Thursday night - I took punt and went along to the Electronic Music Open Night at Independent in Sunderland. Umpteen acts, largely unknowns with one notable exception - Ian Boddy.
This was glorious. No flash. No pomp. No introductions. The whole arrangement was anything but polished but... this was fun. This is the way music ought to be. Hear something new. Hear something fresh. Instead of the listening to the same old, same old, take a chance. Maybe something will start the creative clock ticking. Maybe the experience will get you back into the studio. It’s an approach I tried a couple of months ago with Organic in Whitley Bay and that ended up re-igniting the whole Uranium Saints project, which had stalled badly.
I stuck around to the end and, even though the last act was very difficult to get into, I shared his pain when nothing, absolutely nothing, seemed to work in his favour. I did smile when the poor guy just lay down on the floor and waited until his penultimate piece had played out. I've flopped (utterly) on stage a few times in the past so... yeah. I know how it feels to die in front of a crowd. At least this guy didn't go scream at the sound guy.
So, it’s an Open Music Night. Turn up. Set up. Play. Anyone can join in.
Sixty four million dollar question - will I?
Come along and find out.
I won’t be posting any more updates on the subject until after the performance and neither will the set be uploaded later. This will be a once-only performance. All the information you need will be available here. Nowhere else.
So here we are...
Three months on from what we now call The Event and, well, I’m pretty much back to normal. I feel fine. I really do. As I said way down below, I got lucky. I learned a valuable lesson.
I’ve just had the sort-of-final review with my Doctor and everything looks good. No kidney problems. No sign of diabetes. Nothing worrying with my PSA readings. My cholesterol is coming down nicely. So is my blood pressure. It’s still a little high but not catastrophically high and I’m kinda wearing something of a rather smug, self-satisfied grin on my chops because I did it all without recourse to drugs.
I was offered a course of Statins to lower my cholesterol but I declined because, by cutting out all of the crap from my diet and exercising a lot, my cholesterol fell below 5.0, which is the upper limit for a bloke of my age. I was also offered drugs to reduce my blood pressure but I know that to be something of a slippery slope and I declined. A pretty vigorous exercise regime has brought the figures down nicely anyway.
What is rather worrying... My working hours are, once again, creeping up. It’s worrying because I have a habit of over-doing it. I love what I do. After all, who wouldn’t? It’s a dream job. Hence, I tend to put in the hours to make sure I hit my (self-imposed) deadlines but the end result is that… yeah… I’m often still at it when the lights go out and everyone else is in bed.
I can’t think of a better example than right here and right now. It’s a Saturday night. Everyone else is either in the garden enjoying the summer air or tucked up in front of the TV, and I’m upstairs in my studio writing a blog, doing software reviews and listening to my own radio show (because somebody has to, dammit).
I wrote the above last night and immediately realised the folly of my ways. I quit writing and went down to the garden to be sociable.
So... what else is new?
I’ve spent a lot of time in the last week looking at new ways that we, as a band, can engage with fans. This is because, once again, I’ve given up on social media.
Facebook is crap. Utter crap. Same with Instagram. Twitter? As if it could get any worse under Musk? Well, it has. Much worse. Ten minutes in front of Twitter and you can well imagine The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse sitting atop a gentle mound on the far horizon and looking forward to a busy week.
As far as Facebook is concerned, all I see these days is page after page of “suggested for you”, which is clearly an effort to jump-start my engagement. Hey? Zuckerberg! Maybe you should be showing me what I really want to see, which is what my friends are up to instead of spending so much time and effort trying to reel me in all over again. Just a suggestion.
I could go on, and I sometimes do, but there are better things to do in life.
What else is there?
Musically, I took a break from the Trance album because I felt that I needed to put some distance between myself and the project so that I could better hear the obvious flaws instead of listening with rose-tinted ear buds.
I also launched a new radio show on Radio Northumberland, The Great Geordie Space Race, which is a programme about my other passion, namely astronomy. It’s on the air four times a week and new content is uploaded once a month. As ever, progress is slow but we’ll get there in the end, wherever ‘there’ is.
Thanks for reading. David
Last month, I went along to The Laurels in Whitley Bay to visit the Organic event. Two rooms on the top floor of a building that, until recently, used to be the Whitley Bay and Tynemouth Bridge Club. There was a small door tax but, strangely, nobody on the door to take my money. Okay, a free night then. On offer, five artists doing their own brand of Techno although I only knew one act on the roster, Chop5, partly because we shared a bill down at the Tanners Arms in 2018 but also because I’ve played his music on Bridges.
Now, Techno isn’t exactly my thing. It’s not what I grew up with, and it’s not what I know and like. I’ve heard a lot of acts in a similar vein in recent years and, with only the occasional exception, I’ve listened but not necessarily heard what was going on within the music, deep down, well below the surface.
Without wanting to sound like an artsy-pseudo, it seems that where Techno is concerned, modulation and chord progressions take a back seat. Instead, beats and rhythms are out there in front. Melody does not seem to feature much, if at all and when it does, it’s usually a sample creatively lifted from another song.
The Old School Purist in me wants to go home and watch re-runs of Victor Meldrew. Well, that Old School Purist can go do one for the moment. I'm staying put.
Okay, so maybe this isn't me but, rather than head for the door, let’s think this through, shall we? Let’s adopt a new approach. Let’s unlearn what we already know and indulge ourselves in a spot of positive deconstruction. Why not let modulation and chord progressions take a rest for a while? Why not explore the rhythms? The beats? Where else can they go? And what’s so bad about lifting a melody from another piece so long as you credit the original artist?
In fact, take away these elements and you’re perhaps left with a new approach with regards to listening to and writing music, an approach which - for me at least - turns out to be very liberating concept.
Let’s go further. Rhythms and beats. Not something I know a lot about so why not explore those avenues? Where will that take us? And sounds? Too many composers, and I’m no exception, typically start a composition with a couple of doomy, gloomy, artsy abstract sound effects, in part to add a bit of atmosphere but also to bump the running time past the “three minutes and two ideas” approach to writing which is beloved of some of my heroes and peers. Why not spend a little time properly exploring the abstract, the weird and the mind-bending? Just for the fun of it?
So, sitting quietly at the back of the venue in a big heavy overcoat and drinking slightly warm diet coke from a plastic cup, whilst dodging the army of bright young things all bouncing away and eager to impress, I went on a little musical journey, an exploration of sorts. And I came away happy.
I stayed until Chop5 had done his thing - very good it was too - before I left. It was well past ten and I prefer to be home in time to put the little ones to bed.
The next day, I asked a series of important questions and wrote down a few ideas. I’d just been through a rather ugly encounter with the Grim Reaper - detailed further down - and was feeling the need to get back into music. Here we go. It’s Question Time.
What makes you happy? What’s working? What’s not working? What can you do? What can’t you do? And so on.
What makes you happy? Writing music.
What’s working? Not much, or so it feels.
What’s not working? Where do I start? I can’t summon up much enthusiasm for dark melancholic stuff at the moment and Skin Mechanix just isn’t tickling my creative bones. Ion is starting to get under my skin and I’ve produced a few incomplete fragments that bring out the warm fuzzies all over again. But maybe my mindset isn’t in that space right now. I need to do something loud and energetic. What about T-Bass and that Synth wave idea? Actually, no. Sounds good. Sounds promising but... No. Whilst Synth Wave makes me want to be 20 all over again, it’s old. It’s had it’s day. Maybe I could give it a fresh coat of paint but... No. This is not what I want to do.
What can I do? I can do electronics. I can do up-tempo, fast paced exciting.
What’s can’t I do? Blues guitars, vocals, drums... the list is endless.
Hang about, let’s revisit the first question - What makes you happy?
What makes me really happy? Simple.
Today, it’s... Trance.
Trance is my go-to music for feeling happy. I can loose myself in Trance. I have lost myself in Trance on many, many occasions, too many occasions to accurately recount. I once decorated our entire twenty five feet by thirteen feet living room - that’s a lot of living room - in one continuous thirty six hour binge of non-stop Trance. I was also somewhat drunk at the time and I don’t recall putting many clothes on either. (Those were the days, eh?) I may be flattering myself unduly but I defy you to get that mental image out of your head for the rest of the day.
I first heard Trance on a holiday in Ibiza - where else? - way back in 1996. Jules and I were in a Hippy Market in Es Canar and Jules was haggling with a street vendor over the price of something-or-other and... this weird ethereal music came wafting over the street. Yeah, that was it. I was hooked. In an instant. A genuine epiphany moment.
At the time, I was, musically speaking, well-and-truly stuck in T-Bass mode and this fresh spark was like a little lightening bolt from the blue. I wondered if I could inject some of this new-found energy into the T-Bass tone palette and I succeeded, a little, only to be beaten back by individuals who’s skillset (and mindset) hadn’t moved on from the early 1970s. Shame, that. But, hey ho.
The thing is... apart from a few rare instances, I’ve never done Trance, per se. I’ve dabbled but I lack the tone palette and the feels to dig deeper. I wondered if there were any musical short cuts available and, well, yeah, there were and are. Samples. Lots and lots (AND LOTS) of samples. Sampled beats. Sampled basses. Sampled lead lines.
I threw caution to the wind (and a little bit of money, too) and bought a hand full of inexpensive Trance Construction kits. I then binge-watched "How to... " videos on YouTube until I had a good idea of what I could do but also what I couldn’t do. With the construction kids loaded up on my desktop, I set about... doing Trance for real.
And that made me happy. It’s been a long, long time since I sat at my DAW grinning from ear to ear. It’s been a very, very long time since I got up at six o’clock in the morning and went to work on music before I began my normal working day.
That was a month ago and, at this moment, I’m looking at my first EP of Trance tunes. Twenty minutes of music that I genuinely love. Really, genuinely love. Like the old days with Ion.
That one brief trip out to Whitley Bay quite literally turned on a creative tap that continues to flow, continues to deliver. Alas, I’m not ready to share these tracks right now. I’m too close to them at the moment to be able to judge if they’re any good but I’ve played them to a few people (who know and like Trance) and the response has been universally good.
The end result of this excercise is that I’m kinda in a good place right now. The changes to my work schedule and my lifestyle, necessitated by that visit to the Emergency Room last month, have left me feeling happier and more relaxed than in a fair number of years. Changes to the way we work (SMART methodology) mean I can get just as much done as I did before The Event but also mean that I have time for writing music again.
I think the moral of the tale is this... Don't do what other people want you to do. Do what makes you happy. Do what you enjoy. Go to that place, dig a little. See what pops up. Then figure out not only how it works but WHY it works, and then make it work for YOU.
I'll be back at Organik next month too. Look me up if you see me skulking at the back. Just avoid the warm diet coke. It gives me gas.
A month on from my unscheduled stay in Dryburn Hospital’s Accident and Emergency Department, I’m delighted to report that I’m still alive, for now anyway.
I feel fine. I really do.
That said, I'm not out of the woods yet but I am optimistic that I can work through this issue without becoming dependent on drugs of any kind. For now, I have to attend a clinic every three weeks to have my Blood Pressure and weight checked by a nurse, and also to make sure that the changes to my diet and exercise regime are not making my condition worse. I’ve eliminated all of the junk food from my diet, coffee is now a luxury and I watch my salt intake like a startled Meerkat. My weight is coming down albeit slowly, but it is coming down.
Patience, young Jedi. Patience.
A lot has changed in just four weeks.
First of all, I took a proper holiday, my first in a number of years. Once back at work, I cut my working hours in half and I now put in around thirty five hours a week, which is no hardship. We changed our project management system and now use the SMART methodology. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Limited. I work on one project at a time and nothing else. It’s remarkable how much you can achieve with such a simple change. No distractions. No side-projects. No last minute changes to the project plan. It’s all planned and agreed in advance and the end result is that I’m pretty much charging through the current project at a very healthy rate. Everything else has to stay in line and await its turn.
With only the occasional exception, I down tools at five o’clock and I only work on hobby projects at the weekend. I’ve thrown myself back into my other passions, namely astronomy, music, painting and drawing and, thus far, the results are very encouraging.
More than anything, I’m starting to feel that this whole intervention was long overdue. High blood pressure tied to a weight problem atop a stupid, stupid workaholic mindset was just a heart attack waiting to happen.
Truthfully, I’m kinda glad this happened and I was forced to come to my senses before something seriously rubbish put an end to the fun and games. I have to be more responsible, and especially so where the kids are concerned. Lesson learned.
Finally, I want to say thanks to the staff at Dryburn Hospital for taking such good care of me, to Kepier Medical for the on-going support, my customers for being patient, and my friends and family for everything else.
This post describes my recent encounter with mortality. I’m posting this here, not because I like talking about myself, but in the genuine hope that it helps somebody else.
The weekend began, as weekends often do, on the Friday afternoon. I was scheduled to have my blood pressure checked at the local clinic so I walked the dog beforehand and then marched up to the surgery in double quick time. Unsurprisingly, the nurse recorded that my blood pressure was high. I told her that I’d just done around one and a half hours of vigorous exercise but she wasn’t happy and advised that I buy a blood pressure machine at the local pharmacist. I did as instructed and then went home to play with my new toy.
Back at base, I was delighted to find that my BP had already dropped to 143/104, which still high but manageable. Plus I was still buzzing from the afternoon workout. I figured that the two high readings were caused by pushing myself pretty hard.
Skip forward to Saturday morning. Friday's results had left me with a sleepless night and I was more than a little anxious. Was there something genuinely wrong? I took a couple of readings and... Huh? What? 180/110? How? Eh?
I figured that I was either using the machine incorrectly or the thing was faulty. Which was it? I couldn't tell so I ignored the results.
Yes, this was particularly STUPID.
And, guess what? I went back to work... Yeah, you read that right. I went back to work. I'm a workaholic. A fully diagnosed, card-carrying workaholic and this (as moronic as it seems) is what workaholics do.
Now, Jules was playing clarinet with Sunderland Symphony Orchestra that evening and I'd been asked to take some photos of the performance. Still ignoring the earlier results, we drove into town and pitched up at Sunderland Minster.
The afternoon rehearsal went well and I got loads of useful candid shots. We both felt happy and so we retired to a well-known pub chain for a meal ahead of the main performance.
Now, I know curry. I’ve been eating curries for fifty years and this one was just about the saltiest I have ever tasted, so salty in fact that Jules couldn’t finish hers. I have no doubt at all in my mind that the dish had been laced with salt to encourage customers to buy more beer. That's a pretty shitty thing to do but no more than par-for-the-course for this bunch of *********. We emerged from the pub sometime later and I felt awful. I really did.
Photographing the concert was stressful to the point where I felt physically ill. The Orchestra wanted a picture of the ensemble just before they began to play and, to get the height necessary to pull in the players at the back, I had to ascend a rickety old chair, operate the camera without any physical means of supporting myself, and then descend in front of a full house. I had visions of falling flat on my arse in front of the entire congregation, which included half a dozen former Lord Mayors of the City. That said, nothing happened. I noted that my heart rate was a little high but not excessively so and it quickly settled down in a couple of minutes. Nothing to worry about, right?
Back at home, I measured my Blood Pressure once again. After all, I felt fine. I felt happy. I felt energised.
The first reading was 180/110. The second, 181/112. The third, 182/114. Clearly, something was very, very wrong.
I rang the NHS Help Line on 111 and spoke to a Nurse. She was so concerned that she called the Out of Hours GP. I did another blood pressure reading with him waiting on the end of the phone.
The medical term is a Hypertensive Crisis and the Doctor told me to get to a hospital within the hour and not to drive myself. He was certain that I was about to have either a heart attack or a stroke. Jenny drove me to Durham A & E where my Blood Pressure was measured again.
186 something... I don’t remember but... Huh?
An hour later, and they checked again.
This is serious.
Let me say that again.
Actually, this well beyond a Hypertensive Crisis.
Okay, so... The nurse smiled, took some blood samples and told me not to worry. I did anyway. I also packed Jenny off home, mostly because A & E on a Saturday night is, in the words of the Auxiliary, apt to turn a little fruity. I settled down in the Waiting Area and passed out with the sounds of Culture Club, Queen, Jon Bon Jovi and a host of other 80’s acts buzzing my ears. What a way to go, eh?
Two hours later and my blood pressure had dropped to 168/114. Looks better? No, because my diastolic pressure had started to rise. So, no. Not better. Not by a country mile.
Four hours later and my blood pressure looked marginally better. Not brilliant but better. I was too sleepy to write down the actual value but... well, it was four o’clock in the morning and I was barely conscious.
I was woken and assessed by a Doctor at around 0600 hours. The Doctor listened to my tale of woe, asked about my dietary habits and my working habits, and then checked the earlier results, listening to both my heart and my lungs, as well as testing for any signs of a stroke. He found nothing of any major concern. Ultimately, the Doctor decided that the high readings were probably a mixture of my previously undiagnosed high blood pressure (I'm overweight and have been for years), my working hours (which he judged unsustainable) and the tail end of a chest infection, all coupled to a bad case of white-coat syndrome. Yes, I’m one of those lucky individuals who gets anxious whenever they see a Doctor.
Anyway, I passed muster and the Doctor told me that, in all probability, I could manage my condition, and maybe even eliminate it completely, if I simply reduced my working hours (and hence stress), exercised more and changed my eating habits, in that order. In particular, the Doctor said that I should carefuly monitor my salt intake. I don't eat much pre-processed food but I am overly fond of dousing everything I eat in table salt. This is bad. Salt encourages water retension, which causes tissues to swell and push back against veins and arteries, which, in turn, means your heart has to work harder to move your blood. Hence, too much salt is seen as the primary cause of hypertension.
The Doctor and I shook hands and, three minutes later, I was discharged.
That was a scare. A big, fat hairy-arsed scare. I’ve been forced to face a few simple truths. I've always been incredibly healthy, and obviously health-conscious but, for reasons I don't fully understand, I stopped listening. I stopped thinking. Somehow, I missed all of the signs that there was something wrong. So how come I became so utterly bloody complacent?
I’ve spent the last three weeks thinking about my life choices over the last five years and what I can do to remedy the situation. It’s clear that I have three options:
Option three it is then...
I don’t believe in miracles or magic. It’s all about cause and effect. As soon as I was able, I set about hunting down and eliminating the source of all that salt. In short, I became the foodie equivalent of Sherlock Holmes.
I started reading food labels. Not just reading them but forensically deconstructing them. Yeah, obvious, I know. Whilst I’ve been avoiding any foods with high fat content for some years, I was largely oblivious to the amount of salt in some of this crap. I’ll name the guilty parties. I’m not saying anything that isn’t manifestly true. Take, for example, a Lidl Four Cheese pizza. Tastes... okay, I guess, if you’re not fussy. But go check out the salt content. It’s given as 2.41g in bold red letters on the box, which is high but still within the NHS recommendations for salt intake, right? No! No! No! Check the small print, young Jedi. Check the small print. Look at those tiny white letters on a bright, yellow background. They're not easy to spot at first glance. A cynical person might suggest (politely) that this was a deliberate obfuscation. That figure applies to just half a pizza. Eat the whole pizza and you just scored for 4.82g of salt in one sitting. That's 80% of your Recommended Daily Intake. In one pizza? Really?
I could list countless other examples but you get the idea. The moral of the tale is this : Read the small print and then read the very small print. Then read the extremely small print they really don't want you to see.
I spoke to a small number of friends who have walked this path before me. I am incredibly grateful to Keith McHard and Dave Newton for all of their help and encouragement through what was a bleak couple of days.
Long story short, I’ve spent the last three weeks in recovery. I've taken a holiday and slashed my working hours, eliminated both salt and fat from my diet and enforced mandatory Cardio Walks with the dog. Even though they're fairly brutal, I love them. Jasper loves them. It's good to feel the bloody pumping through the veins again.
What went wrong?
Ultimately, I had failed to join the dots. I’d failed to see the pattern which linked all of the small, seemingly trivial problems to the big hairy-arsed elephant in the room. High Blood Pressure, the Silent Killer, so named because there are virtually no symptoms. It's the same disease that killed my Grandmother.
Looking forwards, I’ve survived this most recent encounter with the bloke in the flowing black robes and the pre-industrial harvesting tool by luck rather than by good judgement. I’ll treat this experience as a warning shot over my bows. Fix the problem or enjoy the silence.
Lessons for the future? If your local Health Centre or your Pharmacist offers you a free Blood Pressure test then GET OFF YOUR ARSE AND DO IT.
Anyway, I have someway to go before I’m fit and heathy again. I have around two stones in weight to lose, which I know won't be easy but is very, very necessary. I need to visit the practice nurse every three weeks for the next
So... Watch this space.
I'll post regular updates, more for my own good than for yours but...
The Take Home message is this. I was stupid. I got lucky. Lesson learned.
We have something of a milestone to celebrate this weekend with the release of Bridges, episode 50. A half century. Well done us, I would say.
Let’s kick off by saying a special thank you, firstly to Keith Newman of Highlights PR and Radio Northumberland for giving us a platform and to Station Manager Stewart Allen for keeping everything running on time. I’d also like to thank my small cadre of listeners and supporters, some of whom are very close to home, whilst others are scattered around the globe. I appreciate your time, your patience, your energy and your enthusiasm.
I’d also like to say a special thank you to all of the bands who have sent music and copy for the show, in particular to many of those bands using the Bandcamp platform, who have sacrificed a little bit of revenue to help push and promote their works. We have a small budget (actually very small) and I frequently end up funding purchases out of my own pocket - largely because I like the music but also because artists the world over need the support of small stations like Radio Northumberland if they’re to reach a wider audience.
Bridges has become a regular feature in our lives. It’s a chance to listen to and appreciate new music as well as old. It’s a chance to reconnect with music I havn’t listened to in a long time, maybe decades. Yes, I’m that old!) As precious as it is, I routinely have to guard recording sessions against incursions into my time and space. Take a hint, peeps! Tread careful.
The good thing about Bridges is that it got me back into listening to music again after a particularly difficult period. COVID knocked us for six just as we were starting to build a profile for ourselves in the local electronic music scene and, post-pandemic, interest in what we were trying to do and what we were trying to say has diminished to nothing, and shows no sign of recovering.
As for the shows themselves, I'll openly acknowledge that not every programme is brilliant. Not every programme hits the mark, the ideal balance of new and old, fast and slow, happy and sad. Personally, I reckon that maybe one in four programmes gets it right. But that’s what makes the process special. It’s about taking risks. I know we won’t get it right every single time. If I ever felt that I was just churning out the same old rubbish over and over again then I’d stop.
On a darker note, I’d like to send a personal message to those musicians who elected not to help us, who declined to send us music, who openly dissed us and actively worked against the show. You know who you are, dickheads. In addition, I'd like to point the finger of suspicion in the direction of certain extremely vocal Facebook administrators who deleted our posts and then reported us to Facebook for spamming even though the bloody radio show was about those artists they claim to support.
To you, I’d like to raise a polite two-fingers. Get stuffed. We’re still here, Bridges is still running, Facebook didn’t kick us off the platform and there are still plenty of musicians willing to send us music, who are happy to help and promote the show, and who aren’t blackballed by the programme staff. You hurt nobody but yourselves, idiots.
[Yes, I am glad I got that out of my system…]
So, Bridges at fifty. What’s next?
Up to now, with the odd exception, new episodes of Bridges have appeared every two weeks. It takes between five and ten hours to select the music, edit and arrange the tracks into a rough playlist and then record an appropriate commentary. After that, we have to upload the show then edit web pages and Facebook posts so that punters know what they’re listening to. All told, that’s an average of six or seven hours per show. Usually, I put the show together at weekends or in the evenings but with the workload from my day job building day by day, and the need to look after two children under four, this load has started to have an impact. I have to prioritise. Family, job, hobbies in that order.
Also, there’s the added stress of trying to record a two hour radio programme whilst Sunderland City Council have been digging up the road outside our house over the last seven months. This operation, which is thankfully coming to an end, has nevertheless made life very, very difficult.
As a result, we’ve decided to change the schedule a little. New episodes of Bridges will now appear every three or four weeks, whichever fits in best with our working arrangements. I’ll still post regular Facebook updates and keep the archive up to date when ever the show airs.
Next, we’re taking a break for a couple of months. Why? Simply to recharge the batteries. As I said, my day job has stepped up a notch and, with two children under four years, I have some fairly major child care responsibilities to maintain. I’m also not writing any new music at the moment and work on the novels has been greatly reduced, and that’s starting to hurt my mental state.
The good news is that we now have fifty programmes under our belt and so repeating a show from two years ago should not be quite so obvious. Another option is to chop up and re-arrange past programmes to make a new Frankenstein-like show. I’ve tested this approach and it takes less than an hour to butt-weld two shows together and upload everything to the station’s servers. It’s not seamless but does work well.
With these changes in mind, Bridges 50 will run until March 16th. After that, we’ll re-post the two part Ultravox specials from this time last year. That will take us up to April 15th and the first of the cut-n-paste specials. We’ll run with that format for another two months, taking us into May or June. Again, I’d like to stress than Bridges is not ending. We’re just reducing the workload a little.
So, once again, I'd like to say thank you to our friends and supporters, listeners and colleagues. It's been fun and I genuinely look forward to the next fifty shows.
As detailed in a couple of recent blog updates, we've culled our SoundCloud page. This process began last year and most of the important pieces have now been removed. I've left a few placeholders up there just so that people will know we're still around but I doubt we'll be uploading anything of any substance to that platform anytime soon. If we do then they'll be demo ideas and/or preliminary mixes but nothing of any great significance.
I've also deleted the Pro-Digital Distribution for the album Synchronicity over on CD Baby. We had three reasons for taking this action:
So, adious CD Baby. You used to be a good company. Not these days.
Ending on a positive notes, I'm still planning to release most of the Soundcloud tracks, in one form or another, over on Bandcamp. Watch this space.
A few short words about the forthcoming changes to the way we work.
As detailed in a couple of recent blog updates, we're culling our SoundCloud page. This process has already started.
All of the tracks presently available on SoundCloud will be re-worked and finished off over the next eighteen months. Thereafter, they will appear on our BandCamp page as formal releases, complete with full artwork and extensive sleeve notes.
The reason? Soundcloud generate money from advertising. They earn money from our work although they don't pay us for our contributions. Worse, we feel that the adverts are now obtrusive and get in the way of listening to the music. Hence, we've decided to remove the free stuff and the promotional demos, and distribute finished goods ourselves via our Bandcamp page.
Finally, a minor change behind the scenes. The Thinking Metal domain no longer re-directs on to the SkinMechanix domain. They're now fully autonomous entities. Just something I've been meaning to do for a year or so...
Sometime last year, whilst sourcing new material for our radio show, Bridges, I discovered Synthwave, a style of music unashameldy influenced by the sounds of the 80's. Since then, bands like Gunship and Marvel 83 have been on regular rotation, my go-to tunes for relaxation and reflection amid the whirlwind of chaos and emotion that goes hand-in-hand with managing two small children under the age of three.
And since the 80s is where I first really fell in love with electronic music in all of its wonderful forms, I went back into our archive and had a good dig around, searching for some of our old songs, just to see if I could breath new life into those very early recordings. Although that endeavour wasn't entirely successful, I did come away clutching a small handful of possible candidates worthy of further development.
I've not been able to dedicate much (or any time) to my own music in the last three years. That's why I'm grateful to Radio Northumberland for the opportunity to put together Bridges. They got me listening to music all over again.
But it's still not enough.
It's been two and a half years since my last gig and four years since we released Synchronicity. The time feels right to kick start this adventure into gear again. I'm not done with Ion. That project has been incredibly successful although I want to drive the style of the next album back to a more cinematic feel, the same feel we achieved on Future Forever.
Alas, poor SkinMechanix. Despite some incredible airplay for the first single, Tension, the project has stalled, with several albums seemingly stuck in development hell and unable to move off the drawing board. I just don't know what is wrong with SkinMechanix.
But where next? If not those two outfits then where?
No... Surely not?
But you said... Never...
I did, didn't I?
But, why not?
I did say I wasn't properly done with it. :)
Or possibly T-Bass Two.
Yeah, I've been toying with the idea of re-launching T-Bass or to give its original title, Tranquility Bass, revisiting that old territory, those old themes but this time from the perspective of a composer who is now much older, a person who is significantly changed by life's events. One might even say matured. Or maybe not. :)
The theme of that first T-Bass album, The Infection of Time, was as you might imagine, Time, or rather the lack of it. Skip forward twenty seven years (yes, twenty seven bloody years!) and time takes on an entirely new perspective. Will I even be around in another twenty seven years? Or even ten years?
So that was the idea, the plan, the starting point.
And almost as soon as I'd sketched out a couple of ideas and knocked together a small collection of specimen graphics, Mick Garlick at Sequences Electronic Music Podcast announced that they had successfully re-assembled a recording of our first live outing, the EMMA IV concert from May 1997. Mick was the first person to actually give our stuff a public platform so...
This is S Y N C H R O N I C I T Y writ large, eh?
Whether you believe in synchronicity or not, this is, to me at least, a clear sign that the Universe still has some surprises in store.
I am not about to ignore this message.
We are delighted to announce the arrival of Freya Rose on Sunday 6th March 2022 at 0406 hours.
Mother and baby doing fabulously.
Hard to believe but Bridges, our radio show on Radio Northumberland, is one year old today.
Thanks to all those who have supported and encouraged the show. We start the second year in grand style - an interview with Synthe Legends Tangerine Dream.
A couple of months ago, we were invited to put together a show for Radio Northumberland, a community radio station operating out of Morpeth in the North East of England. The brief was simple - two hours of electronic music. Make it fun. Make it accessible. Keep it ‘Punk’, which matches the station’s rough ’n’ ready ethos.
We decided that this was an ideal project for us. Firstly, it would get us back into listening to music, any music. Secondly, it would get me back into the studio. Both of these are highly desirable goals. I’m still trying to break the habits of the last six years.
We’ve come up with Bridges, a show dedicated to modern, accessible electronic music. This isn’t synth pop. This is Machine Rock. Hard music. Yes, the focus will be on the darker side of electronics. That said, the format of the show is flexible and, three episodes in, we like to think we're getting a good balance between light music and the heavier, darker music we love so much. The emphasis is very much on local bands so if you're based in the North East of England and need airplay then drop me a line.
Why Bridges? Forty years ago, when I was but a teenage sprite, I would crawl beneath the bedclothes every Saturday night and listen to a show on Metro Radio called Bridges. Hosted by Jeff Brown, the playlist was fairly eclectic and this is where I first heard music by Tangerine Dream, Jean-Michel Jarre, Kraftwerk and the like. Alas, Bridges disappeared, as did Jeff Brown, after a very short run but the idea stuck and is central to the core of what e’re doing today - an eclectic mix of styles from around the world with an emphasis on accessibility. As long as it’s electronic and has a tune then we’re good. Doesn’t have to be pure electronic. Guitars are good. Vocals are good. We’re not snobbish.
We now have detailed playlists here and a limited archive too.
So far, so good. Wnat to be heard? Send me a message,
The new server has finally been restored. Somehow, and we're not sure how, but the domain appears to have become lost somewhere in the migration over from the Pickpocket's hosting service over to this new platform. It was working, but then it suddenly wasn't so... who knows? It's working now so we're good and, better still, we're free of those pesky pickpockets too.
Anyway, new server, new start. I'm back on music-related projects full time from now on. No more distractions. No more side-projects. No more weird shit. It's music all the way. Either that or we'll crash and burn.
One last go, eh?
For some time, certainly the last couple of years, we’ve been dealing with something of an identity crisis.
We’ve been gigging as SkinMechanix for around four years. During this time, our other band, Ion, has effectively been on hold. Truthfully, I’m not sure how that came about but I think it’s based in the kind of material we wanted to gig back in 2016, which was a harder, more guitar-oriented sound rather than the silky sweet, somewhat cinematic Ion approach.
Let’s not forget that Ion was tremendously successful in its day and, as well as a long line of well received live outings, they scored over one hundred and twenty film, tv, radio and game credits as well, and Future Forever is still a very popular title.
However, I think we were about done with the Ion sound by about 2014 and we stopped gigging around that time. I think we’d said all that we could with Ion or, at the very least, we certainly needed a break.
Skip forward a couple of years, to January 2019, when Tunnel Club approached us to do a support slot for their Northern Exposure event at The Little Buildings. We knew that the SKinMechanix would be too hard and aggressive for a club sound. But… we also knew that the SkinMechanix name was better known in this part of the world and had certainly enjoyed more airplay and column inches than Ion.
So, for the Little Buildings gig, we came to compromise - we would produce a set rooted in dance-based electronica but still go out under the SkinMechanix banner. That decision proved to be a very good move - Little Buildings gig was sold out with a waiting list for tickets and the gig itself turned out to be a lot of fun too.
A year or more down the road, what do we do? We’re facing a bit of a dilemma. Do we continue as one entity, SkinMechanix, and accept that the band has something of a Jeckyl and Hyde personality, even if that leaves the punters confused? Or do we dump the guitars altogether and just stick with the trance sound?
Or do we go back to the way things were with Ion able to focus on the dance/club sound and where SkinMechanix are free to return to their dark, subterranean lair on the outskirts of town?
This question has been nagging at me for a couple of months and it was time for a resolution. Consequently, we came to a decision over the weekend.
Ion will resume normal activities, holding on to the soundtrack filmic vibe but also taking on a more dance/trance/ club sound. SkinMechanix will continue with their darker, guitar-driven, angst-ridden Scandie Noir sound
Both outfits will return to working on film/soundtracks, effective immediately. We’ll also be updating the web pages over the next couple of weeks to reflect these changes.
An apology is necessary. Whilst I have been busy with numerous other projects, some musical, others not, I haven't updated this blog in several months. This is odd because I/we do have some news. Some fairly important news. So read on if you're at all interested...
Over the summer, I started working for The Royal Astronomical Society on a six month contract. I'm fairly confident that this contract will be extended for another six months, and then perhaps futher. As you might imagine, it's a lot of hard work and has reduced the amount of time I have available for studio and related work but it's nice to be fluid again.
I have been upgrading the studio on a constant basis, essentially filling in some rathert obvious gaps in the sound library. This is also going well. I've added Spitfire Audio's Albion One, upgraded OmniSphere and installed a few inexpensive plug-ins such as Scalar to improve the work flow.
Likewise, I began to work on two new lives sets, one for SkinMechanix and one for Ion. SkinMechanix will continue down the path towards that elusive industrial, rock-driven sound whilst Ion will move towards a more dance-trance-club sound. Why? Because there's a thriving audience for this kind of music in this part of the country and Ion's recent output is a very short side-step in this direction.
Music-wise, I released a few of the experimental pieces over on our Soundcloud page. Mostly, these are piano-based ideas centered around one of our side projects.
We've also been attending a lot of gigs - Wolfgang Flur (ex-Kraftwerk), Blancmange, Tunnel Club, Jon Hopkins, Gary Numan to name just a few. We're keen to hear a lot of new music, and also keen to support some of the bands who have supported us over the last couple of years. I also want to see if I can develop some new ideas for entertaining a small crowd. Standing behind a bank of keyboards is not at all sexy. There's no opportunity to move around and engage with the audience, and I really want to move around a bit more, get some kind of energy going.
One of my numerous side projects has been to supervise the re-release of Ion's Synchronicity. This album was originally released as A Fall of Stars although I was never happy with some of the mixes and the overall package was definitely not to my liking. It felt rushed and unfinished. I'm pleased to report that the revised album complete with improved mixes and some new artwork will be released as Synchronicity through Magnatune in the next couple of weeks.
And... finally... Well... Big News...
I am gonna be a DAD!.
Yep, going to be a father, hopefully in May 2019.
Welcome to another step along the road in this strange and wonderful journey...
Romance and the Telescope is a movie side project we've been working on every now and again for about six months.
It's a slightly tongue-in-cheek homage to those gorgeous French animations, which used to be a regular feature on British TV back in the sixties and seventies, the kind that you never see any more except at obscure film festivals and every now and again on Youtube.
Fester generated the characters and the backdrops, which were manipulated into something resembling a story using the programming language Processing. SkinMechanix re-arranged Ion's A Fall of Stars to give it a slightly Continental feel, and added a bunch of sound effects to create the weird dystopian noise-scape that is urban City life. The individual elements were then put together using DaVinci's Resolve editor.
This is an early version of the movie. We still have a few edits to sort out and some minor tweaks to one or two of the scenes but, for a first attempt, we're quite pleased with it.
See the whole video here:
We're delighted to announce that our US Label/Dealer Magnatune has agreed to release Ion's A Fall of Stars.
However, rather than re-release this album as-is, we've decided on another approach completely. Why? Because I was never, ever happy with the product, especially the artwork, which seemed weak and under-developed. The music too... sounds a little dull and lifeless when you do a side-by-side comparison with our current output.
So, A Fall of Stars will be given an entirely new facelift - completely re-branded and re-mastered throughout, and with a new title too.
We should be in a position to upload the revised tracks and updated artwork towards then end of the week, after which Magnatune will set a release date. I'm optimistic that the timescale will be just a matter of days or weeks. With luck, and a little bit of promotion, this should make the album available to Magnatune's enormous customer base as well as iTunes and Amazon. Fingers crossed...
We'll make a more formal announcement closer to the actual release but this, for once, feels good.
Best wishes from Dave and the team.
We just finished the final edits on the
The track featured was The Art of Falling by SkinMechanix.
This video was later used by the Newcastle Evening Chronicle as part of their coverage of the event and was seen by a staggering 12800 people in the time it was available on their Facebook site.
Updated 10-Jun-17 by Admin
We're delighted to announce that SkinMechanix have been invited back to play at the Never Mind the Ramones Mini Festival to be held in Gateshead on Saturday August 19th 2017. More details to come.
Ion's Logoscape from the album Future Forever featured on the trailer although we're not sure if it made it to the final cut.