Friday, May 29, 2009

A minor setback to one set of plans...

Well, I didn't quite manage the 'run on two consecutive days' thing *blushes* - you see, I forgot I would be going out to watch the Champions League final on the night. And I forget that when watching football at the pub, I always seem to drink too much beer. Not only that but, having drunk far too much beer already, I accidentally called into another bar on the way home (I didn't plan it!) and met up with a couple of people - which of course required that I consume more beer. And, since I'd already drank FAR too much beer by this point, it seemed just about the best idea in the world ever.

The consequence was that the only way you'd have got me out of bed at 6am the following morning was if the house had been on fire. And I'm pretty certain I'd have stayed in bed as long as possible in the hope they could put it out before it reached where I slept.

I did go running again today though. Same route, same result (three laps). I am certain my legs will complain loudly about it tomorrow.

New Guitar Techniques magazine arrived - will peruse it at my leisure later - but it looks to be jam packed with cool stuff as per usual. I just keeping hoping that is possible to improve my guitar playing skills just by reading it enough (perhaps through some kind of osmosis).

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

New Guitar Recording and Other Stuff

Well, I've been working on my blues a little bit - to the point that I actually went as far as trying to record something last night. It's a blues in C, using a backing track from Guitar Techniques magazine. 

Upon relistening to it; I quite like it. It starts a little bit awkwardly but gets better as it goes on. Possibly.

One frustration I have with my playing is that, while I love the fast playing of people like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Bonamassa, Paul Gilbert, Joe Satriani (and a host of others) it's just not something that seems to come naturally to my playing. It's not that I can't play fast - in isolation I can pick reasonably quickly - it's just when I come to improvise it seems that my mind tells me to play slowly. I'm not sure whether it's simply I'm not good enough or whether I should accept that playing slowly is my bag. After all, BB King seems to get by without too many blazing runs or sweep picking...

Have a listen to my latest effort HERE

On an entirely different note, I've decided I really need to get back to being in shape. Too much sedentary work, not enough exercise, etc. So this morning I went for a jog in the local park. Managed three laps (which I guess is about 2 miles) and felt pretty good that I'd actually got up at 6am and gone running. Whether I can make it two mornings in a row, we'll have to see...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Recorded some guitar...

I was listening to Joe Bonamassa's 'The River' and really enjoyed the slide guitar so I thought I would retune my guitar and dig out an old glass slide I'd purchased several years ago...

I tuned the guitar to F-C-F-A-C-F  - which may look a more than slightly strange tuning (I was a little dubious, it has to be said!) but it turned out to give a fabulous sound.

The only problem was I couldn't find my slide and, despite attempting to improvise with (amongst other things) the neck of a beer bottle (while still attached to the rest of the bottle) and a bacardi shot measurer, I didn't quite manage to capture the glorious sound of a slide guitar.

Still, I liked the tuning a lot so I decided to have a go at finally recording something (after about five years of silence) and so got my PodXT set up to record with my laptop and RiffWorksT4 to record with and provide a drum backing.

You can hear my recording here - it's two tracks of guitar, one gently overdriven (Blackface) and the other a far heavier sound (Treadplate). It's one take for each so maybe a bit messy but, still, I'm quite pleased with how it sounds. Be interested to hear your comments... 

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Eurovision - The Aftermath...

I should have known that my alcohol levels were going to be reaching all time highs purely from the opening ceremony during which there were multiple breaches of rules 1, 5 and 11.

This set the tone for the evening, during which I tried my level best to keep track of rule infringements but ended up losing count (and indeed pen and paper) by about song 12.  My observations were that rule 10 seemed to come up quite often and that there were not enough cases of rule 13. I also decided - and I am guessing this based upon the scrawled notes found the following evening since I don't remember actually writing it - that next year's rules revision should also involve a rule based upon the use of pyrotechnics.

I am quite thankful to say that the intake of alcohol was more than sufficient to numb the quality of the entrants to the point that - by the time the UK entry appeared - I was quite convinced it was the best song ever entered into any competition anywhere

It was possible to make it to the judging and remain conscious - however, the judging banged the final (vodka soaked) nails into the coffin with the Balkan voting alone emptying most of a bottle. By the end of that - not to mention the flagrant abuse of rule 3 by the Russian co-hosts - things were looking very bad. There was also a moment during which a person in a bear costume appeared - although I may have imagined this (confirmation greatly appreciated).

Needless to say, Sunday was a large (painful) blur punctuated by a wish for people to be a LOT quieter. However, I am glad to have ensured a large number of other people shared my pain and will be sure to created an updated Norwegian version next year (apparently, Norway also produces vodka!)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Eurovision Song Contest 2009 Drinking Game

This drinking game is designed to be played while watching the BBC coverage of the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest. Some of the rules are slightly UK-centric so, if you intend to play this in another country, just ignore rules 1, 5 and 19 and knock back three shots before you get started.

Now, a word of warning; this game is based upon the consumption of strong alcohol. I cannot, therefore, be held responsible for you stringently following the rules of my game and drinking yourself into oblivion. Play this game at your own risk…

A shot glass for every person playing (probably best to have a couple of spares in case people get excited).

Several bottles of Russian vodka (this is Russian Eurovision, after all!). If in doubt go with Stolichnaya.

The rules are very simple. You take a sip of vodka if:

1) Andrew Lloyd Webber is mentioned. Drink an entire shot if the camera picks him out in the audience.

2) Either of the hosts attempts to sing.

3) Either host pretends to be surprised at something said or done by the other in a clearly well rehearsed piece of improvisation.

4) Either of the hosts loses track of their autocue.

5) Anyone sitting in the room with you says something along the lines of ‘It’s not the same without Terry Wogan’

6) The video shown before an act contains shots of people in traditional costumes. Drink two shots if anyone is Cossack dancing.

7) You see a bear. Drink an entire shot if it’s a person dressed in a bear costume.

8) You aren’t entirely sure whether the singer is man who looks like a woman, or a woman who looks like a man.

9) A country is represented by a singer from somewhere else in the world.

10) The act involves people on stage banging large drums.

11) An item of clothing is removed on stage. Drink an entire shot if it is removed by someone else.

12) The act is bald. Drink an entire shot if they are also female.

13) The act possesses a large moustache.

14) The act is dressed in leather. Drink an entire shot if they are dressed in leather and have a large moustache.

15) If you hear a language used other than that of the nation who is singing (i.e French singing in a song by Malta). One sip per language. If in doubt, take a sip.

16) You recognise the song immediately as being a blatant rip off of a previous winner of Eurovision.

17) The song is an ode to world peace. Drink three shots immediately if there are any children on stage during the song.

18) Every time there is an awkward silence and/or miscommunication between the hosts and the people reading out the votes. Drink an entire shot if the votes get mixed up.

19) Every time you hear "Royaume-Uni? Nil point!"

20) Every time a country gives top marks to someone for geographic, political or ethnic reasons. Drink an entire shot if they give them to Russia because they’re worried they won’t get any gas this Winter otherwise.

21) If there is any alcohol left once the show is finished and you’re physically capable of coordinating the movement of alcohol from the bottle to your mouth.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Best Movie Ever?

Whoever said that there is a fine line between genius and madness has obviously seen the trailer for the upcoming Debbie (sorry, Deborah) Gibson movie Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus.

I mean it has everything on the checklist to be the film of the year (maybe decade).

Giant Octopus? Check!

Mega Shark? Check!

Debbie Gibson? Check!

Mega Shark attacking a flying Boeing 747? Check!

That's right - a mega shark attacking a plane. If you can think of something more awesome than that then I envy you deeply.

Watch the trailer and, if you can get through it with dry eyes, you're doing better than I did...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Monday, May 11, 2009

Three Kings

Today I dug out the latest issue of Guitar Techniques magazine which has a most excellent feature on the playing styles of the 'Three Kings' of the blues - Freddie King, Albert King and BB King.

The article takes a look a few licks in the style of each before giving you a 'jam' between the three of them and the backing track to practice over.

Well, I've probably been somewhat annoying my neighbours today by sticking the backing track on repeat and trying to really dig in and play with some feeling over the top of it.

I have to admit, back when I first started playing guitar I wanted to play fast flashy stuff - like Steve Vai - but over time I've really begun to appreciate laid-back soulful playing. I still love a bit of flash but the blues very much has a hold on me. Of course, it also might be because I'm nowhere near good enough to play like Mr. Vai, but we won't go there...

Anyway, I really feel like I'm beginning to make good progress on my playing. Aim to go to a jam night tomorrow - which will probably deflate my self confidence considerably!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Feeling creative...

Although nothing to do with my blues odyssey, I'm currently feeling tremendously creative. An idea for a fantastic story recently popped into my head - can't tell you too much about it just yet - and I'm off doing some research for it.

I think it will marry many of my loves in fiction - intricate and elaborate plotting, more twists and turns than a twisty, turny thing, strong (and opposed) characters and a smattering of vague wit.

It's very different to anything I've ever written before and that makes me all the more excited about it...

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Feeling Generous?

Back when I was doing 100 unsuitable jobs, a lot of people would ask me to put a 'Donate' button on the blog but I never did manage to get around to it.

However, since no one has asked me about it for nearly two years, I decided to do something about it...

Timing is clearly not my thing.

But if you fancy buying me a latte to keep me amused, you can now do so freely!

A starting point?

Still keeping up my practise sessions on the guitar - a gradual process but one that feels strangely rewarding to someone who has done so little formal practise in his life!

I've also been looking into possible starting points for my epic blues venture; and Jackson, Mississippi looks likely been a great place to begin. Not only is a place that has a rich history steeped in the blues, but it's also well located - it's got an international airport and an Amtrak route that goes all the way to Chicago!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Wow - I actually learned a SONG...

Well, yesterday, after continuing to work on my appalling lack of chord knowledge I thought I'd spice things up a bit by trying to actually learn some songs...

You see, in the past, I've been quite happy to noodle around but I've rarely had the time (well, mainly patience) to actually sit down and try to learn a real song (or I simply learned the cool intro riff and then got bored!).  Well, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a lot easier to get to grips with then I first anticipated!

I picked Joe Bonamassa's 'Don't Live Anywhere (Live)' as my starting point because:

a) It's at a reasonably slow tempo for me to practice my chords


b) I love the solo.

I got hold of a trial version of Guitar Pro (do I get a free copy for that?), found a tab to practise with and - to be honest - had great fun with it. If things go as well for the next year, maybe this will work after all! I even had a go at singing (shush, don't tell everyone!)...

And for those who've not heard it; here's the song I'm talking about:

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Getting the Blues...

While I can play a bit of blues shuffling rhythm, I don't really know why I play what I do aside from I can tell, subconsciously, it fits the same pattern of chords that I've heard a thousand times before in songs from Muddy Waters to Elmore James to Buddy Guy to Stevie Ray Vaughan...

So, yesterday was all about looking into the patterns of the blues - although it was more of a quick peek in their general direction as I tried to work out what all this I, IV, V chord notation meant. 

From what I understand, the Roman numeral corresponds to the 'numbers' of the notes in the Major Scale in relation to the root note of the scale. 

E Major Scale = E, F#, G#, A, B and D#

Therefore, the I, IV, V progression is E would be E, A and B (which ties in with what I did know about playing a blues progression!).

Of course, what gets confusing are all the variations of those I, IV, V chords that are possible within a 12 bar blues while still being a blues! I am working on this today!

In other news, I've been looking into just how I'd manage to get about in the USA and it looks like a combination of trains and buses would be a pretty economical choice. I have to admit, I quite like the idea of using a train - gives me time to relax and have a chat; I think if I drove everywhere I'd end up knackered. Although perhaps spending 12 hours driving from one part of the USA to the other would be enough to really give me the blues...

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Sprucing things up...

Well, yesterday was a sprucing the blog up day...

I added a little Digg button and a Twit This button (in case anybody reads something and feels an instant urge to share) which stretched my technical abilities to the maximum and also sorted out Adsense since it's something I've consistently neglected to properly sort out.

Of course, there is a certain irony (some would say stupidity) in sorting out Adsense when you've just come back to the blog after leaving it for two years and its visitor count is in the low two digits rather than when you were blogging daily to 3,000 people. However, I never claimed to have a good business head!

I also signed up to Twitter - you can visit my Twitter Page here - since everyone is always, well, twittering on about it and I have to say after Day One, my initial excitment (yah, shiny new website to fill out all the same information I've filled out in several others!) gradually ebbed away as I gained six followers - all of whom wanted to advertise something - and I found moving into the 'Trending Topics' area was the equivalent of stepping into a bad work party where everyone is discussing the same tired topics, with very little interesting to say. Maybe it will grow on me. 

Say, when I have three hundred million followers all waiting for the vague crumbs of wisdom that I deign to toss their way at random intervals...

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Improvement Advice - Part 1

So, knowing that a year isn't an awfully long time to turn my guitaring around, I turned to the Music Radar forums for some advice from people who know a whole lot more than me...

Here's some of the advice I've received so far:

1) Learn blues licks in as many different keys as possible.

Ok, this first bit of advice sounds do-able (I think). I mean, there are loads of sources for blues licks and I've already got quite a few floating around in my head.

2) Learn as many blues rhythm patterns as you, including chord substitutions.

Ah, now we begin to hit choppy water. I'm not entirely sure what a chord substitution is. I'm rather hoping it allows one, when one is playing and is a little unsure of which chord comes next, to wave one's hands and distract the audience for enough time that the chord is not missed. But I have a feeling it's a little more complicated than this...

3) Learn plenty of licks to play over turnarounds.

The turnaround, from what I remember, is the end of the rhythm pattern when the tune 'turns around' back to the starting chords. This means that any licks you play have to fit across the chords in the turnaround. I think.

What all of this shows is that I have a lot to learn. Consequently, I've not got time to fanny around here typing; I need to learn me some blues rhythms...

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Gettin' my Mojo workin...

If I want to seriously think about trying to jam with honest-to-God blues musicians when I make this trip, then I need to get my guitar chops in order.

I'm a pretty ordinary guitarist and so I need to spend the next year or so (assuming I aim to do this Summer 2010) improving my blues abilities. 

Thankfully I have a subscription to an excellent UK guitar magazine - Guitar Techniques - which, alongside all manner of tutorials, also has transcriptions from a range of blues greats including BB King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Bonamassa and plenty more. I'm going to be using this for a whole lot of inspiration...

I'm also going to be practising my picking techniques, (finally) learning a bit more about chords and making an effort to get out and jam once a week at an open-mic night to push me.

I don't have a lot of time to dedicate to guitar practice each day but I'm going to really try and ensure I do the best with the time I have. Will try and sort out my laptop so I can record from my Pod XT - then I can start posting some audio clips to record my (hopeful!) progress

I Have A Dream...

So, what was it that brought this blog back from its medically induced coma and me back to the world of blogging?

It was an idea. An idea that came to me while sitting enjoying a latte macchiatto in the sunlight. However, since it is my theory that most ideas seem wonderful when you're drinking a good latte and enjoying rays of April sunshine, I decided to hold off for a while and thoroughly evaluate it.

That took until the next latte arrived, by which point I had convinced myself that it was quite the most fabulous idea I had ever had...

The idea is simple:

I want to travel to the US and trace the history of the Blues - from the Delta to Memphis, from Chicago to Texas - meeting intriguing people associated with the blues along the way and bringing along my guitar for company while I use this blog to write the whole thing up.

A simple idea that combines four elements I have a great deal of fondness for:

1) Travelling across the USA. Always wanted to do it but have never got around to it.

2) The Blues. I love most types of music but the Blues has a special place in my heart. It's the music I keep returning to again and again and when I play, it's what inspires me.

3) Playing the Guitar. My relationship with the guitar is an interesting one. I love the guitar but I'm not sure it loves me. I've been playing on and off (mainly off) for years but any vague skill I have on it is a merely a triumph of my willpower over my inate lack of musical ability.

4) Writing. I love to write (you may have noticed) and the idea of transcribing my dream trip (and preparation for it) will be fun to write. Can't promise it will be fun to read but, hey ho, can't have everything, eh?

There is a whole lot of preparation involved in turning this idea into reality but this blog is going to chart the course of that. It's also going to chart the course of me really trying my damnedest to hone my guitar playing to the point that I can, by the time I do this, feel confident enough to get up on stage and jam my way across America.

Personally, I think this is going to be a whole lot of fun...

Catch Up Post

Ok, first of all - June 25th, 2007 - has it really been that long since I last posted? I guess it has.

Well, this a brief update (for anyone with a vague interest in such matters) is that I ended up getting the MA and then went on to find myself a job (and an entirely suitable one at that!). Which rather put a big dampner on the whole 100 jobs thing, if I'm honest...

You see, it felt dishonest to carry on applying for unsuitable jobs while I was engaged in employment and although I had such great fun writing it at the time I realised that 100 jobs was set to end as both a success and a failure. A success because it was a rollercoaster ride (I would never have believed I'd get over 100,000 visitors when I started it and go on national radio to talk about it) and, yet, a failure because I never did manage to reach 100.  Job number 78 was the last and I think will be the last. There all still here though in the archives, so if you want to read back over my attempts (amongst other things) to be hired as a pirate, a psychic medium, a substance misuse trainer, a bodyguard, an experienced sock designer, a sheriff's correction officer or a part-time antelope keeper then you can still read them.

But, the time of unsuitable job applications is at an end. I'm now moving onto something else entirely...