Posts Tagged ‘music’

The Mark Knopfler Guitar Collection

Thursday, February 8th, 2024 | Distractions

At the end of January, Dire Staits guitarist and front man Mark Knopfler auctioned off over 100 of his guitars.

It was announced months in advance and took place at the famous auction house Christie’s. The offer bidding in person, on the phones and via their online system in a hybrid style, as well as live streaming the event on YouTube. The sale proved to be much more popular than they had expected and was delayed by two hours as their online auction system was overwhelmed.

Everything in it went for big money. The Les Paul he used for Money For Nothing was expected to go for a large amount and predictably did: £470,000. But even the guitars he received as gifts and barely played went for £20,000-£30,000 and upwards. And thing like the Fender Strats he used on stage were around £100,000. Here are some of the “budget” lots:

Predictably then, I didn’t buy anything. But it was an exciting event to watch: all six hours of it, not including the two hour delay!

Simple Minds

Sunday, March 24th, 2019 | Distractions

SAL May 2016

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016 | Humanism, Video

The May 2016 Sunday Assembly Leeds had a theme of “friendship”. The Assembly Line performed two songs, I’ll Be There For You by The Rembrandts and With a Little Help From My Friends by The Beatles.

I’ll Be There For You

With a Little Help Frm My Friends

Can Britain win Eurovision?

Saturday, May 28th, 2016 | Distractions, Thoughts

eurovision-2016-winnerJamala wins Eurovision 2016. Photo credit: Thomas Hanses (EBU).

This will be the last post about Eurovision for a while. I promise. Probably. I want to address this issue though because a lot of people think Eurovision is a joke and there is no point us trying because we can never win. This isn’t the case.

We’re really good at Eurovision

Britain’s recent performances in Eurovision are not indicative of our past performance. A look at the all-time winners list puts it in perspective.

Country Wins
Ireland 7
Sweden 6
United Kingdom 5

We are the third most successful country in Eurovision ever. It’s only Sweden’s two recent victories of Loreen in 2012 and Måns Zelmerlöw last year that have pushed them ahead of us. The UK and Ireland between them have cleaned up. We’ve also hosted it a record number of times as we have helped out poorer countries by hosting it for them on several occasions.

Good music wins Eurovision

Here are some of our recent scores:

Year Artist Place
2011 Blue 11
2012 Engelbert Humperdinck 25
2013 Bonnie Tyler 19

Note that when we are not dragging singers back from the grave, and put a popular band in, we do much better. Blue were already arguably has-beens by the time they entered, and the song was okay and look how much better thet did. Our performance in the votes is correlated to the quality of music we put in.

Sweden, who have been smashing it recently, start picking their song in November. They have a whole music festival to decide on it. They take it seriously: and they win.

Bloc voting isn’t that important

Bloc voting isn’t as important as you might think. The Radio Times have a good write-up of the situation. UCL even published a study showing that while bloc voting has an affect, it is not big enough to prevent a a song winning the contest. Lena’s “Satellite” winning for Germany in 2010 is a good example of this. Germany don’t have many friends, but they still triumphed.

Even if it is, we’re in a bloc

Some would argue that the bloc voting is actual just cultural voting. People like the music of their culture and as their neighbours probably have a similar culture, they are likely to get votes because they share the same music tastes. Whatever the reason, the UK benefits from this.

What country do we give the most points to? Ireland! And who gives us the most points? Yep, it’s Ireland. Our neighbours across the water, France and Belgium, are also some of our most generous donors and god bless Malta who gave this year’s song, that came third from bottom, a full 12 points.

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.


An evening with Mark Knopfler

Monday, June 1st, 2015 | Music, Reviews

Mark Knopfler is an amazing guitarist and it was his work shredding the licks in Dire Straits that inspired me to pick up the guitar. So I was quite excited when he announced he would be touring with his band, including a stop in Sheffield.

We were in Nottingham in the morning, and I had training, so we had to drive all the way back to Leeds and then drive right back down the M1 to the gig that evening. We did get lucky though – I assumed there would be a support band on, so I didn’t set off until 6:40. Turns out he did start at 7:30, but due to sheer luck we got straight down the motorway and into the car park, ending up right next to the entrance and got in just as the lights went down.

Critics might say that the two hours and fifteen minutes they played for was fifteen minutes short of The Who. Lazy even. But I was pretty happy with the length!

He played Sultans of Wing, Romeo & Juliet, Telegraph Road and So Far Away, as well as a load of new stuff. He actually has more new stuff that I have actually listened to, as I only recognised one or two of his solo tunes even though I thought I had listened to most of it. His new stuff is so-so. It’s good, but it’s little guitar riffs, and doesn’t show off his skills as much as when he does a full song like Sultans or Telegraph Road.

I have never seen someone change guitars as much a Mark. It’s odd because in Guitar Stories he said he got the Pentair made because he didn’t want the hassle of switching between his Strat and his Les Paul. Yet in the gig he switched guitars every song, and in many songs, in the middle of the song as well!

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Tabs section added to Lyrics Burger

Thursday, May 28th, 2015 | News

Last month I launched a new responsive version of Lyrics Burger. However, the updates have not stopped there! It now has a tabs section, too. This includes entries for guitar, bass, drums and keyboard. It is a rather small collection currently, but who doesn’t want to play Phantom Planet over and over again?


Cut Out Shapes at Wharf Chambers

Friday, May 1st, 2015 | Events, Music, Reviews


Wharf Chambers is a new venue located where the Common Place used to be. It’s a members-only club, though membership is just £1 and we just went in. With a good reason of course, we were there for a gig. We got there just in time to see one of the warm-up bands, Secateurs.

They were very good. At first they were just irritatingly loud but as our ears adjusted I began to really enjoy their set.

Cut Out Shapes put on the usual high standard of performance, even doing an encore of a song they claimed they did not know how the play.


Thursday, April 30th, 2015 | Reviews, Tech

Yousician is a software application that teaches you to play guitar. It is available for iPad, iPhone and Mac (and possibly other platforms). I have been trying out on my iPad because I imagine, and other reviewers have commented, that the iPhone screen is just too small to be practical.


It starts off slowly with a skill test, some basic notes and chords. Each “mission” starts off with a video that you have to watch, then you have to do the exercise. The app listens to your playing and checks you are playing the right note. If you hit a high enough percentage, you pass the mission and unlock the next one. If you fail, you have to retry.

A ball bounces between the notes to tell you when to play them. It falls at different rates though. It flies in an arc, and sometimes will come down steeper than others, so getting the timing spot on is very tricky. I sometimes felt like I was playing an arcade game rather than learning guitar. In the end I adopted slightly different strategies for timing my chords and my individual notes.

It is also slow to get going. I think I must have spent 2-3 hours on it just to get through the basic stuff and up to a standard that I found a challenge. This is despite the “skill tests” it recommended I took to get ahead. Also at one point it decided to remove the chord names and replace them with individual fingering, which was annoying, though thankfully disappeared after a few songs. After that I thought it got very difficult very fast, so it would be nicer to have a more adaptive curve.

Given it is so similar to Rocksmith, it is impossible not to compare it. It is not as well made as Rocksmith. You have to download each mission each time you play it – so even if you have done it before, it re-downloads it. Also all the videos are just embedded YouTube videos, so again you will need internet access for these. There is no offline mode.

It is difficult to gauge how accurate it is, because it could be me missing the notes, or it could genuinely be missing them. On the whole, it is fairly accurate. I started by playing with my guitar amp and the iPad’s microphone. This I found the timings difficult to get right. Eventually I plugged my Apogee Jam interface into the iPad and this made things much better.

It also allowed me to play chords wherever I wanted. For example it recommended I play A5 with the root note of the open 5th string. I played it on the more typical place of a closed power chord on the 6th string and it did not complain.

You are limited to about 30 minutes of game time per day on the free version. It’s not this straight forward though because you have to wait exactly 24 hours between free sessions, so you can only use this if you move your practice time back half an hour every day. This time is also interrupted by ads telling you to upgrade. The game doesn’t pause when these adds appear, so an add will finally disappear only to find you’re about to finish a song having missed all the notes.

Premium gives you unlimited access for £14.99 a month. When I first tried to upgrade to premium it failed every time, and I had to wait until the next day. It’s recurring billing and bills your iTunes account, though you can easily disable auto-renew in iTunes.


Yousician is like Rocksmith, only not as good. Given the price and the build quality, I would recommend going with Rocksmith instead, though Yousician certainly has its charms.

The Who

Sunday, January 4th, 2015 | Distractions

Last month I took my mum to see The Who at Leeds Arena. It was nice to see a band worth going to playing there. The whole place was packed; I’ve never seen the arena have all of its sections open before. The couple behind us were talking about how they had not seen this band for 40 years.

They were excellent.

I was a bit cold at first as it was just Roger and Pete at the front of the stage, then a wall of amps, and the rest of the band behind almost curtained off. Of course those two are the actual “Who”, but Zak Starkey has been drumming for them for over 15 years now.

However, as the show went on it got better and better. They played for two and a half hours. I do not think I could do that at my age, let alone theirs. Especially Starkey as although he is a lot younger, he has the most intensive job and did not have any songs off.

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