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 . . . .

the tunnel

I found this story on the Guardian's website unutterably sad.

Elliot Dallen: Terminal cancer means I won't see the other side of lockdown

Unutterably sad, and beautifully expressed. Elliot Dallen has a clear gift for words, my heart really goes out to him and his family.

I'm very fortunate. I miss karate, I miss the gigs and my band, I really miss sailing. The empty office has a sepulchre atmosphere and I'm drinking too much of an evening, because after I've walked the dogs there's not all that much else to do.

Actually, who am I kidding? I always drink too much of an evening.

But my troubles are trivial and, ultimately, transient. Well recovered now from the chest infection that floored me earlier in the year, I'm well, my family are well and my friends are well. And, despite the fact that my fitness levels must be crashing through ill discipline and inactivity (and it's actually more than within my gift to fix this), this enforced pacificity means that both my shoulders and elbows are, for the first time in almost twelve months, almost continuously pain free.

Without in any way belittling the undeniably serious nature of the current situation, I've often found myself riling at the sensationalist, almost apocalyptic coverage both the mainstream and tabloid media is giving this virus, and the hysterical amplification it then gets through social media.

As an aside, I've made a point of temporarily blocking anybody that's posted or shared anything concerning this that I felt was unduly sanctimonious, hysterical or blatantly misinterpreting or misrepresenting the facts. And I've blocked more friends, family and acquaintances in the last few weeks than I ever did during the December general election. My social media feeds have fallen very quiet of late.

But these are difficult times. For some of us, the difficulty is imposed mostly for the benefit of others. And we should bear this willingly and cheerfully, even if the costs are disproportionately spread. I'll probably come out of this relatively unscathed. Others have lost or will lose their businesses and livelihoods and need to rebuild from scratch.

But there is a whole raft of our society, the "over seventies", the old, the vulnerable and the ill, that we've now shuttered away into isolation for twelve weeks or more, cloistered for their protection, for their own good.

Most will lack Elliot Dallen's clear eloquence and will simply have to endure.