Autumn Samba

I never thought I’d have occasion to say this, but I almost feel as though this summer has been too long. Not in terms of weather or anything – we’ve only had about four real days of summer this year if that were the indicator – but rather just the time between everything winding down at the end of one academic year and starting up again at the beginning of the next. I’ve found myself wishing I had something to do rather more often than I’m used to, and the musical scene has been unusually arid.

So with this in mind I must confess I’m rather looking forward to returning to UCL for my final year at the end of this month. Things have started being set in motion for the coming year and I’m already feeling more invigorated than I have in quite some time. I’ve been doing all those little organisational things that give you a small but beguiling sense of productivity: re-enrolling, sorting out student finance, picking modules, looking up course books. The latter has admittedly been a bit of a dead end – if Amazon or AbeBooks (normally full of such good bargains) were to have its way I could end up paying more than my rent for reading material. The cunning swines.

I’ve been looking a bit into various styles of big band lead trumpeting. The one with which I’ve become most familiar over the last few years has probably been the Wayne Bergeron: powerful, with much screamingly high playing when necessary to cut across the band and say ‘I am trumpet, hear me roar.’ He’s a great player, with a fantastic tone and range and (as I just discovered) an extensive resumé. I was recently introduced to the works of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, and was astonished at the professionalism and sound of their brass section (obviously the rest of the ensemble is fantastic too but it’s the trumpets that piqued my interest). Even at the higher end of the stave there was an incredible blend of the tone and texture, like it was one super-brasser with several instruments. It was wonderful.

I finished the final book of the Millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, just now, and have to say that I thoroughly approved. As I mentioned before, the translation could be slightly clunky from time to time, and the story does begin to test the limits of suspended disbelief from about three-quarters of the way through the second book, but overall I thought it was extremely well-written. What I particularly liked was the ending – fear not, I won’t spoil anything – because it is, in my experience, the most difficult bit of a book to get right. It’s much easier in standalone books, where there isn’t so much to deal with, but if the author wishes to give a satisfactory ending to a whole series, there is always the risk of it coming across as unnecessarily twee and corny, à la Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I feel Stieg Larsson struck just the right chord.

Finally, with term starting up again in a couple of weeks, I feel compelled to remind you all that several of the bands with whom I’m involved will be commencing rehearsals again – if you would like to hire them or me, head over to the Contact page.

The Very Model

I have two kinds of news for you today everyone: good news, and better news. Firstly, my flatmates and I are closing the deal on a new flat at last, one that’s (a) cheaper than my place last year, (b) superbly convenient to get to (it’s the other side of Mornington Crescent from where I was last year) and (c) actually looks a very nice place to live. Our tenancy doesn’t start until 1st October though, so we’ll have to get through Freshers Week jetting up and down to London on the trains and the Tube.

The better news? In my time spent with Mass Effect 2 recently, I discovered that one of the crew members used to perform Gilbert and Sullivan. Wonderful.

OK, I suppose you had to be there.

A Long Hard Slog

Flathunting is proving more fickle than we expected, as is often the case. Jonna and I spent most of this morning on the phone to every estate agent known to man, and were either told that they had no properties at the moment or that the ones they did have were out of our budget. We have a single viewing booked for this week at the moment. Here’s hoping it’s a goodun.

On the plus side, being back in the country has been good for getting back in touch with people. I went to the London Double Header at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday with a friend I hadn’t really seen in about a year and spent more time reminiscing and catching up than watching the games (London Irish v Saracens was a tad boring but Wasps v Quins was highly entertaining). And I’ll be seeing my teacher Andy Bush this week as well after what can only be described as Far Too Long.

I recently started Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, beginning with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which I finished last week. Now halfway into the 2nd in the series, I have to confess I’m rather enjoying them. The translation can be a bit clunky at times – it often seems that a convenient phrase is reused more than necessary for a particularly difficult-to-translate Swedish idiom – but the characterisation is impeccable, the storytelling is enjoyable and, as many reviewers have pounced upon, the heroine, Lisbeth Salander, is quite original.

But enough about me: how are you today?

Back in Blighty II

So we’re back in town once again. Sadly the return seems to have coincided with a splitting headache and illness on my part, which is a shame as it prohibited me from celebrating a 21st birthday in Bath this evening (and getting some much needed trumpet practice in to boot). Still, that aside I intend to enjoy the bank holiday weekend as best I can.

I played a little Lego Batman with Jonna this afternoon – I’ve been a big fan of the Lego games (which have included Star Wars and Indiana Jones in the past and have recently added Harry Potter to the mix), with their quirky sense of humour and fun gameplay. The one niggle I always have is the camera angle and the same-screen multiplayer problems, but it seems they’re trying split-screen for Harry Potter so we’ll see how that goes.

I also recently ordered Mass Effect 2 and Bioshock 2 on Amazon for (relatively) dirt cheap which I’m quite happy about. A recent Penny Arcade comic and post did get me thinking about the used games market and its effects on developers, but frankly – and it does pain me to say this as I’d love to support them in whatever way I can – I just don’t have the cash to flash to keep buying new games at initial retail price which can be anywhere between £40 and £60 often. So I buy second hand. It’s probably selfish in a way, but that’s my vice.

In and around the fun of flat-hunting (friends of mine are starting to Facebook and tweet about their new flats so I’m getting antsy) I have to prepare for a gig with the UCLU Jazz Society Big Band at a civil partnership at the end of September, giving me the unique (at least apart from the other guys playing) get-out for any other events planned that night of: ‘Sorry, I’m playing at a lesbian wedding.’ It’s all rather exciting. Maybe I’ll wear a fez.

Amster-DAYUM

We’re spending some time in Amsterdam at the moment before returning to Tilburg on Thursday and then back to London on Friday (hopefully into the waiting arms of an estate agent with a lovely flat for us to move into at a ludicrously cheap rate). I’ve been here twice before now, so have already done the usual touristy things (investigating coffee shops, giggling like a small child in the Red Light District, etc) – this afternoon I actually got some real culture in. We wandered around the city admiring the various canals, churches and coffee shops museums – many of which, to my surprise and mild dismay, politely yet firmly requested payment for entry. Having grown up in London, with visits to the British Museum (free), Science Museum (free) and Natural History Museum (free) semi-regular events (dinosaurs are cool), this came as something of a shock. Still, we took full advantage of the bits for which we didn’t need to pay and spent some time searching for a sex shop named ‘Amster-DAYUM’.

Jonna has also now introduced me to the British comedy Coupling, which is very entertaining. Richard Coyle’s loveable Welshman Jeff is hilarious, with his baffling theories and odd stories from home, and the rest of the cast never fails to please. I highly recommend it.

I’m taking some time at the moment to write out some actual drum parts for the current Martinis songlist (as I mentioned before, the drum pad currently consists of sets of written instructions which, while helpful, aren’t really ideal) with some help from my esteemed brother. This should be entertaining. Jimmy, in advance: I’m sorry.

Anyway, I see burritos. Until next time.

Films, Comedians and Music

So, I watched Independence Day last night. Apparently I should have watched it years ago and as such have had an unfulfilling childhood. Ah well. I found it a hugely enjoyable movie and enjoyed shouting ‘Spaceballs!’ when I recognised the president. They really pulled out all the stops with the characters too: they had the sassy black guy and nerdy white guy who get that really good rapport going by the end of the film; the stripper with a heart of gold who, even as almost-certain destruction is heading her way in the form of an advancing wall of fire and cars finds the time to wait for her dog to get into cover; the wise old Jewish man who provides the comic relief but also restores the hero’s faith in humanity; and of course the token drunk who overcomes his self-inflicted adversities and beats the odds to make a name for himself and do his family proud. Loved it.

After that, while scanning the TV channels for something to watch, I stumbled across Bob Saget doing a stand-up comedy set. Now, as someone who doesn’t watch a huge amount of TV, I primarily know his voice as the narrator in How I Met Your Mother but apparently he did some other stuff too. However, none of that could have prepared me for his stand-up. He’s simply one of the most foul-mouthed, bizarre comedians I’ve ever had occasion to watch. Half the time even he couldn’t seem to believe what was coming out of his mouth. It was great.

Anywho. I have for you today a new page featuring a few clips from some recordings. Hope you like what you hear – I’ll be attempting to update the selection semi-regularly so stay tuned.

Back in Blighty

Our long-awaited trip to the Loncium microbrewery in Kotschach-Mauthen took place yesterday morning. One of the owners of the brewery (who just happened to be the son of the owner of our hotel) gave us a short tour and also explained the origin of the brewery’s name: the town lies on the Via Iulia Augusta, an old Roman trading route, and used to be known as Loncium, a customs-post of sorts. The pair who founded the brewery (which apparently has its humble beginnings ‘in a pot on a cooker’) liked the sound of the name and the links to their own town, and so adopted it long after the town changed its name. Luckily, considering the hour of the day, there were no free samples, although, as my ever-astute grandfather pointed out, it’s always 3pm somewhere.

We had a relatively placid trip back yesterday, despite having more connecting flights than on the way out – Klagenfurt, Munich, Dusseldorf and finally Heathrow. It would have been nice to have a bit of a saunter around the cities but, alas, we had no more than an hour in each airport before our next plane. Ho hum. At least we appear to have brought some of the nice weather with us, though thankfully without the fickle Austrian microclimates that throw up thunderstorms with little to no warning.

All in all, it’s nice to be back.

Now, to work – hopefully later on this evening I’ll be uploading some recordings so you can have a listen. Of course, for various legal, logistical and/or pecuniary reasons they won’t be full tracks, but rather short(ish) clips for your delectation. If you fancy something a tad more full-flavoured, get in touch and I can probably sell you a CD or something.

Funny Old World

People often have a lot to say against public transport in London, and it’s easy to see why. It’s expensive, it’s often late, it’s susceptible to breakdowns almost as frequently as they suspend it for maintenance work. In summer, particularly, it can be almost unbearable, yet many of us are possessed of a singularly British reluctance to show to anyone that we object to the sweaty fellow who insists on holding the handle and pushing his armpit in your face. It’s passive-aggressiveness without the aggressiveness.

That said, there are few things that make a person appreciate the relative merits of British public transport more than trudging back home in the rain from a station in the Austrian countryside because the next train isn’t for another 90 minutes. I now feel I can make that statement with some degree of confidence.

The music in this hotel has moved from the sublime to the ridiculous; I thought the apex of strangeness had been reached a few nights ago when our ears were treated to the dulcet tones of Bavarian yodelling, but earlier today I found myself listening to something that seemed to tug at the memory. The tune sounded familiar but I couldn’t place the words, and then I realised: the song was You’re The One That I Want from Grease – in German. Perhaps I’m alone in this, but I’ve become far too accustomed to hearing English music on foreign radio that this took me completely by surprise. To me, this was tantamount to seeing The Simpsons or Scrubs in German (which, incidentally, have both been on the TV this week)!

I created a new page for links to groups and people with whom I’ve played – at the moment there’s only the UCLU Jazz Society and Thames Youth Orchestra, but I’ll be adding more to it soon. Until then – farewell!

I’m On A Boat!

Sadly, despite the excitement of the title, my brief foray into nautical travel came to an end a few hours ago. We visited a lake here in Austria today, surrounded by very Sound of Music-esque mountain views, and took what turned out to be a bit of a hike around it to the other side before taking the boat back to where we started. I like to think that all this walking is doing me a world of good after two years of university took its toll on my metabolism, but I fear that may be a hollow hope.

The Hampton Court Beer and Jazz Festival is drawing near, and though I will sadly be away for much of it, I have no qualms in suggesting that others should head on over and make a day of it. With a line-up including the James Taylor Quartet, the Brand New Heavies and (a personal favourite of mine) Size Nine, and an enviable selection of beers, ciders and other drinks, it promises to be a ludicrously good day out. I might try and make it for the Monday. While you have your wallet out, you might as well buy tickets for the London Jazz Festival in November too.

Wilkommen nach Gundersheim

As you can probably tell from the title, I can’t speak a word of German, which is making this holiday in Austria rather trying. It’s a bizarre feeling being almost the only one here who can only understand a few words, and even then only when they’re written down. I’m far more used to dead languages, I suppose.

Also, there are a lot of flies.

Still, it’s a rather nice reprieve from city life. As those of you who are taking an interest here can tell, I haven’t been doing that much work on the site in recent weeks – that’s because I’ve been busy trying to sort out a few accommodation mishaps for the upcoming year in London. Thankfully, everything at last seems to be coming together so it’s rather pleasant to be able to come and sit out in the sunshine here in a valley near the river Gail. It helps that certain members of the family have been here before and know the people who run the place of course.

My brother’s shortly to give me a short tutorial in writing drum music, something that has frequently eluded me when I arrange music. Even for piano and guitar parts I can generally get some notes down on the page, but drum music has been somewhat a mystery to me for quite some time. Here’s hoping that will now be a thing of the past.

I’ll see if I can do some work on the site over the next week – it’s not hugely easy to get Internet access with no laptop in the middle of the Austrian mountains, but I’ll see what I can do.