Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Eurovision 2017: What you don’t need to know

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017 | Music

We’re only five days away from Eurovision 2017. A timeless competition designed to unite the people of Europe together (after what Germany did). Here is what you don’t need to know about this year’s competition.

Lucie Jones is singing for Great Britain

It sounds like she is about to kick into the main upbeat exciting song at any point. But she never does.

Norma John is singing for Finland

And it’s worse than Britain’s entry.

Italy are strong favourites

They’re at less than evens on Betfair. Francesco Gabbani is singing Occidentali’s Karma for them. It’s in Italian and it is a pretty fun song. Of course, Russia were at evens for Eurovision 2016 and failed to secure the victory. But far fewer people hate Italy.

Also, Italy has a dancing gorilla. And no, I don’t think it’s a Chabris & Simons experiment.

Will Rocksmith teach you to play guitar?

Monday, March 6th, 2017 | Music

If you have ever wanted a real-world version of Guitar Hero, Rocksmith may be for you. However, learning guitar still takes a lot of practice.

Guitar Hero has proved to be a very popular game, and it was only a matter of time until people started asking “is there any way this could be done with a real guitar?”

The answer was yes, in the form of Ubisoft’s Rocksmith. You plug a guitar into your games console using a USB to 1/4” jack cable and then play a Guitar Hero-style game, with the idea of it teaching you to play a real guitar.

But does it actually work? I took Ubisoft up on their 60 day challenge: put in an hour per day and you will play guitar for life, or so they say.

Did it work? Sort of. On the positive side, I can indeed play guitar. Within a year or so of first picking it up I was good enough to join a band, if only to hold down some chords while the real guitarists played the fancy stuff.

On the flip side, it really takes practice. I played for two hours per day, instead of one. I also acquired a guitar teacher for one-to-one lessons and still it was really six months before I could play a simple song.

That ignores the fun I had using Rocksmith though. You are playing your favourite tunes, even if it is just the occasional note at first, and while the adaptive difficulty can be annoying at times, it does make it accessible to everyone. Even if it doesn’t turn you into a guitar player for life, you may find you have just as much fun playing it as any other video game.

Trading down

Sunday, February 12th, 2017 | Family & Parenting, Music

One of the remarkable abilities of babies is to force you to throw everything that you have ever loved. This happened several times before Venla was once, again after she was born, and now more time. With each iteration, you think there is nothing more you could possibly do without. But there is. You have to keep getting rid of more and more stuff.

In general, I think this is therapeutic. However, it is not like we now have less stuff. It just means we have different stuff.

One of the latest victims is my guitar amplifier. I had a beautiful Vox AC15VR with a value pre-amp. Unfortunately, it had nowhere to live.

I have had to sell it and replace it with a small Orange Crush 20. It does look cool, but it does not sound as good. It does, however, fit in my apartment.

The moral of the story? Buy an amp large enough that it itself can become a piece of furniture you can store things on.

SAL July 2016

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016 | Humanism, Music, Video

The July event of Sunday Assembly Leeds was on the theme of Yorkshire (it being Yorkshire Day the following day). Our speaker for the month, Mary from City of Sanctuary, spoke about the efforts to make Leeds a more inclusive and more welcoming place. The cake selection was also excellent, having had much left overs from the Humanist picnic the day before.

The Assembly Line performed as usual, just as a three piece this month. This left me as the only guitarist, but it could have sounded a bit worse.

The Housemartins – Happy Hour

Kaiser Chiefs – I Predict A Riot

Chorus pedal

Saturday, April 16th, 2016 | Music


I was given some vouchers for Christmas and earlier this month I finally got round to spending them. My latest edition is a chorus pedal. I was originally looking at the Arion analogue chorus. However at around £200, I wasn’t that in love with it, so I gave the Boss Super Chorus and Boss Chorus Ensemble a go.

It was a tough choice between the two. In the end, I settled on the CE-5 because it seemed to have a slightly warmer sound than the CH-1. It could have between the way I had it set up, or it could have been pure placebo, but even after extensive fiddling with the knobs I got a better sound out of the Ensemble.

I am hoping that it will be useful in creating even more atmosphere for the band. It produces a similar effect to the delay. I already have a Carbon Caby on my board, so it doesn’t add a huge range of extra options. However, in time I think I will learn how to get a nice subtle effect out of it that bulks up our sound. Or, if not, at least my Smiths covers will sound better.


I also played around with a wah, which is the other pedal originally included in my pedal board master plan. It was fun, but I am not going to worry about that for now: the board is also getting pretty crowded!

Songwriting: Step by Step

Friday, February 19th, 2016 | Books, Music

Songwriting: Step by Step is a 2012 book by Aaron Cheney. It is short. It comes in at about 100 pages and I bashed through the book in about an hour. I paid £2.29 for the Kindle edition, which seems fair.

It does take you through step-by-step, but the steps are not covered in that much detail. I think I picked up more from the casual references to terms and techniques than I did from the main focus of the material. A lot of the text covers writing the lyrics. This is not something I am too concerned about. I have a lot of learn here, but I have written lyrics for many years, it was always adding the tune that I struggled with. This section was covered in far less detail.

I also spotted a grammar mistake. “Everyone” instead of “every one”. In a perverse way it made me feel good that I am not the only person putting books out there with imperfect grammar.

Would I recommend it? Probably not. If you are buying a book on songwriting, my guess is that you probably want to dedicate some time to it. If so, you will want a book that goes into more detail than this does.


Piano: six months on

Saturday, January 23rd, 2016 | Music, Thoughts


Six months ago I bought myself a piano and began taking lessons. It was hard to fit in: I had to give up my guitar lessons and when my singing teacher left I did not pursue another. I am not moaning like some rick stuck-up kid, but it was a good reminder for me that you can only do so much and need to allocate your time accordingly.

Now that I have spent six months with it, it seems like a good time to reflect on my progress so far.

I am still practising every day. You have to, if you want to achieve mastery (or even basic competency) of an instrument. I am finding it about as difficult to motive myself as I did with guitar. It’s a struggle to sit down ever day, but I do get it done.

I am finding it easier than guitar. With guitar, I literally could not play anything for the first six months. After that, I finally got one basic song down. Getting the muscle memory to make those chord shapes takes ages. With piano, I was playing a song in my first lesson. It was very simple song, but I was playing it. I can also see myself making progress, whereas often with guitar it feels like I am not getting any better. This has all be done with around twenty minutes practice a day. With guitar, I was usually doing an hour.

I can’t read music yet. I know how to, but in the heat of the moment I am lost. I have to start counting up the bars using FACE or ACEG. Interesting though, I need the music in front of me, and to keep my eyes on it, to be able to play the music.

I feel like I am building muscle memory, rather than learning. I can nail a piece, but as soon as I make a mistake or lose my place, it takes my ages to find it again. I am hoping this will disappear over time. As the songs her more challenging, it should push me to sight read more and more.

Always break it down. If you are struggling, break it down into a small section. Once you have this down, build it back up again. Slowly. Use the metronome to help yourself keep the beat. It is annoying, but useful.

Having a teacher is really valuable. Not only do they instruct and help you correct your mistakes, but they also reinforce the stuff you already know. I know I should break it down and use the metronome, but often I do not because I don’t like doing it. Having these concepts constantly reinforced is useful on its own.

Fuzz face pedal

Friday, January 8th, 2016 | Music


When playing guitar, I am often confused Jimi Hendrix (I think). However, if anyone did not think that before they surely will now that my family bought me a Fuzz Face pedal for Christmas.

It is a fairly standard size for a stomp box and the audio jacks come out at 45 degree angles from the back. This I quite like because it keeps them out of the way of the boxes where the cables come straight out of the sides.

It has two controls, volume and fuzz. The fuzz boosts the signal so you need to balance this with the volume level, depending on how much higher you want to go.

The Assembly Line, November 2015

Sunday, December 6th, 2015 | Music, Video

At November’s Sunday Assembly Leeds we did two songs, Echo Beach and Stuck in the Middle With You. I also did a solo cover of Closing Time, but my camera died before we got to that. The camera was using a huge aperture, so half the band are out of focus.

Echo Beach

Stuck in the Middle With You

The Assembly Line July 2015

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015 | Humanism, Music

For the July 2015 Sunday Assembly Leeds we performed two songs. They sounds really good on the day though listening back, I’m less convinced.

I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)

Weather With You