Monthly Archives: January 2014

Chill out, man

I decided to join Sunday Club today, the metaphorical fitness collective that find themselves clad in Sports Direct’s finest burning off the December blues and shaping up for the onslaught of marathon sports events the summer will bring. Today was a solo effort on cycle – a tester of the water to see how far we can push ourselves when we assemble next week for a proper ride – from MediaCity through Trafford Park (where I got lost), Stretford, Chorlton, Fallowfield and eventually town (Nero’s, precisely), where I am currently sipping a latte and have just gotten through the heat rush of the warm indoors.


I decided to take a little stop off because something really riled me en-route… I thought I’d have a pleasant toddle through South Manchester with the playlist for this week’s SRA Selector show and for the most part that is exactly what happened. Spurred on by the toe-tappy new tune from Clean Bandit, soothed when irate at the bloody sat nav by British Sea Power. I reckon the music on Wednesday night will be up there with the best British stuff we’ve played.

All that was very nice.

(The Nero’s playlist is good today… Marling, now Lucy Rose-(you ever tried her Builder Grey tea?- very nice)).

Still, I took a detour through Platt Fields Park – a place I hadn’t visited before – and found this lovely lake right in the middle of it. Perfect spot to take a break, and I was going to bash out a blog there, had it not been for the sodden benches. I thought of the wet-ass consequence and bailed on the idea. I perched on my ‘plush-comfort’ saddle (and although looks antiquated and Granny-suited, I’m keeping it. It came with the bike and it’s comfy), took an obligatory grammable photo and watched a family feed the fat geese.


Then it all turned a bit sour. First up Mum got all ratty that her rechargeable batteries had run out and therefore the camera was out of the game. Shame. There was a short bicker about the batteries, then upon the young Daughter’s prod, Dad dished out some bread and pointed in the direction of a few plump birds coming down the hill towards the lake. Daughter runs off in excitement only to lose her footing on the mud and hits the deck. Now, I witnessed a mate of mine do that on a skiing trip in Austria: managed to lose control of her skis and off she shot towards the ONLY muddy section of the slope and caked her white salopettes in thick, clayed up mud. To say it was amusing for absolutely everyone on the slope is an understatement.
Think about the amount of stupid things you did as a hapless child. Crumbs above, I remember trying to impress my sister by throwing a golf ball over the roof of the house: smashed a window. Then for some bizarre reason as a small boy I sprinkled talcum powder on every square inch of the bathroom floor. The reaction to both from my parents – well, amusing since we were due to rip out the window soon anyway, and my Dad ran and got a camera to photograph the hilarity of the talc incident..

Back to Platt Fields – Daughter is now rather muddy. Oh my hobgoblin the explosion from the parents of fury at getting so filthy was unbelievable. Swearing and shouting… I felt extremely sorry for the poor girl. This probably happened within about two bike-lengths of where I was perched on the ‘plush-comfort’. Dad carried on feeding the geese, berating and cursing as Mum led the daughter further from me to tell her off more…

Chill out, man. Aren’t everybody’s blood pressures high enough as it is!?

I don’t mean to cast dispersions, I don’t know the background of this family. The daughter might well do that every single time they go out, or a load of washing might be last thing parents want to deal with amongst the preoccupations of whatever else. I don’t know. I’m not even a parent myself. As I say though, I remember many times in my young youth where this kind of thing happened and it was always met by laughter. When we were playing once, my cousin Rowan fell in a stream: he ended up wearing his sister’s spare clothes back home.
I just remember everyone finding it very amusing – it’s priceless entertainment and no one got hurt.

What shame for what could have been a lovely morning feeding the geese. I hopped back on my bike and put Clean Bandit on again to brighten up the mood. I then cycled past some dude doing his morning yoga and though, good on you mate.. Your blood pressure looks absolutely fine to me.

Ttfn deadlines

The last few months have been a relentless onslaught of assignments and work, which on the face of it sounds incredibly negative and overwhelming. Work aside (which has obviously been awesome – Key103′s Mission Christmas; producing breakfast; and going out with a bang on one Hometime show, then having a right good time on the new one – what better), I’ve been schlepping through assignments one after another in year 3 semester 1.

I can’t believe there’s only a few months left of uni altogether – it was only yesterday my new flatmate was hanging from his fingertips from a pillar-ledge in 5th Avenue, sloshed. It was only the other day my living revolved around a communal kitchen, a box of a shower and a bed that had more storage than leg-space.

One of the modules from this past semester was called Professional Practice and meant putting together a CV, an online portfolio and reflecting on work outside of assignments. It was a really useful time to reflect on some of the wonderful things that have happened since moving to Manchester, because there’s no doubt Uni life has dealt me bags of confidence, good times, eye-opening experiences and creativity. Putting a fresh CV together gave me an opportunity to look back at the modules I’ve completed so far at uni: things like video production, where I recreated a scene from Sex, Lies & Videotape in Booths cafe…..the awkward scene where the dude declares he’s impotent; audio post-production, where I raided the shed to find as many sfx as I could to recreate the audio of a scene from Up!; pre-recorded radio documentaries; live radio producing; loads of theory that was mind-numbing at the time but actually very interesting looking back; and I’ve just submitted a module that involved producing three hour-long speech shows.

Things go wrong... 4 words - Blue Screen Of Death. Perfect.

Things go wrong… 4 words – Blue Screen Of Death. Perfect.

Producing Kish Underhill – the first and final live radio assessed show

It’s so easy when you’re in the throes of assignments to be critical of ‘the system’ and get a bit ratty with the workload… but taking a few steps back to reflect on what I’ve learnt and how ‘into’ the work I’ve gotten has reminded me how much the hard-work pays off and I see how I better myself with every passing deadline.

Last week saw the conclusion of this semester three modules and the relief to get them submitted was immense. I’ve got one more module – the final documentary, the big daddy module when it comes to the final grade – and I’m looking back over a fond 2 and a half years of learning and experimenting. I feel set for the onslaught of this doc… so ttfn deadlines, see you in June.

The Community Ballads

The Community Ballads have been whirring away for a few months now, with myself and filmmaker Connor Hawkins eager to produce both a radio documentary and short film about the bustling countryside communities, craft ales of Hooky Brewery, and the pubs of north Oxfordshire.

Getting Started…

In its infancy, the doc was set to be purely about Hook Norton Brewery, and took inspiration from filmmakers like Danny Cooke. The tone was going to be very celebratory and convey an appreciation for craft and hard-work.

I was personally drawn to a radio ballad I had been introduced to at the Charles Parker Day at Salford University. It so happened that another radio feature of mine was commended on that day and narrowly missed out on the prize! It was inspiring to hear how Smooth Operations produced these programmes by modernising the techniques used by Charles Parker and Ewan McColl & Peggy Seeger to fuse folk music with interesting speech. I wanted a go, so Connor and I both had very clear influences that would inform our productions.

Getting down to business…

The really exciting thing was that we had no boundaries. We had copious contacts from basing the production in our home county of Oxfordshire, and we had interest from the local radio station 107.6 Banbury Sound. Our first port of call was to meet with Hook Norton Brewery and get ourselves on the same page.

It was also the summer, so it seemed every week there was a village festival or a gig in a local pub. It proved quite a cunning documentary idea because as I trawled through the gig listings at local pubs, it became evident that to truly soak up the community, we’d have to go along ourselves!

The good did come with the bad – some of the events such as Bodfest and the Conie’s Beer Festival were glorious sunshine, others (such as Bloxfest) poured it down with torrential summer rain, causing some soggy songsheets at the end of the performance for Frances…

Despite the miserable British weather, the spirit of these events was awesome. Community groups and punters flocked together to put music, food, stalls and bring the village together. It was said by Chris Leslie of Fairport Convention that village days are not new, they go back hundreds of years, but now-a-days it seems like we need more of an excuse to put them on…say for example the Queen’s Jubilee. The great thing about these events is that it is communities genuinly saying “let’s have a party!”, and you don’t have to look far to find a pre-fixed village name shoehorned in front of the word ‘fest’.

Bloxfest, Bodfest, the Adderbury Day Of Dance… the events came thick and fast and I began to storyboard how we could tie everything together.

Hook Norton

Our visits to Hooky’s Victorian tower brewery were exciting and the footage and recordings sit proudly on our clogged-up hard-drives. I’d organised for us to spend the morning with Head Brewer (and 5th generation of the founder) James Clarke, to record the brewing process, sit down and talk candidly in the Visitors Centre and mull over the family business, and indeed the craft of brewing. From there we spent time with Martin Beck in his workshop, where he restores and repairs the tower brewery using the same materials as were originally used by the Victorians. All his repairwork is bespoke to the original building, so to observe his handiwork was fascinating.

We then hopped about Roger’s Hooky dray. This is the horse-drawn dray that carts barrels of Hooky beer to nearby pubs – our short trip took us down to the Pear Tree Inn at the foot of Brewery Lane, where the Brewery workers used to go at lunchtime for a recharge. Roger told us about the heritage of the brewery and how he keeps the horses. The landlords joked with us that even in this day and age – you’ve got beer deliveries coming in on horse-drawn cart is if it were 1900, then you see him ticking off a computer-printed order!

The experience of recording with masters of their crafts was awesome – at times we were creeping up the steepest of staircases straining to capture the best content we could, the next moment you’ve got Roger pilfering a 12-crate of Hooky Gold from the Visitor’s store to fuel the jaunt down to the pub!

Fairport’s Cropredy Convention

We had Fairport in the diary (no different to any other year…) because it is the most remarkable story of a sleepy, canalside village that completely transforms to welcome 20,000 music fans for a long weekend. It turns in to tent-city, the pubs spring in to life with fringe festival, and the zest and character of the village makes the whole event not just a folk-rock festival in a field but a whole community celebration.

It was at Fairport that we spoke with a few of Fairport Convention themselves – Chris Leslie who is local to the area, and we organised to speak with bassist Dave Pegg a few weeks later. The messy art of voxpopping is often considered a hard task – trying to get punters to stop and talk – but at Fairport it’s the easiest thing known to man. It is dubbed the ‘Friendliest Festival In The World’, and for good reason. I don’t think anybody declined to have a chat with me about why Cropredy is so wonderful. The overarching response was that it brings the whole village together – the pubs act as satellites to the main stage, and the community groups welcome with open arms the revellers to their breakfasts and stalls. It’s a good time in the countryside back-end of nowhere.


The Pub

After darting about to our fair share of north Oxfordshires village festivals and casting a celebratory light on Hook Norton Brewery with our early-morning visit to where it all happens, it left the pubs to explore. Not that we needed too much of a push to do that.

It struck us that the hub for music and social life in a vilage community is the pub. It’s the heart of everything – everyone at Fairport told us about it, and every village day we visited revolved around the pub. The characters we met in the various locals were fabulous, and it became clear that we needed to take a look at what happens in a village where there is no pub… Visiting Morton Pinkney brought back teenage memories of razzing a motorbike around remote, nearby fields: the stern old lady that came out of her house, not to repremand us for the noise of our 50cc hairdryers, but instead reccomending a good place for riding.

By the time we’d finished in Moreton, we’d pretty much got everything we needed. Just the songs left.

The Ballads

This part of the programme was the linchpin for me. It’s in the title! The Community Ballads. I had set out to make a programme that took heed of Charles Parkers’ technique to fuse music with speech to tell the story. I had been squirrelling away the best nuggets of audio that we’d recorded along the way, and got a local songwriter/musician on board who had agreed to turn these nuggets of inspiration in to music.

I sent him three 10 minute clips, focussed around the local pub, the countryside village, and the brewery. What came back were three demos, which even in their unpolished form, hit the nail square on the head.

We soon took to the studio of Njinxky – Pepe Cartwright – who is pictured earlier in the post with Frances Mitson. Tight for time in the run-up to the broadcast on 107.6 Banbury Sound, we spent a few hours on a countryside Sunday morning laying down these three songs.

Slotted in, they completed the programme.

I was absolutely delighted with the finished doc. It’s the result of months of hard work, that coincided unhelpfully with final year Uni projects and an ever-increasing workload at Key103. Regardless, we pressed on and after I sit here with three very precious bounced WAV files after some satisfying hours tinkering in ProTools on trains and the seat I’m sat in now: infront of my girlfriend’s garden table which has been left in our lounge after use as a prop in her TV show.

Have a look at some of the photos from the months of production – it’s been rewarding and extremely fun…

And the accompanying short film is entitled Know The Field – you can have a preview of what’s to come below…

New Demos…

The advice I have trawled through for demos in recent years is awesome. It’s all noted down in my big notebook and I can only hope that it serves to help me make a bang-tidy 3 minutes of myself…

It’s a hard ol’ task whittling down hours and hours of material in to a couple of minutes. It’s even harder than awards entries because with an entry, people set aside time to actually listen and judge it. With this battlefield people have genuinly made up their mind after a couple of seconds.

But heck, everybody’s in the same boat. The audio sieve is a ruthless sifter, and fingers crossed my half-decent stuff has made it through to soundcloud. I’ve actually had a good time putting together some new showreels – it’s been ace to look back over some really proud moments at Key103 and some fun & games on air at Wire FM, with Kish on Shock Radio and also doing the SRA Selector shows.

I’ve been having a right ball presenting, and a right ball producing! So I’m in no hurry to sway you either way, if you’ve got three minutes to spare then pick your poison, and I hope a smile gets bought to your face for whichever you choose…