(The Making Of) Are You Sitting Comfortably?

Featured

This blog entry is more for those who have followed my progress and have been involved in some way with the making of my new album.

First off, it seems odd to be writing a ‘making of’ of anything to be honest. The main reason being that it has taken so much longer to produce this album than first intended that I really have doubted at times whether I would ever get anywhere near finished! When you mix with that the last eighteen months I had personally then it really is a little miracle that I have anything to show for it at all. A ‘making of’ therefore seems appropriate, as much as a way for me to objectify this whole process as much as anything else to be honest.

The album started as most do, with a personal word with myself that my newest run of a couple of songs needed a home and they sounded on a similar quality level to fit on the same street, and so the idea of this album began to form.

The first song written ‘for the album’ was Complicated. This was and still remains the strangest song I believe I have ever written. It reeks of it, even through how I wrote it all the way to the video that emerged at the end of the process. So I started writing Complicated on ‘Steve’… my new Resonator Chrome guitar that my step dad Rod had given to me very generously around Christmas time in 2012. During my “can’t put it down” stage I began tuning Steve in many open tunings and tried writing blues based songs on it. I got out a slide and everything, but in-between the hard work of writing a different song that ultimately never made it, this other song was jumping out at me from the 12th fret in open E tuning. It certainly was not blues; it was a strange progression that I was playing in a plucked style with each finger simultaneously. It mimicked an electric piano and in the following months I got to record some ideas with it. The guitar part left altogether when I put each strings part onto a different note on an Electric Piano and mixed it in to a very different track.

The lyrics were starting to reflect a personal situation but then many other things at the same time, pushing the verses to each have their own individual theme… it was getting more complicated by the minute and soon enough I was layering idea after idea of melodies that were leaping out at me, each being more catchy than the last, but each fitting its own unique space in the song… they were starting to stack! Complicated turned into a computer heavy track that had a personality all of its own, and in many ways, it was the challenge of writing an album which would suit this and all the other songs yet to be written that got the album going in the new direction it was to take. I was also experimenting with videoing and animation at the time Complicated got its momentum and so I built a video that reflected its multi-purpose nature, but also hoped that I would capture some of my quirky sense of humour into the film. I *hope* I achieved that. Anyone including something intended to be tongue in cheek runs the risk of people not getting the joke and so it was a brave move on my part, but the video almost wrote itself once I had decided its storyboard hit points.

After that the song existed for quite a while as my health slowly started to slow me down after shooting the video and finishing the single version of the track. Even back then I knew that an album version would likely have the guitar part put back in and a more organic version being delivered in its final incarnation.

The second song to be written was actually The Pilot. I was in a reflective mood but wrote The Pilot before I got really poorly and was just about still gigging at the time. It was written on my Martin guitar (called Allan) and before long I began messing about with non-sensical melodies and rhythms, a method I often use when writing songs. The subject matter came through some words that were forming in the chorus and the theme seemed to be new adventures in love, along with a side theme of trepidation that comes from past experiences. I’ve been hurt before… who hasn’t? This song is about the worry that a new adventure brings and having the faith to go ahead with it anyway, despite your worries. The nervous tapping style of the guitar part seemed to suit that ethos and at the time I was experimenting with percussive guitar and open tunings thanks to the likes of Ryan Keen and Newton Faulkner as influences. When I showed The Pilot to my mum she instantly reacted well and said in her opinion that it was one of the best songs I’d written. Mum’s are great for that, but it sounded like she meant it this time and so I have deliberately treated this song with great care ever since and hope that the album version is as organic and subtle as I want it to be when it’s finished.

Shortly after that I got a burst of good vibes and a new upbeat track seemed to leap forward within days of The Pilot… a song called “Thirty Something”. This is the first sign that I was starting to worry about my health, and the lyrics reflect that in its quirky theme. The song is a note to my body, asking it to hold out for long enough to give me the children I so would love to have before anything happens to it that might stop that from being able to happen. It’s a song about feeling your age and noticing that things don’t do what they used to. I wanted the pace of the song to be the irony, in that it is a hard song to perform and takes some energy… a bit of a body tester. Silly I know but all these things add to the soul of the song in my opinion.

Smiling Underneath was next as I took my first steps in to a Hospital to have 3 molar teeth removed under general anaesthetic. I have had a mortal fear of dentists and surgery since I was 20 and so I was always going to be moved enough to write a song about it. Smiling Underneath is about beating your personal demons. I had never been under general anaesthetic before and my only real experience of Hospitals was the endless visits with dad’s treatments until watching him pass away from Cancer after a myriad of botched surgery attempts that took his life earlier than the Cancer was going to anyway. I simply could not bring myself to trust a surgeon or dentist for fifteen years. I do now though, and that’s because of the wonderful staff at Bradford Royal Infirmary and how they are looking after me so brilliantly.

A song I had previously put away which then came forward to be finished properly, and I’m glad it did, as it has turned out to be the strangely likeable song I look forward to playing and listening to. Diddly Dudi Yabadu Dadi Dey-Dey was half-written before Complicated but only ever remained as those words without any verses. Now I developed it and had the main idea for what I wanted the verse lyrics to be about. It was a song that needed some digestion time but eventually turned good… I think. In its jazzy style I wanted non-sensical lyrics to be the main star of the song, and to give contrast in almost contradicting lyrics in the verses. It’s the first song I’ve written purely in 5/4 and the bouncy style of it always told me that one day if I got the chance, I would put it on a Double Bass. At last that chance has arrived and I simply had to have a go at playing it myself. It seems to have worked! I am influenced by many people but the vocals in this song were deliberately layered to give a certain feel that was achieved by one of my favourite artists, Donald Fagen on the album The Nightfly. I wanted the jazzy feel of that atmosphere and hopefully the 26 tracks of layered vocals help to deliver that to some level.

After Diddly was sorted I was still struggling with my health and it took the next bad turn. I had to take some time off everything and as I went through the worst of the operations I longed to have the energy to play my guitar and to write. I slowly aimed towards one song at a time and during my recovery I began to play a song, and then two after each other whilst extreme fatigue tried to hold me back. I couldn’t walk properly for 5 months and this was a big factor in my losing confidence in all my abilities and lack of practise on my guitar was starting to move me backwards. I HAD to write… I HAD to play. I was dying inside.

Then Save My Skin leapt from the depths of my soul. It is quite rightly a gentle and subtle song which documents my health troubles somewhat through some descriptive and suggestive lyric writing, and this song was very deliberately written to help aid my recovery during the worst and most painful time of my life.

Shortly after that as I gained a little strength I wrote Wish, closely followed by Never Say Never Again within days of each other. Both upbeat and hopeful songs which reflected my positive character trying to fight back from the rather rough cards I’d been dealt that year. Wish was rather obviously about the hand life deals you and the desire to beat what it throws at you. Never Say Never Again was about a personal love interest that I’d previously ruled out and rightly corrected my stance upon. This was shaping into a rather eclectic mix of songs!

I wrote The Subject Line as I attempted my first phased return to work when I was on weak steroids and never knew that I didn’t stand a chance of succeeding back then. I was to be off work for a further 8 months, unbeknownst to me. I even asked my doctor for advice, and she instructed me to use music as an aid and to measure my fatigue with. This couldn’t have helped more. Music and the building of this album is one of the main things that got me through the tough times, that and the unrelenting support from close friends and family. The Subject Line though was a little strange song that tackled the sillier quibbles that happen in everyone’s office, in everyone’s love life and in everyone’s day to daily grind. It’s about the way that people speak to you behind the protection of a work email or Facebook message… adding that certain gusto that they would never dream of saying to your face. That.

The Twist was a happy accident that happened late one night in my video room. I had a little riff that wouldn’t leave me alone and it grew into something that clearly needed no assistance with heavy handed words. The Twist seemed obvious to use as a bookending instrumental track.

I have always been a fan of Spinal Tap and at this stage I realised I had a potential 11 track album. My new album could go up to eleven. It all seemed to make sense.

To finish off, the album title had to reflect the home of all these personal songs. During my illness phase I had kept a private online blog, which I shared with very close friends only, which documented my entire journey through getting Crohn’s disease and every other negative thing that occurred during 2013-2014. I had named that diary “Are You Sitting Comfortably?” due to the nature of my illness, as it started out with symptoms which made it uncomfortable for me to sit down without being in excruciating pain. The diary finished after about 14 months and went a good way past 100,000 words in length by the end, highlighting the irony in its own title. The phrase seemed more than appropriate to cross the medium to my new CD and ultimately it made so much sense when it finally occurred to me that it just simply had to be. I had this in my mind whilst writing Save My Skin and the line developed in the bridge of that song quite naturally. It all tied together brilliantly.

At that point I was ready to experiment with another side project video which would see the creation of my two friends Sebastian and Reg. These were two sock puppets I made back when I was first off sick as I stayed at home trying to quench my thirsty mind with activities that were not strenuous. The two seemed very photogenic after my initial designing and after running them past close friends it seemed I was on to a winner. I intended straight away to use them in *a* video, but the use of their pearly white teeth when designing them really did mean I could only use them for one song. Smiling Underneath.

IMG_6145

I again drew up a video storyboard but this time it was very different. I had a completely different idea which despite my being ill would be filmable and useable to my needs… I filmed at Bradford Royal Infirmary who were looking after me at the time, and ran the base video in reverse. I then used a green screen donated by my wonderful friend Marion to record the musical parts over the top and worked with Seb and Reg to get their backing vocals into the video. The two are representatives of my alter-ego… 2 sides of myself that have come to life. Seb is a nervous one word answer type of guy, and Reg is a no-nonsense welsh Rastafarian who tells it as it is. They now have the means to feature in any number of future videos and they reflect my quirky side rather well I have to admit. I fully intend to make them a feature in their own right one day, giving them their own spin-off comedy YouTube show… When I get time of course. I’m thinking of a sketch based show which puts the two in some well-known scenarios, such as on stage playing Richard the III or sat across the table from each other putting the world to rights like Alas, Smith & Jones. The video seemed to be really well received and our two heroes are still receiving fan mail today.

Music Video Image 1IMG_2762

Since then the album process has been delayed and restarted many times and various health issues have been on-going, whilst other things have been achievable. The album has ended up being a very well organised project, which has needed many other people’s help to come together.

Despite having my own recording equipment I knew that this album was to be an organic and acoustic album with real drums and instruments throughout the songs. The intention was to remove that “Cubasey” feel you sometimes get and focus on layering with what is needed rather than what just sounds nice. Despite this attitude I have still managed to layer a great many sections but have tried my best to contrast that in the right places with thinner textures and different instrumentations. This time, the main bulk of the album is real instruments and the occasional ear candy part is played in, meaning that so far I have played or recorded every single part, be it a double bass or a keyboard playing a whistle sample. I wanted to do this properly, with attention to detail.

To do this I needed to borrow some equipment and two wonderfully generous friends came to my rescue. Jess Rowbottom and Sebastian John. I borrowed a recording desk from Jess with some extra leads and a Tascam X48 recording PC from Seb and plenty of microphones and wires and headphones and stands. I set my drum kit up in my bedroom and plonked a duvet around it to keep any noise away from the microphones and got busy. Thankfully I had been practising along to click tracks of my songs for a couple of months and had decided what to play for every song. I got busier still recording all the new vocals and guitar parts and bass parts with clean signals and before long I had the beginnings of a rough draft album.

Then, DISASTER! Well… a few disasters! The Tascam recorder of Sebs first of all wouldn’t work, and so when Seb came to swap the cards over inside it, I remarked that we should leave the cover off for a moment just in case. We turned it on and it went on fire! The wires inside began melting, and within seconds real flames were coming hotly out of a metal box in a small sound-proofed-with-duvets bedroom. I quickly turned it off whilst Seb dealt with the flames. It went back to the shop and they thankfully dealt with it and got it back to us as quick as they could.

After recording 4 songs on drums, I tried to boot up the Tascam the following day and suddenly the black screen remained black. The hard-drive had failed. Thankfully I’d backed up everything, but it meant I would start working on the first 4 songs whilst it gets looked at back at the shop again.

As the first 4 songs came together I began to show a couple of trusted friends the mixes that I had in mind to get some much needed feedback. The initial reports were great! Something caught my ear though.

Marion pointed out that it was a rather special thing that I was playing all of the parts and instruments myself.

I admitted that I struggled to comprehend this, and I meant it. As a music teacher and musician I have always just got on and played stuff, regardless of whether I think I can play it or not. I just get on with playing it. The high point for me during this album though was recording the Double Bass part on Diddly Dudi Yabadu Dadi Deydey. This is NOT something I do on a daily basis. I play electric bass and have done for years, but I have never had the wrists to cope with a Double Bass. I guess I just don’t get put off if I haven’t done something before and as I play many instruments anyway it seems as though now I have been playing those instruments for long enough to be able to play most ideas that I seem to come up with on pretty much anything and if I can’t, I practise on it until I can. It’s only after years of doing that and turning around to reflect now that actually reveals what I have achieved. Hopefully I have done the parts justice, as just because I’ve had a go at playing all the parts, doesn’t mean that I can and that I have succeeded! I guess that is up to you to decide. I’m happy with how it has all gone though. When I say I struggle to comprehend it, what I mean is that when I hear the recordings back I genuinely can’t believe that I have played the track I’m listening to, never mind that it’s every instrument! We jokingly commented that I am a control freak but it’s a joke that is true. When it comes to music, I have 2 modes, music for others and music for me. When I play with other people I love to play ‘their’ music. By that I mean that I do my utmost to play the parts that are required with as much sensitivity and emotion as I physically can. When I do music for myself I consider it a different thing altogether… I see it a little like an artist who locks themselves in a room with a full set of paints and blank canvas and crafts eagerly until the finished product is ready. This is not by design but just how I grew into it. I’m no Michael Angelo, I just use those methods as my musical head is constantly full and always desperate to either perform music or record it in some way. I simply HAVE to get it out of me. I hear orchestras and multiple layers in my head when I compose and I suppose that is something that exists thanks to so many years of training and practise with my fingers AND my ears.

There is another reason though.

The playing of all the instruments was always an accident. It had to be. I didn’t sit and decide to do it. My health told me to.

I withered away so much when I was at my worst with Crohn’s that I simply HAD to use the playing of guitar and drums and singing to aid my recovery. I used it as Music Therapy. A drumkit makes a wonderful gymnasium! I literally was playing for my life as I see it. I would hear the parts in my head, but would crave playing them enough to beat my pain threshold and play through anyway, as the endorphins that “getting better” were releasing were keeping me sane and maintaining my momentum of building my body strength literally back up from scratch. Every bass-line, every funky guitar part and every vocal line assisted me in getting my health back to where it is now… which is not perfect, but at least I can walk and play guitar and drums a bit now. I had no choice… music means that much to me that it just took control and rescued me. I really did have minimal say in the whole debacle… but making this album saved me.

IMG_3399

So I haven’t used a fancy studio for loads of money. I’ve used… me, and the resources of my very kind friends mixed with my own to get hold of everything I needed to record the album. Apart from the double bass and an organ on two songs, the rest has all been recorded in my little terraced house in little old Wakefield. I’ve used a PC with Cubase 5 and Pro Tools Lite and a half-decent set of ears. I’ve mixed and sound-engineered for many years now and my First degree in Music Technology and Popular Music was not wasted here. I have been busy, and I think I’ve managed not to cock-it-up so far.

IMG_1376

I have left the trickier songs til last as they are more sentimental and will need that extra dash of being on-form to get absolutely right, being The Pilot and Save My Skin, but I’m doing my research and hopefully all should go to plan.

During all this I also made a rather shrewd decision to get a little help in the form of Tom Higgs and his extraordinary artistry. It was time to design the album cover and artwork and I had a very specific direction that I wanted to go in. Now Tom is an ex-student of mine who I have always got on brilliantly with. Whilst drafting up some booklet images he played around with his own idea and shared it on Facebook. I was amazed! It was that good that I HAD to get him on board as he totally understood what I was after. The plan, was to create an image that represented each song, with the lyrics to be put alongside. The images were to be carefully made and would be connected somehow to the song it represented for inside the inner booklet. The main idea here was putting me in scenarios that I wouldn’t normally have been in, and to “sit comfortably” within them, whilst the outer artwork would reflect me sitting rather more uncomfortably, on a railway track. The railway was chosen as it is an abandoned and disused track near where I am from in Ackworth. The image chosen as the cover is trying to represent the danger that may or may not arrive in the form of a train, boosting the meaningful nature of that cover, but it also reflects my roots, which is inherently American due to my blues upbringing, even if it was in leafy Ackworth. It seemed the perfect fit.

Tom began processing some wonderful colour filters on the photos and I fell in love with what he was doing to them. The photos themselves were taken by my amazing friend Cat Thompson, as we struggled up the side of the embankment with a guitar and a tripod and my little 550D camera. We took a great deal of shots of me being silly on a railway line, but the dusk settling brought thoughtful moments that encouraged the shot that made it to the cover. A great deal of time (about 2 months) was spent on the photos and creating the images for the final artwork. I decided I wanted to make a small amount of CD’s but I really wanted them to feel special. Here’s why.

AYSC Album Thumbnail TWEAKThe Subject Line Booklet Page 8

The bad year (eighteen months really) started with my first ever operation under general anaesthetic. This was to have 3 of my teeth removed and saw me facing my worst personal fear head on. This was when the first songs of this album had been created and the bad year and the album went hand in hand like Zig and Zag. The album was always intended to be the one good thing that came out of such a bad set of circumstances, and I still hope that to be the case when it is finally finished. From there I developed Crohn’s disease and Psoriasis between my legs and couldn’t walk for 5 months of that year. I had two operations, two colonoscopies, various MRI’s and millions of steroids and spent most of that year in severe pain and discomfort. Then my mum got breast cancer just before Christmas and had a mastectomy where complications meant we nearly lost her. Then I had to be at my strongest when I truly was at my weakest. This album kind of documents the entirety of those events, just as the ridiculous blog diary of 100,000 words did. It’s a big slice of my life that I simply have to put behind me, and completing this album has very definitely turned into that burning passion that I MUST finish to get closure on the whole bloody lot of it. I don’t mean I can’t move on if it never gets finished, I just mean that the album has turned into a personal battle of achievement that, once completed, and real, will hopefully give me a sense of completion that none of the other albums I’ve ever done have managed to match. They couldn’t do.

So I had to get this album out of me. I also have to do it for the people I love.

They haven’t asked me to, but the people who rescued me, my closest friends, and my wonderful family, have all added to the melting pot that is the album in a unique way. They are responsible for my carrying on… for my rehabilitation… for my being able to cope now that the worst is over. I have to do this for them; to show them what they rescued was worth rescuing.

To do that, as I have gone along, I have tried to write the catchiest bitch of an album that I can muster. If I can get the few people who will listen to the album to hum the songs afterwards then I will consider it a success.

I am not being pessimistic here, that simply is not in my make-up. I am going off previous experience and album sales from three previous self-released albums of mine and the news is this. In terms of physical copies, I have sold around 40 copies of each album I have ever made. Digitally, I have sold a fair few more of “The Musician” but I’m talking actual CD sales now. It matters as I have to plan how many actual CD’s to have made. I think the only safe option is to get 100 copies made, just in case, but I will knowingly have 60 potentially expensive coasters on the way… but I will make a resolute effort to get gigs and to remember to actually try to sell them this time. Another thing, is that social media is more helpful than it used to be and so if I get lucky and a few well followed people get wind of it and share it about a bit I may make the money back that it will cost to get 100 made, which is around £350-£400.

Now I don’t believe in pledge campaigns as such. I don’t have a problem with others doing them, I just don’t see it as a pathway that would suit me. Apart from the fact that I would only raise a small sum of what I needed, the truth is I wouldn’t want to make an album with other people’s money, regardless of the album reward at the end. Maybe I’m a traditionalist, but I wouldn’t let someone buy me the silk and sequins if I was trying to make a fancy cushion that I wanted to sell, even if I was giving them a free cushion at the end. It seems… the wrong way round. An album is something that you make yourself, at your own expense in my opinion and run the risks of trying to sell it, knowing that you made it yourself. You don’t go to a café with some eggs and some bacon in your bag do you? It serves a purpose for those who choose to do it and there is certainly no right or wrong about the issue, it’s just how I am and was brought up I suppose. I guess I wouldn’t really get a lot from an album that was pledged for. I’d get the finances earlier maybe, but it would feel horrible to finish the CD, give a few away and that be the end of it. I *need* the act of trying to sell them to motivate me to get the gigs and to get me back out there. Strange but important reasons, I think you’ll agree.

In that case I know that I need to do a run of gigs and save the money from those gigs to pay for these CD’s. I’m prepared to do that happily, however my health lets me down just when I need it not to at the moment, but hopefully I’m a lot closer to that changing. I cannot wait to get gigging regularly again. It’s where my heart is and where I feel the most at home.

The next stage sees me tackling a bunch of songs that have never existed in any format other than as a simple acoustic song with one vocal and a guitar part. That means that I am composing and arranging again and that is extremely exciting and rewarding. Only today I finished 20-26 tracks of vocals for The Subject Line, of harmonies I literally improvised over from the fresh ideas I’m having as starting points. This means until I edit it, I won’t hear the layered harmonies lined up together for quite a while yet which just keeps the carrot dangling to get finished and hear the full effect.

The way I do it is to maximise the chances of getting the takes I need, I record 4 main vocal takes, and make mental notes as to which lines or phrases haven’t been done well enough, and then focus on getting a ‘good’ version of that the next time round. That way I end up with a much clearer vocal and I can pick and choose which lines are the best and then edit my way through to a final “perfect take”. After that the harmonies start as single lines that come into my head, and then I might record those as they happen on my iPhone so I don’t forget them, and then I listen back and start to layer them, muting the ones I’ve just done as I go. I focus on lines ending at the same time and the rhythms all moving together and experiment with melody directions until around 4 or 5 of them sound smooth together. This is when the song starts to really take-off as the layering that has been catered for during the arranging stage starts to form a much bigger soundscape or picture. It’s a bit like looking at a square image from far away, and realising as you slowly walk towards the image that it is actually 9 smaller squares, and some of those squares are closer to you than others, but the perspective stays the same as you approach. A bit like those Channel 4 stings where passing at the right angle reveals different elements of the 4 logo lining up to show the full picture.

I’ve got a method as to why I chose to record the songs in the order that I have done. As my energy has been a rare commodity, I have simply had to consolidate my efforts into short stints of recording here and there. What I choose to record can be either very difficult parts, and if they are then I follow those up with the next song choice being a much easier song. This means I record hard-easy-hard-easy as it balances my energy levels. I also bunch together takes in this way. I may do 3 guitar takes and feel utterly exhausted, and so then I might finish with the bass drum take as that is easy and I can sit down to do it. In fact, the more my fatigue has been issue, the more I have been forced into playing the drum parts separately, as in just the Hi-Hats on their own and then just the snare part. Even though when I wasn’t as poorly I learned all the songs as full drums, it has helped me to simply break those parts down, as playing a full drum-kit sometimes is just way too much for my body to cope with. At the moment for example, the medication I am on has given me severe joint pain, and so I’m having to focus on the easy drum parts and can barely manage to get through one take before I’m exhausted.

Wish was the next “hard” track to finish and I am glad that I recorded the drums to this before I got really bad with the joint pain. I concentrated on the careful arrangement on this one and had to be very careful not to over-cook it. I *think* I succeeded… if anything it certainly is a funky song. I found it difficult at first to settle on a bass line for Wish as I normally play bass lines that are pretty continuous, but this song definitely benefitted from having a carefully crafted bass line that played in a call and response fashion, as it gave space for the complicated drum parts to “sizzle”.

Then another revelation. I got greedy and excited and bought myself a second H2 Zoom handy recorder, so that I now have two identical ones. These are amazing and record at studio quality, with no background noise as they are SD and have no moving parts. I also got an iRig Pro for my birthday recently and that also allows great quality recording with no background noise whatsoever. This is a very powerful tool, as background noise is the evil enemy of all sound engineers, and it is the only thing that holds back home producers, as most use a PC which has a loud fan which somehow manages to get on the recordings. Not now. Not anymore. These devices have enabled me to record at a phenomenal quality that I have never achieved before.

I moved onto The Twist (Intro) next as I knew it was always ever going to be a guitar opening to the album, and that it would be in a different key to the “full” version at the other end of the album so the main focus was playing it with the right feel and recording the guitar really well and in such a way as to make it sound full and rich as it would have nothing else underneath it to help it along. I setup both recorders in front of my guitar and also plugged her in to the iRig and into my iPad. This gave me what I can only describe as a 3D sound for my guitar that I have completely fallen in love with.

It. Is. Gorgeous.

I’ve achieved this guitar sound *just* before recording the guitar featuring songs where the texture relies upon the guitar parts a lot more. I went on to record the guitar for “Save My Skin” as that was a relaxed song and again the guitar has come out sounding beautiful. I’m over the moon!

The Twist (Intro) and the (Instrumental) were delicate to get right but I made sure I mastered them within the same session file so that they are exactly the same harmonically. The drum parts for the Instrumental version were a treat to play. I grabbed some brushes to give a nicer shuffle sound taking some of the attack out of the part and concentrated on “dancing” the brushes to the melody so that the feel of the track bounced along. I wanted to raise the second version from the first and putting four bass drums on the beat with the open hi-hats on every other beat really makes the track sizzle for me. The bass part wrote itself and I had great fun using my ’59 Fender Bassman Re-issue to maximise sustain on the longer notes of this particular bass track. I wanted to maintain a simple instrumentation as it is quite simply a modern instrumental folk song, designed to be catchy and clever as the melody doesn’t rotate around your normal 4 or 8 bar structure. The end result is a happy-go-lucky ditty that makes me smile and hopefully it will have the same effect on any listeners.

It was time to move onto the “scary” songs.

When I say “scary” I simply mean the songs that I had put pressure upon myself to get right and not over-work in any way. The remaining songs were all difficult in their own ways. Never Say Never Again required an amazing drum part and bass part, The Pilot needed crystal clear guitars carefully layered and played perfectly, and also had a previous version that I needed to forget to make a brand new feel come to life this time, and Save My Skin needed singing absolutely on the money, with the instrumentation of the song being particularly critical too. I had my work cut out and my energy was disappearing fast.

So I prioritised what needed the most energy first, which was the drumming. Again I was without the multi-tracking Tascam recorder of Seb’s and so I was reduced to improvising with my portable recorder and PC to record the individual drum parts. The aim was to not have any “bleed” which happens when lots of microphones are on at the same time, each part of the kit has another part on the same track when you play everything at the same time. I had learned to play my songs as full drum parts and so now I had to break them down. With this song being so busy though, I actually put a cushion on the snare to mute my snare hits, meaning I didn’t lose the feel when playing along, but I needed to play along five times, muting all but the next part of the kit to record. The final result is a wonderfully clean kit sound, which is easy to mix and control as when you turn the snare up, you’re not forced into turning up the bass drum or hi-hats at the same time. It’s a neat but patient trick that has worked wonders in my particular recording setup… This was a wonderful accident from simple improvisation and I think the album sounds infinitely better because of this approach. It means the album sounds much closer to a multi-thousand pound studio than my house with a microphone or two dotted about. The real trick though has been minimising any background noise. If this is done right then any recording can be made to sound amazing by the right ears. I’ve had a voice reflector and careful timing of when the neighbours aren’t screaming at each other, mixed with the lending of some noise cancelling headphones that you can wear without any sound escaping that I borrowed again from Seb. This means that the recordings just have what is supposed to be in there, without lots of hiss or low level headphone bleed. It’s all about technique, and attention to detail, along with incredible patience. I‘ve simply had to be patient though, as health has dictated so many of my decisions over the last two years, so actually I saw myself not having anything to lose, as this started out as a project for myself.

Being off work for 15 months over 2 years has an effect on you. In that time I had absolutely nothing whatsoever of a positive nature happening in my life. I was in constant pain. This album is the one positive thing that has come out of that time as a response, but throughout the worst of the illness my guitar and my songs kept me going when I was at my absolute lowest ebb. To even dream of finishing this album now, after everything that has happened, seems a miracle to me. It means everything, because if I don’t finish this album and do something with it at least, then 2 years of my life have been wasted merely being in pain. I can’t let that happen. That is why this album started out as being very much a vehicle for my recovery. It worked. It has kept me motivated and given me purpose through the toughest of times when I haven’t been much use to anybody. I’ll never go through anything as hard again in my life, so I’ve endured to make sure that this is the best album I could possibly have made. I’ve just had to use my brains, my ears, my musical skills and my determination to wrestle the record into the perfect replication of the full sound of the songs that were always in my head. This is what I always intended them to sound like, and there’s not one bit of the album I am not happy about decision-wise. I’ve made sure I don’t release it early, only to say to myself… “Bugger… the guitars are way too loud in this one.”

After the drums for Never Say Never Again were sorted I began to build the bass part and made sure I gave it some umf. I was delighted with the result and the rest of the song began dropping into place before I knew it. I then jumped on YouTube to listen to the Theme tune to the original James Bond film of the same title, to see if I could utilize it or stay away from it, depending, and the first thing I heard instantly made me smile. I chucked it on a Clavinova after improvising it a little and sped it up. It worked a charm. The vocals would be done later as I knew my voice needed some stamina building work doing before I finished the final tracks off. It’s been a while since I’ve sung! The draft vocals were a great guide though and the draft mix came out really well. This song surprised me and is funky enough to be some people’s favourite of the album I’m pretty convinced.

Then Save My Skin needed me to maintain being on point. I did my best and came out with another gorgeous guitar take. Again the vocals would be left till later, but the bass parts and the harmonies began to gel even at this early stage and I focussed on the instrumentation to get the balance and temper of this song absolutely right. I decided to go for it and asked my friend Ross Moore to have a go at recording some Lesley organ on it and left the song in a nearly finished state, ready to mix once Ross gets back in touch.

And then it was the biggie. The Pilot.

I set up the mics and tried a few different positions but found a gorgeous setup that maximised the percussive sounds of the guitar and the harmonics. It is 2 stereo microphones and a direct signal from the pickup going into my iPad. The results are amazing and the guitar part alone makes the hairs on my arms and neck stand up. Listening back, I can’t believe it’s me. I move onto the bass part and remember to keep it simple, and focus again on instrumentation. I played in a Karimba part to give it that continental feel and shoved some Blu-Tac onto my drums sticks with some cotton wool wrapped around them to make orchestral beaters for the cymbal, which made it a more Chinese cymbal in sound that warmed and swelled and really fit the soundscape perfectly. I was getting it right, I think. With things moving along nicely I went on to finalise the structure and ended up with a totally different version that was a million miles from the old version I’d recorded 3 years ago, which had a dub-reggae feel that I didn’t like in the end. That was the hardest thing with this song to be honest… trying to forget the previous version so that this one had a totally fresh feel. Hopefully any listeners will approve of this more organic direction. I left things again ready to record the vocals on a final swoop. For now though, I needed a brief respite.

Some rest garnered and a little vocal strengthening and I was finally ready to record the last vocals. Three songs with harmonies, and “oohs” and “yey-yo’s”. Awesome.

I got a weekend where I felt a little brighter and gave the last vocals a bloody good go. Without hearing them initially, I feel in my head that I have the recordings I now need, to edit and finish off the album in one last push, knowing all the recording is now done!

The next stage is extremely important. As with a great many things, the secret to a good album and making it work as intended is all about your head. I now have a huge map in my head of where everything is, how loud it is and where it sits in the mix along with what effect or equalisation is needed or has been set to maximise the soundscape. Everything has a different colour in my mind. Teal parts that are concrete and finished, orange parts that need editing together, and red parts that have been re-recorded and need to be replaced. The most difficult part of this map was the actual mapping stage when the mapping is “happening”, when you are finalising decisions of what lives where and what structure things should have, whilst remembering what needs doing still at a later date, once everything else that needs to happen first has happened. An album is an extremely complicated business.

I cannot begin to count the amount of word documents I have called “Mix-Run 23” or “AYSC things to do 11-11-2013”. It is a massive undertaking, and the converting of sound from your head to the sequencer is utterly mesmerizing. Many people don’t start by knowing exactly what they are after. They might begin with a direction, but not have finalised decisions about instrumentation or song structure even when they rock up to the studio and say hi to their session bassist. I have a different type of head. Music in my head happens in full. I don’t just hear chords or melody… I hear hundreds of melodies, and hundreds of chords and sounds and interacting rhythms, and for me it is normally extremely frustrating to record something as until now I have always been a musician who was always just behind the means to produce what was in my head. This album is inherently different. I have finally grown mature enough and well-practised enough to actually represent my ideas accurately on several fundamental instruments. With Guitar, Bass and drums now well and truly added to my toolkit, I have to now work in a different way. Now, when I compose on Bass, I am thinking a little as a snooker player might, and seeing several moves ahead with what the drums will end up doing and therefore what the guitars ought to do well in advance of being able to hear them all at the same time in reality. I have to imagine them all together in my head first, which I do, and then I have to build the parts from the bottom up to build the soundscape that my head has put together. Then when you add the complicated nature of remembering which files you’re recorded, which are draft takes to guide the recordings and which are keepers, which are in need of processing to make them do what you originally intended, like delayed vocals that sound like they are being sung through a telephone and things like that. It all adds up to a huge organised chaos of mapping in your mind that dazzles you unless you stay absolutely resolute in striving forward to achieve your idea. In my case this turned from a collection of songs and into an album just as I recorded the video to Smiling Underneath. I suddenly foresaw the finished product in my mind… cover, songs, sounds and design, all as a concept at once and knew exactly what I needed to do to produce it. The only grey area was my health and how much that might slow me down.

Well it did for a good long while, and I can only be thankful that now I have longer bursts of energy before burning out which is allowing me to progress at all.

I have about 2 weeks of editing to do with the 5 or so recording sessions that were finished off in the same blitz of four days. Then I will master the tracks and send them to some fellow trusted ears and ask a couple of close friends to make notes on anything they spot that I might have missed. I’ll also play the album to myself on various sound systems to see a bigger picture of what frequencies need tweaking to get the best mix across all devices. Once that’s done, and any last minute problems ironed out, then I can finally call the CD production company I’ve chosen and haggle for a deal to get 150-200 CD’s made, after sending an initial draft one for inspection.

Then the tracks are uploaded to CD Baby, who distributes the album to iTunes and Amazon so it is ready for release by a certain date. I’m still deciding that date, as it’s looking like a few weeks to finalise mixes and finish completely and it takes a week or two to get to iTunes et al.

It’s looking like a January release though and that makes me happy. It’s the New Year, a fresh start, and by then I may be well enough to gig again and support this venture with some promotion gigs and hopefully some radio appearances if I can get organised to get the album out into the big wide world.

The next stage is the most difficult and tedious and requires more determination than ever before to make sure that every niggle is ironed out so that I can listen to it myself and not judge it anymore as a sound engineer. Sadly that means it has to be perfect, but it suits my pedantic nature and thankfully I have tried to raise my game yet again even from the last album I did called “The Musician”. I had a unique and wonderful experience working with Ruby Macintosh on her album and found myself telling Ruby just the other day how much working on her project had taught me and shaped how I’d approached this one. We spoke during a little feedback session, one of a few I’ve chanced along the journey where specially selected friends have had the opportunity to hear tracks at different stages and their reactions have helped to shape some of my decisions too.

In this final stage, I had to start back at the beginning and analyse what I had so far and make notes over and over again to remember to pay attention to every detail. I did the remaining editing first, and asked my friend Ross Moore if he would record some organ for me on “Save My Skin”. He obliged and came up with a delicious part that was a real cherry on the cake when the mix came together. I did a total re-edit of vocals for Smiling Underneath to get a better doubled vocal as the first one was loose, and added another harmony to The Subject Line in the bridge verse and then moved onto doing some harmonica for Save My Skin to replace the five failed attempts to sing a simple harmony melody once I realised they were struggling due to the size of interval between the melody notes which meant the low notes were way too quiet. Adding Harmonica was a very inspired idea in the end as I went for a folky harmonica rather than my usual distorted bluesy sound.

Then it was time to master the files. This involves mixing the tracks down to a single stereo file and then processing those files with multiband compression and equalisation and some clever file cleaning and some volume boosting to make all the songs sound at a similar volume and at a level which is similar to other professional CD’s. When the album came back from Mastering it suddenly sounded a lot more punchy and sparkly and it just “popped!”… I couldn’t be happier with the end result! It sounds exactly as I wanted it to and how it did in my head before I made it!

So on the 25th November 2014 the album was finished and finally ready to be sent off to the CD printers to produce the hardcopy CD’s that Tom and I spent so long designing. I literally can’t wait to hold a real one in my hand, and it’s only a couple of weeks away from this point!

After a brief chat with the wonderful Marion I accidentally arrived at January 24th as a potential Saturday night that could be doable as a launch night! It would give me 2 months to rehearse up the band and advertise and organise everything which is doable, although it will be hard work.

I’m even nervous about asking the musicians I have in mind as I’m not sure they will have the time to be able to help me out. I can give them a CD to learn the tracks from now but I’m still anxious that I get the right set of people. I know who I want, and the ideal band would be incredible. I just hope they all say yes!

I need to find a venue that suits me now which is hopefully available on that night. It will be in Wakefield of course… but I am at a loss to even guess the numbers that might come along… Twenty? Forty? Sixty maybe? It really needs to be the *right* venue.

Decisions, decisions!

It pains me to think it might be 2 months yet before anyone hears or sees the album! Do I release it before the gig?! I might do an online poll…

A few days pass and the decision is made. I have found a perfect venue! Henry Boons in Wakefield are letting me have the back room to myself which has a great stage and some comfortable seating and will have someone on the bar. I have to drop a deposit in but it’s all arranged. The date I have to accept is the 25th January, as an event is already on the 24th, but it suits just the same and accept the deal graciously. I now have posters to do all of a sudden!

I bravely bare my soul and finally ask the musicians I’ve pencilled in perfectly in my mind.

Every one of them said an enthusiastic “Would love to!” and I am still reeling from flattery even several days afterwards.

Within three days I managed to organise a venue, a date and a full band.

Rob Taylor on Drums.

Matt Bradley on Bass.

Ross Moore on Keys.

Chris Sharp on Lead Guitar.

Ruby Macintosh and Sebastian John on Backing vocals.

I am one very lucky guy!!

I also decided to have 2 special guests to support and as yet am awaiting a response from my first enquiries.

The next stage is making sure everything will be at the venue and to organise the band rehearsals. That means giving people CD’s with their own mixes on and doing some lead sheets to keep everyone sharp and focussed. I need to sort a rehearsal schedule that everyone can make and rehearse the vocals separately and add them later.

Facebook event pages created and tickets organised it’s at last time to get back to the venue and pay up with some posters in hand. Tickets for behind the bar are produced and will be guillotined tomorrow. I’m old school, me.

I venture to Henry Boons and happily hand over my posters and tickets and deposit and take a gentle stroll back home, shaking my head in disbelief that this is actually going ahead!

AYSC Launch Poster 1

On my return I send a band message out with the album attached and the rehearsal mixes all sorted to give them a head start on learning the songs and then sit down rather exhausted to finalise in my head what else needs doing.

Later that day a thread I posted about finding some album reviewers bore fruit of a different kind. I’ve been offered a live radio session for Yorkshire Music Collective Radio Bradford! I’m in the studio on February 10th to promote the album and play some live songs from it! It’s amazing what opportunities a little networking can bring you!

After no reply from my first support choice I again have some decisions to make as to who to invite for the 2 available slots. I do hope I decide this soon… I’m drawing blanks at the moment and I am even a little miffed that my first choice didn’t reply.

I finally get around to putting my songs into Sibelius and making lead sheets for the band to follow. As amazing as it would be to have a permanent band, the assumption at this stage has to be that this is for one gig only. As that is the case I don’t have the luxury of doing a few gigs to warm the band up and so the structures of the songs will be of utmost important to get right. Even well-rehearsed and gigged bands make structure mistakes and so I have to minimise this as much as I can and doing simple lead sheets with the chords on and the bars with repeat sections in and the like mean that the band will always know what’s about to happen. If we get that right then we should sound tight as hell. *Should*. ;)

5 songs done so far at the pace of about an hour and a half per song! I’ll continue this into the week but I’m also aware that I have to get some other admin type stuffs done to sort out my self-employment journey. Momentum is gaining rapidly now!

After some deliberation I finally decide on the 2 supports for the gig. I get in touch with a young male duo called “Strung To The Sky” – who are a pair of local lads who remind me of myself and Antonio Lulic when we first started our duo as The Heat. Very musical chaps with gorgeous melodies and their music is mature and beyond their years. My wish to showcase a relatively unknown act who would benefit from a little gig like this has really come to fruition with these guys. Once contacted, they were delighted at the opportunity and are really up for it! I’d heard of them through my friend Cat, who saw them in a battle of the bands recently, and they really got her attention… I checked out their live videos and they are indeed very talented gentlemen! So thrilled to have them on board!

I then contacted my second chosen artist “Laura Kelly”. I’d pencilled her in anyway, as I have known Laura for a year or two and saw her at my Open-Mic night and she blew me away. She uses a loop pedal and manages to arrange everything such, that it doesn’t come across as fiddly or as a distraction… she uses it as an instrument and as an asset instead and creates some beautiful soundscapes that match her wonderful and pure voice. A real talent who has helped me get the odd gig in the past… It was the least I could do to invite her along to showcase her and she was delighted to be even considered! Laura is a very humble lady who is destined for success.

I get to tackling the remaining lead-sheets with more momentum still now that I’m so close to being ready to rehearse the band. I’ve done this before and learned valuable lessons every time. When rehearsing a band is saves SO much time to be organised and go into rehearsals with as much info as you can give them. Ideally, I’d love the lead-sheets to be not needed eventually, but I’d much rather have the musicians choose not to use them, than not have them as an option at all. Fundamentally this is a complicated album which will need everyone to really focus to get the parts right.

I venture on into the night and finish the remaining lead-sheets. It feels AMAZING to get them done and to see them altogether. It looks like one of those piano music books you get with your favourite bands songs in! Just because I happen to have a poster protecting the outer pages if anything. I’m very satisfied. Things *should* go smoothly when we finally get together.

After a few days the invoice comes in for the actual CDs. I ring up the company and tell them the proof pdfs look amazing and to proceed and I pay for the order to be processed. It felt like a big deal paying £500 but I know that at £10 each I have to consider that I need to make £1500 back from these CDs. To actually go ahead and self-fund this venture with a great deal of faith is a hard and brave thing to go ahead with. I was rather shaky when I put the phone down and realised there was no going back now. They are either going to come back perfect or not… 150 of them. Eek!

I really can’t wait. As it is Christmas the CDs should be ready around the 2nd or 3rd of January, and so I’m hoping to have them with me on the 4th or 5th. I cannot wait to hold one in my hands!!

I get itchy feet as Christmas goes by and rehearsals are still not underway, but I know I have to let the holidays happen. People are now letting me know which days are doable so my confidence that it will work out whatever happens is starting to come back to me a little.

As the 28th arrives at midnight I check iTunes to see if the pre-order version of the album is up yet. It is!! I feel all squiggly and giddy as I see it in front of me in the iTunes store all real and preview-able. This is very real and actually happening! I still can’t quite believe it.

I get the status ready to announce the pre-order and decide to pay a little extra to boost the audience the post may reach. It’s a risk but I have to promote this thing and any idea to increase my chances seems good at the moment.

After a few days the post gets over 3,000 views which is a new record for me!! I won’t find out from iTunes for a good while (about 3 months) if I’ve sold any pre-orders of the digital album but I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

The 2nd of January passed and so did the 3rd… So I decided to get in touch with the CD makers to see what was happening. They have at last told me a date which is Wednesday the 14th of January… a day after the full band rehearsal!! I am rather excited and cannot wait now! It’s so close!!

Brilliantly, a few ticket sales come in for the gig and my fantastic friend Marion tells me she’s booked her hotel! It’s all very very real now!!

Tuesday the 7th of January. Rehearsal time.

I asked Seb and Ruby round to begin going over the harmonies and ironing them out. It was SO exciting!! Hearing my lyrics and ideas coming out of other people was fascinating! It really put my mind at rest too… to finally get a mark on the canvas and see things come to life. We even got Seb and Reg (the puppets from Smiling Underneath) and practised with them, making sure that Seb and Ruby knew the parts properly… :D

10893339_10153012430006948_1052541939_n 10904713_10153012429456948_177538435_n

Ruby has been an absolute superstar and has found me a rehearsal space!! So I now have a full band rehearsal on Tuesday the 13th! It’s in a garage… So it’ll be a bit cold… but if I take heaters it will be brilliant and no one will be able to disturb us. I’ll be setting up my own drumkit for the drummer so that it saves time and will be ready for when he arrives so we can rehearse instead of waste time setting up. I also need to prioritise the hardest songs and rehearse them in a very specific order to maximise how well everyone remembers everything. I can’t wait for that either!!!

As of the 8th of January 10 tickets have been sold and I’m delighted with that!! Most people will get them last minute but it’s great to see things moving along now.

I have also been contacted by my local radio station to send them a couple of tracks as they are plugging the gig on air this Saturday the 10th January at dinnertime! When I consider that only a few days ago, Never Say Never Again got aired on the amazing Sine FM, it really has been a week of positives and productivity, despite my health wavering at the moment.

It might be the stress of this venture that is slowing me down for all I know. It is quite strange to feel elated at album things going well when I feel really ill. Very strange.

Whilst waiting for the albums to arrive I sort out the lead sheet photocopies and rehearse myself up a bit. The airing of Never Say Never Again on Ridings FM was fabulous and they were really nice and plugged my launch so I am rather delighted. That is three radio plays now!!

The rehearsal is on Tuesday and I have some sorting to do before then including what songs to rehearse and in what order. So far I’m thinking of keeping the simple ones until the end…

Smiling Underneath

Thirty Something

Complicated

Save My Skin

The Pilot

Never Say Never Again

Diddly Dudi

The Subject Line

The Twist

The rehearsal situation:

I have to admit that my ill health has played a big part in how late rehearsals have technically begun with the full band. Until now, I had always intended to rehearse before now, however my fatigue levels have simply ruled out any rehearsing of the band until this point. I have rehearsed the backing vocalists and will do again a couple of times, but the band being in the same place at the same time was also always going to be a big ask, and so I knew it would come down to a mammoth rehearsal with good organisation needed. Thankfully… it seems to have worked a treat!

It soon became apparent that Tuesday the 13th January was a mutual date everyone could do and so we confirmed that date a little while ago, knowing that it meant things would be “tight”. I asked the right people to be in the band.

Leading up to the main band rehearsal I was under instruction to look after my energy levels as Cat and Ruby bossed me around for a couple of days and ensured between them that I got fed and rested in preparation. When the big day arrived I knew I also had to have a final decision time to inform people if the rehearsal was off due to my health. I woke with a tummy full of butterflies. It felt anxious but excited. I was good to go, for me.

I grabbed a shower and thankfully the night before Cat and I had brought the drums downstairs. I gathered the remaining lightweight items and got ready to rehearse. Cat arrived after work and we loaded the car, Cat lifting all the heavy stuff, and as we arrived at the rehearsal space Ruby joined in carrying armfuls together to minimise my energy outgoings. What a brilliant pair of friends they are!? Got your back love, that is.

It takes two trips but Cat has me back and setting up the drums for Rob Taylor in good time. No rushing about today. I could not have done the rehearsal without everyone’s help, but especially Cat, who made sure I ate, drank, and took breaks when I got pale. She is a superstar!

The rehearsal itself began once everyone had dribbled through the doors and had a drink and exchanged big hugs. It is an awful long time since all of us were in the same place together, and between us, from my point of view, we’ve known each other for a collaborative 60 years all told, which is rather amazing when I think about it.

Matt Bradley struck up on Bass and seemed to have a whale of a time playing Smiling Underneath. Chris Sharp had a sweeper role, which was that he had certain hit points to definitely include throughout the show, but that he plays in a different register to my guitar part to fill things out and his ears are wonderful! Chris is an extremely talented guitarist who has a gorgeous sense of musical taste and he grabbed the parts with both hands! Rob Taylor was a hammer on my lovely sounding drumkit and he really nailed his structures and tickled the ambient parts up lovely!

Seb and Ruby sat casually in the distance, just far enough away to hear their vocals between them, but not amplified or loud enough to distract me from rehearsing the backline of the band, which everyone understood was the priority. In that vein it seems I was rather caught out in fact. My iPad led me astray during Complicated as I’d not updated my lyric app to be in the right song structure, and so whilst faffing around looking for the lyrics I needed it seems my illustrious and sharp-eared bassist had indeed done his homework, and revealed to me what the structure of my own song was. An incredible moment I shall treasure forever!

We grabbed a couple of small breaks and the first was welcomed. Cat had sat quietly doing her schoolwork, whilst setting the camera going and reminding me to do human things like eat and drink. She made me a coffee and I made sure I got a breather. One thing this rehearsal taught me… I need more stamina! I did get rather pale at one stage but adrenaline pushed me through and the butterflies had long gone.

We soldiered into more songs and went over the changes and people actually used my lead-sheet booklet! As an ex-teacher… I was secretly delighted, and also took a little too much pleasure from sharpening a box of pencils to take to the rehearsal earlier that day. The outcome was we were efficient and got a great deal more under our belts than I thought we would. The videos taken are extremely useful to debrief with after such a rehearsal as this, because it’s clear to see which parts everyone feels confident with when you’re not playing at the same time.

A second break and I ate a sandwich and drank more Lucozade which was a saviour in all honesty. I couldn’t believe Chris didn’t even take a break… he happily continued playing parts and trying ideas out and worked his blinkin’ socks off, as did everyone and I could not have got through the night without that wonderful support.

We called time at a sensible half past ten and everyone mucked in to pack all the gear away. Seb and Cat lifting on my behalf this time. Seb even stuffed my drums into his lovely Clara (Mini Cooper) and gave me a welcome lift home, where I awaited Cat with the second load of equipment.

A tough but utterly productive evening!

RMS - Rehearsal Pano

I started to ache all over at about eleven and again, on direction from Cat, took the decision to do nothing but rest the following day, and to speak minimally to protect my voice and recover properly. I had to take some painkillers on getting home, but the elation I felt from the rehearsal kept my head whizzing for hours afterwards, whilst I also got excited that although a rest day, tomorrow sees the arrival of the CD’s! I got an email just before setting off to the rehearsal that they have been dispatched! I’ll be sleeping on the sofa from 8:00am to make sure I don’t miss them knocking!

It felt like an age until the web page finally said “out for delivery”, but at 12:38pm there was finally a knock on the door. I had barely slept and leapt from my temporary dozing spot on the couch to the door and fumbled the door open to gratefully receive 150 CD’s!!

I was SO giddy! I left the box on the table for five minutes as I digested that they had arrived and prepared myself for the mammoth occasion that was about to unfold. I grabbed a coffee and some scissors and with extreme care opened the box. I could almost hear choirs singing as the rows of CD spines began to reveal themselves and the cold temperature of the outside world had given the CDs even more crispness. I pulled out the first CD.

Perfect.

I didn’t breathe as I carefully took out the amazing looking disc and put it in my CD player to test it.

In. 42:00.

Play.

The joy was uncontrollable. I started crying like a baby from the outset. I managed to calm myself down and took the obligatory photos but could barely stop my hands shaking. Under extreme scrutiny even, the CD’s have come out better than I could ever have dreamed. The booklet was exactly as it was in my mind and the whole package sat well together and felt special in my hands. I could not be more delighted or elated and the euphoria has yet to subside I have to admit.

I listened all the way through intently and as hoped the music before me was as I had left it. I simply had to text a few friends and share my giddiness!!

AYSC 0bAYSC 1

AYSC 3

And so here it is at last… The end of the journey. The gig will have a separate blog and the album is finally finished and all that remains is for you to grab a copy and listen to it for yourself… If you’ve read this blog until the end… then good for you! You have now been a part of a secret project and by reading this you have supported me and taken your precious time to understand my journey. I cannot thank you enough for sharing this journey with me, whether you are a casual reader, or someone who has been featured in this article. Everyone who has joined me on this journey has helped me to get better in some way and I cannot thank you enough for that support.

I’ll hopefully see you at the gig!

Ryan Mitchell-Smith

** To pre-order the album just visit this handy link! **
http://www.ryanmitchell-smith.com/cds/4587953533/are-you-sitting-comfortably-(pre-order)/9267918

Advertisements

Take A Knee

 

If your father strikes your mother, should you be proud of him?

Take a knee.

If your Mother beats your baby brother because he spilled his orange juice, should you protect her?

Take a knee.

If your movie hero sexually assaults someone, should you ignore it?

Take a knee.

If your police force persecutes minorities with violence, should you respect them?

Take a knee.

If your religious leaders sexually abuse vulnerable children, should you forgive them?

Take a knee.

If your president is a racist bigot who separates children from their families and seeks to enforce inequality, should you follow him blindly?

Take a knee.

If your flag is flying full mast when a war veteran has died, should you respect the people who fly the flag?

Take a knee.

 

 

If you have the strength to hold the people at the top accountable for their mistakes…

Take a knee.

If you see the world with your heart and your eyes wide open…

Take a knee.

To kneel is stronger than to stand…

Take a knee.

To cry is stronger than to pretend you are OK…

Take a knee.

If you want to stand but the weight of the corrupt is too much to bear…

Take a knee.

If you want to save the vulnerable…

Take a knee.

If you want to change the world…

Take a knee.

If you want to be free…

Take a knee.

 

 

Words And Pictures

At primary school I remember the teachers who told me off.

 

At high school I remember the teachers who believed in me.

 

At college I remember the teachers who inspired me.

 

At university I remember the teachers who taught me how to teach myself.

 

These sentences crossed my mind randomly the other day and it made me wonder why I remember my educational upbringing in this particular way.

Is it that I was mischievous at primary school but got better as I matured? Is it a map of my educational self? Is it an image of my schooling history from my point of view? Or is it environmental? Is it psychological? Is it the same for everyone else? A reflection of the stages of learning that we all go through? Does it shed some light as to what we are capable of and at what age we are capable of it? How do we perceive ourselves as we start and continue to learn?

 

“At primary school I remember the teachers who told me off.”

 

I was a good kid. A bit cheeky with the odd pretend loud fart noise here and there but I listened. I thought hard, daydreamed harder and I practised the things I was told to practise. I have a vague pleasant memory of Mr Latham. He was the geography teacher who took us to a Chinese restaurant when I was 9 years old. We had spent a whole term studying Chinese culture and had to make a huge poster (about A3 – I was LITTLE!) about its history and culture and its food! He was a lovely man, but I only remember images of a big moustache, and sitting round a red table with a spinney middle that entertained me for the whole meal. It was a fabulous way to finish the project and I remember having sweet and sour chicken and lot sand lots of fried rice.

 

At the age of 9 I was an average achieving student. I was often discovered gazing wistfully out of the window. My picture of the world then was safety based. Am I wrapped up enough? Can I get home without being seen so that “Greenie” doesn’t beat me up again? I learned all the secret ways home. My cognitive thinking was developing nicely but I was better at working out how the black and decker drill worked than I was at reading roger red hat.

The learning I did at primary school was helpful but not ground-breaking. This was 1986. Teaching then was at the height of its standing at the front talking stage. It lasted too long. My head was in the clouds though and the concept that I was there to learn was irrelevant and unimportant to me. I didn’t know what the word “learn” meant. Back then proof-of-learning was non-existent.

 

“Do you know what the word learn means?”

 

“Yes.”

 

*tick*

 

I find it hard to believe how old-fashioned it was even in the open-minded eighties. I would love to write that I don’t have any regrets about primary school and all the incidents that occurred there, but I do. I regret that teaching and learning were simply not co-existing in the same classroom, indeed, the same county. There was no proof of learning and the teaching methods were simply talk at the students for most of the lesson and force them to be quiet or else. This meant I was totally unprepared when I got to high school to understand Maths and English at the level I should have been able to.

 

It seems to me that this is all the wrong way round. If primary schools focussed on teaching you how to teach yourself like Universities do, then I believe my education would have been *much* more productive for the rest of my learning career. It felt like someone gave me google on the last day of my education.

What actually happened though was that I was given a fish when I needed a fishing rod. The teacher kept their fishing rod to themselves and kept telling me how they thought I should use it without actually letting me have a go on it.

 

I remember some things infinitely better than others. How is it I ask myself, that my memories of a simple TV show, that was designed to make me do things without even being in the same room, managed to teach me how to write neatly and to be proud of trying to make things look nice and neat?

Words & Pictures was an eighties children’s learning show. It was a spin off from its older cousin Look and Read. The difference was that Words and Pictures used puppets to tell the stories instead of famous grown-ups. It focused on storytelling, and on phonetics, and on the building blocks of letters. It applied cognitive thinking to problems and invited you to want to solve them. It invited you to ask questions, and then answered those questions without you having to have asked them out loud. Amazing. Truly. It was aimed at younger children than Look and Read and even now stands out as one of the most viewed children’s TV shows of all time.

For a learning TV show like that to achieve that impact was amazing but very simple. Back then, it wasn’t as important to justify creative ideas. Someone just came up with a good idea for a show, and then someone took a chance on it. Risk-taking. The legacy of the best learning there is.

 

“At high school I remember the teachers who believed in me.”

 

When a high flying senior leader comes along and starts saying “take risks in the classroom!” I get all excited and think “Yes! Finally!” but then I quickly realise that there is a sub-text and that what is actually meant is “do what you’re told and do not make any mistakes under any circumstances.” Leaders want to stand at the front of their staff and sound positive, to look like they are open minded and that they are not hindering you and they want to look like they encourage you to do things your own way because they want to come across as popular and free thinking. But the second you go into the classroom you get an email that says completely the opposite of what the leader just said and it all comes crashing down. “Don’t take risks when the Ofsted inspectors come in, obviously!”

So people end up being apprehensive about taking risks or reassessing their own actions. People sadly, are more scared of making mistakes and more scared still, of being told off. It means we get trapped in a cycle that exists because the people at the top keep repeating the same message in different disguises that *something is happening*, so it *must* be happening? Right? Wrong. The same thing is happening over and over again, but it is just disguised in different words so that the new leader of Sixth form can make an impact and earn those extra management points.

 

The fact that minor victories make it through now and again is a saving grace. Occasionally someone with great ideas turns up and makes a difference to a group of students despite the overwhelming tide of rules that the school forces upon its learning environment and that is too few and far between. Imagine if we all could actually take risks? If we all felt guilt free to take risks and make informed active choices that we believed in to teach the children we *know* who are sat in front of us?

 

And another thing… Why the hell are the students sitting down?

Asking a child to sit down and NOT learn is like asking a grizzly bear NOT to eat the honey you just placed in front of it. Is it really that important? To observe authority enough to allow it to curtail inspired learning for so many years? We ask students to sit down because we want them to be behaving when our boss walks in. Let’s ask them to sit down when they’re tired. That’s my point.

 

High school itself really felt like a factory to me. I was extremely lucky to have some amazingly inspirational people around who believed in me, and showed me how to succeed if I believed in myself too. The fact that I wore a uniform didn’t change me one jot. The fact that I was proud of my school badge did.  It gave me a sense of belonging and that was nothing to do with a uniform. Imagine if schools implemented a code of conduct instead of a uniform? Imagine if it was just a school badge that could be sewn into a jacket or a school bag? Maybe there are some positives to wearing a uniform that I cannot see, but as yet I’m failing to see how allowing children to express their own individuality through wearing what they choose is not infinitely better. I cannot see how making everyone dress the same way is positive in any way. Children learn authority through their interactions with parents and class teachers and PEERS. I know I did not become a more disciplined person because someone ensured I stood in line during assembly or because I wore a uniform. ALL of my discipline came from learning conversations, and strong relationships with people I respected.

Sadly though some people in my school often came across like this…

 

“Respect me!”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because I’m telling you to!”

 

Sadly every school has good and bad teachers in it.

 

As a teacher I often struggled not to fall into certain traps. I would do things very much differently now if I could. The most common mistake I made was standing in front of a class for twenty minutes, even half an hour before the students in front of me genuinely started to learn anything.  As teachers we are doing everything we can to optimise learning, but often it does not come across that way to an observer because we start to waffle and distract ourselves from what we were supposed to be learning today, especially if we are still learning how to be teachers and have not filled ourselves full of confidence yet. It is easily done, we try our best but everyone has bad days and life has a habit of slowing you down. It’s hard but as teachers we have to strive to be our best at all times. I made this mistake so often, but I can’t remember the last time someone told me half an hour of instructions where I then successfully went away and remembered every single thing they had said, so WHY did I used to do it and expect my students to remember so much? Why didn’t I just teach in smaller stages to make it easier for all of us? Maybe we are fashioned into doing it a certain way by our own learning experiences, without reassessing whether it is the most efficient and learning friendly way of doing things. I am much older now and I would teach SO much differently now if I went back into teaching.

To stop and start and have enough control in a classroom to physically organize and inspire and teach 30 young adults is an incredible expense of energy. It makes sense that it would be easier to leave them sitting where they are but surely that is not dynamic? Surely it’s about learning for yourself as a practitioner how to have the confidence and energy to take complete control and to feel free to move your students around and stop and start sections of a lesson according to what is needed rather than according to the how much energy you happen to have on that day. That is what I would strive for if I was a teacher now.

It’s got nothing to do with laziness. Teaching is simply one of the hardest working professions there is and it is the way that it is for many reasons. Just because things have been done in one way for so long does not mean we shouldn’t break the mould and attempt to do it in a brand new way for the sake of teaching our students in a much better way.

What if teachers were allowed to NOT deliver a three part lesson? What if a teacher had the power to actually teach in the way they thought was best for each student? What if a teacher could teach in a way that was not designed to impress an OFSTED inspector should they have a random observation with no notice? It fascinates me to daydream about how much further a student might develop if teachers were not hindered by conventional teaching expectations and rules. I think it would be fantastic and I think one day long into the future that it will have to happen eventually.

 

At the moment education is all about money, statistics and the hold that the industrial revolution has over the world of education in our country. It shouldn’t be. It should be about our children. Our children make better newspapers than us grown-ups, our children make better committees than we do, they debate arguments better than we do, and they have another huge, rather overwhelming advantage over us too.

 

They learn better than we do.

 

Children get things done. It’s time to listen to them. And learn.

 

Our current system piles extra pressure on our students. Schools disrupt students learning when they are approaching their GCSE’s. The do this by removing them from what is considered to be unimportant subjects and redeploying them into intervention sessions that try and fill the gaps in their knowledge that they need to pass their maths and English exams. This is the end of a journey that started with a target that was set for them 5 years before when they left primary school. FFT and grading pathways are still ruining our children’s learning and holding students back. When are we going to start breaking down this ridiculous framework that still has a grip on our schools? We should be removing league tables and treating each school independently due to its background, position and situation. Value added. It’s the only way forward in terms of how to correct this ancient beast we call teaching in my opinion.

I think we need to lose the targets framework altogether. Jimmy started at level 2. If he gets to level 3c, brilliant. If he gets to level 7b, brilliant. We need to stop putting a cap on it. Why? Because the current system still assumes wrongly that if you are good at English, that you ought to be good at maths, and that if you are good at music, then you ought to be good at Art or Drama, or maybe maths too if you’re a classical music student. It’s all wrong. You cannot paint children into those boxes. If you do, the system determines their decisions, not themselves.

Jimmy happens to be a Musical prodigy. He is utterly rubbish at Maths and pretty average at English so far. Isn’t it lovely that because this school needs to meet a pass rate, that Jimmy is taken out of Music in Year 11 for nearly a third of the year because of his Maths intervention? Jimmy is easily equipped to take on A level music, but he is now forced into an Maths intervention program because he went from a D to a B instead of a B+, but the cost of that is Jimmy gets an A- in GCSE Music instead of an A* because the school needed him to get a better maths grade. Jimmy doesn’t really want to do Maths but he is obedient and does what his parents tell him to do. Now Jimmy is waiting for his maths result to see if he will be a better Accountant because everyone tells him that is what he should do when he secretly wants to be a concert pianist and tour the world. It is insane.

 

We need a learning revolution.

 

Education needs a democracy installing, not a clueless dictator who has never been an education secretary before.

I wish we could put a team of five or six specifically chosen people in place, to hammer out the new frameworks in which learning should occur. One that allows a template which has moveable parts, so that each school is catered for under its own merits and circumstances, as well as the students learning methods being appropriate to the background and geographic area of the school. Teachers should be deciding what lesson content is, and they should be taking risks and experimenting, learning how to teach each class and student as a unique entity through what they know of the student and the surrounding community.

We need the people who are at the fore of creative learning progress. These people (such as Sir Ken Robinson) know what they are talking about. We need a super-group of learning heroes who understand the flaws in the system but who also have the means between them to redesign the system for the new age of learning. We need to change the paradigm.

We need to get rid of the school bell and to flush out the effect that the industrial revolution has had on the structures and frameworks that have held back our children for so long. I’m not saying by any means that this is the only way to fix the education system. Some of it is not broken and works just fine. There are many ways in which this new structure could exist, and my suggestions here are merely that. A suggestion. An idea. But surely it is time we started looking at the options which are on the table. My point is that we should have creative leaders who understand learning in position to setup a new framework that empowers teachers to teach what they know to the students that they know. We need to think about individual learning, and personalised pathways.

I wonder what ideas a creative team might come out with… I’d have faith in the ideas they might try… there is no such thing as one big fix, or one way that is better than another. We need concurrent and flexible ideas to enable our learners. All I do know for sure, is that we simply have to stop teaching them by intervention methods and filling in the holes before an exam in the hope that the students parrot their way to success rather than actually learning the material and being able to reuse the learning later on in life. As it stands, students have the knowledge to pass the exam they are about to take, whereas too many do not have the knowledge to apply their learning afterwards in the way they should. The point is to pass the exam, rather than to learn Maths or English in a way that benefits them further down their learning journey. Something has to be done. We’re giving out Mars Bars when we need to be giving a balanced diet, and it’s making our children bewildered when they move on from High School.

 

 “At college I remember the teachers who inspired me.”

 

By the time I got to College I had only just realised that I had developed a small personality. I was extremely shy and I remember on my first day just how nervous I felt without the structures that had given me such a safety net at school. I not only had to assess my own learning, but I now had to CHOOSE whether I wanted to learn something. I did not have to be there.

 

That dynamic changed everything for me. Not being forced to do subjects I did not want to do suddenly opened up a passion for learning that I had never felt before. At school, I had barely passed my music exam, getting a C amongst my other 5 C’s and 3 B’s. I was an average school student. Conscientious was always thrown round, but I was also a daydreamer. At college, I was a do-er.

The difference was that I realised through the passion of my new set of teachers that I was an individual and that I had the power to decide whether I wanted to learn something or not. I started not only to get above average grades, but I started to know that I was going to get them. I learned that you get what you work for, and that I was not a standard learner, I was someone who had to work harder to learn something, and at college, my teachers inspired me to want to improve myself and to work hard.

The change in thinking and the leap in knowledge between GCSE and A Level is way too big. There is almost an unbridgeable gap that exists at the moment, which leaves students approaching A levels with a serious disadvantage at the very start of their college careers. They believe it still works in the way it did at school. It doesn’t.

 

When I left school I struggled to understand why my knowledge was as deficient as it was. I had felt as though I had worked pretty hard, but that was always going to get the average results that I did. I was happy that I had passed everything sure, but it had made no sense to me, why I had to get a C in French, when I wanted a B or above in Music. I KNEW at that age that music was going to be my life. My education was changed to suit the school and I like everyone else had to parrot my way through my weaker subjects and learn how to pass exams without understanding what I was actually writing.

 

I was left without the Music theory knowledge I needed to get into College. I got a part-time job and paid for extra lessons through the summer to train me up for the Grade 3 Music theory exam that was my hurdle to getting on my chosen course. I did OK, working hard, but I couldn’t click with it like I knew I should be able to. Something was missing.

I walked into that entrance exam without any knowledge of whether I could pass that exam or not. I got 65/100. I needed 66 to get in.

The course leader let me join the course with the other 24 students. That opportunity changed my life. I worked *so* hard. I started to learn the things I had always wanted to learn. After 2 years, I was one of only 4 people to pass the course. I got 4 distinctions, seven merits and a pass. I was delighted, not because I had passed, but because I had learned that hard work pays off and that I was able to learn so much more efficiently than I ever had before.

This was my tutors fault. They taught in a way which showed through their body language that they loved their subject and loved teaching. They were truly inspirational, taking lessons out of the classroom and teaching in unconventional and creative ways, finding tricks to reinforce learning so that we KNEW the answers to things, rather than just thinking we knew. It was a revelation of epic proportions. The difference was that the tutors had control of the learning, and rather than prove the learning being the focus, the focus was individual learning, about getting everyone to understand, not just the people who you thought ought to understand. The 20 people who failed knew the information that they needed to know. They should have passed. The reason they didn’t, was because they didn’t care about actually getting the qualification, they went to college to drink and have fun too, which was fine for them. I wanted to fill my head with information and get into University. So I beavered away late into the nights just to get my head around the next assignment or performance exam. That entire cohort went on to succeed in huge bands, or succeeded as music teachers and everyone achieved great things in their own way. It was about value added. The tutors took a set of misfits, and moved every one of us forward in a way that was personalised and appropriate to each one of us. I left college feeling inspired.

 

“At university I remember the teachers who taught me how to teach myself.”

 

During college I had a personal tragedy. My father passed away during my final year and I broke my hand during an A level Art course but I still managed to draw enough to get a B despite drawing with a pot on my arm. I had learned how to play a piece of music on guitar and my plan for some years had been to go to Derby University. I went. But I went a year after I had intended.

I arrived for the audition and played my guitar. I played the piece ok, but the rather formal and cold teacher who judged me told me that another 400 guitarists had applied and that only the very best had a chance to get in. My audition was average. I was nervous because I knew I hadn’t applied to anywhere else because this was my *perfect* course. All my eggs were in one basket. I didn’t screw it up, but I didn’t *own* it. I didn’t get in.

I went away for a year and worked part-time whilst helping my Mum to get over my father’s passing away. I picked up a bass guitar instead and set about learning a brand new audition piece. “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” by Duke Ellington on a solo bass. This time I nailed it. Only 200 bassists had applied and due to my obvious determination, I had a very different response at Audition 2.

 

“You’re in.”

 

Brilliant.

 

I spent the first year with my ears wide open, taking in everything I could.

I spent the second year treating it as if it was my third year, and that was when everything that could go wrong, did. I damaged my hand again and failed an exam as I couldn’t write. I got a 2-2 for my second year.

In year three I learned from my mistakes. I listened to my tutors and began to use them. I began to talk to my friends and started targeting what I didn’t know, and I opened up my mind. It worked.

In my final year I utterly changed. My tutors knew who I was because I pestered them… a lot! I got 6 A- and 2 B’s and played my final performance exam as though it was my last ever performance of anything ever. I went for it and finished my degree playing my harmonica with the performance of a lifetime.

I got a first class honours degree in popular music with music technology. At the time, I was only the 3rd person in the courses fifteen year history to do so.

I managed this because my tutors believed in me, and empowered me to teach myself. They showed me, not only how to find out something I didn’t yet know, but also how to use it properly when I found it. This was teaching and learning at its very best and those teachers, mixed with my own passion, made me learn how to teach myself efficiently. They gave me confidence, and taught me that wisdom comes from those who admit when they do not know something, and have a backup plan of how to find out and to never give in. You don’t get a first without some serious determination.

It seems utterly ridiculous to me that it is only by the time we get to University that we fully understand how to learn and how to teach ourselves. Surely we should be installing the means to teach ourselves at the other end of the journey!?

 

“If you don’t get these results… OFSTED will come sooner…”

 

The above sentence is the sub text of what threatens our teachers all the time. It leaves nothing but an air of scare tactics and stress hanging over the heads of our teachers, who are being told to take risks, but are held accountable and told off if they make a mistake. It’s un-tenable. It has been for years. Education is a bigger beast than the Government accepts.

I know my own opinions in this article are flawed; I certainly am no expert on education. I have just had a rant and mentioned some ideas that ideologically I would love to see come to fruition because I genuinely care about the state of education in this country. I am merely an observer with a creative mind. All I’m trying to do, is suggest that there is another way, not even my way, a way that is right and appropriate to the times we are now living in. I am waiting with baited breath for someone with all the answers to come in and sort it all out. It’s time for the people who ARE the experts to sit down and hammer out a new way. That’s my point. Get a team of experts in.

It’s that, or we’ll be back here in the dark ages of the industrial revolution forever more, filling in temporary holes in our children’s’ knowledge, instead of challenging them and having them actually learn stuff properly.

 

 

The Dynamics of Teaching Quietly

“All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.” – Generic but relevant disclaimer.

 

Teaching, or more accurately “getting the buggers to learn”, is a topic that *always* generates passionate opinions and as such merits the generic disclaimer plonked rather obviously at the top of this post. I am not here to start fights. I am here to share my ideas and opinions to promote positive discussion and that is my only agenda.

 

Too many lessons these days still seem to be governed by the confines of the rather dated three part lesson, or more accurately, the two part lesson, with 2 minutes to pack away and get them out bolted on at the end.

 

The first half of the lesson (used to be known as the 5 minute starter) involves the teacher standing at the front of the class making some attempts at engaging the pupils, maybe with the reading of a list of pupils names to make sure that they haven’t gone missing so the establishment don’t get sued, and then it’s time. Time for the list. The list of all of the things. It sometimes might unfold like this…

 

“Here is all of the things that you are going to do today, in the order you are going to do them in. Do you understand what I mean by this bit? Good, don’t do this bit before you’ve done that first bit, and then after you’ve done that bit, do the second half of the following bit. Got it? Is that clear? Now go and do everything I just said in that precise order and remember it all without making any mistakes or I will shout at you.”

 

“What time is it?”

 

“It’s twenty-five past sir…”

 

“Damn… right. This is a slightly smaller run down of the big list I’ve already said that you’ve got to do and remember. Have you all learned this? Have I said it slowly enough and repeated myself enough? Tell me that you’ve learned it! Answer this question!? I’m now going to tell you off and raise my voice because you are not putting your hands up and answering my questions!”

 

One student attempts an answer.

 

“Thank god! That means you all clearly understand what I said. Right… get going!”

 

Madness ensues…

 

Some pupils do some of the things that were in the list.

 

Five to.

 

“Right! That’s it! IT’S THE END OF THE LESSON!!!! Everybody pack away!!!! Quickly!! Or else you’ll be late to your next ‘lesson’!!”.

 

This is an honest reflection of what often happens in lessons when you are learning how to be a teacher. This is happening in one form or another somewhere right now. There’s a good reason for it too. This is the default. This is the safety net, this is what the lesson often turns into despite what you planned. If you find yourself saying “I don’t have a default” then this is what you are most likely doing in your classroom.

 

The reason is this. We are human and we all want to get home. The staff and the students. We do not want to do as little as possible, but often we want or need to do as little as what makes us not appear to be un-professional or un-caring. It is the amount of effort required that means that everyone that needs to be happy is happy. From the first year 7 that walks through the gate, to the last turn of the keys as the caretaker locks the gate. It’s human nature. This default is not our fault. It is life, and it is not helped by the confines of the factory regimented institution style boundaries that we are forced to stick to. It’s that fucking school bell! Because we HAVE to have a school bell… right? We have to have a three part lesson right? We have to have uniforms and subjects with sets dividing classes right?

 

The simple truth of our system these days is that the people facing the public paint a picture that their school is not a factory focussed on mass-producing great numbers and statistics, and yet the majority of educational based decisions rely upon things like performance related pay targets which, you guessed it, have recently become more and more focused upon teachers showing evidence of meeting percentage pass rates and student numbers for the A Level course they want to run next year and that if these targets are not met that the par rewards are refused. Performance related pay?! Why not increment rewards that are productive and essential, like lunch duties or running extra-curricular *enriching*activities for financial perks at break time? Surely that would be better than distracting the workforce with meaningless targets and tasks to evidence under the threat of less pay? How on earth can workforce moral have any chance of surviving if the focus is on how the school is portrayed over the welfare of the students?

 

On top of all this the pastoral role within schools and academy’s is dying and is nearly non-existent. Now teachers have barely any pastoral time and are forced to do a tiny amount of pastoral care and enrichment within the ridiculously short time that is known as registration. The hugely important opportunity children deserve at school to have a sense of family which used to be called “form time”, where a little routine and a friendly start to the day with a chat with your form tutor helped to keep many children coming back to school on time instead of trapesing in full of Taurine and square eyed at 9am after a 3am COD fix. It would massively impact a child’s mental health at the start of the day and actually prepare them to be more prepared and ready to learn too, yet this has been cut to taking a register and get to your first lesson. It’s not right.

 

What’s left is a small army of amazing teachers and role models who do their best in a ridiculous situation that needs updating and reworking so that it works for the students and teachers instead of for the Principal who leaves the school premises in a lovely beamer whilst looking forward to the outreach trip to Malawi that the school community funded so they could look good. They sun themselves and shake the right hands while the rest of us try to teach in a culturally enriching way despite the restraints of the Government which keeps spouting forth ridiculous opinions and rules to be changed at their whim just because someone who has never been an education secretary before decides to do something that might possibly make them be remembered.

 

I have said it before and I will say it again many times. This is not good enough.

Sing Up!

The following events are based on a true story.

 

Picture the scene.

A veteran music teacher towers above a group of Year 7 girls who have come along to a singing club. The group begin working on a new song…

 

“Sing it louder!!” the teacher taunts.

 

“Enjoy Yourselves!!” She screams.

 

The girls are looking at the floor sat in perfectly aligned chairs. They are unsure as to why they are being shouted at. They sing as young girls do, quietly for fear of standing out.

 

“Let’s take it again from the top! Sing it loudly!!”

 

The song is a popular classic normally sung at parties and the girls like the song. This should be easy.

They breathe in, the count begins and…

 

The teacher starts singing. Loudly.

 

Oh dear.

 

This wise and well-meaning owl has decided to show off her years of vocal training by going ‘full opera’. The girls attempt to join in but cannot hear themselves sing and the owl can’t hear the girls because she’s too busy screeching over the top of them, like an exploding bottle of ketchup over a Caesar salad.

 

“Come on! Louder! Smile!”

 

As the rehearsal continues the teacher is completely unaware that it is her ‘force you to have fun’ attitude that is sapping all the enjoyment out of it for these obedient and terrified young ladies.

 

She bullies through.

 

“Drop your jaw! Use your diaphragm!”

 

This is not a rehearsal. It is a bossing-you-around session and it’s painful to watch. Rarely have I seen a teacher this hell bent before. She is in a world of her own and is not self-analysing during this learning activity at all. She is deaf and blind to what is right under her straining nostrils. I daydream of taking the teacher to one side to “have a word” but it is above my station. I feel for the girls but there is nothing I can do. They are terrified and do exactly as they are told. They have volunteered to be part of an extra-curricular group, giving up their time only to be FORCED to have fun, to be shouted at for wanting to take part.

 

It was utterly depressing to behold.

“I can’t hear you! Give it some welly!”

 

It made me wonder… How do you knock an owl off her perch when technically she is your boss? How can her students have the fun that they deserve? Is this owl beyond rescue? Painfully, it escalates further.

 

“You there! What are you muttering!? How dare you talk while I am talking!? I am a grandmother you know!? I have a family and a life! I’ll end up having a nervous breakdown because of you!”

 

I watch the girls sit up in their chairs wondering why a cannon has been brought to a game of conkers. They shuffle uncomfortably not knowing what to say, trying to maintain their love for singing with their friends despite this aggressive outburst.

 

“Right! Let’s go again! From the top. Sing up!”

 

It’s sad. The rehearsal is repeated every Tuesday dinnertime in the weeks leading to the annual music show, and each week the instructions become ever so slightly more frantic than the week before, and the girls endure the same verbal battering. All I could do from afar was to hope that the owl might begin to open her eyes and ears one day, but the girls kept coming back every week without fail, because they did not want to let the owl down.

 

It is the night of the show and the girls shuffle nervously on to the stage. Loud whispers of “look at me!” resonate from the owl who is center-stage with her back to the audience, but her eyes are on stalks while she prepares the girls to begin.

 

They sing perfectly.

 

Despite being terrified of letting the owl down and making a mistake the girls show what they are made of and go for it. They give their all to the delight of the audience. The much deserved applause continues loudly as the girls leave the stage in a well-rehearsed line.

With a ‘thank God they didn’t show me up’ smile the owl flies off the stage and can be heard in the wings shouting “oh well done girls! You were brilliant!!”.

 

The girls emerge at the side of the hall and smile nervously, looking for their parents in the crowd.

They can’t wait to get home.

 

The owl had good intentions and her heart was in the right place, but she was blinded by the importance of putting on a perfect show. Her extreme methods were at the cost of the enjoyment of the whole experience for the girls. The owl was too much of a veteran to be told that there was a better way.

 

In a perfect world there should just have been a group of girls who sang every Tuesday dinnertime, whilst sharing their sandwiches, laughing, and actually having a good time.

 

Disclaimer:

I didn’t write out the recollection of this story to pick on the teacher. I wrote it out because I regret that I wasn’t able to take her to one side and reveal to her how the situation really was. I wish I could have videoed the rehearsals and shown it back to her. She was a fantastic person and she wanted the best for her students, but she was just so vastly experienced that she was unable to admit that she made mistakes and was not the sort of person who would not take it personally if you told her otherwise. I’ve worked with many teachers who have made that mistake. It’s human nature, but in education we have to always question if we are doing things in the best way that suits the students, not in the best way that suits us as teachers, regardless of our age.

 

You Shall Not Pass

I used to work as a secondary music teacher and music technician and despite not working in this sector any more, I have kept a keen eye on the goings on in education and felt the need to ramble a little about my own opinions on the current state of affairs. It will likely not change anything one jot… but maybe I’ll feel better for sharing.

 

I’ve thought for many years now that assessment and exams in education seem much more about the results serving as an advertisement campaign for schools/academies etc. themselves, rather than doing any good for the students they are supposed to help to be honest. The basic premise of assessment used to be “This exam will show us (and you) what you do not know, and therefore highlight what area you need to work on to improve”. In itself that is a sound idea on the surface, such as mock exams helping students to target learning, but I wonder whether the overall effect of assessing children in a final exam scenario is actually doing more damage than good in a world that is changing and developing all the time.

 

You would think that the first thing to change with the times would be how we educate our young people. But in reality the industrial revolution and the ‘teaching to the bell’ method of running schools is so strong and embedded, yet we send our children to school under the illusion that this is the best way to teach discipline and to allow creativity to blossom. In reality I think it is madness to think that creativity could flourish to its full potential in a template of tick boxes and time limits, especially when sprinkled with “is your tie on straight?”. Teachers working in schools strive to build students confidence and learning, and to help personalities to develop, whilst the infrastructure above goes against them and tries wholeheartedly to take that very same personality away, by making everyone look the same and by assuming that everyone learns in the same way, and that if you do not learn in the way deemed best that you are some sort of moron who does not deserve as high a grade as someone who happened to understand that method, that day. To explain further it would be helpful to watch the following film.

This film is extraordinary and it utterly changed the way I look at education.

Changing Education Paradigms

 

I am very much in the same opinion group as Sir Ken Robinson. When I saw this little video many years ago now, I sat on the edge of my seat and was shouting “Yes! Yes! Yes!” In my head at almost every turn. I couldn’t help but think to myself how wonderful it would be when this way of delivering education finally comes to fruition, and how freeing it will be for the students and young people who would benefit from this way of doing things. But it hasn’t happened. This video is from 2010 and yet 8 years later we are still floundering under the influence of the industrial revolution. Every time I spend any time thinking about all this I despair now at the direction that the education sector seems to have gone.

 

This is the way I see it and what I have experienced.

 

The rules at the top trickle downwards and the teachers and students who have to live by those rules are being stifled and caged. The end result of the latest school systems seem to be “did you behave for long enough? Did you do as you were told for long enough? And on the flip side of that if you are someone who doesn’t conform and misbehaves, then you are allowed to break the rules a million times before any real action is taken, and that results in a student being sent home… which is likely what they wanted in the first place because… they can’t stand how schools are run.

 

“You did not do it our way… so you are a naughty person.”

 

Schools are just a new business venture. If a school falls slightly behind then a bigger more successful school with more money is invited to come along and “fix” the failing school. In reality this is where a school that is better at making itself look fantastic, by finding ways to display its ‘unbeatable results’, takes over a school that essentially ‘did not spend as much time cooking the books of results’ because it was too busy taking care of the individual needs of the students in its care. The “perfect” school then superimposes its “winning formula” on to the “lesser” school and suddenly everything is tickety-boo. Well it is not. These takeovers never take into account the personality of the students and the surrounding area and environment that the “lesser” school is fabulously aware of and has been aware of for many years. For example, the “lesser” school knows about little Jimmy’s grandma and that on Thursdays he needs to leave five minutes early because mum and dad both work up in Scotland together on Thursdays and he can’t get to his grandma’s if he misses his bus that goes from a different bus stop further away. The new “perfect” school comes in and counts 3 terms worth of missing five minutes of Thursdays lessons and reprimands Jimmy at the end of the year by soiling his attendance report with a crap record instead of praising him for his amazing community work on the school’s garden project that the new “perfect” school is stopping at the end of the year due to “administration reasons”.

It is a business. The leaders at the top are business people who pretend to be people people. Underneath them are people who used to be people people, and they succeed or fail and move jobs depending on how well they turn into business people, while the ones who really run the school are the ones who learn how to make themselves look like business people, whilst secretly being people people. Without those people, the school falls flat on its arse. Underneath those are teachers who know their students and know about little Jimmy’s grandma but who are not allowed to do their jobs because that involves thinking and responsibility points and you simply can’t have teachers running around having opinions and making decisions now can you? It is completely pathetic. These days a school is a business, before it is a school. That is absolutely shite.

 

It seems utterly bonkers to me, to put children into boxes. Imagine if assessment was simply good grammar and basic arithmetic and the odd mock exam within lessons, and that we got into college by having a casual interview where the question was not “How did you score on your GCSE’s?” but was “What’s your opinion on this?” or “What would you do if that happened?” or “What are you watching at the moment?”. Imagine if the questions were aimed to find out if the person in the interview really wanted the college place and if the course was genuinely suited to the person… wouldn’t that be… sensible?

 

It has been known for a long time now that exams are a completely inefficient way of assessing someone’s capability and learning. The film mentioned earlier explains brilliantly how the current setup of schools and how students are churned through an inefficient learning environment that removes creativity and as students get older, they are conditioned to put their own ideas aside and to do things the same way as everyone else.

 

I witnessed this first hand when I was at school and am very grateful for the result in what was essentially a complete balls up. I was in a school where we were put into sets for Maths and English and Science. In English I had found myself in set 3 in year 8 and I worked hard and was told at the end of year 8 that I was going up a set to set 2 in year 9. When I started year 9 I found to my dismay that I was let down by the system. I was told that there was no room for me in set 2… and also that there was no room for me in set 3 where I used to be. You will find this hard to believe but it is completely true… I was a set 2 student, and I was moved down 3 sets to set 5. Yes. Set 5. I was too young to shout about it and complain and do anything other than what I was told… but it actually made me grow up as a person… because I met Mrs Drabble. Mrs Drabble was one of the finest teachers you could ever wish to have. She let you be yourself. She gave assignments that were creative writing… I could write stories instead of read them out loud so rather than read Wilfred Owen I was writing my own stories, one called “Escape from the Enchanted Forest”. We had to write a made up diary story like Adrian Mole, and I called mine “The Life Of Ryan”. Mrs Drabble gave me the confidence to do things my way. I did not have to conform… I could create and reach my own potential, not the potential that the school tried to place on top of me. I remain (hopefully) one of the only students ever to move from set 5 to set 2 in English at my old school.

 

The point this raises is that teachers have brains and learn how to teach the young people who are sat in front of them. They do not need to obey some uniform ruling that all members of staff must wear a blazer. Children should not be told that it is not acceptable to have green hair, and they most certainly should not be told that if they work hard enough that they will be demoted 3 sets in English instead of being put in set 2. As it happens, I met another fantastic teacher in set 2, and I did ok in English, but reading Wilfred Owen taught me bugger all about English. Writing “Escape from the Enchanted Forest” taught me loads about English, and more importantly, about who I was.

There are millions of ways to teach things, and schools are too often hindered to teach the main 3 ways as that normally works for 80% of the students in the room… and teachers know that if the template was different that they would change it to include the other 20% of the students… because if there is one thing a teacher knows… it is their students and HOW they learn. But they are hindered by the powers above them, all the way to the government, so that if they do not meet their GCSE result quota, or get enough signatures on the A Level course sign-up… that they will not get pay rewards, will not be able to run the A-Level course at all, and will end up as a one or two person department if they do not teach English, Maths, or Science, and those core subjects are bullied to teach things they don’t want to teach just as much if not more than the other subjects, so that they teach “how to pass an exam” instead of Trigonometry, Poetry or Biology.

What about Art? Music? Drama? These subjects are dying before our very eyes and all the Government seems to care about is producing the next accountant who knows how to turn up on time. Where is the next Victoria Wood going to come from? Or the next David Bowie? The people who inspire the rest of the world with art? Surely it has to be from inspirational teachers who go against the grain and manage to reach through the administration and get the message across that it is perfectly acceptable to want to make a living as a musician or an actor or a writer or a painter and to go for your dreams, when the rest of the school system is shouting… “Go for your dreams as long as it is straight into a job with security and a pension scheme and all the perks”.

 

The Government has a lot to answer for. Education and how schools are run has become a façade. Good teachers leave because they realise that they are not allowed to teach what they know how to teach, and they know that they are compromised. The good teachers who stay behind try desperately to sneak their own teachings in to the mix, through the cracks, in-between the rubbish that they don’t agree with teaching.

 

Imagine, if Sir Ken Robinson was put in charge of education in this country. An actual education specialist who knows a thing or three about how to move education forward and give power to the teachers… but no. As things stand the public vote for someone in their constituency to represent them in parliament. They base their decision on the candidate’s opinions and promises. They do not get access to the candidate’s skills in how much they know about running the NHS or the educations sector. We then elect a Prime Minister who chooses someone who has never had anything to do with education suddenly have a new job as “Education Secretary”, because that makes sense right? It is like putting a normal member of the public into an F1 car, or a Fire Engine and expecting them to be amazing at that position when they have absolutely no chance of doing anything other than a mediocre job at best. We put people in charge who have absolutely no idea what they are doing.

 

It is completely INSANE.

 

Our young people deserve better than this.

 

 

 

 

That’s A Copy? Right?

I have just discovered this latest story about Ed Sheeran being sued over similarities between a song he wrote called Photograph and a song by someone called Matt Cardle called Amazing.

 

Ed is being sued for 20 Million dollars.

 

As a singer-songwriter myself I find myself drawn to this story. It begins as many stories have before it… someone writes a song, someone else writes a different but similar sounding song, but does well with it… someone decides it must have been copied and files a lawsuit.

 

The laws seem to work on certain assumptions that I inherently disagree with. Here’s why.

 

When I was at school I studied music at GCSE and one day, during our GCSE composition module, I was sat at my table, busily writing out crotchets and quavers for my composition “Steel Alley”. A friend of mine was sat at the piano with our music teacher, going through his own composition, and our teacher was playing what he had written down to make sure his notation was correct. On hearing his melody leap forward from the piano, I cheekily quipped “ a bit of a do, a bit of a do… we’re going to a bit of a do…” I sang this quietly to the theme of the 90s Sitcom “A bit of a do” which was a sitcom on the telly starring David Jason and Gwen Taylor, and instantly our music teacher and I recognised it… but my friend did not… this was the thing… my friend had never watched that program… he came up with that same melody and phrasing completely on his own. Did it sound like it? Yes. It was exact. Did he copy it? No. No he didn’t.

We joked about how we wouldn’t be able to hear that melody now without thinking about the words I had just sung and my friend sarcastically thanked me for my “spoiler” moment… but I saw first-hand how it is utterly possible to compose the same tune as something that already exists *without* prior knowledge of hearing that tune.

 

In Eds case I do not see how anyone will be able to prove that he had definitely heard Matts song before composing Photograph. If a song sounds like another song, it does not prove that it was copied. Unless there is some connection between those two professionally that I am unaware of.. I can’t see how A) It will stand in court or B) How it has taken this long to surface… So I’m guessing this is a rogue accusation with no connections between the parties.

 

Music is a palette of colours that are organised to form a soundscape using structures and phrasing like any language. In fact, that is a good comparison to use I think… Art and music.

If two musicians use a C minor chord in their song have they plagiarized? No. That would be like saying you copied me because we both used red in our paintings.

 

If a melody or section of melody is similar, then the equivalent in Art might be to say that the paintings are of the same subject… for example a sky scene… both paintings have sky in them, both use blue, and white, and paint clouds… has one copied the other? No. are they similar? Probably.

 

This leads me to the next bit… If sounding similar does not prove it is a copy, then… who cares?

 

The person who is not making money… that is who cares.

 

Musicians do not “borrow” or “steal” music from each other as the norm in my opinion. Musicians use the same palette of colours to paint their songs with, and sometimes similar paintings are created, sometimes, as in paintings, bits of paintings might seem to be exactly the same, but as a separate entity, both are works of art in their own right, and neither can be assumed to have been copied of the other.

 

Plagiarism *can* exist of course when the two parties are connected beyond doubt… maybe 2 colleagues who have worked together… that is very different and is more like a divorce than a plagiarism case. Maybe it is a direct stealing of someone’s lyrics? Again very different despite the similarities, it is far easier and accepted to accidentally compose a similar melody from the restricted range of the musical language compared to the intricacies of written text and the countless thousands to one odds it would be to write something that “happens to be exactly the same lyrics for a whole verse”… Then, it is much harder to deny that a copy has taken place and as such of course should be treated differently but I digress…

 

On this occasion I am focusing on Matt’s allegation, and from listening to both tracks, I only see 2 paintings that look a bit similar and both have some sky in them… other than that, I really think Matt is clutching at straws for his own reasons *if* my guess that they are not connected is true.

I do not know either way of course… Maybe they are connected somehow? Maybe this is one of those record company things where someone manufactured the song so hard that it got re-worked or something… A lot of maybe’s and I guess the case will reveal the truth in time so I won’t rule out that as a possibility but I have to say, my experience of Ed so far has been very positive, and I rightly or wrongly believe that he sits and writes his own songs diligently, and that if he *thought* a song sounded like another he would have taken it further away, not copied it… just like most other musicians would… which is why I think he hadn’t heard it at all. I can speak from my own experience though, and as a singer-songwriter, I strive to compose something unique as my default. and Ed does not come across as the “shit I’m running out of songs” type to me.

 

Yes I know I’m not a copyright expert… as ever I am just exercising my whimsical thoughts and I will learn much from watching what happens with this case… but I expect it to get thrown out, as it should. I was rather hoping to learn a great deal from the recent Stairway to Heaven case too but isn’t it funny how that has all gone very quiet now? Hmmm. ;)

Anyway… I happen to have my opinion, on something I do not have all the facts about, but I felt compelled to say my piece because, well… I don’t think the songs are similar enough to warrant anything other than an “oh yeah”. Fundamentally, it is a different song, it is not *exactly* the same, and I for one am perfectly happy for both songs to exist, one happens to be more successful commercially, being the driving force behind the others allegations I suspect.

 

“Excuse me waiter?”

“Yes?”

“I’m afraid I’m suing your chef…”

“You are? Why is that?”

“This meal uses exactly the same chicken and aubergine ingredients that I used for my own dish I’ve made for years.”

“…”

 

You see?

You can’t sue someone for using red. That’s fucking stupid.

 

 

 

EU-by-Gum

I have been mulling it over for some time now, and it is time to put my sixpence in, for what it is worth.

There is now less than a week to register to vote for the upcoming EU decision. To do so, visit here> https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

Now there have been a few factors to consider, and some issues that the Government want me to worry about, that I couldn’t give two hoots about… so here’s how I see it.

To leave.

I cannot bring myself to believe any of the hypothetical numbers that have been bandied around by both sides. The financial stuff bores me to within an inch of my life. I actually don’t care if I am going to be better or worse off, the simple fact is, if I thought the result of being poorer for longer would actually do something towards changing this country fundamentally with how it is run, and how it is organised, then I would take that chance in a shot… a UK where the NHS is not a political football and along with education is protected somehow, and maybe looked after by independent means with people who are experienced in their field… like having Ken Robinson involved with the direction of our education for example. If the result of being poorer was to actually change the status quo of the privileged few being protected at the top, and gave a chance at redistributing the balance of wealth in this country eventually so that the poorest are supported properly, and the money dished out where it is actually needed, instead of being used to fund a bogus conservative election campaign for example, then it would be a serious consideration… But that is not what is on the table… We are being asked if we want to leave to… take control? To regain control of our borders? To return sovereignty to our country? To govern ourselves?

This is where I struggle.

The evidence in front of my eyes, and the way my life is affected everyday by this Government has revealed to me, that this set of politicians is not fit to run a pound shop, never mind a country. Look at the U-turns that have happened recently… All schools to be academies. Oh. No not really. We were kidding. Serious issues over junior doctors contracts… we’ll just make as many people suffer as we can before doing what we always would have had to do all along. It stinks… and the one that affects me the most… health and the benefits system… This Government, are responsible for mental health in this country being completely and utterly under-funded and under-supported, leaving a ginormous hole in the nook of society, forcing people like me to live an undignified existence where I basically have to keep proving over and over to an un-qualified person that I am indeed too ill to work and whether I am worthy of having my rent paid is decided purely on the basis of who I was lucky enough to get in a dehumanising health assessment test. Myself and thousands like me sitting indoors with depression, waiting for months for treatment and merely existing in the meantime. This Government has seriously let us all down, and now they want us to politely hand control of Human Rights, work policies, equality laws, the whole caboodle… to this set of corrupt arseholes? No. No fucking way.

To stay in.

It is the only option for me. I do not feel English, and I do not feel British… I have always felt like I am European. Now the freedom of movement does not affect me quite as much as others, being that if I take another step, it’ll be the furthest from ‘ome I’ve ever been… but the benefits seriously outweigh any negatives in my opinion… I mean… What negatives? Some people, seem to think for some reason that immigration is a problem… whereas personally I believe it to be one of our biggest achievements and proudest moments… it is 2016 now… and I’ll be damned if I believe the spiel the Government and media feeds me that immigration is the cause of so many problems… I do not think it is. Lack of competency, and manipulation of the media… that is the issue, if you ask me.

I believe from the very bottom of my heart, that to be a member of the EU is to take on a role of great responsibility, and that the whole point of being a member, is to be a part of the umbrella that defends us from the very thing that is happening at the moment… when Governments get corrupt… like ours is… in the pocket of the media and the huge corporations, manipulating marketing and everything we see to maximise the majority doing exactly what they really want us to do… by making the decision as scary and muddy as possible and focussing on in-battles and ridiculous figures… it’s all a sham.

When we vote for the General Election, we also effectively choose who gets to nominate our EU representative… this time round it was the Conservatives who nominated… and so if we are struggling in the EU, then it is down to the person the Conservatives put up to represent us… in my eyes, that just means the Conservatives let us all down yet again, but half of the Conservative party are on a power trip, and they seemingly want to have a go at running the pound shop themselves. No thanks. I just have no confidence in the current Government to be able to do that in a million years.

As we can see from the investigations going on into the Conservatives election campaign, Democracy can be manipulated, through mis-advertising and loading the odds with financial weight. The EU needs to be the umbrella that it is, to ensure that joe blogs, me and you, don’t get absolutely shafted by our Government. I guess I’m saying, democracy is great, if you can afford it, but sometimes a committee mind-set is needed to protect everyone, and that is what the EU does, not as well as it should, but it protects each and every one of us despite which Government gets in power. In my eyes that is essential. Have we any idea what this Government would try to enforce if we didn’t have the EU to protect us anymore? No. But it’s a scary thought to me.

So that’s it. I’m voting in. Those are my reasons. Whatever you do, just make sure you vote, and make sure you know deep in your heart why you have voted how you decided to in the end. Just make sure you vote one way or the other… this is a big one.

All the best folks.

R