Monday, 28 June 2010

Classic Rock

Upselling is every sales-assistant's dream. If the guy behind the counter had known I'd only come out with the intention of picking up a few plectrums he'd have been slapped himself proudly on the back for coaxing customer through the purchase of a nice new guitar amplifier. Instead he chose to comment on the irony of an English guy buying perhaps England's finest rock'n'roll export, a Marshall amp, in Bosnia.

It was a slightly impulsive purchase, although not an entirely unpremeditated one. The amp I brought with me from England has been playing up and experience says that it's the sort of playing up that is not easily rectified. I have been keeping an eye out for a small, all valve combo. When I saw the Class5 today I knew my search was over. It looks great, sounds fantastic (and will hook up to a 4x12 cab for sonic enormity!) and, best of all, was a wallet friendly price very comparable to its UK rrp. Given that I usually expect to pay half-as-much-again on music equipment this was like getting a generous discount.

A guy walked up to me as I was trying it out. He'd picked up I was English and started asking about what I played. I displayed the lack of depth of my local hard rock history with the blank look I gave when he told me the name of the band he plays in. Formula 4 have been around since 1970 – longer than I'be been alive! - and has seen 80 different musicians take the stage under their name in the intervening years. This I glean from their YouTube channel, where I found this video.

Do click play; you'll recognise the song. Fast-forward to six minutes in for the start of a guitar-solo extravaganza that does not disappoint. Rowan always says I'm bad and remembering faces but I'm sure it was the guitarist stage right, the one with the black Strat, that I was talking to. If is was him, and he happens to be reading this, then I apologise for mistake him for a sales-assistant!

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Learning the Blues

Regular readers know I'm a musician, some will have picked up I'm a song writer too. As such it pays not to be too blinkered in your musical outlook. I enjoy music from rap to rock, electronica to eclectica – if such a genre exists! However, in case you think I never draw the line, I'll confess I am not yet a fan of folk, I have an uneasy relationship with reggae and my association with jazz is limited to using the phrase 'close enough for jazz' to excuse mistakes.

As a young musician I remember spending hours in extended blues jams with my brother. I use blues in the loosest sense: twelve bar patterns and lots of pentatonic noodling. It was enthusiastic but our comfortable life in suburban Southern England was a million miles from the inspiration for this music. Rock'n'roll historians will know that the blues is rooted in the call and response chants of displaced people. It is the music of facing pain with perseverance; the sound that gives the downtrodden dignity.

Yesterday I received the most heart-breaking song writing commission I've ever had. It came from two young people Novi Most have worked with for many years. They are both aspiring song writers and I have been promising them the opportunity to write and record together. That was supposed to happen this coming month but this week we found out they and their respective families are being forced to leave the country within days. They are refugees and whoever is responsible for these things is calling time on their stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

If they'd been here a few month or perhaps a couple of years it would be easier to understand but these are teenagers trying to finish high school. Life is Mostar is the only life they really remember. For them this is where their friends and futures are. Now their families are heading to different neighbouring countries to try and rebuild another new life. One family has found accommodation they can go to, the other has nowhere to go. We were told that when the father explained this to the UNHCR they advised him to take a tent!

My song is to give words to this tale of tragedy and missed opportunity. I've never had to sing the blues before, even now it feels false for me to claim to understand anything of what this kind of upheaval feels like, but they wanted me to promise to write for them and so they have my word. It's all to easy to be dispassionate about large numbers and the collective nouns we use to describe people groups; it would be a hard-hearted person indeed who felt nothing faced with two teenage girls who have just had everything they know snatched away from them.

Two weeks ago I played guitar as these girls sang a song by Pink at a performance in Klub Novi Most. Today the lyrics seem more poignant then ever: “I don't believe you, when you say don't come around here no more.” The truth is, neither disbelief or unbelief are options. This is their reality. They're facing it with dignity. I don't know if it's an injustice or just the way things are. I do know some things are very hard to understand. As they told me, life is unfair.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Tweet stuff: it's the Three Tenors!

When I hear the term songbird I usually thing of one of two things: one of our more talented, twittering feathered friends, or a sweetly-voiced female songstress. I do not associate it with singers such as the Three Tenors.

But somebody does!

Look closely at the labels on these cages, the evidence is clear for all to see even if the birds themselves aren't. It was unclear if these prize possessions were for sale or merely being proudly displayed but I snapped this shot, in a Dubrovnik side street this afternoon, as we wandered by. I'm sharing it on our blog fully aware that a Tweet would be might be more appropriate!

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

World Cup Lessons

Last night, I was reading in a recent issue of Time magazine how Samuel Eto'o believes football is "the best weapon against political conflict." It may be. But as I'm sitting watching England's oldest allies play in the World Cup I have doubts. Logic says I should want to support a team my country hasn't fought against in a very long time. Emotion says differently. It's not because former England coach Sven Goran Eriksson is coaching the opposition. It probably has more to do with the owner of (arguably) the world's most punchable face just slamming a shot off the woodwork. I jest about the punching, of course, but the presence of Ronaldo in the Portugal side makes it hard offer them genuine support. (That said Droga's place in the Ivory Coast squad does do something to balance this out.) Memories of a cold night in Zenica, where a less-than-impressive Portuguese side ground out the narrowest of victories, remind me of how nearly this could have been Bosnia and Herzegovina in their first World Cup Finals game.

Admittedly, all of this passion and prejudice is not about to explode into political conflict so Eto'o is probably right. But Football is an issue of national pride, it gives opportunity for old issues to resurface. Back to Time's special World Cup edition. Why was I so frustrated by the article quoting the MLS commissioner saying: "America has always been the center [sic] of the universe, whether it's sports, culture, politics." Oh, the arrogance! Perhaps, however, football provides us a safe place for this kind of venting. Better that an over-paid sports star is the temporary focus of our ire than anything more serious.

I'm sitting watching this game with someone who whole-heartedly supported Germany's demolition of Australia the other night. If we must agree to disagree at times it serves as a good reminder that what we're both actually looking for is a good game of football, whoever we happen to be supporting. This far into the tournament only the Germans have really shown us good football. It's not just my Englishness that says I hope that changes!