Danish musician René González Schelbeck, trading as Western Skies Motel, makes, predominantly acoustic, instrumental music inspired by the wide open spaces of rural America. The recent LP, 'Settlers', is a extremely fine piece of work, while a companion 6 track EP, 'Generations', contains 'Myriads', a tune which steadily works its way to an electric crescendo and is my favourite piece from the project thus far. Shades of Fripp & Eno in that one, methinks.
Check out more music from Western Skies Motel here.
As I write these words, the old bone-shaker is at the garage being fine tuned in preparation for the journey and by the time you read this we should be speeding our way down the M11 towards London, where Mrs S has an important three day artistic gig in the heart of the sprawling metropolis. And me? I'll be ticking off a few odd jobs for my two elderly East End-based Aunts. Curtain changing, plant watering, a little gentle tidying - you name it, I'll probably be dusting it. It promises to be a flat out, non-stop, nose-to-the-grindstone few days for me, with interruptions only for extended coffee breaks (with hefty slabs of homemade cake, natch) and taking the dear old ladies in question out for a leisurely lunch or two. I'll be glad to get back home on Tuesday for a rest.
I've managed to catch at least one London date (often several) on every UK Bob Dylan tour since 1981. The one exception was in November of 2005 when work pressures prevented me from attending. So imagine my utter dismay when I checked the setlists online following Bob's Brixton Academy shows, to find that he'd commenced his encores with a brief snatch of 'London Calling', a direct nod to the city and of course, the mighty Clash, the only band that mattered.
A short while after penning this post in 2012, I had a little rethink. I tried to work out exactly where I was and who I was with the last time I went to a dentist and, following a quick recalculation based on those facts, realised that my last visit wasn't in in 1987 as I'd initially estimated, but actually in 1983. A couple of weeks ago I finally plucked up the courage, signed up to the same local dental surgery as Mrs S and went along for my first check up in 33 years. My new dentist, who wasn't even born the last time I set foot inside a surgery, expected the worst as I opened my cake-hole for inspection, but, with a couple of exceptions, was pleasantly surprised at the state of my molars. Yesterday I had a filling, taking care of the lesser of the problems he found. I was utterly terrified, but was a brave little soldier throughout the process. The other discovery made by my dentist came as no surprise, indeed I alluded to it in that post 4 years ago. A tooth at the back has crumbled beyond repair or possibility of normal extraction. It's never given me a moment of pain or discomfort, but surely will one day, so it has to be dug out - and it'll be a nasty job. I'm awaiting an appointment later in the year with a specialist, for which I will be given sedation. It'll be messy, but it's my own fault.
Here are Chatham's finest and the only Dentists I've ever really cared for, with their classic début single from 1985, 'Strawberries are Growing in My Garden (and It's Wintertime)'.
I appreciate that some of us have got this record collecting bug worse than others, but who among us would be capable of resisting the chance to own a true rarity by one of our own favourite artists? And by true rarity I mean a very limited, personalised edition - of one copy. Step forward I Will Play This Song Once Again, a record label specialising in excruciatingly limited, personalised releases. Some of the singles in their catalogue have editions of just 5 copies, though my own purchase, 'What Have They Done To You Now?' by Daniel Knox, had a massive run of.....35. This means that Daniel recorded the song 35 times, each a one-off individually cut performance, prefaced by a brief spoken introduction, which in my case was a dedication to me using my full name (pronounced absolutely correctly - believe me this rarely happens) followed by the date and time of recording - four o'clock one morning in December since you ask.
The original recording of 'What Have They Done To You Now?' appeared on Daniel's excellent 'Disaster' album in 2007 and is revisited on my single in a very dramatic, rolling reworking - a unique performance, quite literally. I'd love to play it for you, but it's mine, all mine! Here's the original though. Check out more of Daniel's terrific music here.
Almost exactly a year ago I posted a few shots (here) of a collared dove who'd elected to set up a nest in a very precarious position. Sadly, on that on that particular occasion, the eggs were lost in the storm, though I'm happy to report that the family were more successful in the same spot a little later in the year. I happened to glance over at the same stretch of our neighbour's guttering a couple of weeks ago and noticed a dove sitting on a nest right over the downpipe, exactly as that one did 12 months ago. Yesterday afternoon, as I walked past an upstairs window, I spotted some movement across the way - it was a proud parent gently encouraging a recently hatched youngster to take a stroll along the gutter, while another egg sat temporarily abandoned back in the nest. Never fear though, shortly thereafter, one of the parents was back on the nest, incubating the second egg, so we're keeping our fingers crossed for two out of two. (Click on the photos to enlarge)
As we're rolling out the welcome wagon for the new arrival, it seems an apt moment to share a tune by the Asthmatic Kitty recording artists of the same name. The duo's 2008 début, 'Welcome to The Welcome Wagon', was produced by Sufjan Stevens, who also put in an appearance on the 2012 follow up, 'Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices'. Album number three is due later this year. This is 'Sold! To the Nice Rich Man', originally released in 1999 by Danielson, another artist with a strong Sufjan Stevens connection.
Soon after discovering the joys of Adnams beer at the tender age of 20, my pals and I pledged to make a group pilgrimage to Southwold (home of the aforementioned sacred beverage) to take the Adnams Brewery tour. We were never organised enough to get it together in those days though and another 30+ years would elapse before I eventually took the tour in 2013 - and it's well recommended if you ever find yourself in the area, but then I would say that wouldn't I? On Saturday, my 56th birthday, I fulfilled another similarly long-held ambition in the very same seaside town, when Mrs S & I climbed the iconic Southwold Lighthouse. The 113 steps to the top, spiral up around the internal wall of the structure, with just a handrail to separate you from the void. Mrs S, who isn't great with heights, had a very big wobble half way up (and a pretty much continuous wobble all the way down at the conclusion of the visit), but we made it and were rewarded with excellent views, in spite of the general miserableness of the weather on the day. (Click on any photo to enlarge)
Looking up at the climb and looking down towards the pier.
In the distance, Dunwich & Minsmere and down there............
..........the Adnams brewery. It must be time for a pint.
Here I am, blowing out the candles on my birthday cake in 1966. There'll be no candles today though, it's too much of a fire risk. But I might go mad and have a slither of cake with my afternoon coffee. Well, you're only 56 once aren't you?
I saw Teleman play in a small sweaty club the other evening, where they offered up a faultless set that blended selections from their 2014 début LP 'Breakfast' with the brand spanking new 'Brilliant Sanity'. Now there's a bunch of lads who know a good hook when they write one - and it seems that they just can't help themselves. I grabbed a printed set-list on the way out, complete with additional informative handwritten prompts - 'Rock Flashy' anyone? Here's a bit of 'Fast', some 'Pop Med' and a portion of 'Jammy'.
Some may remember that
Rozi Plain's 'Friend' was my favourite LP of 2015 - and if you're still to fall for that album's many and varied charms, please take a few minutes to check out the tunes I posted from it last year (here and here). Next week sees the release
of a companion piece to 'Friend', appropriately titled 'Friend of a Friend', which gathers together a selection of
alternative versions, session tracks and remixes from the project.
The haunting 'Marshes' is the first taster.
As a man of a certain age, I can't help but notice that many of life's niggling aches, pains and minor discomforts that once I could swiftly shake off, now have a habit of sticking around for a great deal longer, rather like an unwelcome guest at a party. Indeed, after feeling a twinge just the other morning I ruefully mumbled to myself that I was gradually falling apart. On a positive note, that one
idle thought inserted a splendid earworm into my noggin for the entire rest of the day, 'Every Day I Fall Apart'
the 1997 single by Scottish band Superstar.
Superstar were lead by Joe McAlinden and traded throughout the 1990's, during which time I managed to
accumulate a number of their releases and catch them in concert on three separate occasions. Joe slipped off my radar
following the band's split at the turn of the century, but after humming 'Every Day I Fall Apart' for about
10 hours straight, I decided to find out what he's been up to lately - and I'm very glad I did. His current project is Linden, which
has so far yielded two long players, the Edwyn Collins co-produced 'Bleached Highlights' in 2012 and last
year's 'Rest And Be Thankful'. I listened to both of the albums and they were so good that I bought them straight away.
Each record is crammed with more glorious pop moments than you can shake a stick at and come warmly recommended. This is the title track from the most recent LP. You can check out the whole thing here.
Mrs S & I get a great deal of pleasure from the birds that visit our garden - and, luckily for us, the visitors are rarely
in short supply. On one memorable afternoon last summer I actually had go out and remove the fat-feeder for a while,
as we had over 40 Starlings causing a screeching cacophony on and around it. Large numbers of Sparrows nest
under our roof tiles, performing chirruping tap-dances on the ceiling to wake us each morning - we sleep at the top of
the house, directly beneath them. We have a resident pair of Collared Doves.
Dunnocks, Blackbirds and Thrushes all stop by. So too do Robins, Great Tits
and Blue Tits. Until we had the fence erected a couple of years ago, a group of Wild Chickens occasionally
wandered in from the fields to create havoc. Once or twice we've even had the slightly surreal experience of a Pheasant inadvertently landing in the garden - it's always a toss-up who's more surprised, us or the Pheasant.
With all this activity, it feels a little unappreciative to complain, but (with the honourable exception of the Robins
and Tits) up to last year, we'd seen very few splashes of colour amongst our visitors. A friend advised us to try
filling a feeder with sunflower hearts. I gave it a go and, very gradually, they came. New visitors this year have
included Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Coal Tits, Siskins and, my favourites, a seemingly inseparable male and female
I bring the feeders in each evening, particularly during the winter months, to dissuade any Rats who might roam in off the marsh in search of food. Every morning when I take the feeders back out, various groups of birds are sitting waiting
around the fence, shuffling excitedly. They all pounce the moment I hook up the feeders and are already
stuffing their faces by the time I get back indoors to my breakfast. On a couple of mornings this week I had a camera on hand as I watched them tuck in.