I wonder what the internet would have looked like had micropayments for content been the default model rather than advertising? Had that happened, then I bet spam would have been far less of a problem.

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

Calling time on the ice bucket challenge

I am sick of this ice bucket nonsense, I know I’m not the only one, and I can’t wait for it to die down. It’s like the mass hysteria following the death of Princess Diana, where half the country were caught up in it and the other half were left wondering if they were the last sane person left in the country.

I have even had to shut down all my social media accounts until the whole thing blows over. I know it’s all for charity, but despite all the money it’s raising there is something deeply disturbing about the whole thing. Many people seem to think that if something is for a good cause their methods should be above criticism. Others may be reluctant to voice their concerns publicly less they look like curmudgeonly party-poopers.

Well, bollocks to that.

The traditional means of doing stupid things for charity is to invite other people to sponsor you. Nobody should have a problem with that. But the ice bucket challenge doesn’t work like that.

It’s the coercive element to the whole thing that’s deeply troubling. Charity is supposed to be voluntary; it should be up to you to decide how much you can afford to give, and it should be up to you to decide which charities are most deserving of your support. Trying to force people to donate to a specific cause or face social sanction crosses a significant ethical line. The way supporters try to shout down any criticism makes it clear that this is an aspect they really don’t want to talk about. Unfortunately the “success” of the ice bucket challenge sets a dangerous precedent, and there’s a high probability that other charities will be tempted to take similar ethically-questionable approaches in the future.

Worse, the whole thing has nasty overtones of bullying, and I was getting the impression from my Twitter feed that quite a few people were being pressurised against their will. Performing acts of public humiliation for other people’s entertainment is fine for people with an exhibitionist streak, which explains its popularity with attention-seeking celebrities and cynical politicians. But for some of those who are more camera-shy the prospect of being “nominated” is genuinely frightening, and I know there are plenty of other people who have shut down their social media accounts for the duration.

If you’ve willingly made a public idiot of yourself by dousing yourself in ice-cold water, good for you. But if you’ve then pressurised anyone else into doing the same, refused to take an initial “No” for an answer, or threatened to nominate someone who know will hate it, then you are guilty of bullying. If this is really the case, it might not be a bad thing to ackowledge this and give a sincere apology to  your victim.

And if you read this and think it would be a “larf” to try and challenge me, you’re a dick. As Will Wheaton famously said, “Don’t be a dick”.

Comments are disabled on the post. I’m not really interested in a “debate” on the issue, and this post may well attract more trolls than I have the mental energy to deal with.

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Resonance Festival, Balham

Resonance Festival

The Resonance Festival held at the very beginning of August was a four-day charity event held in The Bedford in Balham, featuring bands from all aspects of the contemporary progressive rock scene, everything from the traditional and the neo to the avant garde. I couldn’t get to the first two days, the evening only events featuring Mostly Autumn, Also Eden and Lifesigns. But I did attend the all-day events of Saturday and Sunday where the three rooms played host to a wide variety of bands.

The biggest room, the magnificent circular Globe was booked for a comedy night on the Saturday, but it was still available during the afternoon. So that became the acoustic stage for the day. First up was looping guitar maestro Matt Stevens, conjuring tapestries of sound from a battered acoustic guitar and an array of looping pedals. He’s a familiar sight on the prog circuit having opened for just about everyone, but he’s still an entertaining performer no matter how many times you’ve seen him.

After The Far Meadow, whose competent neo-prog was spoiled by terrible sound, it was back to The Globe for a beautiful set from Luna Rossa, the acoustic duo of Anne-Marie Helder and Jon Edwards of Panic Room. They’re not “Panic Room unplugged”, but a completely separate side-project playing their own material rather than Panic Room songs. With Jon on piano and Anne-Marie adding some acoustic guitar and flute, their beautiful set featured songs from the album “Sleeping Pills and Lullabies”, a couple of interestingly-reworked covers, and one new number offering a tantalising glimpse of their second album that they’re currently part-way through recording.

Anna Phoebe and her band were the first all-instrumental act of the weekend. With lead instruments of violin and acoustic guitar for much of the set, they were the missing link between rock and gypsy jazz. Anne Phoebe is a stunning virtuoso musician with a dramatic stage presence to match.

Matt Stevens celebrated his birthday by returning to the stage a second time, this time in electric mode with a full band in the shape of The Fierce and The Dead. They’re not an easy band to describe, but their instrumental sound driven by interlocking guitars with a raw sound comes over as a kind of punk version of King Crimson. It was intense and Earth-shatteringly loud, and the audience staggered out of the room wondering exactly what had hit them.

Saturday ended with the symphonic majesty of The Enid. Much like their performance at HRH Prog back in March, the set mixed older favourites with newer material from “Invictia”, ending with a mesmerising “Dark Hydraulic” and a version of Barclay James Harvest’s “Mockingbird”. There is nobody else remotely like The Enid, and they, perhaps more than any other band embody the spirit of everything progressive rock is about.

So ended the first day, and that was just the highlights; there are also honourable mentions to Unto Us, who bravely playing their set with a laptop replacing their ailing drummer, and the avant-noise of Trojan Horse, a band with feet in enough different camps they do supports for the likes of post-punk veterans The Fall.

Sunday’s bill was a day of clashes between the various stages, made worse by timings going awry which made it easier to wander from stage to stage seeing what sounded interesting rather than planning things too much in advance. Early bands included Rat Face Lewey, a very young power trio, at times verging on punk, at others playing some more melodic guitar lines, and Hekz with their strongly song-focussed prog-metal. Vocals are often the weak link in prog-metal, but Hekz’ Matt Young had quite a remarkable voice.

Maschine were the first band on the main stage, now in its rightful place in The Globe, and started late because of technical problems. Although to some extent they’re a vehicle for Luke Machin’s virtuoso guitar playing, there’s some solid composition behind all the flash. They’re the missing link between prog-metal and jazz-fusion. Quite a bit of their entertaining set was new, as yet unrecorded material alongside highlights from their début “Rubidium”. They’re not quite the same without Georgia, though.

King Bathmat were actually three-quarters of King Bathmat, since they were without their keyboard player and played as a power trio. In such a stripped-down form they sounded like a completely different band than they do on record, but nevertheless did make a strong impression, dominated by John Bassett’s psychedelic lead guitar. Because the two sets clashed I only caught the end of Synaesthesia’s set, but what little I heard it seemed like their set was something special indeed, a remarkable combination of youthful enthusiasm and compositional maturity well beyond their years.

Mr So and So turned out to be one of the unexpected highlights of the weekend, with a really powerful performance. They’re a band representing the song-centric side of things with distinctive use of dual male-female lead vocals. Their set was tight and intense with both guitar crunch and soaring melodies, with Charlotte Evans giving a very strong vocal performance, and some tremendous shredding from Dave Foster.

Former Enid guitarist Frances Lickerish threw a complete curveball and had to be the strangest act of the weekend. He started out playing some solo instrumental pieces on, of all things a lute, before being joined by vocalist Hilary Palmer for some genuine medieval songs. It seemed like folk’s revenge for Prog taking over Cropredy this year, and made Blackmore’s Night look like the Dungeons and Dragons parody it is. He even played a few bars of Smoke on the Water. On a lute.

At this point things started to go really pear-shaped. Swedish proggers Änglagård, making a very rare UK appearance were due on the main stage at 6:30. But despite already being allocated a two-hour setup time, they were nowhere near being ready to go at the scheduled time, and were ultimately well over an hour late, throwing the rest of the timings into disarray. I appreciate that a band relying so much on temperemental vintage gear (including two Mellotrons) might suffer from technical problems. But I was told the exact same thing happened last year at Night of the Prog at Loreley, which makes we wonder if a band like this should really be playing festivals at all.

The delay did give the chance to check out the other two stages, with some in-your-face metal from Jupiter Falls, and an entertaining unplugged set from 70s veterans Gnidrolog. Änglagård finally did hit the stage very, very late with their largely instrumental and very retro classic prog sound. It was a swirling mix of flute, Hammond, Mellotron, Fender Rhodes, saxes and an array of percussion instruments including a massive gong. All very heady stuff, although there was always the nagging doubt at the back of the mind that this was all a Spinal Tap style parody of prog excess.

Headliners Bigelf came on very late, and played a truncated set despite the hastily extended curfew. But it all proved worth the wait, and they blew everyone away, sounding like a cross between The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and early Queen. Few people in the prog world have such a magnetic stage presence as frontman and keyboard player Damon Fox. He completely dominates the stage, playing a Hammond B3 with one hand and a Mellotron with the other while singing lead at the same time. With a setlist drawn heavily from “Cheat the Gallows” and “Into the Maelstrom” they bought the festival to a spectacular if somewhat belated close.

Resonance was an entertaining festival, and the variety of acts covered almost all corners of progressive rock’s increasingly large tent. The only failing was that the whole thing was probably a little over-ambitious with three stages and far too many bands to be able to see everyone. One thing that amused me was the way the bar kept running out of real ale; did nobody tell them what prog fans drink?

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Empty Yard Experiment – GHHR‬

Track from the multi-national prog-metal band with a big following in the middle-east. Prog metal is not just a European and American thing. Their album “Kallisti” is released on September 29th.

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No, Guardian, “anti-riffs” are not a thing.

This week’s Guardian Music Blog clickbait is “What are the best anti-riffs in rock”, a piece bemoaning the fact that a Radio 2 poll on greatest riffs is full of classic rock rather than the sort of music the writer likes.

It’s true that the original list is so predictably dull it deserves to be mocked mercilessly. If it was any more musically conservative it would be called “Noel Gallagher”. It feels like it was voted by people who’s knowledge of rock is limited to a compilation “The Best Classic Rock Anthems.. Ever” bought at a service station on the M1. As other commenters have noticed, The Rolling Stones seem glaringly absent, and aside from Slash there no guitarist there who isn’t white; No Hendrix, no Chuck Berry. And they’ve clearly never heard Black Sabbath’s “Symptom of the Universe“. Or realise Deep Purple’s “Burn” is infinitely better than the lumpen meat-and-potatoes of “Smoke on the Water”.

But the suggestion for “Anti-riffs” is no better. It does make me feel that the author hasn’t got over ending up on the losing side of the punk wars, and resents the fact that 60s/70s classic rock has stood the test of time while the scratchy C86 style stuff John Peel used to play late at night hasn’t, and means little to people who weren’t in their late teens at the time.

No, an “anti-riff” is not a thing. But here are a some great pieces of guitar work that don’t fit the conventional blues-derived classic rock formula.

  • Opeth’s “Windowpane“. The evocative rippling guitars are a thing of beauty. It took some nerve to open with this when Opeth played the Metal Hammer stage at High Voltage in 2010, but that’s exactly what they did.
  • Chic’s “Le Freak”. I’d rate Nile Rogers as one of the greatest rhythm guitarists of all time, and rock fans who ignore his music are missing out. This one’s the Whole Lotta Love of funk.
  • A lot of the Alex Lifeson’s playing on Rush’s classic “Grace Under Pressure”. It feels like he was constantly thinking “What would a classic rock guitarist play here?”, and played something altogether different and better instead.

What are your suggestions?

Posted in Music Opinion | Tagged | 4 Comments

The opening track of Opeth’s “Pale Communion”, released today, is called “Eternal Rains Will Come”. So we can blame them from today’s awful bank holiday weather.

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The Advanced Passenger Train

Thirty years ago, the Advanced Passenger Train represented the future of inter-city rail travel in Britain, a revolutionary tilting train that promised far higher speeds on existing tracks than conventional trains.

Sadly the project suffered many teething troubles after the trains entered public service prematurely, and generated much negative press in the media. In a climate where the governement of the day was so hostile to the rail industry that fringe cranks who wanted the entire rail network converted into roads had the ear of ministers, the project was abandoned, and the trains scrapped.

There was a time when the Advanced Passenger Train represented the future of rail travel.

Only a few coaches now survive, on public display at the Crewe Heritage centre, where they’re formed into a shortened representation of a typical set. What’s left of the train that represents what rail travel could have been sits alongside the West Coast Main Line, the route for which it was designed.

Now Virgin Trains’ Pendolinos and Super Voyagers speed past, running between London and Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow, delivering what the APT promised a generation before.

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James Desborough has got the licence for an RPG John Norman’s Gor, and has started Indiegogo campaign to fund it. No further comment is really necessary…

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Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Player’s Handbook

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugBack in the early days I played a lot of D&D. Most memorable was a lengthy campaign that started off using first edition AD&D, eventually progressing to second edition. After than I drifted away to more “realistic” systems such as Runequest and GURPS, and later still to various rules-lite systems tuned for one-shot convention play, the only gaming I do much of nowadays. I did buy the third edition at Gencon UK in way back in 2000, but passed on 3.5 and the controversial fourth edition entirely.

The fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons comes at a time when the D&D community had become fragmented. The fourth edition was a radically different game, emphasising tactical combat and set-piece battles at the expense of roleplaying, and has been described as being closer in spirit to Magic:The Gathering than to earlier editions of D&D. That alienated a significant part of their market, many of whom deserted the game in favour of rival systems based on the open-sourced rulesets of earlier editions. The highest profile of these was Pathfinder, derived from 3.5, and various OSR (Old School Renaissance) small press games based on much earlier editions. Continue reading

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Because of the amount of bandwidth comment spammers have been eating, I have turned off comments on older posts. Hopefully this shouldn’t have much effect on the quality of blog conversations, because most of you only comment on recent posts anyway.

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