SO, YOU WANNA BE A SINGER IN A ROCK AND ROLL BAND or ELECTRIC LAZYLAND

« I had a teenage dream

On moonage days,

I’d be a freak out far out

In a purple haze,

Cruising electric Ladyland

I’d be silver surfin’

In a rock and roll band. »

« Teenage Moonage » by the Stone Purple Haze Band

SO YOU WANNA BE A SINGER IN A ROCK AND ROLL BAND?

First, find a band, or find a band that needs a singer or find a band that needs a singer and plays the kind of stuff that you want to sing. This narrows down the choice immensely, so first, just find a band, any band.

How do you find a band?

It started with an ad in the local paper

« ARE YOU EXPERIENCED? » read the title at the top of the ad

Sounds like Hendrix cover band. Can I sing Hendrix? Do I want to sing Hendrix covers? I’ve got to start somewhere.

« Hi, I’m ringing about your ad ….

« Can you sing? » asks the laid-back, deep-sleep voice on the other end. A voice thick with phlegmy nonchalance nurtured on years of cigarettes and alcohol. The voice reels off a long list of Hendrix numbers to learn for the audition and once the « dictation » is over I hit the local record shop looking for a Hendrix « greatest hits » compilation.

CASTING OFF

So, you have got as far as the audition phase. This is the point where you physically meet your possible, future band mates, who are not yet mates and might never become your mates. Banding is not bonding. This is about music and not friendship. The band needs a singer and not a soul mate.

It hasn’t occurred to me, but I might actually need a mike and I haven’t got one. I ring the voice again.

« I’ve got a mike » it says flatly. « I’ll see you later »

Later is late. Nine o’clock on a Sunday night, when normal folks have long finished dinner and are settled down ready to snooze off in front of the TV.

The voice lives only a few streets away. I can walk. I get to the « house » and – I’m walking down a tree lined street of neat two up, two down houses all with well tended gardens, then at the end almost out on a limb, almost in another universe is this run down, shuttered up pile of bricks set in an overgrown patch of waste ground. Surely this can’t be the place. I knock on the front door and after an eternity there is the creaking and clanking as the metal shutters are pushed slowly open. A skeletal hand appears beckoning me to the window, a gaunt and ghostly face framed by long lank strands greasy hair, emerges from the sombre depths. « Side door » rasps the voice

« Do you always rehearse this late? » I ask, entering through the kitchen and into the «rehearsal room ».

ELECTRIC LADYLAND

The place is a mess. It’s a f***ing mess with a huge capital F. It’s a health hazard. Already from the outside, the house only looks fit for demolition, inside … the sink piled high with dishes, the walls thick with grease and yellow with nicotine, discarded empty dog food tins lie strewn across the floor, and stomach churning stench

The place stinks of wet dog, urine and shit – like proper shit, like faeces, like someone’s had diarreah, bowel cancer or lives on a heavy vegetarian diet and they’ve systematically crapped away their insides over days and never flushed the toilet.

Can I make it through this audition without catching something? Can I survive more than five minutes in this house without some kind of independent breathing apparatus?

So, I finally meet the voice who tells me his name is Patrick though people call him Jimmy and he bids me welcome to « Electric Ladyland » I want to laugh, but Patrick is so into Hendrix that he’s painted the name of Hendrix’s third and final studio album in big purple letters on his front door.

This is possibly the worst place that I have ever auditioned for a band, lord knows I’ve has some strange auditions. I once had to prove my vocal prowess over the phone, and another time I auditioned in a car, singing along to Highway to Hell, on a cassette player, the AC/DC classic doing it’s best to struggle out of the crappy car speakers.

NAKED WITH STRANGERS

Auditions are all the same. There you are in a room with four or five other guys you’ve never met before. You are finally all plugged in, miked up and ready to go, the drummer counts us in and you sing, but you’re not just singing, in a way you are baring your artistic soul. You are fragile, you are naked. You are stripping off in front of strangers. Try it some time, invite four of five complete strangers round to your house and stand naked in front of them. You don’t feel ridicule, you just feel vulnerable.

You sing or try to sing those three or four songs that the voice on the end of the phone has told you to « learn » and after twenty minutes … the verdict

RETURN TO ELECTRIC LADYLAND

There’s a limp, quivering, emaciated dog lying in a basket in the corner. There’s a fresh patch of (is that dog vomit?)

Patrick (AKA Jimmy) tells me that the dog is ill and for the moment he can’t afford to take him to the vet.

Patrick has red sunken eyes and a gaunt haggard face that has been ravaged by years of … Rock and Roll. (In comparison, Keith Richards is a picture of health.) He limps around the room, all quivering like his dog. He’s all lank greasy hair, torn jeans and a threadbare sweater held together more by the food stains down the front than any of the threads. He introduces me to three « clones » in similar degrees of frail decomposition. There’s Jean Paul the guitarist (AKA Mick) because he’s a Rolling Stones fan; Fabrice (AKA Chris) the drummer

« Chris? »

« Yeah he’s a big Magma fan » explains « Jimmy » so we call him Chris after the Magma drummer Christian Vander »

The last « clone » is Christophe, the keyboard player who logically should be AKA Chris but calls himself John, after his hero John Lord.

No need to ask the musical influences of this band of early fiftysomething, seventies survivors.

« What are you called? »

« Eh? » expressed by the three clones in collective grunt

« What’s the band name? »

A BAND WITH NO NAME

There are no hard and fast rules for choosing a band name, save that it should be, catchy, evocative, easy to remember easy to say and short enough to print on a T shirt. A band name doesn’t always need to reflect your musical style but it helps.

I am at present auditioning for a band with no name because at the moment there is no band.

To be continued

Be Kind, Random or Otherwise.

Everyday is a national or international day. Every lobby or interest group has its day. One American website (http://www.nationaldaycalendar.com) claims there are more than 1200 such days every year, a similar French website (http://www.journee-mondiale.com/les-journees-mondiales.htm) lists 459 – one thing you can be sure, there are only 365 days a year, so some of these « promotional days » or « awareness days are going to clash.

The world is just recovering, from the emotional and Financial strains of Valentine’s Day – but rather than the ritual and often forced celebration of love, wouldn’t you have rather celebrated National Ferris Wheel Day? So, this one didn’t figure on the French calendar of national days, meaning that depending were you live, all awareness days are different.

It seems that the Americans have far more national days than anyone. Take this last week as an example

13 February  National clean out your computer Day

14 February  National Ferris Wheel Day

15 February  National Gumdrop Day

16 February  National Do a Grouch a Favor Day

17 February   National Acts of Random Kindness day

18 February  National Drink Wine Day

19 February  National Chocolate Mint Day

Every lobby has its day and I for one will certainly be celebrating National Drink Wine Day, which in France is everyday – in fact there are none of these days I would not consider celebrating, but there also just too many days to celebrate.

Today, 17th February is officially International Acts of Random Kindness Day – so it was announced on this morning’s news. The journalist however failed to mention that, in the USA at least; it is also National Cabbage Day.

What exactly is an act of random kindness? (I would suggest that not serving your loved ones cabbage for dinner this evening is an act of kindness.) And how can kindness be random?

Take the journalist on the BBC this morning, standing outside a train station and offering cakes to total strangers. Already by having decided to offer up cakes was not a random, but rather a conscious and pre-planned act. Of course there were no takers, just bemused faces of passengers entering and leaving the station. A complete stranger offers you a cake in the street – my first thought « is it poisoned », secondly « what is the pay off? Nothing is free » and finally « just ignore this person, he or she is obviously mad and I just don’t want to get involved »

How do you decide what act of kindness to perform, on whom and when?

Why simply be kind today? Kindnesses can be performed everyday and in that context they are simply acts of common courtesy.

Holding a door open for the person behind you. Kindness, yes, but also common courtesy and common sense. I’m not just going to let go of the door and send it smashing into the face of the person behind me. We live in a litigation age, if I dent your nose with a closing door, you might just get one of those injury compensation lawyers on to me.

Simple acts of daily courtesy can make all the difference

There’s the lady behind me in the supermarket queue, she’s only buying one item and I have a whole cart load of shopping – hey just let her through – common courtesy – I often do this and sometimes live to regret it – the day I let an old lady pass through and she called up her husband who appeared with huge bags of shopping. I protested. « But you let me in front» she protested back and it all finished with me jostling back in front of the old dear.

Courtesy on the road to help traffic flow. Let the car out the side street, slow don and let the guy changing lanes to get in … perhaps he’s having a rotten day, perhaps he’s in a hurry. I’ve just made his life a little easier.

I’m a great believer in that old phrase « what goes around comes around » which I suppose is anther way of saying « you reap what you sow ». Enough acts of daily common courtesy and you’ll find that when you need to change lanes or jump the supermarket queue, it will happen. Kindness always happens and perhaps where you least expect it or when you most need it.

So, National Drink Wine day on 18th February in the USA, whilst in France we will be marking the International Right to Strike Day – that’s very French, my only question, why does it fall on a Saturday and not a working day?

I guess some of these national and international days are a bit frivolous. February 19th (according to my French website) is International Whale Awareness day whilst in the USA it is National Mint Chocolate Day, when the US National Confectioners Association will have you all guzzling … mint flavoured chocolate (is that different to chocolate flavoured mints?). My favourite up and coming day is February 21st when Americans will be marking National Sticky Bun Day. Perhaps as an act of Random Kindness I’ll stand in the street on that day and offer up sticky buns to bemused passers-by.

http://www.randomactsofkindness.org/rak-week

In Praise of Sensible Cakes.

maxresdefaultThe French call it « Gouter », which for want of a better translation would be « teatime » in English, however, depending of where you live in England’s green and pleasant land, « tea » can be one of several different meals.

So, I am not talking full blown « afternoon tea » – that meal in-between meals enjoyed mostly by tourists, neither am I talking « teatime », that term used in the North of England to describe what us southerners might simply call « dinner » – because in Northern England, « dinner » is actually your lunch.

Back to the French « gouter » which is no more than a couple of biscuits or a choclate bar or some kind of sweet snack that kids wolf down when they arrive home from school.

So, this being Saturday – I hit the supermarket like the thousands of other souls in this small town who shop on Saturday morning, because that is the time that everyone goes shopping. Long lines at the checkout, bumper-to-bumper trolleys in the aisles and … the « phenomen » that annoys me above all else – people meeting and chatting and standing right in the middle of the aisle as they do so, oblivious to the fact that they are blocking the way for everyone. I wish supermarket trolleys were equipped with horns ; I’d honk all thses aisle hogs – worse than road hogs.

Back to cake

It was on leaving the house that my daughter asked me (shouting from her bedroom) « dad can you bring back a cake (gâteau) for the gouter »

A cake – oh please for a real, sensible cake ! A Victoria sponge, a carrot cake, a banana and walnut, a Dundee cake – something copious, solid and sensible. This is France though, and the French don’t do decent cakes (I can hear howls of gastronomic francophile anguis as I write) – Yes the French have Patisseries – icing-covered, cream filled créations hat are better to look at than taste. Oh the chocolate eclair – NO, that is not a cake, it’s an éclair – and worse the coffee cream éclair. I don’t want fancy pâtisseries, I want a slice of carrot cake.

Of course, for the purposes of the « gouter », when the daughter says « gâteau » and I translate as cake, I should of course have understood « biscuit » – yep, this is the country where a cake can be a biscuit and a biscuit – well that’s something fancy that pastry chefs use in their pâtisseries. Confused – you should be.

To avoid confusion we use brand names in my house

Nevertheless – I wandered into that aisle where sweets and biscuits are sold, looking for a real cake. Ginger bread, Brownies, « English » fruit cake, but nothing that I would consider as a real cake in my very English définition.

I might get a « cake » at the baker’s, but the baker is a baker and not a pâtissier, though there are a few fruit tarts (referred to in English as pies) because when the French make an apple pie, it is an apple tart.

Oh for real cake !

Yes, I can get almost real cake in my corner of deepest France, though I have to frequent one of the plethora of tea rooms or coffee shops that have opened up in my small provincial town.

Even then, the carrot cake on offer is a very small « ersatz » affair.

No decent cake. All this in the land where Marie Antoinette told the peasants to eat cake beceuqe they had no bread.

Lost in translation again. Marie Antoinette didn’t actually say cake or « gâteau » – she actually meant Brioche, which is Brioche, because we don’t have that in Britain because it’s French.

« Let them eat cake ! »

Perhaps if they’d given the peasants a nice slice of Victoria sponge and a decent cup of tea, we would never have had all this revolution nonsense.

Of Snow, Flu, Undertakers, Stiffs, Astronauts, DIY and Electricians

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Saturday January 14 0700h

It’s trying to snow, great thick flakes falling like porridge, but it’s not lying. Welcome to winter. I shuffle round the kitchen in my mechanic breakfast ritual – making coffee and sorting through the rest of the week’s bread trying to find a piece of baguette that isn’t so hard that it will break my teeth – I switch on the radio

News – We are at the peak of the winter flu virus. French hospitals can’t cope under the seasonal strain – accident and emergency departments are almost at crisis point . Any staff on leave have been called back … sounds like the UK.

A thought for the nation’s undertakers who are also battling to cope with the rise in seasonal deaths from the flu epidemic – a staggering 34% more stiffs than usual. Instead of the standard two days, many families are having to wait almost four days before they can lay their loved ones to rest. Four days !!! Back in 2010, I had to wait 2 weeks in London before the local undertaker could find a « slot » for my mum’s funeral.

Still dark outside. Have to switch on an extra light – of couse it is the light with the « dangerous » switch. I’ve got quite a few electrical issues round the house at the moment. I’ve spent all week trying to get hold of an electrician – same story as the undertakers, they can’t cope – seems with the bad weather everyone suddenly wants an electrician (still trying to work that one out.)

More news – the French astronaut on the International Space Station made his first six hour space walk – along with other crew members, he replaced old batteries on the space station and repaired « electrical devices » on the outside of that station.

Seems odd that there’s no problem getting electical repairs done in space, but down here on Earth, I can’t get an electrician.

I suppose there are electrical solutions.

DIY – No way I can or will do it myself. I am to totally DIY incapable. The simplest of home improvement tasks is beyond me. I admire those other males of the species who can string up light fittings or put in plug points. It must be wonderful to have such skills. I can’t even put up a shelf – even the simplest Ikea model.

I listen in admiration as work colleagues  tell me how they have seemingly built their houses almost single-handed.

“What are you doing this weekend?” I ask one colleague at the Friday morning coffee break

“Oh, I’ve just started re-wiring the house.”

WOW!! If I did anything electrical, if I wasn’t actually electrocuted, I’f probably, at best, have everything blow up in my face or at worst,  burn the house down.

No folks, I’m a DIY dunce. I’l call a pro – that’s what they are their for. At the moment though, I’d probably have more success finding an astronaut

Sex in the City or F***ing Paris

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Oh gay Paris ! City of light ! City of love ! City of … sex

Sex in Paris ?

There seems to be this long held (mis)conception that the French are just basically sex-mad. This is the land of loose morals where extra marital affairs are a national past time. It all starts with kissing on both cheeks and then …

I’m not sure where this misconception comes from. I put it down to those austere Victorian types, staring across the Channel and tut-tutting as the French enjoy life.

No matter where the « myth. » originates – a report out this week actually seems to confirm the long held belief that life in France is one long gang bang.

For life in France, I should actually say life in Paris – well we all know that Paris is France.

So what about gay Paris? In a survey conducted on sexual practices of Parisians, 20% said that they were gay or bisexual (LGBTQ) – compared to 11% nationally. 58% of those questioned said that they had already cheated on a Partner (compared to 48% nationally) and 33% of participants had already taken part in a « threesome » whilst 25% had taken part in an orgy. On average, Parisians had 19 sexual Partner in a lifetime and only 25ù of the capital’s couples were in a long-standing relationship (compared to 41% nationally)

Now, a threesome, I get the picture but what about an orgy? Well the survey is very helpful defining an orgy as making love to four partners at any one time. It all sounds very complicated.

Please Remember Charlie

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The decorations ripped down and slung in a corner until next Christmas – only 307 shopping days left – or 357 if you live in Paris, where the capital’s large department stores have finally been allowed to open on Sundays.

Down here in the provinces though, it is Sunday business as usual – no business, save a handful of small grocery stores, allowed to open on the pretext that they sell perishable produce.

No mistake, it is January, where everyday is almost a non-day – the flat grey timescape of the new year, when the year feels like it has already been going on forever. Time is no time as we resume « real » life after the festive blip and wonder if there is anything left to look forward to.

On this interminable journey through the damp landscape of winter, where or what is the next landmark? What respite or festivities loom on the horizon?

Thank heavens though for the nothingness of January – it is just two years since France was reeling in the shockwave of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks.

11.30am January 7th 2015 – two terrorists forced their way into the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing a security guard and then gunned down six members of the editorial committee at their weekly meeting before killing a policeman during their getaway. Later that day on the other side of Paris another terrorist shot dead a female auxiliary police officer before entering a Jewish supermarket and murdering customers.

The bloody tally of the day – 17 dead

There were national shows of unity – massive and impromptu gatherings in every town and city across France. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary people took to the streets to express their grief indignation. The French national anthem, the Marseillaise echoed across the land and suddenly everyone said « Je suis Charlie. »

And gradually the magical feeling of unity subsided as « normal service » was resumed. Down came the « Charlie » posters with the feeling that France had « paid the price » for its interventions in Mali and Afghanistan – there would be no more killing now.

Then on 13th of November the slaughter of the innocents – 130 people murdered in bars and cafés around the République area of Paris – the massacre of concertgoers at the Bataclan

14th July 2016 – a madman drives a lorry into crowd celebrating Bastille Day on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice – 86 dead

25th July 2016 – the murder of a priest in church his during mass at St Etienne de Rouvray near Rouen.

Terrorist massacres became the stuff of everyday life. Despite the bloody nature of these atrocities, the French became « hardened » – shocked, appalled, grief-stricken, incredulous, but « hardened » And now we count the atrocity in terms of victims or barbarity. It seems sadly like Charlie has become a mère sideshow compared to the other attacks.

Two years on from Charlie – two years already. Was that just two years ago ? It feels like it happened in another life, in another time, another place.

In commemoration of those terrible attacks – low-key, wreath-laying ceremonies by politicians, survivors and members of victims’ families. No great out-pouring of public grief, no mass gatherings of crowds in Paris – not a single Marseillaise to be heard.

I’m not sure if we simply don’t want to remember or, quite simply, that no one really does remember. I hope we still care.

« Two years since those Charlie Hebdo attacks » I remark to a colleague at work last week.

« Charlie Hebdo … ? » There is a moment of hesitation.

« Oh that. »

Please take a few minutes out this week to be « Charlie »

Take time out to remember all the victims of terrorism.

 

Get (Dis)Connected or Turn Off and Drop Out

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Turn on

Tune in

Drop out

The iconic 60s phrase, coined by writer and psychologist, Timothy O’Leary. Since January 1st in France, rather than turning on though, French workers have been given the right to turn off and drop out.

It’s all down to new French employment laws that came in to force on January 1st : now, when employees leave work, they are allowed to disconnect – turning off all their mobile gadgets, for a quiet evening or weekend.

We’ve all had it – you get home after a hard day at the grind and no sooner have you sat down, than a plethora of « urgent » texts and mails arrive « for your immediate attention ». There goes the quiet evening you had planned.

Evening ? Did I say evening ? There are those messages that arrive at the dead of night or in the wee small hours. Colleagues sending mails at midnight or later.

« What do you want me to do ? I’m in bed. I’m not working now ! »

You might not be working, but your boss or colleague is, slaving away, at home, or perhaps (God forbid) still at the office. Sending out texts late into the night as if to say « look at me, I’m still working … aren’t I a model employee. »

Of course such people also pollute your weekend.

Sunday afternoon, and « ping » goes the computer to signal something in your mail box …

« Hi … do you think you could just check this report for our Monday morning meeting ? »

You want to scream a resounding NO !, but that person who is sollciting you on the sabbath adds “ it will only take a few minutes… ”  Like hell it will. It f***s up your weekend and causes stress.

Well, now you can say NO ! with the full backing of the law.

What goes for evenings and weekends also goes for holidays. No more annoying communiqués from work to spoil your hard earned tanning time.

Let’s be clear though, the new law does not make it illegal for your boss or your colleagues to send « out-of-work » mails, but it enshrines the right of employees to ignore them out of working hours.

I suppose this brings the wider question of – Who are all these people working after working hours that send out-of-work mails and texts ?

They fall in to three distinct categories

Those deliberate late workers who want to show the boss and felow colleagues just how hard they are working. All those middle ranking managers who like to think they are indispensable or endeavour to make themselves such – Like we say in French – the local cemetery is full of people who thought they were indispensable.

The coffee drinkers and socialisers who actually don’t work during work, but burn the midnight oil to do exactly what they should have done during the day (or like the first category – show everyone that they are working so hard that they must stay late)

The sinkers and drowners – Those who can simply not manage their workload and spend every hour of the day working just to keep their haed above water.

I daresay, that despite this new law, the out-of-wok mail still has a long future as a weapon in the workplace. It’s not because we can now all turn off, that we still won’t burn out.