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January 30, 2009

Rockschool And Pointy Fingers

Rockschool again last night. Went okay. Had to perform two of the songs we're learning for the exam as best as we could, mistakes allowed and/or encouraged!

My performance of "X-Blues III" was 90% okay right up until the main part of the song, where it goes into a call and response pattern based on the A major and A minor blues scales. For some reason I simply couldn't get to the strings quick enough to play the major 'call' riff cleanly.

The riff goes like this:

e --------------------------------
B --------------------------------
G --------2-------4b6---2h4---2---
D ---/4-------4-----------0---0---
A --------------------------------
E --------------------------------

On paper it doesn't look too tricky. However, when trying to play it cleanly at speed, switching between the D and G-strings was causing me no end of problems.

Teach tried it a couple of times the way I had played it, all with 1st and 3rd fingers. He mused for a moment then pulled out yet another Eureka/D'Oh solution (he's good with those)... Use the 2nd, pointy finger on the D and the middle finger on the G. That way you can play the 3rd note immediately followed by the bend and you don't have to take time to jump strings. Bingo. Sorted! I'm sure I've been doing the exact same thing on other blues-type licks that I've not been able to nail. Looks like I have some de-programming to do! Sometimes it's the simple solutions that you simply don't see. In this instance I've always played that pentatonic box using 1st and 3rd fingers. It never even occurred to me that I should throw away the rules and play it the easy way!

"All Funked Up" was also going really well... until it went horribly, irretrievably wrong! Since the weather turned cold I've been loathe to take Red out on the bike and subject him to such extremes of temperature. So, I've been using my old LP copy at school. So far it's stood up pretty well. It's even been staying in tune, which is a minor miracle. I imagine that in the two years since I played it last the machine heads have seized slightly!

Anyway, so there I was, laying down a funky groove, when there was this weird 'ping' and a tiny tightening sensation under my fretting hand. I figured I'd broken a string... no... all still there. I played on. Everything seemed fine until I got to a run where you fret the two highest strings across the 2nd then 4th, 5th and 7th frets. All of a sudden it sounded like the worst out-of-tune mess ever. What the hell?!?! I persevered for a bit then had to drop out. Something was clearly wrong.

It actually took me a minute or so to locate the problem. The high E-string had actually pulled off the fingerboard and become lodged under the 5th fret! No wonder the damn thing wasn't in tune anymore!!!! Pretty much, the frets have started to lift a bit and the binding on the neck never really was all there. Oh well. I'll try tapping the frets gently back into place, but it may require a complete re-fretting.

After our recitals we ran through some ear-training exercises. Bloody difficult. The idea is that you listen to a 4 bar melody line, then you have to repeat it on your guitar. Okay, so it's limited to a few scales, but even so, musical recall is no easy task. Usually you half remember the first phrase but then when you try and think back to the second you draw a blank.

At this stage the class put their heads together to try and decide which exam route to take. You have a choice of either performing 5 pieces or you can do 3 pieces then be tortured with tests such as the musical recall one, above. To get the most out of the course, it's probably better to take the tests... but perhaps the performance exam would be easier to pass...?

Dunno. The lower graders immediately chose to learn 5 songs. The upper graders reluctantly decided that it'd be smart to have some knowledge-based stuff in there. Guitarists are lazy... we don't want to have to actually work at this!

After much debate we elected to spend one hour of each lesson from now on focusing on the performance pieces and then to spend the other half of the lesson delving into musicianship skills. Next week is improvisation. That should be interesting. I can noodle pretty well when it's just me, backed up by the Allmans, Derek Trucks or one the the Kings... B.B... Albert and so on, but I definitely need to figure out how to make sure things don't falling apart in the context of a live band.

I'm not sure which exam path I want to take. I'm not even really concerned about taking/passing the exam! I'm just there to become a better guitarist... I guess that means I should be taking the tests...?

Last but not least, I'm looking forward to actually using my new Blackstar amp over the weekend... assuming I get the chance! There may be a review on the way... maybe pictures... maybe audio samples! We shall see...

January 29, 2009

Grace Jones Live @ Camden Roundhouse

Iconic musical fashionista or unpredictable, scary TV presenter molester... you decide!

I'm going with fiery 60 year-old pole-dancing diva!

Quite the show for a grandmother! A costume change at the end of every single song, accompanied by rather racy, lascivious off-stage commentary. Wind machines, lasers... and fabulous hats!

[and Grace, if you read this, the grandmother thing was meant as a compliment... please don't hurt me]

I'd love to meet Grace Jones, though I'm pretty sure if I ever did I'd pee in my pants.

January 27, 2009

Rockschool... What Rockschool?

I knew it would happen.

I took my new amp out of the box and... well, I didn't spend much time on my Rockschool homework! This is by no means a definitive review of the beastie, but... IT'S VERY COOL! Absolutely no background noise. Good clean. Good crunch. Very controllable. Easy to dial up a fab sound at any volume. I'm sure it'll go loud, too, but I didn't have to take it off it's leash to get a nice sound!

More later...

What's In The Box?

No prizes for guessing!!!!

Yes, I couldn't wait until 'after school' to check out the Blackstar so I trucked it down to Ivor Mairants Music Centre on Rathbone Place at lunchtime. They had two HT-5 combos in stock. I snagged the boxed up one rather than the display/demo model. Hopefully it's all good.

Now I just have to get it home...

I may not actually jam on it until the weekend, though. I need to practice my rockschool stuff and, whilst being amped up would be a good thing, I might be tempted to waste away the few hours I have left noodling rather than being productive. We'll see... Wednesday night sees us in the glorious company of Ms Grace Jones at the Camden Roundhouse, then on Thursday I have Rockschool followed by gym. Friday night sees us at the Annie Liebovitz exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery. Last chance before it closes. That brings us to the weekend, so realistically, if I don't unleash the beast tonight, it'll have to slumber for a few days yet. Then again, on Saturday we have a friend coming in from Paris and a birthday do in the evening. D'Oh!

Maybe I should take a look inside the box this evening... just a peek...

January 26, 2009

Valve Shootout

I think I'm coming to a conclusion about which valve combo to get... and that's even without managing to sit down with any of them for a test drive!!!!

After discounting the Mesa Boogie Lone Star Special (sigh) my shortlist of amps included such toys as the Epiphone Valve Junior and the Blackstar HT-5. I briefly allowed myself to consider the Orange Tiny Terror but a) 15W is way OTT for my needs and b) you should have seen Tim's face the last time I brought home an Orange (ORANGE!) amp. He gave me the look of 'either it goes, or I do'. Fortunately, at the time we were renting a place with a semi-finished basement, so the little eyesore could be hidden away so as not to offend his furniture-matching sensibilities!

Nevertheless, having been the recipient of 'the look' once, I figure that an important consideration when selecting an amp is that it has to be as low-impact as possible.

Now, all my opinions about the amps I've considered have been purely based on internet research, so...

Whilst the Epiphone was initially a very attractive proposition, when it comes down to it I'm not 100% certain that it's versatile enough for my needs (or at least for my desires). It sports a bewildering array of knobs and features... input jack... a volume control... a power on/off switch...

...but whilst the simplicity of the thing appeals to me, I'm not sure I can live with the fact that I might have to push it really hard to get some decent overdrive.

Having said that, when it was £75, that wouldn't have mattered. Now that the price of the combo has gone up to £125 it's much less appealing. Having said that, you could add a few pedals in there to get 'the sound'... but adding pedals is the opposite of what I want to do. I currently only own one pedal, a Vox Wah... and I don't use that much right now. I'm lazy. I want to plug in and play, not faff around with cables.

I can't help but think that karma is leading me towards the Blackstar HT-5 combo. Despite the recent price hike from £250 up to £300 it still seems remarkably good value on the bangs for bucks scale and you can dial up any tone you want at any volume. No, that's not 'pure valve' logic as it uses some new-fangled 'push-pull' electrickery, whatever that is, but those muso's who've tried the amps say that they sound absolutely fan-bloody-tasic.

At the end of last week I found myself in an eBay auction for a Blackstar, trying to snap up a deal. I did not win the auction as it nearly reached the price of a new one! These things are that hot right now. I have one of the shops on Denmark Street calling me when their next shipment comes in.

Needless to say there are nay-sayers as well as supporters. Some have said that on high-gain settings, when you're palm-muting in a certain way, the amp makes a 'farting sound'. Not everyone gets the farting sound from the amp... possibly it's the guitarists' version of pointing at the dog and saying 'he did it'!?! Who knows.

I'd really like to try one of these puppies out either to confirm that it's the right choice or to rule it out. The biggest problem is that they're selling like hot cakes so actually seeing one in the flesh is nigh-on impossible.

...on the 'karma' front, I wonder whether it's significant that the funds raised by selling my old amp plus a bit of practice kit would just cover the Epi... Hmmm!?!

January 25, 2009

Amp No More...

I am officially powerless...

I was slightly taken aback that waaay before the end of the eBay auction for my old VS100 amp ended someone stumped up for the Buy-It-Now price. That's twice in a row. Must be doing something right, eh?

So, chappie came around on Saturday morning and carted the old warhorse away. I didn't sugar the pill. I told him that it was starting to get ropey and might be on its last legs, but nevertheless he drove away with a gleam in his eye. Methinks he'll be on the next series of "Neighbours at War". It's a very loud beast when let out of its cage.

So, right now, as I take a break from Rockschool practice to type this, my only 'amplification' is through a little Vox Amplug. They're decent enough gadgets for practice, but not exactly versatile. It's pretty hard to get a decent 'funk' tone out of the 'Classic Rock' box that I've got. It sounds okay for the blues-rock piece that I'm working on, though.

"X Blues III" isn't a particularly challenging song but everything takes time, particularly as it's becoming increasingly clear that nobody's bothered proofing the tab. It's got some real howlers in it, for example where you can either play a simple run on one string... or if you follow the notation you'll be string-skipping all over the place and going up and down the neck randomly, stretching from fret 1 on the D-string over to fret 5 on the low E. Mmmmm... methinks not.

On the amp front I'm getting really excited about having a shiny new box to play through. I'm doing the smart thing (I'm certain I'll stick to this decision...) and getting a good quality low power all valve jobbie, as opposed to a high-end switchable boutique amp. Maybe when I'm rich and famous I'll have a music room full of such kit (and no neighbours for, like, 10 miles) but for now a basic, appropriately-sized low-power combo is what fits the bill.

I actually went out to try and demo my 'shortlist' but it seems that all the shops had 'just sold their last one'. Hey ho...

Ah well, back to it, I suppose!

January 23, 2009

Rockschool Week 12

The heat is on!

Last week we were asked to have a crack at one of the songs in the Rockschool course guide. There are various options for the exam at the end of the year, but as a minimum you need to learn 3 pieces. If you don't want to do the technical exercises (which aren't that tricky) then you can skip them and prepare 2 additional songs.

We're kind of studying in pairs and at the end of the previous session my study partner and I decided to have a go at "All Funked Up". Being away for the weekend then at a play on Tuesday night meant that I didn't have much chance to learn it. I probably spent a total of 3 hours with the song, a large proportion of which was spent trying to get a particularly nasty chord change down. More of that later.

Little did I know that we'd have to actually perform the pieces last night, albeit with the rider that we were expected and even encouraged to make lots of mistakes, but we had to keep playing until the end of the backing track. Clever... very clever... getting us used to the idea that during any 'real' performance you cannot under any circumstance stop.

Anywho, we performed and it wasn't too bad at all. It's surprising how things can come together when the pressure's on. I'd only actually tried to learn the first third of the song because of an issue I was having at the end of the intro. I had to wing it, sight-reading, for the rest of the song.

Okay, so the issue was that in the intro there are 3 rounds of a phrase, followed by a 4th with a modified ending. The tab for the modified ending looks like this:

e ----------------4--4------9---9---9----
B ---9--9--9------5--5------9---9---9----
G ---9--9--9------3--3------10--10--10---
D ---8--8--8------4--4------9---9---9----
A ---9--9--9-----------------------------
E ---------------------------------------

So basically, you're supposed to jam on an F#m9 around the 9th fret then drop down so that the root's on the D-string, though the actual notes you play are identical... IDENTICAL! No octave changes or anything. Same notes, different chord shape.

I tried everything to try and get that change smooth and timely and just about got there by making sure that I kept my pinkie on the B string as I changed position, using it as a reference for the other fingers to play musical chairs around. After an hour or so just practicing that chord change I had to take a break, vowing to come back to it at a later date.

In class we asked Teach how we should be aiming to make the change smoothly. He took one look at the tab and announced that it was clearly a mistake, that there was no reason to change position when you're playing the exact same chord (unless you're a masochist). He suggested that perhaps whoever had written out the notation had used something like Sibelius and that the program had simply selected the wrong fingering for the tab. D'Oh. Once that stumbling block had been removed everything started to get a lot clearer!

The proper way to play it would then be:

e --------------------------9---9---9----
B ---9--9--9------9--9------9---9---9----
G ---9--9--9------9--9------10--10--10---
D ---8--8--8------8--8------9---9---9----
A ---9--9--9------9--9-------------------
E ---------------------------------------

...which makes much more sense!

For next week we have to work on the same song and also have a look at another. We've chosen the blues-rock track "X Blues III". I have a feeling we may also try "Sidewinder" which is very Metallica-ish.

It's funny, but when I first listened to the Grade 5 CD the idea of learning any of the tracks was really daunting. Having spent a little time with "All Funked Up" I'm feeling much more confident about things. It's going to be a challenge, but I no longer thing it's impossible!!!!

In other news, in my ongoing 'search for simplicity' (and to raise funds for my new amp... whatever that might be) I've been having a clear-out of old and unused items. One such item was a Tascam MP-GT1 guitar trainer, which sold so quickly on eBay through 'Buy It Now' that I actually wondered whether there had been some problem with the listing! The guitar trainer was a 'good idea' purchase as you could use it to store songs and slow them down, jam along through the inbuilt amp etc... the problem was that I simply didn't use it. The main stumbling block was that you have to actually rip songs you liked as mp3s then upload them to the device, charge it, blah-blah-blah. Guitarists (me particularly) are lazy. If it's not right there, ready to work for you, you don't use it. I think that's why most people who have the room usually end up building their own home studios with everything at your fingertips, ready to go at a moment's notice...

Mmmm... home studio... mmmm...

Any road up, I'm on my way to raising funds for the new amp through recycling! How green am I?

January 22, 2009

Back Where It All Began...

...or "What's that fat man doin' in the bathtub with the blues?"

Y'all think I'm crazy by now, right? No? Then you spotted that the above is a bastardised Little Feat lyric!

Don't want nobody who won't dive for dimes
Don't want no speedballs 'cause I might die trying
Throw me a line, throw me a line
'Cause there's a fat man in the bathtub with the blues

Interestingly, over the weeks that I've been moaning about wanting a new amp nobody... yes NOBODY (as far as I can remember, at least) has tried to tell me that I should ditch the plan to get an all-valve amp and stick with a trannie instead.

TRANSISTOR AMP... not the other kind of trannie...

Before I get too far off course, here's the actual tie-in to "Fatman"... for your listening pleasure I give you... [drum roll]... the Fat Man iPod dock!

It's what I would call 'full circle technology'.

Back in the day there was live music. Someone played it, you listened, you appreciated, you went home. Then some young upstart had the idea to somehow 'record' sounds, or at least a representation of them. Some 20 years later a rather clever gentleman by the name of Thomas Edison refined the idea and created the first playback device, dubbed 'the phonograph'. A decade later came the gramaphone. Technology was refined further and further and the playback quality of recordings improved immeasurably.

At some point another clever bloke or girl (NO IDEA!) realised that the human brain couldn't actually keep up with changes of a sufficient frequency and we entered the digital age. Sounds were sampled at a high rate and stored as digital information. Now, instead of climbing up and down nice gentle grassy knolls, our brains were forced to cope with stair-stepping.

It took a little thing called a 'laser' to (temporarily at least) kill off recording on magnetic tapes and listening to LPs on vinyl.

Technology got better and better. Recorded media and playback devices were tweaked in response to this quantum leap in music reproduction. Transistors replaced valves. Everything got incredibly clever and scientific.

But people could hear the difference. The new sound was artificial... it had ceased being this organic, natural thing. So, the boffins scratched their collective heads and said 'okay', you want something that's new, but which sounds old. No problem... we'll write an algorithm which replicates the old stuff but which uses efficient new-fangled, reliable technology. It'll sound the same(ish) but it'll be lighter, cheaper and more robust.

But music, especially electric guitar music, is something that abhors uniformity. It craves slippery slopes, subtle flourishes... expression and innuendo. It's a voice.

And yet, and yet...

Valve amps are generally touted by audio-snobs as being where you'll find the holy grail of tone. To tune in that magical distorted tone, though, what you're actually doing is pushing the valves up to and past their design limit. You're making them do something outside of what they were originally designed for. Isn't that always the way?


In the 'modern world', where everyone lives on top of one another, pushing amps to their limits, 'moving air'... well, it's deemed anti-social. It's not very nice for the neighbours, is it? And yet, that's where valve tone lies... at the limit. So if you want a valve amp that you can use at home you have to go small and step on it hard. Not much good for clubs, but at least the Old Bill won't be popping round for tea every other day.

So surely a trannie's a good option.


Well, it's the 'CD' to a valve amp's 'Vinyl', isn't it?

Oh, I suppose I should come back to the Fat Man thing! Look closely at the picture. That's the embodyment of the modern digital age, right there... an iPod. See it? But what's that it's sitting on? Yep, it's a VALVE AMPLIFIER!!!! Someone out there with a smidgen of retro-mojo still alive and kicking in their undercrackers decided that it was time for the modern-day audiophiles to be reintroduced to analogue technology. Right there is someone sticking two fingers up at progress!

I guess I'm just yearning to rekindle my own retro-mojo. Be it 5W or 10,000W, I'm gonna get me a valve amp.

January 21, 2009

David & Goliath

So here it is... I'm edging towards the cliff...

I made the decision yesterday to get rid of my old Marshall Valvestate amp. I'm selling it 'as is', making sure the buyer understands that it's not in the best condition. It works 90% of the time, but the buyer should expect to have to get it repaired sooner rather than later.

Once it's gone I'll have no choice but to replace it. I've made the decision to go 'all valve'. I'm wanting that retro-mojo!

What I've not settled on is exactly what 'all valve' means in terms of price and output. I'm in two minds.

There's my 100% rational side which says that what I really should do is to start off with a small 5W jobby for home use and recording and rely on either using other people's amps at gigs or routing through a PA if one's available... at least for now. There are a few really highly rated 5W'ers out there which would be more than suitable for the job. Price range? Somewhere between £100-£300.

Then there's the completely overkill gluttonous side of me that says I should shoot for the moon, take advantage of a 0% credit deal (as I did to 'painlessly' get my Les Paul) and get one of the new wave of switchable boutique amps, like the Mesa Boogie Lone Star Special. With the LSS you can kick in a range of different valves, allowing you to drive anything from 5W to 30W and get similar tones at different volumes. All sounds great, doesn't it. You get wonderful tone, a classy badge on the front and the knowledge that you have an Aston Martin in your garage rather than a souped up Toyota.

But... would I ever drive that puppy at anything more than 5W? If I took it gigging, sure. Realistically though, would I ever want to lug something so heavy and valuable around. Would I dare risk it being damaged or stolen? Oh, I didn't mention the price tag, did I! For the 'free' credit option you're talking something around £1750, or £175 a month for 10 months.

But it would also be a 'future proof' investment. I'd probably be looking at keeping it until I pop my clogs...

Then there's the all important matter of physical size. Space is at a premium in London and switchable boutique amps tend to be bigger. Now, we're still only talking about a 1x12 combo, but even so. We could do with optimising the space in our flat...

I know what the right choice is... but is it the right choice?

January 20, 2009

A Finger Of Funk... just enough to DRIVE ME ROUND THE BEND!!!!!

I've never really delved into funk before, and as I mentioned before, I only have a few short hours to get into the Rockschool Grade 5 tune "All Funked Up". In the grand scheme of things I can see that it's not a difficult piece, but being a funking novice I have to get the basics of the stylee down first, before moving on to the actual song.

It seems like the key thing is to just keep that 16th note strumming motion going no matter what. Keep on keeping on. That and to minimise the movement of the fretting hand, keeping similar chord shapes where possible and training the fingers to act independently so that the muting and chord changes are clean.

My biggest issue with the piece is actually the fingering of the chords. I've watched demos on YouTube, but everyone does it differently and none of the approaches seem ideal.

There are a few phrases which are tabbed out something like:

e ----10---9---7-----
B -------------------
G ----11---9---7-----
D -------------------
A -------------------
E -------------------

Obviously there are various ways of playing that, but the trick is to mute out the non-ringing strings as you strum, which is the musical equivalent of catching a split in bowling. Lots of people seem to use a two-fingered approach, switching the index and middle digits to go from the 10-11 to the 9-9. Some keep the same fingering but twisting to an awkward angle. In each case the middle string is dampened by one of the fretting fingers and control over strumming the 3 highest strings has to be very tight.

After about an hour of trying to copy what other people were doing and failing miserably I think I hit the jackpot. I believe that I need to damp out the strings with my index finger then use my middle finger on the high E and my ring finger on the G-string for the 10-11 chords. You can then maintain that chord shape but drop the pinkie down for the 9-9 and so on. It works but it'll take practice.

On the technique side the biggest challenge for me is muting enough without actually fretting. I have a feeling that might come with some clever angling of my index finger combines with the correct pressure.

January 19, 2009

Art, The Frozen North And Gest Appearances...

...and no, that's not a typo!

This weekend saw us packing our thermal undies and heading off into the frozen wasteland commonly termed 'Up North'... Manchester ho!

Now, before anyone cries out 'Why? Why? For Christ's sake, why?'... a) we did have an ulterior motive, b) 9 times out of 10 a weekend in Manchester is good therapy for what ails us in The Big Smoke and c) people really are friendlier up there.

I am, of course, taking the piss slightly about The North. It gets a bad rap from 'us southerners'. It's nowhere near as 'grim up North' as they would have you believe...

...particularly when the hotel you're staying in gives you a free upgrade to a suite.

At this point I'll just throw the 'Gest appearance' section in. It turned out that David Gest (former wif... HUSBAND of Lisa Minelli) was staying a couple of doors down from us in the old wing of the hotel. We had the privilege of sharing the lift with him as he was making a transgalactic phone call on his 'cell'... on speaker-phone, of course... something about getting 'movie stars' in for a 'tribute to Jane Russell' show. He made a point to say hello to us a several times on the short trip to the lobby. Not at all sure what that was about but you can add Mr G to the ever growing list of C-listers who have crossed our path recently. All very strange. Next time we saw him he was signing an autograph for a couple at reception.

I'm sure he's a lovely man, but he was playing the 'loud, annoying American' card at a time when my hangover from the night before was still in the ascendency.

So, our ulterior motive?

Well, through random chance a piece o' art came to our attention a while back by the sculptress (is that a word... is it sexist? Who the crap cares, really!) Eve Shepherd.

“Eve Shepherd will be one of the greatest sculptresses of our time” Professor Anthony Stones former president of the Society of Portrait Sculptors. She is compared by some to the great Rodin.

Her work, be it a monument, portrait bust, or her gallery exhibited sculptures; all breathe with a powerful life and spirit, which has been known to affect on deeply emotional and physiological planes.

Anywho, pretentious waffle to one side, we'd seen a really cool piece of hers for sale at a gallery in Hebden Bridge, near Manchester. I'd never even heard of Hebden Bridge before, let alone considererd visiting a small village out in the stix, but it turned out to be a really cool little artsy community. No sign of werewolves or pubs that go silent when you walk through the door. We did not risk staying after dark, though. You simply never know, do you?

So, the thing is that we don't buy art as an investment but if there's something we see that we really like it's not unusual for us to try and find some way to procure it. This piece definitely caught our eye. Thank you to the 'Own Art' scheme by the Arts Council for making it possible. We will be forever in your debt (or at least in your debt for the 10 months of interest free credit you gave us). Fortunately, most of the stuff we own was relatively inexpensive at the time but has appreciated nicely. Must be doing something right, eh? Having said that, it only means anything if you decide to sell up, doesn't it?

I'm not going to dwell on some of the stuff that came up on Tim's radar that he wanted to get, keep for a year then flip, but that I rationalised him into not investing in. Damien Hirst, anyone?!

For the 2 hour trainride up to The Big M, I grabbed myself a copy of the latest "Total Guitar" magazine. Not a bad rag. I've read it before but I usually buy stuff like this based on content that I'm actually interested in. I actually chose this one primarily because it had articles as opposed to reams upon reams of guitar tab and adverts.

One of the gear reviews jumped out at me. Now, lately I've been considering my options for replacing my Marshall Valvestate VS100 combo. Whilst Mr I-Really-Want-To-Get-Something-Special has been rearing his ugly (expensive) head, Mr I-Should-Be-Practical has been providing balance. A while back, Mr Furtheron of the 'Guitars & Life' blog had suggested that I take a look at the Blackstar HT-5.

It's an all-valve 5W jobbie from some rather clever ex-Marshall engineers. It's cheap as chips (around £250-£300) but has been extremely well received by the guitar tech community. The TG mag had its own review and yep, they really rated it. Lately, despite having swapped out the pre-amp tube, my Marshall's not been behaving well. It keeps dropping out on the volume. Not fun. I think there's a short somewhere... could even be a health risk! Zzzzap!

Realistically, I'm not going to be gigging with my home amp if it's a gigantic piece of kit, so recording and practice are where it's at. For small gigs (like, I'm going to be playing a stadium!) the HT-5 could be amped through the PA, I guess. I'm a novice at that stuff, so don't laugh at my ignorance!

From the sounds of it, the little Blackstar might be the right tool for the job. Of course, a Mesa Boogie Lone Star Special would also work, but that little puppy is 6 times as expensive, at least.

Needs a test run, so I would need to find a local stockist.

Okay, so I don't think I had time to blog about Rockschool last week. Mostly we spent some time going through the course guides and talking about strategies for getting up to speed in time for the exams. We need to start learning the set pieces. I'm supposed to be having a crack at the Grade 5 piece, "All Funked Up" by Thursday. Having been away all weekend then busy tomorrow evening that doesn't leave much time to get it down.

And I'm also supposed to be thinking about new songs for the band. Hopefully we'll be back to rehearsals next weekend.

Finally, congrats to Mr Obama today. Here's hoping he does a better job than the last bloke. What was his name again???

January 16, 2009

"Already Free" Plants A Seed

Okay, so I've had the new Derek Trucks album for a few days now and have been digging into it.

What was I thinking, saying that there wasn't any blistering slide? There is, but you have to look at the songs in isolation. The CD actually hits you in the face with the 'hot' songs right up front, then mellows out, leaving you in a calm, tranquil place. It's not that the fire isn't there, it's just quenched by the 'down-homey-ness' of the second half.

It's actually interesting to me that whilst Derek and the boys injected huge variety into their previous CDs by making then genre- and globe-spanning in their styling, here the variety is actually 'within' a style, using instrumentation. And when I say 'instrumentation' I'm primarily talking in terms of the variety of guitar sounds that Derek's experimented with... or at least, as a guitarist, that's what I hear.

Derek's 'classic' sound kicks in on Track 1, "Down In The Flood", transforms itself into some funky chops on "Something To Make You Happy". By the time you get to Track 4, "Sweet Inspiration", which has an unashamedly gospel vibe, Derek actually sounds like he's taken inspiration from 70's Clapton and is using what I call a 'quack' tone for the rhythm groove. If you listen to the extended jams from the Layla sessions you'll see what I mean.

After a brief sojourn into 'jump' then laid back 70's pop/rock we set our course southbound, heading for the Delta, taking it home for the title track, "Already Free".

I told you I'd love this CD in the end. It's not as accessible as some and I'd still recommend that anyone wanting a glimpse of 'the real band' should just head out and see them play live. That's the way this band rolls.


The Derek Trucks Band with Susan Tedeschi will be headlining the Southern-State Ball at the inauguration of Barack Obama! Unfortunately, I don't think that's one of the balls that our friends who are attending got tickets for! Oh well!

January 15, 2009

Mists Of Time

This posting isn't going to be about music. Well, it is, but in a very cosmic 'music is life' kind of way.

Before I get into it, I want to say that the Derek Trucks Band's "Already Free" is growing on me. I think what threw me slightly at first is that it's actually 'an album'. It has a flow to it. 'Side A' is very upbeat and groovy then 'Side B' cools things off and becomes more relaxed and soothing. I guess what I'm trying to say saying is that I'm starting to 'get it'.

And, it's Rockschool again tonight. Should be an interesting 2 hours as everyone will have had a chance to look through the course guides and listen to the accompanying CD. Methinks a few folk are going to be voicing concerns that they've set their sights too high!

I think I've mentioned before that from a musical standpoint I often feel like I was born in the wrong time and on the wrong continent. From a young age I've had an affinity for what many people would consider 'Southern' (USA) music from the 60's & 70's. I used to scour second-hand record stores to find LPs by the Allman Brothers, Skynyrd, Cowboy, Poco, even Molly Hatchet, the Outlaws and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils... Little Feat... Derek & the Dominos, early Boz Skaggs with Duane Allman guesting. You're getting the picture. The music was blues based (sometimes 'country blues') on electric guitar, turned up loud and proud. I used to select unknown artists based on their pedigree, for example by which record company they were signed to. Anything on the Capricorn label was coming home with me, no matter what the cost.

As the supply of back-catalogue LPs petered out and CDs became the norm I reluctantly allowed some more 'modern' artists into my collection. Sonny Landreth... some Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Joe Bonamassa, Dave Matthews. Nothing ever really touched the majesty of my prized 'early' recordings, but you take what you can get, eh? Of course, there were bands that touched me that were outside my core interest. Bands with something to say or a certain sensibility. Placebo would be a good example. You Am I, if you want to veer towards the grungier side of the street.

Where am I going with this? I guess I'm just in a reflective mood right now, brought on by thoughts of our upcoming pilgrimage to Mardi Gras 2009. When we announced to our stateside friends that we were headed to Nawlins we were somewhat taken-aback by how many of them responded to say that they were going to try and make it, too. Many of them made the trip to Louisiana for our wedding, right after Mardi Gras 2005. Even Tim's ex, Chris has said that he's already booked a room and is shopping for flights down from Missouri.

There's a tie-in here that I've been working towards. My first 'experience' of Mardi Gras was after Tim and I had been forced to move to the US in 2002. Tim's UK visa had expired, so if we wanted to stay together we had no choice but to leave the country. I managed to get a temporary US work visa through my company so we jumped ship and headed for Texas. Based in Houston, New Orleans was within striking distance and Tim, a seasoned Mardi Gras veteran, suggested we go. I didn't have a clue what to expect so he pulled out some old 'home movies' of him and Chris there in 1999, along with some of their friends (a couple of whom have said they're coming down this year, too). I remember watching the videos and not really getting it... all the bead tossing, the parades... the boobie showing... it all seemed very un-British to me.

The time came for us to head over to New Orleans, making the crossing from Texas to Louisiana in our shiny new silver Corvette. There I was, a boy born and raised in South London, heading due East on the I-10, cutting a path across the deep South, into unknown territory.

Wait a minute. This was me, Ken, tearing up the blacktop with Sonny Landreth's "South of I-10" slipping and sliding out of the car stereo, driving right down the I-10 itself. Suddenly pieces of the jigsaw of my life started falling into place. Wherever I felt I should have been growing up, there I was, right then and there.

Since then I've crossed the Mason-Dixie line (once or twice!). I've lived in the South, amongst Southerners. I've learned their ways and listened to them play. Some folk even say I picked up something of an accent along the way. Hell, I've even drag-raced with other redneck 'Vette owners, leaving a freakin' Allman Brothers concert.

I think in many ways I finally got comfortable with myself, during that first trip to New Orleans. I figured out what 'it' was all about and why I love the music I do... For that, for all the good times, for all the good friends, I have one person to thank, my husband, Tim.

January 14, 2009

"Already Free", First Impressions...

Okay, so obviously I'm a Derek Trucks Band fan so first thing to say is that I'm bound to love it, if not now then at some point in the not-too-distant future!

My first impression is that it's a lot more laid back than the band's last two albums. Recorded at Derek's new home studio, it sounds like the kind of record you'd make if you were just kicking back with family & friends and having a good time with it. It's not fiery like "Joyful Noise" (still my favourite album) and it's not as much of an attempt to showcase the live show in the studio as "Songlines" was.

For those of you who know singer Mike Mattison's side-project, Scrapomatic, there's a touch of that vibe in there. There are hints of gospel, blues(ish), soul... lots of things. A couple of the tracks, like "Our Love" are real curve-balls. Guest vocalists Susan Tedeschi and Doyle Bramhall II add their own colour and feeling to the mix. In particular, Bramhall brings in some 70's tinged soft rock/soul crossover. What's mostly gone are the Eastern influences of the jazz stylings. It's all very 'back porch'. The track that Susan supplies vocals for, "Back Where I Started From", is possibly most representative of the overall 'airy' feeling of the album.

Oh, and Derek's new home studio sounds great! Production is really good.

Actually, what's just struck me is how much Derek's trademark blistering slide work plays second fiddle to the songs themselves. You can tell it's Derek playing (as you always can) but mostly he provides a gentle lapping wave rather than a earth-engulfing tsunami. And that's alright. His sound is relaxed and confident but not overpowering. Every single one of the band's albums is different so the style of this new offering isn't a huge surprise. Moreover their albums are a separate entity from their live shows. I'm 100% sure that played live all these tunes can be whipped up into a frenzy.

I'll admit I'm not totally sold on one single listen through, but I have no doubt I'll buy into it in the long run. I'm seeing a lazy summer afternoon, doors flung wide open and long, cool cocktails with good friends.

January 13, 2009

Eye, Eye, Captain

So, I had my appointment with the eye doctor. Same story... don't know why I'm having issues, but here are some handy hints, potions and ointments to sort you out for now. My current 'issue' is now a non-issue so I should finish up with the antibiotics I have... plus I have a new topical kind to massage into my eyelids before beddy-byes for another month to (hopefully) prevent re-infection. Take two asprin and call me in the morning...

Basically, I'm feeling like my warranty has run out and I'm now 'that car' you borrow from a friend which comes with a list of instructions on what to do if it won't start in the morning... "no, no, no... if it stalls then you need to open the petrol cap, pump the gas pedal three times then wait five minutes before turning the key again..."

You know what I'm talking about, right? For now, though, I'm on the ocular mend. Shit, if I were a celeb this'd probably be the time that I'd start going all yoga/macrobiotic/only eating certain types of carbs before 11am type of person.

Thank goodness I ain't no celeb, eh?

Other body parts aren't doing so well, but that's another story! Here goes. So, I spent most of the weekend trying to get back up to speed with my Rockschool stuff, reinstating practice/warmup routines to try and improve my fingerboard/picking accuracy. I spent a lot of time with some chromatic exercises, basically doing a 4-finger crawl up each string, moving up a semi-tone each 4 beats until I reached the 15th fret then spidering back down again. Ascending chromatics are easy. Descending take a lot of control so that you don't allow your fingers to flap all over the place like headless chickens.

I started off being completely useless, but after an hour or so most of my digits were coming under control. The exception was, of course, my wayward 'more tea, vicar' pinkie. I think I basically found that if I made sure I got my pinkie and ring finger down and positioned correctly behind frets on the 1-beat then everything would go according to plan. If I only got my pinkie lined up then things were certain to go to go to hell in a handbag pretty quickly. The thing is that you can get pretty confident, say, at 40bpm, then when you try 60, suddenly those drums are coming at you mighty fast!

I hate running exercises. Okay, so everyone says you really ought to do them and I agree but really, why can't you simply buy finger memory in handy 1GB blocks off the internet?

To the point! There must be one in there somewhere!?!? Oh yes. Fingers. Ouch!!!! At some point over the weekend my middle finger on my left hand started to give me gyp. Middle knuckle. Ow, ow, ow. At first I thought that maybe I'd twisted it or something. Last night after the gym it was miraculously better again, even though just holding a dumbell over my head was a dicey (possibly DUMB) idea at the start of the training sesh. Woke up this morning and, once again... ouch! I slightly suspect that it might be digital gout. Lots of red wine and meat over the Xmas period. I've had gout in my foot before, and this feels similar. I guess I'll lay off the sauce for a few and see whether that helps. No, I'm not giving up meat! ARE YOU CRAZY?!?!

What else?

Oh, before I forget, due to a scheduling faux pas I'm not going to be able to make the Magic Ship headlining gig at the Half Moon in Putney on Friday.

Just because I won't be there doesn't mean that you guys won't have a good time if you head on down there. Go check out the band!

Last but not least I actually dragged myself down to the open mic at the Spice of Life pub in Soho last night. I hadn't been there since I realised that the team from Up All Night had moved to a different venue and the quality of the acts had gone down. Well, I don't know what happened but several of the guys who used to play there were back, some sporting brand new images...

...and some not (we'll leave that subject alone, eh?)

I don't know if it was my mood or if I was finally seeing the scene as it really is. Most of the singer-songwriters basically traded off a) their looks or b) their vocal stylings. The 'material' wasn't there. Everyone used the same chords and chord forms, injecting key variety using a capo. Ironically, the one song I actually liked was performed by a guy who I really didn't care for, stylistically. The lyrics were basically aimed at a guy who'd just been dumped by a girl who had been cheating on him, but nevertheless he who felt like it was all his fault. Doormat city.

Oh, and there was another guy who basically looked like a skinny little Hollywood brat (jealous? ME?), who could play really well and sang with a voice reminiscent of a drunken Ray LaMontagne. I'm not certain, but I don't think the drunkenness was affected.

The thing I do like about open mics is that, sat there in the dark, listening to this new and unfamiliar music, I get inspired. Usually lyrically. I'm not saying that anything I come up with is good, but the ideas just pop into my head without me sitting down and trying to induce creativity.

One idea was came to me whilst watching the twinkie Ray LaMontagne chap. Not my type at all, yet as he sang I became absolutely fascinated by his performance, which gave me the idea for a song about not finding someone attractive until you saw them in a different light (eg singing/performing) at which time their beauty shone through.

Another one was about being in a troubled relationship and feeling like although your partner was going through a tough time you had to find a way to stay happy and positive to keep things together, even though on the surface that might seem heartless or even cruel.

Yes, all of which sounds very much like well-worn singer-songwriter fare. Eugh!

Maybe I should stick to rock shows!


The Derek Trucks Band's new CD, "Already Free", is in stores and available for download RIGHT NOW!

January 9, 2009

Mo' Music, Nawlins Style!

Okay, so I knew I shouldn't start down the line of looking up musicians who are going to be playing in New Orleans around Mardi Gras. I figured we'd see Derek Trucks and maybe head down to Preservation Hall after the Fat Tuesday dust has settled to soak up some of the ol' time New Orleans jazz.

But, I couldn't help but peek online, anyway...

...and what did I find?

The VERY NIGHT we arrive, at 5 minutes to midnight, the REBIRTH BRASS BAND are playing a FREE show at the Howlin' Wolf on South Peters. Damn! Still, it ain't in the Quarter (just) so I doubt we'll be passing by on our inevitable first-night bar crawl.

I LOVE The Rebirth. Saw them at BB's in New York. A damn good time!

Rockschool Term 2, Week 1..., I can't remember which actual week number it is!

I didn't expect the first week back to be easy, and it certainly wasn't. Due to 'circumstances beyond my control' I've slipped behind on classwork, exercises etc. I need to basically put together a warmup routine that I can run through before practicing band stuff so that I can claw my way back. Teach actually put together a load of useful 'play along' practice exercises which I've been remiss in following. No, I can't share them with you (sorry!) 'cause he's, like, a pro teacher and I can't just give his stuff away for free!

Piracy funds terrorism, kills kittens and contributes to the destruction of the rainforests, don't you know? Don't do it!

Mostly we were doing recap stuff in the first hour of the session, then after the break we launched headlong into modes. Understandably there were lots of frowns and puzzled looks. As usual, Teach cut to the chase and simply got us all to strum the chords in the key of G-major whilst he played the licks from the G-major scale to illustrate the different colours you got. To me, modes have always been an interesting intellectual construct with some practical uses, but more of a stepping stone to understanding musical colour more than anything else. Shredders would doubtless skin me alive for saying that!

We were finally given the course guides for the different grade exams that we chose to shoot for. Can I just say...


What was I thinking going for Grade 5? That's like one grade less than the pro musician levels.


I listened through to the CD that came with the book and whilst it's not all impossible stuff it's definitely a stretch target. Kind of like the stretch pants you need to wear in preparation for Xmas din-dins... bloody stretchy!

It's going to be a real challenge balancing real life, band and Rockschool. I kind of knew that to begin with but this morning I'm really feeling it! Maybe I'll listen through to the CD again this afternoon and it won't seem as frightning as it did the first time around. It basically covers a range of styles from the blues, rockabilly, metal through to funk etc. I'm guessing you're expected to play along a selection of the pieces and incorporate improvised solos, too.


And no, I didn't take Red to school last night. Something about the freezing fog, icy conditions etc made me think that riding my bike was risk enough. Riding along with a Gibson strapped to my heinie would have been sheer lunacy.

Yes, I still rode, but instead of Red I took my old LP copy to class. A bit of a comedown, but hey, at least Red got to stay nice and warm, tucked up in his hard-shell.

STOP PRESS! Tickets for the Derek Trucks Band show in London are now available at £20 a pop through TicketWeb. Get 'em while you can! (You probably have a few weeks...)

January 7, 2009

I Couldn't Make This Up...

...not that I would want to!!!!

Okay, so the spark that ignited the fire under us to go to Mardi Gras in New Orleans this year was the fact that the Derek Trucks Band would be playing there...

So, it seems that they've just announced 3 dates in Europe (at least one of which we'll be going to... probably London... maybe Manchester!)

Tickets for London aren't on sale as yet, but if you're anywhere near Sheffield, Manchester or Paris, go to their website and climb aboard the funky train!

They're obviously supporting their soon-to-be-released album "Already Free", which I've not heard yet, but I'm 99.9% certain it's going to be a cracker!

The Return Of The All Seeing Eye

One day back in work after New Year's then another day in A&E for yours truly. Back in work again today, feeling much better. Eyeball still feels grainy, but it's not debilitating.

The antibiotics they gave me on Saturday simply weren't doing anything so I had to go back into the hospital and queue for 4 more hours... I'm beginning to think that maybe private medical insurance is worth it, after all. I left the building with anaethetised eyeballs and a new prescription consisting of 5x stronger antibiotics, plus two different types of 'artificial tear' to make me more comfortable! Yay! The antibiotics are preservative-free and need to be taken 6x daily and refrigerated. Plus they only last a week once opened, so I have two bottles to get through.

At least this time I was seen by a senior doctor who insisted that I should return ASAP to the proper clinic to try and figure out what's going wrong. Apparently 4 visits to A&E in 6 months is the magic number. Suits me! I finally have an appointment to be seen next Tuesday!

How about some guitar stuff, eh?

Well, the first thing that springs to mind is that the new term of Rockschool starts tomorrow. I'm not 100% sure how I'm going to get myself over there yet. Basically, it's bloody cold right now in London and whilst I'm fine to ride the scooter, I'm not completely happy with exposing Red to such unnecessary temperature changes.

I've actually missed the last couple of lessons due to Paris and then band practice, so I'm feeling like a bit of a slacker. I'll have to catch up with what's been learned in the interim.

Yesterday morning, as I was lying in bed with my eyes closed trying to get up the courage to haul my butt down to the hospital, Tim was spinning some old blues tunes. He was doing some last-minute cramming for an exam that afternoon and needed the distraction. The thing I love about blues stuff is that you can take a seemingly rigid format (12-bar, 8-bar etc) and twist it into something that sounds fresh and funky. Having learned "Strange Brew" for band practice I really got to thinking about how you can take something as simple as a I-IV-V progression but then rather than just playing chords, play riffs or fills based on those chords for the rhythm section. For some reason the sound of songs like that really excite me as they're kind of groovy.

Dah-dum, Dah-dum

Dah-dum, Dah-dum

Far out, man!

I've been exploring some stuff like this lately during my own little compositional phases. It's not that easy to come up with a simple yet groovy beat, but when you do, man, it's the best.

I think it's kind of an offshoot of my love of the whole jam-band thing. I have no problem listening to someone taking hours to build up to a crescendo just by repeating then modifying licks. I love that stuff. I particularly love it when you reach a peak then BANG, the whole band just takes off together in a different direction.

Ach... I need to get back to listening to some of my Derek Trucks Band stuff in preparation for Mardi Gras!

And it's time for my eyedrops again. Joy. Signing off!

January 5, 2009

Two Thousand And Nine...

...or 'Out With The Old, In With The New'

So, I didn't get in as much guitar practice over the holidays as I expected, but that's okay. I did manage to get a stinky head-cold and sore throat which finally ran its course on New Year's Day... and then I went blind. Again.

Okay, obsessive-compulsive followers of this blog will know that I'm exaggerating. I didn't actually go blind, but on Saturday I did find myself sat in A&E (Urgent Care) for the third time in 6 months with yet another painful infection in my left eye. More antibiotics, to be administered directly to the eye via a lovely gel. Delightful. It seems that the last time I had this problem the medication they gave me didn't work quickly enough and I ended up with corneal damage, which is actually where the infection is this time around. Joy. I insisted that they actually refer me to 'The Clinic' for a proper follow up this time as, frankly, I want something done about the underlying cause, dammit!... whatever the underlying cause is! Maybe it's just old age. Hey, I can deal with that, if that's the case. The hospital's party line was 'if it happens again, just come straight back to A&E and we'll give you more antibiotics'! To me that's like not bothering to fix an oil leak in your car, just topping up whenever the engine seizes.

So, being the good contractor that I am, I'm back in the office today, putting in the hours, getting the job done. It's a good thing that my work doesn't require depth perception, eh?

Doom and gloom to one side, then. I'm not one of the 'I'm sick and need to moan about it' brigade. Oh no...

Right. Xmas? Fun. Didn't spend it all with The Old Folks this year, but instead headed up to the Sofitel St James hotel to indulge in their Yuletide lunch special. Very nice. Very civilised. It goes without saying that someone in the restaurant smelled of cat pee, which added a certain ambiance. I sat there hoping to god it wasn't me (it wasn't!). Five courses then coffee with little cake thingies. Trust me, a wafer thin mint would have finished me off. When we left the place and hopped on our bikes to go visit my parents our exhaust pipes were dragging along the ground.

Sales, sales, sales...

I never do 'The Sales'. This year we did indulge a bit, though. Mostly smart clothes. Nothing too rock 'n' roll, unlike some of the festive gear that Tim got me for my pressies.

Jump forward to New Year's Eve, being careful not to land on any of those snot-soaked kleenexes I may have left lying around.

A good time had by all, actually. A play followed by the after-show cast party. Lots of rubbing shoulders with B and C-list celebs (is this going to become a habit?). Chatted with ex-Brookside and ex-Hollyoaks actors. Didn't recognise them (sorry). Did recognise one guy from 'the movies' but had to ask what he'd been in (probably a faux-pas).

Names, faces, names... bodies... I should mention at this time that by NYE I'd managed to pile on about 5 pounds in weight without putting in any gym time. Muscle? Fat? You guess! At least I now have an urgent reason to get back into shape... more later on that one! For those who can't wait, either skip forwards or figure out these clues:

King Cakes...
Bourbon Street...
Fat Tuesday...

Anyone? ANYONE?

Back to NYE. Play, party, midnight, 1:30am... should have gone home but instead went dancing. Well, you have to, don't you? No? Oh, that's just us then.

So, what's this whole Fat Tuesday malarkey, or as one of my friends often asks me, "What the hell are you going on about, Ken?"

Do you believe in signs and portents? I don't, unless it fits my agenda.

A while ago I got an email from The Derek Trucks Band, saying that they'd added an extra date to their 2009 tour schedule? When? 22nd February. Where? New Orleans.


Damn it, my fave band announces that they're playing a date in my fave city. We've not been back to New Orleans since Mardi Gras, 4 years ago, half a year before Katrina struck. A couple of days after Mardi Gras 2005, Tim and I had our wedding, slap bang in the middle of the French Quarter. It was a year before Civil Partnerships would come into being in the UK, so there was no way we could legally marry, anyway. New Orleans was where it felt right for us to tie the knot, regardless of the law.

We did the whole 9 yards: meet-and-greet cocktail party, big family wedding, guests from around the globe (as far away as New Zealand), reception, jazz band, open bar. Drinking and dancing the whole way. We closed out with a high-spirtied (drunken... the guests, not me!) 'second line' around our beloved Vieux Carre.

That evening, knowing that we would be returning to London and not knowing when we'd see New Orleans again we made the pact that no matter what happened we'd return at Mardi Gras for our 5th anniversary.

Then Katrina happened and with each passing year the desire to make our return has become more and more unbearable.

Well, we're coming up on our 4th anniversary (which is close enough to the 5th, isn't it? Derek Trucks in playing at the House of Blues on Decatur on the 22nd February, Fat Tuesday's coincidentally on the 24th, Tim's got a break from studies for one week... THAT WEEK... so taking a break and going makes sense...

Plus, this year Fat Tuesday falls late in the year, so it might actually be warm for a change!

Plus, when we emailed round to stateside friends, most of them want to join in!

Baby... we're going to MARDI GRAS!!!!

Laissez les bons temps rouler, people!!!!!

That gives me less than 2 months to get in shape. Why? Well, It's much easier to earn beads when you're a fit lad and I plan on having a record year!!!!

Of course, when we're there I plan on stuff my face with high-fat jambalaya and red beans & rice at Coops. Biscuits & gravy for breakfast (whatever time of day or night that happens to be) from Deja Vu.

Not forgetting, of course, hub-cap burgers at THE CLOVER GRILL!!!!!


Damn it. I need to get to making some kick-ass beads. Beads? Beads are like CASH MONEY at Mardi Gras! They can buy you anything! Nobody cares about the cheap-ass mass-produced plastic crap, though. Custom-made, unique beads. That's where the real gold is, man...

Look, here are some folks tossing beads from a balcony (cheap-ass ones, by the looks of them)

...and here are some catchers, begging for a prize!

Now, to get cheap crap like that I might put my arm up on the offchance of catching a throw, but baby, for skin, you're gonna have to do so much better!

Be afraid, be very afraid!

All this is very hot off the press. All the planets aligned and that was that. Somehow it'd be nice to find some way to visit our stateside relatives but we're not going to be there for long and the ones we really want to see the most live about 6 hours' drive away (which, amazingly, is still in Louisiana!) so it may not be possible. Still trying to figure out how to make that work, though...