Reading - December 2016

Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett (1991)
Early Pratchett and more interested in comedy than the later, more satirical books - in this case, what would happen if Death took a holiday? A short and easy read, although the last sections are a little vague.
The Week (3 December 2016 / Issue 1102)
Guitar & Bass (January 2017 / Vol 28 No 4)
The Week (10 December 2016 / Issue 1103)
1971 - Never A Dull Moment: Rock's Golden Year by David Hepworth (2016)
An engaging, entertaining read, choc-full of interesting titbits and trenchant observations. Hepworth's main contentions are that a) 1971 was never-equalled golden year for rock music; and b) that it was the start of the modern era in rock, which therefore strengthens contention a even further. Despite his amusing assertion that 1971 is objectively the best year ever ("The difference is this: I'm right"), it's obviously subjective and while clearly great music was made in this year, much of it sounds dated, regardless of how good it is. Contrast that with some of the biggest records from a mere six years later, such as Aja or Rumours, neither of which sound as of their time in quite the same way.
The Week (17 December 2016 / Issue 1104)
Guitarist (January 2017 / Issue 415)
The Week (24 December 2016 / Issue 1105)
Haynes Explains Teenagers: Owners' Workshop Manual by Boris Starling (2016)
A slim, 34-page, 20 minute read, this joke "manual" about teenagers is a classic stocking filler. It makes me wonder what percentage of those bought are actually read, versus those just parked on a shelf. Anyway, amusing in places, a little stereotyped in others, but a nice little present and appreciated as such.


Solo of the Month #22

December 2016

Often the biggest influence on what I choose to play over a solo is the presence of a new toy. In this month's case, it's a very simple one: an expression pedal. Attached to the EHX Pitchfork, it makes it into a Whammy-style effect, and huge amounts of fun.

So it was already on the board when this rather nice backing track came up. It's got good dynamics, it's well recorded and there's some lovely little details going on. In fact, at nearly two minutes and with a clear verse/chorus structure (albeit one that cuts off rather suddenly), it's more like recording an instrumental than a solo.

After a bit of experimentation I settled on a compressed driven tone, using the EXH Soul Food into the drive channel of my amp and the internal gain boost on as well. I had a verse part and a chorus part and to add interest I used the expression pedal with the Pitchfork to sweep up an octave to the chorus, up another octave in the middle of the chorus, and down again at the end. The very high octave parts in the first chorus sounded a little thin, so I doubled it quietly an octave below. Then for the second chorus I recorded a harmony part, mostly fourths - basically, the same pattern but a string higher.

Recording this was straightforward, particularly since I did it in several parts, but this probably ended up being the most complex "production" in Reaper yet. I ended up with eight tracks (plus one for the backing): the guitar parts themselves, plus separate tracks for delay and reverb and a bus track to bring it all together. It was recorded dry, so I routed all the guitar parts through the TAL Reverb plate emulation plugin. I also wanted delay, but at different levels for different parts, in particular the long downwards glissando at the end of the first chorus. Here, a big modulated delay made it sound very other-worldly. It's using the superb PSP cmDelay (a cut down version of their Stomp Delay that was given away with Computer Music).

The guitars were routed in parallel through the delay and reverb, not in series, and brought together on a bus so I could control the volume easily. I put automation on the delay volume to bring it in and out where I wanted it. The reverb was as much because when the delay kicks in half way through the first verse, it makes a big difference to the sound, and the reverb cushions this slightly. However, it does have the effect that when you first hear the guitar, it does sound a bit like it's in a tunnel. I wasn't sure how to prevent this, but it does all come together later.

I'm quite proud of this one. It got some nice comments during the voting, including top marks from the guy who had recorded the backing track in the first place.


Reading - November 2016

Midnight In The Garden Of Evel Knievel by Giles Smith (2000)
Collection of amusing television reviews, heavily in stylistic debt to Clive James's wonderful seventies columns (or more likely, the books - here's James himself on the same subject), but that's no bad thing at all. Since the remit is more limited (sport on television), the same subjects come up again and again - boxing, football, Formula 1 - but it's well observed and amusingly written, so doesn't become boring.
The Week (5 November 2016 / Issue 1098)
Guitar & Bass (December 2016 / Vol 28 No 03)
The Week (12 November 2016 / Issue 1099)
Guitarist (December 2016 / Issue 414)
The Week (19 November 2016 / Issue 1100)
A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen (and Garry Jenkins) (2012)
I hadn't heard of this at all until I saw a recent mention of the film that has just come out. Then I found it in our book exchange at work the other day; it has obviously been well read and done the rounds of many people - something I feel that the author would like. I can see why it's been so popular (over 3 million copies sold and translated into over 20 languages, apparently) - it's a quick, simple, pleasant read. Not much happens but there's a nice ending. From the look of trailer for the film, it looks like they feel they've had to invent some drama and a love interest, unfortunately.
Guitarist Presents 100 Great Guitars edited by Owen Bailey (2014)
Guitar porn, diverting for a few hours.
The Week (26 November 2016 / Issue 1101)


Solo of the Month #21

November 2016

A first this month: the solo section from a well-known classic. One of the players on the forum has been recording a very close version of Ace's "How Long". mainly (as far as I can tell) to learn the track for live performance.

I thought the challenge for everyone on this one would be to avoid reproducing the original solo, unconsciously or not. But when I went back to listen to it, I realised I didn't know the solo at all, even though I'm very familiar with the song. It's Paul Carrack's wonderful vocal I remember, and the lovely plodding bass that introduces the track. The solo seems like it belongs in a different song.

I was also surprised to find that most other participants in the challenge didn't know the song at all. That freed them to produce some interesting solos, but - for me, anyway - ones that would have entirely failed to work in the context of the overall track. My personal challenge, then, was to try and do something that could be fitted into the original song and not stick out.

Having some context was a nice change, actually. It meant that the melody of the verse could be used as a jumping off point for the solo. I dialled in a gently overdriven tone on the amp, and recorded it in two sections. I added a bit of EQ to thicken up the tone and gentle reverb to place it in the mix. The master had Melda's MLimiter on it to punch up the overall sound. And here it is:


Reading - October 2016

The Rainmaker by John Grisham (1995)
Probably my favourite story of Grisham's, with lots of interesting twists and turns, a great verdict (of course) and a nice little romance on the side (I'm always a sucker for a romance). Oddly though, despite being narrated in the first person, you don't get a great sense of who the main character is.
The Week (1 October 2016 / Issue 1093)
Bedsit Disco Queen by Tracey Thorn (2013)
A charming account of Tracey Thorn and Everything But The Girl's unusual journey through pop music in the last thirty years. You get some sense of the oddity of being a pop star. I've come away from this and her other book, Naked At The Albert Hall, with a real respect for her and a wish to revisit some of their music.
The Week (8 October 2016 / Issue 1094)
Guitar & Bass (November 2016 / Vol 28 No 02)
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (2008)
A really cool novel about hacking, security, encryption and the state. A bit lecturing at times, reflecting its target audience of "young adults" (teens, I suppose) and a clear attempt to make them care enough about the subject to get involved. I don't know if it's worked or been successful, but certainly I'd be keen for B to read it, and the others when they're old enough. It's also a good story (although the ending is a bit sudden and a tad inconclusive) and kept me reading (on my phone, since, interestingly, it's released under the Creative Commons license).
The Pelican Brief by John Grisham (1992)
A fun, if somewhat unbelievable thriller.
The Week (15 October 2016 / Issue 1095)
The Fermata by Nicholson Baker (1994)
When I first read this - probably 15 or more years ago - I thought it was very good, but now I'm not so sure. Nicholson Baker's ability to pick up on usually unobserved but common mannerisms, items and phenomena is still here in abundance but the subject matter - a man who can stop time and uses it to undress women for his own amusement - gives me a queasy feeling. His writing is superb and the more pornographic sections quite amusing, but maybe now I am more sensitive to the issues it raises.
Guitarist (November 2016 / Issue 413)
It's One For The Money by Clinton Heylin (2015)
I'm cheating a bit by including this in my list of books I've read, since I got less than a quarter of the way through before giving up, but I'd had enough (and the only reason I got that far was that I had nothing else to read during a train journey). A potentially very interesting history of music publishing is ruined by numbingly boring detail and the author's insistence on strict chronological sequence. Normally I prefer a history that starts at the beginning and doesn't jump around, but in this case I, like (I would bet) most people, would be primarily interested in the facts about publishing cases I know about; maybe the Northern Songs saga, or the fuss around "Bitter Sweet Symphony". Since the first half of the book barely takes us out of the fifties, there's a lot of tedious trivia about people even I have never heard of to wade through first. There's an interesting book to be written about the subject, but this isn't it.
The Week (22 October 2016 / Issue 1096)
How Music Got Free by Stephen Witt (2015)
Entertaining but over-simplified account of the rise of music online
Thud! by Terry Pratchett (2005)
Neil Gaiman says that Terry Pratchett's fury at the unfairness of the world  "[...] was the engine that powered Discworld." That anger is very evident in the first half of this book, which is as unvarnished a parallel as any I've seen in his books - in this case, of blinkered, inward looking, religious fundamentalists of all types. The rest of the book plays out in typical Discworld fashion, centering on Samuel Vimes this time, with cameos from Captain Carrot and Sergeant Angua, two of my favourite characters (from Men At Arms). 
The Week (29 October 2016 / Issue 1097)


How Music Got Free

Stephen Witt

Entertaining but over-simplified account of the rise of music online

I really enjoyed this book and learned a lot, but don't feel it lives up to its own billing. The book jacket's intruiging strapline - "What happens when an entire generation commits the same crime?" - tempted me in but really, there's no further exploration of this. Although, to be fair, we know the answer: the music business goes into freefall. I guess the question I was interested in was the "why". We don't really get that either.

What we do get is the stories of three, largely unconnected, people: Karlheinz Brandenburg, the "inventor" of MP3 technology; Dell Glover, a music pirate; and Doug Morris, CEO of Universal Music. In telling their histories, Witt explains the initial technical catalyst for pirating, the reason why one person got involved, and the industry's response.

However, when it comes to a sociological phenomenon like the mass pirating of music that occurred in the early 2000s, then just looking at one or two individual stories is almost inevitably going to miss the point. It marked a complete shift in the public's experience and expectation of music consumption and so was fuelled by numerous factors - millions of individual stories, if you will - that cannot be easily condensed into those of three people.

Still, as I said - an enjoyable book, well-paced and interesting. Worth reading.


Solo of the Month #20

October 2016

I wasn't quite sure what to make of this month's backing track. It is quite sparse and would probably lend itself to a number of different styles. It didn't help that I wasn't really feeling very inspired generally, and unfortunately this track didn't inspire me either.

I tried a number of different options and ended up with a main theme that used some wide intervals for interest. The tone was a general purpose driven tone with a delay on it from the Carbon Copy, synced as best I could with the beat. I had to stitch together a couple of takes to get it right, which was annoying as it wasn't actually that difficult, but oddly the one glitch you can hear (at about 0:37) was due to me making a very slight mistake on fretting a note! At 0:46 I switched to the bridge pickup to vary the sound somewhat.

All very straightforward in Reaper, just a little EQ tweaking and we're done:


Signing Off


UB40 in actually good shock

Although the lasting impression in my mind of UB40 is of the reggae-lite colossus that gave us easy listening classics such as "Red Red Wine", I vaguely knew that they had once been good. Nevertheless I am very pleasantly surprised at just how good. Signing Off is superb.

The songs are excellent, with great tunes and meaningful, politically engaged lyrics. The music is authentically dub (at least to my ears) and doesn't sound dated at all, and there's a good variety of tracks. I knew "Food For Thought" as it was one of the songs I would have recorded off the Top 40 countdowns, and I've always loved the saxophone riff and moody, minor key melody. However, my new favourite song is "King", particularly the harmonies. "Burden Of Shame" is an anguished rail against the iniquities of society. "Signing Off" is a funky echo laden instrumental.

There isn't a poor track on the album and if it isn't an all-time classic (in my view at least), it's certainly a great album to listen to.


Searching For The Young Soul Rebels

Dexys Midnight Runners

Mmm ... horny!

The  albums in the eighties list fall broadly into two categories: those that are important because of their impact at the time and those that are timeless classics. Needless to say, the latter category has fewer albums in it. Searching For The Young Soul Rebels is one of them.

It is often cited as one of the best debut albums ever, but this does it something of a disservice, since you could take the word "debut" out of that statement and it would still be correct. It's certainly one of my favourites - in my top ten, in fact - and has been for some time, but oddly I can't remember when I first came across it. All I know is that although I loved the single "Geno" at the time, I didn't get the album until I was buying CDs, probably over ten years later.

Why do I love it? It's the horns. For all the column inches written about the genius and vision of Kevin Rowland - and don't get me wrong, he's great here - the unsung heroes of this wonderful album are the horn section, and in particular, whoever did the arrangements. The way they harmonize with each other, punctuate the vocals and punch up the emotion is inspirational and uplifting, even on the slowest of tracks, and on the wonderful instrumental "The Teams That Meet In Caffs" it's all brass goodness. Other horny gems include the slow-burning "I'm Just Looking" or "I Couldn't Help It If I Tried", "Geno" (of course) ... well, pretty much the whole album.

The tracks come with serious messages I believe (Rowland doesn't come across as a man with much of a sense of humour, however much he claims otherwise) but it passes me by, as ever. But Rowland's odd yelping delivery is strangely compelling and his commitment is legendarily indisputable. Overall, the ingredients add up to a completely unique album that truly counts as classic.


Reading - September 2016

The Science Of Discworld III: Darwin's Watch by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen (2005)
Another entertaining slice of science leavened with humourous episodes with the wizards of Unseen University, although the Discworld bits and the science bits don't seem particularly connected up with each other.
The Week (3 September 2016 / Issue 1089)
Guitar & Bass (October 2016 / Vol 28 No 01)
The Week (10 September 2016 / Issue 1090)
Live At The Brixton Academy by Simon Parkes with JS Rafaeli (2014)
I've been to a couple of gigs at the Brixton Academy (The Ramones in 1987-ish and Goldfrapp sometime around 2006) but never knew much or even thought about its history as a music venue. As far as I was aware it was just always there. Simon Parkes is the man who made it like that, and this is the story of how he did it. Well told, in bite size chapters, we go from Parkes buying the venue for £1 in 1983 to him selling it twelve years later and cover just about every major name in rock music as well as some of the shadier and dodgier characters hovering around. I do find it ironic that having spent a lot of time worrying about how to fend off the Brixton underworld who were trying to take over such a lucrative venture, he eventually sold out to the real sharks of the music biz - the corporates. Still, a great adventure and a hugely entertaining book.
The Week (17 September 2016 / Issue 1091)
Guitarist (October 2016 / Issue 412)
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (1996)
Such a stylish novel and a great (and unforgettable) twist. Obviously satire and not to be taken seriously as an aspiration, but nevertheless Palahniuk's afterword describes the ironically unstoppable after-life of the book as a manual for lost souls who just want to find the nearest fight club.
The Week (24 September 2016 / Issue 1092)
Computer Music (Autumn 2016 / Issue 235)
Bought because it had a free delay plugin, and then discovered that actually it has about 50 free plugins, plus samples etc etc etc - 8 GB of STUFF! Lots of interesting articles too. Not sure where I'm going to get the time to go through it all though ...
Naked At The Albert Hall by Tracey Thorn (2015)
A lovely, thoughtful, personal, informal discussion about singing as an activity, a job, as therapy and much more. Never boring, much to think about and interesting insights into a pop life from the inside. Very enjoyable. I should now go and read Bedsit Disco Queen, which I also own but haven't got round to reading yet.


Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables

Dead Kennedys

I've known Dead Kennedys tracks like "Kill The Poor" and "California Über Alles" for a long time but never listened to the whole album. But there it is on my "Eighties in Music" list, so now's a good a time as any. It's not available on Spotify so I've had to resort to the lawless wild west of YouTube to hear it.

First impressions: it's full of energy and Jello Biafra's voice is cool in a whiny kind of way, while the music is surprisingly varied. It's obviously a low budget production but that's appropriate for the style. Best of all, it's nice and short. Not in the "thank god that's over" way, just about a dozen short tracks.

Some of the lyrical targets are very dated, some are obscure, but most tracks are musically interesting enough to make listening worthwhile. The singles are good - not least because there's the semblance of a tune: I particularly like "Holiday In Cambodia" because it has a great intro, moody verse and some great playing (although lyrically it's hardly cheery); and "Viva Las Vegas" is great, probably because it's best tune on the album and I know it best. It suits their style, funnily enough, although I'm sure it's all heavily ironic given their known politics.

Not something you'd put on for repeated listens but it's enjoyable because of the energy and it has a place in history, of course.


Kings Of The Wild Frontier

Adam And The Ants

Adam & The Ants' singles were the soundtrack of my early teens and I remember them so well. Despite that, I never owned the albums at the time, 1980 being just a little bit before I started buying records properly. What strikes me now is that the best tracks - "Dog Eat Dog", "Kings Of The Wild Frontier" and, to a lesser extent, "Ant Music" and "Ant Invasion"  - seem to have come from nowhere. They sounded like nothing else at the time and sound like nothing else today - incredibly distinctive, strange but familiar, and executed with an almost infinite swagger and bravado.

The other tracks are hit and miss and are more obvious in their influences. "Killer In The Home" is obviously based on Link Wray's "Rumble", while I'm sure there's also Eddie Cochrane and Duane Eddy in there too. As an album, it's patchy and doesn't really deserve a place in the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, but the singles are absolutely essential.

The single and indeed the album were hugely successful (the UK's biggest selling album of 1981, no less) but not imitated - I wonder why not? The time is ripe for a revival, I think!


Back In Black


Single entendres and loud guitars. What's not to like?

Some albums take a while to bed in, to seep into your consciousness or unconscious. On the other hand, some albums are pretty instant. I don't think I'd ever listened to Back In Black before today, but already I like it.

It wouldn't be fair to call Back In Black shallow, but there's not really a lot of depth or complexity here, nor is it needed. Titles like "Shoot To Thrill", "Let Me Put My Love Into You" (sample lyric: "let me cut your cake with my knife") aren't exactly difficult to decode, and the music is just as straightforward. But that doesn't imply that it's without power, excitement or dynamics. Obviously it's great rock - you don't sell million and millions on the back of sub-standard music.

I'm not particularly keen on the high-register screech-sing of much of this kind of stuff but Brian Johnson's voice has enough grit and personality to make up for it. The guitars are superb, of course, thick, crunchy and powerful. Even better, it's ten good tracks and doesn't outstay it's welcome. Classic for a reason.


The Eighties In Music

I've been wallowing in nostalgia for the last few weeks compiling my ultimate 80s playlist in Spotify. Obviously I make no claim for completeness - this is my 80s, not anyone else's. That decade was also pretty much exactly my teens, and my listening was heavily centred around Radio 1, Top Of The Pops and the Sunday chart rundown. Unsurprisingly, my musical diet was pop, pop and more pop, with a side order of the more acceptable rock. I don't think I knew what indie was until I went to university and the hairier end of metal was (and in many ways, still is) a closed book to me.

Discovering old tracks that I haven't heard for years is enormous fun, of course, but after a while I started to wonder what I missed while I was humming along to Swansway, Icehouse or New Musik all those years ago. Back to the books I go. Here's the combined list from the 1001 Albums & the Mojo Collection, in approximately chronological order:

  • AC/DC - Back In Black (1980) A M
  • Adam & The Ants - Kings Of The Wild Frontier (1980) A
  • Dead Kennedys - Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables (1980) A M
  • Dexys Midnight Runners - Searching For The Young Soul Rebels (1980) A
  • Echo & The Bunnymen - Crocodiles (1980) A M
  • Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Get Happy! (1980) M
  • Iron Maiden - Iron Maiden (1980) A
  • Joy Division - Closer (1980) A
  • Judas Priest - British Steel (1980) A
  • Killing Joke - Killing Joke (1980) A
  • Linton Kwesi Johnson - Bass Culture (1980) M
  • Magazine - The Correct Use Of Soap (1980) M
  • Motörhead - Ace Of Spades (1980) A M
  • Nic Jones - Penguin Eggs (1980) M
  • Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel (III) (1980) A M
  • Smokey Robinson - Warm Thoughts (1980) M
  • Steve Winwood - Arc Of A Diver (1980) A
  • Talking Heads - Remain In Light (1980) A M
  • The Circle Jerks - Group Sex (1980) A
  • The Cramps - Songs The Lord Taught Us (1980) A M
  • The Cure - Seventeen Seconds (1980) A
  • The Jam - Sound Affects (1980) A M
  • The Pretenders - The Pretenders (1980) A
  • The Soft Boys - Underwater Moonlight (1980) A M
  • The Specials - More Specials (1980) A
  • The Teardrop Explodes - Kilimanjaro (1980) A
  • The Undertones - Hypnotised (1980) A
  • Tom Waits - Heartattack And Vine (1980) A
  • UB40 - Signing Off (1980) A
  • X - Los Angeles (1980) M
  • ABBA - The Visitors (1981) A
  • Bauhaus - Mask (1981) A
  • Black Flag - Damaged (1981) A M
  • Bobby Womack - Poet (1981) A
  • Brian Eno & David Byrne - My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts (1981) A
  • Dick Gaughan - Handful Of Earth (1981) M
  • Einstürzende Neubauten - Kollaps (1981) A
  • Heaven 17 - Penthouse And Pavement (1981) A
  • Journey - Escape (1981) M
  • Motörhead - No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith (1981) A
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark - Architecture & Morality (1981) A
  • Phil Collins - Face Value (1981) M
  • Psychedelic Furs - Talk, Talk, Talk (1981) A
  • Rush - Moving Pictures (1981) A
  • Siouxsie & The Banshees - Juju (1981) A
  • Soft Cell - Non Stop Erotic Cabaret (1981) A
  • The Birthday Party - Prayers On Fire (1981) M
  • The Go-Gos - Beauty And The Beat (1981) A
  • The Gun Club - Fire Of Love (1981) A
  • The Human League - Dare (1981) A M
  • The Police - Ghost In The Machine (1981) M
  • Tom Tom Club - Tom Tom Club (1981) A
  • X - Wild Gift (1981) A
  • ABC - The Lexicon of Love (1982) A
  • Associates - Sulk (1982) A
  • Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska (1982) A
  • Dexys Midnight Runners - Too Rye Ay (1982) A
  • Donald Fagen - The Nightfly (1982) A M
  • Duran Duran - Rio (1982) A
  • Elvis Costello - Imperial Bedroom (1982) A
  • Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five - The Message (1982) A
  • Haircut 100 - Pelican West (1982) A
  • Iron Maiden - The Number of the Beast (1982) A M
  • John Cale - Music For A New Society (1982) M
  • Kate Bush - The Dreaming (1982) A M
  • Madness - The Rise & Fall (1982) A
  • Marshall Crenshaw - Marshall Crenshaw (1982) M
  • Michael Jackson - Thriller (1982) A M
  • Orange Juice - Rip It Up (1982) A
  • Prince - 1999 (1982) A
  • Simple Minds - New Gold Dream (81, 82, 83, 84) (1982) A
  • The Birthday Party - Junkyard (1982) A
  • The Cure - Pornography (1982) A M
  • The Dream Syndicate - The Days Of Wine And Roses (1982) M
  • The Psychedelic Furs - Forever Now (1982) M
  • Toto - IV (1982) M
  • Venom - Black Metal (1982) A
  • Violent Femmes - Violent Femmes (1982) A
  • Aztec Camera - High Land, Hard Rain (1983) M
  • Billy Bragg - Life's A Riot With Spy Vs Spy (1983) M
  • Culture Club - Colour By Numbers (1983) A
  • Cyndi Lauper - She's So Unusual (1983) A
  • Def Leppard - Pyromania (1983) A
  • Echo & the Bunnymen - Porcupine (1983) A
  • Eurythmics - Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) (1983) A
  • Hanoi Rocks - Back To Mystery City (1983) A
  • King Sunny Ade - Synchro System (1983) M
  • Malcolm McLaren - Duck Rock (1983) A
  • Meat Puppets - II (1983) A
  • Paul Simon - Hearts And Bones (1983) A
  • Police - Synchronicity (1983) A
  • REM - Murmur (1983) A M
  • Ruben Blades - Buscando America (1983) M
  • The Blue Nile - A Walk Across The Rooftops (1983) A
  • The The - Soul Mining (1983) A
  • Tom Waits - Swordfishtrombones (1983) A M
  • U2 - War (1983) A M
  • ZZ Top - Eliminator (1983) A
  • Bruce Springsteen - Born In The USA (1984) A M
  • Cocteau Twins - Treasure (1984) A
  • Echo & The Bunnymen - Ocean Rain (1984) A
  • Frankie Goes to Hollywood - Welcome To The Pleasuredome (1984) A M
  • Hüsker Dü - Zen Arcade (1984) M
  • Julian Cope - Fried (1984) M
  • Lloyd & The Commotions - Rattlesnakes (1984) A M
  • Minor Threat - Out of Step (1984) A
  • Minutemen - Double Nickels On The Dime (1984) A
  • Prince - Purple Rain (1984) A
  • Run DMC - Run DMC (1984) A
  • Sade - Diamond Life (1984) A
  • SOS Band - Just The Way You Like It (1984) M
  • The Minutemen - Double Nickels On The Dime (1984) M
  • The Replacements - Let It Be (1984) A
  • The Specials - In The Studio (1984) M
  • The Style Council - Café Bleu (1984) A
  • Tina Turner - Private Dancer (1984) A
  • Van Halen - 1984 (1984) A
  • Youssou N'Dour - Immigrés (1984) A
  • A-ha - Hunting High And Low (1985) A
  • Abdullah Ibrahim - Water From An Ancient Well (1985) A
  • Big Black - Atomizer (1985) A
  • Dexys Midnight Runners - Don't Stand Me Down (1985) A M
  • Dire Straits - Brothers In Arms (1985) A M
  • Jesus & Mary Chain - Psychocandy (1985) A M
  • Kate Bush - Hounds Of Love (1985) A M
  • New Order - Low Life (1985) A
  • Pogues - Rum, Sodomy & The Lash (1985) A
  • Prefab Sprout - Steve McQueen (1985) A M
  • Scritti Politti - Cupid & Psyche 85 (1985) A
  • Shaun Davey & Rita Connolly - Granuaile (1985) M
  • Simply Red - Picture Book (1985) A
  • Suzanne Vega - Suzanne Vega (1985) A
  • Tears For Fears - Songs From The Big Chair (1985) A
  • The Fall - This Nation's Saving Grace (1985) A M
  • The Mekons - Fear And Whiskey (1985) A
  • The Smiths - Meat Is Murder (1985) A
  • The Waterboys - This Is The Sea (1985) M
  • Tom Waits - Rain Dogs (1985) A
  • Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force - Planet Rock: The Album (1986) A
  • Anita Baker - Rapture (1986) A M
  • Bad Brains - I Against I (1986) A
  • Beastie Boys - Licensed To Ill (1986) A M
  • Billy Bragg - Talking With The Taxman About Poetry (1986) A
  • Bon Jovi - Slippery When Wet (1986) A
  • Elvis Costello - Blood & Chocolate (1986) A M
  • Megadeth - Peace Sells ... But Who's Buying? (1986) A
  • Metallica - Master Of Puppets (1986) A
  • Nanci Griffith - Last Of The True Believers (1986) A
  • Paul Simon - Graceland (1986) A M
  • Peter Gabriel - So (1986) A M
  • Robert Cray - Strong Persuader (1986) M
  • Run DMC - Raising Hell (1986) A M
  • Slayer - Reign In Blood (1986) A M
  • Sonic Youth - Evol (1986) A
  • Steve Earle - Guitar Town (1986) A
  • Talk Talk - The Colour of Spring (1986) A
  • The Bulgarian National Radio & Television Chorus - Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares (1986) M
  • The Smiths - The Queen Is Dead (1986) A M
  • The The - Infected (1986) A M
  • Throwing Muses - Throwing Muses (1986) A
  • XTC - Skylarking (1986) A M
  • Anthrax - Among the Living (1987) A
  • Astor Piazzolla & Gary Burton - New Tango (1987) A
  • Bruce Springsteen - Tunnel Of Love (1987) M
  • Butthole Surfers - Locust Abortion Technician (1987) A M
  • Def Leppard - Hysteria (1987) A M
  • Depeche Mode - Music For The Masses (1987) A M
  • Dinosaur Jr - You're Living All Over Me (1987) A
  • Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris - Trio (1987) A
  • George Michael - Faith (1987) A M
  • Guns N' Roses - Appetite For Destruction (1987) A M
  • Hüsker Dü - Warehouse: Songs And Stories (1987) A
  • Jane Siberry - The Walking (1987) M
  • Ladysmith Black Mambazo - Shaka Zulu (1987) A
  • Laibach - Opus Dei (1987) A
  • LL Cool J - Bigger And Deffer (1987) M
  • Michael Jackson - Bad (1987) A
  • Napalm Death - Scum (1987) A
  • Pet Shop Boys - Actually (1987) A
  • Prince - Sign O' The Times (1987) A M
  • REM - Document (1987) A
  • Sonic Youth - Sister (1987) A
  • Terence Trent D'Arby - Introducing The Hardline According To Terence Trent D'Arby (1987) A
  • The Cult - Electric (1987) A
  • The Jesus & Mary Chain - Darklands (1987) A
  • The Replacements - Pleased To Meet Me (1987) M
  • The Sisters of Mercy - Floodland (1987) A
  • The Smiths - Strangeways Here We Come (1987) A M
  • The Triffids - Calenture (1987) A
  • U2 - The Joshua Tree (1987) A M
  • American Music Club - California (1988) A
  • Cowboy Junkies - Trinity Session (1988) A
  • Dagmar Krause - Tank Battles (1988) A
  • Dinosaur Jr - Bug (1988) A
  • Dwight Yoakam - Beuenas Noches From A Lonely Room (1988) A
  • Everything But The Girl - Idlewild (1988) A
  • Fishbone - Truth And Soul (1988) A
  • Happy Mondays - Bummed (1988) A
  • Jane's Addiction - Nothing's Shocking (1988) A
  • k.d. lang - Shadowland (1988) A
  • Keith Richards - Talk Is Cheap (1988) M
  • Leonard Cohen - I'm Your Man (1988) A M
  • Living Colour - Vivid (1988) A
  • Mary Margaret O'Hara - Miss America (1988) M
  • Metallica - … And Justice for All (1988) A
  • Morrissey - Viva Hate (1988) A
  • Mudhoney - Superfuzz Bigmuff (1988) A
  • My Bloody Valentine - Isn't Anything (1988) A M
  • Pixies - Surfer Rosa (1988) A
  • Public Enemy - It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988) A
  • REM - Green (1988) A
  • Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation (1988) A
  • Steve Earl - Copperhead Road (1988) M
  • Sugarcubes - Life's Too Good (1988) A
  • Talk Talk - Spirit Of Eden (1988) M
  • The Go Betweens - 16 Lovers Lane (1988) A M
  • The Pogues - If I Should Fall From Grace With God (1988) A
  • The Waterboys - Fisherman's Blues (1988) A
  • Tracy Chapman - Tracy Chapman (1988) A M
  • 808 State - 808:90 (1989) A
  • Aerosmith - Pump (1989) A M
  • Baaba Maal & Mansour Seck - Djam Leelii (1989) A
  • Barry Adamson - Moss Side Story (1989) A
  • Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique (1989) A
  • Bonnie Raitt - Nick Of Time (1989) A M
  • Coldcut - What's That Noise? (1989) A
  • De La Soul - 3 Feet High & Rising (1989) A M
  • Faith No More - The Real Thing (1989) A
  • fIREHOSE - fROMOHIO (1989) A
  • Fugazi - Repeater (1989) A
  • Janet Jackson - Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989) A
  • John Lee Hooker - The Healer (1989) A
  • John Zorn - Spy vs Spy: Music Of Ornette Coleman (1989) A
  • Kate Bush - The Sensual World (1989) A
  • Lenny Kravtiz - Let Love Rule (1989) A
  • Madonna - Like A Prayer (1989) A
  • Neneh Cherry - Raw Like Sushi (1989) A
  • New Order - Technique (1989) A M
  • NWA - Straight Outta Compton (1989) A M
  • Pixies - Doolittle (1989) A
  • Queen Latifah - All Hail The Queen (1989) A
  • Soul II Soul - Club Classics: Vol One (1989) A
  • Spacemen 3 - Playing With Fire (1989) A
  • The Blue Nile - Hats (1989) M
  • The Cure - Disintegration (1989) A
  • The Jungle Brothers - Done By The Forces Of Nature (1989) A M
  • The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses (1989) A M
  • Tom Petty - Full Moon Fever (1989) M
  • Virgo - Virgo (1989) M
  • XTC - Oranges And Lemons (1989) M
  • Young Gods - L'Eau Rouge (1989) A
(Key: M = Mojo CollectionA = 1001 Albums)

Unlike my attempt to listen to all the recommended albums from the Fifties (nearly done!), I'm not going to try and acquire all 251 of these - not yet, anyway - but I already own 87, and these days we have Spotify Premium so why bother? Although interestingly, at least two - De La Soul's 3 Feet High And Rising, and Prince's 1999 - are not available online, in the former's case due to short-sighted copyright clearance issues, and in the latter probably just because Prince.

Of course, I already know, and have opinions about, a good few of these albums, but I am going to try and put these to one side for a bit and listen to them with fresh(ish) ears. Should keep me going for a while ...


Reading - August 2016

Adventures In The Screen Trade by William Goldman (1983)
Re-reading after recommending it to a colleague - although I had forgotten that I had only read it about a year ago (even though it's clearly there in my reading history). Enjoyable and interesting as always. I keep meaning to go and check on some his predictions (my knowledge of film history isn't good enough to know).
The Week (6 August 2016 / Issue 1085)
Guitar & Bass (September 2016 / Vol 27 No 12)
The Week (13 August 2016 / Issue 1086)
Whit by Iain Banks (1995)
No "M" in the name here so this is Literature, which means it must be About Something. Unfortunately, if it's anything other than a reasonably entertaining, diverting and slightly over-long tale about power struggles in a Scottish religious cult, then it's escaped me. In fact, I don't think it is "about" anything other than a story from an unusual viewpoint. Well told, of course, but the central character is not really engaging enough  to make me really want to know what happens. I made it to the end but still felt a bit "meh" about the whole thing.
The Consolations Of Philosophy by Alain de Botton (2000)
This was the first book by de Botton that I read, probably in 2001. His is a unique writing style, simple and yet rich, and well suited to potentially complex ideas - except they don't seem complicated when he describes them. As good a primer on the six included philosophers as can be found anywhere, I'll warrant, and full of food for thought.
Guitarist ( September 2016 / Issue 411)
The Week (20 August 2016 / Issue 1087)
The Week (27 August 2016 / Issue 1088)


Bread Matters: Why and How to Make Your Own

Andrew Whitley

As the title makes clear, this isn't just a book about how to make bread at home, but also why you should consider doing so. A significant part of the book is devoted to explaining what's wrong with the loaf on the supermarket shelf: what extra ingredients go into a mass-produced loaf and why they are there. Most, it turns out, are not there for your benefit as a consumer but for the manufacturers' benefit - to make the bread keep better, look larger, fuller and more attractive and so on. I broadly knew this already but hadn't come across the detail that this book contains, which is all very interesting and in some cases, concerning.

Most interesting is Whitley's assertion (backed up by referenced studies) that much of what manifests as "gluten intolerance" in many people is actually an intolerance for inadequately fermented gluten. Modern bread is made as quickly as possible, of course, but although the manufacturers have found ways to artificially accelerate rising times, what they haven't done is replicate the more complicated fermentation process that breaks down indigestible proteins over several hours of rising and proving. The suggestion is that bread made more naturally - slowly - is better for us because it will have had a chance for the nutrients to develop properly, and in particular better for people who have had problems with mass-produced bread. (Note that he doesn't include coeliacs in this, who are actually allergic to gluten,.)

If you want to make your own bread, avoiding these unnecessary ingredients, it follows that you should use primarily home-grown yeast too, and most of the recipes are broadly "sourdoughs". I'm not a huge fan of sourdough but Whitley's approach to sourdough starters, leavens and so on (there are various names) is slightly different from any others I've read and so it's quite possible that the breads will be different too - I haven't tried to make any yet but I am keen to try.

This book is interesting, comes from a different perspective to any others I have read and is a worthwhile addition to any collection of baking books. I read this on loan from the library but will probably buy my own copy. However, it's not the right book for someone just starting out making their own bread, because it does suffer from two significant problems: first, it's too long, and second, it doesn't have enough pictures. I don't need glossy photos of nice looking loaves particularly, but illustrations of the process are invaluable to anyone starting out.

Reading - July 2016

The Week (2 July 2016 / Issue 1080)
Published only days after the referendum and already out of date. The perils of printed news.
Roarke's Wife by Beverly Barton (1997)
Kind of a combined romance/whodunnit. Appealing in places but a little unbelievable in others.
The Week (9 July 2016 / Issue 1081)
Guitar & Bass (August 2016 / Vol 27 No. 11)
At Home by Bill Bryson (2010)
I read once that Terry Deary (author of Horrible Histories) employed a team of researchers to find interesting facts, which he would then combine into books. I don't know how Bill Bryson works but given the "select" bibliography at the back - which is 26 pages long and contains over 500 books - I assume he does the same. The result is a loosely themed collection of always interesting and occasionally fascinating bits and pieces of information (I've been quoting them at people for days), but one that nevertheless feels like the information is driving the book rather than the other way round.
The Week (16 July 2016 / Issue 1082)
Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell & Jeffrey Kluger (1994)
Brilliant telling of the Apollo 13 story, which, by having a clear narrative arc, manages to bring in lots of other information about Apollo and NASA without being dull.
The Week (23 July 2016 / Issue 1083)
Guitarist (Summer 2016 / Issue 410)
The Week (30 July 2016 / Issue 1084)
Bread Matters: Why and How to Make Your Own by Andrew Whitley (2009)


Reading - June 2016

The Week (4 June 2016 / Issue 1076)
The Hunt For Red October by Tom Clancy (1984)
Classic technical thriller. Could easily have been half the length but the fact that it carries the story despite that tells you how good a yarn is spun.
The Hacker Crackdown by Bruce Sterling (1992)
Key historical document on the evolution of the internet and cyberspace and internet-related crime.
Guitar & Bass (July 2016 / Vol 27 No 10)
Not The End Of The World by Christopher Brookmyre (1998)
Hadn't read this for ages, for some reason. Great stuff as usual.
The Week (11 June 2016 / Issue 1077)
Guitarist (August 2016 / Issue 409)


Reading - May 2016

Guitarist (June 2016 / Issue 407)
Interesting article about Zemaitis guitars.
The Week (23 April 2016 / Issue 1070)
The Week (30 April 2016 / Issue 1071)
Serious by John McEnroe (with James Kaplan) (2002)
An easy and interesting read, but a little repetitive. He downplays how much effort and practice it must have taken him to reach the standard he did (all autobiographies do this, though) and the recitation of match after match gets a bit dull, although in this it probably reflects the reality of a touring life. The book could do with an update, since it's 14 years old and McEnroe is still very active on the circuit, both as a seniors player and commentator. (edit: the follow-up, But Seriously, is due in June 2017, according to Amazon.)
The Week (7 May 2016 / Issue 1072)
Guitar & Bass (June 2016 / Vol 27 No. 09)
The Week (14 May 2016 / Issue 1073)
Private Eye Annual 2009 edited by Ian Hislop (er, 2009)
I found this at the "book exchange" at work. It's been fine for occasional dips into when I have a few spare moments (it's taken me over a month to finish) but reminds me why I stopped subscribing to Private Eye - it's very repetitive.
The Man Who Sold The World: David Bowie and the 1970s by Peter Doggett (2011)
Well written, full of facts and insights ... and just a teensy bit dull.
Guitar Effects Pedals: The Practical Handbook by Dave Hunter (2013)
Effects pedals are a recent enthusiasm of mine (I had four at the beginning of 2014 and I now have sixteen, only one of which is one the original four). If you frequent the online forums, you'll see a lot of posts about Tube Screamer variants, specific op-amps and chips that supposedly contains the magic smoke needed to sound like SRV ... all very confusing to someone just finding out about these things. This book contains pretty much all you need to know to hold your own in these discussions - a history of how pedals came about, descriptions (including basic circuit diagrams) of the different types, in-depth discussions of classic pedals (like the aforementioned Ibanez Tube Screamer) and newer variants, and interviews with some prominent figures in the burgeoning world of "boutique" pedals. Great stuff for a guitar geek.
The Week (21 May 2016 / Issue 1074)
The Week (28 May 2016 / Issue 1075)
Bedlam by Christopher Brookmyre (2013)
Third time around, this is really starting to grow on me. Also, I now own it (£3 at Fopp, thank you very much).
Guitarist (July 2016 / Issue 408)


The Man Who Sold The World

David Bowie and the 1970s
Peter Doggett

Well written, full of facts and insights ... and just a teensy bit dull

This book ticks so many boxes for me. David Bowie was the first "serious" artist I discovered as a teenager; I have known and loved all (well, most) of his seventies albums for as long as I have really loved music. Plus Revolution In The Head, to which this is explicitly a sequel/homage (apparently the late Ian MacDonald was intending to give the same treatment to Bowie as he had The Beatles), is one of my favourite books about music. If that wasn't enough, Peter Doggett wrote the fascinating You Never Give Me Your Money. And given its structure - essentially, short essays about every song - it should be perfect for dipping into whenever there is a spare moment.

Despite all those good things, I struggled with it, and I'm not entirely sure why.

The structure doesn't help actually; there's no easy flow through the book since it's always stopping and starting - I found the same with Revolution In The Head, if I'm honest. I also realised that there are larger parts of Bowie's seventies output that I am unfamiliar with than I thought (particularly Pin Ups, 'Heroes' and Lodger), so the discussions of those songs didn't engage me much.

However, where TMWSTW differs the most from the Beatles' book is that while MacDonald gives lots of interesting facts about the music (personnel, instrumentation, keys etc), Doggett concentrates on interpreting the words. I've said before that I don't listen to lyrics much. It's pop music, not pop poetry. I understand that it's much easier to write about what is said than what is not said; as the famous quote goes, "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture".

Nevertheless, it's incumbent on any music journalist to make the attempt, and while Doggett does so sometimes, it's not a particularly good or informed analysis. He admits in his introduction that he can't claim the same level of musical knowledge as MacDonald (a "trained musicologist", apparently) and so paid more attention to other aspects - to the detriment of the book, in my opinion.

I learned many things about David Bowie I didn't already know and it served me as a reasonable substitute for a biography (I find them pretty dull usually). It also gave me some interesting things to think about next time I listen to the albums. What it failed to do - and this is the fundamental test for any writing about music - is make me want to rush back and hear them again with new ears. And so on those grounds it must be judged as less than a success.


Reading - April 2016

The Week (2 April 2016 / Issue 1067)
Guitarist (May 2016 / Issue 406)
Guitar & Bass (May 2016 / Vol 27 No. 08)
The Science Of Discworld by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen (1999)
A great way of injecting science in the guise of entertainment. Given the age of the book (17 years!), it's possible that some of the facts and theories might be slightly out of date, but still as good a primer as any on the thinking around how did the universe start and how does evolution work. Very readable and amusing.
The Week (9 April 2016 / Issue 1068)
The Art Of Being Brilliant by Andy Cope & Andy Whittaker (2012)
Relentlessly trivial and shallow - although mercifully short - book on being happy. Could be condensed into about 2 pages.
Global Village Idiot by John O'Farrell (2001)
Amusing articles from a left-wing perspective, suffering from the usual problem that these kind of articles do - the perceived need to end on a joke. See Clive James's TV reviews for an object lesson in how to do it properly.
The Week (16 April 2016 / Issue 1069)
Lunarbaboon Vol. 2 by Chris Grady (2016)
Still by turns sweet, funny and whimsical, another lovely compilation of the best bits of Lunarbaboon. And (even better), this one has my name in it! (as a funder of vol 1)
Licence Renewed by John Gardner (1981)
The original relaunch of the James Bond "franchise" - in book form, anyway. being somewhat separate from the film franchise. As far as I know, none of the post-Fleming novels have become films (although some of the films have been novelised). I bought this from my local library while in my teens and still like it. It has all the right components, almost "Bond by numbers", but it's still a good read.
The Sacred Art Of Stealing by Christopher Brookmyre (2002)
My first Brookmyre and still a favourite.
Guitar Aficionado: The Collections edited by Tom Beaujour & Christopher Scapelliti (2013)
Lavish coffee table guitar porn. Beautifully photographed and presented, but difficult to read in practice without breaking the binding, putting fingerprints on the shiny pages or accidentally scuffing the jacket. Made worse by the fact that it was lent to me in pristine condition. Also, it turns out you can see too many pictures of '59 sunburst Les Pauls. Who knew?


Reading - March 2016

All Fun And Games Until Someone Loses An Eye by Christopher Brookmyre (2005)
Unbelievable and yet believable. Within its own world it all makes sense, but it's a completely Hollywood fantasy. Should totally be made into a film.
The Week (5 March 2016 / Issue 1063)
The Week (12 March 2016 / Issue 1064)
The Week (19 March 2016 / Issue 1065)
The Week (26 March 2016 / Issue 1066)


Reading - February 2016

Legends of Tone: Gibson (Guitarist special, 2015)
Guitarist (March 2016 / Issue 404)
Guitar & Bass (March 2016 / Vol. 27 No. 06)
Guitar porn blow-out at the beginning of Feb! It's interesting to note the differences between Guitarist house style and Guitar & Bass; the latter is a lot more technical and geeky. There's a whole article dedicated to the very technical ins and outs of an old 50s Fender amp, for example. It's nice to have the coverage but I can't really justify having both magazines. I'll need to decide soon ...
The Week (6 February 2016 / Issue 1059)
Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding (1996)
This is twenty years old! Still, other than a few references that date it (trouble programming a video recorder, shopping at Cullens), it's pretty timeless, not least due to being based on Pride & Prejudice. It's funny, yes, and if the humour is a bit obvious sometimes it's probably worth remembering that it wasn't obvious until Helen Fielding made it so.
The Chandler's Ford Story by Barbara J. Hillier & Gerald Ponting (2005)
This was a lovely present for my birthday. It's a brief but interesting look into the origins of the small town where I now live. Since it only really goes back about 150 years, there's not that much to tell, but it's fascinating to see pictures of familiar sights in unfamiliar surroundings. There's a photo taken at the top of our road in 1930, just after the houses were all built (it literally was all fields before) and while the houses are clearly the same (particularly the post office), the gardens, the road and the cars are so different. Niche but nice.
The Week (13 February 2016 / Issue 1060)
Going To Sea In A Sieve by Danny Baker (2012)
A memoir from someone who was on the frontline of music journalism in the early 80s. Oh wait - except he wasn't. Yes, he was there, but his interest has always been more personal and eclectic and the NME was clearly just something he did for a while, rather than being "dedicated to the cause". And he's probably all the better for it, frankly (don't get me started about some of the other losers who wrote for NME). He's very full of himself but always entertaining.
The Perfect Neighbour by Nora Roberts (2000)
A sweet romance. Crying out to be made into a movie.
Ten Little N***s by Agatha Christie (1939)
You can't buy this book any more - or at least, not under this title. It's now called And Then There Were None and I believe all the other references to the unacceptable word in the title have been changed to "Indian". However, this is the copy I have and this is what I read, borrowed from the school library, when I was about 13. Different times, eh? A timepiece and very dated, but still a cleverly plotted whodunnit.
The Week (20 February 2016 / Issue 1061)
Country Of The Blind by Christopher Brookmyre (1997)
I wonder why Brookmyre doesn't write this kind of thing any more? Or why it hasn't been filmed? Fantastic stuff.
The Mighty Quinns: Brody by Kate Hoffman ()
The Mighty Quinns: Teague by Kate Hoffman ()
The Mighty Quinns: Cal by Kate Hoffman ()
Notionally three separate books, although clearly written at the same time, occupying the same fictional space and time, and cross-referencing each other. Brody, Teague and Cal are three brothers who live and work on an Australian cattle station, who all meet the women of their dreams in the same week. Modern romance with a higher than usual emphasis on sex; nice to see the women being (almost) as assertive as the men.
The Week (27 February 2016 / Issue 1062)
The Secrets Of House Music Production by Marc Adamo (2013)
This is a great starter reference to modern music production in general, not just dance music. A great companion piece to The Producer's Manual by the same publisher. There are loads of interesting walk-throughs of applied techniques, a load of audio examples that can be downloaded, and a whole bunch of cool samples - samples being Sample Magic's main product, of course. My only slight complaint about the book is the format: the A4 landscape format makes it difficult to hold on my lap!


Lady In Satin

Billie Holiday

I'm finding this a hard album to love. It's an album of standards, in the same vein as the contemporary Sinatra and Fitzgerald albums. But while those two singers were at the top of their abilities at the time, it's clear that Billie Holiday was at the end of her career, and it's uncomfortable listening to her voice. She sounds tired, and there's an underlying feeling that she might only be doing this because she has to (although from what I have read, this is not the case; she wanted to make this album this way).

Bill Holiday's phrasing is as distinctive as ever, although I can't help wishing sometimes that she'd clear her throat first, and the arrangements and musicianship are first rate. There's not much variation across the tracks and because her voice is so unusual, it also serves to blend the songs together somewhat. The overall result is to make the album a less enjoyable experience for me.

Gordon-Smith GS2/60 (2011)

An underrated British Classic

The Gordon-Smith GS2/60 is similar to a Les Paul Junior. The GS is their entry level range, featuring slab bodies and simple finishes. The "2" indicates two humbuckers, while the "60" designation means that the body style is a single cutaway rather than the GS twin cutaway shape. There were also a number of options available when ordering, which I'll go through below. It cost about £800 in 2011 and it's been my main guitar ever since. I only play at home nowadays, so it's not even seen the inside of a rehearsal room, but I still play every day and this is the guitar I pick up most.

Why I bought it
I wanted a guitar with humbuckers, having spent the last decade playing various Fenders. Given my budget at the time, I was looking at the more expensive Epiphones and lower-end Gibsons. I decided on a Gordon-Smith because I'd owned a really nice one in the past, a GS1.5 (sold to make way for a Strat Plus); I'd played a few since then and they always struck me as very playable; and finally, I liked the fact that they are made in England and I could actually talk to John Smith about it before ordering (he was very nice).

The Gordon Smith Guitars company - now without the hyphen - was bought by Auden Guitars last year, but the GS range and the options you can select are largely unchanged. They have a reputation for variable quality, something I didn't know at the time and which I am sure Auden are doing their best to rectify.

  • The body and neck are made from "Brazilian cedar" (cedrela), a member of the mahogany family. The alternatives at the time were spruce or poplar but given that I was going for an all-over paint finish, John Smith recommended the cedar.
  • The standard GS body is quite thin, so I upgraded to a thick body to give a bit more oomph to the tone. It's about 43mm / 1.75" thick. It's a pretty standard LP shape and dimensions.
  • The neck is glued in and the scale length is 24.625". The fretboard looks like rosewood or something similar, and is probably not a great piece - it's quite varied in colour and texture, with coarse grain in some places and closer grain in others. That said, this doesn't get in the way of playing at all.
  • The playing surface is 12" radius (roughly) with jumbo frets. Position dots are pearloid, well put in apart from the 17th fret marker which has a small chip alongside it.
  • The nut is brass, screwed in to the end of the fingerboard. This is a Gordon-Smith feature on many of their guitars. It's supposed to be adjustable, but I can't see how.
  • The neck is pretty chunky - 44mm wide at the nut, a sort of D/U shape and quite a handful. Truss rod adjustment is via a wheel at the body end, covered by a small plate.
  • The body, back of the neck and headstock are finished in matt black. This was small extra cost over the standard natural finish. The finish is mostly consistently applied, although there are a couple of corners where it's obviously a touch too thin, in the cutaway and on the headstock. It's been worn to a nice smooth shine on the back of the neck over the years.
  • The finishing inside the pickup and control cavities is pretty rough, and the bridge pickup cavity in particular is not quite deep enough - the bridge pickup needs to go down more and this isn't possible because it is already hitting the bottom. Annoyingly, it's also not flat, so now that the pickup is down as far as it will go, it's not quite level.
  • Overall weight is about 7.9 lbs / 3.5 kg.

Hardware & Electrics
  • The stopbar tailpiece is by Gotoh while the bridge is a tune-o-matic type, make unknown, but presumably by the same manufacturer. This was an upgrade over the standard wrap-around bridge, because when I tried some GS guitars before buying, I found the bridge posts on the wrap-around bridge were too big and dug into my hand when I was palm-muting.
  • Tuners are unlabelled but I have been told they are Van Gent. They work fine.
  • The guitar has Schaller straplocks fitted. I always use these. I supplied them to GS and they were fitted at the factory instead of the standard strap buttons.
  • Pickups are Gordon-Smith's own humbuckers, medium output and covered with black plastic covers. Aesthetically I would have preferred metal covers but John's recommendation was that this would dull and diminish the output somewhat.
  • Both pickups are tappable via pull/push pots on the volumes. The tones have a "direct" notch at the top end of their travel - I believe this means they are effectively out of circuit at this point. There's a very slight audible click through the pickups when you do this. All controls are smooth - maybe a bit too easy to move and knock by mistake.
  • The pickup selector is down by the bridge. It's not a very positive switch and is too easy to knock into the middle position. Also, every now and then it needs a spray with switch cleaner or it glitches and there won't be sound via one or other of the pickups.

Unplugged, it's a nicely resonant guitar. Clean it has a lovely snap, particularly on the neck pickup. There's a great clean rhythm sound with both pickups on and the neck tapped. There are of course crunchy sounds aplenty with light gain, and the expected big rock sounds on the bridge pickup with a decent amp. With the tones out of circuit (i.e. on 10), the guitar is quite bright, but this is easily tamed by judicious use of the tone controls and gives more options. Overall, it doesn't sound like the most refined LP style guitar I've ever played but it has an honest rock vibe about all its sounds.

Pros & cons
+ Solid & well constructed.
+ Great sounds and a good variety.
+ Very playable neck, if you like bigger necks.
- Pickup selector switch is easy to knock by accident, flicks too easily to centre and occasionally cuts out.
- Some minor finishing faults and rough edges.

Summary & Verdict
I haven't owned many guitars (about eleven, I think) but this is my favourite of all of them. It's a good, solid, no-nonsense rock guitar. It captures the sound of the humbucker roar I have in my head very well and is capable of a wide range of sounds (all but one of the solo of the month entries I have played up to now have been on it). I often play quite hard and it is absolutely up to being thrashed. Gordon-Smith guitars are sometimes described as being workhorses and this is what I like about it.

(originally published as a review on The Fretboard)