Saturday, 29 December 2012

It's an honour...

Not quite New Year yet, but the U.K. honours list is out.

I have mixed feelings about all of this: on the one-hand it is fair and reasonable that acts of selflessness, service, humility and bravery are rewarded and recognised by society. On the other hand, those that already earn millions from their daily endeavours hardly fall into the 'service' category and, one could say, are handsomely rewarded for their efforts?

The latest list has been announced with a loud and colourful Olympic fanfare and yes, the games and the efforts of U.K. athletes and sportsmen and women at London 2012 certainly had most of us shedding a tear or shouting encouragement at the telly. But... they won their medals at the games.

I have no problem with Bradley Wiggins getting a gong when he finally hangs-up his bicycle clips, but to give him a knighthood now cheapens the award as much as when Mick Jagger received one.

You all know I love my rock n roll (or rock n rail) but I am still mystified as to why Elton, Mick and Macca are now called 'Sir...'. Cliff too.

They have all received the recognition and financial rewards their efforts and craft deserves. Both McCartney and Jagger have had brushes with the law regarding their drug use yet they are now at the top of the establishment pile. I am sure they give 'millions' to charity and the exchequer... but they can.

Cherie Blair has received an MBE for her services to charity and the BBC news report lists all the charities she is connected with: on the board, or a patron of. But again, it is easy for someone in her position and her circumstances to be a patron of a charity that writes and asks her to be one. I am not be-littleing her efforts or her work but is it really worthy of an honour?

There are SO many people, week in, week out that give time, energy, emotional support and at their own cost to the service of others: youth work, sports coaches, teachers, those in health-care, carers... the list goes on. Some DO get recognised, but so many don't yet, without their real selflessness and giving the lives of others would be the poorer or, in some cases, would cease.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

A Christmas Present...

As a little extra, special Christmas treat we present Count Arthur Strong's Radio Show Christmas Special. I can't see it listed on Radio 4 Extra for broadcast over the holiday, so... here it is (in two parts): something to craftily listen to when you get a spare 30mins.

Utterly brilliant, wonderfully humorous. There are some festive gems in here. I am a big fan of this act anyway so maybe a bit biased, but its well worth a listen along with all the usual 'Christmas Specials' that'll get rolled out once again.

For more info, look at:
Count Arthur Strong's Infernet Site...
Count Arthur Strong's Radio Show Wikidpedia page...

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Record of the Week!

Silent Night
Bill Nelson

There's nothing like twangy guitars for taking a Christmas carol just... somewhere else.

Making his second appearance with a Rock n Rail 'Single of the Week', Bill Nelson gives us all a marvellous gift with this festive and seasonal delight. As is typical from this artist, the whole production is from his own hand: all music, all video (filmed in York), and this adds to the personal touch. Hope you enjoy it.

For good measure and your festive delight, check out his Christmas offerings from previous years...
Bill Nelson Christmas 2011...
Bill Nelson Christmas 2008...
Bill Nelson Christmas 2007...

A very merry Christmas from everyone at Rock n Rail.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Record of the Week

I Hate Christmas
Three Litre

I Hate Christmas

Don't be fooled by the title, it's not quite as throwaway as it at first appears to be...

But I won't spoil it too much for you; you have a listen and see what you think for yourselves.

This is one of my all time festive favourites. It combines melancholy, humbug, longing, hopes, dreams, a wry smile here and there along with all the trimmings of sleigh-bells, church-bells and a choir. Yet it starts so simply with that acoustic intro that gets stung by that chiming electric guitar after the first line.

Very merry stuff. And don't you get me started on New Year!

You can buy this on CD at amazon...
Or on eBay...

Find out more about Three Litre...
Drowned in Sound review of this single...
A review of their gig with The Darkness...
Velocity Recordings Three Litre page...

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Record of the Week

December Song (I Dreamed of Christmas)
George Michael

Its December so I can choose Christmas 'singles'! Stop groaning over there... not everything is Mariah Carey or Chris de Burgh, you know.

This one isn't a classic, as far as the wider world is concerned and not seen as being in the same league as his earlier festive offering, 'Last Christmas'.

But I love this song. Well written and beautifully created. George's un-mistakeable voice delivers the melancholic lines with pure class and craft to conjure a picture many may well feel an affinity with.

There is a tinge sadness here yet there is a glimmer of more than just the warmth of a winter's fire. The Christmas message of hope, peace and light is delivered in a lovely song rather than Santa's sleigh.

Wonderful stuff. Buy it or download it and make it a classic...

You can buy this on CD at amazon...
Its also available on iTunes...

Monday, 3 December 2012

Power of the Press

The release of the results of the Leveson enquiry are only days old, but you wouldn't think it from reading today's headlines. Nothing. Not a sausage...

That enquiry, of course, was spurred on by the outrage fuelled by News Corps ability to hob-knob with the almighty and powerful while, at the same time, dredging the depths of depravity in order to get a story or angle they tell us is in 'the public interest'. Those that felt Mr (for he certainly ain't Sir) Rupert Murdoch's time had come were all hopeful for a while, but it seems the status quo has been well and truly maintained. After all, there was that most humble day of his life and the closing of the dirty, dirty rag the News of the World to pacify those getting a scent of Australian blood.

Alas, so far, nothing has changed. Legions upon legions still read The Sun. You know, the most surprising and worrying thing is to survey those that are reading The Sun: women... pin-stripe suited city 'gents'. Quite unbelievable really but, as this reporter can confirm, true.

Which is more than can be said for todays 'reports' about Avram Grant re-joining Chelsea FC in a consultative role.

Its all pure speculation and rumour. Nothing more. Yet, talkSport reported first the rumour that '...there are reports he could be joining Chelsea...' later updated to '...there seems to be little truth in the rumours Grant is joining Chelsea...' finally, 'Chelsea have confirmed there are NO plans for Avram Grant to join the club...' So, a WHOLE bloomin' day of a lead story that wasn't a story after all!

Great journalism chaps. Rupert would be proud if not humble.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Record of the Week!

Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape
Bill Nelson & the Gentlemen Rocketeers

All I really need to do is let you play this video and let the music do all the talking...
...will just add this song first appeared in 1974 on the debut Be Bop Deluxe album 'Axe Victim'. There are various other versions out there on 'Live! in the Air Age' and those BBC sessions albums, however this version is one of the best, if not the THE best, I have heard.

Having said that there is nothing like seeing the man play that solo live... but this is prety close. A truly lovely, lovely rendition and a wonderful performance from all involved.

You can buy this on CD/DVD at amazon...
Its also available on iTunes...

Monday, 19 November 2012

Record of the Week

Brian Protheroe

Now, I warned you it might be an oldie so don't go all sulky on me.

We've been watching, and enjoying, the BBC tv 'thriller' Hunted on Thursday evenings and last week, who should pop up as an under minister at the Ministry if Defence? None other than Brian Protheroe. Most readers will know him as an actor... Gentlemen and Players, To Have & To Hold in the 80s through to last weeks appearance in 'Hunted'.

But my first meeting with this fellah was when I heard his 1974 Chrysalis Records single 'Pinball'. I went out and bought it pretty quickly and it remains, to this day, on of my all-time favourite songs. May not get into my Desert Island discs eight but its up there. Always sounds as fresh and original as it ever did. As a new acoustic guitarists with songwriting ambitions this was showing me the way: Simple arrangement musically starting with that acoustic guitar playing what would be known as the 'hook' if it were a heavy metal track. This hook is present throughout the whole song... as the arrangement builds with a layer of percussion, then bass then more percussion to drive it along, finally taking a back seat to a sax solo. The lyrics suit the music and its mood perfectly and have that Play for Today black humour quality of garnering a smile amongst quite sorrowful dialogue and story-line. They also paint a perfect picture for me of that waiting for pay-day, single, bed-sit room looking out of the window onto a dark, half-deserted, rain dampened street and every-time I hear the song it's conjured up again. Quite wonderful.

Wonder if it was ever Record of the Week back in the day?

Friday, 16 November 2012

Evenin' all.

There is talk in a BBC report of '…I think apathy rules when it comes to Politics…' and '…the lack of trust in politics and lack of confidence in politicians generally…' cited as reasons for poor turn-out in todays Police and Crime Commissioners Election.

This election shouldn't be about politics in the generally accepted party politics sense of the word. It should be independents. You can already hear the parties using this to show that voters endorse their stance on law and order, can't you?

Anyway, why the hell are we having this election at all? Creating yet another strata of government and bureaucracy. Oh, it won't be just the commissioner.., there's his secretary, PA, IT consultant, PR adviser, logistics adviser and communications officer. He'll become he communications manager in 6 months time, with an officer, an operator and an assistant under him. You can see the savings to the public purse mounting up already can't you?

Another gravy train departs the platform of ever tightening budgets. And meanwhile, policemen and women 'on the beat' get fewer and farther between.

And why do we need all this? So the Police are more accountable? What was wrong with the previous Police authorities? What on earth do we elect a government for? Can't they do this job? Because, looking at the candidates it looks pretty much like a party political exercise to me. So, what's the difference and where's the independence?

Its not apathy from the voter... don't be so dismissive of us all. We are cross and we are angry but we are also tired and jaded by yet more of our hard-earned taxes lining more pockets with nothing to show for it.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Record of the Week

Faking Jazz Together
Connan Mockasin

Tony Blackburn used to do it... as did DLT and, in fact, all the DJs on wonderful Radio 1! Yes, that's right... they (had) to choose a record of the week. I often wondered how sincere the choice was but, hey, the chosen discs were always grateful for the airplay.

Anyway, I'm going to have a go and join in all the fun by picking a track each week to highlight and feature. Might be something new, might be something old I've never heard before but might just be an old, but firm, favourite. Anyway, enough waffle.

The first recipient of the much coveted Rock N Rail Record of the Week goes to 'Faking Jazz Together' by Connan Mockasin. I was introduced to this sound by Marc Riley last week while listening to his, as always, fine BBC 6 Music radio programme. It has a lazy, downtempo feel with a slightly distorted guitar providing the main 'hook' over jazzy bass and slowed-down latin percussion. The overall feel is just enchanting and very pleasing on the ear. Listening to it now, the proceedings break and fall away only to be kick-started again by that guitar, under-neath which is a dirty rhythym guitar driving things a long nicely. It all has that unmistakable indie-feel beloved of John Peel and is now firmly on my 'Top Rated' playlist.


Monday, 22 October 2012

Savile's Travail's

Have been wanting to write something about the Jimmy Savile 'affair' for some time but the news changes daily. And what more can anyone say? I have no axe to grind and no judgements to make. But...

What I will say is this:

1. Do not, for one minute, think the kind of sexist, sexual bullying that people such as Savile allegedly practiced only went on at the BBC and in care homes, hospitals, etc. It went on in every workplace: print shops, advertising agency's; school staffrooms; offices; shops; factories and so on. Girls and women had to endure painful, humiliating exchanges with male colleagues every day and it was all seen as 'fun'. If complained about, the perpetrator would more often than not be protected by '...but he's really good at his job..', '...his workmates will back him and they'll all come out on strike...', 'whats wrong with you darlin' can't you take a bit of fun?'

2. IF the Jimmy Savile rumours were suppressed because people were afraid funds, and ultimately therefore salaries, would dry up then shame on them and they are as culpable as, allegedly, Jimmy Savile. I fail to see that if these heinous things were going on in an institution such as Stoke Mandeville that a nurse, therefore a sister, therefore a ward manager, therefore a department head, therefore a higher executive, etc., didn't know it was going on or have heard rumours that it might be going on?

Have these people waited until the funds have now dried-up before coming forward? Before making any accusations? Shame on them. Shame, shame, shame on them. And how pathetic to be claiming to be acting on behalf of the victims. Now their pockets can't be impacted, it can all come out. Sickening. As sickening as the original, alleged, acts.

If newspapers had stories, why weren't they printed? The tabloid trail is littered with ruined careers and reputations based on little more than tittle-tattle and opportunists seeking their five minutes of fame and willing to sell their story to the highest bidder. Quite remarkable that a story this BIG didn't make it onto the front page of the NOTW or that other paragon of virtue, The Sun. Were the stories held back for the same 'the cash for the charity will dry up' reason? Bad show if that IS the case and worthy of another investigation surely?

3. This is in no way meant to be an excuse for sordid, depraved and selfish behaviour, but... the environment of the 60's and 70's pop world was one of glamour, fame and a lot of teenage dreams. Jimmy Savile wasn't the only radio DJ that took his roadshow around the country, wasn't the only DJ whose aides would invite local girls backstage to 'meet the star'. And it wasn't only DJs. All the bands, singers, etc., were in on the act too. Allegedly. That was the territory, that was the scene. It was so wonderfully illustrated in the movie 'The Boat That Rocked' when a boat load of teenage girls turned up to claim their magazine prize and spend a day at the pirate radio station...! Of course, we all laughed along with that film... but maybe it doesn't seem so funny now? Well, maybe it should because that is how it was. And maybe we shouldn't be so quick to judge the behaviour patterns of 40 years ago by today's standards?

Of course, the knives are out for and at the BBC. New DG is in an insidious and un-enviable place. Newsnight Editor Peter Rippon has 'stepped aside' and had his blog 'corrected' in what appears to be a quite Orwellian step to me. What the BBC and those getting their knives out fail to see is that most of us are not that blind or daft that we can't take what we see on the screen or hear on the radio in a report with a pinch of salt and make up our own minds.

Further reading:
Mark Easton (BBC) Blog: Jimmy Savile and workplace culture today

Saturday, 15 September 2012

The Golden Age of Rock n Rail...

Ian Hunter and the Rant Band
When I'm President

The crafty old devil has released this just as America gets caught up in election fever! That said... this... is a finely crafted and beautifully executed record.

And who'd have thought, back in 1975 as we listened to that opening "…'allo!" on his debut solo offering that 20 albums and 37 years later we'd be saying 'When I'm President' is maybe Ian Hunters best?

But it is! And that voice -- that never made it as a poll winner back in the day -- sounds just the same as it ever did. Its all quite comforting really. So, cue the opener 'Comfortable (Flying Scotsman)', which has all those Hunter trademarks: rocking piano, chopping guitar intro, a bit of sax and some thunder-thighs-ish 'oohs and ahhs' and a reference to days gone by with a '...that's all' added for good measure.

Essentially, this is a great rock n roll record. Sounds American, has the usual Dylan-esque touches but, it could be said by now as IH has earned this -- they are the usual Hunteresque touches: tracks like the simply wonderful 'Black Tears' (Now, this IS going to become one of his stand-out tracks. Its up there with the best of them. Epic and immense and has reduced me to tears... wonderful) along with 'Fatally Flawed', 'Just The Way You Look Tonight' and 'Life' spring to mind.

And then there's the title track. This could (and should) be a big hit for the Oswestry 'lad'. It really is a finely crafted, mature song delivered with panache and style. Very, very airplay friendly so I expect to hear it from many sources!

Ian Hunter has never chased stardom, he's been more than happy to be an artist writing, recording and performing what he wants to write, record and perform rather than delivering to record company orders. That said, I really do hope that this record brings him the wider recognition and reward he truly deserves.

Brilliant and inspirational.

Ian Hunter official web site >
Buy the album on iTunes >

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Trumpet Voluntary...

I'm sure you've heard of the expression 'blowing your own trumpet'? Naturally, some are better than others at blowing that trumpet. Some people are quite happy to tell you what they've done, how they're doing it, how good it is and why you should part with some money to experience it! Others are not so ready to put the trumpet mouthpiece to their lips and blow. But perhaps they should play a tune more often.

I'd like to do a bit of trumpet blowing. Its not for me, well, not directly...

This week issue 53 of Aceville's Let's Make Cards magazine was published. Craft magazine? This is Rock 'n' Rail, not craft 'n' sew! Never mind, today we'll talk arts 'n' crafts.

Not for the first time, an issue of this magazine comes complete with a full kit of stamps, papers, die-cuts and more. And, not for the first time, this kit has been designed and produced by our dear notjustmum or, as crafters know her, Sharon Bennett. The theme of the kit with issue 53 is 'Retro Baking'.

Sharon has been producing these kits digitally now for a couple of years. She shares the task with others: they do one month, she does the next. But, rest assured dear reader, Sharon produces EVERYTHING in the kits that bear her name.

Lets's Make Cards comes from Colchester based publishers Aceville and, amongst other title in their stable, is another craft superstar magazine, Crafts Beautiful. At the time of writing, Sharon is no longer a contributor to CB -- as it is affectionately known -- however she had contributed for the previous 20 years or so; ceramic painting, glass painting, painting on wood, card making, painting on metal, lino printing, silk painting, rubber stamping. You name the craft, she's produced a feature for Aceville on it and our house is full of many items that once adorned the pages of the magazine.

Now, there are plenty of ladies -- and some gentlemen -- out there making cards, scrap-booking, creating photo-frames and so on and plenty of them also contribute to CB... but what sets Sharon apart is that she originates everything in the project. Nothing is purchased at the craft shop and then put together at the work bench. No, Sharon designs the motif, she then works that into a design for the given medium and then applies it. She does it all.

Because what sets Sharon apart is that she is not a crafter; she is an artist, an illustrator, a designer. She can design, illustrate, paint and design both traditionally and digitally. Sharon has been using Adobe Photoshop for about 10 years now and an awful lot of her work is either originated in Photoshop or, at some point in its life-cycle, is manipulated in Photoshop.

Some people seem to think that 'digital' means that it is delivered via e-mail as a JPEG or PDF. Well, that's true up to a point... but with Sharon, digital really means DIGITAL. Her work is no longer painted on metal, wood, glass or fabric... it's digital. Its a file on a hard disc on a MacBook Pro.
And that is how the 'free' kit on Let's Make Cards 53 has been generated: digitally.

Others have made cards that are in the magazine using the kit but, as I say, Sharon is the originator.
In the past year, she has also designed several ranges of rubber stamps for Hobby Art. These can often be seen on Create & Craft TV channel. Again, we also see an awful lot of the cards made with the stamps on screen. But, let us not forget, the original drawing, design and development of the stamp is by Sharon Bennett.

Sharon has 6 books to her name, has a wikipedia page, went to the same art college as Tracy Emin (there the similarity ends), teaches craft techniques on P&O Cruises, used a dot in her designs before certain other and more famous 'crafters' and regularly gives away some of her designs on her own blog. She's not one, however, to blow her own trumpet. But she should. The tune would be magnificent as the many who use her kits or rubber stamps would surely testify.

Friday, 4 May 2012

The Most Gorgeous 12-string Sound

As I write we're watching the latest in the long-running BBC 2 show that is 'Later...' With, of course, Jools (Holland).

Tonight, amongst others, is one of our favourites here at NotJust Towers, Richard Hawley.

Now on his second song and he's playing a rather lovely Rickenbacker 12-string guitar. Oh, what an evocative thing that guitar is. These eyes first became accoustomed to that shape when watching early Beatles images on the telly as Lennon used to play one (not necessarily a 12-string, I guess).

Then, back in the 80's, I discovered a band from Australia. It was on the Whistle Test... film of them supporting Duran Duran no less... track was 'The Unguarded Moment' and the two lead guitars of Marty Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes? Rickenbackers, well, at least one was and a 12 string to boot.

And here we are, tonight with Mr Hawley... and it could be Willson-Piper. Don't get me wrong, I'm not accusing anyone of anything. Quite the contrary... it's all quite wonderful and marvellous and its just the sound. Its supreme, its superb.

And its the most gorgeous 12-string sound that there is.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Over the line...

Before we start I have to state that I am not a Chelsea fan... I have sympathies and an association... but I'm not a card-carrying, scarf wearing, Shed inhabiting Chelsea fan.

However, I thoroughly enjoyed their fine win at Wembley on Sunday and have enjoyed the smiling face of notjustmum lighting up the house. She IS a card-carrying, scarf wearing and one-time-shed-inhabiting, die-hard Chelsea fan and a real bluebird and, as such, was fearing the worst, especially as it was against Spurs.

But she needn't have worried. That wonderful Drogba strike at the end of the first-half changed the game and made sure it wasn't a repeat of the recent close, tense draw at Stamford Bridge between these two Londoners.

Then there's Chelsea's second 'goal'. And all evidenece at the time supported the view the ball hadn't crossed the line. The ref even appologised to Harry Redknapp after the game, apparently. John Terry, Frank Lampard and others all acknowledged the ball hadn't crossed the line.

Yet, Juan Mata clearly claimed it had and Martin Atkinson seemed pretty sure at the time. And this picture tells us why!
You can see why Mata raised his arms in triumph...

You can find it on MSN, BBC Sport and the Daily Mirror Sport pages... I haven't Photoshopped it. Its genuine. And it looks as if the ball could be seen to be over the line. The whole of the ball? Well, certainly more than we all thought from the TV pictures. Certainly more than most post-match reactions tell us. Certainly as much as the Liverpool 'ghost goal' in the Champions League semi-final against... Chelsea.

Martin Atkinson should stop beating himself up over it OR the non-sending off of Cech. That was a correct decision too: Adebayor had pushed the ball too far away for him to contnue on towards goal and was falling before he made contact with the Chlesea keeper. Bale didn't just appear from nowhere: he was keeping up with play and was able to score the goal. So, correct decision NOT to book or send-off Cech.

However, and back to the second goal, I DO think there ought to be some kind of 21st century assistance given to refs. Having extra refs behind goal-line as EUFA use is pointless and wasteful. FIFAs argument that technology is too expensive and cannot be installed in every ground and used at every game also, surely, applies to having 6 refs per game as is their preference and the case in Europa and Champions League games. For junior football, its often a handy day that has to take the whistle as a 'ref' cannot be found!

There are enough TV cameras at BIG games already and one or two can be set-up on each goal line. The fourth official can watch the replay WE all see at home and can communcate with ref if he needs to: they are alrady all chatting to each other through the game with their radio mics!

So, there you go. I've sorted it all out and solved all the issues.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Its a mighty long way down rock n rail...

You may or you may not not know that I edit a Mott the Hoople fan-based web site, Half Moon Bay.
So, I was naturally delighted, as a fan of the band (still!), that they featured in the BBC 4 documentary How the Brits Rocked America: Go West (Episode 2; Stairway to Heaven). I remarked to notjustmum that it was a surprise, given the bands standing at the time in the UK and perceived worth in the late 70's and into the 80's. The personnel, although to many of us the finest rock 'n' roll practitioners to ever walk the face of the earth, never featured in any top 10 of the day and their final single, although tremendous and raved over by none other than John Peel, failed to sell in large numbers.
But heroes they were and, as time has gone by, their heroics and their place in the history of rock has grown and taken on more significance.
Anyway, if you can access the BBC iPlayer then the programme is well worth watching.
We're staying with BBC 4 tonight for the final episodes of Danish political drama Borgen. Excellent.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Musing on Web design…

I have, at last, downloaded Adobe MUSE to my MacBook. Have been wanting to do this for a few weeks now, since I saw

Of course, I've read all the concerns many people -- especially 'web designers' -- have about the 'pure code' that's not generated by MUSE but, I still want to give it a go.

In the past, I have been called a programmer: Macromind/Macromedia Lingo (in Director)… a bit of ActionScript too. And, I produced my very frst web pages and web sites by hand using SimpleText back in those dim and distend early/mid nineties when the internet started to get a foothold.

Yes, that was before anybody released a WYSIWYG tool for web page building. Claris were one of the first with Homepage and I immediately started using that, followed by Adobe GoLive and eventually onto Macromedia Dreamweaver.

And who used the code view in the early days of Dreamweaver? Not me, thats for sure. BUt the last thing I made with Dreamweaver -- last week as it happens -- I had code on view all the time. What's more, plenty of the elements won't display unless previewed in the browser!

Now, as graphic designer, that's not the perfect situation: I want to SEE what I'm doing as I'm doing it which was always the great thing about Homepage/GoLIve/Dreamweaver. Since those days and since the advent of CSS and Wordpress and so on, it seems code is king again.

And for people like me, MUSE offers a return to being able to design the web site visually. This IS as important as the nuts and bolts under the bonnet. Too many people call themselves 'web designers' but they design its functionality first and worry about how it looks second. For me, that's the problem with blogger tools: everything looks the same-ish. Works beautifully but dull as dishwater and all the same.

Yes, all this 'pure code' stuff is bunkum. Does the Hug web site work? Yes. What more do you need to know? Mr and Mrs average web viewer doesn't really care about the code and its efficiency.

Anyway, I'll give MUSE a go and let you know what I think.