Healing and helping the community

Over the weekend Dee has been working at a nearby Mind, Body and Spirit event.  It’s been a really busy weekend for her, with a lot of visitors at the event and a lot of interest in what she does.  There were some amazing stands, from painted stones to clairvoyance, from reiki healers to magnetic jewellery, from artwork to numerology.  I appreciate that this sort of event may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but please read on, as I think you may be as moved as we were by what I’m about to share. 

One of the adjacent stands to Dee was for the Chakra Project.  We’d been admiring the hand stitched wall hangings for quite some time over the weekend, and spoke to the man running the stand, a man called Shah.  The Chakra Project is run by his mother in the Kashmir region of northern India.

Wall hangings of different sizes, yoga mat bags and individual chakra pieces are just some of the items made by the project.
In that part of the world, young girls are apparently not often formally educated, their life choices tend to be limited and many end up illiterate and unemployed.  Essentially, the Chakra Project teaches young girls how to do needlework to a high standard, as they make these wall hangings in a mindful way.  It takes months to learn the skills and colour schemes required. It gives them marketable skills, it gives them confidence and belief in themselves, it gives them job prospects: in short, it gives them hope.  

To my mind, this is a remarkable project, and one that is worth supporting.  One woman – Shah’s mother – decided that she wanted to try to make a positive difference to many other women’s lives, and appears to be succeeding. She founded the Chakra Project and is very involved in it. I think that is simply awesome. 

Oh, and have we bought anything off the stand?  Yes we have, and here it is, in pride of place in our quiet room. It looks and feels like it was custom made for the space.  In a sense it was, because it’s handmade with love and care. 

What a difference a year makes


It’s only just dawned on me that on this day (of the week) last year, I walked out of the doors of the company I’d spent more than 21 years working at for the last time as an employee.  I wrote a little about it in this article, and thought I should perhaps share an update.  

What a year it’s been! I took a short break including a few days holiday in Prague with Dee, before starting with my new employers. They are about 1000 times smaller in terms of manpower than the previous firm, and the two environments couldn’t be more different.  

Working at a small, relatively new company, there have been so many opportunities to do new things, to try new roles, to let my imagination run riot to create new services and products which might give us the edge.  For example, I got involved in writing the “screenplay” then filming and appearing in some marketing videos.  I’ve been to new countries on business for the first time, none of which would have been possible at the last firm.  I’ve delivered public presentations, gained two new certifications including one as a teacher, manned a stand at trade shows, appreared on panels of experts at information sharing events, carried out pure consultancy engagements and a whole host of other things.  These were all new experiences for me.  

Looking back at last year’s article I can see that I felt some trepidation about the move. I was worried that I’d become instiutionalised, too set in my ways, and therefore of limited use to my new employers.  It was all very new and quite scary, a massive leap of faith in my own abilities, and do you know what?  I’ve never looked back.  
This move has been so positive for me, it’s given my career a good push, it’s boosted my self esteem and self confidence, and it’s given me back a feeling of enjoyment at work that I now realise had been missing for a long time.  Simply put, it’s been a positive, life affirming, invigorating change, one I’m extremely happy to have made. 

You can achieve anything if you put your mind to it

So what’s my point, I imagine I can hear you asking.  It’s this: if you think you’ve gone stale at work, if you think you’re unemployable elsewhere, if you think you can’t learn new things, or experience new challenges because you’re “too old” or “too set in your ways”, then I have news for you: it’s never too late to change, it’s never too late to  take on the new challenge.  Yes it’s a scary thought, yes it’s a big leap, but live your life, don’t just accept your existence.  

Be bold, dream big, and follow your dreams.  As George and Marty McFly both said in Back to the Future: “You can achieve anything if you put your mind to it”.

It’s good to be complimentary

Ever since the Scottish Independence Referendum, through the Brexit vote and now with another election looming in the UK, my Facebook feed has been filled with people ranting and making angry comments about all manner of stuff.  Not just about politics, but it seems like nearly all walks of life and all situations are represented in these rants. There seems to be so much rage, but why?  

So much of it seems to be about First World problems. You know what I mean – too much salt on their chips, not being able to find the right colour tie to go with their shirt, not being able to find the exact flavour of coffee they want in a store with 25 different types on sale.  
In the grand scheme of things, with poverty, hunger, lack of safe drinking water, homelessness etc globally, why are people sweating the inconsequential stuff, and why are they getting so angry about it? 

I’ve just come back from a trip to the Middle East, and one thing that struck me was that, irrespective of who I was meeting, people were unfailingly complimentary before the meeting ended: even the staff in hotels, car drivers etc were friendly and polite to a level which is unusual here in the UK – in my experience at least. What was odd – and bad I think – was that I found it so difficult to be as polite in return, particularly at the end of meetings. In the UK, behaviour like that is seen as “over the top”, “too much”, “sycophantic” or plain “ass-kissing”.

But here’s the thing. Why is that? What’s so wrong with telling people how much you’ve enjoyed spending time with them, how you appreciate them taking time out of their day to talk to you?  I’m getting better at it, but will no doubt have to remember not to do it here in the UK as it’s “just not done”.   Isn’t it better than calling people out on things like their looks, their fashion sense, their choice of music – whatever doesn’t meet your standards.  
A little kindness costs nothing, and it makes the giver and receiver of those words feel better. Surely that’s a really good thing? 

Week 16 – TBT 2017 – Ziggy Stardust

Another cover version this week, and again it’s one I heard long before the original (by David Bowie). Bauhaus were probably the biggest Goth band of their time, and I was a pretty big fan. I got into them about the time that they split up, and beat myself up for years that I’d missed seeing them live. Then, joy of joys, they announced a runion tour and I had my chance – which I took. 

Brixton Academy was the venue – a legendary place in its own right – and on the appointed evening the place was full of people sressed in black, leather, fishnets, heavy make up – and the women wore much the same! I hate to think how much gel and hairspray was used just that night! 

I can’t remember who the support act were, but I do know that the gig was all I’d hoped for. The music was awesome, and the place was buzzing. So, with that little trip down memory lane, I commend this tune to you. Enjoy! 

Bauhaus – Ziggy Stardust

Week 15 – TBT 2017 – Smooth Criminal

I think this is one cover version of a song which far surpasses the original. It doesn’t sound massively different, though it does have additional swagger, and there are so many references to Michael Jackson in the video.  I guess that each version means something different to each generation, but I think that this rockier version from Alien Ant Farm may prove to be more enduring than Jacko’s version. 

It’s a lot of fun to play this on bass – perhaps one reason why I like it – but I also enjoy the video. The band appear to be having fun making it: not many will have had the chance to appear alongside a chimpanzee. Their follow up single, Movies, had a great video too – check it out! 

Smooth Criminal – Alient Ant Farm

Week 14 – TBT 2017 – Ramble On

I heard that a few years ago Classic Rock magazine polled its readers to find out who they considered to be the best rock singer, guitarist, bassist and drummer of all time. When the votes were cast, it turned out that the band that was created already had a name – Led Zeppelin. 

I must confess that I hadn’t listened to them much before my 40s, to the extent that I’d heard Rolf Harris’ version of Stairway to Heaven long before I heard the original. That seems barely credible to me, but it’s true, 

I found a list of Top 40 bass lines ever, and of all the many possibles, this song was the Led Zeppelin one that made the list. And what a track it is! The bass burbles away in the background, while the lyrics include reference to Lord of the Rings. I’ve addded this to my bucket list of songs to be able to play, and from time to time I return to it. It’s getting easier to play parts of it, but I’ve not managed the whole thing at full speed. I know I’ll get there though, it’s just going to take time.

Ramble On – Led Zeppelin

What goes on at band rehearsals?

Since I started this blog I’ve written about playing in a band a number of times, but it occurred to me today that I’ve never really talked about what goes on at rehearsals. And not many other people have either.  So I thought I’d provide a bit of an insight into the world of preparing to gig and getting songs to come together.  


I’ve been fortunate over the last 10-12 years since I’ve been learning to play to have been a member of several different bands, all with their own personalities, both as the band itself and with the people in them. 

I’ve played in bands where:

  • the other members spoke a different language to me, who loved a music genre I didn’t, who didn’t drink – but who were the most friendly and genuine people you could hope to meet
  • the singer and drummer would or would not turn up for rehearsals, without telling the rest of us, and if they did the singer would spend the whole time facing away from us and not making eye contact. In the same band we’d agree two or three new songs to learn for next week, only to arrive and find either the homework hadn’t been done or the guitarist had decided he’d rather learn something else 
  • we didn’t rehearse often because we were gigging so much we didn’t really need to
  • we rehearsed every week for over a year, never tried to get a gig, but we had a blast 
  • it would take over an hour for the drummer to set up, but we’d then rehearse for 5 or 6 hours at a time with occasional coffee breaks
  • set up took 10 minutes but during the 2 hour time slot we had there would have to be a cigarette break half way through
  • we rehearsed every week for 3 hours, then all repaired to the pub for a beer and a chat afterwards 
  • any and all suggestions I made for songs to cover were ignored / turned down
  • they wanted to pull the plug on a potential gig 2 months in advance because “we weren’t ready” and it “would be career suicide” (we were a pub band playing for fun ffs)
  • we’ve had 2 weeks to learn something new and potentially tricky (Sweet Child of Mine for example – check out the bass line in the intro) and have just got on with it and carried it off
  • I stepped in with 5 hours notice due to illness, and had to play a gig where I’d never played any of the songs before that day

One band I was in tried to bend me to be like them, uptight and stuck in their ways. They had six months to work out new vocal arrangements but didn’t then tried to blame the new boy – me – for them not being “ready” to gig. I tend to be much more easy going, and don’t sweat the small stuff. 
You can see that there’s a wide variety of bands, and none are the same in terms of their approach to rehearsal, to agreeing set lists, to how we socialised with each other when not playing. 

I’ve learned a great deal from these experiences. Here are some (but by no means all) of the key points. 

  1. Turn up on time, and make sure you’ve prepared any new tracks you’d agreed with the rest of the band
  2. Set up, tune up, then wait for the others to be ready: don’t endlessly play stuff while others are setting up
  3. Guitarists and drummers noodle and make a lot of noise, particularly when other band members are trying to talk
  4. Some people take themselves way too seriously. Unless you’re very lucky you’re not going to “make it” as a professional musician, so you should remember that playing should be fun. By all means, be serious about your music, what you play and how you sound, but it’s not life or death so chill out and enjoy yourself
  5. Don’t treat the band like a business – see 3 above – because you’re there to entertain others and enjoy yourself
  6. Being able to get along with the other band members is crucial – possibly more so than being able to play well
  7. All the practice in the world doesn’t help when you play live, for real. It helps you cover up and / or recover from mistakes, but for some reason it feels different
  8. Practice any dance moves or poses during rehearsals: trying to do them for the first time at a gig will almost always end badly
  9. A little give and take goes a long way.  Just because you don’t like a particular song doesn’t mean the band should drop it – unless you all hate it.  You may find that some you really enjoy playing are not favourites of your band mates
  10. Be flexible i.e. go with the flow.  

I find that being professional in terms of getting set up quickly, then sitting down and waiting quietly before a gig or rehearsal works best: you don’t annoy anyone if you do that. When you’ve finished, pack everything away quickly and then you can relax. Go with the flow, and don’t get uptight about anything – it’s all meant to be fun, right?  New songs? All part of the learning experience. Embrace change, embrace the challenge, and step out of your comfort zone.  Most of all, enjoy making music: it’s why you’ve practiced alone for so long. If it’s not fun, if you’;re not enjoying it – you need to find a new band. 

The guy that speaks his mind

%d bloggers like this: