Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dear 1999 Wayne

This post is part of a group blog event organized by MusicianWages.com. The topic is: “If you could go back to 1999 and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?”

Dear 1999 Wayne,

You won't be expecting to read this and even if you do I know damn well it'll make not a jot of difference, but never mind that. I'm here to tell you what you need to be doing so as not to make 2009 Wayne sad. Yeah, this is a letter from the future. Deal with it. Roll another jazz woodbine and read on. You're an obstinate bastard just like me, so I know you'll ignore every word, but still. This is more for me than for you. Recommended soundtrack: LTJ Bukem, Earth Volume Two. Oh, is that on already? Same here. Heh.

First off, you are allowed to take your music seriously.

In fact, the sooner you do so - and allow yourself to do so - the better everything will be. Forget what your friend's dad told you when you were a kid. You know, that guy. The embittered ex-session guy who mentored his son's semi-pro covers band you joined at 13. The guy who simultaneously encouraged you all and helped you out while constantly warning you not to even bother trying to write original tunes or to try and make a living from music. His encouragement and his practical on-gig advice was his real teaching. You will be forever grateful to him for that. He gave you a leg up like no other music teacher you have ever had. His warnings? Not so much. You always ignored the warning about writing because you are writing for yourself and no-one else and because you have to. The longer you listen to his other warning the harder it will be when you finally grok that you are utterly unemployable in any other field because music will always take over. Block that shit out. Go for it. Allow yourself to go for it. The only one holding yourself back is you.

Secondly, in a month or so, you are going to get a job offer. It's a really good straight non-music job, well paid, with a world-famous organisation that no-one could reasonably object to working for. Don't take it, though I know you will.

You'll even enjoy it for the first few years, while you simultaneously pursue serious music projects. But then you'll stop enjoying it. The music will suffer too. You'll be drained. Then there'll be a girl - it'll end badly and suddenly. At this point you'll have a complete breakdown. You'll lose the job, your flat, everything. Everything except the instruments, pretty much. You're a lucky sod, so your family will be wonderful and will help you pick up the pieces, but it'll be hell for everyone near you for a long while, particularly you. Eventually you'll finally start focussing on doing music full time. Do me and all those close to you a favour. Turn the job down and go for the music now.

Ach, why do I waste my breath.

Remember that band you left when you went to uni back in 1990? Some time around 2008 you'll listen back to those tapes and realise what a mistake that was. You were in a shit-hot arse-kicking band at 18, full of youth and energy and strong original material. You still think you did the right thing then by turning the band down but you so didn't. And what difference does it make, to realise this in 1999? Well, you aren't thirty yet. You can still allow yourself to go for it. Because nothing else will really come right until you do.

Thirdly, I want to talk to you about practice. Sure you have talent and all, and manage somehow to pull shit out of a hat without really working at it, but that just isn't good enough. That shitload of Robert Anton Wilson books you're always reading and rereading? You know how you have a strong sense that there is some seriously deep wisdom in there that you need to learn? Remember that bit about the basic magic formula to everything being 'Do It Every Day'? Yeah you do. 'It Becomes Who You Are'. You haven't got it yet. I know you haven't. But here's a clue.

That is the meaning of practice.

And you can start now. Every day. You're not thick, for all your other faults.You know  you're pretty ok on the bass even without practice, though your piano and guitar skills need serious work along with your singing, to say nothing of your theory. How about you do that work, fill in those gaps, starting now, and see what happens. Do it every day. Start now. The sooner the better. Because Every Day is the most powerful magic formula there is. It really works. Try it. Don't leave it another five years. Try it now.

Fourthly - and I know this will sound insane to you - but start playing the saxophone. I don't care how you do it. Find a way. (There's a clue in your aunt's attic). And start now. As soon as you do, the rest of your music skills will improve. I don't know why. It's just like that. The thing is enchanted or something. Or maybe you really need to learn a monophonic wind instrument in order to help you understand all the other polyphonic ones. I don't know. All I know is, the longer you leave it, the older you'll be when that magic starts to happen. Even if you never get any good at sax, at least you'll have a glimmer of understanding of what the horn players in your band are up to when you tell them to work their magic and they do. Plus it might encourage you to give up smoking sooner. That vow of yours to give up at thirty? You'll need an incentive. Blowing a lot - physically - might be part of that. I'm just saying.

Finally, and I know I've been on your case here for a while, but I want to thank you for something. Even through all the mistakes you have made, are making, and will continue to make, you never gave up and you never allowed yourself to even think about giving up. Irrational though it seemed sometimes. More than anything else, this is what is carrying you through ten years later.

So, yeah. That's all. I now return you to your largely self-inflicted misery.

By the way, that girl who just left you was not the love of your life, so get over it. Write the songs and then forget her. You haven't met the love of your life yet. Again, I'm just saying.

Cheers,

Wayne

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Music in 400 years

David Morgan-Mar asked an interesting question in the notes to his latest Irregular Comic (NSF Duran Duran fans):

http://www.irregularwebcomic.net/2513.html

Do you think 400 years from now people will still be listening to any of today's pop music?

He suspects that people might still listen to the Beatles, but points out that 400 years ago, there was no Beethoven, Mozart or Bach, and suggests that most people would have a hard time naming any music that dates from circa 1600. He goes on to suggest that we have almost no hope of imagining what our society and culture will be like 400 years from now. How can we possibly say what parts of the transient musical legacy of our age will even be remembered then, let alone still listened to by the masses.

What is interesting about the question is that it cuts to the quick of what music is for and how it works.

Music as a cultural artifact is passed from person to person by those with the tools to do so. Four hundred years ago, there was no such thing as recording, so the only way that music could be transmitted was directly, by musicians. Forms of notation existed for those who could read them, but other than that, you could only pass a tune to someone else by singing or playing it. They could then only pass that tune on by singing or playing it themselves.

Morgan-Mar is a scientist and not (so far as I am aware) a musician, so he may be forgiven for leaping from 'pop' in the question to 'classical' in his attempt to make his case. By doing so he hops directly over the genre which destroys it - folk music. Folk music is handed down from musician to musician across generations, and while it is extremely hard to pinpoint just how old some songs are, many well-known folk songs are clearly at least a few hundred years old.

Take Greensleeves - which Morgan-Mar does mention as a sole counter-example. Wikipedia suggests was already a well-known tune in 1603 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greensleeves - though sadly the article points out that there is no evidence for the myth that it was written by Henry VIII.

The version of Whiskey In The Jar popularised by Thin Lizzy has lyrics about a highwayman - making it at least a couple of hundred years old - but since the nature of folk music in the true sense is for individual singers to update lyrics for their own time and place, who is to say that this version is not itself a rewrite of something much older.

Ritchie Valens' 1950s hit La Bamba was already a very old song when he recorded it. No-one knows exactly how old, but this article - http://kathmanduk2.wordpress.com/2009/02/14/black-history-month-la-bamba-and-its-african-roots/ - dates it to 1683 and argues that it was itself at that point a reworking of an earier form.

Scarborough Fair can be no older than 1253, when the original Scarborough Fair began, but Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scarborough_Fair - tells us that there was already dozens of versions by the end of the 18th century. Widdecombe Fair, as we know it, is dated - according to this page - http://www.mysongbook.de/msb/songs/w/widdecom.html - to some time around 1794 - when the historical Uncle Tom Cobleigh died. She Moves Through The Fair is another extremely old song - there is interesting discussion here - http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=869 - which clearly demonstrates the rolling person-to-person nature of folk music, as while the lyrics as we have them are around a century old, the tune itself appears to be much older.

Many nursery rhymes - a sub genre of folk song - are of a similar vintage. Lavender's Blue dates to (at least) the seventeenth century: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lavender_Blue . Ring A Ring O Roses may not after all date back to the Great Plague but is at least eighteenth century - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring_a_Ring_o%27_Roses . The Grand Old Duke Of York - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Grand_Old_Duke_of_York - can be dated back to 1642.

And so on.

All musicians know there is no such thing as genre in music. Not really. The boundaries blur and change over time, everyone borrows from everyone else, and these ancient folk tunes are widely used in classical and pop music. Yet it is clear that many of the well-known songs we have today are indeed hundreds of years old. And all that is before the advent of recording.

Here as in all other aspects of music, recording changes everything. Folk music history is by nature a bit woolly due to the paucity of evidence and the shifting nature of the material being researched. But the music of today is largely being recorded, and not merely recorded, but recorded in a digital format. It is difficult but possible to transfer older recordings on wax, tape, wire or vinyl to new formats, but with digital formats, the technology to continue to update old file formats to new is as ubiquitous as the computer itself. As long as computers exist in some form, it is hard to see why there is any reason for any digitally recorded music to be lost.

And that also changes everything. In 400 years time, it is perfectly reasonable to suppose that some people may be listening to some of today's music, though as to how many people and which of today's music will survive, no-one can say.

There is of course another, perhaps more pertinent question: is anyone actually listening to today's pop music today? But that would be a different essay.

=end

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Outstanding Online Orrery

I've been waiting for this for ages:

http://www.gunn.co.nz/astrotour/

It's the serious business. Via MeFi, like everything else this good.

Totally does what it says on the tin. Could possibly be improved by addition of a background starmap, or the spaceship to go with it, but we'll have to wait a little longer for tech capable of properly implementing those I think.

Meanwhile, please to enjoy.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Too Many Good Things All At Once

I should probably get into the habit of trying to post eleven little blogettes rather than one big linkdump. I will maybe start doing this at some point in The Future. For now, here's eleven things that have been mainly sitting in a sticky note on my desktop titled 'Blog Ideas' for too long and which I want to tell you about.

Twelve, actually, because the first thing is the sticky note app itself: Xpad: http://mterry.name/xpad/

Xpad is a simple sticky note application for Linux. There are millions of these, for all platforms, and I've been aware of them for ages. But I've only recently started using one, and Xpad is the one I am using. It has changed my life. It is now possible for me to jot down notes usefully on my computer in a way that it hasn't been before. I am definitely being far more productive as a result.

On the face of it, that seems crazy: what's wrong with just firing up a text editor and jotting those notes in a file?

I did this for ages. Doesn't work. You have to name the file. You have to remember the file is there. You have to remember where you put the file and what you called it, and which random note is which. You end up with lots and lots of crap hidden in files you never look at and don't go back to.

Sticky note applications are about the interface, stupid. And I am stupid, for having taken so long to start using one. Different incarnations of these apps have different features, including To Do list stuff, auto-browser-clicky goodness and whathaveyou, but the key feature is none of those things, which xpad doesn't have anyway, and I don't care. The key thing is extreme simplicity of use.

No naming of files. No saving of files. Two click opening of a new or saved note. No click adding to an existing open note. It's all just there, waiting for you to have something to type into it, and it saves it all behind your back.

Being a geek, I have hunted down the location of the directory where the xpad files are stored ($HOME/.config/xpad if you must know) and confirmed that it more or less autosaves everything as you type it. But that is all as irrelevant to you as it is to me. If you don't already use a sticky note thing, find one that works on your system and start using it. If you do, you can stop laughing at me now, thanks. Or, you know, eventually.

Anyway. Herewith the contents of the sticky note marked 'Blog Ideas', slightly expanded from note form:

First, the best game I've played in ages, 'The Company Of Myself', over at http://jayisgames.com/games/the-company-of-myself/

If you've already played Yoshio Ishii's Cursor*10 (see http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2008/04/08/who-on-earth-is-yoshio-ishii/ for that and more) you will be familiar with the idea of a game where you need to die multiple times and collaborate with your own ghosts to complete a level. That's a great idea and Cursor*10 is a great game. But the Company Of Myself takes this idea and adds a story and an emotional component. It's a bit hard as platformers go, and a bit bleak but it is utterly wonderful. First game to actually make me cry in over 30 years of gaming. You should play it.

Next, some music stuff.

I played a gig with Hadar Manor ( http://www.hadar.co.uk/ ) the other week and also on the bill were a superb seven piece live acoustic hiphop outfit called Free Peace.Their music is made of pure joy and pure win: http://www.myspace.com/fre3peace

A friend sent me this YouTube video of Etta James and Dr John's live version of I'd Rather Go Blind:

Almost as amazing: Hendrix fooling around on an acoustic at a party:

(That came, vaguely, via http://www.metafilter.com/86830/Earliest-Known-Footage-of-Jimi-Hendrix-Performing, which links to a quite different Hendrix video from his very early days playing with other people's bands. That one is worth watching too though.)

Also there was this excellent and highly thought-provoking article on Thelonious Monk - http://www.openskyjazz.com/blog/?p=201

If you are gigging in London, there are some promoters you should be aware of and avoid: http://drownedinsound.com/community/boards/music/4184800

Finally, a dose of reality and perspective, via the excellent saxophone forum Sax On The Web ( http://forum.saxontheweb.net/ ). SOTW member and excellent sax player Steve Neff - http://www.neffmusic.com/blog/ - has survived and written about his brain tumor. Start here: http://www.neffmusic.com/blog/2009/08/as-funny-as-a-brain-tumor-part-1/

To end off with, some completely random stuff, which you may or may not have seen before:

Stormtroopers on their day off: http://wildammo.com/2009/08/09/what-stormtroopers-do-on-their-day-off/

Awesome interactive star map: http://server1.wikisky.org/?locale=EN

Tackiest item with smuggest advert: http://community.livejournal.com/vintage_ads/1489225.html

An oldie (in internet years) but goodie - Jon Ronson on the worst swearword in the world: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2007/jul/28/weekend.jonronson

That's probably enough link dumping from me for now.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pretty Pictures, Cute Games

I'm a sucker for pretty pictures. I just am. It's bad, I know, but I despite the best efforts of trolls the world over, I still like that unbearably cute one of the kitten bounding through a field of flowers. You know the one. It's all over the internet. Including here:

http://www.clevelandseniors.com/family/cat-newyear.htm

I do. I like it. Awww, kittens. I can't help it.

And now there's a game, Drifting Afternoon, obviously inspired by the same picture:

http://www.ferryhalim.com/orisinal/g3/drift.htm

In Drifting Afternoon, you get to control the kitten as it bounds, while jumping from bubble to bubble. Occasionally you fall down and have to bound through the flowers again. It is - do not claim I did not warn you - unbearably cute. On the other hand, it is unbearably cute.

Sometimes, in this world, it is necessary to be that kitten. For a bit. Now you can be.

There are also pretty pictures here - http://www.skytopia.com/project/fractal/mandelbulb.html - this time of 3D Mandelbrot sets. They are also pretty. Not cute, though, nor unbearable.

If you are in denial about liking cute things, you will require your cuteness to be subverted at all times. In this case, you should already know all about the excellent webcomics KinokoFry, by Rebecca Clements - http://kinokofry.com/ - and the equally excellent Hilarity Comics by Patrick Alexander - http://www.eegra.com/show/sub/cat/comics/

Well, there's a game of that stuff too, sort of, loosely. Ish. Ok. I don't know if there really is a connection, but some elements of the artwork in Ninjadoodle's game Clickplay 2 reminded me strongly of both Clements and Alexander. In a good way, not a bad way. Here's a link to a link about Clickplay2 (linked via the Jay Is Games page because you might well want to read a bit about the game as well as play it. That kind of game.):

http://jayisgames.com/archives/2009/11/clickplay_2.php

More of that kind of stuff over at http://www.ninjadoodle.com/

Finally, and cuteness be damned, if you haven't seen it, you should have a look at Dungeon - a tragic platformer about what can happen in a castle, and how it affects people like you and me. Unless you don't give a fig for games, in which case, don't bother, you won't get it:

http://forums.tigsource.com/index.php?topic=9284.0

By this I mean you should follow the link and read about it, not necessarily that you should attempt to play it. There is a pretty picture there, but it is one that has been painted around the game, pretty much mostly in words. On a forum. On the internet. That is entirely what the internet is for.

I'm a sucker for that shit too. It's pretty cute.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Blog Ideas

1 - Kevin's new project: BOWW tribal poetry

"We will be touring next year with this." :http://www.rhythming.net/

2 - http://www.slate.com/id/2193827/ - harnessing the untapped power of breast motion.

3 - http://www.illdoctrine.com/ - Very good video blog about hiphop

4 - Is this true? - http://crazycolours.tumblr.com/post/239397362/1-make-a-fist-with-your-left-hand-with-your-left

"1) make a fist with your left hand, with your left thumb inside, 2) squeeze your thumb as hard as you can, 3) put your right index finger down your throat. your gag reflex is gone."

Self experiment suggests it doesn't work.

5 - Another excellent article on the new music reality from @dubber: http://bit.ly/2tTjv0 - be sure to read the comments too. We're all buskers now.

6 - Super awesome maps quiz: http://www.themorningnews.org/archives/diversions/cloud_of_atlases.php (via Mefi)

7 - Johann Hari nails it on prohibition of drugs: http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-accept-the-facts-ndash-and-end-this-futile-war-on-drugs-1818167.html

8 - Evidence for the existence of Callow Youth: http://dazza68.blogspot.com/2009/11/callow-youth-11th-november.html

See also http://www.callowyouth.com/

9 - Another great blog from Steve Lawson - http://www.musicthinktank.com/blog/transformative-vs-incremental-change.html

10 - There must be a better way to do this.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Dismantling A Radio, Building A Temple, Back To Bass

I am definitely coming down with something. This is not good.

This game about dismantling a radio, however, is excellent. You do not need to read Japanese to play the game.

You would need to read Japanese in order to fully understand this video:

Still worth seeing though, even if you, like me, have no Japanese. It is awesome enough by itself, but it turns out that the Lego is a model of an actual place - the Kinkaku-ji Temple. This beats that Lego grandfather clock, I'd say.

Last Tuesday I played a solo set at Phibbers, a very pleasant pub on the Holloway Road. It was a quiet night, with no more than a dozen or so people there, though there was one table of six who seemed to be really enjoying the music. Highlight of the evening was when the six people in question came to the stage and turned out to be Tara London's six piece band, who proceeded to put on a show as if it was 1200 people, not 12. Great stuff.

I'm playing bass in two new bands at the moment, both with pairs of brothers. First there's Chris and Justin McConville, with whom I played an eclectic set of largely bluesy mostly covers at Jazz After Dark this Wednesday under the moniker of Macs n Myers. It was also a relatively quiet night but the people there seemed to enjoy it - one extremely drunk Spanish guy insisted on taking my number so he could pass it on to his club-owning friend in Madrid - and it was great fun to sing and play bass again, as I haven't done that in ages. We're hoping to do this or something similiar again soon. Including the country-rock version of Number of the Beast. Oh yes. Out of genre Iron Maiden covers are the future.

I'm also playing bass with Daren and Haydn Callow at Power's Bar in Kilburn, this coming Wednesday, in Daren's new band 'Callow Youth'. It's a pleasure to play with Haydn again after twenty years - he was an excellent drummer then and has definitely been practising - and I've also really enjoyed Daren's solo sets each time I've seen him play, so it's great to get the chance to try and figure out the basslines for playing the same material in a band situation. Hope I'm doing it justice.

I'm also playing a short solo set at Prohibition on Sunday evening, and I've been extremely crap about actually telling anyone.

And I uploaded the first Fit and the Conniptions album to Bandcamp:

Hope that works.

Dear Google. You are supposed to be very clever and to get things right. Why then, can I not - when composing an email - easily switch back and forth between plain and rich text views, without losing content? It took ages to put those links in the first time, but now I want to add some code to embed something, I have switched to plain text view to add the embed code, and I have lost all those links. Putting them in again took ages. This blog-by-email lark is supposed to be easier than this. Love, Wayne

But the best thing to happen this week by far was discovering Warren Ellis's webcomic FreakAngels. How the hell did I miss that for so long?

Bah.

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I Have A Bandcamp

It's new. And shiny. And I've uploaded the live EP from last year, which should be embedded below:

If it isn't, you can try http://fitandtheconniptions.bandcamp.com/ directly, or http://www.conniptions.org/ , where the Bandcamp player is also (subtly) embedded.

All being well, you can now download the EP in the high quality format of your choice, with an option to pay via PayPal, and (for now) a minimum price of zero.

I say "for now" because I am not yet sure what happens if you do choose a figure over zero but below the PayPal transaction fee. Idealism has its limits - actually losing money on high quality downloads, if I end up getting stiffed for the PayPal fee on a transaction of 1p, strikes me as dumb. Also I am not Radiohead or NiN, with their large volume of fans, so while the standard quality mp3s will always be free to download, I can see myself setting a minimum price for the high quality downloads some day in the future. Being skint and all.

Feel free to have a play with it and please do let me know if anything doesn't work.

Note to self: check out what the PayPal transaction fees actually are.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Cave Story Story

I've been playing quite a lot of games lately.

First, and repeatedly, is David Shute's Small Worlds, his entry into the Jayisgames Casual Gameplay Design Competition 6 (found via MeFi, like most good things). Pixelly graphics, moody music, and a simple, pure gameplay mechanic closely following the 'Exploration' theme of the competition. It's short but sweet, and maybe not infinitely so, but certainly replayable. There are very few games I have completed several times just because I wanted to.

The music is credited to Kevin MacLeod, who has an extremely interesting site at Incompetech.com. Incompetech hosts the Royalty Free Music Library, a large library of Creative Commons licensed royalty free music composed by MacLeod and arranged by genre and mood, intended for use in games and film. But it also hosts a large collection of free online graph paper and other speciality papers including blank sheet music, hexagonal graph paper, storyboard blanks for film and the like, downloadable as PDF in a wide range of user-defined and tweakable formats. Possibly not as comprehensive on the sheet music front as Blanksheetmusic.net is, but certainly worth knowing about.

Not everyone on MeFi liked Small Worlds, and one poster pointed out that in their opinion it wasn't a patch on Cave Story, which I'd never heard of. Cave Story is another independent pixellated graphics 2d platformer but is huge where Small Worlds is tiny, and took Japanese coder / designer Pixel over five years to complete. The sites just linked to is are a fan site and Wikipedia entry - how many independent games are so good they have those - and versions of the game are available for all major platforms.

So I downloaded the Linux version - excited enough to play it that I forgave the download for being binary not source - and bam. It attempted to go fullscreen, failed, then hung X so badly I had to ssh in from next door to kill it. Bummer. Really wanted to play that.

The problem looked like it was the config file, which - as one of the two text documents included with the download explains - is in a weird binary format and can only be edited on Linux using the original Windows config editor through Wine. My system is old and slow and I don't bother with Wine. I was stuck. It was late. I was tired. I really didn't want to sit and write a native Linux config file editor for the thing. Excuses excuses. Meanwhile the Linux port has been out for two years or so, so why has no-one else written a native Linux config file editor?

While trawling Linux gamer forums trying to find a fix for this I got sidetracked and rediscovered David Olofson's excellent Kobo Deluxe, which I last played about five years ago on a previous incarnation of my attempts to run a home Linux system and then lost during one of many botched upgrades. Not everyone likes games that involve flying 2d spaceships around shooting things - it's a close relative of the 'bullet hell' genre - but sometimes there is nothing else I want to do in the world. There's something oddly calming about flying around shooting abstract alien shapes, something oddly meditative.

All at once. I remembered the existence of hex editors, programs to edit binary files directly. Turn the byte at offset 108 from 0 to 1 (run in a window, not fullscreen), the byte at offset 112 from 1 to 0 (I have no gamepad) and try Cave Story again.

Runs like a dream. Quite literally. A great great game.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Formatting Issues

Oh wow.

Wasn't expecting a cascading set of formatting issues.

Huh.

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Rambling From MySpace To Bandcamp

A couple of days ago I read this excellent but mildly depressing article by Andrew Dubber about musicians and Myspace:

http://www.musicthinktank.com/blog/happy-quit-myspace-day.html

He points out the obvious - despite the fact that a MySpace presence (or five) has become effectively compulsory for any musician or band, it is also unremittingly rubbish and seems to be run by people who have no idea what it is:

"And we put up with its broken interface, bad design, 90s technology, ad-riddled BS, and complete lack of comprehension about what MySpace is really for - for one reason alone: nobody else has EVERY FRICKIN’ BAND ON THE PLANET."

Waiting for MySpace to get its act together might take a very long time.

Meanwhile, there's Twitter, where I've been following bassist Steve Lawson aka @solobasssteve for a while now. Yesterday he posted the best takedown of Lord Mandelson's utterly preposterous plan to disconnect persistent filesharers I have read so far:

http://www.stevelawson.net/wordpress/2009/10/piracy-and-the-3-strikes-law-a-few-thoughts-from-a-working-musician/

Mandelson is not brilliant. But Twitter is. The limitations make it so much more than the sum of its parts. You really can't do anything much in 140 characters. All you can do is make short exclamations and link to other stuff. The former makes it a truly social network (unlike all the others, which ultimately bombard you with crap), and the latter makes it an invaluable conduit for discovery, so long as you crack the initial stage of finding people posting links to things you want to discover.

If you are a musician, Steve Lawson's blog is something you want to discover.

From his Mandelson takedown I clicked onto this:

http://www.stevelawson.net/wordpress/2009/10/posterous-logging-for-everyone-else/

Here Lawson explains why (relatively) new blogging platform Posterous is seriously worth a look. I'd been vaguely aware of it but hadn't given it any attention. I am already struggling to maintain existing blogs on MySpace, LiveJournal, Blogger, Facebook and the ancient creaky self-coded thing on my own site. It's a complete salad already which I need to rationalise. I need a new blogging platform like I need a hole in the head.

But Posterous lets me send an email containing the text of a blog, which it then posts not just to itself but also to all of the other platforms that you tell it about. It will Do The Right Things with links, mp3s, images, videos, flash and so on. You can add tags from the subject line of the email. It's been designed from the ground up to be as easy to use as possible, including making your first post by simply sending them email. I set up a Posterous account last night in about ten minutes.

If this post goes wonky it's because I'm new at posting from Posterous and haven't figured out how not to fuck it up yet; I'm sure there's a way and I'm sure I'll find it. But so far it's been the easiest to use Thing On The Internet I've found in ages. I already screwed up last night by importing all my old Blogger posts. That took a couple of minutes. I did it without thinking - the screwup was realising how rubbish and disconnected the posts all seemed, so a little later I deleted most of them. My screwup, not Posterous's. And Posterous made it easy to fix.

My blogs are not widely read because they are rubbish and disjointed, lack focus, are often poorly written, and only update intermittently. Lawson's blog is the exact opposite of all this. I haven't found a post of his that wasn't worth reading yet. Here's him on music site Bandcamp:

http://www.stevelawson.net/wordpress/2009/10/bandcamp-soundcloud-and-the-portability-of-music/

He writes: "You upload your tunes in CD-quality audio format, and then they make all the different resolutions of file that people might want, and let you decide what to do with them, which ones to charge for, how to licence the music, and then redesign the page. The results are then embeddable, sharable and sellable."

If you are still reading this and not going straight over to Bandcamp to set up an account, you are probably not a musician. In fact, I'm going to stop writing this and go and set up an account there myself, which I didn't get around to doing last night.

I did read the Bandcamp FAQ though, and so should you, because it is really funny:

http://bandcamp.com/faq

It also links to another superb article by Andrew Dubber explaining why the vast bulk of musicians should not worry about piracy:

http://www.newmusicstrategies.com/2008/04/03/should-i-be-worried-about-piracy/

If you want to worry, worry about Mandelson. There's a petition against his disconnection without trial plan to sign here:

http://www.openrightsgroup.org/campaigns/disconnection

Enough rambling. I'm off to Bandcamp.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Nothing of Consequence

Actually it is something of consequence.

Great music is always of consequence. So go here and download Nothing Of Consequence by J.C. Wilson. Unless you have something against ambient electronica with guitars which is really good, in which case, fair enough.

You should still read his blog though.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Folk Music Fail

Had an excellent time at the Small World Festival in Kent on Friday and into Saturday morning. Really should have sorted out being able to stay longer but it wasn't to be.

Meanwhile, there was a particularly good vibe there this time around, or at least so it seemed to me, and the three gigs I had with Hadar all went well. Later on I had great fun jamming into the night with various random people, including the rather excellent Undercover Hippie, whose fine full band set earlier on I also caught. Highly recommended. Catch him if you can etc.

However, during the festival I had a conversation with a person, who shall remain entirely unidentified, which has stuck in my head more than anything else. The person was telling me about some tent at the site run by people who also administer an extremely serious folk music archive. Among other things, these people have a project where they go around the country collecting and recording folk songs which have not previously been recorded, which is clearly a great thing to be doing. When they run a tent at festivals, these collected folk songs get performed, and this person was telling me that the other night they were having a problem with two local lads who were hanging around the tent and were failing to be suitably reverent and attentive to the folk music going on.

So someone had the bright idea of asking the lads if they had a song to sing. They did, and they sang it. It turned out to be a local Kentish drinking song which had not been archived and collected before. The folk music collectors all got very excited by this.

"You really wouldn't have expected it from these lads," this person told me. "It wasn't well sung or anything, and they couldn't remember all of it, but it was a genuine folk song that hadn't been collected before. And we all thought they were just a pair of chavs."

I nearly bit my lip off, and I may or may not have mentioned something about exactly what this person thought the 'folk' in 'folk music' was supposed to signify. I forget. It was pretty late by this point and I was pretty much the worse for wear.

Ewan MacColl, of course, is already spinning in his grave for many reasons. We should hook him up to a generator and solve the energy crisis.

Either way, next Small World I get to go to, I'm taking a tent, weather permitting.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Bits And Bobs

Huh. So, this is going well, isn't it. So much for regular updates. I blame a heavy regime of saxophone and piano practise, combined with trying to add in a bit of guitar as well, plus all the other usual stuff that Gets In The Way. So this is going to be a catch-up bullet pointy set of things kind of post. You have been warned.

Hadar's album launch took up a lot of time lately, but we ended up having an awesome night at the 12 bar last week. We had eleven other acts as well as Hadar's first full band set in a while, so Muggins here volunteered to stage-manage, since no-one else did, which all boiled down to me spending the evening running around in stresshat mode telling people that they were on next and to go and tune up, as well as dealing with all the inevitable hiccups and burps that happen when you try and have that many acts in one night. It all worked out fine in the end, though, and people have said lovely things.

I am not going to any of the G20 protests this week, which is irritating me. Here's why - I believe protest is important and essential but an unfocussed coalition of everyone against everything that does not have a strategy strikes me as a counterproductive waste of time. I will have no part in it.

My friend Daphna wrote an excellent if depressing article about the political situation in Israel over in the Guardian. You should probably read it.

I played piano at the Cross Kings the other Sunday in between acts at a one-off charity event. Haven't been there for a while and forgotten what a great place it is. The musical highlight of the evening for me was seeing the excellent Roxy Rawson play again.

I also saw Daren Callow again at the White Hart in Whitechapel the other week, which was a fine thing. He is using more pedals than ever now - but tastefully - and is getting a huge sound controlled only by vocals and an acoustic guitar. Awesome to watch and listen to.

Oh, and I've been busking again. I'll write more about that later.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Saxual Frustration

Really I ought to compose some kind of long screed about how ridiculous the Swedish Pirate Bay case is, but actually I can't think of anything I didn't already say in the cartoon I did earlier this evening.

In other news, last week I finally took my aunt's old alto sax, which I have been fooling with for the last year and which bits keep mysteriously falling off of, to the shop, and was told that it's basically a write-off, owing to age and having been crap to start with (there is little love for the 1970's Mexican Conn Shooting Star among sax experts, apparently). Thanks to the rather wonderful Arts Council Take It Away scheme, I have managed to get hold of a shiny* new Trevor James Revolution II alto and am slowly in the process of realising that sax addiction is a very real and underappreciated social problem. I am trying not to think about tenors. Or baritones. Or, God forbid, basses. First I need to learn the alto properly. This will involve being able to play for more than two hours without my lower lip turning to jelly and rendering me incapable of performing. Ow.

In other other news, I saw Daren Callow playing at the River Bar on Friday night, and he was, as ever, excellent., though sadly this time around there was none of the loop pedal loveliness we got last time I saw him at the Montague Arms. Also on the bill was this guy DiceJar, who manages to create the aura of an invisible heavy metal band around him when he sings and plays with an acoustic, only in a thoroughly excellent manner.

* NB - Mine is not actually shiny, as I got the matt finish one, so most of it is in fact not shiny at all. I had wanted a normal gold lacquer one but it was more expensive and didn't come with a free stand; the guy in the shop offered me an equal priced black one with black keywork but it didn't seem to play as well - for what little I know about it - and more importantly I really don't want a 'ooh look at me' funny colour sax until I can actually play the thing properly. As I said to the bloke in the shop, if I get a job in a heavy metal band I'll come back to him. Mind you it was lovely to look at.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Goldacre, Barnett, and the Death of Authority

Ben Goldacre's spat with Jeni Barnett and LBC cuts directly to the heart of one of the major things that is wrong with the world - for me if not for everyone - the death of authority through its abuse by those in power.

To summarise the spat, if you are one of the three remaining people with an internet connection and a grasp of English who has not yet heard about it, Goldacre called Jeni Barnett out for talking a lot of dangerous nonsense about the MMR vaccine on her LBC radio show, and included a long audio excerpt from the show to prove his point. Rather than responding in the sensible way, accepting that Barnett and LBC were guilty of spreading life-threateningly stupid misinformation, and apologising or something, LBC instead threatened Goldacre with legal action and forced him to take the excerpt - the evidence which proved his claim - down. Thoughtful and intelligent people all over the internet went slightly bezerk over this, with numerous repostings of the audio, including on Wikileaks, and a collective effort to transcribe what was actually said, all of which is neatly summarised in Goldacre's follow-up post.

Goldacre is absolutely in the right. There is no evidence that there is anything wrong with the MMR vaccine. There is however plenty of evidence to show that people's increasing unwillingness to have their children vaccinated has led to a resurgence of measles, which can kill. So by casting doubt on the safety of the vaccine, Barnett and other media scaremongerers have quite possibly contributed to the future death of some child from measles. This is to say the least grossly irresponsible. Further, LBC's response - to try and silence him with legal action - was catastrophically counterproductive and would have been even more irresponsible had it actually had a cat's chance in hell of working. But this very response is itself part of the overall problem with authority.

LBC are a radio station. This puts them in a position of power and effective authority - including the power to broadcast or not broadcast what they choose. Barnett's defence - to the extent that she has one - is that no-one really knows either way whether or not MMR vaccines are dangerous, and presumably this too is the line that LBC are taking. By taking this line on the radio, Barnett was invoking her own authority - as a big shot broadcaster on radio - in such a way as to potentially cause some listeners to agree with her and not have their children vaccinated. Clearly, Barnett took this line as a result of her inability to understand authority of a different kind - the authority that comes with the scientific method. As a man who has made a career from championing the authority of science over the authority of media, this was an obvious barn-door type target for Goldacre, and the spat wrote itself from there.

The problem is that different kinds of authority get conflated. It is hard for many people to distinguish between the kind of authority that should be questioned (media, politics, the law) and the kind (science) that should - after careful reflection - largely just be accepted. There were no WMDs in Iraq. But the earth is not flat.

Goldacre's aside on the law is pretty revealing:

It’s been interesting to learn about the law from a dozen or so passing lawyers who have popped up to comment. Basically, there is no clear answer on whether posting 44 minutes of foolishness for discussion is legal or not, and the only way to find out is to go to court. Now, given that lawyers are expensive, and the loser is probably liable for the winner’s legal fees, it strikes to me that a company like Global Radio worth over half a billion pounds has a bit of an advantage in this situation, since losing, for me, would mean losing, well, I don’t actually have anything to lose.

My point is, without being too Billy Bragg about it all: this is a law that apparently works a bit better for wealthy people.

I think it is reasonable to find this frustrating. In medicine we have protocols: we try to lay out very clearly and simply how something works, what the likely outcomes are, the best moves, and so on. I don’t see why this would be difficult in law. Doctors and academics have been bending over backwards to make their work readily accessible and understandable to people outside the profession for many years, with considerable success. Lawyers, meanwhile, with the assistance of judges and those who make laws, seem sometimes to make their money out of obfuscation, out of the uncertainties and continent-sized grey areas. To me that’s not just unhealthy, it also feels eerily unfamiliar, to come across an industry where so many key players seem to have a paradoxical interest in making things not work.


It is hardly a new idea that the entire legal profession seems to be built on obfuscation and on structuring things for those in positions of power such that the desired outcome is forced through regardless of irrelevancies such as facts or justice. So why indeed should anyone trust the law when it behaves this way as standard? Yet the authority of the law is very real in physical terms and adds up to actual fines or prison sentences for those on the wrong end of it. Goldacre knew he was in the right morally but was also right to take the excerpt down after the legal threat, as it could well have cost him a huge sum of money had he lost a court case over it.

There was another example very recently, when Home Secretary Jacqui Smith criticised Professor David Nutt for trivialising the dangers of ecstasy. The truth of the matter is clearly stated in the BBC report: Nutt, writing in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, had said, "Drug harm can be equal to harms in other parts of life. There is not much difference between horse-riding and ecstasy." The report goes on to give figures which clearly demonstrate Nutt's point: horse-riding accounts for 100 deaths every year, while ecstasy causes only 30. Why then is there not a huge government campaign to stamp out this dangerous trend of horse-riding? Of course, Ecstasy is a drug and drugs are wrong mmkay as we all know, so long as they are not special drugs that are not really drugs, like alcohol or caffeine. The fact that hundred of thousands of people take E - and other drugs - on a regular basis and are fine does not deter the politicians' determination to wage their unwinnable and destructive War on Drugs; facts and science can all be damned if they get in the way of this predetermined policy. No wonder then that hardly anyone has the remotest trust left in politicians.

Or anyone, really. We are lied to by those in authority on a regular and daily basis. Ludicrously incorrect claims are routinely made in order to fuel political positions, especially in the Middle East, where the entire Iraq war was waged on the basis of false claims about WMDs, where both Palestinians and Zionists tell themselves heavily edited versions of history in order to justify their own present political views, and where certain Iranians continue to maintain that Iran, uniquely among world populations, does not contain any gay people. More generally, advertising bombards us daily with highly questionable suggestions about what products we do or do not need, and the whole current economic crisis resulted from the entire global finance industry telling itself and the rest of us a bunch of lies about what did and did not constitute an acceptable risk. Add into the mix a few mendacious scientists like Hwang Woo-Suk who are actually guilty of telling lies in the same of science, and it is easy to see why people are increasingly wary of trusting anyone in any position of authority ever says on any subject.

For people like Jeni Barnett, who are obviously not all that bright, it is clearly too much to ask for her to be capable of distinguishing between trustworthy and untrustworthy authority; yet her position of power as a broadcaster means she can spread life-threateningly stupid ideas across London safe in the knowledge that her employers will defend her to the hilt. For mendacious politicians like Jacqui Smith, it is to her clear advantage that there is no authority anywhere, for this leaves her free to cherry-pick the conclusions she wishes to come to and construct the arguments behind them later; with no real authority anwhere she can always defend against any attack without having to worry about facts or details. The entirety of the legal profession finds all of this obfuscation and lack of clarity or authority highly lucrative; advertising would of course be dead if it were not allowed to mislead people.

As for the rest of us, we must as usual work it out for ourselves as best we can. And there is a ray of hope, culturally. It's something to do with the screen you are looking at and the fact that people like Ben Goldacre - whose authority is built on trust that has been built up over time and is thoroughly deserved - are only a click away. It's a very new ray of hope in the grand scheme of things. Let's hope it lasts.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Various Items

Item - Tonight I was lucky enough to play at Vashti And Friends at the Hideaway in Tufnell Park, one of those rare lovely gigs where everything is completely laid back and relaxed, the music is all good, you don't want to drink more beers than you have money in your pocket to pay for, and you get to play everything - something you've rehearsed with a friend, something of your own, and something completely random you were just asked to do the night before. This was good.

Item - I am feeling quite strange right now.

Item - I got to have Tom Fry playing bass with me on 'Drinking On My Own' tonight. Since he absolutely has to be one of the best bass players around at the moment, this was just great. As a bassist of sorts myself, with a big enough head to think I am not all that bad on it really, I am horribly, horribly picky about bassists, so to have someone I would happily pay to teach me bass doing the job was a fine fine thing. Plus Gemma Fuller was there with her trumpet, so I didn't have to make silly noises in lieu of an actual proper solo on the solo verse. Another win.

Item - No, really. Strange. I'm not sure what it's all about.

Item - Life among the London Underground buskers is more than a bit odd at the moment. One of our number committed suicide not so long ago and another one, I hear, was recently rushed to hospital following a heart attack suffered just after playing a pitch, where he remains. The fact that TfL's recent management of the scheme is nothing short of disastrous (banning us from selling CDs just before Christmas, making us pay to phone in and book pitches for no obviously clear reason, attempting to stop us from sharing pitch cancellations among ourselves on an ad hoc basis, etc) is surely coincidental. But it's not good right now for the buskers. There were a few buskers at the gig tonight as it happens. Alcohol was drunk, and a few tears were shed at emotional moments. I'm not going into detail. Things will and must improve, but until they do. Fuck. I don't bloody know.

Item - You see? This is what I am talking about.

Item - Well, maybe not. I was going to link to all kinds of interesting things on the internet that I have seen recently, but you have probably seen them already, and if you haven't, you probably will, if that is the kind of thing you like to do. And if not, there's little point me linking them here, since you won't be bothered either way. I'm not talking about that video of the stoat, nor of the one about the cat on the piano. But whatever I am talking about I can't really remember anyway, so it probably doesn't matter.

Item - Posting this here means I don't post it anywhere else. This, my friends, is what your own blog is for.

Item - That's probably enough items for now.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Vie De Merde

I told you I was an insomniac.

Ok. Firstly, this blog is currently hideous to look at. I know. I must do something about this, just as soon as I wake up and think - yes - today I will sit there and wrestle with blogger.com style CSS until the word 'hideous' no longer applies. If you came here for design loveliness I fear you will be disappointed.

Via MeFi we learn of fmylife.com, but it's so much better and funnier somehow in the original French over at viedemerde.fr. Article (in English) about it from spiegel.de.

Eg - Aujourd'hui, mon copain a créé un nouvel album photo sur Facebook intitulé : "Ma chérie et moi". Il s'agit de soixante photos de lui et de... sa guitare. VDM.

Awesome and not quite translatable. The best thing about it for me, as an only sort-of French speaker, is that each vignette is really really short, so even if I don't understand something on the first read there simply aren't that many words to look up each time and completely sideways from the original purpose it's actually a fantastic resource for learning bits of French, especially slang and such, that you really won't otherwise pick up without living among French speakers. Dear Internet - merci.

In other news, I discovered today that some software I wrote seven years ago and completely forgot about is being distributed (or has been) with Damn Small Linux. Now that would be fine if the code in question was actually functional or fit for purpose or what have you - a heads-up email from the DSL people would have been nice but not essential - but actually the code is a complete pile of shit and I'm really embarrassed.

Here's the thing.

About seven years ago I had a brainstorm one night, me and my shiny new C++ book, and I spent a few hours playing around with the FLTK library writing a desktop GUI calculator, which I pompously called flminicalc. I got as far as realising that actually such things are not as trivial as they first seem - you need a proper arbitrary precision maths library for a start and it turns out there are other even more arcane progamming issues to solve, mainly to do with FLTK, which is probably great once you have your head wrapped around it but which is not something that someone mainly used to writing Perl rather than C++ can grasp in a single night. Like a damn fool I uploaded a tarball to my old site - what the hell was I thinking - and basically forgot about the whole thing until this afternoon, when I received a bug report from a DSL user.

I'm not surprised. Without an arbitrary precision maths library it's really easy to make it do funky things by just mashing on a key. Numbers like 123456790 are too big for it. Calculations like 1512000 / 2132 are beyond it - too many digits. It was a programming exercise and nothing more, and I had naively hoped that giving it a version number of 0.0.1 would make this clear to anyone. In any case, dc provides everything I need from a Linux desktop calculator thingy so there is no itch to scratch here, just hubris.

Apparently no-one at DSL tested it much before including it in their distro, which is a real shame, as DSL is otherwise a really excellent minimal Linux distribution which I have used in the past to make old laptops useful again. I can see why a cursory look might have made it seem attractive - the binary is indeed tiny - but it doesn't actually do the job, and the two facts are not unrelated. I had a brief look this afternoon to see if there were any quick fixes but couldn't find any - making this thing useful will require far more effort than I am prepared to put in right now - integrating a proper maths library will basically mean a complete rewrite and in any case it is not something I have a personal need for, so it isn't going to happen any time soon.

The moral of the story is this - do not release software which would embarrass you if someone else started distributing it under the mistaken impression that it is actually useful.

VDM.

Oh, and here's a video of Hadar and me playing at The Troubadour last year.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Ranty McRantypants Lets It All Out

Ok. I really have to actually start using this thing now. Enough is enough is enough.

I keep wanting to rant inappropriately in other places and the internal voice which says 'Don't Do This Get Your Own Fucking Blog' keeps being answered by another saying 'But You've Got One You Just Haven't Posted In Six Months', to say nothing of the other voice which says 'Apart From That Other One Where You Only Post In Some Weird Cartoon Persona Which Jesus Christ Am I Actually Like That NOOOO' at which point I start gibbering wildly and have to be comforted with nicotine, then forget all about it. Only the rants, they keep building up and they won't go away.

I had wanted to keep this blog all nice and neat, full of pithy little essays about this or that aspect of the happy-go-lucky life of a London busker but that was a complete non-starter. I must have been taking the pith. What was I thinking?

And there's a lot to rant about today.

Firstly, thank you very bloody much, Radio 4's Today programme, for inviting some dick on your show this morning to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Buddy Holly's death by saying how they didn't think he was actually that good and left him a bit cold. Everyone is of course entitled to their opinion but there is a time and a place and this was absolutely not it. To be fair, Today is not something that anyone in their right mind turns to for music criticism but this was particularly unwarranted and basically embarrassing to listen to, and the jokey asides about having brought whoever it was on just to 'spit in church' only made it worse. I have a good mind to get my green felt tip pen out and write to them longhand just to show how annoyed I am.

Next. I have just (yesterday or so) finished reading Charles Stross' excellent Accelerando and wish to have words with his editor. For all that I may have slightly taken the piss in a recent cartoon tooltip - and I am not the only one to have wondered if the first section was automatically generated by some arcane mashup of Slashdot, Wired and the Dada engine, I ultimately thought the book was great, utterly compulsive reading, so densely packed with ideas as to leave this reader positively dizzy, in between Wikipedia lookups - Stross takes no prisoners with his erudition and why should he - and though the end was satisfying I was left wanting to read more. However, there is one ugly blemish which runs through the writing, which is the dialogue of the character Annette. She is French, we learn, which does not explain why she speaks English like Yoda. While Stross, who knows so much about maths, science, cosmology, computing, technology in general, and singularity theory in particular, can arguably be forgiven for this lapse - it is not easy to accurately depict the grammatical quirks of a French speaker in English - this kind of thing is precisely what editors are supposed to be for. And Stross' editor let him down badly on this one. I have several French friends whose English is not so good and none of them talk like Yoda. There are grammatical quirks that slip over from French to English but Yodaisms are not one of them.

What else. Oh yes, the busking thing. I have not been busking much lately owing to an arm injury, from which I have now recovered, but in the meantime, various highly unpleasant changes have taken place in terms of the way in which TfL are managing the busking scheme. Owing to ongoing negotiations I am not going to go into detail right now but here's a taster of the New Rules - officially we are now forbidden from selling CDs while we busk and while we are allowed to distribute business cards on request we are not allowed to put them out for people to pick up while we play. To understand why this is shit you need to know that few buskers are just buskers. We are mainly professional musicians who busk because though it is not the best paid gig in town it is a paid gig if you can make it pay. Under the previous regime many buskers supplemented their busking income by CD sales and by further work garnered via random contacts picking up a business card, so this leaves all of us pretty stuffed. And suffice it to say that this is not the worst of the recent changes to the scheme, which has left many of us wondering just how much longer the whole thing is viable - and a few of us wondering if the whole idea isn't exactly that - to discourage us from doing it in the first place.

There's other stuff too, probably, but I forget.