Friday 16 September 2022

Merry Christmas.The wolves are running. Perhaps you would do something to stop their bite? (Originally published 19/12/2021 on the other site)

Four years ago, I began my annual rewatch of the BBC TV series, The Box Of Delights, while reading John Masefield’s original book for the first time. The wolves were running and so was my brain. I wanted to write a story where magic spilled over into the real world, and nobody questioned it or scoffed. Where a daring Kit Harker could take on a merciless opponent like Abner Brown and win against all the odds.

But I wanted it to be in modern Devon - not the non-specific shires of the 1930s, and I didn’t want to have to tone down the language, or the horror, for kids. 

After a walk on the moors with my adopted Alaskan malamute, Sky, I had an idea. I came back and roughly scrawled out the opening chapter. It’s not very different from the one you can read if you buy the first in my folk horror book series, Wicker Dogs. The final version is missing three unnecessary prologues, a lot of pointless scene-setting, and Patrick’s no longer a total shit, but it’s not far off.

It’s been a hell of a time since that heady December of 2017 though right?

It looked a lot like this on the moors behind my house that day - although we took this picture this morning while Dartmoor was hiding in the mist

At the end of 2020, I was doing David Gaughran’s highly-recommended course on Book Marketing, in which he suggests it is near impossible to market fiction unless you’ve written a series. Now, at this point, I already had two Weekend Rockstars books published, and half an idea for a third in the back of my head. So it wouldn’t have been a bad idea to just churn one more of those out and focus my attention on putting them in front of people. After all, Weekend Rockstars was, at that point, still my strongest seller, even after four years of my not really marketing it, or realising it was, in fact, a series.

But, as is so often the case, I decided to make my life a little more difficult. I came up with a new pen-name, D.A. Holwill, and vowed to release the first three Wicker Dogs books over the next twelve months instead. After all, horror sells in much lower numbers than rom-coms, and is near impossible to market. I abandoned the rom-com I’d been writing for half of 2020 (that ties in with the Weekend Rockstars/Gap Years universe really well) and threw my whole head into the new idea.

In my defence, I had been querying Wicker Dogs for a year and a bit at this point, and book two, The Bellever Hagstone, was almost ready to go to my beta readers. All I actually had to do to thrust this series into the world and put Mr Gaughran’s solid advice into action was write one more book. Since the first book is set around the fictional Wisthound Weekend, the first weekend in December, I set that as publication date for book three. My 2021 challenge was set in stone, this thing I would do, no  matter what.

And, against all odds, I’ve actually done it. (And filled all three books with cryptic references to the Box Of Delights, they're not hard to spot.) Despite the last twelve months taking two cars, three cats and the use of my left ankle away from me (the ankle was only for a couple of months, but it really didn’t help). I did have to completely rethink the way I approach my writing though.

All three books, done and dusted in time for Christmas - with some weird hairy bloke holding them

As 2020 drew to a close, like a lot of people, I was struggling to put words on the page. Spare time got harder to find, and, by evening, my brain really couldn’t think good, let alone write nice. So I woke up in January 2021 and made a decision. I would get up before six every morning, and get at least a whole hour’s writing in before going to the day job. I really didn’t expect it to work, since I am not, and have never been, a morning person. But it did, my half-asleep, semi-unconscious, brain is apparently way better than the supposedly fully-awake version I had been trying to access during lunch-breaks and after work. This year I have regularly knocked out more than my 1.5k wordcount targets every day before I leave for work. Sometimes in less than an hour.

I have a policy that as soon as I hit that 1.5k target, I stop and do something else. Thanks to Graham Greene, who famously did the same thing when he hit 500 words. I don’t have the same luxury of time as Mr Greene, so I still have to work harder, but it’s achievable, and way better than my old method of doing as much as I possibly could in every spare minute I could find. Pro-tip, give yourself permission to stop before you burn out.

Previously, I had spent all day fretting about how I would get that wordcount in, then stare at a blank screen in every spare minute I could find: getting it done - but having to drag word by painstaking word from the depths of my overstimulated, whirling brain. I was giving myself anxiety and not getting any real breaks in the day. Now, even though I hate the sound of the alarm, and still get those anxiety pangs while I’m in the shower, dreading having to throw words at the page, it’s out of the way before I start my real day. And I get to spend my lunchbreaks reading for fun, or watching crap on the telly, while in the evenings, I do marketing plans, write blogs (hello) and try to be funny on social media. I hate the early starts, but I seem to have fixed my writing problem, and this year has been more productive than ever.

I opened the year drafting book three, while I polished up books one and two, ready for human consumption. I put my dayjob-honed Photoshop skills to good use in the evenings and knocked up a solid concept for ongoing cover art (using my dog, Sky’s, hypnotic eyes to maximum effect) and sketched out the way I’d put all the pieces in place by the end of the year.

I even put together a free prequel story - The Stalking Of Lady Sophia - that needed way more research than I expected, and not enough people have told me they like just yet. Do please rectify that by downloading it for free - you just have to sign up for my mailing list, and I really don’t mind if you unsubscribe as soon as you’ve got your free book. It’s cool.

I almost kept to the spreadsheet, though not rigidly. I needed to be flexible, for the sake of my mental health. Summer came and, due to car number two being destroyed by a passing 4x4, I ended up sending out the beta version of Jack Sharpnails late, and fell behind the curve. I took a bit more downtime than planned, spent some quality time with my wife, rehabilitated my ankle properly and still managed to get book three ready in time for Wisthound Weekend. It’s done, it’s out, and I started writing this blog on the very day that Polly and Patrick moved to Dourstone (probably).

If I hadn't become obsessed with the Box Of Delights again, didn’t live in a small town where they hold a very odd, fire-themed carnival every year, and hadn’t adopted such a singular kind of dog, then I doubt very much I’d ever have come up with the book. If I didn’t have such a supportive wife and helpful bookish friends and connections, I’d never have finished the first book, let alone all three.

Merry Christmas to one and all (especially the guy I know in town who wants me to sign his copies of the Wicker Dogs books, but unwittingly revealed he had never read them by asking me if Sky was a husky - with no trace of irony. I genuinely love you, please never change). I hope this next year brings you all the same satisfaction this last year has brought me.

2022 will be a whole different challenge, and those Weekend Rockstars books will be coming your way, as well as Wicker Dogs Four. The problem with achieving your goals, is that you know what you’re capable of, and you have to live up to your own newly-altered expectations.

God damn it.

I Don't Miss Gigs (But I Miss Gigs) (originally published Feb 13 2021 on the other site)

Since that ‘First Concert, Best Concert, Worst Concert, Last Concert’ bullshit is all over Facebook like a rash of twats again, I have a terrible secret to admit. I’ve been a gigging musician for over 30 years now, but I don’t actually like going to gigs.

To clarify, I like going to gigs – if I’m playing – and I do like a certain kind of gig, although if I’m not playing regularly I’m like a jealous lover watching the object of their affections being mauled by some unsuitable suitor. But at 43 years old, I am finally going to stop pretending I’m a proper music fan (see here for earlier writings about not being a proper fan) and admit I have lied to myself for years about what a great time I had at certain events.

My first ‘proper’ gig was a big one. AC/DC, Metallica, Motley Crue, Queensryche and the Black Crowes at Castle Donington – August 1991. Nearly every one of the friends I have made in the 30 years since that day has told me they were there as well, but I didn’t know any of them then so it was just me and Paddy all day, once we’d lost Nick and his mum. I had been to plenty of local gigs before that, (Any other North Devon kids remember slogging around after Shea and Testament in the spring of ‘91?) including being roadcrew for a christian Rock festival in Crediton (featuring Cliff Richard’s actual guitar player – not Hank Marvin or Bruce Welch though – and the actually fucking brilliant Brussel Spaceship). Technically my first gig was The Spinners at The Queen’s Hall in Barnstaple, but I will never ever want that one to count. It was my parents’ fault, as is the ‘Judy Drownded’ earworm I’ve just given myself.

This is an actual picture of the actual event from an actual photographer
who I couldn't find the name of to credit, sorry

In my memory, Monsters Of Rock 1991 was the best and most exciting day a fourteen year old boy could ever have had. That same memory that always, without exception, lies to me about my past happiness. In reality, it set a precedent for my future crazy that would never leave. Long car journeys, endless encores, no way of getting away and being penned in on every side will never be my idea of fun. I didn’t realise until I watched the DVD of the show over twenty years later just how long it took to replace Angus Young’s sweat-drenched, malfunctioning guitar in Let There Be Rock. I could say it didn’t get boring, but I would be lying. I still have nightmares about trying to eat a whole tray of Mr Kipling’s pies without waking up the four other people sleeping in the car that was still so so far from home in the middle of the night, filled with hunger and regret at having launched our spring rolls at Vince Neil in disgust and living on Marlboro reds all day.

Any time I go to see a ‘proper’ band I am hit with ‘please stop doing encores’ PTSD, reminding me of being 14, cold, tired and battered by a thousand metalheads fighting over the ‘Money Talks’ dollars that were spunked into the crowd at its climax. Never more so than at a Motorhead gig in Exeter when they were on their fifth ‘exit’ and still hadn’t played the Ace of Fucking Spades. I should have gone to the bar before they did the first one. I’ve been on the receiving end of a crowd that just won’t let you stop, it’s addictive. But sometimes you really should leave them wanting more, some of them are being polite and really want to go home. It’s not you Lemmy, it’s me.

My greatest memories of music I’ve not played myself are all, without exception, from sitting in front of some speakers in my own home/a record shop/a mate’s house, or sharing earphones on the school bus (and one notable night of nothing but Prince outside the Fortune of War in Brighton). The studio version will always be the definitive version, honed from many takes to be as good as possible, so why would I like a bum-noted, fluffed lyric imposter in a poorly designed room where I can’t hear the fucking bass properly?

On the other hand, I do like the energy of live music, I like the intimacy of small shows and I adore open mic nights, even if I don’t play. But I don’t have the attention span for the long gig. The idea of Springsteen’s 4 hour marathons brings me out in hives, I can’t even get to the end of Thunder Road without wanting to leave. It’s not just that I don’t like Springsteen (for clarification, I don’t) it’s just that I can only tolerate a single act for about half an hour before I want them to fuck off and put something completely different on. It’s why I like festivals (apart from the camping, and the endless queues for the inevitably overpriced drinks) where you can wander from stage to stage and end up in the disco tent, where the funk lives. Even Public Image Ltd and Jethro Tull had me bored rigid eventually, and they’re two of my favourite bands.

I think it’s because of the distances involved. Had I lived in a city and been able to stroll from venue to venue, dipping in and out of gigs and able to leave once I got bored, I might have happier memories. But I’ve lived my whole adult life in rural Devon, where the most famous band to be put on within walkable distance (or reasonable public transport) was that famous version of Dr Feelgood with no original members left; or on one notable occasion, Chumbawamba in Westward Ho! Although it was three years before Tubthumping and only Jim, Tarot, Paddy and myself knew who they were.

There’s just so much driving and admin involved in going to watch bands. I do not enjoy either of these things, or feeling obliged to have a good time on account of how much money the tickets have cost. If, say, you suffer from anxiety that you’ve spent over forty years masking from your friends, you might perhaps not enjoy such an occasion to the hilt, but instead pretend to, and convince yourself you have for years afterwards.

So no, I do not wish to pay a week’s wages to stand in a room where I can’t have a fag and wait through eight encores to hear a poor imitation of  the definitive version of the only song I came to hear. It feels good to say that. Honestly, the amount of bullshit excuses I used to not buy the many Kate Bush tickets that were offered me would astound you. As would the many imitations of regret that I was not there I have made since. Reader, I regret nothing. I stayed at home and listened to side two of The Hounds Of Love as it was intended to be heard.


Tonight is the anniversary of the last time I sang in public, and it has affected me more than I thought. For, in a twist of irony, I have little to no interest in just playing music for myself. I don’t need a big crowd, I’m happy just to sing at the barstaff (which is lucky most of the time) just some kind of human interaction, even if it’s only a kid rolling their eyes as they walk over to throw fruit at me. I know other musicians who are happy to just keep practicing, playing their instruments to nobody but themselves in endless self-improvement, or writing and recording their own music at home. And while i used to enjoy that, it feels pointless at the moment with no endgame in sight.

This is an actual picture of the last time I played in public
I've not got my eyes closed with passion, I was trying to remember the first line of the second verse

I’ve been recording some vocal tracks for a friend recently, so had to warm my long-out-of-use voice up. As I sang my way through my usual Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift repertoire it properly hit me. I remembered how a year ago I began making videos with the express purpose of getting solo gigs at little festivals: because this is the 21st century and you can’t get gigs without videos. Two videos in, the first lockdown hit and I saw it as a blessing. Time to pull together a good hour’s worth of material to pick and choose from so I could play to whatever crowd I found myself in front of by the end of the summer. As soon as it became clear there weren’t going to be any crowds I just couldn’t face it anymore. I had nearly two hours worth of material for no good reason.

So last night, standing in my shed, singing my way through Wrecking Ball for the thousandth time (it’s a great warm up) I stopped before the middle eight, looked around at my tricorn hats, gathering dust where I’d left them last summer, put my guitar down and very nearly cried. What’s the point? Once the gigs do come back I’ll be able to get it back together again and right now it just makes me utterly miserable to think of the good times we used to have when we could scream along to Baby One More Time in the pub.

I love little multi-band gigs for the same reason I love open-mic nights, a quick changeover, a chance to meet other musicians and find a little camaraderie in a business that gets a little shitter for all of us every year. So at the moment every note I coax from throat or fingers reminds me of what we’ve lost. I was prepared to get back to it last August,but since then I have all but given up.

Anyway, there is video footage of my last public performance but it was on my wife’s last but one phone and has probably gone forever.

Luckily I’ve got these versions of both songs I did that night, and since these were recorded carefully, in a studio, with time for extra takes and overdubs, they are better than the inevitable speeding up and fluffed lines of my performance that night. Live is never better for the listener.

Enjoy, and I hope to see you on the other side of a mic stand soon.

Sunday 6 September 2020

I Miss The Lockdown.

There, I said it, and I know ‘but the economy’ and ‘people can’t stay in the house forever’ but Roy Roy Wood wished it could be Christmas every day and people are alright with that.

Sorry I haven’t posted since May when I moaned about how awful the endless online lockdown challenges were. Turns out they were just a harmless bit of fun and I did the album one again (do comment below if you want me to post it, it was unflinchingly honest on the third go round), but it’s been a weird few months and the only things worth writing about were all covid/lockdown-related and covered elsewhere. So I concentrated on writing the two books I had always planned to write this year. They were going really well up until the world re-opened and the existential dread kicked back in.

In fact I was being more and more productive right up until Taylor Swift released Folklore; since then I’ve spent all my free time listening to it in the garden drinking cider.

It’s been weird though, hasn’t it? It seems a thousand years since I published The Ballad Of Fat Labrador, and yet it was only February.

This year.

Just before everything changed and I forgot how to promote my books.

Back in April I did a lot of modelling for my wife’s art recreation challenges

Here’s me as the Angel Of The North

At the end of last year I wrote about how difficult it is for adult men to maintain genuine, healthy friendships so a couple of weeks later I started going to the open mic night in my local pub. It was fun, I was meeting new people, people I actually have something in common with - which is a pretty rare thing when you live in the arse-end of nowhere. I only started going to use it as a testing ground for my new solo act - singing the cheesiest of cheesy pop songs with a completely straight face - but quickly found it to be the community I’d been looking for. There’s none of the bitchy snark I remember from the open mic nights I went to in the 90s, and I’ve found myself in at least one teary sing-along when the brilliant Anthony Lane unexpectedly sang my favourite Gerry Rafferty song ever - ‘The Ark’.

It was good for me, making myself go out and talk to people. But on the night of the last one in March, I was self-isolating at home from work with a slight case of the sniffles, so the Heart song I’d been rehearsing ended up on Youtube instead.

The special effects are not that special

This is not the only time I’ve played with myself on film

I had a go at the virtual gig thing and while I managed to pull in the biggest audience of my solo career on a Facebook live performance, I didn’t like it. I missed the community, I missed standing outside a pub waving a cigarette at a stranger while attempting to explain why Miley Cyrus is the greatest rock vocalist of the 21st Century. So I didn’t do it again. I carried on putting edited videos on Youtube, but attempting to engage with an audience I can’t see from my kitchen is not for me.

I am missing the live experience terribly so if you are thinking of getting me to play guitar in your band, right now is the time to ask, I am pretty much certain to say yes.

Messing about with synths and banjos in my studio again (since I wasn’t having to learn any new material for bands or dep gigs) meant I ended up being a small part of the Manroom Sessions Isolation project with a bunch of guys I’ve known and played with for years. There were a lot of leftover bits once we were done and as a result I’ve put together the first new Plastic Squirrel material in five years (and filled it up with some stuff I found on a 23 year old tape).

All that aside, April was possibly the happiest I’ve ever been. There were no expectations to go out, no obligations to live up to. I was (very lucky to be) working reduced hours at my day job, with no deadlines or expectations. The weather was lovely, and the actual business end of the pandemic was (and still is) a long way away from where I live - on the edge of a moor with a decent-sized garden. I feel guilty that I enjoyed it so much, but I managed to hit my self-imposed writing targets every single day, with time to sit back and relax.

At least that’s the way I remember it now - months after the fact. I do recall one afternoon where I came back, and let the full enormity of what was happening sink in. I opened a beer, rolled a cigarette and sat on my own in the garden, no music on (there was no point before Taylor Swift released Folklore), no book, no tv, no internet. No company to distract me. It was maybe a week and a half into the lockdown and I’d been too busy dealing with the practicalities of going to work to think about the implications of a global pandemic. I remember I really freaked out. After that I made sure I took time to think, breath and relax every day. I’d had no idea it made me so anxious until then.

Now things are getting back to normal, all the old, familiar, anxieties are back to replace that creeping sense of covid dread. I miss the spring, when it felt like all humanity was taking a deep breath and we were all going to come back stronger, better, more together and united (and able to knit, run 10k, play new instruments, paint masterpieces etc. etc.) It was like all the little right-left divisions stopped being important for a moment and we really were all one people who could get through this together.

Then an awful self-entitled dickhead refused to say sorry for driving to Durham and everything went crashing back to the same level of bickering and dreadful that it was before.

And there was so much hope.

I thought my friend and former Cosmic Jug bandmate Ian summed up the feeling of that weird time perfectly with this song - Grow Bag. It’s very lovely and you should take the time to listen.

Sunday 17 May 2020

'Challenge Accepted...' - Unbearable Facebook Friends In Lockdown

“Challenge accepted, thanks to Thumby McForgottenFace, who I haven’t seen since 1987 and can barely remember, for nominating me when they ran out of friends…”

Words to chill you to your very bone in these testing times. Not when you’ve been “challenged”, no, most of these Facebook "challenges" merely involve posting the same fucking boring pictures of you gurning at your phone with your baby/pet/car/guitar/Wuzzle that you always do, just with ‘no explanations and no comments’. If they’re intended to boost your self-esteem and make you feel better then keep them off my timeline as I’ll immediately destroy what little of it you had left.

It’s those ‘share the 10 albums/books/famous artworks/Wuzzles/bogies that have had the biggest effect on your life’ “challenges” that I have a problem with*. While I am all in favour of this sharing of culture, getting to know each other and finding out who likes what, I do have a problem with the no explanations part.**
It’s just fucking lazy. I mean, yeah, it lets those who don't have the time to carefully explain exactly what it is they love so much about Eleroo compared to that massive dickhead Bumblelion join in, but it’s a bit shit.

Eleroo here is, hands down, the best Wuzzle, I will hear no arguments on the subject

I mean it’s so easy to just lie and post books you’ve never read, albums you’ve never really ‘got’ and Wuzzles you never understood (what is it with you and Wuzzles Dave?) in an attempt to appear more sophisticated. The thing about art is that it is subjective, and nothing without context. For example, you could post the cover of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and people would nod approvingly, it’s a classic. Unarguable, go you.
If your favourite tracks are A Little Help With My Friends, When I’m 64 and She’s Leaving Home and you always skip Within You Without You then you don’t enjoy music, you’re an idiot and you’re dead to me.
It’s subjective.
Both Charles Manson and I love the White Album, but we got very different takeaways from it.
Some people think Wuthering Heights (it was, apparently, a book before Kate Bush wrote a song about a terrible movie adaptation) is a beautiful - if tragic - love story, others just like the bit where Heathcliff murders a dog. (I liked the dog murdering, but I think Manson, had he been a fan, would have been more into the bleak imagery of the Yorkshire moors; see, we get different takeaways).

A lot of art is nothing without context. You’re allowed to give a wistful smile and have a little singalong at the most godawful of songs if they remind you of that amazing one night stand you never saw again. The girl/boy that got away - if only it hadn't been in the summer of ‘96 at the accidentally-smoking-the-filter end of Britpop eh? But I digress.

Actual great art is absolutely nothing without context. Sure, you listen to Sgt Pepper and it’s a bunch of nice songs (faux-vaudeville fuckery of When I’m 64 excepted) and you quite like them. However, you were born in the late '90s, and think it sounds like Oasis. Fair dos to you, it does. Once you learn about all the groundbreaking work that was done in the studio to make it (by Brian Wilson, making Pet Sounds a year before) it makes it all the better. Place it where it belongs in history and it’s much better. I mean it’s still no Pet Sounds, but it’s alright.

Not giving a shit about context is how ‘I-speak-as-I-find-and-if-you-dont-like-it…’ types go about not understanding art that isn't a drawing of a horse. Without context, Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ is very much just an old urinal. With context it’s actually brilliant. If you take the time to dive into the context you get things, you like them more. And if you tell me about why you love the album/book you post, there’s a chance you might turn me on to it, and then you’ve done some good. Not just posted a picture of a record you like so that other people who also like it can rub their chins and scoff at those who have never heard of it.

It means you can be honest, rather than trying to look cool. For example, you can post that Kenny G album you borrowed off your mum that got you into Jazz, rather than Bitches Brew. You’d never have gone near Bitches Brew if it wasn’t for Kenny, so you owe him a tip of your hat. (Not me, I got into Jazz via my old economics teacher, Mr Furness, lending me a Wes Montgomery record, then a bit of Mahavishnu and some John Etheridge. It should come as no surprise that I only just scraped a C for economics as I was too busy talking about jazz with Mr F to remember anything about Friedman's trickle-down lies). By the way, Duotones kicks Bitches Brew’s arse in every way, don't @ me.

So don’t cop out and only post your crowd-pleasing covers, take the time (while you’ve still got it) to tell me why you love it, and I just might love it too. It’s not a competition in obscurity, not a ‘look how cool I am’-a-thon. If you were a kid in the 80s/90s and you haven’t posted a Now Album then you were either raised in a bunker or a fucking liar. Show me your books, your records, your movies, your poems, your Wuzzles (enough with the fucking Wuzzles Dave), whatever brings you joy and for God’s sake tell me why.

Convert me.

* Just to confirm, I’ve done this, I wrote this about it the first time. And apologies for the "quotes", rest assured I am not doing air quotes as I read this aloud. Just using the very sarky voice they are supposed to denote.

** I’ve done it this way as well. The second time round, I stuck to the rules and posted these albums. I bet you’d rather I’d written a little bit about context, or even which album some of them are.***

*** every time I’ve been challenged since I’ve ignored it, but do keep trying, I might get bored again.

Tuesday 14 April 2020

How Are We All Doing?

First things first, some good news inspired by some bad. I’m giving away The Ballad Of Fat Labrador for free until Thursday. It features Legends - one of Brighton’s best LGBTQ+ venues that was forced into liquidation last week, spurring me into making this free offer. I spent many happy hours dancing there and mourned its passing over the Easter weekend.

But enough of that, it’s been less than a month (rather than the year and a half it feels) since I wrote this. How have we all been? Are you stuck at home? Are you still going to work? Do you feel safe?

I’m still working, both at the day job, and the writing and the music. In fact, I’m busier than ever. My day job in the jigsaw manufacturing industry actually feels worthwhile for once, people are glad of the tat we peddle in these locked down times. We are able to work with a reduced staff and odd shift patterns to facilitate social distancing and I am ignoring the fucking idiots who keep passing round boxes of cakes and holding doors open for me. You know who you are, I love you, but stop it.

Musically I have revived my old Dave Not The Cat persona and facebook page to post videos of my favourite poptastic cover versions both there and on my Youtube channel. I’ve even done my first ever Dave Not The Cat gig for the Taunton Gay Group’s second anniversary party. I did it from my kitchen and it sounded like a man shouting into a phone with a guitar, because that’s exactly what it was. It has, however, inspired me to maybe take the show out of the shed once this is all over, and if you’re a promoter looking for an idiot in a stupid hat to sing Miley Cyrus covers then do get in touch.

While I’ve been filling time I should be spending writing on that, some friends of mine really got their shit together and recorded this album in a week. It’s a collaborative project which I enthusiastically agreed to be part of and then procrastinated over for so long I didn’t get anything recorded in time. Luckily they’re doing a second volume for which I have recorded an inordinate amount of banjo parts and a small amount of guitar.

So what with all of that, alongside modelling for my wife’s Facebook art challenge addiction; the deluge of phone calls, video calls and people I never normally speak to suddenly desperate to keep in touch and the usual looking after my small army of pets, it’s amazing that I’ve found any time to write at all. (I have though, even if it has mostly been editing things I thought were already finished).

I have - like many people worried for their mental health - been trying my best to avoid watching news as it leads to me writing rants like the following:

(Please scroll to the end for something funny and calming if you don’t wish to be enraged by my political point-scoring, incoherence, self-contradiction, overlong sentences and lack of punctuation/grammar.)

Prince William said that Britain was at its best under this kind of pressure, pulling together and supporting each other. I saw that as a damning indictment of Britain as usual rather than the compliment he intended. But then when you live in a country whose democratically elected leader tells people to stay where they are and not travel to their second homes, before travelling to his second home to recover from the disease he contracted by not following his own advice what do you expect.
Clapping is the new poppies and doesn’t fund vital services. Proper taxation does, in an interview with the Guardian last week, the folk musician Donovan bemoaned the massive taxes he exiled himself to avoid in the 1960s that led George Harrison to write ‘it’s one for me nineteen for you’ while saying it was the principle of the thing and he still had plenty of money thus arguing against his own point entirely. There are a lot of people with hope in their hearts expecting us to come out of this a kinder, more generous and better society. They are going to be disappointed when the magic money tree calls in its debts to stick a big fat capitalist union jack on the grave of their utopia.
Me, I expect the worst, we are cheering pensioners raising money for the NHS rather than seeing it as proof that it has been chronically underfunded in order to allow trickle-down-bastards to keep more of their profits on their private islands before laying off their workers at the worst possible time and still not paying anything like the tax they should be which would mean your war hero grandad doesn’t have to run five thousand heart-warming laps of his garden to the flag waving cheers of Dan Fucking Walker’s stock-photo-generic face.
Don’t even get me started on the pricks posting memes suggesting Greta Thunberg should be doing something about this. I don’t expect Tony the Tiger to come up with a viable plan for anything other than selling insane amounts of sugar to children, why should you expect an environmental campaigner to suddenly be a virologist? Your whataboutery will not stop legitimate questioning of your questionable government’s questionable response to this unquestionable crisis.
Still at least I don’t live in the USA.

Anyway, rant over, sorry.

I spent the Easter weekend editing this video of my wife, kids and me recreating our favourite singalong of 10 years or so ago. It should have been filmed in the kitchen of our old house with the kids appearing at windows and doorways on cue. But we don’t live there anymore, and we can’t all be together until all this is over.

Stay safe, and good luck.

Monday 23 March 2020

Go The Fuck Home And Stay There

Welcome to 2020, the end times. The death of all we have taken as a gibbon* these last hundred years or so. First came the floods, then came the plague. Those of us who have spent our lives being called socially distant, step forward: our time has come.

I am not here to condemn the fucking idiots who visited their families for mothers’ day on Sunday, those who had one last hurrah at the pub on Friday night, and those who are still congregating in large groups without a care in the world. I get it, I mean you’re wrong and you’ll probably kill your own mothers, but I get it. (Update, while writing this you’ve made sure none of us can go anywhere at all, thanks pricks). Nor the conspiracy theorists who are not convinced all this is to stop people dying. If the extreme measures (brought in as a result of the aforementioned fucking idiots) fail to stop after the pandemic dies down and become a tool of oppression I shall join you on the barricades brothers. Until then, I will relish the opportunity to stay home, watch Netflix and not have to feel guilty for not wanting to go and visit my nearest and dearest.

Once this is all over – if we’re not all on the barricades fighting to be let out again – we’ll have to cope with yet another economic crisis. But, if you follow the money up, who actually suffers if we just turn off the monetary system until all this blows over. Cancel rent and mortgage payments, and yes, the immediate beneficiaries will feel the burn, but cancel their payments, and the next tier and the next and everything freezes in situ as it were and nothing gets worse? Right? Cancel the debt, Fight Club style. Where does the literal buck stop and what happens if it doesn’t get there? Money is an abstract concept, no matter what anybody tells you. I’ve only got an A level in economics, and it was over twenty years ago so my argument is almost certainly flawed. But my (admittedly wildly socialist) mind thinks that if you just press pause on the financial system for a bit then this all ends far less painfully than it does otherwise. The laws of economics are not like the laws of physics, you can bend them.

I’ve always advocated Universal Basic Income and opening up empty town centre buildings for the homeless. Were such a system already in place, then the lockdown would be much easier to implement. Everybody has a warm home with clean running water and everybody has enough to eat. Everything after that counts as a luxury and you need to work to afford it. That’s it, that’s the system, not mind-blowing is it? Nobody dies unnecessarily.

Entertainers could pursue their careers without the constant fear of eviction. Musicians and comedians etc. live day to day, self-employed on gig fees that haven’t increased since I started out in this business nearly thirty years ago. Working class kids could pursue whatever career they want without fear of ending up broke and dead. And right now we wouldn’t have to politely watch the endless live-streamed gigs of our former favourite artists before tipping them via the virtual paypal hat.

Obviously I will be accepting tips for this magnificent performance

The virtual pub is the best thing to come out of this, and I shall be implementing it as soon as possible (friends, message me, we will make groups). Multiscreen calling on your messenger system of choice via laptop or phone. It has many advantages:

1) Your evening can’t be ruined by some weirdo nobody else actually knows barging in and banging on about something none of you care about.

2) You can all listen to whatever music you like, separately. Use headphones and avoid spillover.

3) The bar is much cheaper and nobody has to wait to get served. Also you won’t get saddled with the expensive round.

4) If somebody gets too boring you can pretend your connection has dropped out, rather than having to go for a pretend piss to get away from them.

5) You no longer have to go outside to smoke/vape (unless you don’t like the stink in your house) and even if you do, you can take the rest of the “table” with you.

6) You no longer have to put up with the smell of your smoking/vaping friends when they come back to the table.

7) You can turn up in your jim-jams, no shirt, no shoes, no problem.

8) It is much easier to leave and go to a different “pub” with another group of friends.

If you’ve made it all the way to the end then thanks for reading this disjointed mess. Please stay safe, don’t spread it about and if you need reading material then please consider one of my books and don’t be like the Facebook woman who has boycotted Amazon for principled reasons and thus will not buy my books from there.**

* Still my absolute favourite eggcorn of all time.

*It’s the only self-publishing platform I can afford, most of the profits go to me, and their self-publishing program is one of the few actually good things that Amazon do. It also works out much better for me (and other Amazon authors) if you go exclusive – for the Kindle Unlimited benefits. Amazon may be destroying a lot of businesses but principles will only get you so far, and all big companies are dicks (see Waterstones). If you can’t buy it anywhere else it should be a no-brainer. Don’t be a dick.

Thursday 13 February 2020

The Mysterious Allure Of The Cover Band

I’ve taken another fictional dive into the murky world of cover bands with my new book, Weekend Rockstars 2: The Ballad Of Fat Labrador, which comes out today. Why do I continue to write about this strange niche group? The slightly less embarrassing alternative to Civil War re-enactment societies? (It’s a fair comparison, they’re both pretending to be something they’re not, and go all wistful if you mention New Model Army). Honestly, it’s because – however uncool they may seem, however tragic and mid-life crisis related – I love them, and not just because they have paid for a substantial chunk of my mortgage over the years.

Even in covers bands you get to have embarrassing
photos of you spread over the internet

I have spent most of my musical career playing in covers bands – much to the horror of many of my much cooler friends. But while they kept their integrity (by endlessly travelling from one end of the country to the other for no money and apathetic audiences) I had a good time and got paid with minimal effort.

There’s no footage of my very early cover bands that isn’t on a VHS tape somebody else owns
But the rhythm section from my first band are in this clip of Jealousy and the Cat
doing Ozzy Osborne songs in Westward Ho! last year
If you listen very carefully you’ll notice I don’t remember the riff
that leads in to the chorus until the very last verse

I won’t deny that anybody who plays pop music has wanted to be a star at some point. Maybe only fleetingly, but they have. Who wouldn’t want to be up on a stage with thousands of adoring fans hanging on your every word? That’s certainly why Alice and Becky, from The Ballad Of Fat Labrador, got into it – however much they deny it.


If you actually intend to make a career of it, be Beyonce, have the moves like Jagger, shake it like a Stevens, it turns out you have to make sacrifices. To start with you have to work really hard, practice all the time until you can sing/play/dance better than anybody else you know – at the very least.

Then you’ve got to get out there, play every gig you can hustle up – even if it clashes with your mum’s birthday/the birth of your first child/your step-daughter’s 18th (sorry Rudi) – without false modesty. You are good, and if you don’t know it, you won’t make it (you have to believe it even if you’re terrible).

But even then, unless you already live in a city with a thriving music scene, you now have to either move to somewhere you can’t afford to live – because you’re a musician and you don’t have the commitment for the kind of career that pays enough for actual rent – or spend all your meagre earnings on travel. Sorry, AND spend all your meagre earnings on travel, because you can’t make a name for yourself only playing in walking distance of whichever mate’s sofa you’re kipping on this week.

Here’s me playing bass with the wonderful Carnivala!
We were an original band and often got to play large, well-equipped stages like this one
(sometimes they had actual audiences in front, but you can’t have everything)
Please note this is a cover version we’re doing and that’s not our fiddle player or drummer
All those gags about rotating line-ups had to come from somewhere

So that’s: working hard, working unsociable hours, driving long distance in the middle of the night/sleeping in a van, living somewhere awful, and having no money.

And then you still need luck, timing, and the stars to align in your favour when the blood gods smile upon you for that one big break.

The one big break that still doesn’t guarantee you a career.

You are very, very unlikely to make it, and the attempt to do so will probably break you.

And what if you can’t write catchy songs/don’t have a mate who writes catchy songs/aren’t really interested in songwriting?

You could try and be a sideman, or a session guy, or Bez, but all of the above still applies – especially the moving to almost-certainly-London part. If anything the competition is even harder, and the guys who have been doing it for the last fifty years are still doing it best and getting all the good gigs.

Carnivala! again, in a sweaty Torquay pub on a Sunday afternoon
Playing to the other bands on the bill and the staff
And fuck me if we aren’t doing another cover here
I was sure we wrote our own songs

But you like singing, you like playing, you don’t see the point in doing it at home on your own (you didn’t spend all that money on fuzz pedals just to upset your cat) and you have no interest in fame, fortune and an early death from sexual misadventure.

And crucially, you don’t want to do the thing you love for a living and turn it into a job.

A job you might hate every bit as much as any other.

But you may, like Alice from The Ballad Of Fat Labrador, be utterly entranced by the sound you can only get from an overdriven electric guitar in a room full of people:

“There is nothing she loves so much as the electric guitar, so magical; not its lesser sibling, the cutesy twinkling acoustic. Alice is no manic pixie dream girl picking out delicate versions of disco classics. Accept no substitute for the unstoppable electro-magnetic force of an unleashed electric guitar.
Driving home tonight angry, a little faster than she meant to, she felt the same thing: that power under your right foot as you squeeze the accelerator. The speed-freakery of it all, it’s the same feeling she gets wringing an endless distorted singing note from the neck of her guitar. Loud music, fast cars, they’re the same thing. It’s about control. It might be the same feeling that drives people to be serial killers.”

It is addictive, and more eco-friendly than all the driving and murdering that the alternatives present.

But you don’t have to be Charles Manson, you don’t even have to be a Beatle. There is no need to do all that work, there is another way.

You can play other people’s songs, get paid and get to sleep in your own bed (in the rural paradise you love) every night.

And you don’t have to do it every night if you don’t want to.

Join a cover band, there is no shame in it, no matter what the hipster pricks tell you. You get to make big exciting noises and have the mad rush of a room full of people singing along without having to fight your way through the ‘being-a-rock-star’ gauntlet first. The entry bar is amazingly low. All you have to do is be able to play an instrument to a basic (very basic in some real life cases I have witnessed) and be able to carry a tune (again, I’ve seen, walked out of, and in some cases actually been paid surprisingly good money to play with those who genuinely can’t).

I keep saying cover bands get happy crowds
but you’re just as likely to end up on the back of a truck in the pouring rain
singing to nobody but your step-daughter and your dog as in any other band
As illustrated by this clip from 2003 at a charity gig for ‘exposure’

The lure of getting paid AND getting an engaged audience very quickly swayed me in my teens and while I did play a lot of very worthy original music to a lot of very empty rooms, I also played a lot of cheese to a lot of very happy crowds.

Don’t get me wrong, I have played original music on stages in front of hordes of adoring fans. It’s just that they were fans of the headline act and impatient for us to fuck off out of the way.

For those like George, the hero of my first novel, Weekend Rockstars, who don’t even pick up an instrument until they are in their forties, the idea of ‘making it’ in a rock band is out of the question. But they should not be denied their endorphin rush, any more than those who don’t feel like paying a hundred quid a ticket and driving hundreds of miles to see a band should be denied the joy of a night out singing along to live music they love. Cover bands fill a need on both sides and are a very good thing and this is the hill I shall die on.

Me playing bass with the Spaced Invaders back in 2010
to a room full of drunken, dancing idiots
That massive grin on my face isn’t faked
I was having a very good time