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The football penalty shoot-out – my solution

simon gray 2010-06-25, 09:54:57

Because I don’t actually care about the football, it was only subsequently that I learned the news that England had won its game against (who was it again?), meaning they get to go through to the next round in the World Cup. This is the phase where teams start to get knocked out when they lose.

It’s also the phase where traditionally England always loses, because the game always ends the first 90 minutes with a draw, then ends the 30 minutes of extra time still with a draw, then ends with England losing because whoever is the current star striker misses one more crucial penalty than the other side.

Notwithstanding the fact that I don’t care about the football, I’ve always thought the penalty shoot out to be an unfair method of resolving an unresolved game where a decisive end is necessary. Nobody ‘wins’ on penalties, the losing team only loses on them. The winners don’t win because they’re a better team, and the losers don’t win because they’re a worse one – it’s nothing more than a matter of luck which striker or goalie happens to make the first mistake first. They might just as fairly settle the issue by tossing a coin.

I’ve always thought they should take a leaf out of the world of pinball.


I love pinball – even though I’ve never been able to properly see the balls, it’s something that – whilst I’ve never been very good at – I’m not [...]

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The last remaining socially acceptable form of racism

simon gray 2010-05-04, 11:21:07

Whilst there’s no denying that racism still exists in Britain, it is fair to say that by and large, racism is now considered socially unacceptable. Except, that is, racism against one particular group – and no, I don’t mean people with ginger hair:

An emergency notice has been served on an illegal gipsy camp, which was set up at the weekend on greenbelt land in Meriden. It is believed the travellers had purchased the plot of land from a landowner but did not have permission to build on the site.


Travellers bulldozing a field in a peaceful Solihull village to create a caravan site have been ordered to stop work by the authorities. Angry residents set up a road block with farming trucks stopping lorries taking building materials to the site.

This is not, as is often the case, travellers just moving onto a piece of common land and setting up, or even a case of them moving on to somebody else’s land without permission. This piece of land, they have legally bought.

Admittedly, they haven’t got planning permission to set up a camp on the land – intending instead to try to gain retrospective planning permission part way through the work. This is of course still illegal – but is a common practice carried out by big time developers and small time homeowners for their rear extensions alike. Overwhelmingly, when applied for, retrospective planning permission is granted.

But in this case, planning permission for the travellers’ site probably won’t be granted – even though [...]

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The rubbishness of public transport

simon gray 2010-05-01, 11:24:33

I’m writing this starting at 10:05 sat on a stationary train headed for Rugby. Not – as I should be – walking through the streets of Coventry having got off the train five minutes ago, heading towards a meeting which is due to start at 10:30.

It is of course entirely my own fault. I mean, silly me – I made the stupid error of assuming that because every single other train to London stops first at Birmingham International, then at Coventry, the journey taking a mere 20 minutes, that the 09:42 from Birmingham New Street would also stop first at Birmingham International, then at Coventry. So naturally it didn’t occur to me to stand there for some minutes whilst the display scrolled round to confirm my assuption. Why would I need to? Apparently my quickest way to Coventry now is to get off at Rugby and then get a bus; the ticket man didn’t say whether it was a rail-replacement bus from the station or whether I’d have to wander around looking for some other information about buses – and pay for a bus fare on top of my train fare. So, I’ll be lucky to get to the meeting which finishes at 4pm by lunchtime, making the value of my attendance now questionable. The cost of this exercise in time wasting so far – around £10, including the rail ticket and the extortionately priced coffee and breakfast sandwich. To put that into perspective, the cost of my night on [...]

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Elections – do your candidates want you to vote for them?

simon gray 2010-04-29, 11:27:36

Over here in Ladywood, if it wasn’t for the televised party leaders’ debates, we wouldn’t actually know there’s an election going on. Barely any posters can be seen (I’ve seen just two, in the same site on Summer Row), there have been no cars driving around with megaphones, few of us have had any leaflets dropped through our letter boxes, and apart from one event organised before the campaign kicked off that was just for residents of one tower block, there don’t seem to have been any elections hustings organised – or at least, none that we’ve been made aware of.

This does seem strange – in terms of the General Election, by all accounts with the retirement of Clare Short it could go either of two ways between Labour and Liberal Democrat, and even the local Conservatives think they’re in with a fighting chance. So you would think all of the candidates would be bending over backwards to try and persuade us to vote for them?

You might reasonably ask, if the candidates – both local and general – can’t be bothered to come to us and campaign to us, why should we be bother to turn out to vote for them? There was one occasion recently where the control of a whole council changed on the basis of the flip of a coin – the two main parties in the council had an equal number of councilors, and the last ward to be decided had the two main contenders with an [...]

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Church figures criticise rulings

simon gray 2010-04-15, 11:30:20

The former Archbishop of Canterbury and other church leaders will urge senior judges to stand down from Court of Appeal hearings involving religious discrimination because of ‘disturbing’ and ‘dangerous’ rulings handed down in recent cases, it has emerged. Lord Carey and other senior church figures are said to want them replaced with a panel of five judges who have a proven understanding of religious issues”.

There’s been a rash of late of stories about Christians claiming to be persecuted in the UK. Notwithstanding the irony of the one religion which has a (for the time being, at least) constitutionally guaranteed right to take part in shaping the law of the land claiming persecution, it’s a curious usage of the term ‘persecution’ – to my mind, ‘persecution’ is having bricks thrown through one’s windows, being beaten up in the street, and being hauled off to jail for years on end. Not being told you can’t wear your cross on a dingly-dangly chain in an environment where wearing chains is considered hazardous. By claiming persecution, these people degrade those elsewhere who are genuinely persecuted for their religious and political beliefs.

But in truth, it’s not Christians generically who are claiming persecution – just one, rather small, subset of Christianity – the evangelical wing. This demonstrates the supreme arrogance of evangelicalism, a theologically bankrupt form of religion which claims that their and their alone interpretation of religious text is the one true way, and that other forms of that religion which don’t follow them are as set [...]

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MoD to compensate female soldier for discrimination

simon gray 2010-04-13, 11:33:19

A tribunal is considering how much the MoD must pay a female soldier after she won her case against the Army for sexual and racial discrimination. Tilern DeBique, 28, was disciplined after not appearing on parade because she had to look after her daughter”.

To my mind, this incident gives a completely bad name to the whole concept of the right to work free from discrimination, and just plays into the hands of the foaming Daily Mail readers who like nothing more than to scream ‘it’s political correctness gone mad’ at every opportunity.

The question of the appropriateness of a single mother being a serving soldier in the armed forces – even as a signals technician rather than somebody required to actually shoot people – required to be on call to be deployed to an active combat zone is a whole discussion of itself.

It’s also a fair comment to pose that if the Ministry of Defence is going to actively engage in recruiting overseas, then it needs to make sure it can properly accommodate the overall needs of its recruits.

But as to being disciplined for being late for parade due to being unable to organise childcare at short notice; this is not a normal office environment we’re talking about here – any normal job, it would be a harsh uncaring employer indeed which didn’t offer understanding and flexibility.

But the armed forces are not normal office environments; when you are just about to be deployed to a warzone, you can’t say ‘sorry I’m late, traffic was murder [...]

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Can the Midlands’ Creative Industries revolutionise the UK economy?

simon gray 2009-11-19, 10:41:33

In the best traditions of lazy journalism where the answer to any headline posed as a question is almost certainly ‘no’, the answer to this question – the title of the Big Debate Birmingham (hosted jointly by the Birmingham Post and Birmingham City University) – is almost certainly ‘no’. Fortunately in the course of the afternoon we didn’t even bother trying to answer ‘yes’ to the question and instead got on with the business of discussing our creative industries in relation to ourselves rather than trying to save the rest of the country.

Five key points which emerged for me were:

The days of the global media corporation are over

In the olden days, the media industry was dominated by just a handful of ‘boulder’companies – such as News International, CNN, Associated Newspapers, Guardian Media Group, the BBC, etc. When Channel 4 launched, and when Eddie Shah launched the Today newspaper they were big, national events, because there were so few other media brands. Today, all new media companies are ‘pebble’ companies – small start-ups, with small costs & consequently small profits. New digital television stations come and go almost unnoticed; for most people literally unnoticed, as most people rarely update the channel lists on their televisions / set top boxes. There will be no more new boulder companies.

The paradox of the media industries in free-fall

The media industries – especially those of journalism and of music – are in free fall; profits for record companies and newspaper [...]

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Birmingham Artsfest – my ideas for change

simon gray 2009-09-16, 11:06:06

Birmingham’s Big Weekend – Artsfest – is over for another year. An estimated 270,000 people attended an eclectic mix of music events, craft demonstrations, theatre groups, film shorts, and dance performances, both organised as part of the official festival and spontaneously occuring on the street.


artsfest 2009 from simon gray on Vimeo.

Although the festival has been going for years, it’s only the last two years that I’ve been able to get to any of it; most years of its life it has clashed with me being away for that weekend on some committee meeting or other.

The last few years there have always been mutterings that the event was to be cancelled – 2007 was rumoured to have been the last one whilst it was taking place, but unexpectedly good reviews and turnout led to 2008′s event being hastily confirmed.

The two years – this year and last year – that I have managed to get to any of it I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen, but there’s the rub; at the end both years I’ve felt I’ve seen barely any of what’s been going on, whilst spending a large amount of the day wandering around looking for something to see. As a big arts festival, my experience of it has it hasn’t felt terribly user friendly – especially as a city centre resident (admittedly not a key demographic in the target audience) where the temptation to simply go home during a gap and come out again later is all too great.

With a new cabinet member [...]

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China: Promises broken and Olympic values betrayed, says new Amnesty report

simon gray 2008-07-29, 09:59:38

“The Chinese authorities have broken their promise to improve the country’s human rights situation and betrayed the core values of the Olympics, said Amnesty International in a new report published today, marking the 10-day countdown to the Games.

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock said:

‘The Chinese authorities have broken the promises they made when they were granted the Olympics seven years ago. They told the world that the Olympics would help bring human rights to China, but the government continues to persecute and punish those who speak out for human rights ahead of the Games.

‘The Olympic values have been betrayed by the Chinese government. They must release all imprisoned peaceful activists, allow foreign and national journalists to report freely and make further progress towards the elimination of the death penalty – or risk permanently sullying the legacy of the Olympics.’

Amnesty International’s report ‘The Olympics Countdown: Broken Promises’ evaluates the performance of the Chinese authorities in four areas related to the core values of the Olympics: persecution of human rights activists, detention without trial, censorship and the death penalty”.

#rights #sport #v-for-vendetta


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Zakir Hussein and the Masters of Percussion - Town Hall, 02/07/2008

simon gray 2008-07-02, 14:30:37

Mention the words 'Indian Music' to the man or woman on the Northfield Omnibus, and the chances are the first person who will come into their heads will be Ravi Shankar. Which is understandable really, since it's fair to say he above anybody was chief in popularising Indian classical music to western audiences. However, if you were to find a member of the world music cognoscenti and say those words to them, there's a good chance the thought will come back as tabla player Zakir Hussein

And rightly so - whereas Ravi Shankar is, as they say, a master, Zakir Hussein is the master. But more to the point, whereas Ravi Shankar in his high profile collaborations with western musicians has largely done his own thing bolted on to the side, Zakir Hussein has very much been much more devlopmental in the field of Indian / western musical fusion, going back as far as the 1970s with the band Shakti with John McLaughlin, through working with straighter jazz artists such as Airto Moreira and Pharoah Sanders, and through to the more techno sounds of Tabla Beat Science

After a vocal beatbox introduction by percussionist Taufiq Qureshi the concert proper opened with a blast from the Dancing Drummers of Manipur; the programme described them as 'dazzling and athletic', which was no word of a lie as gymnastic backflips were in full evidence - simultaneously to the actual business of drumming! The Dancing Drummers then left the stage not to return again until the very end of the concert, which did seem [...]

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In group Birmingham

Portishead - Wolverhampton Civic Hall, 13/04/2008

simon gray 2008-04-14, 14:23:35

When Portishead first hit the record shops in the mid-90s, I have to admit I was initially a little underwhelmed. That all changed with the release of Roseland NYC Live (and the accompanying concert video) when I discovered just how artistic their music can be; if you're the kind of person who likes contemporary classical music as might be played by B.E.A.S.T. or the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, or alternatively if the arthouse flicks of the Electric Cinema might make that venue your second home, then Portishead are the band for you. 

After a gap of some 10 years since that album, the band have come together at last to release a new studio album, the imaginatively titled Third(released on 28 April 2008), together with a European tour to promote, which reached the West Midlands last night.

Unlike many rock reformations, where it feels like the spark had long gone and has barely been rekindled to pay an unexpected tax bill, the return of Portishead shows a group of true dedicated and accomplished musicians demonstrating as much skill and energy today as they did on the album which converted me. The opening track included loud heavy guitars demonstrating them to be so much more than the label 'trip hop' leads one to assume, but the intimate numbers are still there with the band gathering around close in to each other sitting in a huddle. 

Importantly, each song blended perfectly with the one preceding and following, and the sudden endings [...]

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In group Birmingham

Mahabharata - Alexandra Theatre 26/06/2007

simon gray 2007-06-26, 13:21:46

If I were to use all the superlatives I'm minded to in writing this, you could probably be forgiven for wondering if I was related to a member of the cast. 

Mahabharata is, for Hindus at least, the 'Great story of India', at 100,000 verses the longest epic poem in world literature, and dating from at least 500BC one of the oldest. Alongside the Ramayana it forms one of the cornerstones of Hindu scriptures, and its scope is best summarised by one of its beginning passages - "What is found here, may be found elsewhere. What is not found here, will not be found elsewhere". 

In essence, the story centres around a family feud between two sets of royal cousins - the Pandava brothers and their common wife Draupadi, led by our hero Arjuna and the Kauravas, headed up by the villain Duryodhana. I say villain - the philosophy of the epic tends to present a universe where all are governed by destiny, unresponsible for their actions, and Duryodhana was "born to hate the world and all that is in it". In the west most people might be more aware of the Bhagavad Gita, the discourse within it where Krishna teaches Arjuna the nature of dharma, or duty, on the eve of battle as Arjuna has doubts about what he is about to embark on, ending here with the famous quote "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds". 

As with any great epic, [...]

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In group Birmingham

misty's big adventure + restless list + kategoes... - jug of ale, moseley, 22/11/2006

simon gray 2006-11-22, 13:15:28

If you like your popular beat combo concerts to feature fresh, genuinely original, and slightly off-the-wall music performed by bands who are accomplished musicians, composers, and songwriters, and where you can tell their reason for performing is the shear joy they feel in playing together and for you (rather than the band being a vehicle for satisfying egos, like so many rock-legend-wannabes), then last night's packed out upper room at the Jug of Alewas certainly for you, and certainly for pretty much everybody there as well. For me it was without doubt the best pub gig of the year, and almost certainly one of the best for a long time. 

Normally when reviewing I treat each band individually - and certainly each of these three bands could have made a good show if it was they who were headlining - but in this instance as well as credit to the acts, credit is also due to Arthur from the Catapult Club for putting together three bands which, each very different in their own way, complemented each other perfectly to make a show which was even greater than the sum of its parts. 

KateGoes... have only been together for about a year, were breaking in a brand new bass player last night, and are probably the youngest group of musicians I've seen play together since my youth orchestra days - and showed all the musical maturity and performance flair you would expect to see in a band on the [...]

Read the rest of misty's big adventure + restless list + kategoes... - jug of ale, moseley, 22/11/2006 .

In group Birmingham

pravda - a fleet street comedy - birmingham repertory theatre, 03/10/2006

simon gray 2006-10-03, 13:09:04

First written and performed in the mid-80s, Howard Brenton & David Hare's Pravda is a newsroom satire, focussing on both the journalists themselves and their newspaper proprietors; it's not hard to see at the front of the authors' minds was the still-relatively-recent takeover by Rupert Murdoch of The Times, and the concerns many had about that of whether he would send it downmarket in the direction of The Sun

The story proper opens in the editor's office at the Leicester Bystander, with the staff, in the middle of trying to put the paper to bed being sent into turmoil at the news they are about to be bought by South African media magnate Lambert LeRoux (Roger Allam). Our 'hero' Andrew May (Oliver Dimsdale) is immediately promoted to editor, and LeRoux marches onwards. 

As a journalist reviewing a satirical play, one almost feels on slightly dangerous ground when the play is a satire on journalists - especially when one of the cameo characters in the play is the drunken theatre critic who writes his review without actually seeing any of the performance! It's analogous to the situation of those who write letters to the paper prefixed with the comment "I know you won't print this but I'm sending it anyway", in order to try to shame the editor into printing it. By being critical of a play critical of journalists, you're almost inviting a response of "well you would say that, wouldn't you". 

And, I have to say, I wasn't that impressed with the play. Sure, it had its amusing moments, but [...]

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In group Birmingham

chicago - alexandra theatre, 28/09/2006

simon gray 2006-09-28, 13:02:41

Go and stand on New Street holding a clipboard and ask passers-by if they could name any composers of musical, and the chances are, depending on their age, the overwhelming replies would be either 'Rogers & Hammerstein' or 'Andrew Lloyd-Webber'. If they're a discerning shopper they might reply 'Stephen Sondheim', but if they were that discerning they'd be more likely to describe his work as opera rather than musical anyway. 

Alternatively, if you asked them to name any musicals themselves you would likely get quite a few saying 'Chicago'. But curiously, if you asked them if they could name any musicals by John Kander and Fred Ebb pretty much most people would just give you a blank look in response. Somehow, despite being responsible for two of the best-known musicals of the late-20th century,Cabaret, and Chicago, the names of Kander and Ebb themselves seem not to trip off the tongue of the Man on the Moseley Omnibus the way others do. 

Since the revival of the show in the late 90s it's barely been off the stage, and now makes a welcome return to the Alex. 

It's the classic story - girl meets boy, girl fills boy full of lead, girl does what she can not to swing for it. A classic story needs classic lines, and "I gotta pee" has to win the Award for the Most Classic Line After a Murder. 

Unlike many musicals, Chicago does actually have a reasonably strong plot, backed with a solid score, and dance [...]

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In group Birmingham

Cows also have regional accents

simon gray 2006-09-23, 10:27:27

“Cows have regional accents like humans, language specialists have confirmed – they decided to examine the issue after dairy farmers noticed their cows had slightly different moos, depending on which herd they came from”.

The story is accompanied recordings of moos of different cows from different parts of the country, all of which sound different. Is this really surprising? Have you ever heard an individual cow, or any other animal for that matter, make the same moo twice?

There’s also a comment from a linguistics lecturer, who on the Today programme interview on the piece said yes, it was indeed possible that animals from one part of the country may indeed sound a bit like each other but slightly different from the same animals elsewhere in the country, because just like humans, animals learn how to make their noises from the other animals around them.

Does it take research to work this one out?

#animals #language #Today


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senser - bar academy, 13/09/2006

simon gray 2006-09-13, 12:57:37

Before there was Cypress Hill, before there was the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, before there wasThe Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, there was - in the UK at least - Senser

It's probably pushing things a bit to say they invented the genre of angry intelligent hip-hop with a strong musical underpinning, but they were clearly influential in its development. 

It was in the atmosphere of Thatcher's Britain that the band formed in the late 80s - the Criminal Justice Acts of the time, the Battle of the Beanfield, the Poll Tax, and raves on the beach and in warehouses. Mass rioting in the streets was common, and even many in 'the establishment' agreed that police violence and corruption was out of hand. 

Although Senser disappeared from the mainstream public profile almost as quickly as they entered it, despite some line-up changes they've only really had a few of years of not working together. Clearly from the audience last night, their following comprises fans from the whole period of their existence. 

When they started the show last night, I was initially struck by how fresh and relevant their sound was, not at all sounding as if it had been forged 15 years ago - and the energy was certainly still there.

But as the night wore on, I did find myself thinking I'd heard everything before - the songs, whilst definitely good and all that, did start to sound the same as each other after a while. 

Similarly, [...]

Read the rest of senser - bar academy, 13/09/2006 .

In group Birmingham

Rival turns up heat on HP Sauce

simon gray 2006-08-29, 11:12:34

The story of the current owners of the HP Sauce brand, Heinz, preparing to close the factory at Aston Cross (which you can see on the side of the Aston Distressway^WExpressway on the way into Birmingham from the M6) where it has been made for the last 100 years has been gripping the Birmingham media since May.

I have to admit I’m a little ambivalent as to whether or not I want to join in with the city outrage on the matter; on the one hand, indeed the factory is a Birmingham icon and too many Birmingham icons have been trashed in the last five years, 125 people will lose their jobs, and as a correct-thinking leftist liberal I of course should oppose all that is bad in Corporate Greed(tm).

On the other hand, the 125 people do have until next May to find new jobs (how many other people get the luxury of a full 12 month notice period of redundancy? When I was made redundant from Oakwood Village we were warned of the posssibility on the Friday, and then told to clear our desks on the following Monday), and as skilled workers will probably have little trouble finding replacement employment. And, the economics are clear – the factory as it is only operates a part-time week anyway, and since Heinz is, after all, a commercial entity with a need to make profits for the benefit of shareholders rather than an agency of the benefits service, it is a little difficult to blame [...]

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Taking faulty goods back to the shop

simon gray 2006-08-24, 11:17:08

Compare and, as the teacher used to say, contrast the following two situations.

Last Tuesday evening from Spar I bought a box of Stowell’s Tempranillo (a light red wine, for those not in the know). I got it to the boat, poured a glass, and it turned out to be quite disgusting – a bottle of it I might have forced myself to drink, but a whole 3 litre box costing £18, I draw the line at; I’m not that much of an alcoholic. As well as being disgusting, in the glass it was cloudier than New Brighton beach on a wet sunday morning, and left a sediment in the glass worse than the Severn Trent sewage reprocessing plant. I’ve poured better home-brew down the sink.

Last Sunday afternoon I bought from Sainsbury’s supermarket in Selly Oak a bottle of chocolate schnapps (amongst other things). When I got home I went to open the bottle (a screw-top affair), and half the bottle came off along with the lid. So in the booze department, luck has been lacking this week.

This morning I took the box of wine back to Spar (when explaining the problem to the person behind the counter, one of the responses was “what’s sediment?”), and discovered in the process that it had a Best Before End date of July 2005. When the manager came out from the back of the shop he asked if I had the receipt – my answer was, naturally, “no, sorry – after all, do you keep the [...]

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david garside + band - ceol castle, balsall heath, 16/08/2006

simon gray 2006-08-20, 12:50:10

in my experience, there are two kinds of bands you're likely to see in a pub. 

firstly, there's the band which is designed to appeal to 'the crowd' - they'll typically be loud & impressive, with lots of guitar solos in practically every song (with the lead guitarist taking at least three axes with them onto the stage) and the obligatory drum solo in the last one, guaranteed to get all da chix cheering along. 

then there's the band which not only the crowd will like, but also any musicians in the audience too. not for this kind of band are the easy wins, the rock clichés. the muso's band relies on quality of performing and originality of songwriting to impress. it is into this category which david garside & band firmly fit. 

the band is basically an acoustic band - acoustic guitar & electric piano (Nick Wiley) being the mainstay, but although it's an acoustic band the sound is still a big sound, ably assisted by drums from Danny Howes & the electric bass of Matthew Cheale.

the actual music is just precisely the kind of songs i always like to hear; not your textbook verse chorus verse chorus dullness, but individual, unique songs in which each one tells its own story, and the music just as integral to the telling of the story as the lyrics (which unfortunately i couldn't hear last night) - think pulp or the divine comedy for the kind of thing i mean. it was also clear [...]

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In group Birmingham

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The code behind this site is a bit of an abandoned project; I originally had lofty ambitions of it being the start of a competitor for Twitter and Facebook, allowing other people to also use it turning it into a bit of a social network. Needless to say I got so far with it and thought who did I think I was! Bits of it don't work as well as I'd like it to work - at some point I'm going to return to it and do a complete rebuild according to modern standards.