A quick photo

In fairness, this isn’t really writing of any sort, but it’s too cute a photo and I’ve been too preoccupied with other things to write anything of substance here tonight, so here is a photo of Bajka and me.

BFI 100: 85 – Brassed Off (1996)

Here we continue, what will probably eventually become known as, the ill-fated journey of watching each of the British Film Institute’s 100 best films of the 20th Century. Starting at 100 and working my way to Orson Welles’ The Third Man at number 1. I’ll try to keep these blogs relatively spoiler free and I’ll consider them only a small record of moving through this series.

© Channel Four Films

An early start on my 3 hours of guitar practice this morning left me with an extra couple of hours in the middle of the day, so I decided to pick up the long neglected BFI 100 list, from where I last left it in September 2016 – number 85. Now, it’s surprising that I’d not yet seen Mark Herman’s 1996 comedy-drama, Brassed Off; a film telling the story of coal-mine closures in the early 90s – as it does – through the eyes of the Colliery’s brass band. Surprising, because my girlfriend of the time performed in a brass band, playing euphonium, and from memory seemed to love this film. To my shame I dismissed it as a romantic comedy, something it very much is not.

Brassed Off is a moving depiction of the struggles faced by miners as privatisation of the industry forced many pits to close, and the film – and possibly more the music therein – moved me to tears more than once. The tone of the film occasionally feels dated. Gloria, Tara Fitzgerald’s character, for instance, faces the odd moment of casual sexism; and of course coal is somewhat problematic in today’s climate (both figuratively and literally). The characters, however, have so much charm that you root for them from the off, and despite a 2018 understanding that clean energies are the way forward; to see these people struggle with their impending unemployment is deeply moving. The sentiment expressed at the end of the film in particular, especially for someone that grew up in a post-industrial, ex-mining town, under Thatcher.

While I felt this was a film I’d just have to “get through”, I sit here writing afterwards, and I can’t recommend it more highly.

My First Guitar

I don’t have an accurate sense of how long it had been in our house, but the first guitar I ever picked up and held was a 1963 steel strung acoustic made by Eko in Italy. It was my dad’s guitar, though he couldn’t play it. I believe it was a gift and that the intention was there, but despite his love for music that he passed on to me, he never took to it and it became an ornament – and one as a young child, I wasn’t allowed to touch. Had I been allowed to “play” it, it would have been little use to me, my left-handedness rendering its ways as alien to me as a neanderthal vainly attempting to install Windows 10. It was beautiful, and that it was protected from my sticky, damaging fingers made it all the more desired.

My earliest memory of “performing” with it, if indeed that’s at all what you can call it, was when I, to all intents and purposes, stole it. Even before I knew what a musician did with it, I knew I wanted to be one. Some boys across the street and I decided that we would have a band. It speaks to the level of confidence one must have as a 10 year old to decide that if one has a guitar, then one must be a guitarist. Simple as that, it seemed. I snuck the guitar down the stairs, out of the house, and over to the designated home in which we would begin our inevitable ascent to rock-and-roll glory. I don’t remember much of what we did after that, but I imagine it was dissonant, unpleasant screeching until it was time to go home. As you would expect, the idyll of our band evaporated in front of our eyes. I wasn’t quite so lucky to sneak the guitar back in and upstairs. Memory is fuzzy, but I imagine I found myself in quite some trouble.

Years later, after my footballing early teenage years came and went, I was performing in our school’s production of Oliver! I was Noah Claypole, the undertaker’s assistant. I had one line… “Eeee’s Gone!” exclaimed in my finest Cockney pastiche. The school’s freelance guitar teacher, Dougie Smith, was providing some of the music for the show, and though not studying music, I plucked up the courage to ask him if I might have lessons. He agreed, and we had the Head of Music sign off on it. I was going to learn guitar, I just didn’t have a guitar.

Triumphantly, I returned home that night and with ebullient excitement I asked my dad to give up his guitar for the cause. He was having none of it, despite the fact the thing had remained in the cupboard, more or less, since it had returned there years ago. Eventually I wore him down. I bought new strings, and Dougie helped me string it upside down for a left-hander. It was not to be the end of my troubles though.

It was no wonder my dad had little success in his own attempts to learn; the Eko was almost impossible to play. As anyone who has played a 60s-era acoustic on the cheaper end of the spectrum will know, the action – the distance between strings and fretboard, dictated by the bow of the neck and the height of the bridge – on these guitars is often absurdly high. Barre chords and fingerings higher on the neck were out of the question. Still, I persevered and over a few short months of lessons – during which Dougie had shaved down the bridge to make the action more tolerable – I started to pick up the basics. Dougie had decided he would not teach me “music” as such, but teach me to play the songs that I might want to play and through these I would learn the basics. I learned D, F, Am, and G from R.E.M.’s Drive. I learned Bm and A from What’s the Frequency, Kenneth? I learned hammer-ons and pull-offs from Neil Young riffs, I learned to bend from Richie Sambora and Eric Clapton, and I learned what a capo was and did from the Beatles.

In the intervening time, for a birthday, I think, my parents had bought me a new left-handed Stratocaster copy made by Jim Deacon – a luthier attached to McCormacks Music in Glasgow. Despite this, the Eko stayed with me for a long time after and it was only early in the new millennium that I replaced it with a Fender dreadnought-style acoustic that I still use today.

Sadly, I don’t remember exactly what became of the Eko, though I have a suspicion that my dad gave me permission to sell it on, in the early days of eBay, to raise part of the money for my first “real” guitar, my Japanese Fender Stratocaster ’57 reissue.

I recently dug out a photo of me playing the guitar in the living-room of my childhood home, and while just looking at the guitar gives me the fear, remembering those sore fingers, it is a little regretful that I don’t still own the guitar that I learned to play on. Still, I think it’s even more of a regret that I don’t still have that ’57 reissue.

Night-night

Mateusz Franczak returns with the follow up to his 2016 debut, “long story short”, with the follow-up, “Night Night” on the 27th April 2018. Preceding it, and to coincide with his performance at the Eurosonic festival in the Netherlands, Mateusz released the lead track from the album as single, “All About“, on 18th January.

The single is is available on digital download and on streaming services.

You can watch the video below…

Radio Kampus. 17th January 2018

Back in the Radio Kampus studio for my 3rd show of 2018 and it’s a musically great, presentedly poor episode with a distracted host. Let’s put it down to tiredness. On the plus-side, the music is fantastic. Feels a little like a Flies Are Spies From Hell special. Enjoy.

1. The Cranberries – Dreams

2. Ala_Zastary – Nie Otwieraj Powiek

3. Zed Penguin – Wandering

4. If Anything Happens To The Cat – Five Lion Mountain

5. DRVG CVLTVRE – Killscreen

6. Flies are Spies from Hell – An Imagined Murder (Cities and Memory Remix)

7. Hailu Mergia – Gum Gum

8. Leland – You

9. Bowrain – Time

10. MMTH – Big Mouth