It still frightens me how quickly the days are sinking away. I woke up this morning thinking “wow, it’s a week since Christmas Day”. They do say that time seems to feel quicker the older you get, and there is something in that from a perception point of view. In reality, of course, time is constant…

2015 arrived in some small celebration. A member of our family held the traditional family party, and, for a change, no one else did. This meant that there was no competing party, and therefore no need to pick which one to go to. This made family politics a lot easier…

It was a good affair, with our traditional singing of Auld Lang Syne in the street. What has amazed me as the years go by is that no one else does it. I remember when I was young we’d either all join together, all the neighbouring families in one big circle, or there would simply be other people singing it in their own circles from their own parties. Just another sign of the fragmentation of society? Ironically, our version of it was rubbish this year as we seemed to split into two groups, singing at different times. That was probably just too much alcohol though.

I was, as usual, asked to get the guitar out. I still feel the pain in my fingers today. It was good, and everyone always says I should sing more often, but life just isn’t great for that. It could have been something I pursued, when I had oodles of time in University. Now, however, I have to just be content with what I have. I don’t actually think I’m that good. But we’ll see.

2015 will be an interesting year. The tradition in my New Year post is to project for the years to come. But first, even though, I probably say something like this every year (I could check really but I am lazy) it’s now 15 years since the year 2000. A new year celebration that I now can’t even remember. That’s bad. I remember vaguely the feelings around it, but I cannot for the life of me remember where I was and what I was doing. Only 15 years ago, and I was 15 at the time. I should be able to remember that.

My memory is not good at long term recall, but my brain has always worked a bit differently to others. I am, even if I do say so myself, pretty good at short term memory recall. I attribute much of my success in life to my ability to recall recently processed facts, figures, and even a whole line of argument. Luck, I guess. Certainly helps in exams.

I digress.

2015 will contain a number of significant events.

First, in business, which makes up 90% of my life, I should conclude my first land purchase, and, with a fair wind, also complete my first house sale. I hope it will be as profitable as we project it will be. It will be a challenging but exciting job, and I know it will be a big distraction at times, but I can’t wait to get started.

The “other business”, as I usually call it, will hopefully have a good year. It is certainly starting the year with a decent order book, which is the extreme opposite of last year. I am reasonably confident about this, but there is a lot of potentially difficult challenges ahead. I think we are up to them, but if the first new business project goes well we may be distracted from this.

My main business, my computer one, I hope will continue to tick along without me doing a great deal. I have almost no time for it any more, but I must continue to service it, which is crazy considering the amount of work it does bring me at times. I need the cash to live, but also to help me to grow the other businesses. Depending on how things go I may be stupid and think again about bringing someone in, but it would only be for someone I considered to be the right person. Someone with a bit of character and a bit of spark. Unsociable nerds need not apply. I say that knowing that that’s exactly what I was, and still am to some degree, but I’m afraid that I don’t have time to allow someone to mature…

From a personal point of view, I am extremely conscious of the fact that I will be turning 30 years old this year (188 days to go) and this as usual makes me think two things. One, is that, just like New Year, it’s actually just another day. There’s nothing too special about it.

But that’s usually the defensive statement of someone in denial. It could also be viewed as a significant point at which I definitely definitely cannot get away with being called “young” now. There is a new generation below me, one that thinks differently, and has its own ways and means. I don’t think I am young now, but 30 would definitely be the end of it. I worry significantly that I only really have another 5 years in which to do all the things I could possibly get away with whilst in the first half of life: i.e. while being biologically and physically able to do so.

So being 30 concerns me. I wonder whether I could pass off lying about my age for a couple of years. I think, when I’m clean-shaven, I can pass for a couple of years younger than I am. But the dreaded hair is starting to give the game away.

I hope for a better 2015 for my hair. Which seems a bizarre thing to say, but it’s true. I hope things aren’t as bad as all the woe it’s caused me this year. What’s really strange is that I have an uncle and a cousin, both of whom I saw only yesterday, who are 10 and 6 years older than me, who both have better hair than me. I blame my dad’s genes.

I predict I might do something a bit unusual this year. It might be just actually going away on a real holiday. Or it might involve an external relationship. Hmmm. Maybe not. It’s not like me, on either score…

More likely, maybe, is that I do that thing which I’ve always wanted to do around music: get some proper equipment and get recording. Maybe even put the results online. I think I could gather a small following. Who knows what could happen? Hmmm. Maybe not. The YouTubes are only interested in sub-21-year-olds with attractive features.

I worry about my family, who also aren’t getting any younger. I worry about my 15 year old nephew, who is totally confused about what he wants to do with life, but won’t admit it. I worry that he is getting himself into unnecessary relationships with girls at an age where the brain is completely unable to cope with it. He wants to do his own thing, and he doesn’t want to listen. I absolutely was not the same at his age. I made some mistakes, but they were not in any way risky or dangerous to me or my future. He needs to be careful. I respected my parents, and my peers and my extended family of aunties, uncles and grandparents. They taught me a lot. He doesn’t want that.

I hope that my younger sister can find some direction this year. I hope that my brothers work out what it is they want with life, or at least make some efforts to. I hope my mum and dad have a healthy year, free of trauma and unnecessary distraction. On that same score, I hope my grandma doesn’t have anything seriously wrong with her eyes.

A lot of hopes, and a lot of dreams. An awful lot of worries.

A lot can go wrong this year, but it can also go right. I am never the optimist, but I just have a sneaking feeling that maybe things will turn out OK.

Here we go.

The Day The Music Died

Earlier this year I finally bit the bullet and took out a subscription to Spotify. I didn’t anticipate how much it would change the way I treat music.

Music has always been an integral part of who I am, in many different forms. Growing up, in school, music was the great divider. You were either into indie/rock/metal, or you were into the newly emerging, heavily US-influenced rap/R&B scenes. We’re talking late 90s here. There was no other choice. Admitting to liking anything poppy might as well have been an admission of homosexuality. Terrible though that sounds, teenage boys are incredibly cruel to each other, and no one – I mean no one – wanted to stand out from the crowd unless they were an unbreakable character.

You won’t be surprised to hear that there weren’t any unbreakable characters.

In the mid 90s, Britpop was the big thing. I was a huge fan of Oasis, and I like to think that their music was the bedrock to what formed my own musical identity. It introduced me to such great and timeless acts as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys. James were also a big hit, thanks to my parents, and that broadened my tastes, as I think James were all about the catchy hook, the tongue-in-cheek lyrics. It was so close to pop, and yet had just enough indie edge to make it effortlessly cool at the same time.

But it still was guitar-based rock that made me feel comfortable. Rock got me into Stereophonics and Green Day, and from there into Blink 182, Sum 41, and then as I got older into the likes of Coldplay, Snow Patrol, Keane and The Killers.

I had always wanted to own a musical instrument, though. But more than that, I wanted to be able to play one. The logical conclusion to that was to start learning the guitar. It was a bit late, at aged 16, but it’s better late than never, and something I can’t recommend more highly to anyone.

Once free of the shackles of school and college (where the musical divides were hugely numerous, but, mercifully, not vicious) and learning more and more about music and musical theory from my exploits with the guitar, I started to listen to more and more genres. Little did I realise that throughout my life my interest in rock/pop rock wasn’t because it was rock, but because I liked simple chord structures, simple motifs, catchy lyrics… and, to my great surprise, I discovered that these are in (almost) all other genres too.

It turns out that, after all, I’m something of a softie for pop. And via pop, all of a sudden, I was listening to many of those genres I apparently wasn’t so keen on.

My music library has grown over the years, expanded by university days of CD sharing, and, of course, being in the right place at the right time to profit from the rise of the illegal download. I was all about curating a list of 4 and 5 star songs, and listening to them, again, and again, and again, and again. Slowly adding more and more as occasional new acts and albums arrived that I liked.

Frankly though, my additions to the music libraries were not keeping pace. Two or three albums a year. Not good. Meanwhile, the same 700 or so tracks on almost continual rotation.

I started to get bored of it. Bored of what is actually a list of my favourite songs of all time. How can that be? How can you get bored of your favourite music?

You can get too much of a good thing.

About three years ago, I made a conscious decision to start to listen to the radio again. Back in the day my weapon of choice was Virgin Radio, then Absolute Radio. I have never been a huge radio listener, not having a car, and not being in a workplace that played music. But I like radio’s social feel, and the fact that you are a passive listener of music, rather than actively picking the tracks. This fits in well with my busier life.

I decided, for my sins, to go with BBC Radio 1. I started with the official Top 40, as a proxy for just finding out what is popular. I didn’t like much of it at first, but as time went by, I found myself appreciating pop music. I am definitely a great believer in the fact that if you hear something often enough, even if you don’t like it, it goes through a phase where eventually your brain accepts it (before eventually rejecting it again). It’s weird, but it’s happened to me enough times now to prove it for me…

It then turned out that I quite like Radio 1. It was a step up from Absolute Radio, because of the lack of inane adverts, and also the diversity of music from so many genres I would normally not listen to. That passive listening has introduced me to more music in the last three years than I probably did in the entirety of my life prior to that.

We then return to where we started. The Spotify subscription.

The last few years have made me value music differently. It is no longer about listening to my all time favourites on permanent rotation. I haven’t forgotten them, but I hardly ever listen to them now.

They have been replaced with my more throwaway relationship with music. I now consume far more music than ever, adding tracks, deleting them, searching them out, listening to other people’s playlists and recommendations, listening to additional songs from an artist that I like one song by, absorbing the good ones, ignoring the bad ones, but forever listening. Listening to more and more.

Until Spotify, I couldn’t do that. Not easily. OK, I could seek things out on YouTube, but I’d have to, again, listen to and ignore inane adverts. Can you tell I hate adverts?

Spotify is exactly what I was looking for in my life. For someone who loves music, though I may have relatively mainstream tastes (he says whilst listening to the Radio 1 Rock Show) that some people might look down on (well, I was listening to the Top 40 prior to that…), the chance of having nearly all music (London Grammar, please get on Spotify!) from several decades at my finger tips is utterly revolutionary.

It is what the Internet was invented for.

The day the music died was when I joined Spotify. It killed my 700 strong playlist for good. Now I can randomly dip into a mere one of those songs, every now and then, and it is a treat, not a chore.

I love that. I love that not listening to my favourites has made them more special. It’s made them more special when set against my new, more voracious, musical consumption. Might seem weird to some people, but it’s perfect to me. It has made huge amounts of space to listen for new music.

Because, to my eternal shame, as an alleged music lover, I had forgotten about new music.

You must never stop listening to new music, Matt.

Read this post again in 10 years time, Matt. See if you still agree.

Where Did All The Music Go

On Saturday I did something pretty unusual (for me) and actually went out on my own for a little bit to a local acoustic music night. Being a big music fan, a guitar player, and in a decent venue I liked, I thought I couldn’t possibly miss the opportunity.

While the night overall was quite enjoyable, there were a few depressing conclusions I drew.

  1. I am old
  2. I used to be better than most of the people I saw
  3. I need to get out more

Most of the people at the venue were either clearly younger than me or were mostly younger than me. The only ones who were older were the parents of those singing! That was just an observation, but when you’re sitting on your own amidst a bunch of what were, effectively, kids, it didn’t make me feel all that comfortable.

The second point also grated a lot. Of all the acts there, I think I could say that, “in my prime” I was better than all of them.

In recent years, due to work, a crappy social life and a general lack of inclination, I have neglected my musical side. The guitar, the source of so much fun and enjoyment in my life – and the reason why I was able to do the US summer camp thing in the first place – has not occupied the place in my life that it used to. Certainly this year might be the least I’ve ever played it. So much so that I have lost a certain degree of my abilities. I’ve forgotten how to play things. My fingers aren’t as tough as they should be. Neither are my arm muscles. It’s all so feeble now.

My guitar abilities have never been all that good, but what I used to have was a decent voice, even if I do say so myself… the guitar was a means to an end. No one generally wants to hear an a capella vocalist. But people do like to listen to someone singing with an acoustic guitar accompaniment. I bash out a little rhythm guitar and sing. Honestly, I used to be reasonably good.

Now I am poor. Just like lack of guitar work, lack of singing has led to disaster. I’m sure I can’t sing anywhere near as well as I used to be able to. My voice has become weak and weedy.

It’s nothing a little practice wouldn’t fix. Maybe. But when you live with someone you hate, playing guitar and singing is not possible. Also, the walls are so paper-thin that if I practice vocalising at a normal volume, I don’t think I could ever look at my neighbours again.

What I need is a soundproof room to practice in. Ha, ha, ha.

Meanwhile, my third point is perhaps the most difficult of them all. I’ve always known I need to get out more, but I have singularly failed to do that, month after month, year after year. Something about not wanting to spend money because of how much I’m trying to save up to get out of here, but also the fact that a) going out on your own is usually rubbish, and a bit sad; and b) I don’t actually enjoy it all that much. I can’t help it.  I’ve always just been a bit hermit like. Sitting around in a room full of people I don’t know, most of whom are probably drunk, acting arrogant and boisterous, and all the while feeling pretty shy… it doesn’t hold any enjoyment for me at all. Being with friends can improve the situation, but I don’t have friends around here…

A little bit of music caused this train of thought. I shouldn’t have let it reach this stage. (is that a pun?)

The question is what can I do about it. Hmmm.

Happy Birthday – My Guitar

I haven’t written for a while, possibly because I’m just completely drained and utterly fed up with life at the moment, but I will make an exception for a recent notable event.

Two days ago my guitar became 10 years old. 10 years that have rattled by in the blink of an eye. I wouldn’t normally celebrate the anniversary of an inanimate object, but this particular one has some significance to me.

It was my first ever high quality musical instrument. The previous guitar I had was just something cheap from Argos, picked especially because I just wanted something to learn on. My shiny new one, in 2002, cost me about £250… and has brought many years of enjoyment.

I am glad that I bothered, because it gave me a proper hobby for a change. Up until that point, when people asked about my hobbies, they invariably involved computers. A dull, dreary thing. Of course, now everyone is using computers, that one is no longer seen as unusual, but the guitar was away from the computer world, and it finally allowed me to pursue the interest I’d had in music for my whole life, but never had the ability or the knowledge to do anything about it.

The guitar got me to the USA. In 2005, as chronicled on this blog, I visited a summer camp in Colorado with this very instrument. It enabled me to entertain, and probably irritate, a number of people for nearly three months. If I’d not taken up music to that level, I would never have got the job I did – which was all about entertainment – and consequently probably not actually went to America, where I had the best time of my life, and continue to regret to this day that I never repeated it.

But what it hasn’t brought me is any kind of development from there. I often toyed with the idea of being in a band, and made several attempts, all of which failed. I wrote my own music, 95% of which is trash, and the rest is good, but probably only to me. I always thought if only I could turn my attention to it and get the right breaks I might have some sort of sideline, at least, in the music world. It didn’t happen, primarily because I just don’t have the talent. Now I can only sit and enjoy, though quietly enviously, the likes of Ed Sheeran.

I still don’t play anywhere near as well as I’d like to. After 10 years, I thought I might be a bit better than I actually am, but unfortunately time and, dare I say it, a lack of inclination in recent years, has put paid to any further improvements. I look back at my youngest brother, who is learning and doing really well, and see myself in his situation. It’s all so much easier when you have more time and don’t feel guilty about using it. When you’re grown up and boring like me, you can get into the horrible mindset of thinking “I could be doing something more productive than this”. I’m getting better at unlearning that, but being self-employed I think I am in a different situation to the majority of people…

But through all that time my guitar has been a constant. In my bedroom, sitting right beside me, ready to rock at a moment’s notice. The tunes that guitar could play if only it were in the right hands. But it has to put up with my mediocre strumming, and increasingly crap efforts at singing.

To celebrate, I’ll play a Bb major chord. Maybe my favourite. Sad, I know.


In recent days my mood has been along those lines due to the incredible disaster that is my life right now, but it’s a pure co-incidence that yesterday I found a song of the same name by Roy Orbison which has moved me to make this post…

I have always liked the well known Roy Orbison songs. I’m also aware of his tragic life, and how it’s such a shame that a talented bloke like him would suffer in that way. So yesterday I borrowed a DVD from my gran’s house about the Big O himself, a biography filled with his music.

On there I came across the song that is the name of this post. I heard a live performance of it, just Roy on his own, and thought it was something very special indeed. His ghostly, operatic voice, soaring with falsetto, building up to the crescendo at the end… just truly magical. The theme of the song is as you’d expect from a song that has such a name, but somehow it doesn’t feel cliched or contrived, like most songs about love and loss do these days.

Once more I am left in awe about the power of music. The rest of the DVD also contained songs which I will have to investigate. Perhaps even ask for a Roy Orbison CD for Christmas. I think of myself as being very lucky to be able to like music of all types from all eras. It means I can absorb such a vast range of moods, lyrics, great riffs and melodies from a massive array of talent, and all without feeling the snobbisheness and aloofness that people who like “real music” often burden themselves with. My motto is: if it’s good music, it’s good music. 

(And, incidentally, that is also how I justify to myself watching X Factor, which always brings me a moment of embarrassment… my excuse being that a good singer is a good singer and always worth listening to! Methinks I do protest too much)

I’ve been spending more time lately playing my guitar after a fairly lengthy absence from it. The guitar has frustrated me now for seven years, simply because I have never passed an intermediate level of skill on it. But I know why, because I don’t have the discipline. I know full well that if I played it for an hour each day and tried to learn a new song or new riff at least once I week I would make definite progress. But I don’t. I’m lucky if I play it once a week, and haven’t learned a new song in months.

So I think I should put this right. And if I did get good, maybe I could find a friend and go out busking. I would love that, seriously. Whether I’d have the bottle to do it is another matter. I am often full of good intentions which are never fulfilled. This, to me, sounds like I’m building up another hostage to fortune…

But in any case, it is providing me with a useful distraction right now. That can only be a good thing, because I really could do without sliding into a depression the likes of which I’ve not been in for several years. I just need a break, a lucky one.

Perhaps I should view the returning of my Icesave money, which should be complete by next week, as a good sign…

Music To My Ears

At the moment, the house is peaceful. My family, apart from one of my brothers but including the dog, have gone away to their static caravan in Wales for a few days.

It’s always good to get a break from them. They are too noisy and argue too much even at the best of times. Plus, the nice weather yesterday would have meant that there’d be a lot of grumpiness here. We tend to get like that if we overheat. But I’ve managed to avoid all that, which is excellent.

The other bonus is that without my family being here, I can spend a bit more time than I normally could practicing on the guitar and keyboard, because there are fewer people to annoy. When my brother goes out, I also get a chance to do some singing, something I don’t do enough of any more. Ever since I left for university four years ago, I’ve not been able to sing as much, making me feel like I’ve regressed a lot.

Generally, this is true of all my music playing. I first started playing guitar in 2001, but I feel like my standard of playing hasn’t changed over the last six years. I don’t seem to be adding songs to my repetoire any more, and no matter how hard I try I will never be able to play an electric guitar solo of any quality. Mistake after mistake. Maybe my brain is not cut out to play the guitar.

The only bright light is my keyboard/piano playing, which is so much better than it has ever been, and the more I practice the more it continues to improve. But that is far more frustrating because I still don’t think I play it properly, and if I had the money the first thing I’d do is get me some piano lessons.

The main reason for this post though is an observation I’ve made recently about the decline in my musical creativity. I can ad lib on the keyboard through major pentatonics and it sounds good. But it sounds the same all the time. There are only a limited number of chords. The same is true of my guitar playing. I feel like I’ve hit a brick wall. There seems to be no clear way ahead for me to keep improving.

But it gets worse. Between the ages of 16 and 18 I was a prolific song writer. The lyrics were nothing special, but there were a few tunes that I thought were really fantastic. I still have them all, and still have several recordings so I won’t forget them. But I really don’t know what’s happened to my musical creativity. All of a sudden I wrote my “last” song in 2003 (weirdly enough, I’ve just checked and it was exactly five years ago today), and since then I’ve written only two songs. During my creative spell, I notched up at least 40 different songs. About half were crap, but such is the creativity process. Trial and error.

I just don’t know what happened to me from that point onwards. I seemed to lose the ability to write lyrics, and my brain seemed to think “Why bother?”. Which is a good question. It’s not as if they were ever going to make me a career.

The sad explanation for me is that I was obviously inspired during that period of my life to be musical. I must have been living a life which filled me with ideas and determination to use my talents to make something good. But now I feel like I’ve lost all that. I feel like I just can’t be bothered making music any more. Even though I enjoy it. I still improvise, but I never say to myself “Note that down!” or “Write some words to it!”

It’s just all gone. Can I really have lost a talent? Or do I just need shake myself up?

Nah. Again, I get stuck in the usual question of “What’s the point?”. It may be fun, but half (if not more) of the fun of music making is in the performance. And they never will be performed. Maybe if there was an outlet I might feel the inspiration again. Perhaps my younger creativity days were full of a naivety that I could do something with the music and so pushed on regardless. Now… the jaded cynicism of age must have kicked in.

Sigh. Apathy rules, OK?