Sunday, 28 February 2010

Dweezil Workshop

I received an e-mail from Dweezil Zappa t'other day advertising his 'boot camp' this summer in the Catskills. The idea is that putative musicians go along and join in workshops with Dweezil and his  ZPZ  band and thereby improve their musicianly skills. I dunno if I would benefit from this or not, but it is outwith my budgetary capability in any case so, whatever, maaan. Dweezil has been touring with his Frank Zappa tribute band for a few years now and has come in for some criticism for being too meticulous in his reproduction of Frank's music; he seems to have missed the point that Frank would more often than not change stuff around for the hell of it. Dweezil has excellent, almost obsessive, technique but he doesn't have the magic (which is not his fault). Besides that, the Zappa Family Trust has alienated a lot of people by its litigious approach to other tribute bands who do mess around a bit, and to fan websites. So it's good to see Dweezil branching out and trying a new business model.
Meanwhile, if you go to there's an amusing flash animation for the most recent posthumous CD release 'Philly 76' which is kind of an official bootleg live album. If you are new to Frank Zappa this would not be the best place to start - contact the Xorg Collective for advice. To purchase Zappa product, we recommend G & S Music rather than buying from the ZFT in America where you'll get cobbered for shipping and import taxes etc.
* Note that you could attend a similar event hosted by Medeski, Martin & Wood, a trio of adventurous jazzers who achieved fame via being in John Scofield's band.  We recommend A Go Go.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Royal Bank of Thieving Bastards

The Royal Bank of Scotland has announced losses of £3.6 billion but is nevertheless going to pay its investment bankers bonuses totalling £1.6 billion. Well, duh! Surely if they didn't pay the blighters their bonuses then the losses would only be £2 billion? Is this any way to run a battleship?
The justification is apparently that the investment bank bit of RBS made a profit, although the rest of RBS made a loss. And they claim that without the bonuses all these brilliant bankers would go elsewhere for employment. Bollocks. When the investment bank bit made a total balls-up then we all had to share the losses so why don't the bankers do likewise? And if they want to go somewhere else then goodbye, chaps!
Grrr. Harumph.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Le Pissoir

I have recently finished reading 'Clochmerle' by Gabriel Chevalier. It's a humorous book, satirising the clash between the secular and the religious, but taking in the general hypocrisy and venality of most humans along the way. The plot centres on the erection by the Republican mayor of a public urinal located outside the church. With hilarious results.
Here's a picture of a fairly typical French pissoir, which are much less common than they used to be. Be that as it may, most gentlemen can speak about the tremendous variety of urinals that one might encounter here and there. I think the foulest, most evil-smelling one I have ever experienced is at the Selimiye Mosque in Nicosia, Cyprus. Truly awful. It is quite a challenge to hold your breath long enough to walk down the steps to the designated hole in the floor, do what you need to, do and then walk back out again without collapsing.
One of the finest urinals I have visited was at the former Bourne & Hollingsworth department store in Oxford Street, London. Very nicely maintained black and white marble, and smelling of nothing very much. Sadly Bourne & Hollingsworth are no more, although the name has been misappropriated by a pretentious wine bar in nearby Rathbone Place, frequented by dilletantes and drunkards with too much money.
Inevitably, there is a site on the interwebtubes which celebrates urinals around the world. Check it out - there is apparently a very well appointed convenience in Rothesay, Isle of Bute, within the purview of no less a person than Prince Charles himself. He's a man who knows quality when he sees it.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Leeds Refectory

Seeing that clip of Freddie King reminded me of the time me and our Chris saw him live in 1969 whilst Chris was a student at Leeds University. Freddie was amazing. The Students Union used to put on concerts in the refectory at Leeds and some of the best bands played there; I used to hitch down to Leeds or, if I had the money, take the train, and kip on Chris' floor. As well as Freddie King, there were Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, Cream, The Rolling Stones, Leon Russell, Derek & The Dominoes, Paul McCartney & Wings, Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck and many more. The Who recorded their 'Live at Leeds' album there - Chris is in the audience for that one, which I missed for some reason that escapes me now. (Buy the album - it's a cracker).
The organisation of these gigs was a bit shambolic to begin with as there was no proper stage. For the Cream gig they simply turned some tables on their sides to separate the crowd from the band. And I expect there were some comments made next day when the caretaker found that Ginger Baker's bass drums had been nailed to the parquet flooring to prevent slippage. Later on, things went a bit more professional and a temporary stage was built.
I dare say the Students Union still puts on gigs these days but just looking at their website the programme doesn't look all that exciting; Finlay Quaye and Alphabeat.

Monday, 22 February 2010

New Associate Director

Xorg Inter-Galactic is pleased to announce the appointment today of our new Associate Director for Creative Image Design and Technology, the very wonderful FabMary.
FabMary has a long and distinguished track record in scribbling, daubing and taking snaps and is thrilled at the prospect of bringing her many talents to the on-going mission we have at the Xorg Collective. Apprenticed to the great master El Plonko, and expelled from the Venice Scuola di Spruzzata Esso Dappertutto with flying colours, FabMary is a witty and apposite imaginative doyen of the chiuda in su il vostro fronte genre. We look forward to many exciting contributions.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Green Monday

In the rest of the Eastern Orthodox world they call it 'Clean Monday' but for some unknown reason the Cypriots call it Green. Whatever, it's the first day of Lent and so they start their fast which means no meat and lots of vegetables, and its a public holiday. As you might expect though, they don't stint on the vegetables and they allow themselves to eat fish instead of meat. Another curiosity is that they are allowed olives but not olive oil. In Larnaca they have a 'town picnic' and people take their barbecues and stuff out to Tekke by the salt lake for a shindig. Ironically, there is a Muslim shrine at Tekke so who knows what they make of all these mad Christians having a knees up on their doorstep.
We went for a more low key approach and spent the day with El Presidente's cousin and husband at their Auntie's house where we indulged in a slap-up feed of the vegetarian variety. Jolly nice too. I tried for the first time a pickled edible weed called mangalos (pictured). Quite strong and fibrous, and resembles the thistles that keep invading my lawn.

A Wizard, A True Star

Fabmary and I attended Todd Rundgren's recent live performance at Hammersmith Apollo of his 1973 album A Wizard, A True Star. Absolutely fantastic!
Todd was his own support act playing heavied-up versions of Robert Johnson's songs with a line-up of two guitars, bass and drums subtly entitled 'Todd Rundgren's Johnson'. Straight up blues-rock which took a lot of the audience by surprise, but it was great to hear lots of Todd guitar even if they did sound a bit under-rehearsed. There was an over-long interval before the main event started but it was worth the wait. Todd had ten or twelve costume changes through the show, some of which were hilarious e.g. a fat suit for 'Onionhead' and his feathered outfit for 'Zen Archer', a couple of spandex leotards also featured along with an orange suit. Not forgetting the gold lame, and the astronaut suit for 'International Feel'.
Todd's band (guitar, bass, drums, two keyboards, sax/flute) were excellent and really sounded as if they were enjoying it; Todd's vocals were stupendous especially on the soul medley (I'm So Proud etc.) and the crowd went bonkers for the last half hour or so after 'Cool Jerk'. Todd had re-ordered some of the songs to give him time to change frocks in between songs. He did a lot of running about as well, considering he must be over sixty years old by now, and blasted out some flash solos on his psychedelic Gibson SG. Great!
For a full review and slideshow of Todd's performance of AWATS at the Orpheum Theatre, Los Angeles click here.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Room 101 Disney Style

Miley Cyrus demonstrates excrutiatingly what a talented artiste she is in this outdoor live performance. There's a special prize if you can bear to listen to this all the way through; maybe this is what they use at Guantanamo Bay to extract confessions from the detainees.
Kind of ironic that the show was sponsored by Toyata!

To be fair, you shouldn't really risk this kind of a gig, where you have little or no chance of hearing the monitor speakers, unless you are really good at what you do e.g. Paul McCartney or Todd Rundgren can usually sing in tune whatever is going on because they are exceptionally gifted. Whereas poor little Miley only has an extensive marketing campaign.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Cold Tuesday

We had an interesting time in Cyprus, including the coldest Tuesday they've had for thirty years. We actually used an electric blanket. There was a lot of rain too, but we did get some sunshine at the end of the week and I enjoyed a quiet(ish) afternoon reading 'Clochmerle' by Gabriel Chevalier in the sun on the balcony.
Of course all the rain was good news for the Cypriots as it means their reservoirs are now over 50% full, so the Powers That Be have removed the water restrictions and it won't be necessary to buy water from Greece this year. Good news for Cyprus but bad news for Greece, I suppose! And there is a lot of green vegetation everywhere as a result. Here's a picture of some wild fennel growing in amongst eucalyptus trees along with edible weeds called moloshes and mangalos. (Probably spelled incorrectly).

Publicly Funded Broadcasting

The BBC has begun to put its massive archive online;12 million artefacts including 600,000 hours of television content and 350,000 hours of radio. So far, they've uploaded less than 10% but there's loads of stuff there with which to while away the hours. Everything from Neville Chamberlain to Twiggy, including John Noakes (Blue Peter) and James Burke (Tomorrow's World). There's TV and Radio programmes, documents and photo galleries. And an interview with Billy Fury!

For Sale : Abbey Road

It must take spectacular mis-management but somehow or other EMI, which owns the rights to The Beatles', Pink Floyd's, The Rolling Stones' and countless other top-selling recordings, has made a pre-tax loss of £1.7 billion. EMI need £100 million immediately to avoid being in breach of their banking arrangements with Citigroup. So there is speculation about EMI selling off some of its assets, including the Abbey Road studios - EMI do not see the studios as 'an integral part of the business'. That quote might indicate one of the reasons why the daft clucks are in trouble; I wouldn't mind betting that Abbey Road Studios is one part of the business that does actually make a profit.
The National Trust is interested but would need to run a campaign to raise the funds. However, I think Paul McCartney should buy the studios (he's got at least £400 million in the bank) and donate it to the National Trust. Any road up, if you are Paul McCartney or some other benefactor with £30 million to spare (Yoko Ono?), here's a link to  Abbey Road to show what you'd get for your money.

Saturday, 6 February 2010


El Presidente and I are away for a short break, checking up on t'builders and so forth in Cyprus. People to see, papers to sign. El Presidente also wants to making sure the right tiles and bathroom stuff is bought. My duties will be mainly to do the driving and provide reassurance; and/or look threatening if the builder or any sub-contractor gets bolshy. Otherwise I'll mostly be  reading. The weather tends to be cold-ish in Cyprus at this time of year but I'm hoping for a spot of sunshine in the mornings at least. Fabmary remains in charge here at Xorg HQ, assisted by The Boy Wonder.


FabMary and I were discussing the strange phenomenon that seems to be occurring frequently these days, especially in America, when people see an image of Jesus in a bowl of spaghetti or a slice of toast or somesuch. Muslims tend to see the word 'Allah' - they are not allowed to have images of Himself. There is actually a term for this: Pareidolia. Of course, it comes from The Greek : (para), amiss, wrong) + (eidōlon), image). David Hume, the Scottish philospher described it thus:
  • There is an universal tendency among mankind to conceive all beings like themselves, and to transfer to every object, those qualities, with which they are familiarly acquainted, and of which they are intimately conscious. We find human faces in the moon, armies in the clouds; and by a natural propensity, if not corrected by experience and reflection, ascribe malice or good- will to every thing, that hurts or pleases us.
So it's a kind of wishful thinking which reveals something about you. Other examples of pareidolia might include seeing Elvis working at the dry cleaners, the Loch Ness Monster, and UFOs. Psychologists exploit this phenomenon as an analytical tool via the Rorschach ink blot test. Disney and others also use it to anthropomorphise cartoon animal characters. However, I have yet to hear of any cases of Donald Duck's visage appearing on a slice of toast. And I wonder how the Flying Spaghetti Monster feels about Jesus appearing in his bowl?

Friday, 5 February 2010

Getting One's Grey Cells Going Again

I might live to regret this but in an effort to re-energise my brain, I have signed up for another course of study with The Open University. I have already completed a BSc (Open) degree which focused on technology and social sciences, graduating in 2002, and meanwhile I've done a course on music technology which I didn't particularly enjoy - too much maths and physics! I also tried a taster course in astronomy which served mainly to show that I could never really get beyond the basics in that field. So I've gone for the Humanities this time, starting with the Arts foundation course AA100 'The Arts Past and Present'. The course gets under way this weekend. Loads of books to read!
The course includes the study of Christopher Marlowe’s play Dr Faustus. Coincidentally, the Watford Palace Theatre is touring a production of this play, sponsored by Hertfordshire County Council, so I wandered along to the performance last week at the Queen Mother Theatre in Hitchin. Hertfordshire CC's objective in sponsoring this is to provide a dramatisation that can be performed in schools as part of the A level syllabus. As a result there are severe budgetary constraints and it has to last for less than an hour. This made for a 're-imagining' of the play using only four actors, casting Dr Faustus as a woman, setting the play in present-day Cambridge University, and conflating several of the characters after some heavy editing of the text. And cheap production values. They managed to preserve the narrative and the essential ethical and philosophical issues but inevitably the production was a tad one-dimensional, having lost light and shade given by ancillary characters and events. But I'll give 'em 7/10 for trying, especially as the actors submitted themselves to a post-performance question and answer session.
There you go; I'm getting all arty farty already.

'Sent From Your iPhone'

Call me a niggardly old cuss but I get cheesed off when people email me from their iPhone and at the bottom of the message it says "Sent from my iPhone". Well, congratubloodylations mate you've got an iPhone! Do you have to keep telling us this? Do you have a signature for emails from your computer that says 'Sent from my computer'? We know how emails get sent!
It is fairly straightforward to change the 'signature' or not have one at all. Here's how to do it.
Choose “Mail, Contacts, Calendars” > Signature, then type a signature.
You can set iPhone to add a signature—your favorite quote, or your name, title, and phone number, for example—to the bottom of every message you send.

Suggestions: Peace and Love*, Adios Amigos**, Hasta La Vista, Baby***, Bye Bye Baby****
* if you are Ringo Starr, ** if you are The Cisco Kid, *** if you are The Terminator, **** if you are The Bay City Rollers

Rock and Roll Truisms

Entertaining discussion thread over at The Word : What are the things in rock that are clearly obvious to you if not necessarily anyone else? Some examples :-
Bruce Springsteen can't sing or play guitar.
Velvet Underground were crap.
Lots of heavy metal songs are about hell and the devil. Very few are about 16th century metaphysics.
Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse - over rated and over exposed.
I fail to see the point of Leonard Cohen.
"The only reason you're in this band is because you've got the bloody PA."
There is generally a very good reason why rare and unreleased tracks are rare and unreleased.

Here are my contributions:
1) The readers of music magazines are often more astute than the writers, and can more often spot a load of hyped up baloney when they see it.
2) Very few albums are 100% good. There's usually at least one duff track (e'g Yellow Submarine on Revolver).
3) Just because you can fit 80 minutes of stuff on a CD doesn't mean you have to.
4) It is really depressing that The Daily Telegraph now has a staff rock music 'journalist'.
5) Phil Collins should have stuck to just playing the drums.
6) Keith Richards should be dead by now.
7) George Martin made the difference between The Beatles being a great pop group and The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Music.
8) The world would be a different place if Jimi Hendrix had lived.
9) Electronic drums should be disinvented.
10)The 1980s were generally pretty crap all round - big hair metal, New Romantics, Thatcher, Reagan, synthpop, McCartney's Frog Song. I could go on.

Thursday, 4 February 2010


Someday, I'm going to go to Hawaii and climb to the top of the Haleakala volcano when the Earth and Mars are closest in their orbits and, coincidentally, there is strong moonlight reflected in the fog, and I'll be able to see this view:

Mars is the bright light in the sky.

(via APOD. See also TWAN)

Peace and Love

Ringo Starr is now sober, has stopped smoking, is vegetarian and he has found God. Although he doesn't say which particular god he's found, we'll assume he's using the term in its generic sense in a kind of Ghandi-like way. He's also got a new album out called 'Y Not'.
Being a Ringo Starr album it's not what you'd call ground-breaking but it is quite snappy and commercial, and it has a positive feel to it. And he's got some top class collaborators in there with him so it's not bad at all. I guess we all have a soft spot for Ringo - I like the way he's never anything but what he is - so I wish him well with it. You can listen to it on Spotify. He'll be 70 years old this year.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Blue Heater

Here's a picture of Phil's latest project, now complete - an effects pedal for guitar The Blue Heater. I tried it out today. It provides overdrive and distortion almost like a fuzz box. Quite fruity. The plan is that Phil and his buddy Rohan will make more of these for sale at £75 a piece and they have one firm order so far (!) from the guitar tutor at the school where Phil works. Big trees, mighty acorns and so forth. I am bound to say, however, that it seems to me that Phil has done most of the work whilst Rohan's role has been more 'consultative'. I'll see if we can get them to make a short demonstration video to put on You Tube.
All enquiries to


At this time of year most of our insurance policies (car, building & contents etc) come up for renewal. Somehow or other, this fact has found its way on to several databases and I get bombarded with junk mail offering to sell me ever cheaper insurance and even better service than ever before offered by anyone. All this despite the fact that we've stuck with the same company for some time now because they are reasonably priced and have provided good service. I wonder whether their databases also tell these companies that?
Any road up; today I got junk mail from the AA, Saga, 50 plus (twice), and RIAS. Enough! So I've registered with the Mail Preference Service in the hope that these bothersome nitwits will eventually leave me alone. The idea is that companies sending out mailshots check their list against the MPS list and refrain from sending stuff to those on the MPS list. 
I've already registed with the Telephone Preference Service which has reduced the number of idiot phone calls, but has not unfortunately prevented Kwik Fit from calling me from somewhere in deepest Scotland to offer me something or other in an impenetrable Scottish dialect. At least the chaps in India try to pretend to speak English!
Update:   Next day; just received two more from RIAS. Apparently I could win a Caribbean Cruise and a Mini simply by asking for a quote! And another from AVIVA.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

February the Second

'Ow Do, Chuck! Today is what Americans call Groundhog Day. Besides being an excellent film what this day is all about is relying on a hibernating rodent to prognosticate on whether or not Spring is on the way. If the groundhog can see its shadow then it goes back into hibernation; if not it stays awake. This is of course a load of balderdash because if Spring is not on the way then the Earth is no longer tilting about its axis and something has gone seriously wrong indeed. February the Second is, not surprisingly, half way between the Winter and Spring solstices. The custom apparently dates back to pre-Christian times when the Celts used to reckon that when badgers were up and about things would be warming up. The Americans seem to have adapted the custom from some European immigrants.
Whatever. When I looked out this morning there were no shadows. It was dull and overcast and drizzling with rain. If I the option had been available to me then I would have gone back into hibernation.
PS. The groundhog is also known as the woodchuck and it remains a matter of some debate how much wood a woodchuck would chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Get Back

Last Saturday was the anniversary of The Beatles' rooftop concert at Apple, 3 Saville Row, London. This was their last live performance; 42 minutes long. The setlist was Get BackDon't Let Me Down, I've Got a Feeling, One After 909, and Dig a Pony. There's more stuff about the concert at this fansite. I actually saw the film of Let It Be back in 1970 or 1971 at the cinema (the Odeon, Middlesbrough) and it was at times quite depressing as you could see and feel the tensions within the group. Paul McCartney was getting on everyone's nerves and everyone resented Yoko hanging around. It's no wonder The Beatles have not wanted the film to be reissued. But despite all that, they still made some good music. Any road up, here I am outside the front door of what used to be Apple HQ, pointing upwards to the roof, several years later.