Monday, 14 March 2016


Hey!Hello! - Ginger, The Rev, Hollis, Toshi and Ai
Well, this is a bit special...

The first H!H! album was a cracking little side project knocked out by Ginger Wildheart (of The Wildhearts notoriety) as a poppy upbeat counterpoint to the maelstrom that was the Mutation project, with both albums released simultaneously via PledgeMusic back in 2013.

Ginger has taken the template used for the first album, namely catchy-as-hell female-fronted pop rock with edgy lyrics, and turbo charged the formula on the aptly named Hey!Hello!Too! with the aid of a real band. Whereas the debut was recorded solely by Ginger himself (who proved surprisingly competent behind the kit), the addition of touring band members The Rev, Toshi and Ai and new singist Hollis Mahady has given the songs a huge power boost. This vehicle has been chipped off the scale.

The album opens with the previously released single Automatic Love. This barnstormer was first played at Ginger's Halloween Hootenanny gig last November and, while a great rocker and sure-to-be crowd-pleaser, is somehow a misleading intro to the album, as it's heavier (in terms of both style and mood) than the rest of the tracks.
Things move swiftly on to the humorous Kids, a warning to prospective parents: 'make no mistake about it, kids are gonna screw you up' before wondering how they turn into 'creepy little motherfuckers'. This is followed by the first of three 'covers', a great version of 70's band Sailor's Glass of Champagne. The remaining covers are actually existing Ginger tracks Don't Stop Loving the Music and Body Parts, which featured on the year-long GASS fanclub project and the Albion album respectively. While it may seem a cheat to re-record such recent tracks, there is no doubt they fit well alongside the rest of this collection and, as Ginger has already said, were only recorded earlier as it was unclear whether there would be any more H!H! at all. Anything that gets these tracks in front of a wider audience is fine by me.

It's difficult to single out other tracks - this really is an all-round no filler, all thriller album, with songs you can sing along to before the end of your first listen, harmonies and all. By the time the final pairing of Little Piggy (the best girl power anthem since, er, Ginger's last one) and the singalong knees up of Forever Young you realise 11 tracks and 38 minutes have passed impossibly quickly and it's back to the start for another go round.

You can currently preorder the album from Round Records at PledgeMusic and Hey!Hello! will be touring in April. See you down the front!

Update: Well, what a difference 12 hours can make. Singer Hollis has left the band to concentrate on her own band, Love Zombies and so the tour has been cancelled. The statements are here, but they've released a new video for Let's Get Emotional, which I think is more representative of the album.

Rating: 9/10

Thursday, 11 February 2016

A plan starts to form...

A plan

During my 2015 Year of Microadventure challenge*, as suggested by the wonderfully inspirational Alastair Humphreys, I came up with a simple plan: Walk to the office.

Easy, you say? I do that every day, you say? Well, for me it's slightly different. I'm currently an IT consultant, based at my home in South London. My office, however, is in Tewkesbury, in Gloucestersestershire. Have you seen how far that is? I mean, it's nearly in Wales!

A quick look at the map shows it to be around 120 miles. That's 190 km. That's quite a lot. Regardless, my plan is to walk there from home unsupported** this summer. I'll be on my own, which adds to the challenge as, although I've bivvied and camped a fair bit, I've never been camped beyond the garden on my own.

Proposed route

Having had a brief look at the map, I've decided to take the following general route, subject to more detailed planning once I've actually had a closer inspection, of course. I'd favour pleasant scenery and countryside over quicker straight line routes any day. Having said that, my first day will be as direct as possible, to try and clear the urban areas quickly:
  • depart South London
  • head across Richmond Park and cross M4
  • head vaguely across Colne Valley Regional Park
  • cross M25 towards Chilterns, staying north of High Wycombe
  • head west, keeping north of Oxford in direction of Woodstock
  • cross the Cotswolds and over M5
  • arrive Tewkesbury
(I'll figure out how to stick a map in at some point!)

Yes, there are slightly more direct routes. However, they take in areas I'm more familiar with and I want to get out of my comfort zone and give myself a bit of a navigational challenge. I'm also keen to avoid the Thames Path, as I've been walking that in sections with a friend (really need to finish that one day!) so don't want to spoil the fun.


Travel light, travel fast. That's the plan. As I'll be travelling alone, I'm not assuming there'll be much to do in the evenings in a bivvy bag. I'll also be tired from walking so hopefully I'll be able to bed down around 10pm, shortly after the light has fully gone, and get up with the sun. Allowing a bit of slack for distractions I'm hoping I'll be able to manage around 14-15 hours active time (including breaks).
On a recent microadventure jaunt, we covered approximately 22km in around 5 and a half hours along part of the North Downs way with a similar size pack to the one I'm planning to take in favourable conditions. Therefore I'm hoping to achieve it in 4 full days, although I'll probably book the next day as contingency. This is around 48km per day with an average pace of about 3.5 km/h. I'm not looking to crack along at 5km an hour, but fully expecting to put in the hours.

It'll be tough!

Gear, etc.

I'll write some more posts in the coming weeks on my plans for:

  • gear
  • clothing
  • food

So, that's it. Just need to find a date to do it now!

* I've not been terribly organised about documenting my adventures to date. My fellow camper has done better than me with this post (seems to be down at time of writing - sort it out Jayne!)

** I say unsupported. I'm not ruling out the odd pub stop. Purely to refill my water bottle, of course...

Saturday, 2 May 2015

How much do you earn? #talkpay


If you're on Twitter, you've probably noticed the #talkpay hashtag floating round today. Lauren Voswinkel's blog post (I believe it started there) seems to have kickstarted a flood of techies (and it is primarily techies) announcing their salaries to the world, as well as exchanging interview and job search anecdotes.


The purpose of the original article was to try and highlight the terrible pay gap evident between genders and yes, ethnic backgrounds. This is obviously not a good thing. However, the subsequent postings seem (and I have no hard metrics for this, and it is likely highly biased by my Twitter network) to be largely from white, ambitious types who have generally appear to be relatively successful.


Oddly, there's no bragging. People aren't saying 'look how well I've done'. As much as you can pick up from 140 character messages, people seem to be saying a rather muted 'well, here you go - I'm probably proud of this? Is it good?' Perhaps this highlights a big problem. People, even successful ones, have no idea how much they're really worth.

It's odd that in this world of continuous improvement and metrics, even using something as absolute as measurable as money, we're unable to mentally quantify 'value' and 'self-worth' properly. Perhaps it's because money is actually quite a long way down the ageing, but still interesting, 'Hierarchy of needs' (unless, of course, you measure your 'self-actualisation' by the number of zeroes on your bank balance).

How much do I earn then?

I don't know why, but I'm just not comfortable sharing. Maybe it's because I'm stereotypically English? Maybe it's because I'm reasonably comfortable and possibly a little ashamed of how much I earn compared to many hard workers, and those in true poverty in troubled places? After all, I am playing life on the 'easy' setting...

I don't know. Part of me has a problem knowing what other people earn. Ignorance is bliss, and all that - what if the cretin next to me is earning more for the same job? Which, I guess, is the point of this debate. However, perspective is slightly different from a position of relative comfort to one at the bottom. Subjectivity, perception, individual weighting on money as reward, etc. make this a difficult one to call. I have actually been in the position of finding out my comparative worth in a role and ultimately ended up massively disillusioned by exactly that situation, leading to a prolonged period of severe mental anguish.

Ultimately, I'm not sure I believe in 'equal' pay. I worked at a large corporate firm that, for various historical reasons, had people at different sites doing the same job although some were members of a union (that did not really suit the modern industry) whilst others were treated as individuals. Being shortly out of university, I was brimming with pride when I got a top performance rating at annual review time. However, the following week, when the corresponding pay rises were announced, I got the top 3% hike, whilst the union members got 6% across the board, regardless of performance.

While I say I don't believe in equal pay, I do believe in merit-based reward. And I absolutely, emphatically, believe that everyone should have the same opportunity to be rewarded the same. If you are a gay, black guy I want you to earn what I earn. But only if you're as good as me. Otherwise I'll end up feeling bitter and demoralised and will end up, either subconsciously or otherwise, adjusting my effort to balance things as I see it. This is a natural reaction I think. From 10+ years at big corporates I've seen it time and time again - the malaise that sets in when reward models are wrong and people start to self-compensate for perceived injustice in the system. It helps no-one. Individuals become depressed, productivity drops, recruitment and retention become difficult.

So what is the right reward model?

Simple answer: Who knows? There isn't one probably. Otherwise it would be the same everywhere. The fact is, it has to reflect the size of the company, the profitability of the industry sector, the culture of the company, the economic climate and a million other factors. Not an easy job. I would hate to work in HR, who become the target for the vitriol of a million disgruntled employees.

Reward, as far as the individual is concerned, is more than just money. For me, I place a great value on flexibility, and have sacrificed salary for extra annual leave, childcare days (I currently work a '9-day fortnight'), ability to work 8-5 one day, then midday until 10pm the next without having to jump through hoops to do it, homeworking, and other similar arrangements. I've turned down firm job offers at £20k more than I'm on because they sounded, to simplify somewhat, like hard work. I've constrained my career in the past to support my other half in allowing her to flourish and succeed in her chosen profession which has benefited us both in the long run. Likewise, she has slowed her career to spend time with our daughter - not because she's had to, but because she wants to. What you consider you're worth in financial terms is ultimately down to you - perhaps, as a cancer sufferer say, you place great value in the blanket health cover you get in a low-paid job at a big firm over big bucks as a contractor where your insurance premiums are unaffordable?

I'm not even sure where my arguments are headed. As with many others commenting on this, the discussion has become one about individuals justifying their worth, while losing sight of the original goal of improving the lives of 'minority' groups and women. I don't know how to fix it. I don't feel comfortable asking for pay rises and I'm sure people who are made to feel insecure by society in general find it even harder. In a market-driven economy, employers will ultimately have to try and keep wages low (with a few niche exceptions), and it really is a case of the old cliché 'the squeakiest wheel gets oiled'. I want to live in a society where women, Asians, Africans, homosexuals, people from unprivileged backgrounds, and everyone else feel secure and comfortable enough to squeak equally loudly.

But don't have to.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Army On The Dance Floor - Many Faces of War


You probably haven't heard of Army On The Dance Floor. I certainly hadn't when I was tipped off by Primitive Race, who in turn I found out about after a particularly brilliant PWEI gig. On a particularly dull morning, I was introduced to the sound of 'Machine':
If you like your beats big and your vocals powerful and crystal clear you'll probably be as taken by the excellent album opener as I was. With a driving, pumping bass, classic synth sounds and a mid-paced tempo that guarantees to get you moving the track just drags you along with it to its super catchy chorus whilst remaining spacious and airy throughout. In fact this airiness and space pervades the entire album, creating a sound both familiar and old-skool yet very, very modern.

This sound is a true credit to the production abilities of AOTDF driving force Kourtney Klein, who is no stranger to big sound with her former associations with EBM/industrial outfits Combichrist and Nitzer Ebb. Not content with just being a classically-trained percussionist, hot-as-hell go-go dancer or TV presenter, Kourtney has assembled AOTDF to self-release the synth-driven music that she wants to - a refreshing move in the current climate of label-crafted wannabe all-from-the-same-mould plastic pop stars.


After the opening track come 'Juggernaut' and 'Lightning Strike' - straightforward pop songs, perhaps a little heavy for commercial radio despite their catchiness.

'Five Million Stars' has hit single written all over it. A lovely little love song that calls to mind Erasure - not the first or only nod to an obvious inspiration. This is followed by 'Carnival', yet another cracking pop song that manages, both lyrically and musically, to conjure the swirling of a fairground waltzer-ride.

'Bury You Alive', featuring Dann Saxton is possibly, for me, the only track that doesn't quite fit on the album. Whilst having no obvious defects, the darker sound and longer length with a less catchy chorus just don't quite tie in, being more Depeche Mode in feel. However, the track acts as a good breather before the second half of the album really kicks off.


'Leia', the beautiful Leia to borrow a lyric, brings the album back on track with its programmed drums, synth patterns and haunting vocals. For me, this was the first track where the lyrics really come to the fore. Behind the sparkly pop production and radio-friendly vocal there are some extremely powerful and compelling lyrics expressing sadness and jealousy at a relationship ruined by a fixation on a past lover. These deeper lyrics make you reconsider the other tracks, and soon you realise even as far back as first track 'Machine', with it's description of battling to suppress emotion, you realise this is a far cleverer album than the poppiness suggests.

Hints of Erasure appear throughout the album but are at their strongest on 'Captain of Your Own Sea' - another track with the sadness of the lyrics a counterpoint to the jolliness and jauntiness of the music. The shameful shortness of this track almost makes you think this could well actually be a Vince Clark cast-off.

Many Faces of War

The album closes with the absolutely stunning title track 'Many Faces of War'. This 12-minute multi-sectioned epic is a mini album in its own right. Opening with a haunting mock battle cry, the track starts with strangely fantastical, almost Game of Thrones style imagery, before pumping beats and metaphor mutate to a crescendo with much more personal lyrics exposing inner thoughts.
The track climaxes, and ultimately breaks down, in a fit of screaming bitterness and consuming anger that gives way to quiet reflection and acceptance - regret, sadness and loneliness all captured painfully yet perfectly, framed by high Numan-esque synths and Peter Gabriel-style pseudo panpipes. 

By the time the refrain is taken up by a haunting (yes, I use that word again) reverb-laden piano, you can feel your heartbeat slowing to match the music - a beautiful melancholic end to a stunning and clever track and a compelling album.


This album seems to have had no big release, no live support, no physical CD or mechandise and no publicity. However, it is so complete and well-realised that it would be a travesty if it were overlooked by the wider world. My fear is that it'll be considered too poppy for a lot of people, and too unfashionably tuneful to get the airplay it deserves. As someone who regularly listens to stuff like Voice of The Beehive back to back with Strapping Young Lad though, I encourage you to give this a go - the entire album is currently up on YouTube so please give it a try at least!

Rating: 8/10 - Cracking debut. Dark, poppy and beautiful synthpop

Friday, 12 September 2014

U2 - Songs of Innocence

Free music!

Much has been written already about the way Apple have given away U2's latest album and there has been much speculation as to why and how much U2 pocketed as a result. I'm not going to cover that in detail here. As far as I'm concerned, it's pure marketing or alternatively, an attempt at a new form of distribution. Either way, U2 would never turn down an offer like that at this stage in their career. I suspect with dwindling airplay, now they've been usurped by the like of The Killers (who ironically stole both their sound and engineer/producer Steve Lillywhite) this was the only way they could reach a new and wider market. With iTunes offering half price deals on their back catalogue they're bound to pick up a bit more as people rediscover the joys of the Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby and Zooropa. Nestle use the same approach with KitKat - release a 'limited edition' mint version for a while and everyone remembers how good the normal ones are and sales jump.
Er, so having now covered that in more detail than intended, on to the album itself!

Worth the price?

Opener 'The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)' kicks off the album with a straightforward grower of a track. While not in your face, it is one that will morph into an ear worm after a few radio plays - I can imagine this fitting nicely into the Absolute Radio playlist, for example.
'Every Breaking Wave' follows, a nice gentle mid-tempo number with a rhythm guitar part reminiscent of The Police's 'Every Breathe You Take'. Perfectly pleasant, but nothing special - and so it continues...
In terms of performance, by this point I was already starting to notice a weakness in the performances. Bono's voice seems to be suffering at the high end, resorting to falsetto far more than usual - sounding almost Prince-like on 'Sleep Like a Baby Tonight'! Whilst he's always had a slightly strained quality, which has been used to accentuate more emotive lines in the past, now it seems a little thin and almost as if the top couple of notes are requiring real physical effort to hit. Probably time for the band to think about tuning down a tone...
If fact, it's the performances that let this album down. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with the songs, but there's no imagination in the orchestration - The Edge's guitar sounds are fashionably bland - even further distancing U2 from the delayed, processed tones of some of their biggest hits.
Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton are also taking it easy. This was not an album that had the band jumping round the studio, even on the 'big' track 'Volcano'. Rather, this has the sound of four guys sitting comfortably in a room strumming away gently - an irony given the punk references in the opening track and liner notes.

Lazy production

This is a very clean sounding album. All the instruments are well placed, but the mix favours the vocal, with the backing almost disappearing, perhaps because there's nothing worth bringing forward. The vocals have a very airy, live sound - it's easy to imagine them emanating from a stadium stage. However, it sometimes feels like you're hearing from the bar or toilets as there's so little else at the front of the mix.
Despite this, it's not a bad album at all and has some nice grooves in places. If you like your rock radio friendly and modern then you'll probably love it. If you want crazy guitar sounds a la 'The Fly' shaking your trouser legs you'll be left a little short.
In summary, this is probably the best U2 album I've heard this century, but it's not a patch on anything from the golden days of '84-94.

Overall: 3/5 (3.5 for the songs, 2 for production!)

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Running again...

It's been a while

Recently, I've finally got running again. I've had a love/hate relationship with running for years, and regularly start getting out (nearly always in the winter months bizarrely), but then stop completely for several months after minor injuries or general life stuff knocks my routine and inclination.
I used to run for the school cross country team, and stamina has never been a problem - it's  normally fitness and strength that stop me progressing.
I seem to have an ability to run well from nothing - I did my first half-marathon in less than two hours off the back of about five 6km training runs after a two year period of inactivity, and can easily do a 32 min 6km from zero training. However, this rarely proves a good strategy, and so after a month I've nearly always forced into a break with achilles injuries, stiff knees or aching hips and the laziness sets in and the cycle begins again.

This time I'm doing it differently...

Spurred on in part by the need to lose weight (a month ago I was topping 95kg - the heaviest I've ever been and it's not all muscle!), and by the need to get outside more, I started running again. This time I'm doing it properly. Well, better, at least.
For a month I've been sticking to short runs and managing to get out 3x a week. Whilst I'm only doing 4km, I'm working on building pace (I'm never been terribly quick) but stopping within my muscle's current capabilities.
My heart and lungs are already cruising it now and I'm barely breaking a sweat. However, my ankles and knees are feeling fine - definitely feeling like I don't want to push them further just yet, but they're growing in strength. This approach is making me enjoy running again. It's definitely a case of 'leave them wanting more'. I feel I could do an extra lap of the park, or add in another loop to my longer circuit, but I'm purposely resisting the temptation and heading home early. Seems to be helping me physically and mentally by making it easier to get out the door next time round.


My new found enjoyment in running has also been inspired greatly by Ronnie O'Sullivan's book 'Running'. Ronnie's long been a big hero of mine on the snooker table, not least because of how he's had to weather so many personal and mental issues in public. His book is a great read explaining how using running to keep himself fit and hungry for improvement has given him the mental space to succeed at the day job, and with life in general. Even if you're not into snooker, it's a great read, and an excellent insight into the thoughts of a very normal person suffering from depression and anxiety.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Casualties of Cool - Union Chapel 4/9/14

On stage tonight...

Tonight, Devin Townsend bought his 'Casualties of Cool' side project to London for their first 'proper' gig. This was my first visit to the Union Chapel, having sadly missed out on Dev's 4-night residency in 2011 celebrating his 4-album 'Devin Townsend Project'. If you get the chance to visit, do! It's a stunning venue, and it's vast octagonal chamber is perfectly suited to music.
The show started with a well-suited opening set from Messenger, with their down-tempo Pink Floyd-esque prog covering a similar feel to the most recent Opeth albums.
After a little technical difficulty, Casualties of Cool finally came on as a seven piece band, looking slightly cramped around the beautifully carved stone pulpit filling the centre of the Chapel's stage. The band consisted of Devin and his writing, singing and guitar-playing partner Che-Aimee Dorval out front; to the left, the electronics of longtime collaborators Mike St-Jean's (I think) laptop and Dave Young's keyboards; to the right, the rhythm section of drummer Morgan Ågren, and a bass player and acoustic guitarist whose names I missed.

Only three "thank yous"

With the guitar tech struggling to coax a sound from Dev's staple Fractal Axe-FX II, the man himself was forced onto stage in a slightly less than ideal way - placating the patient crowd with his useful goofy banter before finding the mute button or whatever had caused the problem. After a little giddiness, the promise was made to keep stage chatter to a minimum - something that obviously came as a genuine struggle to a man who's a consummate crowd-pleasing performer known for his witty quips and humour. Besides a little comedy gurning during a couple of the guitar solos (but never at the expense of the music) little was said - a wise move that allowed the music to take centre stage as it flowed from one song to the next.


The set consisted entirely of songs from the Pledge-funded debut album. Although there were extended, semi-improvised introductions to some songs and a couple of jams, the show never felt too thin, despite the limited material of the new band being spread over 75 minutes (no encore).
Che-Aimee's obvious nervousness failed to show in her voice - her beautiful alto tones as crystalline as on record. Once a little more settled, she even started dancing a little, before self-conciousness dragged her firmly back to focussing on the music - a sweet and genuine performance amongst today's 'born for the stage' identifit wannabes...
The swirling ambience of the music transported the crowd into a forest clearing; the eight great stone pillars of the Chapel like huge tree trunks amongst the sound of crickets accompanying a number of the songs. Devin looked surprisingly comfortable alternating between a Strat and a Tele - unusual for a man famed for his EMG-driven metal. In fact, it was difficult to imagine this is the same guy that wrote 'Skeksis' and 'Oh My Fucking God', but it was a delight to see his obvious enjoyment experimenting with single coil sounds - evoking shades of David Gilmour on more than one occasion.

Honourable mentions

Whilst the whole band were extremely competent, special mentions have to go to Dave and Morgen. Dave Young, as in his role for DTP, never sought the limelight, yet acted as a perfect foil with his understated keyboard lines and string pads filling the space while never getting in the way of the stripped down songs. Morgen showed what drumming is all about - a simple kit bought to life with clever techniques and an amazing ability to stretch rhythms to add tension or ease the mood as required, not to mention a dextrous display of polyrhythm, with at least three limbs emulating the winding down of a clock to dramatic effect.

Let's have some more

It's not a surprise that a Dev-fronted band was an entertaining watch. However, this particular group showed themselves to be a great lineup. There was barely a hiccup all evening - amazing given how little these guys have played live together. It would be a real shame if there was not the opportunity to see this band, and hear this music again. Whether it was the magnificent venue, the reverential crowd, or just that rare magic spark that just happens sometimes, the songs really came alive, escaping the slightly claustrophobic feel of the record to really fill the space. Perhaps the only thing I'd wish for next time is a choir to bring the climax of 'The Bridge' to even more goose-pimple inducing proportions!