Saturday, June 30, 2012

Andrew Paul Regan: The Signal And The Noise

Since 'relocating' (it sounds better than 'drifting') to Wales I've met a lot of talented people including Andy Regan, the husband of my lovely former colleague Sian.

Andy is a prolific songwriter who has been performing for 10 years under the name Pagan Wanderer Lu, which he has now shelved in favour of his actual name Andrew Paul Regan.

In my first foray into a genre that wasn't classical, traditional or jazz, a couple of years ago I played in Andy's band on a mini tour for his European Monsoon album. It was a lot of fun and highlights included going to Shoreditch in a clanky mini bus and getting home at 4am on a work night, staying at Andy's mum's house and driving to Manchester in the fog.

I played violin and also an old electronic keyboard with complicated knobs on that only played one note at a time. It has a proper name but I can't remember what it is.

That was probably the most musically challenged I have ever been (and trust me... I've played Stravinsky). Put me in front of a bank of knobs and I panic. Forget one knob, twist one dial the wrong way and the whole effect is totally different and therefore wrong. As I am incapable of remembering what all the different things mean ('wave form', 'decay'.... 'LFO'?) I had to write down all the different knob settings for each individual song and frantically refer to my notes in between each song like an idiot:

 'Chronically depressed', haha (those were the lyrics at which I had to do something different, not my state of mind at this point in the set due to all the complex knob twiddling)

Anyway, Andy has a new record out called The Signal And The Noise, and I am on it in the form of a small clip of violin for the track 'In Potential'!

I am no good at writing about music, especially when it's by people I know (I can't objectively listen to or express a coherent opinion on any of my boyfriend's music) but safe to say I have listened to this a lot and it's a great album, so you should buy it if you like indie/'glitchpop' (is this a real term?) with clever lyrics.

There is also going to be a video for one of the other tracks on the album in which my sleeping baby makes a small cameo so I am very excited to see that!

You can follow Andy on his highly amusing Twitter.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The death of my grandfather

My grandfather in his early twenties, already married to my Grandmother
I will always remember standing at the death bed of my grandfather a few days before he died.

My father brought me to the bungalow where he still lived with my grandmother, despite their advanced age. Throughout my visit she was cheerfully drinking tea with the carer in the living room, chirping about how "Freddy would be up and about in no time, poor Freddy".

He was confined to his bed, in his very late nineties. Right until his death, his mind was as sharp as his wife's was disintegrated. The man who survived as an electrical engineer in London throughout the Blitz, lived on a houseboat he built himself, fathered two children, travelled the world and was old enough to drive a car without ever taking a driving test, faded away in a small bedroom in Hampshire as his body utterly betrayed him.

The euthanasia debate is forever coloured for me by the knowledge that my grandfather had  pleaded with his doctor every day to kill him, preferably quickly. He angrily begged for pills, an injection, even a hammer. He couldn't sit up, couldn't read a newspaper, couldn't eat, could hardly talk. It was torture for him to wait in bed day after day and he was deeply sunk in the most abysmal depression of his life.

"I'm just so bored" he told me and my father. Soon after we arrived he recited a poem for us called 'Heraclitus'.

We were amazed to discover that, as a last resort and to keep his mind active, he had been reciting to himself long reams of poetry that he had learned by rote at school almost 90 years previously.

My dad and I stood over him, my grandfather held both our hands and I could feel begrudging life under his skin. Three generations of the same family together for the last time, the genetic thread hung between us, his blood running in my veins. I have never felt death so close as in that moment. It was like staring into an abyss and in spite of the sadness, it was also highly interesting. We all felt it and I have never forgotten it. I was supremely aware, like I should be trying to learn something about this process that each of us must face one day completely alone. My father actually asked my grandfather what it was like.

It was a vain grasp at the unreachable, clutching at any straws he could potentially use when his own time came, sudden or lingering. My grandfather even didn't have to answer, all three of us knew he was ready for death and not remotely intimidated.

I left the house soon after knowing that was the final time and a few days later learned with relief that he had died.

I read 'Heraclitus' at his funeral, which was the only time I have ever seen my father cry.

They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead, 
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed. 
I wept as I remember'd how often you and I,
Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.

And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest, 
A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest, 
Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake; 
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.
William Johnson Cory (1823 - 1892)

(Heraclitus: Greek philosopher (ca. 540-ca. 400 BC), pre-Socratic founder of an Ionian school, whose principal tenet was change in all things. Cory translates an epigram of Callimachus, which in A. W. Mair's translation of the Greek is as follows: "One told me, Heracleitus, of thy death and brought me to tears, and I remembered how often we two in talking put the sun to rest. Thou, methinks, Halicarnasian friend, art ashes long and long ago; but thy nightingales live still, whereon Hades, snatcher of all things, shall not lay his hand")

Monday, June 25, 2012

I found some more of my art

I forgot I had a deviantart gallery. I uploaded these in 2004 and they were old then so here are four, decade old drawings.

1) Well this first one is highly embarrassing because, aged 17, I used to like Johnny the Homicidal Manic comics.

I drew this for my first boyfriend who wore a leather trench coat and had long black dyed hair so this went down well. He took it with him when we split up so I've no idea what happened to it, probably rotting in a landfill somewhere:

 2) Some slightly more genteel 'fan art', here is a Krazy Kat medley I drew for my dad for Christmas once. I am so proud of this - I could probably create forgeries, I am so good at ripping off and copying real artists. (Check out some real Krazy Kat cartoons, they are worth your time.)

3) Here is my Magic Man

4) And another copy of one of my favourite pictures, 'J'ai baise ta bouche, Jokanaan (I kissed your mouth, John.)



Miniature Paintings by my dad

I recently found a folder of my dad's old paintings that I liberated from my parents house just after they split up. My dad asked if I had them recently and so I scanned them in and he was delighted to see them again.

They are beautiful, delicate miniatures and are now between 40 and 50 years old:


Small lilies

Ship at sea

Here they are with my hand for size comparison:

There were also some illuminated manuscript work and a coat of arms, also miniatures:

This small painting of crows on a tree at night (really badly scanned, sorry) is one he did in his teens. It's mounted on a piece of card covered with hessian and is so battered and old. I remember it being around since I was tiny.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Pictures of collections

Collections of things I've seen recently:

Books in the Michaelston-le-Pit (the village next to mine) phone box book swap.


The cactus house of Dyffryn Gardens in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Crochet squares painstakingly made and laid out by my friend Sian (The Gingerbread) and instantly destroyed by my baby.

My friend Ceri's thimble collection, which she tried to hide the first time we went round because she thought it was deeply uncool, fortunately I thought it was amazing.

The wood shop in Tredegar House. These blocks are for turning to make bowls. Each stack is a different variety of wood.

A colourful pile of clean nappies ready in their basket.

My own collection of old books. Some of these are over 100 years old. My favourite is 'Morbid Fears and Compulsions'. I will share some wisdom from 'Enquire Within Upon Everything' one day as it has some top advice.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hereford Cathedral: I didn't see the chained library but I did see a tiny tea set

I'm never going to be one of those people who gets to grips with an expensive camera and presents gorgeous, crisp shots of my life ... we do actually own a decent camera but it's so big and cumbersome it hardly ever gets taken out of its case.

This is absolutely typical. Literally the second I write that, my boyfriend instantly gets out the big camera and starts taking pictures with it for his next forecast mix. Ignore everything I said.

I do however take an inordinate amount of pictures with my iPhone.

I rather inadvisedly (due to my financial straits) shelled out for the new one right at the beginning of my maternity leave and I'm so glad I did because I've now got a treasure trove of little moments I never want to forget of my son's first months, captured forever, or until my hard drive disintegrates. Video is so quick and easy to take and with the new upgrade it's impossible to not snap pictures everywhere you go.

We went to Hereford on a grey, dingy day recently to visit friends we hadn't seen for ages, and I took some pictures. It was lovely there despite the weather. The cathedral was stunning but I was gutted because the room with the chained library (the world's largest Medieval library of its kind) and the Mappa Mundi, a Medieval map, was shut and I had really wanted to go there after a picture I saw circulating on tumblr.

Strolling around Hereford with rain threatening, I kept spotting exciting looking buildings across the river.

We went into a little old house where there was a tiny little tea set carved from wood and ivory!


I was excited about the cathedral, and it was everything I thought it would be.

Hereford Cathedral from the outside.

I really love cathedrals. I once spent a week in York facilitating for the second part of the Human Givens Diploma, it was an intensely stressful week for me and to relax I used to go into York Minster which is an very other-worldly building if you have never been there.

I found out that cathedrals were built as a sort of spiritual and cultural exercise for the people living during their time of construction, rather than 'simply' as a monument to God (I am not religious).

The actual building of the cathedral took hundreds of years and involved thousands of workers working towards a common goal, which in turn helped build a healthy, thriving community around the cathedral site. It is really quite astonishing to look at a cathedral and imagine how it was put together.

Then, the nature of the finished cathedral was designed to alter the consciousness of anyone who entered it and precipitate spiritual development. And by this I mean that it induced a different 'state' in the person experiencing it. I always find that myself when entering a cathedral. I go into a trance and drift about the place, soaking up the atmosphere, turning round and around and looking upwards. You feel small, and it gives you perspective and makes you really aware of the present.

This knowledge really changed my perspective of such buildings. Now every time I go into one I can't help but get a sense of how astonishing it must have been for ordinary medieval people to first enter a newly built cathedral. We take such buildings for granted now, but what must it have been like then, for someone who had only lived in a small building and not traveled far or seen much to be able to tip their head back and stare in wonder at the huge space and extraordinary geometry of these vast monuments to something so much bigger than themselves?

It must have been like being inside a dream.

There was a choral choir practice going on which made it feel extra atmospheric. I even took a video which I will spare you.

Hereford was full of gems: this is a real Handel score that was displayed inside the cathedral.

I can't wait to go back and see the bits I missed.


I went recently back to work after maternity leave, stared at all the groomed and perfect looking commuters on my train and felt my self confidence hit the floor with a dull thud.

In the last year I've gained and lost 3 stone during pregnancy, loads of my hair fell out then grew back in very dodgily, I haven't been able to afford to buy any decent clothes, particularly maternity clothes, none of my normal clothes fitted me for months after I gave birth (now they do, thankfully, I'm actually lighter than I was pre-pregnancy) and anyway, I couldn't even wear them because they weren't any good for breastfeeding, which I will probably be doing for another year or so.

So I made a drastic move and dyed all the grey out of my hair. I haven't dyed my hair since I was 14 and 'experimenting' with poorly applied henna so this was kind of a big deal for me. I dyed it dark brown and it looks fantastic even if I do say so myself.

On Mondays and Tuesdays I can now put on my old breastfeeding un-friendly tops and dresses that I haven't worn for over a year, step outside, get on the train and go and sit in my office all day feeling like an attractive, productive member of society. No more maternity pay, just my normal wages. Freelance work whenever I can get it and a deep, capitalist satisfaction in life...

Killarney and 'New Tune a Day'

I recently downloaded from bandcamp a wonderful album called Pull the Knife by Killarney:

 Pull the Knife cover art

It's exactly the sort of Irish music I like; clean, pure and uncluttered tunes. It's been on repeat on my train commute to work for weeks.

It's recorded by two musicians, a mandolin/guitar player called Colin Botts and a brilliant fiddle player called Katie Davis Henderson. Mark Davis provides occasional bodhran.

My favourite tunes on the album are Garret Berry's/Ringing the Bell and Bunch of Green Rushes/Ferry Banks. Traditional tunes that I am desperate to have time to sit down and learn by ear as they are so beautiful.

I've discovered that Katie has a blog in which she learns a new tune every day, posted on YouTube: New Tune a Day.

I find her playing very inspiring, here she is playing some jigs, Andy de Jarlis, Ingonish, Mrs. McGhee:

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Playing at Crickhowell for the Jubilee

On a drizzly Jubilee bank holiday weekend we went to Crickhowell in the Brecon Beacons to play for the street party. It was a lovely gig, people watched despite the rain and we managed to get a few videos.


The Morning Star / Boys of Malin / Gravel Walks - a set of reels, the second two are famous together, but we added the first one to the beginning of the set.


Battlefields of Spain and The Maid Behind the Bar - a song and a tune. The song was written by Phil (in the hat) for the words of an existing poem and the tune is a famous reel.

Tabhair Dom Do Lámh (Give me your hand) / Spootiskerry - a lovely old waltz tune, played quite badly by me in this video because I coudn't really hear myself, followed by a tune we learned recently from Catherine (fiddle on the left), who learned it at the Feakle festival in Ireland.