Wednesday, 20 May 2009


I have been back to the gym now three months. I have been going regularly, maybe three or four times a week. I'm mixing up the cardio with light weights and starting to see a big difference.

I was always very active when I was back at school. I played football and our year even won the under sixteen's Northern Ireland Schools' cup.

It is amazing how you can be lulled into bad habits. When I left school I had more money and I would enjoy eating out. I did not maintain the level of fitness I had before.

Very slowly, over years, the pounds started to pile on. It happened so slowly that I didn't really notice. Nor do the people who see you on a regular basis. Or if these people did notice they said nothing. (There is a big social taboo about talking about other people's weight. Unless they bring the subject up, it is not the done thing. The only real exception would be a partner or a medical professional. )

Since I have started, I am have now reached the half way point to where I need to be to hit my recommended BMI ratio. (Body mass index.) I am eating more healthy food, really enjoying the exercise and my social life is improving.

There have been other benefits. My level of confidence has shot up. If I had never put on the weight in the first place this would never have happened. There is always something to be said about starting from a low position and making vast improvements. The effort, dedication and will-power is visible.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Self image and belief

Last night I watched a BBC4 documentary about music from Northern Ireland, as part if the channel's Ireland week. There were some great acts on there: Therapy?, Iain Archer, Snow Patrol (known in Bangor as 'no show patrol' but that is a different story), Duke Special and Van (the man) Morrison.

It is amazing how there is such great talent from such a small place. One thing that really stood out for me was Duke Special's comments. He was remembering a dark time in his life when he was doubting his own abilities and wondered if he could even consider himself to be an artist. A year little he is on Jools Holland performing!

What I remember though is a night when I turned up in the Spring and Airbreak in Belfast with two other friends. We had been drinking and the place was empty. Duke Special was on the stage performing. We got a seat right in front of the stage and were impressed by his version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." We shouted out a request for "Better Man" by Pearl Jam and really pleased that he knew it. We had a really great night, though I am not sure what Duke Special would have thought of us! We did get a bit silly, shouting out other requests such as themes tunes for children's television programs.

He really didn't have to put up with that but he took it in good humour.

It really is such an obvious thing to say but if you do have self belief it is amazing what can happen over a period of twelve months.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Yes 'friends'

If you ever observe from the distance anyone with even a little success, you will notice the amount of 'yes' people that surround them. It is as if such people get a little boost of esteem by being recognized by the individual concerned. Lottery winners, presidents and pop stars have hordes of people following them around. Such people are often idealized and guarded by these leeches.

I am reminded of the band Metallica. In the film documentary 'Some Kind of Monster,' everyone is bumming and blowing how great the new album sounds until the drummer's dad turns up. He is pretty critical about what he hears and speaks his mind. His son Lars takes this the right way. He laughs and recognizes what is going on. He sees the value in his father's friendship.

Likewise, during the band's induction into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, Lars thanks the people who have never been frightened to say 'no'. These people are vital to Metallica's success and help them move forward critically.

So often successful people do not have these kind of no-friends and so lose their way.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Sophia live at The Bush Hall

I was at the Bush Hall gig last night to see Sophia. I was disappointed if I am honest.

To start with the positives:

Adam Franklin def added something last night in terms of his guitar work. If I remember correctly, the last two times I saw Sophia I don't think he played. (Or if he did he didn't stand out.) AF was subtle in what he did but creative with it too. He wasn't playing by 'wrote' so to speak.

Astrid also sang really well and doubled up on keyboards. She has great stage presence and it would be interesting to see her live in her own right.

The support act, William Fitzsimmons, was a revelation. His songs were really good and he dealt with the audience in a gracious and self-effacing manner, which went down really well.

I think a lot went wrong last night too. Robin broke a string after the second song. (Which he can't really be blamed for.) The lyrical phrasing in Desert Song No 2 seemed to be off slightly. The band as a whole seemed a little rusty, though Robin did do Heartbreak with just strings.

I was standing at the back and a lot of people left throughout the gig. I was trying to figure out what was going on...

The songs are not the problem. (Although Robin joked after Something that this is when people start screaming out 'Home' or 'Desert Song'.)

I know it's a strange thing to say but I think Robin paid too much attention to his friends and the people who have supported Sophia for a long time. There was nothing there that was all encompassing. As a result, anyone who hadn't heard off or been to a Sophia gig before probably felt excluded. At one point Robin asked how many English people where in the room and he counted four. I know he was only joking (he had Welsh and Itailian friends present) but this could have came across pretty badly. It might have sounded like a knawing resentment for Sophia's lack of recognition in England. I noticed a few English girls leave after that. (They were originally standing beside me outside. One friend trying to convince the other how good Sophia was.)

One of Robin's Italian friends spoke to me outside the gig too. He pointed to the Sophia sign and asked, 'Is that Robin Proper-Sheppard? You know he is my friend.' Then he talked about how there was no coverage in the English press for the new album. (I even tried writing something myself!)

It reminded me of what the writer and journalist Will Self talked about the night before in Camden. He said the press' commercial interests dictate what is written about these days, with the result that words are no longer free. Picking up from that, the only way then for Sophia to get coverage in the UK is to create a vibe so the press jump on the band wagon. (Not visa-versa.)

I read an interview recently with Malcolm Middleton and he said that anyone who was commercially successful these days had sold their soul in some way. I can't help but disagree. This sounds too much like self-rightousness. It's too easy to start pointing the finger at others when you do not have the level of success that you might wish for. In truth Sophia and Middleton are brilliant artists. You just can't be defeatist when things don't work out. You just have to re-think your approach.

The thing to do is engage with the wider audience and get the vibe working. That's what happened with punk in the early eighties and grunge in the nineties.

It was a shame considering I travelled the whole way from Belfast. I have such huge respect for this band and I felt that they were not up to scratch.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Walking tour of London

Yesterday was a beautiful day. As soon as I got into London and booked into my hotel, I had a few hours to spare before going to see Will Self. I got the tube to Oxford Circus and started my walk.

I love being out and about and walking the streets. It gives me the chance to observe other poeple, take stock of the scene and get my head showered. London is especially good for this. There are so many people to bump into and so many nationalities to observe.

I walked along Oxford Street, piles of shoppers going about their ordinary business before taking a right into Soho. This is probably the seediest part of London. The place is full of sex shops, appartments with open doors advertising 'models' and nameless throngs of tourists mixed up in all of this. I even spotted a courier service called, "My Sister is a Bike." It took me a moment to realise what this was all about.

Soho is perhaps the strangest part of London. There is a errie vibe and you can be sure there are things happening behind closed doors that it is difficult to imagine.

From there I went to China Town. There are lots of shop windows with ducks slowly getting cooked. The duck fat drips on meat products I cannot identify. I was reminded here of how within western culture, we have certain norms when to comes to food. One would rarely think of eating certain parts of an animal, such as a heart. This also reminds me to keep an open mind; try not to assume anything just because it is deemed 'normal.'

From there I went to Charing Cross before moving onto Covent Garden. I found myself a nice pub with an outdoor seating area. I bought a pint of ale that is not available back home. There were more tourists taking photographs of a theatre facade close by. Then I noticed a women actly strangely across the street from me. She kneeled down on her hunches before lighting a cigarette and puffing at it madly, looking over. She hardly took a breath between drags. I ignored her and she finally got up and walked away. I am not sure if this was my imagination or if she was looking for 'some business.' She just seemed too forward for it to be concidental. So having finished my pint, I got up and walked toward The Royal Mile before swinging left past The Houses of Parliament.

I walked across the Thames and took a left along the South Bank. This is my favourite part of London. There are many street performers and artists. Located here also is The Tate Modern, HMS Belfast, The Golden Hinde, The Globe Theatre, The British Film Institute, South Bank University and The London School of Economics. They even have an area for teenagers to skate board and spray-can the walls. I had another drink in a pub here before crossing the Thames again at Tower Bridge. I walked past The Tower of London, the place where Mary Queen of Scots was executed. (There is a family myth that we are related to The Stuarts through my maternal line!)

Making my way into the finacial district I found a pub named 'Addendum.' I texted my band mates to tell them of this strange coincidence. A pub named after our band! I even joked that if 'Addendum' ever make another CD, we would use the front of the pub as an album cover. A little like The Doors did for their album, 'Morrison Hotel.'

From there I walked through Algate and Algate East. This is where I lived for six weeks when I was in secondment in London. It brought back great memories. There were eight Scottish colleagues and eight colleagues from Belfast all living in a hotel together. We had a great time. Eating out every night, we got to know London and each other pretty well. This is when I fell in love with the place. There is just so much to do. You have access to great music and other art forms. It makes Belfast look like a village!

I got on the tube at Liverpool Street Station to catch the book reading. A great day joyfully wasted.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Will Self at The Roundhouse

Tonight I went to see Will Self read at The Roundhouse in Camden. I was there about an hour early so went to the bar. The first thing I noticed was how the women seemed to be in groups while the men sat by themselves. There were very few exceptions. There were maybe two groups consisting of men and women. As a single guy, it was an ideal situation. As someone in London by themselves, I did not feel at all out of it.

This soon changed when the film crew turned up! They started trying to interview people and I had to make a quick dash out of the way. In someways, I am a very shy individual and I didn't feel the need to perform in front of the camera.

The reading itself was very good. It was an excellent performance and Will was very quick on the uptake. He had an exceptionally quick mind and in another life would make a great dour comic. (In fact he is, given his performances on the comedy programme 'Have I Got News For You.')

What really impressed me though was the discussion after the readings. At this point the camera crew were good enough to leave, giving the audience more freedom to talk. I wonder if someone had a word?

Will talked about the nature of writing, journalism, British politics, Celine and drug taking amongst other things. One of the most endearing things was how he told the story about his eleven year old son who also writes. He said to his dad that he finally 'got it'; all you had to do is write about your real life, only be economical with the truth!

It was also good listening to a great writer discuss how writing should be grounded with its sense of place etc. I took a lot of encouragment from this, especially from such a fantastical imaginative novelist.

I slipped out at the end without saying hello. While I did bring a copy of his book 'The Butt' with me to London, it was left in my hotel room. I did not want it signed. I only wanted to have as much of read as possible before I went to 'the gig.' Still, I should have had no concerns. Will was sensible enough to read from an early section. He even discussed how he hates going to readings were the writers read sections from the end of books, so feel obliged to explain everything first! A complete waste of time...

I would do this type of thing again. Just sit at the back, keep a low profile but get an immense amount of enjoyment out of it.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Holiday Time

I have a week off work. I will be flying out to London on Tuesday morning from Belfast and coming back Thursday. On the Tuesday night I am going to see Will Self. He will be reading passages from his novel 'The Butt.' A far as I can tell, it's a sartical take on multi-culturalism. A man absent mindedly throws a cigarette butt from a balcony while on holiday in some strange land and all kinds of chaos ensues. Anthropological digressions and strange legal ramifications bring out the absurdity of the ways human societies work.

Then I will be going to see Sophia play live on Wednesday night. There will be a full band with a string section. This will be amazing. The first time I watched Sophia play live was at the same venue with the same set-up. (The other time was in Dublin but there was no string section.)

If I won the lottery this is the kind of thing I would do all the time. Fly here and fly there, catching my favourite bands and engaging in all types of 'cultural' activity.

I actually had a laugh during the week. In work we have a lottery synidcate going, it breaks up the day and gives everyone the chance to dream. This week there was a massive jackpot of £110 million up for grabs. One of my colleagues insisted that he would not leave his job if he won this kind of money! He said he would get bored sitting at home and would have to do something.

This kind of thing amazes me. I would have lots of projects going. I would be writing, maybe record another Addendum CD with my fellow bandmates, open a few clubs around the UK and Ireland and become a concert promoter supporting up and coming acts, set up a recording studio, learn how to ride a motorbike and get a few friends to cross North America with me on Harleys. One thing I would not be doing is sitting at home getting bored!

Some of this stuff I can do anyway. It only takes longer. I can still write or arrange to record a new CD. It's just a lot more difficult because of work committments.

Holidays are artifical to that extent. We can do things with a greater amount of ease than we can normally.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Sophia: There are no Goodbyes

The album begins with what sounds like a hunter’s horn; this musical image indicative of the journey that is to come. Acoustic guitars are blended with subtle atmospherics and dark haunting lyrics. The first line is delivered with a gentle resignation: "I lost my head in a landslide.”

‘There Are No Goodbyes’ is about many types of loss; loss of self, loss of location, loss of happiness and loss of life. It is a piece of work that struggles with the enduring desire to find the eternal friend. That life will always fail in this respect gives this collection of songs their edge.

In the song ‘Dreaming,’ dreams are entwined with reality, “You held me close and said you could sense the torment inside me. You even touched my cheek to see if I was still breathing. But I was only dreaming.”

The conflict between the pursuit of friendship and the many ways in which friends are lost, is the source of the pain expressed. Nevertheless, the conclusion is never reached that one should give up the pursuit. On the contrary, the song ‘Something’ expresses self-doubt, the imperfections of the individual but holds onto the idea of love as the source of meaning.

‘Signs’ tangles up such meaning. People are forever being misunderstood and misinterpreted. The loss of friendship is explored here as the failure to properly connect. The hunter has failed to capture his beloved; the romantic pursuit frustrated by the failure to read signs. The ideal of the beloved is thus contrasted with the more messy and untidy aspect of the everyday relationship.

‘Heartbreak’ is rendered with strings and a gentle acoustic guitar. It is sparse, open and vulnerable. It is a song about the unexplained absence of a loved one: “I’m like a child waiting for the postman at the front door.” There is also a level of emotional maturity when Robin Proper-Sheppard sings, “I guess I should know by now that nothing ever lasts.”

Still, there is a sense of progress with the album. The songs here are not a sadcore musical confession of a singer-songwriter stuck in an emotional rut. The last song ‘Portugal’ contrasts well with the opening lyric: “I took my head and turned my face to the sun.” The existential delight at being alive, being able to breathe and take stock is a resolution of sorts.

‘There Are No Goodbyes’ should be enjoyed in an intimate setting. Draw the curtains, dim down the lights and relax with a glass of Shiraz.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Charles Bukowski: Pulp

This novel was written just before the author's death and unlike his other novels the main character is no longer Chinaski. (Though Chinaski does make a brief appearance at the start.)

In the foreground, it is a book about a private detective in LA. You see all the provado, attitude and worldliness of the main character Nicky Belane.

The book however is a meditation on death. One line in the book states that there is no such thing as winners and losers, there are only apparent winners.

There are references here to other writers too. Even Bukowski's literary hero Celine is tracked down and taken out of the game by Lady Death. Unlike ancient Greece, even heros fail to obtain immortality.

Death is metamorphised as a sexy and sophisticated woman. While this is a way of referencing Kafka, it also describes how imagination works to conceal the naked reality of life. The creative process is only a side on look at 'reality.' One can never quite look straight into the sun.

The redemptative feature of this work is that it undermines all the posturing and explicit egotism of the private dick.

The book is dedicated to bad writing. One can not help but feel that Bukowski is looking back on his life and his writing and trying to make some sense of it. He is searching for clues but ultimately loses.