Monday, 25 May 2020

Laser: recovering

Spent a couple of hours blasting around the lake on my Laser again yesterday. Got the best of the wind in the early afternoon and gave the little boat a proper workout. Tried to make a point of sailing a course to make sure I got as much time going upwind as down, but frequently succumbed to just reaching back and forth across the lake for a good part of the time because it was just so much fun. It did at least give me a lot of gybing practice.

On our fastest reach, we hit 11.8 knots.

Wasn't up for much more than collapsing in front of Netflix by the time I got home but today I feel like I could happily go straight back out and do it all again, so I'm obviously on the path to recovery.

Except there's no wind, and Nik's not working, so I should probably spend the bank holiday at home with her. The back garden and lawn-mower beckon.

The stats suggest that I worked a lot harder yesterday than I did the week before, but that overlooks the fact that the week before I was so out of practice that I forgot to start the watch recording until I was about half way through.

Friday, 22 May 2020


Turns out the end of February was, in one respect, the wrong time for a gigging musician to buy a new guitar and an amp. On the other hand, with the lockdown that followed, I may not have had the opportunity to play live with the new kit, but the office, an old 17th centaury mill with very thick walls, has been all but empty, so I've been able to take the guitar into work, plug it in to the amp and make a lot of noise after hours without upsetting anybody.

Or at least none of the neighbours have found me to complain yet.

I think I've previously mentioned, but an electric guitar is not my natural, native environment. Okay, I know a guitar isn't an environment, but the sound it creates is kind like a place the player inhabits, so it seems to work as a kind of metaphor. An acoustic is simple, direct and straight forward; a thing of fretboard, body and strings, an almost percussive instrument of natural tone, resonance and harmonics.

An electric is an artificial hybrid of guitar and amp and effects. A devious, complicated medley that can so easily go very, very wrong and at best simply create an audial mush, or at worst an actually painful cacophony.

It's also amazingly flexible, and whilst it doesn't forgive mistakes or inaccuracies in the same way an acoustic will, the breadth of tone, the resonance of the amp and effects, and the lightness of action (the height between string and fret) opens up the guitar's fretboard in a way that has, to be honest, been something of a revelation, and an awful lot of fun to explore.

That said, this song isn't a revelatory exploration in harmonic dissidence. It's a chilled take on an old Oasis song that has been a part of my set for almost twenty-five years, and the amp is turned down low. "Wonderwall" had the kind of popularity, and corresponding airtime, back in its day when it came out in late '95 that it's almost a cliché to cover it. But I fell in love with the first chord, and then all the chords that followed.

Unusual for me, as I'm usually hooked by lyrics and melody. It's quintessentially a song for the acoustic guitar. So old, familiar ground for me to explore with my new, unfamiliar electric.

Monday, 18 May 2020

Laser: incipient recovery

photo: mark wiltshire
I am hardly in peak fighting condition at the moment. I'm generally quite ill disciplined, and without structure or need fail quickly to the line of least resistance. Which over the last couple of months has been go to work, come home, perch in front of my computer and open a beer, break only to go find food. Sleep, wake, shower, repeat. Weekends vary a little in that I don't go to work, but also break to occasionally mow the lawn.

I allow myself to get away with this knowing that the structures I've built around my life to offset this regrettable tendency to sloth will eventually reassert themselves and I shall recover. Sailing, gigs, karate.

Despite being out of condition I think I remain fairly supple for a man of my age. For example, I may not be able to put my foot behind my head these days, but I'd generally have no problem standing on one leg and rubbing my nose with my knee. Although I'd probably get a few funny looks, depending on where exactly I chose to do that.

But not too bad, given that come next April I shall find myself closer to 70 than I am to 30. Although age is just a number. Aches and pains and a slightly diminished recovery time aside, I still feel like a kid. And, according to Nikki, behave like one.

However, today I hurt. I'm stiff and bruised and sore. Yesterday evening after I got home I sat on the edge of my bed and discovered to my amusement I couldn't actually lift my leg enough to reach my foot to put my slippers on. I've never not been able to reach my foot.

As previously mentioned, the lake at South Cerney is once more open.

And I spent Sunday afternoon out in the sun and the wind playing with my Laser. The photo above was taken from the shore by a friend. The little dog in the left corner, by the way, is called Barney, and owns another friend. The weather was gorgeous. Out away from the shore in clear air, the beats meant hiking out in full and continuously playing the main to keep the boat flat, and the reaches, when the gusts hit, were all spray and adrenaline, the little boat planing easily from one side of the broad lake to the other, humming like a TIE fighter out of a Star Wars movie.

So today I hurt. I'm stiff and I'm bruised and I'm sore.

And the feeling is glorious.

Friday, 15 May 2020

Laser: return of the native

I found her in the long grass. I knew she'd be there, right where I left her, but it's been such a long time, I was worried it would be quite a search.

Although the lake at Frampton remains closed whilst the Committee consider the latest Government "advice" that was issued to the media last Sunday (a cack-handed way to govern a country, but here is not the place for that), the club at South Cerney were quicker off the mark, and by Wednesday had reopened their lake for "social" sailing, with the obvious proviso that we maintain appropriate social distance from each other, don't share equipment and change in the carpark, as the clubhouse and changing rooms have to remain closed.

I can work with that.

Fortunately, I'm a member at both Frampton and South Cerney.

Unfortunately, the boat I keep at South Cerney is a double-handed Albacore, whereas my single-handed Laser lives at Frampton. You can't maintain appropriate social distance in a double-hander unless your crew is from the same household, and neither Nikki nor Sam would want to sail in a dinghy with me.

But I have a car and a trailer. So after digging the Laser out of the undergrowth at Frampton, I hooked her up behind my Volvo early yesterday afternoon and dragged her half an hour down the road to her new home at South Cerney.

As a concession, South Cerney's committee has said that anybody that has a double-handed berth at the club but can't use their boat because of the restrictions, can berth a single-handed boat at the Club for free until the restriction is lifted.

It's been a very good week.

Normally, getting any ten minute job done at a sailing club takes sixty minutes because people invariably drift over to talk to you. It's part of the charm. I had thought this time around that getting the Laser ready for the road yesterday might be relatively quick, given the still continuing quazi-lockdown.

I was wrong. As I got out my car at Frampton I was greeted by a "Haven't seen you in a while!" from, of all people, my mate Bean, the band's drummer, dressed up in running gear and looking very red in the face. A half hour chat with him before he jogged on was followed by a couple of other friends turning up in succession to check on their boats. I should've expected it; up until Wednesday we've not even been allowed to visit the club to do that.

In the end, I got to South Cerney for about 1730, to discover I'd forgotten the gate code. Fortunately, another friend was already there, set up by the lakeside in his campervan with his British Moth rigged alongside and ready to sail.

He'd been there all afternoon, and had already been out twice, but once he realised that I was rigging to go out myself, took no persuading at all to come and keep me company. It's not that company was in any way necessary, but the Laser is a faster boat than a British Moth, and it gave me some entertainment to sail rings around him for a while, so it was very welcome.

We're not allowed to start racing yet but, well, you know.

It was a gorgeous evening. Not warm, but bright, with a light, forgiving wind. Enough almost to plane on the reach in the occasional gust, or occasionally hike out hard on the beat, but still generously sympathetic for a couple of very out of practice helms.

The lovely thing about this time of year is that it doesn't get truly dark until around 2100, so we got a good couple of hours out on the water. I had worried the boat would've felt alien at first, as it had been so long. Before the lockdown I'd been sailing the Albacore through the late winter and early spring, so hadn't rigged or sailed the Laser since winning the New Years Day race at Frampton at the beginning of January.

It was a foolish concern.

Rigging her was a little slow, in part because I was being careful to make sure I didn't miss anything or otherwise screw it up, and in part because I was simply out of practice. But the second I pushed her off from the gravel shore and stepped aboard it was like pulling on an old, familiar pair of boots. 

I love the Albacore. But double-handers are more about the teamwork and racing than simply sailing. I love the Westerly, but the yacht is more about the journey, the adventure and exploration, than simply sailing. And Dad; I love going away sailing with Dad, and the Westerly is very much about that.

A single-handed boat is different. Without wishing to wax lyrical or overly embellish things, a single-handed boat feels like an extension of yourself. There's nothing between you, the wind or the water, no distractions, no compromises. Just sailing.

It's delicious, and I love it. 

And although I think I could fall in love with any single-hander, in fact, I know this because I have a nautically fickle heart and fall for every new boat I find, the Laser, or this particular Laser at least, suits me very, very well.

It's so good to be back.

Next job will be to get a bucket of water and a scrubbing brush and scrub her greened decks back to white again. That is, if I can find any time to do so between sailing her.

Meanwhile, the day after, I find despite the light and forgiving conditions of the evening before, I ache all over.

But it's a good ache.

Monday, 11 May 2020

The other Mrs Robinson

My brother who, as I've doubtless mentioned before, is also our bassist, posted a video of the band's version of Mrs Robinson up on to Facebook over the weekend, taken when we last played at The Old Restoration over in Cheltenham back at the end of January; it feels like a whole lifetime ago right now.

It's the band, so please be cautious with your volume should you choose to press play. Also be aware that the app Jamie has used to post the clip has added all sorts of visual "special" effects to the video that may not be to everybody's taste. Then again, we were never a pretty band to look at, so in my opinion the more that can be done to mask that, probably the better for all concerned!

I've had a mixed bag of luck embedding video from Facebook, so hopefully this will work . . .


Friday, 1 May 2020

whether the weather be fine

The thick, heavy rain has just turned into hail.

I love weather.

Mrs Robinson

A Simon and Garfunkel cover, usually the second song of our second set. Has been for a long time now; funny how things find a natural place. Or you get stuck in a rut. Not sure which applies. Don't know that it matters. I would, right now, happily go back to either.

The first song is Mr Brightside, a version of which I previously posted up here. It's one of the few songs our guitarist Matt uses a capo for (a device you clamp across the fingerboard of a guitar to change the key). Because he's fussy, and because an electric guitar is a quite a sensitive thing, it means he has to re-tune when he puts the capo on, easy because Mr Brightside is the first song of the second set, and then again when he takes the capo back off.

Which plays havoc with the continuity. Especially as Mr Brightside guarantees people will be up and dancing. So traditionally, Mr Brightside ends to frantic stage-whispers from Matt to me of "Stall them, tuning, stall them!" and me subsequently taking the Mickey out of him with the audience for getting all fussy and OCD about something like tuning.

Me, I practice liberated music. Free of all constraints, like time and tuning and such like.

I stole that line from Fred Wedlock. I've no doubt he in turn stole it from somebody else. It never gets old. Or perhaps it does. But again, I don't know that it matters. I would, right now, happily go back, cheesy old jokes and all.

Outside it's just started hammering down with thick, heavy rain, Not much wind. But given the choice, I'd still go sailing.

This then is Mrs Robinson, recorded after work on a Monday evening, before I faced the lonely commute home. Decidedly more laid back than when we play it with the band, when it then has a decidedly more "Lemonheads" drive to it.

Interestingly, I read recently that the Lemonheads (they covered this song in 1992) actually didn't like the song or Paul Simon, and never actually played it live. Reading that took them considerably down in my estimation. Not that you can believe everything you read on Wikipedia.

But what really matters is not what the Lemonheads thought of it, but that it was one of my Mum's favourite songs in the set.

Monday, 27 April 2020


Another weekend of cutting the grass, walking the dogs, drinking beer and not a lot else. Actually, I'm not sure that's fair, and sounds far more self-pitying than I actually feel. But they are all beginning to blend into one now; startling to think April is almost over. To add insult to injury, we've had absolute glorious sailing weather for weeks now.

Calstar remains safe in Queen Anne's Battery. Sutton Harbour have said they'll defer the start of our annual contract until we're able to actually move her in and run twelve months from there. QAB have given us a quarterly pro-rata contract based on what would've been our annual fee with them, including, which was a nice touch, what would've been the concession for early payment had we renewed with them in December because they recognised we'd always paid in time to enjoy it during the years we were with them.

They've also agreed that if we don't use a whole quarter, they'll only charge us for the actual months we do use.

So we still have unplanned and unforeseen expenses to deal with, but we're not paying twice, which was my biggest worry. And actually, given our habit of eating out and trying to drink dry every port we stop in when we're out sailing, it's not costing us that much more to keep Calstar on her temporary berth at QAB than it would to actually sail her away somewhere for a week with Dad and Nik.

Needless to say I'm really, really missing being able to do that though. Possibly more than I'm missing the gigs. Possibly.

We're seriously thinking about sailing her back around to Portishead next year, to have her back a little closer to home. Even without the fuss of lockdowns and whatnot, Dad and I both feel like we haven't been sailing her enough over the last couple of years. As gorgeous a sailing area as the south coast is, I'm not sure it quite makes up for the distance and the travel to get there and back.

I recorded the following clip Saturday afternoon, during a brief respite between cutting the grass and opening a beer. Or walking the dogs and cutting the grass; I forget now. It's another one from the band's set, a song by a Welsh band called the Stereophonics, "Dakota"

There was a gorgeous 40' Jeanneau Sun Odyssey called Dakota that used to be berthed on the opposite side of the pontoon from us when we were at Penarth in Cardiff Bay. I thought it was a lovely name for a boat. It's also the name of a wolf I met once in a wild-life park in the Cotswolds. I also remember sitting in Calstar's cockpit in the warm sun having sailed her over from Portishead back in the early days, with the noise of what turned out to be the Stereophonics playing live in Cardiff Stadium. It would've sounded much better in the stadium itself than it did from where I sat in the sun, a vaguely irritating background noise and a disruption to my well-earned afternoon's peace, distorted and muffled by distance as it was.

It's a good song, which I'd have probably overlooked had the band not asked me to learn it as I don't really follow the Stereophonics myself these days. One of the pleasures of playing in a covers band is that this stuff gets put in front of my nose to enjoy, where it might otherwise have passed me by.

The lyrics, taken a little out of context and disregarding what was probably their original intent, also seem quite apt for our present times.

before lockdown (a poem)

A storm passed through last night.
The rearguard of black clouds
Still skip across the sky.
I see city gulls soar in the lift
Of the wind over rooftop, they cry,
But from here I can't hear them.

Its was the third storm of this early spring;
A warm winter, snow unseen
A frost that barely touched us
And now the snowdrops are in flower.
The daffodils have followed, and
The first catkins shake on their trees in the wind.

Summer will follow. I've spent time again
Looking through old photograph albums
For pictures of another dead friend.
In a pretty churchyard in Stonehouse
We buried him at winter's end,
And that was when first I noticed
The first flowers of spring.

The storm passed through last night.
City gulls still wheel in the lift of the wind
That scours the grimed rooftops of our old town,
But the black cloud has fled and the clean wind
Carries the dawn as the sun pushes through;
White feathers gleam on their uplit wings.

I climb reluctantly out of bed.
On the floor beside me my old dog rolls
A languid stretch, she knows I cannot pass
Without rubbing her belly in good morning.
My chest aches, the afterguard of a cough
That has chased me through the night.

But this too shall pass, now an early sun
Brightens the cloud-chased sky in clean light.
The new year beckons,
A distant shore we've yet to find,
And across the sun-broke horizon
The city gulls still wheel and cry.

- BG, January 2020

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Comment: numbers

"Statistics are in chaos. Death “rates” lag behind deaths. Deaths are confused with “hospital deaths”. Headlines highlight “most cases per nation” or “most deaths per nation”, not deaths per million. Yet we are at the mercy of these statistics" - Simon Jenkins of the Guardian

Sunday, 5 April 2020


It's funny, the paths we follow. Or are led down. Or that lead us. I'm never really sure. A friend put this song in my head as I read his email Friday morning. Then it stayed in there all day, and although it was far from unwelcome, I had to do something to shift it.

I had other plans for Friday evening. They mainly involved getting slowly drunk and watching trash on Netflix. For me, a Friday night where I have the liberty to do this is still enough of a novelty that it's something of a treat. Albeit a treat that is quickly threatening to wear thin.

Instead I struggled over working out the picked patterns of some otherwise easy chords, and the timing of some beautiful lyrics. The way I usually manage to play and sing at the same time is a kind of automation. I don't keep good time (according to our bassist) but my hand does strike a pattern and my voice follows automatically, leaving me to focus on the words, delivery and overall performance.

This song, or the original at least, is different. The poetry of the lyrics very much lead the timing and delivery of the melody. And so the guitar follows the voice, and the tune follows the lyric. It makes for an achingly beautiful delivery; I suspect it's actually the soul of the song. At least for me. [Edit 06/04: I've just fixed this paragraph to say what I actually meant to say, and not the opposite, as I'd originally written]

Observing this was a tiny revelation, so different as it is to how I normally work. I tried to cover it faithfully, but in my own version, I don't think I quite catch it. So I do my usual, and find a (I hope, acceptable) compromise, and carry on regardless.

Many, many years ago, long before the convenience of the Internet and song lyrics on tap, I learnt Don McLean's American Pie. It's got more verses to it than Sir Patrick Spens; on which note, having never heard of this song before I looked up the lyrics on Google and covered Fred Wedlock's "The Folker" the other day, I'm now currently listening to Fairport Convention's version on YouTube as I write. And I'm astounded to discover there actually is no 42nd verse.

And a little disappointed. In Fairport Convention for not finding a 42nd verse. Not Fred. If he says there should be a 42nd for him to forget, I believe him.

Anyway. The fact that I know by heart all the verses to American Pie has been a staple party trick of my campfire set since my late teens. And it's a song with almost as much grabbing power as Mr Brightside. A different kind of grab to be fair, more sing along than dance along, but it grabs the crowd just the same.

The funny thing is though, it was never my favourite Don McLean song. The one I should've learnt, all those many years ago, was Vincent.

So, some twenty-nine years later, thanks to a friend, last night I fixed that.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Mr Brightside

The nice thing about playing in a covers band is every so often something makes its way into the set that's a revelation to me. That breaks me out of my bubble.

I think I'm too self involved to really devour much of anybody else's music. My tastes were probably set into jelly back in the late 80's or early 90's, and so whilst being peripherally aware of stuff coming out over the last twenty years or so, with a couple of exceptions (Snow Patrol & Coldplay spring to mind) I don't really listen to music on the TV or radio, so much of it simply passed me by.

A little while ago, for my own amusement, I did a summary of how the band's set broke down across the decades. I was a little surprised at the results:

2010 2
2000 22
1990 9
1980 2
1970 3
1960 3

I probably shouldn't have been. It seems we're a millennial band. Most of the band's repertoire has made it's way into the set by way of recommendation, request or suggestion. The good ones stuck.

Possibly one of our most popular covers is a song from 2004 by a band called The Killers, called Mr Brightside. I don't know how it got into the set. I think it was a request for a wedding back in 2008. In any case, it turned out to be both stupidly fun to play, and hugely popular. I wish I understood why.

I mean, I love the song, but you can guarantee that the second we open up with that first riff, people will absolutely stampede to the dance-floor.

Glancing back through our set lists, and I keep a record of the oddest of things, the earliest instance I can find of this was as the fifth song of a set list for a wedding on 31st July 2008. But the song obviously stuck. In April 2009 it was the opening song of our second set, and it's pretty much been so for almost every gig since.

If I only understood the alchemy then even now, in this (still early!) twilight of my career, I could probably still write a song that would finally make me rich and famous.

Not that I particularly hunger over those dreams any more. I find myself quite happy with how things have turned out after all.

Anyway, the following then is a slightly different vibe to the usual on one of the band's most popular covers, recorded last Thursday after work, and possibly the perfect illustration of why I really need the band to play with . . . .