World peace and nostalgia

The new Morrissey album reminds me how much both Morrissey and The Smiths played a huge part in my musical upbringing. The Smiths were probably the first band who meant something to me at school, and while Morrissey has made a few substandard records, the new one is great, and is in fact the 4th consecutive album of his that I’ve loved, which hasn’t happened since The Smiths.

I’ve read two reviews that pretty much say what I want to say. The first is from The Quietus, the second is written by Luke Haines, another singer I’m a big fan of.


A brief interlude

I was just flicking back through my historical blog posts for reasons. One thing that amused me is what I wrote at the end of my 2013 post celebrating our Green Impact campaign at work (

“Hopefully what we have done so far has made a difference, but we already have plans for the next twelve months to build on this good work and hopefully aim for a Gold Plus award this time next year.”

So it turns out I called it. Because we did actually win Gold Plus, which I completely failed to mention in this year’s post on a similar subject. Of course, that means there isn’t anywhere else to go next year other than to try and sustain this year’s effort. But I suppose that is a good sort of problem to have.

And good problems are my favourite kind of problems.

What’s your backup plan?

This week at work we have been working on a video to promote backing up data. The tagline is “what’s your backup plan?” – which has made me think about how I back up my data, and how well what I actually do measures up to what we recommend.

The basic message is that for a file to be backed up, it needs to exist in an identical version in more than one location (and ideally three locations, one of which is physically separate from the actual machine the data is created on). I do try and adhere to this, although I think I’m still a step away from being as safe as I’d like.

I have two basic backup strategies. One is to ensure that any file I edit exists in some sort of cloud storage system (usually Dropbox, iCloud or Evernote). The other is to ensure that any computer I create data on is backed up regularly using at least two different methods/products. The combination of these two systems, plus the fact I use quite a few computers, ensures I always have several copies of everything, and can access historical copies of my data and bootable clones of my whole computer in almost all scenarios.

Most of this is now automated, in that all my machines back up locally through Time Machine on an hourly basis, and once a day to a bootable clone created using Carbon Copy Cloner. This works fine providing my house doesn’t burn down. I also back up my main home and work computers once a week to a disk that I keep with my at all times, but this has to be done manually, which isn’t ideal.

My iOS devices back up to iCloud, but also back up to my computer every time they are plugged in (with the backups then being themselves backed up as part of my other backups). I don’t have any unique data on them (at least not for long), but I still think it’s worth being able to restore them quickly and to have a second (and sometimes third) copy of all my apps.

So that’s my backup plan. It’s not perfect, but it covers most of the bases.

48 hours with the Blue Note Records Spotify app

I thought it might be worth documenting the albums I’ve streamed from the Blue Note Spotify app -  (full list of content available here), which is a thing of wonder for discovering 1950s/60s jazz music (and in fact a lot of more modern music as well). My basic plan is to try and alternate between artists I’ve heard of and artists who are new to me, in the hope that I’ll broaden my knowledge of the genre, and maybe uncover a few hidden gems as well. I plan on choosing what to listen to largely by what the album cover looks like, and will probably try and concentrate on music recorded before I was born.

John Coltrane – Blue Train (1957) – This requires no introduction. I’ve heard it before, but it’s been a while, and I wanted to start with the artist who got me interested in jazz in the first place. It didn’t disappoint, and the two bonus tracks are worth a listen, even if you’re familiar with the main album.

Lou Donaldson – Midnight Creeper (1968) – Fairly lightweight commercial jazz, which makes good background music. I’m not sure I’d listen to this over and over again, but I didn’t skip any tracks and it was enjoyable enough.

Ornette Coleman – New York is Now! (1968) – Another artist I really like (with Free Jazz being one of my favourite records in the genre). This is one of two records he released in 1966, and I think I’ll be checking the other one out based on how much I’ve enjoyed this one. In particular, We Now Interrupt you for a Commercial sounds a lot like Free Jazz, and marks a very interesting end to the album.

Cecil Taylor – Conquistador! (1966) – Piano and trumpet jazz from the mid 60s. I know nothing about this artist at all, but might very well check out more as it reminds me a little of some of John Zorn’s more conventional jazz records, which can only be a good thing. Wikipedia tells me that Taylor is still alive at time of writing (he’s currently 85), and that he was one of the pioneers of the Free Jazz movement. There is another album on Blue Note from the same era called Unit Structures which I think I also need to check out as part of this project.

Ornette Coleman – Love Call (1968) – The second half of the session that also spawned New York is Now! It occupies a lot of the same musical territories, without being particularly memorable.

Andrew Hill – Lift Every Voice (1969) – Jazz music with choral accompaniment sounds like a brave choice. And I suppose it is a brave choice. It does really work though, and I can see this being a record I come back to over and over again, and one that I’m surprised I’ve not heard before, because it is the sort of thing that I would imagine was quite critically acclaimed when it was released. The original album contains five tracks, with an additional six recoded a year later that were added to this re-release. There are subtle differences to the sound of the two sets of tracks, but they all work really well, and are well worth a listen.

Cecil Taylor – Unit Structures (1966) – I really enjoyed Conquistador! so I thought I would check out the album that immediately proceeded it. Cecil Taylor only recorded two records for Blue Note, so I’m quite glad I spotted him in my random flick through the album covers, and if this is anything to go by then I might be tempted to check out more of his work. This is experimental, without being atonal, and occupies a similar musical area to Conquistador!

Brother Jack McDuff – Moon Rappin’ (1969) – Another random choice, and one that sounded intriguing if nothing else. It’s quite funky in places, and definitely sounds like something that was recorded as the 60s were starting to die, and with the organ as the lead instrument it also sounds sufficiently different to everything else I’ve listened to.

Herbie Hancock – Speak Like a Child (1968) – I recognise the cover to this one, and I have heard some of Herbie Hancock’s work before, so it’s quite possible I’ve encountered this at some point. It’s quite mellow, but really beautifully played, and is one I’ll definitely come back to again.

Jackie McLean – Demon’s Dance (1967) – Chosen because I like the cover. It’s a pleasant enough record, but not particularly memorable.

Wayne Shorter – The All Seeing Eye (1965) – Another artist I have a vague familiarity with, although I’ve not come across this record before. The All Seeing Eye is one of his earlier works, but one that seemed to garner a fair amount of critical acclaim at the time, and definitely one I’ll come back to.

Grant Green – I Want to Hold Your Hand (1965) – I remember once hearing a muzak version of If You Tolerate This…  in a shopping centre. I think this must be the 60s equivalent. I don’t think I need this in my life.

Andrew Hill – Judgement! (1964) – I’ve enjoyed everything of his that I’ve listened to, so thought I would try more. This sounds a lot like some of John Zorn’s more recent records, with vibraphone very reminiscent of Kenny Wollaston, and it’s a real treat. It also sounds nothing like other Andrew Hill records I’ve heard, which actually makes me want to check out more of his less well known records.

Horace Silver – Live at Newport ’58 (1958) – In my ideal world this is is the sort of record that you can find on vinyl for 50p in a charity shop. Alas, the world is not quite ideal, but at least there is Spotify. Wikipedia tells me that Silver is another still-alive 85 year old, so I imagine there is a lot more of his work out there to sample. This album is recorded live, and the sound quality is outstanding considering it’s over 50 years old. I put it on as background music, but I soon found myself getting drawn in, and if this is what 1950s jazz sounds like then I think I may be heading further back in time for my next foray into the Blue Note back catalogue.

Herbie Hancock – Empyrean Isles (1964) – I enjoyed Speak Like a Child so I thought I’d check out this album from four years previously. If anything, I think I like it even more, and it has a great deal of the sort of energy that I associate with good jazz music. All the tracks are outstanding, and there are a couple of alternate takes as bonus tracks, which are also worth a listen.

Jimmy Smith – The Sermon (1958) – I know nothing about the artist or the record, but the cover looks interesting. This one does sound like it was recorded in the 1950s, and it is interesting to see how much the genre changed between the late 50s and the late 60s. It’s not a bad record, and although it took me a few minutes to get used to the sound, once I did I found it remarkably enjoyable. Looking at eMusic, I can instantly see that the copyright on these recordings has lapsed, as there are four different repackages of the album, three of them identical and one with bonus tracks. Possibly something to check out when I’m trying to blow 3 eMusic credits at the end of a month.

Horace Silver – The Tokyo Blues (1962) – I enjoyed his live album, so thought I would check this out. Again, this is largely chosen because it has the most interesting cover, although I note that the version on eMusic has a different cover, which again suggests it has lapsed out of copyright for being over 50 years old. It should be possible to pick up these older recording for around £2-3 an album, which is certainly pretty good value. That said, a fair few records I’ve written about here are available on CD for around £5, which is also not bad. This is pretty standard 1960s jazz, without much of a nod to the Japanese influence it promises, but it’s certainly listenable enough.

So there you go. Seventeen records, and a long list of artists I now want to know more about. Time to do some research I think.

Factory Girl, Avengers, and potential projects

In my holiday writeup I mentioned I’d watched Factory Girl whilst I was away. As my viewing time is currently largely taken up with the World Cup, I thought I’d better write something about Factory Girl before I forget.

30th May – Factory Girl - Factory girl tells the story of Edie Sedgwick, but also of Andy Warhol, and a mysterious character called “The Musician” (more about him later). It’s a biopic, which as far as I can tell does a fairly good job of portraying the late 60s, and which I certainly found enjoyable enough. I watched this on holiday, and so didn’t do my normal trick of seeing who was in the film, and what else they had been in. When I got to the credits I was a little surprised (in a good way) to see Guy Pearce (as Andy Warhol) and Hayden Christiansen (as “The Musician”) listed, as I’d not recognised either of them (which I always regard as a good thing). I was also not at all surprised to read the disclaimer that whilst this was a biopic, some characters and scenarios might be made up. The character of “The Musician” was very obviously meant to be Bob Dylan, and I think the only think I would change about this film is to soundtrack it with Dylan’s music (and also the music of the Velvet Underground who feature to a lesser extent). It’s a pity Dylan didn’t want his name associated with this film, because it’s actually well worth watching and made me want to tap into his back catalogue again (which I did as soon as I got home). I have no idea how accurate some of the scenes in the film were, but as a story it really works, and it was certainly more thought provoking than the sort of thing I usually watch on holiday.

Which brings me on to…

8th June – Avengers Assemble - A lot has already been said about this film, and I don’t have much to add. It does what is says on the tin, and was a couple of hours of mindless enjoyment on a Sunday afternoon. I suspect I should have watched a few other films in the series before this one, but I’m glad I did it this way round because I now have a better idea of which characters I want to explore further (Captain America, The Hulk) and which ones leave me cold (Iron Man, Thor, pretty much everyone else). I suspect several people I know really love this film, but I also suspect the same people would balk at a lot of films I really value. I don’t see this as a bad thing though, as it’s good to be surrounded by people with diverse tastes as it ensures that I’m exposed to a much wider range of things I may never have discovered otherwise.

I was also toying with a couple more projects this morning. The idea of trying to watch (live or pre-recorded) every single match of the World Cup sort of appeals, as does writing something around the Blue Note channel on Spotify, which has a huge catalogue of old jazz records that I’ve never heard and really want to explore properly at some point. I’ve created Evernote notes for both of these, so something may happen at some point.

Bulgaria – part 3

Yesterday we went on an excursion to the ancient town of Nessibar, which is full of old churches, historic buildings, and the kind of commercialism that reminds me of Venice at its worst. There was a lot to look at, but if we looked too closely or too long then there was the inevitable sales pitch, reeled out a hundred times a day, and as insincere as it was ineffective. I enjoyed looking around the churches, and took lots of photographs, but I do wish I could see places like this as they were in their prime.

The weather has largely continued to cycle between sunshine and rain, although there was no thunderstorm last night. I watched a local football match from the balcony of the hotel, and then drank wine and apricot liqueur until it was time for bed.

There is very little else to do here during the evenings. The days are a frenzy of activity (and purposeful inactivity), but after dark there is little to do but drink, talk, read, and enjoy the warmth and the feeling of calm.

It’s been a good holiday, but I am also quite looking forward to getting home, where I can hopefully reap the benefit of a relaxing week away.

Bulgaria – part 2

Last night there was a heavy thunderstorm and a short power cut. We took photographs of darkened skies that erupted into occasional brightness, and drank wine and cocktails until it was time for bed. This morning there is still a coolness in the air, but it is dry again now, and the sand on the beach is firm enough for walking on.

I am starting to see the patterns of weather now. The days are generally bright and sunny, with the storms only arriving once the sun has gone in and the warm and cool air meet over the Balkans. I suspect the power cut was unusual, although I doubt the storms are, which makes me envious for this climate where such beautiful and extreme weather is so commonplace. In the UK we curse the rain, but here I think it is possibly welcomed as a respite from the heat.

I am starting to feel disconnected from the lives of other people, but without the expected levels of anxiety that are usually associated with these feelings. Having this time away has given me a change to evaluate where I fit I the world and which interactions and connections are valuable to me. I am unsure as to whether this will change anything when I get home, but I thought the feeling was worth articulating.

Despite this feeling of disconnection, I have not missed being online anywhere near as much as I thought I would. I am sure there are things of interest that I have missed, but there are even more things of interest that I have been able to fully absorb myself in. I think there is probably a lesson there.

I also watched Factory Girl tonight. I need to write more about this soon.

Bulgaria – part 1

I am writing this from a table on a sunny balcony in Bulgaria. The journey here was about as good as economy flying gets, which is to say it was draining and tiring without anything in particular going wrong. We arrived at our hotel in the early hours of the morning, which was a lot better than the people flying from other UK airports who had still not arrived 24 hours later.

It wasn’t really possible to make a judgement on the hotel at that time of night, but after more than 24 hours I must say that I am very impressed. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, the food is excellent, and there is a wide array of drinks to choose from. The longer we spend here the more thankful I am that we ended up getting a very good deal on a good hotel rather than settling for the cheapest holiday we could find.

The weather yesterday was perfect, at least until the evening, and we spent most of the day lounging by the pool, walking on the beach, and doing the sort of things people do when they are on holiday. We have two trips booked (an evening out tonight, and a day trip to look at pretty buildings on Saturday), but will otherwise we staying fairly local, and exploring as much of this beautiful area as we can.

Last night there was the mother of all thunder storms which was really pretty to watch, and which took the heat out of the air nicely. We sheltered from the rain in the bar, and sampled the hotel entertainment (including a bingo game which we both came fairly close to winning). I’m not sure the entertainment was to everyone’s taste, but the bar itself was pleasant, and the bar staff were friendly enough. I think we may try and grab a small balcony table next time though, especially if the weather is as good as it is right now.

Also during the last two days I have been reading The Kills by Richard House. I had been meaning to start this for a while, but it is a fairly large time investment so I was saving it for this trip. So far I am enjoying it, although I think I have enjoyed each book a little less than the one before it. Here’s hoping that book 4 bucks that trend. I also have a variety of other things to read, as well as the usual array of music and films if I get bored. But so far I am not getting bored, which is a good sign that I might possibly be starting to relax.

Films, travel, and being offline

I watched a couple of films last weekend which I totally failed to blog about, and seeing as I’m flying out to Bulgaria this afternoon and won’t be online for a week or so, I thought I would write about them before I leave.

18th May – Stoker - The narrative of this film is fairly simple. A man dies, and his brother moves in with his widow and teenage daughter following the funeral. There is a lot more to it than that, but as a basic summary I think that is enough. What makes this film stand out for me is exemplary performances by Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman (who has surprised me in a good way for the second film running), and the fact that there is a genuine sense of darkness, suspense and mystery that runs throughout the film. I enjoyed it, I’d recommend it, and I don’t think I can say much more than that.

18th May (later) – Blue Jasmine - I’m still not sure about Woody Allen, even though I’ve quite enjoyed everything I’ve seen of his. Blue Jasmine is from 2013, and is another film that explores relationships between people in a world of changing circumstances. I didn’t hate it, and it certainly compares favourably to most other Woody Allen films I’ve seen, but there was nothing about it that was particularly spectacular, and as a result I don’t really have a lot more to say about it.

I do plan on taking things with me to watch, although probably nothing too challenging. I’ve also downloaded a few books to keep me entertained – I’m one book into The Kills by Richard House, and I may also finally get round to reading Neil Gaiman’s new book which a lot of other people have raved about.

I will of course be blogging and photographing my travels over the next week or so, but it may be a while before I get round to sharing anything with the wider world.

Recent watchings

25th April – Byzantium - I’ve been meaning to watch this for a while, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s a British/Irish vampire film, that twists the myth slightly, but that largely works both on a narrative and thematic level. Gemma Arterton is a lot better than I thought she would be, and Saoirse Ronan puts in a really good performance as an eternal 16 year old who demonstrates a spellbinding mix of youth and maturity. If you like vampire films then you’ll probably like this, and it is certainly in a different league to the likes of Twilight. I should probably mention that there is a fair amount of blood and bleeding in this film, but I suppose that is what you would expect considering the subject matter.

4th May – Nymphomaniac part 1 - Reading about Nymphomaniac  a few months ago is what made me check out several of Lars von Trier’s other films, and I was very much looking forward to watching it at some point. The film is about Joe, a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac who is found in an alleyway by Seligman, a charming and well educated old bachelor. Over the course of the two films, she recounts the chronology of her sexual evolution to him, from childhood to the age of 50, and the two of them discuss the various episodes from her past. It explores a lot of the same themes as von Trier’s other films, and is well made, well acted, and very thought provoking, and I found Stacy Martin as the young Joe particularly spellbinding. This certainly isn’t for everyone, and it contains several very strong sexual scenes, but it is also incredibly thought provoking, and would probably appeal to anyone who thinks deep and complex thoughts about love, sexuality, gender roles and human relationships in general.

4th May (later) – Nymphomaniac part 2 - This concludes the story, and is in many ways a darker film (and certainly a much more violent film) than the first part. It also has a few plot twists, so I won’t say much more about how the story evolves for fear of spoiling it. All in all I mostly enjoyed both parts, and would certainly have been interested in seeing them as one continuous piece. It made me feel uncomfortable in several places, but it was the sort of discomfort that provokes valuable thought, which I see as largely a good thing.

17th May – Jubilee - I had no idea what to expect from this film. I’ve not seen any of Derek Jarman’s other films, and I only really stumbled on this one by accident in the library. It is quite pretentious in parts, but I actually found it an enjoyable Saturday morning distraction, and I certainly don’t regret watching it. If 70s punk crossed with Elizabethan mysticism is your thing then you may very well enjoy this, although it is interesting to see that the 70s scenes seem much more dated that those set further back in time or in a more mystical setting. I’m not quite sure I can summarise what this film is actually about, but I can certainly see why it received a fair amount of critical acclaim at the time.