It’s been a little while since I’ve made it to one of The Broadcasts’ gigs myself, after I persuaded my sister to come and see them in 2014 as a ‘birthday treat’ – supposedly for her, as the gig was on her actual birthday, but it was an early birthday treat for me too, and all of the Nemeth family. The gig was at Hobo’s in Bridgend – a venue they returned to in April this year to open the show for hometown band Fire Fences – and we were introduced to two other fantastic bands: the (sadly now disbanded) Remembering August, and the impressive vocals of a very young (at the time) Alex Stacey.
Fast-forward to a few months ago, and The Broadcasts’ social media buzzing with news of a debut album release. It says something about a band when I can buy an album without needing to have listened to any of the tracks, but it must be a level-up to pre-order one. I didn’t even hesitate – I was just perhaps a little shocked that there hadn’t been an album before, but also really pleased that I hadn’t missed the chance to board this ship.
This is an album, in many senses of the word. There’s a Broadcasts-feel woven through it – and frankly it would be odd if this weren’t the case – but the music grows as the band have grown, track by track, as if you are flicking through a child’s photo album. ‘Down The Line’ bounces into life, with not-too-heavy rockiness and luscious harmonies. The second track, ironically, is a little more down-the-line; pleasantly ticking along, with a nice message, catchy structure and attention-grabbing hooks. It is also the track that features on the band’s first lyric video, an art form which does seem to be a sign of ‘The Future’.
We chill out a little before we get to the real surprise – track five – though the track before it gives us an acoustic-guitar-intro hint of what’s to come. ‘The Road Goes On’ deserves the invention of a new genre; I’d call it prog country, but that name was apparently already coined in the 1970s to mean something slightly different: I was going for prog-rock-esque form (partly because it’s nearly seven minutes long), but with a lead-in of middle-of-the-road gentle guitar picking and harmonica, and a lead-out of atmospheric lead guitar and drums, in epic proportions. If Fleetwood Mac’s studio tapes of ‘The Chain’ had been accidentally erased by a freak electromagnetic pulse forty years ago, which also wiped most of the band’s memory of the song and set fire to their paper notes, then they decided to write a song for The Broadcasts that paid tribute to something amazing that never was, this might be how it would turn out.
Despite my alternate-universe ramblings, though, it’s the final track that is the jewel in the crown for me. As I told the band, I was expecting to be taken on a substantial journey by the time I got halfway through. However, I wasn’t expecting to cry. Again, the soulful vocals of the track before it give a slight indication, but nothing – apart from reading this review, perhaps – can prepare you for the emotional effect of the dissonant minor spread-chord of the piano. In some ways, it’s the first thing that stands out as incongruous about the album, but I don’t mean that in a bad way at all: it pulls you out of the state you had settled into, whatever that was, however you got there. You find yourself looking up towards a stage that isn’t there, at least it wasn’t there, but it is now. You hang on every word. You can’t stop yourself. And how aptly titled is this last track – ‘What We’ve Become’ – in our metaphorical photo album, we’ve seen them being born, we’ve smiled as they’ve played as children, and we’ve followed them with bated breath through their teenage years. They are adults now.
So, what is it about this Bandicoot track that makes it ‘everything I need’? At the time of writing, it’s had 310 listens. At least twenty of those are me (it’s actually becoming a bit of a problem…)
I’ve often said that I enjoy music that makes me feel like I want to conduct it. I don’t mean I wish to change anything, but that everything seems to be placed so carefully, just where I would have wanted it put, as if the orchestration itself is being treated like an instrument played with feeling. That’s what’s happening here. I’d say that’s the X factor…but I don’t want to confuse things with the TV show.
Orchestration isn’t about regularising the life out of something. You can write notes on a page if you like, but it’s not mandatory. The magic happens when you’re all contributing to the same score, to make one that becomes far more than the sum of its parts. It doesn’t have to be on a piece of paper. The way it builds, the way it weaves, the way it layers. If this track isn’t an epitome, it’s pretty bloomin’ close.
Waking up to who you are requires letting go of who you imagine yourself to be. – Alan Watts
It started as a new year’s resolution – my only new year’s resolution – to keep a diary. I threw in the hashtag #ThereIsOnlyOneMe on a whim. It sounds pretty obvious, but so does a lot of advice we give ourselves and soon forget.
Originally, I was only thinking of logistics. There is only one physical me. No-one can be in two places at once. In work, I’m reasonably good at keeping a diary, but teaching does this for you in many ways, as you have fixed times for lessons (I just have to make sure I keep to what’s in the diary!)
The mistake I keep making, however, and the new year’s resolution I’ve often broken, is allowing things to clash outside of work. By keeping a ‘work diary’, in an isolated bubble which only applies to the time I’m in work, I don’t take into account the knock-on effect of working late, or the times where I need to see if I can finish early. I cannot be ‘work me’, ‘musician me’, ‘family me’, etc. in isolation, and keeping them each in their own little time bubbles means that – on rare occasions – they all add up to more than 100%. Gigs clash with work, gigs clash with pre-arranged family time, gigs clash with other gigs…
I’d already been given the solution in 2008 – a small paper diary – but in true Star Trek style, it was so successful a solution that I duly never used it again. In the past, and since, I’ve tried a slew of digital organisers, PDAs, my phone…all of them rely on the user (i.e. me) programming them correctly, and remembering to charge them…
I have tried other paper diaries, but they were too big…so I almost always left them on my desk at work…and so the problem of clashes outside of work continued.
Cue 2016, and a 59p diary, staring at me from the shelves of Poundstretcher. Four inches by three. Pocket-sized. Never runs out of battery, no delay in loading (once the right date has been found), and even if I forget a pen, I’m highly likely to find another before I would have managed to open the calendar app on my phone. This is the future, I thought. And it has worked, to an extent.
I’m realising, though, that the mentality shift of #ThereIsOnlyOneMe is so much bigger than this idea of keeping a diary. When you’re on the stage – whether it’s the stage of a lecture theatre, or any other type of stage, it can be helpful to have a persona. Crucially though, I’m not being false, just ‘Jamie+’: confidence ramped up to 220%, for a fixed and short length of time. Extroverted. Funny (sometimes). I step off the stage, and I’m back to being plain Jame again.
However, somewhere along the way, I got confused: my metaphorical stage and everyday life became flipped. I started simulating a ‘new me’, and he tried to simulate the ‘old me’ (badly), for backwards-compatibility with the real world. This is the thought process behind one of my so-called ponems:
In the past I may have been
Not me; a virtual machine.
Reacting as I thought I should,
Based on how another would.
Simulations of a soul,
Stopping me from being whole.
It’s gone on for far too long.
Now I sing a different song,
Rememb’ring who I am, and more:
Friends and family are core.
The past few months and years have been filled with challenges, some of my own making, some beyond my control. I thought I needed to learn who I was, but what I really needed to learn was who I was not. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say re-learn, since almost everything I’ve learned I already knew, annoyingly. In experimental physics, we sometimes need to push against the theories, change theories to match new data, perform experiments in ever more extreme situations to see if the theories hold. But my own mind is not, and should not be a physics experiment. The world is not a simulation. It is filled with real people, with real emotions, real feelings, real lives. And in the past, there’s one person I’d been forgetting to count amongst these real people: me.
I know me better than anyone else. I’ve been me for over thirty years. My family come a very close second – they cannot be me, but they know almost all of me better than anyone else. Anonymous memes, generic magazine articles, even well-meaning advice from friends must be taken along with the context in which it is given. Logic can plot a straight-line course, but the wind and the waves of your psyche will most likely have other ideas. You can’t take the advice of an icebreaker captain and apply it to your canoe (I do love my weird analogies…)
My new year’s resolution to keep a small diary up-to-date has unwittingly become a life-encompassing mantra: whether it’s my schedule, my relationships, my music, my teaching presence, my place in the blogosphere, or anything else…for 2016, and beyond, #ThereIsOnlyOneMe.
If I wear a red poppy, it is not to glorify war, for war can never be glorious.
If I wear a white poppy, it is not to disrespect those who have fought for peace.
If I wear neither poppy, it is not as an act of protest against those who do.
The red poppy remembers the sacrifices made by so many, for so long.
The white poppy symbolises the hope that, one day, such sacrifices will cease.
My sister and I were early adopters of 3’s Skypephone; first the S1 (one of which is still used by mum, the other one having had its screen squished into oblivion by dad), followed by the glitzy S2. I remember a confusing dialogue taking place at the time of purchase: I was toying with buying a USB internet dongle (this was before the days of Mi-Fi), but the S2 had the capability of acting as an internet dongle as well as a phone. I suggested that I may be tempted (for the first time) to sign up for a contract, if I could have my internet allowance on my phone, rather than a separate dongle. I tried and tried, but was repeatedly told that that simply wasn’t the deal: you had to have a HSDPA internet-capable phone (without the internet), and a separate dongle (which couldn’t also be a phone). The mind boggled, I gave up, and went instead for two Skypephone S2 phones for a special offer of £100 (£69.99 each).
My phone worked brilliantly; at the time a huge, vivid colour screen compared to what I was used to, animated swooshy icons, smart exterior. I loved it. Unfortunately my sister, by chance, received the dud. She tried to tell me repeatedly that there was a problem with it, and for far too long I refused to believe her, thinking it was ‘just new’, she hadn’t gotten used to it, or maybe there was a bug, but it would be fixed in the next update. Alas, the support for both models of Skypephone was abominable, which was such a shame as the initial marketing surge promised so much potential (right now, in 2014, support for Skype on the…erm…Skypephone is being discontinued as we speak, if it hasn’t already been). When I finally realised that my sister wasn’t lying about the phone becoming a gibbering wreck after ten minutes of operation, with key presses producing cryptic nonsense befitting of the Enigma machine, I tried to take it back. It was repaired, and again, and again. Each time, it came back no different (except for a sticker on the display that you had to peel off, making it feel as if it had been given a once-over, even though this much was becoming increasingly doubtful). On the final attempt, we were told that if it was sent for repair again, and nothing was found to be wrong, we would have to pay for the cost of sending and returning it. I decided to ask if there was any way of getting a refund, but after checking on some sort of price checking website which looked like one for recycled phones, we were told its current value was no more than £3. I didn’t expect the full £69.99 retail price to be returned, or even £50 (half the price of the £100 deal for two phones), but since I’d only ever received one working phone, it would have seemed fair to me to return at least £30 (the difference between the retail price of one phone, and the deal price for two). But nope. £3. I decided to keep the phone…a pretend phone would cost more than that! And, who knows…maybe I’ll be able to fix it or salvage bits from it myself one day (wonder if I could use the screen on my Raspberry Pi?)
I can’t remember exactly when I purchased my (Blackberry-esque) Nokia E63, but it was shortly after receiving this disappointing news; probably some time in 2009. Android OS was but a fledgling, and Symbian s60 was at the cutting edge. I remember the excitement as I tried out the phone in the shop, pulling me from the cloud of dismayal at the failure of my sister’s Skypephone S2, and the worry that mine may fail the same way, someday soon. The fact that the salesperson pulled me out of that gloom and won me around to buying my Nokia was certainly no mean feat and probably deserves some sort of award. It was a unique combination of events: nowadays, it’s easy enough to listen to internet radio on your phone, but back then it was something entirely new to me. Having recently started my show on Off The Chart Radio, I was keen to listen to as many of the other presenters’ shows as possible, but couldn’t unless I was next to a PC. That was all about to change, thanks to the Nokia’s prominent Internet Radio app. It may have appeared basic, but it did everything you’d need it to; there was an internet radio directory, but there was also an option for you to add your own station, and it adapted to use the lower bitrate streams when using mobile data. It was perfect. It did email, Windows Live Messenger, Skype, had a full QWERTY keypad, looked professional; my first true smartphone. I remember the excitement as I unboxed it for the first time, and the horror as I thought I’d made a big mistake as we reached a part of the road with no street lights on the way home and I couldn’t see a thing I was typing, then the surprise and elation as the whole keypad brightly and evenly illuminated itself as if by magic!
This phone’s been a part of my life for a long time. Other, allegedly better phones have come along (don’t get me started on the iPhone…in short, chargers breaking, all the time) but I’ve resisted change. I was even given an Android phone as a gift; it’s great, but on a different network, so it’s become more of a mini internet tablet for occasional use, than a phone. I’ve kept my Nokia E63 going despite the leather-effect slip-on case literally falling apart around it (I haven’t even replaced the case!)
But there was one problem I couldn’t ignore. At first, I didn’t even realise there was a problem; I just thought the battery door had come loose, so I closed it again. Then it was loose again. Then it wouldn’t secure. Had the phone’s back cover had its day? I didn’t think so, the lugs all looked fine, the catches looked fine, I could see nothing wrong that would stop it closing in this way…until I noticed, by looking at the phone from the side, that the back cover was bulging ever so slightly near the middle. “Hmm, that’s odd” I remember thinking as I pulled the cover off once more, then got a bit scared. The battery was swollen.
“Ooh err…that doesn’t look good!” That was a dramatic understatement. I looked online and found various severe warnings about even using the phone at all, let alone charging it. I was terrified at the number of days I must have already been using it in its on-the-point-of-exploding-into-a-fireball state. I started looking for batteries online, but brand new batteries from Nokia would have cost a decent fraction of the cost of a new phone. For a few days I had no choice but to risk charging it; I had other phones, but none that would accept that SIM. I felt I should have been wearing goggles and heat-proof gloves (and flame-retardant trousers) every time I pressed a button. I ducked for cover every time I forgot and ended up putting the phone on tables a little too heavily.
“Aha! Batteries for £5! Bargain!” as I looked on a well-known reputable shopping website. Then I read an article which described how a load of counterfeit batteries had been released onto this well-known reputable shopping website, and I was glad I’d decided to wait to get one. These batteries had the potential to be as explosive as the swollen one I already had, or at the very best were said not to work very well at all, with shocking battery lives. Scary stuff.
When I found www.battery-megastore.co.uk, I was therefore understandably skeptical. It was a shop I’d never heard of, but it seemed trustworthy and had a comprehensive range of ‘old’ phone batteries, and at a price (£12.98 inc. VAT and P&P) that seemed like a reasonable compromise between too-good-to-be-true and the full official retail price from Nokia itself. I’d seen some mixed reviews about their delivery of some makes of battery, but delivery of Nokia batteries seemed to be OK, so I chanced it. A bubble-wrapped envelope arrived on schedule, and the new battery (unswollen, and with its official hologram sticker) has been charging and discharging happily since July 2013. Battery life and behaviour is as good as new. I am a very happy first time customer, and if I’m ever in need of another battery, I now know where to go.
I hate how throwaway our culture has become, and this is a definite win for keeping old but still completely usable tech going. On that note, next up, I need to see how I can revive my old iPod…I’ve heard you can buy an adapter to replace the hard drive with a flash card…
The last weekend of July 2014 was another epic journey for our trusty runaround, the Nemethmobile. The car has now clocked up so many miles that the digital odometer has suffered the distance-equivalent of the Millennium Bug, rolling around to zero after it hit 299,999 miles, much to Dad’s surprise and amusement.
After a lovely National Youth Choir of Wales concert in Wrexham, North Wales, we pointed the car towards Gloucestershire. Mum had identified the Almondsbury Interchange Hotel & Restaurant, which offered us a very reasonably priced family room. My first port of call is usually Travelodge, but the availability that weekend was (unusually) very poor: in fact, there were no family rooms at all in the nearest ten hotels to Gloucester (possibly, as we’d later find out, due to the WOMAD festival). Whilst we often use Travelodge, it’s good to be forced off our ‘default setting’ once in a while. A friendly phone booking left a good impression, and we were informed that the reception was open 24 hours: this was important to us as we knew we’d be arriving in the early morning. The room was spacious, incredibly clean, and the beds very comfortable. The shower was straightforward and all the better for it; showers with temperature controls purport to be better, but they can be tough to turn especially when wet, and it normally takes me a good few minutes to get a comfortable temperature out of them. Call me old before my time, but a hot and cold tap is far more preferable, not to mention the option of a full bath. Little things, too: there were enough seats for people in the room (something which you tend not to take for granted as travellers on a budget), and even a bedside cabinet and lamp each, as well as enough cups, tea/coffee facilities, TV, hairdryer, etc. (I really wanted to use the trouser-press, just for the sake of it…) Continental breakfast was included in the room price, served in a pleasant restaurant room, and the cooked breakfast option for £2 was more than reasonable.
The gig I’d be playing at was a private party a few miles from Gloucester. Usually, for ‘long-distance’ gigs, we’re travelling specially, and we rarely get a chance to look around the area I’m playing in. This made a lovely and leisurely change. We nearly rejoined the M5/M4, but not being in a rush (and generally fans of weird and wonderful single-carriageway routes), we took the A38 instead. It’s only now, looking at the map properly, that I’ve realised how circuitous a route we must have taken to Chipping Sodbury, in order to even pass anywhere near to The Fleece Inn at Hillesley. Immediately intrigued by the words ‘community pub’, we headed inside, by chance catching their second anniversary celebrations of buying the pub. It’s always lovely to see what can be achieved if a community pulls together, and I had to have a commemorative tankard as a memento. It was filled at my request with ‘Velvet Ale’; the label asked if I could taste the peaches, and I could. We even tucked in to some chilli and pulled pork rolls for lunch, and then watched the enthusiastic line dancers accompany the live musical entertainment in the outdoor marquee.
We then headed off, swinging by the gig venue to make sure we knew we could find it later, then on to Tetbury. The Chipping Court Shopping Mall brought back fond memories of the range and character of shops we used to have in the Oxford Street Arcade in Swansea years ago – unusual antiques and artwork – and it was lovely to just browse as we walked past. Emerging on the other side, we had to look at the wine cork stools next to the table outside Vinotopia. I remember thinking how convincing these giant corks looked, which must have been made of stone, so I assumed…then I looked closer and thought it was some sort of wood…and then, on tactile testing (or, in other words, like a toddler, I had to reach out and touch it), it was actually made from cork! Our intrigue was held for the crucial amount of time to be tempted in. Of course, us not being connoisseurs, the thought crossed our mind that the lowest price wines here may be beyond our price range, but we were immediately put at ease by the knowledgeable staff, who recommended a selection of reasonably-priced good wines. We bought a gift of wine for a friend and a recommended rosé for ourselves, and on mentioning we had a long distance to travel home (and a long time to wait to do so), the staff went the extra mile and donated us a polystyrene box so we could keep it as cool as possible. It is this type of ‘shopping experience’ that is forgotten when everything you need is available in the supermarket, where you zip up and down the aisles spending hardly any time contemplating, in some ways similar to the difference in the process you go through to buy a CD in an independent record store and doing the same in a supermarket, or online. In the latter case, you normally already know what you want, you just may need help to find it. In an independent store, there’s always the possibility of finding something new that you’d never thought of trying. If we’d passed the bottle of rosé that we bought in a supermarket, our thought process might have stopped at “that’s an interesting colour”, as we tried to keep in mind the loaf of bread we were actually heading towards picking up. At an independent, dedicated store, as happened in Vinotopia, this became the springboard to a dialogue, and of course a sale, but one which brought pleasure to the seller and customer, rather than an emotionless bleep before you hear the words “unexpected item in the bagging area” for the fifteenth time.
Good gosh, I am old before my time! I said “good gosh” as well, didn’t I?! Golly.
There were many more wonderful shops in Tetbury, as well as one of the British Toilet Association’s Toilets of the Year 2007 (there’s a British Toilet Association?!), and we were wowed with the range of crafts in Artique, which was a Tardis-like shop, extending much further back than you would have expected from the front or the ‘front room’. Incredible large wooden murals were plentiful in the back outdoor area, and unusual crafts and textiles all around.
We’d remembered seeing a sign for a farm shop on the way there, so headed back in that direction to try and find it. The Farm Shop at Hawkesbury (Upton) was behind a house, seemingly in their (large) back garden, and despite worrying that we’d interrupted the owners’ garden lunch, they were more than happy to open the shop for us. There was a plentiful selection of local cheeses, meats, jams, icecreams and breads. We had the scones with cheese for an evening snack when we got home, and they were delicious. I’d never tried cinnamon icecream before, either.
- Write more blogs
I’ve fulfilled this resolution just by starting this blog post…it has been a little while since I’ve written anything on here…been busy!
- Come up with a new career plan
My original career plan – if I ever had one – ran out at the end of my first degree. I was offered the incredible opportunity to ‘bolt on’ a PhD, of course, but then chance took me on to teacher training. I’ll admit to feeling I was finally on to something near the end of 2013, in terms of a new career plan – “this is it…I’m going to be a science teacher!” – but in today’s world especially, nothing is certain. I did join the world of employment briefly, but it was only a short-term teaching contract. Now I may be rejoining the academia ‘track’ after all, and I’m quite looking forward to it, though I’ll miss teaching…or maybe I’ll get to do a bit of both in 2014?
- Read the magazines I’ve subscribed to
Only I could subscribe eagerly to the Times Educational Supplement (TES) shortly after starting my teacher training, and then never get round to reading the things. It’s getting embarrassing. I don’t want to end my subscription as my reasons for joining haven’t changed, but at some point I really must open the plastic bags in which they arrived through the letterbox (yup, I haven’t even opened the packets!), shred and recycle the job newspaper bits (since all the jobs will almost certainly be out-of-date), and keep the magazine parts, giving myself some interesting bedtime reading for the next few months to keep the teaching part of my brain ticking over. Do you know what’s even more embarrassing? I haven’t opened up most of my Physics World (IoP) magazines either. And I call myself a physicist…
Not sway imperceptibly, DANCE…like nobody’s watching (even though they are). I think the teacher training has helped me immensely with this too: it necessarily forces you to stop being an introvert, even if you’re putting on a front and it’s all an act. As you practice, and practise, it becomes less of an act and even starts overwriting your previous behaviours (the amount of times I’ve found myself picking up dropped items for total strangers, before they’ve even noticed it’s hit the floor). I recently taught the topic of Forces and Motion, and I know it sounds silly, but the combination of having gotten used to being watched, and using myself as a visual example when explaining concepts, seems to have been the key to unlocking my ability to dance! New Year’s Eve going into New Year’s Day was a revelation! So many have tried and failed to get me on to the dancefloor in the past, some of them using quite a lot of force and they’ve still failed…or they’d get me on there under duress and I’d dance like a musical statue when the song had been paused. However, it wasn’t for nowt…all these years, I must have subconsciously been observing and noting and recording and thinking…2014 saw me hitting the ‘play’ button on all that stored information. I think my legs actually ached the next day – they’ve never moved so much! Even ‘worse’, now I seem to have the bug…
Oof…this is going to be a tricky one. I don’t sing. Then again, I don’t dance…and…well…now I sort-of do. It’s not that I can’t sing, but I won’t sing. I’ve been through this process of not being shy (to the point of being precocious, so I’m told, when I was younger), to being unwilling to play a single note in public on my violin, to finally realising I was missing out on enormous amounts of fulfilment and fun by being too reticent, which was the first step on my road to ‘recovery’ and beyond. I’ve even managed some really wild moments on the violin, and I want more! So why is this not the case for singing?
I’ve not sung for so long that my voice is a complete unknown to me, whereas even if I was given someone else’s fiddle to play I’d have a fair idea of the sound that will come out when I move the bow. You need no words when you play an instrument, so I’m not used to the concept of performing notes and lyrics at the same time, especially not with the alien instrument that is my own voicebox! I used to sing in school choirs, though, loud and proud…so I used to be able to do it…but if I try and sing like that now, I find that some of the notes are missing. I guess my voice must have broken, after all…(!)
I need to take this slowly, and it may be a resolution for next year instead…but something inside me is brewing. I shouldn’t allow this self-made strangle-hold to continue, especially if it would give me a bit more weight in the music world. I’ve had lots of great experiences, don’t get me wrong, but every now and then something hits you for six. Maybe if I’d been a singer as well as a musician in 2013 (and before), these negative musical experiences would have played out very differently.
- Get a show on BBC Radio Wales / Radio 2
OK, now you’re just getting silly, Jamie. Even the singing is faaaaaar more likely to happen…but we can all dream!