Category: Thoughts

Review of Ivan Campo at the Harris on 14th February 2020

Have you ever walked into a gig and felt calm and inspired, even before the music begins? Even when you’re an ancient prog-folk-rocker like me, and even before you’ve sat down? Well, that’s what happened when I went to see Ivan Campo at Preston’s Harris Art Gallery on Valentines Day 2020.

Firstly, the location was gorgeous. I’ve been to the Harris many times before but never to an event, so my assumption was that the concert would be held in a suite deep within the building: somewhere dull and bland with flat acoustics and plenty of audience space. I couldn’t have been more wrong. When we arrived, the band were setting up in the space just behind the lobby’s glass doors. In front of the small stage we could see a chic collection of bistro style chairs and tables.

It was then that I realised this was to be an intimate gig of maybe 50 attendees, yet the space was vertically massive. The ‘concert hall’ was three storeys high, and the band’s tuning-up sounds floated around the tables and up, through the art galleries, into the stunning ceiling cavity. When the doors opened, we accepted a free glass of Prosecco, then sat ourselves directly in front of the stage.

Ivan Campo has a seemingly simple set up: Adam on lead vocals and guitar, Will on keyboard, guitars, backing vocals and glockenspiel, and Ben on guitars, bass, percussion, clarinet and backing vocals. But Ivan Campo’s sound is anything but simple. Of course, they utilise many elements of folk music, particularly in the vocal harmonies, but the band exhibit elements of pop and choral music too, as the band’s musical influences are multiple and complex.

Each person listening to their music would be aware of different influences, but I found myself hearing Nick Drake, early Crosby Stills, Nash and Young, The Beatles, The Trees, Mellow Candle and even early Genesis. I even detected elements of The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, though these are rare! In ‘Darling Diva’ , there’s definitely a Bonzo feeling to the enunciation and of the verses in particular, and with its near-muted backing voices, the lead voice floats.Whatever their influences, Ivan Campo’s musical talents blend together in a cohesive whirl of gorgeous sounds.

I didn’t stop smiling the entire time, as watching and listening to Ivan Campo transcended pleasure and became unaccustomed joy. Yes, it was certainly connected with the quality of the musical performance, but also with the music’s feel. It exuded positivity and optimism – particularly ‘The Bloodhound and the Fox’ with its gentle organ sound and powerful lyrics, and in the bouncy harmonies of ‘Roll On’ with its staccato guitar and enticing foot-tapping rhythm.

This gig showcased some great music that moved between genres. ‘Forgetful Fredrick’ had a great reggae/calypso sound with its snappy, syncopated guitar and jolly glockenspiel. Incidentally, the whistling in this and in other tunes is an unexpected pleasure that’s simple but so effective. More jolliness arises in ‘Lotus Eater’ – a feel-good song with an early-Beatles skiffle feel, that changes to The Everly Brothers when they sing ‘Every day, gets a little stronger’. Taking a totally different tack, ‘A Chancer’ incorporates reggae-sounding rhythm guitar and a gorgeous lead guitar in this understated piece. Taking another direction, ‘Roller Disco’ tells of waking up in 1959 wanting to go to a roller disco. With its delightful hand shaker, doo-wop backing vocals sound and bass, it is funny, sweet and very feel-good. Weirdly, ‘Local Dealer’s catchy piano reminds me of Billy Bragg’s ‘Waiting for the Great Leap Forward’!

Ivan Campo have a wonderful percussive sound, especially as there is no drum kit. Everything is percussive! Consider ‘Season of the King’ with its gorgeous, rolling piano and motifs, with a tune that particularly suits Adam’s voice, and is brought into another dimension with the clicked-fingers percussion, shakers and syncopated rhythms. Also, in ‘The Mirror’ , amidst the gorgeous seemingly-complex harmonies of a tune that seems too pure to have arisen in our cynical times, the timings are satisfying and tight, assisted by sonorous clarinet notes and the clicking of clarinet keys for percussive effect.

The harmonies and the way the voices merge together are just mild-melting. In ‘The B&B’ the lyrics are great ‘ I know I’ll survive only if I try’, ‘A real reverie.’. ‘Wouldn’t you agree?’ ‘Was it all just a dream?’ My particular favourite part is the ‘It’s difficult. Impossible to see.’ There’s something astonishing about how those harmonies are delivered and how the words are articulated with a beautiful use of silence. In ‘Invisible Man’, the simple effective guitar picking is topped with almost-whispered singing of ethereal harmonies, and the simplest of keyboard accompaniments. ‘Crome Yellow’ presents us with such a Kinks-like feel at the beginning (Kinks but darker), with rich folk harmonies, and syncopated rhythm guitar. In ‘One Minute War’, the articulation of the word ‘Suddenly’ is gorgeous.

Not every band is able to use sparsity to the best effect, but Ivan Campo does. They use a chugging guitar sound on ‘Hurricane Ivan’ to start, and this is reflected by the singing style. As the song progresses, the tune becomes more lyrical, though the sparseness of the arrangement is effective. In ‘Blind Spot’ the harmonies and lyrics are exceptional especially on the lead up to the chorus. Even the chorus is pretty sparse, but so beautiful as a result.

It’s as if the band has fully orchestrated, then stripped right down to only what was essential.

And it is this musical self-awareness that made the band so special. These guys were not afraid of using their instruments and voices unpretentiously. ‘Liquor Mountain’ was sweet and reminiscent of something in the long ago past, and ‘Obscene Dream’ was glorious with its descending and ascending sweetness, and of silence. And again, reminiscent of a time gone by with its gentle, almost-whispered singing, ‘Rat Race’ begins in the manner of one of those brilliant busking tunes that cheers you as you walk past. But soon it becomes a hush little baby style version of something Beatles-like. How could such a thing be described in mere words? In ‘Could the Devil be a Gentleman’ I was instantly reminded of the Orkney and Shetland folk I adored in my teen years. I love the clarity of the fingerpicked guitar and the sound of the voices, especially the line ‘By the thoughts of a restless day’ which gives me tummyache and brings tears to my eyes.

This was one of the best gigs I have ever attended. Perhaps the best.

Acoustic music is often considered to have less breadth and depth. Not so. Of course, the grandeur and echo-chamber effects of the venue added to the atmosphere. But it was all about the band and their pure music. I purchased Purchased four Ivan Campo EPs on my way out – and have been listening to them ever since. This will definitely not be my final Campo gig.

#meredithschumann #author #authors #review #reviews #ivancampomusic #prestonharris #harris

Darkness.Chill.Silence.Bliss

Photo by Noelle Otto on Pexels.com

Summer isn’t ice-cream and beaches. Not to me.

The summer forces windows wide, admitting birdsong, creaking gates, the whirring of mowers, the madness of hedge trimmers, and the rhythmic cawing of noisy birds.

Neighbourhood children add to this with shouts, as do their mothers, while the grinding, grating power tools amplify their white noise backing track.

The skies are bland and blue, adorned with swathes of dove-grey clouds.

We wake early and retire late, and doze through the heat of the day, to be wakened by the ‘Greensleeves’ of the ice cream van.

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Houses remain empty while gardens fill with barbecue smoke and the snuffles of meat-obsessed canines.

But, to me, summer’s not ice-cream and beaches.

Neither are the darker months merely times pre- and post- the manic expectancy of Christmas; the craziness of shops, the worries of the poor and the extravagance of the rich.

It’s more than that.

Winter brings its own silent, deafening beauty and the comforting sounds of rain and wind.

Summer’s muggy blankness is a barrier of brightness.  

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Yet I’m drawn into winter skies; as tangibly solid and grey as my bed sheet. Winter rises late and snuggles down early in duvets that wrap us in their womblike comfort, while streets echo with cloistered emptiness.

I celebrate the differences of our seasonal extremes, but winter’s majesty, winter’s peace and winter’s rest are the introvert’s perfect backdrop.

Winter’s chill factor warms and energises my soul.

And autumn is a welcome transition.

Only five months more…

#lesleyatherton, #summer, #winter, #scottmartinproductions

Review of Bolton: The Positives, by Meredith Schumann

David Holding takes a wander through Victorian Bolton in his book ‘The Dark Figure: Crime in Victorian Bolton’ so I thought I’d stroll through the 21st Century version, for good and for bad.

Second, some goods.

  • Skaters yell to each other. Despite the heat and brightness of the day, they wear long sleeves and beanies and there isn’t a single t-shirt or pair of sunglasses to be seen. We watch as they zoom about, but we’re mainly looking at their facial expressions – pride, cool, nonchalance… The joys of being young.
  • We park in the multi storey where weekend parking is free, and we manage to find a spot on the first floor.  It’s never happened before.   
  • Thirsty, we flop into a café for a much-needed drink. I can’t place the accent of the man who takes our order, but he’s so friendly and recognises us from our previous visits. He asks about the family and gives us each a toasted teacake on the house.
  • We spend two hours rummaging round X-Records and emerge with music, DVDs and a pretty funky Led Zepp-inspired shirt. I absolutely love the friendly organised chaos of this place.
  • We decide to eat at the Cherry Moon café, just up the road. It is a place for gamers of all types, for comic book fans, and for diners who like good food. We certainly go mad for their halloumi fries, and my crushed avocado on sourdough toast is superb. Yep, this has to be the coolest and friendliest place ever. Oh, happy days.
  • A community police officer smiles at us and comments ‘Isn’t it a beautiful day?’ If he’d been wearing a bowler hat or flat cap I’m sure he would have raised it for me. ‘It’s certainly warm, I reply. ‘I think the lions are happy’. I gesture over to the distinctive town hall step statues, and note the affection for the town’s people in the officer’s eyes. †††† ‘Good job. We don’t want hungry lions rampaging round Bolton. We have enough problems.’
  • We do our fish and vegetable shopping in the covered market. The place is clean and bustling and the choice is fantastic. We purchase Caribbean curry to accompany the fish, and I suspect the man dishing out the chickpeas is the cheeriest person in the whole town. We leave, arms clutching food bags and faces glowing with anticipation of our evening meal. It feels like Christmas.
  • We take a trip round the museum and gallery and discuss the photographic exhibition and Egyptian displays. Another two hours happily spent. We don’t call in at the aquarium this time, as we need to get home.
  • The roads are busy, but I’m astonished when a pedestrian stranger leads us from the car park and onto the road. He holds up the traffic with a grin, and waves as we drive away.

#lesleyfridayreads

Review of Bolton: The Negatives, by Meredith Schumann

David Holding takes a wander through Victorian Bolton in his book ‘The Dark Figure: Crime in Victorian Bolton’ so I thought I’d stroll through the 21st Century version, for good and for bad. First, some bads.

  • The car park’s one we’ve been to hundreds of times, but they’ve changed the entry method. We assume it’s owing to the homeless people who regularly slept on the landings, and perhaps also the drug transactions we’ve seen occurring in this place which stinks of urine and is peppered with pigeon guano.
  • Three men sprawl on the ground, backs leaning up against a wall. One is more lying than sitting and the other two surround this incapacitated friend. ‘Spice’ a woman says, as we pass. Sugar and spice and things not nice.
  • A woman squats on the corner wearing a filthy, navy blue sleeping bag. We pass a little later when she’s being questioned by the community police officers who wander the town centre. She is insisting that she was innocent of a crime, while they are insistent on her guilt. A small crowd gather to listen. Meanwhile, a young near-toothless man, lies on a nearby bench and watches with open mouth.
  • Undeterred by cardboard policemen at the pound shop’s entrance, an elderly lady in an unseasonably heavy camel coat pockets a chocolate block.
  • In a large health and beauty shop, a dead-faced woman hovers by the make-up stands. She opens tubes, installing their contents on her face inexpertly and with speed. When two young staff members inform her that this is not acceptable, she immediately scurries away without a word.
  • A charity shop assistant discusses their recent spate of shoplifting, and the cheek and sense of entitlement of such people. Another customer comments: ‘They must be pretty desperate to steal from this place’. The two workers ignore her slight.
  • Three young boys scare an elderly woman with their play fighting. She stumbles, and the boys disperse.
  • Two teen girls mock a larger than average woman who is reclining in an arcade-salon chair to get her eyebrows done. Her body spills over, and the teens, with perfect skin and perfect bodies, point and laugh. The woman hears, and her smile freezes.

#lesleyfridayreads

Literary Inadequacy

Walking round an independent bookshop this morning, I experienced overwhelming feelings of anxiety and dread. I wasn’t being followed and I hadn’t forgotten my debit card. My problem was much worse.

I was experiencing artistic anxiety. Literary anxiety, to be precise.

Being an author and publisher, I’m in regular contact with other creative souls – writer who express themselves with a succinct brilliance, and others whose wordy exuberance inspires and challenges me constantly. I love to hear their work and their comments on mine.

But… and it is a big but… I have this very real sense of literary inadequacy. I can’t remember the last time I read a bestseller purchased from the Asda shelves, or from the Waterstones display tables. I can’t converse on the fashionable, the literary, or even on the archaic. In other words, I’m not what anyone would call well-read when it comes to the contemporary classics.

That doesn’t mean I don’t read – what it means is that I don’t read the correct, approved books – the ones that might be raved about on Radio 4, in the pages of a woman’s mag, or at a trendy book club. But should I? I’ve read plenty of classics and I happily select books at random. Unless the subject matter is one I dislike intensely (and there aren’t many – military history, heraldry and monarchic dynasties are three that come to mind!) I’ll give the book a go.

I’m also not afraid to enjoy the sometimes dubious pleasures of film novelisations, low key romances and unpublished, experimental works. Why not? Just because something isn’t out there and on every shelf, it doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable.

Perhaps this is down to stubbornness, but I don’t tend to read stuff till any furore has already died down, and I can read without reference to hype. But this means I’m always at least five years behind my more fashionable reading friends. Hence the anxiety.

I suppose I could read reviews, thus pretending that books have been read. I could even actually read the books I ‘should’ read, though I’d have no idea where to start, and which of the famous names to follow as priority.

But I’d rather watch random TV from eras long gone – and I have the same attitude to reading books. Take it at my own pace with no agenda and no ‘must read’ list. This way I come across some real stinkers as well as some perfect classics. I’m not sure I’m prepared to lose that spontaneity.

So, I guess I must live with this literary inadequacy and accept that there’s no way for anyone to read all the decent books that have been written – or all the bad books, for that matter.  

There’s more to life than being at the forefront of fashion. Life’s too short, anyway. I’d rather just read and be happy.

‘Self Doubt’ – Poem by Meredith Schumann

We all have it – especially writers.

I hope this poem helps anyone else who has to deal with it. I don’t claim to be a poet, but sometimes the words just happen, then happen to mean something.

Image: Pngtree

The Voice

There’s no way you can sing and dance
Said Voice with sneering, snarling stance.
Your playing’s crap. Your singing’s worse.
Makes fingers twitch, makes eardrums burst.
– Creative stuff’s just not your thing.
– The Voice said Girl just pack it in.

Your needles break, your knitting sags.
Failed projects lounge in patchwork bags.
Your hemming rips, your beading flops
Applique flakes, and stitches drop.
– Creative stuff’s just not your thing.
– The Voice said Girl just pack it in.

And writing? Girl, for goodness sake,
You’re barely literate. You’re fake!
You self-indulge. You scrawl your name
With fallow dreams of shallow fame.
– Creative stuff’s just not your thing.
– The Voice said Girl just pack it in.

I’ve read your awful stuff, Voice said
You’re destined never to be read.
Remove the stories from your head.
The only decent scribes are dead,
– Creative stuff’s just not your thing.
– The Voice said Girl just pack it in.

What makes you think you’ll ever scrawl
A story strong, a tale not tall?
And why would any person buy
Your ‘Camping Tales’ or ‘Baby’s Cry’?
– Creative stuff’s just not your thing.
– The Voice said Girl, just pack it in.

So, when I’m low, the Voice is loud.
And when I’m strong, the Voice is cowed.
I’ll do it even if it’s bad
Cos if I don’t I’ll just go mad.
Yes. When I’m low, the Voice is Loud.
But when I’m strong, the Voice is cowed.
– Creative stuff’s just not your thing.
– The Voice said Girl, just pack it in.

#poem #selfdoubt #thevoice #lesleyatherton

What’s the Cringiest Poem You’ve Ever Written?

“orator fits, poeta nascitor”
An orator is made, a poet is born.

Mine is less of a poem and more of a song. I am in my early 50s now, and wrote it back in those idealistic days when I was all of sixteen, thought I knew everything there was to know about the world, and when new age travellers were constantly in the news.

If you want to read something that will make you cringe even more than David Brent from ‘The Office’, you just need to take a look inside the songbook that’s been with me since the age of fifteen.

For those of you who can’t look in person, I’ve typed it up this particular corker here:

https://www.scottmartinproductions.com/pastpresenttense

Just scroll down to ‘Peace Convoy Partisans’. You won’t regret it, if only that you view your own writing more favourably.

And with that in mind, I challenge each and every one of you to fight back with an even more cringey contribution. Don’t be afraid. We’re all friends here!

Ten Tips to Rub Out Writers’ Block

http://www.scottmartinproductions.com

Do other professions have similar issues to writers’ block? Is there such a thing as Doctors’ Dread? Opticians’ Obstruction?  Grocers’ Groan?

And how should it be written? Is it a block applying potentially to all writers, therefore “Writers’ Block” or does this debilitating condition specifically refer to the struggles of solitary individual writers, therefore “Writer’s Block”?

Or should it even be “Bloc”? As in a collective, alliance or coalition? Doesn’t that put a different slant on the concept? It truly is a unifying condition because, whatever it means, and however it is written, I know one thing for certain. Pretty much all writers, often at unexpected points in their writing lives, will suffer from writers’ block.

Fundamentally though, it doesn’t matter as to the whys and wherefores of the name. What does matter is what it does to us. It can be truly paralysing. Time-wasting.  Annoying.  And frustrating enough to make you want to pack it all in and find yourself a far less demanding pastime or career.

It isn’t necessarily a short-term problem either – or something that happens when you’re sleepy or can’t concentrate because you’re attempting to write on a busy train. It can creep up in an environment of perfect calm. It can pounce when you’re well-rested and have set time to one side for the purpose of writing. It seems to relish planting buckets of self-doubt into your usually fertile and industrious mind.

It can hit before you’ve even set pen to paper, part way through a paragraph, or even when you’re speeding to a piece’s conclusion. One of my most frustrating moments involved my feeble attempts to name a character in a chapter’s final paragraph. It took more than three days to get it right. The silver lining to this particular cloud is that this particular occurrence of block forced me to change my writing technique and routines for the better.

(Incidentally, if you’re the type of writer who needs to complete sentence one to perfection before allowing yourself to move on to sentence two… and if you’re struggling to get something right, just try leaving a gap and moving on. I often make a note and highlight it, for example – ‘This is where they walk across the beach and end up at the Neolithic site’. I almost always come back the following day and shake my head in puzzlement at my previously frozen state.)

The great thing about the universality of this terrible condition is that almost every hobbyist or career writer can identify with how it makes us feel, and how crippling it can be. That means empathy, and it also means community.

So, here are a few bits of advice that all of us could potentially find useful. Some/all may be obvious, but there’s no harm in re-stating the obvious. We’re only human. We forget. And sometimes it is the block itself that loves to sabotage our creativity – by forcing that forgetfulness.

  1. If you always write on your laptop at the kitchen table, try moving the laptop to your bed, or to the sofa, or try attaching a keyboard and monitor and sitting at the desk. Or if you always write on the laptop, get yourself a little notebook, write in longhand and type up later.
  2. With whatever writing tool/s you prefer, get yourself comfortable. Put on the radio and just write down a few lyrics, or make notes of the DJ’s inane drivel. Or put the TV on and extract what you can from whatever you find. I also go through songs inside my head and write alternative lyrics. Often by the end of all this copying and daft wordplay, I’m ready for the more serious stuff.
  3. Take a break, even if you don’t think you need one. It’s a very obvious suggestion, but it does work. Twenty minutes is long enough to get yourself a drink, and to wander round your home giving your eyes and your body a change of scene.
  4. Eat something. Preferably something juicy – like an orange. There’s a good chance that as soon as you get those fingers mucky, your brain will suddenly rebel and switch itself back on again. Pesky things, these brains of ours.
  5. In preparation for potential bouts of block, keep notepads and pencils in every room and jot down abstract thoughts that jump into your head. That way, when you’re struggling for ideas in the future, you can just gather up your notepads and see what you can find. The chances are that if an idea connected with you in the past, it may also mean something in the future.
  6. I’ve had great results from opening a reference book at random and taking some words from that page. Perhaps pretend your character is speaking those words. Not so long ago I used this technique and had my character saying ‘Fear and Loathing in Birmingham? More like Lustful Loathing in Liverpool’. In the end, I didn’t use it in the piece, but it made me smile and was enough to get me going again.
  7. Do some physical exercise. Preferably something that gets the body and soul tingling, and out of breath.
  8. Spend some time with animals or children. I don’t know the proper term for this, but it certainly isn’t a form of ‘dumbing down’. To me it just encourages more of a non-intellectual response to life. It can help simplify what’s going on in your head and in your writing. Perhaps you could put yourself into the same position as the creature? How might two cats converse? What goes on in the mind of a toddler?
  9. Just write – even if it is complete rubbish. You will probably produce unreadable trash for the first few paragraphs or so because your mind isn’t yet in the right place. But it isn’t impossible that some of it may be useable, or even be pure gold. But the important thing is to write without demanding anything of yourself. No perfectionism and no preparation.
  10. Ask a fellow writer to read your work. Supportive writers are the best writers. This isn’t a competition. There’s room for us all, and the more we give, the more we get back. I’m not ashamed to say that some of my best ideas began their lives in the comments of my writing buddies.

I would love to hear your views. We’re all different and we all discover our own solutions to our own specific problems.

So, please comment. Who knows? Your comment may be exactly what a struggling writer-to-be is needing to hear.  And on day, you may be that struggling writer.

More on Wednesday. Please follow, and don’t miss any more writing-related revelry in the future!

“Every puffling is precious.”

http://www.scottmartinproductions.com

Rainhill Nursing Hospital Student Magazine from Spring 1968!!

This is amazing, and a true blast from the past. Take a look at magazine number 1 of a Rainhill Hospital nursing students’ magazine dated from spring 1968. Our featured author, Peter McGeehan was heavily involved in putting together this little piece of history. Click on the front cover to be taken to Peter’s featured page, and you’ll find a gallery of the entire magazine at the bottom of the page!

Click on the link to open on the Scott Martin Productions website – in a new tab. Scroll to the bottom of Peter’s page for the whole magazine. I LOVE IT!