Category: Music Page 1 of 6

Video: A Taster For A Show That’s Very Much To My Taste

Startling to realise – after the event, of course – that even though I bigged up the TV comedy show Brooklyn Nine-Nine in my lengthy post the other day, I didn’t take the opportunity to link to an episode opening which acts as a good indicator of the general flavour of the programme, and also makes me giggle like a damned fool.

So, since it probably deserves more than me simply going back and adding a hyperlink into a previous post, here is some silliness:

Lovely. Hope you’re looking after yourself.

Oops, I Forgot To Include ‘Writing Unnecessarily Long Blog Posts’ In My List Of Things You Can Do To Entertain Yourself

(Or ‘The Jacob Marley of posts – by which I mean it’s heavy-laden with links’)

As noted in yesterday’s post, this is a predominantly indoorsy time, so I thought I’d share some stuff that might be of interest – I am, as I hope is clear, in no way saying “you must do this” about any of the following (especially the physical activities suggested), it’s really just a list of things that I’ve enjoyed, and you might too. So with that (hopefully kind of unnecessary) caveat out of the way, on to the list, with its arbitrary categories:

Physical activities

Being indoors all the time is hardly conducive to a lot of exercise – unless you’ve got loads of weights or one of those Peleton things – so it’s probably useful that in the UK one of the accepted reasons to go outside is once a day for exercise. But for people who can’t do that – no open spaces nearby, for example – a lot of folks in the health and fitness business have made their stuff accessible online; you’ve probably seen that Joe Wicks is doing daily workouts every morning, but I thought I’d share a few others. Key thing, I feel, is to find what works for you – they often say that mental and physical health are linked, so keeping the blood flowing is likely to help you stay chipper at this odd time.

I’ve embraced yoga in the last few years and found it’s very much for me, and luckily a couple of my teachers have gone online recently:

Meg of Real Life Yoga is one of the funniest teachers I’ve ever had, as you can probably tell by the video she’s posted of a yoga sequence to do if you’ve got a hangover; but she’s also posted some short, non-morning-after videos aimed at people who are working from home, which are worth a look.

Charlie is a very friendly and supportive teacher and I’ve attended his lessons several times, including a beautiful session in a candlelit church; he’s posted some instructional videos online especially for this time. They’re free to view, but if you can make a contribution that’d be lovely.

I’m currently six weeks into the at-home programme of Broga, which is (as the name suggests) a version of yoga originally aimed at men (or at least, aimed at getting past male preconceptions about whether yoga is for them). It’s hard work, and more actively so than most yoga I’ve experienced, but it’s one of those workouts where you really feel the endorphins and the sense of achievement when you’re done. I’m using the DVD, but they’re very kindly hosting live classes online; as I understand it, you go to their Instagram page and press the Live button, and you should be good to go (I can’t be sure – I’m not on IG myself). Good news here is that not only are many of their instructors donating their fee to charity for doing these classes, but they’re also running additional classes, including ones for families, so definitely worth a look.

And in the world of yoga, one of the most well-known online instructors is, of course, Adriene – millions of subscribers and dozens of videos, suitable for beginners and expert alike, with a whole variety of durations; basically something for everyone, and a great place to start (the only reason I mention her further down the list here is because I wanted to start off with teachers and styles I have personal experience of).

Of course, yoga isn’t the only kind of exercise you can do indoors, and for many other ideas I heartily recommend Nerd Fitness – a site that doesn’t take itself seriously, but does take exercise seriously, and has a slew of great resources and exercise plans: for obvious geek reasons, I like their Batman Bodyweight Workout, but there are loads of other at-home workout routines. Definitely deserves a look, not least for the great Lego setups that illustrate so many of their articles.

Lastly on the physical exertion topic, I like to run – granted, it’s not for everyone (and not everyone is allowed out at the moment), but if you’re thinking this might be the time to try it out, then a lot of people I know (including m’colleague) have had a lot of success with Couch to 5K, often surprising themselves with just how much progress can be made in a pretty short period of time.

Meditation

Mens Sana in Corpore Sano, as the Romans had it (apologies for that Juvenal joke), and it’s probably fair to say that in the last few years topics of mental health and well-being have been much more openly discussed, with mindfulness and meditation being … well, I’d like to say ‘increasingly popular’, but I have no evidence of that to hand. But I’ve certainly seen a lot more articles on those topics in the papers and magazines, and they seem to get a lot of mentions in podcasts and the like, so I’ll assume this is in some way reflected in reality.

I’ve been a fan of meditation since my teens, and whilst I wish I could pretend that means I’m an expert at it, it still feels like something that I can still learn a lot about – that said, I’ve found it a great way of just getting centred and feeling a bit more in control of one’s thoughts and actions, particularly during turbulent times, so I’d recommend it – here are a couple of apps you can get for smartphones:

Insight Timer – my app of choice, it’s free and you can create your own sessions (selecting duration and background sounds), or listen to the guided meditations or talks by noted experts like Tara Brach.

Headspace – probably better known than Insight Timer, and a lot of people swear by it. It didn’t quite do it for me, but that’s probably just me trying to pretend I’m some kind of maverick, swimming against the tide and not liking the same stuff as everyone else. Yeah, lookit me, I’m a rebel. Ahem.

Calm – again, a very popular app, this one has a particularly elegant style (just click on Get Started and enjoy the interface), and even has bedtime stories read by people like Stephen Fry.

As ever, there are a wealth of resources online for this kind of thing, and since meditation essentially boils down to sitting comfortably, closing the eyes and focusing on the breath (as a starter; that’s not the entirety of it, obviously), you should be able to get started for pretty much the sum of zero pence. The best things in life can, after all, be free.

Right, so that’s enough of you looking after yourself, let’s move on to entertainment…

Streaming TV and Films and stuff

I’m not even going to try to list everything that’s available (I know that, for example, the BBC have put loads of box sets of TV series onto iPlayer, and I’m sure you know what kind of thing you’re into), but here are a couple of things I have found and enjoyed…

Netflix – As well as six seasons of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a delightfully warm-hearted and upbeat comedy, I recently found and thoroughly enjoyed the film Extra Ordinary; put me in mind of a cross between Derry Girls and Ghostbusters, and is a lot of fun. I wasn’t familiar with the cast or creatives involved (apart from Will Forte, who seems to be having a lot of fun), but they’ve all done a terrific job. Really worth your time.

iPlayerAs mentioned above, they’ve put a whole load of shows up to help the nation stay entertained while we’re all indoors, and whilst the list could go on for ages, I’d particularly highlight the fact that every episode of Inside No.9 is there to be watched; they’ve just finished their fifth series, and it’s maintained a consistently high standard, to the extent that I wonder if I, as a viewer might be in danger of taking for granted just how ruddy good it is. If you’ve not seen it yet, this is a great chance to catch up.

And possibly hidden in the films section on iPlayer is the frankly bonkers film Mindhorn, which is funny, clever, and only about 85 mins, so it doesn’t have time to drag. That’s how to do it.

All4I mentioned above that some programmes are so good that it’s easy to almost overlook that consistent quality – and Friday Night Dinner is one of them. The sixth season is currently showing on Channel 4, and there’s no drop in story quality whatsoever, and the performances are just as solid… by which I mean solidly ridiculous, most of the time. All the episodes are currently available to view on All4.

Oh, and I mentioned Derry Girls earlier, which is also on the All4 site, and which is terrific.

Aside from the above (and other streaming services which I don’t have and so haven’t mentioned), there are some interesting cultural whatnots worth checking out:

National Theatre Live – in the last couple of years, the National Theatre have taken to screening filmed versions of some of their plays (and transmitting them to cinemas around the country, which strikes me as a clever way of getting stuff seen by people who (a) don’t live nearby or (b) don’t know if they want to spend forty quid or more on a production they may not like that much).

As theatres are closed right now, the NT has started screening a play every Thursday on their YouTube channel, and it remains there for a week, so don’t feel you have to watch it in real time. As I type this, Jane Eyre is the current play, and I believe that one of the future presentations will be the production of Twelfth Night from a couple of years ago, starring Tamsin Greig, which I thought looked interesting, but never got to see, so I’ll be looking out for that.

Royal Opera House – In a similar vein, the ROH are screening a selection of performances of opera and ballet on their YouTube channel. I’ll cheerfully admit that whilst I like me a bit of opera, ballet’s a bit of a blind spot to me, but maybe this is the perfect time for me to try some, with time and money less at risk if I do so? Worth a look.

Podcasts – are like the radio shows you can pause and rewind, and so are a great way to hear other people’s voices, and opinions, and learn stuff and laugh (or all of those things). Plus you can get on with stuff like washing and tidying while they keep you company. I’m sure you can find a ‘cast (that’s what the cool kids call them, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise) on a subject of interest to you, but the following are ones which I always enjoy:

How to Fail – Elizabeth Day talks to successful people, about how they’ve been shaped by their failures… that’s a really dry summary of a really interesting show.

Scriptnotes – John August and Craig Mazin’s long-running ‘cast about writing. Mainly for the screen, but loads of lessons about creativity and the like anyway (this week’s episode has Ryan Reynolds and Phoebe Waller-Bridge as guests! How cool is that? Well, actually I don’t know how cool, as I haven’t listened to it yet. But I’ve listened to the previous 444 episodes, and they’ve all been good, so the pedigree of the show and the guests alike suggests it won’t be rubbish).

The One You Feed – host Eric Zimmer talks to people in the fields of religion, psychology, philosophy and … er, let’s say spirituality, about the quest to live a better life. That makes it sound a bit woo-woo, but it’s usually pretty practical, and I’ve learned a lot from it. Your mileage, as they say, may vary, probably dependent on who the guest is in any given episode, but definitely worth a go.

and of course, a whole host of other podcasts are available, from a whole host of sources; BBC Sounds, iTunes, whatever. It’s kind of like the way you figure out what music you like, I guess – have a look in a chosen area, give something a go, see what happens or what it might lead to. Actually, that sounds more like a general approach to life, I guess? Yeah, why not.

I haven’t mentioned books or magazines here – again, there are so many of them around, and most people I know already have enough stuff in their ‘to read’ pile. But this might be a good time to read that book you’ve been ‘planning to get round to’? For my part, I’m thinking of reading some Jane Austen for the first time since secondary school (any suggestions as to whether I should go for P&P or S&S gratefully received. Whaddayamean, that’s not what the literary establishment call the books? Hmph).

Food and Drink

This is, of course, a great time to eat and drink the whole day long, but that may not be the best idea, and I can already imagine the marketing departments of various weight-loss firms are planning their post-lockdown advertising campaigns and rubbing their hands together with excitement. As with so many things a healthy balance is probably the way to go. As I always say, moderation is the only thing one should do to excess.

Drink-wise, do get lots of water, it’s cheap and hydration’s never a bad thing; I’d recommend loads of tea as well, but it’s up to you.

Same goes for food, of course – it’s tricky enough getting hold of some staple food items that you’ll probably want to focus on hitting the usual food groups, though could be a fun time to learn some new recipes – I’ve recently tried out a three-ingredient recipe for peanut butter cookies, which came out pretty well, and was hassle-free. There are loads of recipe sites online, so if you have some stray things in the fridge or cupboard, might be worth a quick online search to see what culinary magic you might be able to perform.

And I think that’s enough to be going on with, don’t you? I hope that there’s at least something – if not several somethings – in the above that might be of interest to you. But even if not, I hope you’re doing okay, and staying safe.

Music for Monday: “Only Us” featuring Laura Dreyfuss and Ben Platt

I’m not always a fan of musicals, I’ll cheerfully admit, and I have no idea what the one which this song is from is about, but… blimey, what a frankly beautiful song. I suspect that hearing this live in a theatre would make the hairs on the back of the neck stand up – for the best of reasons. Get yourself a cup of tea, turn the volume up loud, and give this a listen.

My father once referred to certain bits of music that make you feel better about the world, just for their being in it (I don’t think he was paraphrasing Hannibal Lecter on purpose), and for me, this song is firmly in that category. Delightful.

 

Tuesday Tune: Flowers and Love

So I’m probably a bit – no, make that a lot – late in discovering this track, and the album it comes from, but I like it, and thought it might be nice to share it. I’ll freely admit I don’t really go for the opening bit of dialogue, it’s a bit fraught and not really my kind of thing, but I really like the song. So:

What Year Is This? Who’s The President Now?

… all of which is to say: has it really been that long since last I blogged? Crikey (though a part of me is oddly relieved to see that it hasn’t been a whole calendar year, because – let’s face it – it wouldn’t be the first time that long a gap had happened between posts).

So, as is so often the case on this blog, I open with apologies to anyone who’s been visiting on a regular basis in the hope of finding updates – thanks for your patience, and sorry the only things that have greeted you have been silence and cobwebs.

I haven’t been writing on the blog, granted, but (by way of long overdue update) I’m glad to report that I’ve made good and hearty progress in the world of long-form prose; my novel Captives has been through multiple drafts and re-drafts, and my test readers have all made very useful suggestions which led to a few bits of re-re-drafting, and now it’s out for consideration by literary agents.

Trying not to let the momentum dissipate, I’ve started on the next novel featuring the same detective protagonist, which currently has the working title of Refuge. I won’t get into the details of it here, but I like to think that the shape of the books is almost akin to that of the films of Dan Brown’s novels – the first one (The Da Vinci Code) is full of flashbacks, but the second is a ticking-clock race against time (Angels and Demons). So I’m working hard on making sure it has that all-important sense of forward motion, which I’m increasingly finding is a good way to stop me from waxing too lyrical, as if the words don’t serve plot or character, then they’re probably not needed… but I’m sure I’ll talk about that more in future blogs.

As is so often the case in my relationship with blogging, this return is intended to be the clearing of the throat before more sustained communication; in these politically and socially divided times I’ll probably steer clear of too much in the way of politics or similar, but I’ll try to compensate for that by sharing thoughts on writing, the odd review (and not necessarily of new items – one of the wonders of the internet is our easy access to things from the past), links to things which amuse or interest, and the like.

Speaking of things which amuse, I’ve recently discovered Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a TV police comedy which is genuinely as good as its fans make out, and I recommend you have a watch of it, if you’re not already a fan. That show has led me to enjoy the musical stylings of cast member Andy Samberg and his cohorts in the group The Lonely Island, which in turn led me to the following video… hip-hop isn’t really my thing, but ludicrous comedy and utterly committed performances are very much my things, so (in the nicest and most praise-filled way possible)  I urge you to look at these idiots:

She Does, You Know. She Does Kick Me.

Make my friends rich dept:

My old friend Ian, and his bandmates in Katalina Kicks, have just released a new single called ‘Me’, and it’s available to buy via iTunes, for the very reasonable price of 79p.

Not sure if you want to trust my opinion on it, especially as I tend to write about books and writing as opposed to music? Okay, I understand. Here’s the video:

What’s that? Oh yes, it does rock. Told you so.

Big Ups To All My Haters, As I Believe The Song Puts It*

Well now. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? If it provides any kind of justification for my absence, I’ve recently had a job which took me out of London (and away from easy access to a full-size keyboard), but now I’m back.

And what, you may wonder, have I decided is the best way to re-commence regular blogging activities? Why, tis nothing less than the perennial subjects of love and hate… well, kind of.

Love and hate, we’re often told, are two sides of the same coin. Or there’s a thin line between them. And so on. Basically, we’re often fed the idea that the two of them are very close together – it’s simple enough to see why, they’re both extremes of feeling or opinion, and particularly in the field of emotion, disappointment and annoyance with someone we’ve formed an attachment for can easily cause us to become equally vehement in our negativity towards them; in films and TV shows, it’s often quite common for characters who spend a long time being antagonistic towards each others to end up smooching, though I have to say that (relaxed licensing hours notwithstanding) I haven’t seen that happen quite so frequently in real life.

If we’re going to be honest about it – and I think we ought to, as life is often more complicated than simplistic presentations of emotional duality in programmes such as the Jeremy Kyle Show would have us pretend – there’s actually a long distance to travel between love and hate, if we’re using the words in their strictest sense. I love reading, and it would take quite a lot of negative reading experiences (that is to say, bad books or whatever) before that affection for the activity turned into hate. I’m sure you can think of things which you enjoy immensely – would it really take the equivalent of a coinflip, or a hop over some imaginary line, to make you hate them with equal intensity? I doubt it.

In reality, the line between love and hate, when viewed in three dimensions, manifests as a vast plane, with slight disaffection and indifference and irritation with at various stages between the two extremes. And if love and hate are sides of a coin, we should be honest enough to admit that it’s actually more of a cylinder than a coin, with enough stages and distance from one side to the other as to make the particle acceleration corridors at CERN look like a cupboard for the electricity meter.

I increasingly feel that there’s a problem with people presenting arguments or opinions in a way that suggests you either love something or you hate it; you’re either a fan or a hater. And whilst we’ve often seen this used to simplify political debates – in 2002, a popular simplification was to suggest that any doubts about military action in Iraq equated with approval for the regime of Saddam Hussein – it also seems to be used increasingly in relation to more everyday issues.

Let’s take an issue which, in and of itself, doesn’t really matter, but which is often portrayed as some kind of ideological battle; the question of whether Apple products are better than PCs. To read a lot of review columns, or to hear people talk, you’d think that one was vastly superior to the other, and that using the opposition’s products is the action of a seriously ill-informed person, whose brand allegiance (in whichever direction) is akin to that of a brainwashed dupe. The reality, of course, is a lot more nuanced – let’s be honest, both have their merits (Apple’s stuff is visually appealing, reportedly more stable [the iPhone 4 signal problems and iOS’s tendency to eat battery life could be argued to have undermined this in recent times, though], and generally held to be technically superior; PCs are cheaper, and used in more workplaces and so more familiar) and their flaws. But the problem is, nowadays, you’d think that people either have an Apple or Microsoft logo tattooed on their heart, and this means that the discussions tend to be polarised – and this simplification means that facts get overlooked – such as the fact that Microsoft helped Apple financially in the 1990s by giving them $150m to bundle Internet Explorer with new Macs as the default browser; so, that big hatred and fighting between them you read about in the press? Probably more like business rivalry, but of course that’s not so interesting, and it’s more fun to portray their customers as engaged in some teeth-baring hatred.

The major problem I have with this situation is the way it reduces everything to a non-discussion, and removes any possibility of people conceding that their so-called opponent has a point (watch the way politicians will invariably try to ignore facts or events in debates, even if empirically and provably true, which don’t make their argument look entirely true, as opposed to the best-guess opinion it really is). It means you can’t point at flaws in anything without being labelled a ‘hater’ or ‘anti’, even if you’re only trying to say that something has weaknesses in certain areas (cases in point: Lady Gaga is really not as stunningly original as many people insist, and Steig Larsson writes a lot of exposition).

As I’ve mentioned with tiresome regularity on the blog, my favourite TV programme of all time is Twin Peaks (it is my equivalent of Mark Kermode’s love for The Exorcist), but I’ll cheerfully admit that it’s got flaws (the second season loses its way, certain storylines are just risible, and it’s painfully clear at certain points that they’re just making it up as they go along). As long as the catalogue of weaknesses in something doesn’t overwhelm the things we like in it, then there doesn’t seem to be any problem in liking it, but there’s equally no problem in admitting it’s not perfect – very few things are unimprovable (despite what the most vocal supporters might say).

Am I asking too much? Is it really now the case that you’re either a rabid fan of something or a hater? I’d like to think not, and I’d also like to think that it’d be possible to see discussion of topics (and by ‘see’ I mean ‘encounter’, though if televised debates – on whatever topic – would like to actually show people admitting the strengths in their opponents’ arguments and the weaknesses in their own, I’d welcome that) which actually reflect that there are many waystations between the positions of support or loathing for something, whether it be a political stance or a work of art or a brand of cola or whatever. Much of the time, opinions on things fall into the median, grey band of ‘meh’, and it feels to me that pretending that you have to pick a position at one end of the spectrum and fight it doggedly with closed ears and mind is oversimplifying, and doesn’t actually enable a proper discussion to take place.

Although – ahem – I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that I’m not so convinced of this that I don’t welcome discussion of it. That would be hypocrisy, and of course the Post Comment button exists for your input (and not just about Apple, Gaga or Larsson, ideally)…

*That would be the number “They Know”, by Shawty Lo Featuring Ludacris, I believe. Not really a fan, but it seemed appropriate to refer to it, by way of illustrating that merit may lurk where we don’t expect it.

Future And Past: The Name May Be Its Future Chart Position (1), And The Form In Which It Would Have Been Sold Until A Few Years Ago (45)… Perhaps.

Longtime blog readers with appallingly long memories will recall that a friend of mine Ian is a singer by trade, and lookylook, his band’s video is available to view online (ignore the fact that the frozen image below appears to show him doing an impression of the Joker, he’s actually a very presentable chap):

That’s rather good, innit? The single’s out on 5 July, and will be available from iTunes and other places like that. If you like it, please buy it. And even if you don’t like it, please buy it just to please me, for my wrath is great and far-reaching and painful for those who displease me.

As the aforementioned longterm readers will also be well aware of.

I Used To Work With Someone Whose Parents Wouldn’t Let Her Watch Magpie When She Was Young On The Grounds That It Was ‘Common’…

… but looking at this LP from one of the presenters, I think that they were probably just trying to shield her from the wanton perversion simmering below the surface of a seemingly innocent children’s TV programme.

Shocking, it is. I’d write to my MP if I was confident he could read.

Hands away from the swimsuit area please, Mr Robertson.

Learn From My (Almost) Mistakes

So, on Tuesday night, the external hard-drive thingy attached to my computer died. It’s a cute little thing, about the size of a passport and about 300Gb, and thus the ideal place for me to store all my music and video files and the like (not to mention my writing).

But the computer suddenly stopped acknowledging the drive even existed, and so iTunes and other programmes were looking for information that wasn’t there. Yeek.

The fortunate timing for me was that this drive-death had happened within hours of me backing everything up onto another, bigger drive, so after buying another portable drive I was able to get things pretty much back to where they’d been. Okay, time and a bit of money wasted, but a small price to pay in comparison with losing all my tunes and videos. As the Young Ones put it, “Phew! That was close!”

Anyway, I’m telling you this not just because I treat this blog like some kind of online confessional/notebook, but also because the moral of my tale is one which has been said many times before, by better folks than I, time and time again: back up your stuff.

They often say you never know when a drive’s going to die, but the chances are that it’ll be when it’s least convenient for you (not in my case, but I’ve always been a freak), so save your stories, assignments or whatnot in a good location, and then save them again somewhere else.

If you’ve got a Mac, there’s the Time Machine software; if you’re signed up to Windows Live, you can use their ‘Skydrive’ facility to stash stuff online, or there are other services such as Dropbox which offer free online storage and access (and if you use that link, we both get an extra 250Mb free space), or you could just use plug-in external HDs or memory sticks or whatever you prefer.

But I strongly urge you to back stuff up, and get a routine going to do so, so that you can avoid the possibility that, as mine did the other night, your stomach suddenly goes cold as you realise that you may have lost all your funky music and draft writing…

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