is often the case in real life. 

If I do it this way I get into another dilema. Is Gary Moore filed under blues or rock?  He has done both styles in his career.  Would you class a classical film soundtrack as classical or soundtrack?  Is Aretha Franklin soul or gospel when both styles are covered, often on the same album? And so the questions go on.

A part of me relishes the idea of sitting on the floor in my new study over the coming months as the seasons move from autumn to winter.  I’ll brew up a nice cup of tea, have a plate of biscuits and play various albums and songs as I organise my vast music collection.  There is something comforting in this task, although I’m sure it may be frustrating at times.

The funny thing is, in time I hope to build an extension on the house I’ve just bought  and have a proper study with built-in shelves and CD racking.  And then I’ll have to do it all over again.  I hope by that time Mozart and Madonna will have resolved their differences and will know if they’re willing to be shelf mates or not.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Sharing New Music

To my mind the only thing better than finding new music is sharing it with someone you know will love and appreciate it as much as you do.

Often my brother, dad and I will text and email each other with  the latest musical gems we have found and occasionally when finances allow it I will send over a copy of a CD that has so moved me, so they can appreciate it straight away.  We have all found some great music in this way.

A lot of my early music listening came from my brother, dad and step-dad and it gave me a solid grounding in classic rock and classical music that has stood me in good stead to this day.  But, there is a certain special feeling when you start to discover music for yourself and you’re able to return the favour and pass the music back.

A friend of mine used to introduce me to new music on a regular basis and he was part of that time I have written about before (‘Getting Hooked on Audioslave’) where my work colleagues and I shared music a lot.  I remember he was very conscious never to hand hold me exactly to a particular track or album and he’d often lend me an album and say afterwards ‘did you like any song in particular’ and then delight when I was as moved by one specific track over all the others.

One time he did this was with the Alice in Chains EP ‘Jar of Flies’.  I borrowed the album and listened to it a few times as I worked and one song in particular hit me full force.  The second track ‘Nutshell’ is an example of stunning song writing and brooding melancholy that I just love sometimes.  I recall it was early autumn when I first heard it and it was perfect for the change in seasons and feel in the air.

Afterwards my friend asked his usual question of which song I liked most and when I told him it was Nutshell he was so happy that I had ‘chosen’ the same song that moves him the most too.  We spoke about it for ages and how much impact it has on first listen and he told me it only gets better with repeated playing.  Needless to say I went and bought the EP that lunch time and I have to say he was right, that particular song only gets better each time I hear it and I play it frequently throughout the year.

It is great to see that not only do I get great pleasure from sharing powerful, emotive music, but so do other of my friends and family who feel the power of music as much as me.  At its most basic it is a form of social bonding to share these emotions and feelings via the shorthand of music and it is a unique gift I am thankful for every day.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

My second try of Moby

I’ve been listening to Moby a lot lately and it has got me thinking.  The four main albums I have been playing are ‘Play’, ‘18’, ‘Hotel’ and ‘Destroyed’ and of these ‘Play’ is the most well known and is classed as his break-though album. 

So many tracks from this album were used in adverts and in films and TV shows that at one point after its release you heard snippets of this album everywhere.  For me this album will be forever linked with some time I spent in New Zealand where I bought the CD and played it as I drove around this stunning and memorable country.

For a long time this was the only album I owned by Moby, for despite liking the music on offer, it didn’t really move me or inspire me to go out and buy any more.  That is until I heard a song in a film and when I looked on IMDB I found out it was a Moby song called ‘Be the One’ from the ‘Destroyed’ album.  I bought the album at a reasonable price and fell in love with it. 

The other songs on the album were as moving as the ‘Be the One’ and I loved the way most songs gradually built and increased in intensity and emotion.  After a few listens I was hooked and I quickly bought ‘18’ and ‘Hotel’ shortly afterwards. 

My general feelings were the same and both of these albums are excellent.  I especially like the track ‘Lift me up’ from ‘Hotel’. 

It is funny how a particular album from an artist is the one that everyone knows and buys and sometimes they can be unfairly (and sometimes fairly) judged on this one commercial success.  Their earlier albums may be just as good, if not better and that applies for subsequent albums, but if we restrict ourselves to just the album that we know best we will never know.

My brother mentioned he had experienced a similar thing when I mentioned this to him. He said he had been disappointed by an album that was an artists break-through album, but loved their other work and conversely he has loved a break-though album and nothing else before or since.

I guess the lesson here is to explore an artists output in more depth before we pass judgement and if you aren’t overly enamoured with one album, give another one a try and see how you get on.  With the advent of YouTube, Spotify and preview functions on online music stores, it is much easier to sample music than when I started off buying music on cassette and vinyl all those years ago.

So whilst I truly like (but don’t love) ‘Play’, I can say I love and heartily recommend ‘Destroyed’.  Give some songs a try online and if you like what you hear, buy it and enjoy some of the beautiful tracks on offer.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Laughing with my Music.

Although I am very serious about my love of music, not all music has to be serious for us to enjoy.  I can think of numerous albums and artists that have created funny or humorous music that I enjoy listening to.

One album my wife and I love is the debut from Electric Six.  Not only does this have some great rock, but the lyrics are hilarious too.  Most people know their hit ‘Gay Bar’, but ‘Danger! High Voltage’ and ‘Naked Pictures (Of Your Mother)’ also crack me up too.  The whole album doesn’t take itself too seriously and is a quick blast of upbeat, fun music.

Steve Poltz is a musician I have interviewed on the blog before (Musical Influences: Steve Poltz) and his humour is zany, offbeat and infectious.  If you follow him on Facebook you will often read his hilarious little stories and thoughts and whilst his earlier albums had more serious lyrics, some later songs are hilarious and he often posts them on YouTube for us to enjoy.  He also does small skits on YouTube that I love.  One were he teaches you to say ‘dude’ under various circumstances is a lot funnier than it sounds.

Tenacious D’s first album was great for it’s mix of music and the brief interludes in-between where Jack Black and Kyle Gass joke around and act out various segments.  It adds to the songs, most of which have funny lyrics too.  So not only do you get some cracking rock songs (I’m thinking of ‘Tribute’ here), but you also get some tongue in cheek humour to boot.

Will Smith also uses brief humorous interludes between tracks on his ‘Big Willie Style’ album and it works to keep the whole album upbeat and fun.

Jeffrey Lewis is another artist in the Steve Poltz vein, where his music is credible in its own right, but also manages to be funny.  Their styles aren’t too dissimilar either. On one song Jeff tells us to ‘Never Let the Record Label Take You Out To Lunch’ as they’ll make you pay at the end of the day and he also teaches us how to kill Zombies on ‘If You Shoot the Head You Kill the Ghoul’.  Both good advice wrapped up in a musical package I’d say.  I adore the title of the album these songs come off of, ‘It’s the Ones Who’ve Cracked that the Light Shines Through’, couldn’t put it better myself.

So, as you can see, music doesn’t have to be brooding or serious to be credible and I can think of other artists who use humour in their music or performances (like Chas and Dave who I’ve written about before) and I’m sure you can think of many more and can suggest your own. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Hating and loving Kings of Leon

Have you ever bought an album that on first playing you absolutely hated and then after subsequent listens you ended up loving?

Many years ago I had exactly this situation.  I was in a supermarket with some friends from work buying lunch.  I walked down the CD aisle and bought the new debut album from Kings of Leon, ‘Youth and Young Manhood’, based on a magazine recommendation.

I returned back to work and after eating lunch put it into my CD player and gave it a try.  My knee jerk reaction was not good.  I didn’t like the singers voice (I felt he was trying to rip off Tom Petty badly) and the music didn’t really impress or grab me.  I admit I felt it was too sloppy.  I immediately started telling everyone what a load of rubbish it was and to not bother buying it. 

I took it home and gave it another couple of listens that evening and over the next few days my feelings towards it softened and I started to appreciate individual songs and how the album sat together as a whole.  I even started to enjoy the singers voice which suited the music perfectly and where before I thought the music was sloppy, I realised it was delightfully loose and free.  By the end of the week I was back at work telling everyone I was wrong and they should give it a try.

I felt a bit sheepish and everyone laughed at my expense, but at least I could admit my mistake and recommend it.  Over the years I have listened to this album many times and I always enjoy it (I‘m playing it now as I write this).

The only other time I can think of that something similar has happened was when Red Hot Chili Peppers brought out ‘By the Way.  Up to this point I had been used to ‘Californication’ and ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’ and the sound to my ears was very different.  I could not gel with the album at all and lamented the fact that a great band had lost it’s spark and drive.

Again I gave the album a fair chance and a few more listens and after I warmed to it I could see it had some incredible songs on it.  Now I am slightly embarrassed to say it is probably my favourite album of theirs and I have listened to this album more than any others.

The lesson here is a) not to judge an album on first listen, b) don’t judge it based on past works and c) give any album a fair few listens before you make any judgement at all.  Thankfully I learnt this lesson reasonably quickly and even now when I get an album that doesn’t hit me first time I give it a fair chance before making up my mind. On the odd occasion I’ve even come back to an album many years later and realised how good it is.  I guess sometimes it is as much about the time in your own life that you first hear an album as the album itself.  And sometimes you were right and an album is just bad and you have to trust your own taste!