Tuesday, September 27, 2016


When Charles M. Schultz popularised the idea that happiness is a warm puppy, and John Lennon supplanted it with the parodic notion that Happiness is a Warm Gun, they were both wide of the mark. What the Peanuts cartoon strip and The Beatles' White Album shied away from is the universal truth that, in autumn, happiness is a full log store.

I have been filling my own wood store throughout the summer, just in case that dubious coldest-winter-ever story one mid-market tabloid newspaper has been running annually for the past four years, finally comes true. I have mostly stocked up with sweet chestnut, which spits a bit but that doesn't matter in a wood burning stove, and beech from a local sustainably managed woodland. Like ash and hawthorn, beech is one of the best firewoods: slow-burning with a steady flame and gives out a good amount of heat.

I had hoped to get some apple but the wood that has been seasoning for a year at the fruit farm where I rent my allotment has still not been cut up for sale; with the apple picking now in full flow, I am not sure the farmer will get around to it just yet. Although he mixes his loads with some alder - a poor wood that burns too quickly - it is a small price to pay for the fragrance of smouldering applewood throughout the house.

As our wood burner has a back boiler that heats our water and radiators, we burn a lot of wood during the winter. I did at one time try to reduce our wood consumption by buying a contraption that makes briquettes from old newspapers; but the process was such a faff it made more sense to simply recycle the newspapers. And, of course, burning wood does not release any more carbon dioxide than if it were to biodegrade naturally on a forest floor; this makes it a carbon-neutral fuel, provided it is obtained from a sustainable source.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Music Therapy

Friday evening, and after a hard week back at the chalkface, I was in need of a lift. With a few quid left over from the summer spending money and new albums out from Nick Cave, King Creosote and Pictish Trail, I headed down to Bexhill’s stellar record shop, Music’s Not Dead, for some – and I know it’s not a nice phrase - retail therapy. But as so often with Music’s Not Dead, you don’t just get to pick up the albums; there is always a warm welcome and sometimes you get to have some of the tracks played to you live by the artists themselves: music therapy.

Last night it was the turn of Isle of Eigg-based Johnny Lynch, AKA Pictish Trail and head honcho of the Lost Map record label, to perform in-store to promote his beautiful new album, Future Echoes. Supported on bass and keyboards by Suse from Lost Map band, Tuff Love, he delivered a short but diverse set, mostly from the album. The first song from Future Echoes was Until Now, a traditional and haunting number which highlighted Lynch’s voice at its tender best. We were also treated to Half-Life, the centrepiece of the album, with its nagging refrain of “we will always decay”, and the funky shuffle of Dead Connection which name-checked his label name throughout.

Using acoustic guitar, keyboards and backing tracks, Lynch is something of a sonic genius; it is this mixing of a folk sound with electronics that makes Pictish Trail stand out and, with the slow beats of Far Gone, he introduced us to Scottish hip hop, or ‘shop’ as he playfully branded it. I first saw Lynch at last year’s Green Man festival with Sweet Baboo, producer of Pictish Trail’s previous album Secret Soundz Vol. 2. They were something of a comedy duo on that sunny Sunday evening on the Walled Garden stage and Lynch was no different last night. His despair at the political climate in the wake of the EU referendum and his realisation, on seeing young people off their faces at Bestival, that he is not seventeen anymore had us laughing a lot.

It was a wonderful evening: ensconced in the shop, listening to great music and watching the surprised faces of passers-by in the twilight street outside. We got to have a quick chat with Johnny afterwards about the weather at Green Man, getting Sweet Baboo to come to Bexhill and his forthcoming Brighton gig with a full band. Then I was home in time to carry out my usual Friday night ritual: falling asleep on the sofa.

Pictish Trail play the Green Door Store, Brighton on Monday 10th October.

Friday, September 2, 2016

A Different View

Before appearing at this weekend’s End of the Road festival, former Fiery Furnaces frontwoman Eleanor Friedberger played a Music’s Not Dead promoted gig in the cafĂ© bar at the De La Warr Pavilion last night. Over from the United States to promote her third solo album, this year’s New View, most of the set was drawn from this critically acclaimed album.

Recorded in upstate New York, New View is ostensibly a slice of 70s singer-songwriter soft-rock; however, it is an LP shot-through with strong melodies and infectious pop hooks, and this was particularly demonstrated last night on songs such as Because I Asked You and He Didn’t Mention His Mother. But what I really like about Friedberger – apart from her cool shoes and incredible voice - is her uncluttered guitar playing which gives the music a lo-fi slacker edge that makes it different from standard folk and Americana.

Despite being supported on tour by only two of the musicians who recorded the album, they are a comfortable and accomplished trio; at times songs effortlessly segued into each other and, for the uninitiated, it would have been hard to tell where one began and the other ended. The personal lyrics are mostly dense, past tense narratives and, on stand-out song Sweetest Girl – “sweet girl with a broken heart, stop crying so I won’t start” – heart-breaking.

There was also a version of the Fiery Furnaces’ Evergreen and, on the theme of colour, Does Turquoise Work? from the new album was put to the audience for their opinion (personally I thought no, but it was a split decision). Friedberger recommended the video for the latter song, a piece of animation by bassist Jonathan Rosen, and I do too. You can watch it here.