(Not) Your Trusted Music Guide

Today, GofaDM is going meta and will discuss (at length, or it just wouldn’t be GofaDM) the launch of its firstborn into the world. Frankly, when I started GofaDM back in 2010, I really didn’t think it would still be going in 2019: let alone that it would have reached sexual maturity and prove fecund enough to produce issue. How fast they grow up!

As with GofaDM itself, this all began with a foolish idea that got out of hand. Back in the mists of time, or a couple of years ago (time mists over much quicker at my age), various friends suggested that I should provide a list of gigs that I was planning to attend in Southampton to act as some sort of imprimatur of quality. I was unconvinced by this idea, not least because it would act as a stalker’s charter: it is already far too apparent that I rarely spend an evening at home and only my garret’s round-the-clock security detail has kept burglarious felons at bay. I also couldn’t help feeling that as a middle-aged, middle-class white man my probable views and tastes are already massively over-represented in the world (both real and on-line). Finally, listing my own planned gig attendance would tend to give the entirely erroneous impression that I had any idea what I was doing. In fact, I was, more recently, asked how I choose the gigs I attend and an answer (or something vaguely resembling an answer) may well form the basis of a future post: let’s just say that it is more black art than science…

Despite my reservations, my desire to support local venues and musicians led me to feel that I could perhaps take my OneNote document, which listed gigs I thought might be of interest, and create a public version of it. To avoid it being dominated by my taste (and wide ranging ignorance), as well as to provide a fig-leaf of cover as to my movements (I prefer that only Google and shadowy national intelligence agencies track my every move), I decided to list all live events at a small number of music venues in the city. This list would cover the next week and seemed a manageable project to keep up-to-date. Ah, the innocence of that younger me!

The listing was duly named (Not) Your Trusted Music Guide – to note that it was not (a) comprehensive, (b) reliable (given its maintenance by an all-too-fallible human) and (c) only music. It started as a Page within GofaDM – a page that had to be prepared through rather a complex process. Given my background, (N)TYMG was initially created as an Excel spreadsheet – but WordPress would not accept any output I could obtain from Excel, so I had to paste out the relevant cells into Paint 3D and then save the resultant image as a JPEG. This finally produced a form of the guide that WordPress would accept.

When I started with these rather modest beginnings, I had counted without my slightly obsessive nature and the sheer number of people I knew in the Southampton cultural scene. Quickly the range of venues grew as I sought to cover events at which friends were performing – and once I’d added a venue, I didn’t feel that I could delete it from future listings. I also extended the range of time covered in recognition of the fact that people may need more than a few day’s notice of a gig in order to attend. In this way, the list of gigs quickly grew to around 200 for each four week period.

When I started this foolish project, which must be more than a year ago now, I don’t think I had ever envisaged (N)YTMG as a long-term project. I’m not quite sure what I thought was going to happen, but I really didn’t expect to still be maintaining it at this point. I always felt that the city needed a one-stop (ish) shop to find out what is happening: it is something I always look for when visiting other cities, and have never yet found. So, as I felt there as still a perceived need (if only by me – and I have discovered and attended events thanks to maintaining (N)YTMG), I’ve just kept maintaining it. It is a major task for each Monday compiling the list, but to some extent it is a never-ending task with a part of my brain always on the look-out for a previously undiscovered event. This has led me to indulge in a worrying amount of photography in venue urinals where posters are often mounted: luckily, I have yet to be caught indulging in this slightly risky behaviour. However, the sheer size of the list was making it relatively difficult for people to use it and find any specific event and the process was also rather painful for me to maintain – and slow for a new event, once found, to make its way onto the web (it generally had to await the next Monday’s batch release). To help make it more usable, I started posting a cut-down, single-week version to the SO Music City Facebook page.

It was suggested to me that (N)YTMG needed to slip ‘the surly bonds of earth‘ as it were and fly free as a stand-alone, searchable entity: rather than live as an adjunct to an obscure blog. This seemed like a very good idea, but I lacked either the time or current coding skills to make this a reality (now, if you were looking for something in 6502 Assembly Language it would be a very different story). Luckily, attending a lot of gigs has introduced me to a huge number of implausibly talented people, a decent number of whom I consider friends. At least one of these, as well as having significant musical skills, is also a tech mage with current (as opposed to seriously obsolete) coding skills.

Thanks to the coding wizardry of gawpertron – coupled with the input of a lot of their time and several beer-and-curry based meetings with the author – an ill-conceived idea which got out of hand has been transfigured into the fully searchable gig listing that you see today.   A second friend, also appropriately made via the Southampton music scene, has provided the hosting which has allowed (N)YTMG out into the wild (and few demesnes are wilder, or redder in tooth and claw, than today’s internet). The idea that there is nothing happening in Southampton should truly have been laid to rest with extreme prejudice and a mistletoe stake driven through its heart (or to be double safe, a stake made of twined mistletoe and rowan). My foolish dream that no-one should have any excuse to miss a gig through ignorance (well, assuming that I have been able to discover its existence – which can be a far from trivial exercise in itself: loose lips sink ships!) is finally rendered a beautiful reality.  Thanks to our connected world, wheresoever the family of IEEE 802.11 or at least a couple of Gs hold sway, (N)YTMG can be your companion: nagging you to leave the couch and enjoy more of this glorious city’s delights.

The future is now!

Not only is (N)YTMG now fully searchable but, as far as possible, you are never more than one click away from information about the venue, each event and the ability to buy a ticket. I’m afraid, as a website, it cannot yet ferry you to the event nor baby-sit your children or pets: but am sure there are people working on each of these problems somewhere in a silicon geographical feature: I don’t think anyone has yet taken Silicon Esker or Silicon Yardang…

Even better (for me, at least), it is much easier for me to maintain and I can add an event to (N)YTMG in real-time: or as fast as my fingers can transfer visual input from my eyes into the underlying database via a suitable device. As before, the weak link in the process will remain the ability of the author to find events and update the list.

I can honestly say this has been the most enjoyable, fulfilling and beer-fueled IT project I have ever been involved in. I like to imagine that all Agile development is like this – but rather fear that it isn’t. Further development may occur in tie but, for now, revel in the glory!

As a final envoy, I should note that the content of (N)YTMG guide is maintained by the author, and its underlying code by gawpertron, as part of some strange expansion of the dictionary definition of ‘fun’. We shall consider ourselves well-paid if you use it to support local venues, musicians, poets, theatre makers, dancers and the like. So, you know what you have to do…

Awaiting the call

I have previously speculated, perhaps even within these pages, that we will all eventually receive our call up to serve as a member of the Sugababes. It is a process more inevitable than jury duty and taxes (if we exclude the exceeding wealthy) and only just behind the promise of the sweet embrace of death. Given the regenerative power exhibited by some bands of the past, where even a single member is able to produce a whole new incarnation of the original whole, the Sugababes may be entering Malthusian territory. I’m not sure whether the pluripotency of band members is inherited by later members but, for the sake of us all, let’s hope it isn’t!

More recently, it has struck me that with the ever expanding scope of Stan Lee’s creations, we will all at some point be required to appear within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Already, the creators of the MCU seem to be struggling to find sufficient suitable heroes on earth and have been forced to trawl outer space and the mythical home of the Æsir to populate their creation. So serious have matters become that, in a shocking development, they have been forced to include woman and people of colour (and not just green grease paint) in speaking roles with actual agency within their corner of the multiverse. This move generated howls of protest from the more reactionary portion of their fan base.

As a white cis-man from the most boring and colourless portion of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum – the A just doesn’t seem to attract the same attention (for good or ill) as its siblings – I feel I may be at particularly high risk of being press-ganged into the MCU in the near-term. In consequence, I have been trying to think about what sort of superpower(s) I could bring to the MCU. I felt it was important to sort this detail before I consider my superhero name and the tailoring options, which I believe are required to major on neoprene and lycra, that would be compatible with my power(s), body shape, age (substantial) and dignity (largely surrendered).

While I am slowly mastering some physical skills which are not entirely common in a man of my age (though often trivial for a girl of 8), the day when I can run away to join the circus still lies some distance into the future. Even once mastery is mine, I don’t think these skills would ever be sufficient to be considered a superpower: so, I fear I must look beyond mere physical prowess. I feel that I have an entirely healthy fear of exposure to excessive quantities of materials radioactive and significant skepticism about the ability of such exposure to transform me in any way which I would label ‘super’: and so another route to the MCU is closed off.

However, just as despair might have threatened to take up residence, I woke this morning to discover myself having made decent progress along the road to death by a thousand cuts. This is neither because I fell asleep in the cutlery drawer nor due to the fact that I have started to sleep with my épée, for fear of being assailed by a footpad during the night given the parlous manning of the constabulary. No, it was because I had permitted my fingernails to grow slightly longer than is usual: though to a length that would not be considered even slightly excessive by a neutral (or even mildly alkaline) third party. For some reason, as I have aged, my fingernails have grown back ever sharper after each pollarding and can (and do) now slice through my flesh with the greatest of ease if ever they are permitted to emerge beyond the fleshy tips of my digits. Rather than trimming them back, as I did this morning, it is perhaps time to grow them out and start cutting them to a point: that they make act as a stabbing, as well as a slashing, weapon. I should perhaps also investigate whether my toenails have the potential to be weaponised: the holes in my socks are certainly a promising sign. The only downside of adding them to my armoury would be the requirement to wear open-toed sandals: which I don’t really feel is in keeping with the costume-design ethos of the MCU.

I’ll admit that (beyond the sandals issue) my costume thinking has yet to proceed very far: though, I would prefer to avoid a hood given its unhelpful impact on both vision and hearing and would also, reluctantly, reject the cape (cool as it would be) as I would just get it caught in doors (and worse). I quite like the idea of having some signature nail polish to accessorise my ‘claws’: I have a friend who has nail polish that changes colour with temperature and I feel something similar could provide the necessary separation between my ‘super’ and ‘mundane’ identities. Finally, it seems clear that my outfit should be easy to launder, as blood stains could be an issue given my superpower: I wonder if Scotchguard would help? This issue has never been very obviously tackled in the MCU (so far as I know) and I’m not at all sure whether neoprene could go in a mixed wash? Or would it have to be dry-cleaned? The latter would certainly help to explain why so many superheroes are (or started out) extremely wealthy… Well, that and the fact that it seems rather difficult to hold down a 9-5 job (or any sort of regular employment) as a superhero: constantly having to dash off at the drop of a hat to perform some act of derring-do. In some ways, the growth of zero-hour contracts must have been a boon to the community.

I assume that there is some form of bureaucracy within the MCU, part of Shield perhaps, that issues names to superheroes: I guess, like Equity, you cannot have two active superheroes using the same name without creating confusion. So, I shall hold off on my official naming for the time being.

I’m assuming the same (or a similar) organisation would also handle the very significant insurance needs of your typical superhero: they do seem to cause a lot of third party and fire damage, at least some of which looks likely to fall the wrong side of standard force majeure clauses in commercial contracts. To be honest, I can’t help feeling that dear old Stan did rather gloss over the whole admin side of his creations which does act as a barrier to entry for fresh blood. I just hope there is a suitable briefing and training period after I’m drafted: a chap doesn’t want to be worrying about his cover or whether he has the relevant Stain Devil while trying to save the earth from imminent destruction at alien tentacles.

Despite my practical worries, I stand ready to take my place in the MCU when the call comes: I’ll just need a little notice for my nails to grow to combat length…

Preceding North Utsire

I have recently finished reading Thomas Williams’ rather splendid book on Viking Britain. This was a fascinating and very readable history of the often (but not always) violent interactions between the various kingdoms of the British Isles and the peoples of Scandinavia (and probably beyond). I think I most treasured it for the translated quotation of a work from my Welsh roots, the Armes Prydein Vawr, which appears towards the top of page 284 in my paperback edition. The 10th Century description of the English given in this work as “the shitheads of Thanet”, for some reason, rather struck a chord with me in these troubled political times. Lest this should appear gratuitously rude, I should point out that, as my last ancestor born in Wales was my great-great-grandfather, I am at best one-sixteenth Welsh, with my remaining blood having been sourced from England (mostly from within the Danelaw), and that I spent many happy childhood hours on the beaches and sea defenses of the Isle of Thanet.

These days, their work building the concept of England done, the Scandinavians visit these isles in a more benign guise. In fact, it is the Swedes (and the Dutch) that I feel sorry for if we carry out our nebulous intention to leave the EU and finally come to terms with our much diminished role in the world, as they shall be cast adrift with the rest of Europe without the dry humour of, at least some of, the British contingent to brighten the more tedious committee meetings. However, it is their, perhaps unlikely, embrace of jazz that shall detain us here.

I’ve already mentioned how much I enjoyed Phronesis at the Cambridge Jazz Festival back in November, whose members hail from the UK, Denmark and Sweden. I’m really looking forward to seeing them with the Southampton Jazz Orchestra in early May: a rendezvous which I shall be making despite being in Bristol on the day of their gig and in Cheltenham the day after necessitating a frankly ridiculous journey back to Southampton (but as I am frankly ridiculous, this is entirely “on brand”). However, it is Norway which seems to provide an extraordinarily rich seam of jazz musicians, especially relative to its modest population. Perhaps I need to move nearer to the Arctic Circle to achieve my full musical potential?

It was a couple of month’s ago that I made one of my increasingly rare visits to London to see Marius Neset – saxophonist extraordinaire – give a performance in the Purcell Room at the Southbank Centre. This was everything that I’d come to expect, though I still don’t know how he manages to maintain that level of performance across a 100 minute set without an interval: it was exhausting enough to watch! The gig was also surprisingly good value, for London (and even Southampton) at only £18 and the Purcell Room made a very fine setting for jazz: and is very handy for Waterloo where my trains arrive into the city.

Back in March, I took a chance and went to see Trygve Seim at Turner Sims, knowing nothing about him other than that he was a Norwegian jazz musician – and I was willing to fork out £20 and an evening of my life on that fact alone. This gig took place while I was deep in Viking Britain and when Trygve walked out onto stage, with his flowing blond locks and plaited beard he could have stepped straight from a longboat. Fortunately, he came bearing a sax, rather than an ax, and no Anglo-Saxon blood was shed that night (or at least not at the gig). The gig was astoundingly good: the jazz reputation of the Kingdom of Norway was, if anything, enhanced. It was one of those extraordinary gigs where the music caused me to lose all contact with time and enter a somewhat trance-like state: when it finished I had no idea whether a few minutes or an hour or more had passed. Well, almost no idea: the seating at Turner Sims starts to interact painfully with my buttocks after much more than 45 minutes. My exercise regimen does not seem to be adding much in the way of padding to my backside: if anything, it seems to be reducing the limited cushioning they once offered. This is one side-effect of attempting to stay fit that is rarely mentioned in its advocacy.

About ten days ago, I was back at Turner Sims to see another Norwegian, Daniel Herskedal. This chap has a lot to answer for, as it was taking a chance by going to see him three years ago that launched my current love of jazz. On that occasion, he was joined by SYJO and so that was also the first time I will have seen musicians who have subsequently become friends. All of which suggests that my slightly random decision in 2016, has had much wider ranging implications on my life than I could possibly have imagined. Going out to see live music can change your life: in my case, immeasurably for the better!

Given the impact he unwittingly had on me, I felt I owed it to the lad to catch his return to the city. I was not disappointed, if anything he was, with his quartet this time, even better than I’d remembered. His performance proves how criminally neglected the tuba has been as a musical instrument and what a stunning pairing it makes with the, also neglected, viola. There was a magical moment when the valves of the tuba were cycling rhythmically and the instrument took on the visual guise of an exquisite, model Victorian steam engine: the tuba was a treat for the eyes as well as the ears in such skilled hands. I love the piano and violin as much as any man, but they already have stacks of repertoire: were I a composer, I’d be writing for the tuba and the other seemingly unloved members of the orchestra.

I have described Mr Herskedal as “the lad” above, but on trying (and so far, failing) to identify his instrument and its dimensions, I have discovered he is 37. I am starting to wonder if life as a tubist also has rejuvenating properties – or is it something to do with Norway? Daniel’s tuba seemed to be of a more manageable size than some: though that may have been down to the concert hall and it might look massive in my flat (as most things do, ooh err!) I have been told that I have the right sort of embouchure for the tuba (which I don’t think was – only – a more oblique of saying that I have a big mouth) and I’m feeling somewhat inspired to put this to the test: my neighbours may wish to put their flats onto the market now…

In addition to a desire to re-train as a tubist, I think the time has come to blow all my savings and go to a jazz festival in Norway: seeking out the wellspring of these musical marvels. Depending on how things are going back home, I may seek asylum while there:Farvel mine venner