2021 – a nebulous and enlightening affair

I usually write some kind of annual review each year but have been a bit late with the one for 2021. I really didn’t know where to start at first. I thought that it was one which I was not keen to reflect upon, particularly in terms of music (which of course is my main focus in life). However, as the words appeared on the page it made me appreciate a few things despite a few mental stumbling blocks.

2021 was a mixed up year. It of course started with the lockdown due to Covid. This in itself wasn’t too much of an issue. As I said on my reflection on 2020, it brought different opportunities as it gave me a chance to work on recordings in my studio. There was some rehearsing with Threshold Shift at the back end of 2020 but lack of gigs and not much desire for the band to do much in the way of new material kind of killed the fun for me and I stepped down at the top of the year. The band was on the wind down at the time anyway as one of the guys was preparing to do some travelling in the spring.

Crash Scene Flowers has all but been on ice since the start of the pandemic. Following the production of the EP in 2020, we have only managed to get together in the rehearsal room a small handful of times. This has been for a variety of reasons. Each of us has been ill at various points, with some having to isolate sometimes for long periods. Personal circumstances have also played a part at times. We have just been incredibly unlucky. It even got to the point where we had got into the habit of being out of the habit, so even when we’d been all fit to get together, it resorted to meeting at the pub instead of rehearsing. We all still want to do it and we keep in touch regularly. Hopefully we’ll get it together again sometime soon. We all say “when the time is right” but none of us seem to be sure when that time will be and none of us are chasing the rest of us up to find out right now. Our bond goes much deeper than bandmates though and we’re close friends, very much a brotherhood and so there’s an air of bittersweetness surrounding the band I guess. None of us want to let go. I certainly don’t.

Dawn of Elysium was a game of two halves in 2021. It started off with bits of studio work but problems in terms of communication and progress. Our guitarist at the time Tim Furze had been finding the challenges of lockdown and working at home particularly difficult and he eventually felt he could no longer continue with the band. He wrestled with this decision for longer than any of us were comfortable with, especially him and so the band had felt unsettled for a while. It was nobody’s fault. For all there was a genuine sadness, there was also a sense of relief when it finally came to pass. We all love Tim and when I finally saw him socially some months later, I was so happy to reconnect. He’s a great musician and a kind hearted soul and I wish him all the best.

After Tim’s departure, we set about rebuilding the band and Izak Gloom stepped into the fold. Izak has brought a very different vibe to the band and we have since been reworking music new and old. It has been an exciting few months. We played our first gig with this line-up in October and there’s a real sense of a fresh start in 2022. Our first recording with Izak is set for imminent release in the shape of our forthcoming single “Storm”. Following that, there is much to do and work continues on the album “The Mandela Effect” as well as preparing a live set for gigs in the spring/summer. The whole thing is sounding bigger and better than ever. I am more excited about Dawn of Elysium than I have been in a long time as we step into our tenth year.

One fairly profound change for me this year was modifying my digital life. I came away from Facebook entirely and made some adjustments to my online world. I have written about this in more detail here and here. It has certainly been a journey. Despite the slight perception of having lost touch with the “hive”, the communications I have maintained with friends and family since have been so much more meaningful. I have certainly encouraged a few people to check their emails a bit more. For anyone reading this who doesn’t have my email address, if you want to keep in touch, then you can use the Contact form and it will reach my inbox.

One MASSIVE highlight of 2021 for me was a real bucketlist moment. I finally got to see my all time favourite band live on their final tour. I have loved the music of Genesis since I was a teenager and I mean all eras of Genesis. To see them play it live was a real treat for me. On the very few occasions when they have toured in my adult life, I had missed out but as soon as they announced this one I simply HAD to get tickets. They played in Leeds too so very local for us. Just before and since this concert, I embarked on a journey of rediscovery of the music of Genesis and various solo offshoots, some albums I had not listened to in 30 years. I had also got tickets to see former guitarist Steve Hackett and his band play a rendition of the 1977 live album Seconds Out. As it fell, after various reschedules of the Genesis tour due to Covid, Genesis played in Leeds on the Monday and Steve Hackett played in Bradford on the Friday of the same week. Two amazing yet different sets of the music of Genesis. I savoured every minute of both. The same week saw Emma and I celebrate our tenth anniversary of being together so it was a very special time indeed.

Despite the highlights, much of 2021 for me was mired by something which I embarked upon in the spring and finally moved on from in the autumn (or at least started to). In the end, my inner peace was awry and on reflection, the situation was pretty toxic bringing me much unrest. For all I was being encouraged to stick with it by my nearest and dearest, almost from the word go I knew it wasn’t right. It was a lot of hard work and I was neglecting my other musical pursuits because of it. I played some pretty big gigs in the late summer, including a bill with one of my favourite bands. Whilst it was certainly a great experience playing in front of a lot of people, I am struggling to reflect on it with any authentic fulfilment or pride. Before my departure, the band had been booked for another significant event but it was a case of the stick far outweighing the carrot. Ultimately it was all very superficial and meaningless and I came away with a deep disillusionment. Unfortunately this fell in the darkest part of the year and triggered my SAD for the first time in years. It wasn’t ideal. The whole episode is an experience which I would rather put behind me and one about which I am still feeling a sense of regret and disappointment. For all I am still a little sore, I take comfort in the fact that time will heal. I am also happy that I made a new friend in one of my erstwhile bandmates and I look forward to eventually keeping in touch outside the context of that situation.

I have always taken great pride in documenting and reflecting on all of my musical endeavours past and present on this website, no matter the circumstances of it ending or quality of material produced. The situation I described above is not one I wish to be reminded of and so this is the first ever exception to that rule. All posts and pages which pertain to this project have been removed.

Always, always follow your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right then it likely isn’t. The whole episode certainly reaffirmed my reasons for making music and made me reassess some values.

Kind thanks to some wonderful friends who have given me reassurance, support and encouragement in recent months. You know who you are. Even if you have just listened whilst I have rambled over a pint, you don’t know how much you have helped. I will never forget.

Let’s see what 2022 brings. There is much to look forward to!

Dispatches from Zuxile: Dancing to the beat of my own drum

It has been some months now since I decided to change my digital life and during this time, I have undergone a number of transitions. It started with the thought processes I covered in my previous article where I wanted to take some control over the way in which I interact with technology and more importantly the way in which it interacts with me.

I became a regular viewer and reader of various privacy/security based content and found myself scrutinising my every online move through the use of tools/methods such as VPNs, browser isolation, email aliasing/separation, firewall and adblocking amongst other things. Whilst it feels good to take back a greater degree of control in this manner, it did leave me feeling a little disillusioned at times. In the main, this was a process of getting used to the fact that this was very much a personal journey and that many of the people I used to interact with online were not joining me in the way that I thought.

When consulting various sources on the subject, the main tagline of advice is “stop using x and get your friends to use y”. It’s a nice idea but this did not work for me. In reality, many (not all) of the friends whom I have invited to use “y” (in this case Signal) have in the main ignored or scoffed at said invitation. I don’t really blame them. In their mind, why fix something that is not broken? After all, they are happy Whats-App-ing and FB Messenging one another as they always have been, oblivious to any reasoning as to why using an alternative might be better. I did go through a period of trying to strike up conversations on matters of privacy and security, trying not to be too evangelical about it but I quickly grew weary of the indifference and it got to the point I was boring myself. If people want to know more then they know where I am but I got used to the fact that this was my journey at this time and really, that’s OK.

I managed to maintain a fair bit of quality contact via email and SMS. I have always liked email as a medium and it has been great to return to using it more. I am now even at the point of questioning my own need for Signal as a messaging app. Apart from the small handful of people who have joined me on there (mainly for small talk), it has not brought much of value to my digital table. I am in touch with these friends via other means if I need to contact them or they me.

My point is that it’s not compulsory to replace something which you probably didn’t want with something that you don’t need. Various sources will advise that an encrypted messaging service is necessary and much more preferable to SMS from a security and privacy point of view. I use iMessage with my fellow iOS users so I am at least “covered” to some degree and the contents of my SMS comms with friends are mainly perfunctory, with more meaningful content reserved for face to face meetings anyway. It’s all about determining a personal threat model. I am a fairly typical law abiding citizen and therefore spook level anonymity is not a requirement for me. If it was, I would not be keeping this blog for example. A little relative vulnerability is acceptable, provided the limitations are appreciated. I have an increased awareness of how to mitigate tracking and keep my data/identity more protected. I have learned safer habits and gained an appreciation for the pros and cons of my current methodologies.

Being a privacy advocate does not need to occupy the whole space which Facebook and the like used to. For me, it kind of did at first. Like many people over the course of the past few months, I was spending more time at home and often had YouTube content playing in the background. I wasn’t checking my device every couple of minutes anymore but I was consuming content in other ways. The difference was, it was more educational and informative and it no longer left me with those familiar negative feelings. However, it kind of made me question the meaning of it all. At first, I thought I felt more isolated as I wasn’t really interacting with people at the same rate, apart from minimal Twitter activity. Turns out that feeling fades as you get used to returning to a more normal level of interaction. As day to day life returned to some semblance of normality and as my head cleared, I found myself enjoying the act of choosing which things I want to occupy my time with and dancing to the beat of my own drum again. I am enjoying life so much more and my interaction with friends feels a lot more personal and meaningful.

As I said, I have kept a Twitter account but even with that, I have settled into the practice of mainly consuming. My tweets are few and inconsequential and I delete them all periodically. On occasion, I have briefly entered into some online discussion before recognising certain behavioural traits. When someone insists on being confrontational and argumentative with you when you are essentially agreeing with their point, you really have to question the purpose of the interaction. I’ll keep it for the time being as I still enjoy the news feed and whilst I do see the odd retweet which could elicit a negative response if I let it, I find it easy to scroll past and forget about it. As I find myself more drawn towards news aggregators, it may be that my personal Twitter account ends up going too at some point.

I do not miss Facebook at all. On a superficial level, I actually enjoy people telling me about the various things that people post on there, from the silly to the tragic to the dramatic. From my point of view that world somehow doesn’t seem real anymore. To the people on there though, it appears all too real and that does leave a melancholy taste. I recall those feelings of anxiety, of constantly trying to somehow prove myself, fit in or keep up with others. The underlying disappointment in myself and feeling like I should be somewhere different with my achievements. My shattered self-confidence. The constant scrolling, fear of missing something. The all encompassing compulsion to connect, which only ever results in being more disconnected from yourself. The ultimate abusive relationship. There is little wonder that it is the place in which the narcissist thrives. How could I ever possibly go back to that?

By Idle Hands Posted in Blog

Dispatches from Zuxile: Sup up and Zuck off!

This week marked the end of my 30 day trial period of having a deactivated Facebook account as it was upgraded to the state of “permanently deleted”.

I have in the past written of my increasingly struggling relationship with the social media site. For most of the last decade and part of this one, it had in the main been a fruitless addiction, taking me through countless troubled waters, impairing my ability to properly interact with friends, at times shattering my self-esteem and confidence. It has seen my trust in people and their intentions wane at times as I dealt with various trolls. It has made me question my worth in life and measure myself against others in a most unhealthy way. It has promoted and triggered strong opinion, where there previously was none and pitted it against those of others. It has driven me to the point of ultimate distraction, profoundly interfering with my day to day life.

For all that it allowed me to connect with many likeminded people, the friendships that have endured have been the ones pursued outside of the platform, away from the constant stream of often superficial chatter, “likes”, “laughs”, “loves” and the enduring compulsion for approval.

At the height of my time using Facebook, I had amassed over 1000 “friends”, tapering off to a mere 800. At one time I even had an app which told me who had unfriended me and each time it happened, I agonised over it and often asked those who had unfriended me the reasons why. Sleepless nights wondering what made me such a bad person. Sounds crazy now but that is how much it got under my skin.

In the last few years, recent political events have seen people more and more polarised and Facebook became increasingly unpleasant, even more so throughout the Covid pandemic. Before I even discovered the cause, it got me to thinking that something fundamentally wasn’t right.

As I wrote in this previous blog entry, I happened upon this Channel 4 interview with Silicon Valley computer scientist Jaron Lanier who wrote the book “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (2018)” in which he answers my suspicions. The Facebook AI engine is systematically engaging and addicting users to the platform through a calculated programme of behavioural manipulation, subtly choosing what the user is exposed to and when. Studies have shown that users are engaged more quickly when negatively emoted and the AI algorithm regularly exploits this. This is why when scrolling, the user might be triggered into argument by an opinion which they are diametrically opposed to. Probably an opinion which was hitherto not so prevalent before it had been enhanced by the AI. 

According to Jaron, there have been studies by Facebook scientists themselves which corroborate this so there is a strong argument for believing it. Upon watching the interview, one friend immediately deleted their account and as far as I am aware, never looked back.

Following on from this interview and book, I watched the two Netflix films “The Social Dilemma (2020)” and “The Great Hack (2019)”. The former builds on Jaron’s work and presents it in a user friendly easy to follow documentary film, the latter focuses on the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal, Brexit and the 2016 US presidential election. The two films complement each other perfectly and they provided the catalyst for my plan to permanently delete my account.

I revisited the pros vs cons list and convinced myself that the cons far outweighed the pros. For all that I didn’t want to sever ties with my 800+ friends on there, I realised that if they wanted to stay in touch then they are perfectly capable of using other means of communication. Facebook Messenger was not the only way to communicate contrary to what others would have you believe. 

For music, other members of the bands are still Facebook users so collectively there is still access to the platform should we wish to use it. I wasn’t really feeling the value so much any more anyway. Dawn of Elysium for years had more followers on other platforms. It seemed when trying to chase bookings, promoters did not always choose to use Facebook as a primary vehicle for communication anyway.

I was also becoming increasingly aware and concerned about what was going on in the background in terms of data tracking and harvesting. Big tech companies such as Facebook and Google have trackers on the majority of websites and not only do they track your browsing habits but they build profiles for as many people as they can to sell on to advertising companies. It’s a multi billion dollar industry and it all happens without the user’s knowledge or permission and it is all unregulated. This is literally why these companies are so wealthy and powerful. Much has been and continues to be reported on this subject if you wish to look into it further, it’s enlightening reading.

For me it goes way beyond the “but I don’t mind having things advertised to me that I am interested in” argument. It’s pure and raw capitalism at work. Unsympathetic, unwavering, all consuming. Chewing you up, assimilating your information and spitting out what’s left and it doesn’t care how it does it, as it’s all automated. For all you might receive that advertisement for a pair of shoes that you might like to buy, the manipulation which has occurred in order to get that advert in front of you is ugly. The addiction to the next press of the refresh button to get your next “like” or “dopamine hit” as they call it in the industry, the heartache of arguing with loved ones because the AI has promoted disharmony in order to keep you engaged. How many people around you are glued to their devices? Even the “Off-Facebook Activity” setting is a thing where the app or browser sends information back to Facebook even when you are not using it. If you are unaware of it, then it was enable by default when they implemented it.

So, I began the journey of not only deleting Facebook but also curtailing my Google usage as much as possible, restricting it to YouTube only. My Gmail account has been emptied, replaced with a secure email platform and retained only for legacy emails. I no longer use Google as a search engine. DuckDuckGo is totally privacy conscious and is very similar in terms of results. I ditched Chrome as a browser on my Windows machines and replaced it with Brave, which blocks many trackers by default. I even replaced Safari on my Macs and mobile device with Brave too. Microsoft, although known to be complicit in these tracking activities proved to be less of a problem for me. My Hotmail account had been mothballed to a great extent anyway and with it my Skype account which I never really used. I went through and found accounts associate with the Gmail and Hotmail addresses and changed them to something more secure or deleted where necessary. I also bolstered this by changing my passwords and using a secure password manager called Bitwarden – highly recommended.

I happened upon a company called Techlore who have an online course called “Go Incognito”. Contrary to what the title implies, it’s not a tin foil hat thing, nor is it a strict anonymity thing, although that is covered. It’s a really good in depth course which educates about data privacy, security and anonymity and I would recommend any user of a computer or mobile device go and watch it. It’s not patronising or preachy but it is informative even to those of us who consider ourselves experienced IT users. I have been proficient in the use of computers for many years, I have technical qualifications and I learned a lot. There is a free version on YouTube which covers everything and it’s in bite size, easy to follow sessions. I honestly can’t recommend it enough.

I probably have some way to go but I have taken control of my digital life to a large degree. The people who have wanted to keep in touch have done and my communications have been better quality and more substantial. My head is so much more clear. I am not sure the average person has the capacity to keep in constant engagement with 800+ people in any meaningful way. I do catch wind of what’s being posted amongst friends from time to time and the nice thing is, that is from talking to people and having real conversation.

In terms of social media, I still maintain Twitter accounts for the bands and have a low key one for personal browsing and keeping in touch with a few friends on there. I don’t post that much and I definitely find it less invasive and much more benign. I do see people engaging in heated discussion and sternly putting across an opinion with the compulsion to be right but I try not to get involved. Twitter is much less personal in that regard. It’s easy to scroll on by and ignore things and the useful and fun information on the feeds I follow make it worthwhile.

So, this is my journey. I hope this post has been of some use to someone. I’m not sure how many people actually follow this blog as this will be the first time it hasn’t been directly shared with a ton of Facebook users but here it is all the same. Feel free to share it if you wish. I know I have some friends who are skeptical, think I’m mad, are steadfastly closed to different ideas or in denial themselves about various things. It’s up to the individual how they live their digital lives. All I can do is share my experiences and encourage people to at least give the information presented a chance.

Peace out!

By Idle Hands Posted in Blog

2020 – a year of changed opportunities

2020 has been a very strange year for all of us worldwide and one which was not anticipated by most people.

As far as my musical activities are concerned, the circumstances of this year have both curtailed and enabled progress in a few ways.

Rehearsal and live performance have not been possible since the early spring. although Dawn of Elysium did manage to get in three really good gigs before everything changed.

Conversely, I have been spending more time than ever before in my studio and have progressed a number of projects as well as made a few improvements in terms of both equipment and technique.

In January, Dawn of Elysium released what was to be the first of three works in 2020. The single “First Light” was the first to feature the full 5-piece line up, most importantly with Kaz taking the lead vocal. It ushered in a new era for our recorded output and hinted at a sign of things to come as we had begun work on the next album.

We recorded the Crash Scene Flowers “Scars” EP in February at Voltage Studios and I brought home the files to produce and mix at Idle Hands. This kept me busy for much of the lockdown period and we released it online in April. Apart from a small handful of rehearsals since, we have not managed to do anything else. Everything is very much “on ice” until further notice.

Threshold Shift had a number of gigs booked for over the spring/summer. Unfortunately, none of them transpired. We got together a good few times to rehearse and have a bash about. It was a lot of fun but it was getting to the point where I wasn’t getting as much out of it as the other guys and so I took the decision this week to step down. Had we been gigging, it would have been very different but I think as far as rehearsals were concerned, we seemed to want different things from it. I had a blast and enjoyed playing with them immensely. I love those guys like brothers but I felt it was best to leave before the fun was lost. Time to move on.

In fairness I was struggling in 2019 and into early 2020 with the commitment of three bands and although rehearsals are not happening all that much right now, I still felt something had to give. I somehow always knew that this would come eventually.

In August, our friend Alastair Appleby was diagnosed with terminal Cancer. With very limited time left, bands and music friends were rallied and an intimate event was put together comprising a few of his favourite local acts. With Dawn of Elysium unable to get together as a full unit at the time, it was suggested that I play an acoustic set. It had been years since I had touched either of my acoustic guitars and was well out of practice. Nevertheless, not doing it was simply not an option for me and so Kaz and I got together a short set and opened the event. It was an honour and a privilege to play for him one last time and end the set with his favourite song. I was well out of my comfort zone but I think it came across well and most importantly, Alastair loved it.

Although I used my Crafter for the performance, the experience encouraged me to have my oldest guitar serviced and fitted with a new pickup. My old Tanglewood acoustic had not been played for years. My friend Simon at Magus guitars gave it a brand new lease of life and made me appreciate just how beautiful an instrument it is. This in turn encouraged me to play my acoustic more regularly, which I have continued to do and also to record the next Dawn of Elysium EP.

“Driftwood” was an excursion for Dawn of Elysium. Comprising three songs, it saw acoustic/orchestral reworkings of the Suicide By Cop song “Why Now? Why Me” and the Dawn of Elysium number “Lost and Found”. Sandwiched between the two was a track recorded for the forthcoming album entitled “Ghost In The Machine”. This track saw a sharp contrast in sound, bringing a heavier, more experimental progressive tone. Its inclusion was due to it being used in a local film production entitled “Scarred Evolution” created by director Ryan Paul Troy, who loved the song when he heard it. The EP was released in November and was dedicated to Alastair. He passed away on 21st December

Driftwood was an interesting and enjoyable journey, which saw us explore new sonic territory. However, in some respects there was a feeling of having drifted away from the band’s core sound. In an effort to reacquaint ourselves with our gothic rock roots as well as have some fun, we returned to the studio to record what would be our third release of the year.

“Far From Home” was a two track affair comprising a reworked, vocal version of the track “Gravity” and a cover of the Sisters of Mercy’s “Poison Door”. Since Kaz had joined the band, many of our songs had been reworked or further developed to include her singing. Gravity was one such song. Having been included as a (semi) instrumental on the “Raven” album, the song had always had lyrics but I never felt happy with their delivery. Plus it was complicated to play and sing well enough live without it sounding cluttered. Kaz took the song and reworked the vocal in a completely new way. We felt it was too good not to record/release but since it was already on the last album, including it on the next wouldn’t feel right.

Like many people who are into goth rock, the Sisters of Mercy have been one of my favourite bands from being a teenager. “Poison Door” is a personal favourite and I have always fancied playing it. The idea of recording it was to have a bit of fun, recalibrating the band’s sound after spending time in acoustic land for the previous couple of months, whilst bringing the full band back into the fold. Covering the Sisters is probably considered not cool in some quarters. In some respects this actually encouraged me more to do it. Call it a defiant celebration of the genre which influenced us. We had a lot of fun recording it and it seems to have been received in the same spirit.

The “Far From Home” single was released in December just in time for Christmas.

In and amongst all this, work on the next album has continued piecemeal. As mentioned above, towards the end of last year I had felt a bit overwhelmed with regular rehearsals with three bands and the pressure of trying to book gigs. I had been craving some time out to work on studio projects at home. Although it has been a very challenging year for everybody, I consider myself very fortunate in many ways to be able to do this. I’m sure we’ll get back to making a racket before too long (I hope so because I bought myself a really nice new amp this year) but in the meantime, I have plenty to be getting on with at home.

Where can we get a good pizza? (not about pizza)

I have recently seen increasing numbers of people complaining that Facebook has too many rules about what can or cannot be posted and reports of world governments getting involved dictating what rules should be imposed on them etc. It led me onto this train of thought.

Maybe people are looking for problems within a solution which was never quite fit for purpose in the first place, despite having the illusion that it was?

Back when the internet started, its pioneers wanted to change the world, to connect everyone, free of rules and regulations, to revolutionise communication forever. Many of us joined the party much later and basked in its digital glory. There was so much to explore. Millions of websites and places where people could connect through common interests. If one place became unsuitable or you didn’t care for the way it was being run, you simply moved on. Occasionally you might bump into real world friends on forums or newsgroups and people kept in touch via email or email groups. A few real time chat clients were available and you were free to move between them as others did. Same with search engines. Web 1.0 was a lot of fun. Much of it is still there.

Web 2.0 came along and started integrating a lot of it whilst taking ownership of your data. Adverts became more prevalent and everything became a more unified experience. The goal of a web 2.0 site was to get people to sign up and stay there. If you were in a band, you no longer had to be able to build a website and it was much easier to knock up a MySpace page. The good bit was that a MySpace page was fully useable from the outside so you didn’t need to have a profile or log in to the site to view it. The user was free to surf the net as normal, making their own fun and rules up as they went.

Since then, Facebook came along and required users to sign up to the platform to access any information within. It was so easy to set up a profile and so quick to be able to find like minded people, easy to find real world friends, family and pretty much everyone you had ever known as everyone rapidly flocked to it, even many who had hitherto not used a computer let alone the internet. Facebook got into everyone’s lives. Email, chat clients, newsgroups, blogs, forums and to a degree websites themselves became obsolete as everything was under one roof and all for “free”. As usage increased on Facebook, less people were frequenting the many and varied unique and special sites aforementioned. More worryingly, many people felt less need to maintain real world social contact.

Character and culture became assimilated.

To this day, you can’t even change the colour scheme on your Facebook page or profile. What’s more, people are complaining that they are introducing a new layout. Information is all neatly stored in prescribed fields for convenient surveillance and harvesting to sell off to the highest bidder. And it’s all regulated and copyright controlled.

The algorithms choose what of your information is shared and with whom and what you get to see and it’s all targetted to keep you using the platform. As a result, the behaviour of users is being manipulated and subsequently altered in order to achieve this and it is often in a negative way. How many hours have you wasted on Facebook by arguing with people after you have seen something which triggers you?

Everyone who uses Facebook does so willingly. They agree to and sign up for the terms and conditions. The T&Cs are many and varied and are supposedly there to protect the user. There are codes of conduct on what can and cannot be said. Some may say their freedom of expression is curtailed as a result and they complain bitterly.

Here’s the thing though. It’s not.

It’s like walking into McDonalds and complaining to the server and the other customers that they don’t sell pizza and demanding that they do.

Any user of the internet is free to express themselves however they wish and use whatever means they are able in order to do that. Other websites (millions of them) are available.

ISPs have their own codes of conduct of course which must be adhered to but these are generally fewer and less complex. Any user is free to not use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google and the like and many in fact do. The internet is a huge place.

I think somewhere along the way, the excitement of exploring the web has faded. I try to vary my time online and not get too drawn back to Facebook. It is hard though at times I admit. If I were simply a user with nothing to share or promote then I’d find it much easier to ditch the thing. I would lose touch with people as a result since too many people have an aversion to using means of communication which isn’t FB messenger.

It has by far the largest user base and it’s an invaluable tool for promoting music and booking gigs etc. To try and stubbornly do this without Facebook would be foolhardy and very difficult. Despite this though the only single thing going for it is audience. Even then it’s impossible to reach more than a small percentage of your audience without subsidising it financially. The platform is crap for setting up a band page. You can’t host music on Facebook, you can’t publish a decent gig list. These are features which people abandoned in MySpace a decade ago and as mentioned above, you can’t personalise your page apart from a profile picture and cover picture. You are still stuck with the regulation blue and white (for now at least).

So where can we get a good pizza?


By Idle Hands Posted in Blog

Re-assessment of social media usage

In recent years, we have experienced some divisive, confusing and turbulent times, with 2020 seeing us especially more isolated from one another than usual. Invariably, our main point of contact with friends and family has been through the use of technology and in particular social media. This in itself is no bad thing. However, I have noticed the atmosphere of Facebook in particular becoming ever more toxic. 

I have been convinced for a while now that Facebook is inherently bad for mental health in some way and I freely admit that I, like many others have become addicted to it to the point of distraction.

I recently came across a computer scientist called Jaron Lanier, who was one of the pioneers of virtual reality. His recent work hits out very hard at social media and he not only confirms my suspicions but goes on to reveal how Facebook manipulates human behaviour in order to keep the user addicted and to harvest data. This Channel Four interview in particular explains the mechanism in great detail. I have watched it a number of times and have also purchased his audio book. Upon first watch and returning to scrolling my timeline as many of us do, I saw in glaring example exactly what he describes. It has been a tragic time watching lifelong friends tear into each other and this has been occurring over the last few years. This toxicity has escalated even more in the last few weeks and has become unbearable. Quite a few friends have commented on it.

The problem is that using this medium, the nuances of conversation are lost. Debate is difficult to do effectively. In black and white text, people see things in back and white, wrong and right, left and right in binary terms. The compulsion to be correct and to make others agree to your being correct is all powerful to the point that you believe everybody else is wrong. It often starts in a sarcastic manner and ends in all out flame war. Friends are readily unfriended or unfollowed and the art of discussion is crippled. Turns out it is all set out algorithmically and very deliberately. When I first posted the link to this video up, my timeline immediately became more toxic as if it were triggered to follow suit.

Does this mean Facebook is all bad? It has its uses for sure. I love keeping in touch with family and friends, some of whom I hardly ever get to see or communicate with otherwise (especially at the moment). For music, it has become an invaluable tool, not only for promoting my own work but discovering and keeping in touch with other like-minded people, booking gigs and finding out about new gigs. If I could find a way of effectively doing these things without using Facebook, it would be gone in a breath. 

When I have had breaks from it in the past, I’ve stated that people can email or text me to keep in touch. For some reason, many people have a real aversion to using email and both of these methods tend to be point to point communications, rather than community/group based. So for the foreseeable, Facebook remains a necessary evil. In order to reduce my online footprint (or attempt to), I have created a new, replacement Facebook account which I have resolved to use solely for the purposes outlined above and the deletion of the old will take with it old comments, posts, superfluous groups and pages. 

I’m not particularly looking to reduce my Facebook friendships so welcome adds from friends of the old account. I do aim to use it less going forward but ironically I’ll have to use it more for a little while whilst I administer setting up the new account and eventually ditch the old.

As always thanks for reading and for your own sanity, I urge you to please watch the interview. you’ll find yourself nodding in embarrassed agreement as Jaron explains just how we have all been played by this system.

Be kind to each other and don’t let the bastards grind you down!

By Idle Hands Posted in Blog

Jigsaw Culture – Gravity and Interview

I recently unearthed this video taken from the Musician’s Centre Battle of the Bands 2006. Jigsaw Culture performing Gravity followed by an interview. It was filmed by Komatoast Productions.

Until this weekend, it had never been seen by any of us as the DVD I originally received the footage on had never worked.

Although Jigsaw Culture was a very enjoyable and important chapter for me musically, the band didn’t stay together for much longer after this. We never managed to get the stability and momentum we needed. It was odd, it was fun and it was frustrating and it got a few things out of my system before going on to form a punk rock band.

2019 – a sum of parts

2019 has been a truly great year for me. I have been busier with music than I can ever remember and I am feeling more energised for it (although my ears are feeling a bit punished!).

As I alluded to in my summer blog entry, I am now in three full time bands (although from the way people ask me I’m sure they think it’s more!). I am having loads of fun with all of them and although I have been a part of some of them longer than others, I consider each of them with equal priority. There are no side-projects here, just projects.

Dawn of Elysium has been undergoing a much needed metamorphosis over the last year, resulting in us expanding our numbers from three to four and eventually to five. The band is sounding and feeling a lot more together than it has for a long time and we are all enjoying it immensely. I have written about this extensively in the latest Dawn of Elysium blog entry.

Crash Scene Flowers reached the end of its second year of existence in November, although the current line-up had only been together for a year in August. Creatively, it’s still a very young entity and as such, things are still taking some time to develop. This has been compounded at times by limited rehearsal time for various reasons. That being said, we have a number of original songs and have played live three times in 2019. We’ve got our first proper recording sessions booked for February 2020 and are rehearsing for that as and when time permits. I have some great ideas for the production and I’m really excited to get my teeth into it. It will be great to have something tangible on which to build the band. We are hoping to get out and play a bit more next year once the EP is finished.

In June, I was invited to join long-standing Bradford punk band Threshold Shift. The band has been in existence since 1988 in various guises and they last called it a day around 2012. We have all been friends for years and when they started talking about starting the band back up, I was part of the conversation. I replaced long standing veteran and local legend Phil Hey. He was obviously given first refusal to be a part of it as is only proper but given the success of his band Psychlona, he did not have the time to commit and so the invitation was duly extended my way. I honestly didn’t think I would be able to handle three bands, two can be more than enough at times but it has actually had the opposite effect and made me feel more invigorated. We have had so much fun playing together. At the moment, it is a case of working through their extensive back catalogue of material. We played ten songs in Scarborough in August and sixteen songs at a big hometown comeback gig at Bradford’s Underground in December. Further gigs are already being confirmed for next year and we have all decided it is something we want to continue with, not just playing the archive but writing and recording new material. I have made the existing material my own to a point as I was encouraged to do my own thing. It seems to have been well received so far and has been so much more fulfilling than learning songs as covers verbatim.

I am extremely lucky to be working with so many talented musicians. We have an awesome little family of bands and we are all really good mates.

Studio work has taken a bit of a back seat, given that I have been rehearsing up to three times a week and have played a number of gigs with all three bands but that will hopefully change as I work on the new Dawn of Elysium output and then the Crash Scene Flowers EP in the coming months.

Bradford By The Sea was a lot of fun back in August. I have recently been told that we might be able to make it happen again next year but more on that later.

Hope you all have a fantastic Christmas and all the best for 2020!

Divide and Conquer – the evolution of a song

In recent years, times have been increasingly trying in the UK with referenda and elections aplenty, each one being more divisive than the last. Social media has reached fever pitch with family and long standing friends falling out with each other in droves. The rhetoric is becoming increasingly unpleasant and as a nation, we seem to be tearing each other apart.

In 2009, I formed a band called Suicide By Cop, inspired by Peter Joseph’s Zeitgeist series of films. One of the first lyrics I penned was a song called “Divide and Conquer“. At the time, Islamophobia and racial hatred were rife with the rise of the EDL and overseas, the likes of ISIS were gaining strength (or at least news coverage of it was on the increase). I was becoming increasingly aware of the divisive nature of the mainstream media, always keeping us angry or scared about something. Nothing has improved much since. We just find different things to get angry and upset about. The advent of social media has only served to exacerbate the divisions.

I was immensely proud of the lyric even before it was put to music. The original version kind of just happened in a single rehearsal. The chord progression was written by Mick Dunn (he later told us it was heavily inspired by the song “Umbrella” by Rhianna – go figure!) and it came out as a kind of Floydian ballad when we’d finished with it. It was epic and powerful. When we recorded it at Voltage Studios, it was the first time I had seen Tim Walker enthuse about anything so much in years. So much so, he asked if he could play the guitar solo on it. Me not being a very confident soloist and him being a guitar whizz, it was a no brainer. He played the main part of it and I retained the second, less prominent part. He also did a really cool string quartet arrangement in part of it, which reminded me very much of “Eleanor Rigby”. We were very pleased indeed with the end result. It sounded nothing like our other material but remained a firm favourite.

Towards the end of 2010, Mick decided to leave the band and we went through the process of re-configuring our songs to compensate for the lack of keyboard. Divide and Conquer didn’t really work in its previous form so we decided to speed it up and go for a more tribal feel. I was never fully happy with it as it always felt a bit unfinished to my ears. The song had just two sections, which worked well as a spacey ballad as there was plenty to listen to but upon its transformation, nothing was added to it. I think I was the only one who felt that way at the time and so the motivation to further develop it was not collectively there. We stopped playing it shortly after that, reviving it only for our final two gigs. Although the tempo of the amended version was actually more akin to what I had imagined when I originally wrote the lyrics, it never quite made the grade. I had always had in mind that I might revisit the song at a later date.

Here’s a rough video of Suicide By Cop performing the song in 2011:

In the summer of 2018, long after Suicide By Cop had disbanded, I had my own home studio and decided to see where I could take the song. I presented it to my band-mates in Dawn of Elysium to see what they thought of it and they were very enthusiastic, so I set about recreating it from the ground up. I retained the chord progression, added a bit more lead guitar, a mid section and an intro as well as some supporting spoken word samples. I particularly love the intro. The spoken word section is lifted from a George Carlin show and it just fit the song so well, it could have been written for it. I sang the vocals myself since I was the only singer in the band at the time. It gave me the chance to phrase the lyrics in the way I had originally intended. We released it in the summer of 2018 and I was extremely pleased with the way it turned out.

At our last gig of 2018, we performed the song live with Kaz on vocal for the first time. She joined us on stage once more in February 2019 to sing it as a guest before joining the band as a full time member in the summer. The song had taken quite a journey from its original form to where it sits now. It has been a live staple over the last year and Kaz loves singing it.

Here is a video of her appearance with us back in February:

Although the song has stylistically changed over the years, its meaning still remains. I have been immensely proud to see people sharing links to it from time to time as social media gets evermore toxic. It seemed appropriate, as the UK faces yet another divisive election this week to look back on its journey.

Dawn of Elysium will be performing it as part of our set at the Big Bradford Food Bank Benefit Gig 2019 on Saturday of this week.

By Idle Hands Posted in Blog

The Apollo, Scarborough – a personal perspective

Anyone that has known me for any period of time will know that I have a real passion for music venues. I have been involved with a number of them over the years and have frequented many as a punter as well as in a band capacity. Every venue has its idiosyncrasies and foibles and obviously some are run better than others.

In my recent adventures, I have happened upon one in Scarborough. Scarborough is one of my favourite fairly local places and has been for many years, more so in recent times as I have made more and more new friends there and made the journey over there more frequently. The venue is called The Apollo. I first heard of it I think sometime last year. I don’t think it has been open as a venue all that long. I initially made contact with the (then) promoter enquiring about a gig for Dawn of Elysium. The person was very helpful and friendly and passionate about music and we were very quickly booked in as a support band. We hadn’t played in the town before so this seemed like a sensible move. It was all handled very professionally and it was a pleasure to deal with them.

Shortly after that, I was in Scarborough chatting to some friends who run a local goth night. They were canvassing the idea of running an all dayer at the Apollo and we were invited to play. This was great.

Around about this time, I was chatting with the venue promoter again, recommending Bradford bands. I half jokingly said “maybe I should do an all dayer of Bradford bands?”. Within minutes, they said “go for it” and a date was booked. This was all very exciting and I set about organising “Bradford By The Sea”.

In the intervening time, it became apparent that the venue was experiencing a few changes behind the scenes. From experience, this is quite normal for a relatively new venue but a main area of concern was that my point of contact was no longer working for them. There were various impassioned and disconcerting posts on social networking sites as both parties were adjusting to the changes. I remained completely impartial as to their internal affairs as it was none of my business. I was however concerned about the events in which I was to be involved.

I was given the name of the events manager Andy Turner whom I contacted straight away. Both he and the venue manager Julian were very helpful and reassured me that everything from their end was business as usual. Questions were answered promptly and my mind was put at ease straight away. On face value, the venue had continued to deal with everything in a very professional manner. Different point of contact but same positive attitude.

On the lunchtime of the first event, I arrived as close to the stated load-in time as possible and we were amongst the first there. Andy and I simultaneously introduced ourselves to each other, recognising our respective profile pictures. I immediately felt at home (an experience I have commonly felt in Scarborough) and all of the staff throughout the day from the management to the bar staff to the sound crew to the door staff were so welcoming and friendly. The day was a roaring success and I couldn’t wait to introduce the Bradford crew to the place.

Bradford By The Sea was similarly handled. I was in the “event promoter” chair for this one and so spent more time dealing with the staff in a professional capacity. In short, they really couldn’t do enough for us, they were all so helpful and supportive of our day. The previous weeks event shadowed it in terms of numbers but we held our own in wet sales.

I have kept in touch with Andy with a view to working with him again but I have also made some new friends in the venue staff. I am looking forward to my next trip through to see them, whenever that might be.

I have since read further online commentary highlighting different points of view surrounding the venue. From my personal experience and taking everything at face value, I do not identify with any of the comments I have read. I still endeavour to remain impartial as regards any differences between current and previous staff but I have a lot of time for the people I have spent time with at the venue in the last few weeks and it goes without saying that the Apollo as a venue and the people involved have my full support and they deserve yours too. They are very passionate people who have put a lot of effort into making the place happen. Running a venue can be very hard and at times a thankless task. I wish them all the very best.

Bands, get in touch with them if you want to play. They are very welcoming of all genres. The PA system and sound and lighting crew are fantastic.

Also, if you do read anything online or receive any messages about the venue which you are concerned about, then please contact them directly. They are very friendly and honest and will be happy to answer your questions. Of course this goes for any venue.

Long live live music!

By Idle Hands Posted in Blog

2019 – burning bright

This year so far has seen a veritable flurry of activity.

The start of 2019 saw Dawn of Elysium release its second album “Raven”, expand from a 3-piece to a 4-piece and play a kick-ass launch party at February’s Carpe Noctum, where we rather nervously followed the formidable Sometime The Wolf. It was an awesome night and great to play to a reasonably full house. The album has been well received and I am immensely proud of what we have achieved with it. It’s a much shorter work than 2016’s Time and Tide but much more complex in a few ways, with many layers. A lot of work and energy has been put into it and its completion saw me somewhat spent.

I’m not entirely sure how we are going to follow it up just yet. The beginnings of writing sessions with our new guitarist Tim Furze have shown some promise. However, I am minded that we should not merely do “more of the same” and that somewhat of a paradigm shift in sound is required. I am sensing frustrating times ahead to some degree but we’ll get there I’m sure.

On the live front, it has been a different story. We played a mini tour over the spring bank holiday weekend, which saw us play 3 consecutive dates in 3 cities over 3 days. This was very exciting and great for us to be spreading our wings a little. Of the dates we have booked in 2019, there are no plans as yet to play in our home city of Bradford. This may change but at present, we feel it is more fulfilling for us to play in different places. So far this year, we have played Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester and our next one is in Scarborough.

Crash Scene Flowers has continued to roll along, jamming and writing. We have become a very tight knit unit both creatively and personally. I have not had as many laughs in a band in years. We gel so well together, it’s unreal. Our set is expanding bit by bit and we managed to play at one of The Underground open-mic nights a couple of weeks ago. At just six songs, we still need a little more material before we can gig proper but we’re not so far off. The set was well received and we managed to get some footage. The audio was recorded by Dave Godby, multi-tracked from the desk and so I took it home and produced/mixed it. I was very pleased with the results. Video was filmed by Phil Pollard using a mobile phone. At least it’s the beginnings of us getting out of the rehearsal room. We have more gigs coming up over the August bank holiday weekend, where we play Scarborough and Idlefest. I am still itching to get into the studio and do some recording proper. We’re just waiting until the timing is right for us all.

Crash Scene Flowers – Voight Kampff recorded live at The Underground 06-06-19

Regarding Scarborough, it deserves more of a mention. Over the last 3 years or so, Emma and I have made quite a few new friends in Scarborough and have come to know the local scene to some degree. We get over there whenever we can, although visits seem short and few. Seeking a gig over that way, I got in touch with one of the main music venues “The Apollo” and booked Dawn of Elysium in for a support slot in October. However, this was expanded on and we were then invited to play at a goth all-dayer on 17th August called “Shadow Of The Castle“. Since this, I have been in touch with the promoters at The Apollo fairly frequently online and in conversation I happened to joke that with all of the Bradford bands I was recommending, I could probably fill an all day event with some great bands. She told me to go for it and thus the idea for “Bradford By The Sea” was born. After the 2016 gig at the 1in12, I really didn’t want to do any more events. However, this was a chance to take some great Bradford talent and put it in another town and the team at The Apollo had been lovely. It is at the time of writing a work in progress but there are a good half dozen acts confirmed with a good mix of sounds. More news on this as it unfolds but it is scheduled to take place on Saturday 24th August. Interest has been high and I suspect there will be quite a few making the journey over to the coast for this one. I have personally felt a connection with Scarborough for many years and always look forward to returning. The people are amazing and we always have a whale of a time.

In addition to Dawn of Elysium and Crash Scene Flowers, I have recently joined Bradford punk legends Threshold Shift. These guys have been together on and off with various line-ups since 1988 and have been very dear friends of mine for the last decade or so. It’s early days and we’ve just had the one session so far but it gelled straight away and we got a good half dozen numbers together. We are gonna get together as and when we can and hope to be playing reasonably soon. It was great to be playing a bit of punk rock again and look forward to rocking it live.

All of the above has seen me very busy and studio projects take a bit of a back seat. I love studio work when the inspiration takes me but sometimes, it is not as forthcoming. It’s exacerbated by the fact that my day job involves a lot of close computer work and sometimes my eyes and head are done in after the working day. There are a few things I need to catch up on regarding studio work, comprising projects for/with friends, solo work, developing ideas for Dawn of Elysium and finishing off the editing and mixing of the Crash Scene Flowers live footage. My head just hasn’t been in the game for a little while and the live work has been a welcome antidote. I am hoping to redress this balance in the coming weeks and it has been plaguing me that I have been letting people down, especially one person in particular for whom I care deeply and is having a rough time of it of late. As busy as I am, I don’t forget.

Of course, none of the above could happen without good work and home life and I am very happy to say that both are fantastic. I am loving my job immensely and house and home are wonderful. I have some beautiful friends and family around me and life is very positive right now 🙂

Hope you are all enjoying the summer!

By Idle Hands Posted in Blog

2018 – a fertile affair

We’re 14 days into 2019. After a heavy going festive period, both for partying and feeling sub par due to recovery and head cold, I have just this last week been getting back into the swing of things.

2018 was a great year in all which saw Dawn of Elysium enter its sixth year of existence. Our live calendar improved significantly on the previous year, taking in 11 gigs. Most were in Bradford and Leeds but we managed our York debut and also had a great night in Keighley. Hopefully we can improve on this in the coming year and get a bit further afield. It’s always been our aim to get about more and indeed we have had things arranged in the past which have often not worked out for whatever reason. Still, we shall persist. In the summer, I got a new vehicle which is ideal for band activities so it would be nice to use it as such 😉

I’ve enjoyed the collection of material we’ve played as we’ve tried some new ones this time out. We’ve been working piecemeal on the follow up to 2016’s Time and Tide pretty much since the album was released and a collection of recordings had been almost finished for quite some time. I am happy to say that it is now complete and release is imminent. It will be nice to clear the decks and finally commit it to CD.

Last January, I founded Idle Hands Studio. It’s just a moniker I gave to my little project studio and an online platform from which to talk about my projects and technical interests.

The first real project I did was to complete the EP which we recorded when I was in Echofire. I have mentioned this a number of times over the last couple of years and wrote some liner notes to accompany the release, which I published in June of last year. These can be read here.

In September we released the Dawn of Elysium Divide and Conquer EP, which is essentially a small collection of alternate versions and covers of existing songs. The title track is one which I wrote for Suicide By Cop a decade ago and I had been meaning to record an alternative version for some time. More info on this and the other songs on the EP can be read here.

Last month I started some solo recording. It’s all very embryonic but I have a calling to do something of my own this year and I am very excited about it. What shape and how long it will take remains to be seen but I have a strong idea for my first song at least. It’s a sketch at the moment but now that the DOE album is finished I will be turning my attention to developing it further. Although I am happy with programmed drums for many things, I have been speaking with a drummer friend of mine about recording some live drums for this particular song. Not only does the style lend itself particularly well to it but his playing will fit perfectly. More news on this project when it starts to grow legs. Hopefully this will pave the way for more collaborations. I’m feeling more motivated than I have for quite some time.

The band we put together in September 2017 finally started gaining some traction. The original line-up ultimately didn’t work out as bassist Kenny decided last January that it wasn’t for him. This left us bass-less and in limbo for a couple of months but in some ways reiterated how much we wanted to do it as we stuck together. In April, we were joined by Chris Brooks, with whom I played in the Reeved days some 15 years previous. He hadn’t played for quite some time but fit in with us immediately. We named the band Crash Scene Flowers and it started to feel like a solid unit. This was further augmented in August when we were joined by guitarist Mick Barrett and thus became a 5-piece. Mick had actually been my replacement in Echofire but aside from that, we go back years. It was great to be finally playing alongside him. Despite rehearsal time not always being consistent or plentiful, we ploughed forward. The chemistry and creative energy has been excellent, not to mention the camaraderie. Although not having had sufficient material for a support slot proper, we managed to play a short set at the jam session in our local pub The Brewery Tap, Idle in November. It wasn’t much but it was a start. It was great to be back playing live with a rock band for the first time in almost 2 years. Much as I love DOE, it’s quite a different type of gig with a different vibe. Crash Scene Flowers is a very organic thing which I love and am looking forward to eventually committing the material to disk. However, I am really looking forward to doing it live.

I have played guitar now for almost 30 years. I’m not the most dexterous of players and my theoretical knowledge is rudimentary at best. I get by, playing mostly things which I create myself by ear and it brings me great fulfilment and enjoyment. I have held a keen interest for years in effects but have hitherto not paid as much attention to raw tones, the bread and butter sound which is affected by guitar, amp and overdrive/distortion stages. Until fairly recently, my guitars have been often cheap ones which feel reasonably comfortable to play and sound “right enough” and I adjusted whatever multi-fx unit I was using to compensate. This served my needs fairly well and I was quite happy with the sounds I achieved. A few years ago, I bought a Gibson Les Paul from a friend and I became very aware very quickly that it was better than anything I had played before in terms of both feel and sound and I was also becoming aware of the plethora of pedal and amp setups which many of my guitarist friends were using. Earlier this year, I embarked upon a little journey of my own to discover and understand tone to a greater degree than I had before. I set about putting together a pedal board, consisting of mostly analogue tools. I covered this in more detail on the Idle Hands blog. It has been quite an enlightening experience to finally gain an understanding of some of the more fundamental aspects of my chosen instrument.

All in all it has been an interesting and fulfilling year in many ways. My home life is wonderful. We’ve made a few home improvements and earlier in the year we got a little cat, which has been a little dream of mine for many years. She’s a mischievous but adorable little soul. The most awesome summer in living memory brought many barbecues and garden parties not to mention days out. 2019 already feels like it is set to follow suit. I am happier and more positive than I have been for a long time and loving life. Here’s to more exciting times ahead!

Summer 2018 – feeling hot hot hot!

Last year was a very eventful, chaotic and musically unproductive year in the main. This year is seeing some things come to some semblance of fruition.

Dawn of Elysium have spent the first half of the year playing some live dates after a lengthy period out of circulation and in need of a break from recording activities. It has been just the tonic for all of us and we have played what I would consider some of our finest performances to date. I really feel as if we are evolving as a band and have started turning heads who have hitherto been uninterested.

This gig season has held some especially memorable moments. Special mention goes to our March date in Keighley with Black Horse Fairy and Echofire. This was a personally very poignant night as not only did we share the bill with Echofire but Paul Gooding joined us on stage for Pictures of Matchstick Men. This was the first song his dad Steve taught him to play on the guitar when he was a small boy and we played it as a surprise for him. It was great to be sharing a stage with my old sparring partner and I for one would like to repeat this or do something else together at some point. What shape that might take is anybody’s guess.

We played the last one on 22nd June at The Primrose in Leeds. I am not sure what was going on that night but I have not enjoyed playing a gig that much for many years. It was one of those nights where everything just felt right.

We have a couple more dates in the calender but have tentatively returned to recording/writing mode. Since plans for the second album seemed to be taking longer than anticipated, our intention is to release an EP in the interim.

Regarding studio activities, the first few months of the year saw me make a final concerted push to finish the Echofire EP. It was an intense period as I was determined to put it to bed and get it sounding the best I could. I am very pleased indeed with the results. I released it on my own Bandcamp page as a free download. Echofire have their own page and release with a very different lineup and I wouldn’t presume to interfere with that.

The EP is my first full work under the new Idle Hands Studio moniker and after its completion, I needed to give my ears and head a break. In addition to this, the last few weeks has seen some particularly hot weather hit the UK and so the studio room has not been the most hospitable of places to spend a great deal of time.

Last September, I came to the decision that I’d like to set up a brand new rock band. Starting from scratch certainly doesn’t get any easier as you get older and even securing adequate rehearsal time can be problematic at times. However, on I ploughed and managed to get the first line-up together at the start of October. It was a promising start but as one might expect at these initial stages, not for everybody. After a couple of months, our line-up issues were resolved as we were joined by ex-Reeved bassist Chris Brooks. We named the band Crash Scene Flowers and have since been working on our initial songs and sound. The style I am playing is sort of a natural continuation of what I was doing with Echofire and Man Down but maybe a little more grungey.

This has been a very exciting breath of fresh air for me as I am working with people I have never worked with previously, namely singer Jamie (Jimmy Pop) Sullivan and a really talented drummer called Kyle Grundy. I always had a great relationship with Chris back in the Reeved days too. We are gelling nicely and getting used to each other’s way of working. There is also the possibility of us introducing a second guitar into the mix, taking us to a 5-piece but at the time of writing has yet to be tried. My goal for the band is to have something recorded and to have played some form of gig before the year is out, with a view to getting out more next year. I have played just two non-DOE gigs in the last three years, one each with Echofire and Man Down respectively, therefore I am probably more determined than ever that this progresses beyond the rehearsal room walls.

Stay moist!

Echofire – Run EP — Idle Hands


This is a project I have been working on for some time, as and when time or inspiration has allowed. Echofire is a band I was in a couple of years ago and this EP is something we started but never finished in the time I was in the band. Recorded and engineered by Tim […]

via Echofire – Run EP — Idle Hands

By Idle Hands Posted in Blog

Ten albums that changed my life

So this one has been doing the rounds on social media so I thought I’d do it justice by writing a blog article. The remit is “Ten albums which changed my life”. It differs slightly from what would be my top ten favourite albums I guess but not significantly so. It’s a mixed bag if nothing else. I wrote the first of what was intended to be a series of articles a couple of years ago entitled “My life in music Part 1 (1980-1991)” from which this article borrows heavily in parts.

My awareness of music began at an early age. My dad played a huge part in this, regularly putting his huge Wharfedale cans on my head as a small child. Each speaker was probably as big as my head. It was the late 1970s and it was mostly the pop music of the day but one artist of significance was Stevie Wonder. He was a family favourite and still is at least between my Uncle and me. These were my very early formative years and Stevie has been with me for all of my life. It’s difficult for me to pin down a single album of his as they were all brilliant. Although not his greatest work, I am going to go for “Hotter Than July” as my first choice. The 1970s were Stevie’s decade and everything he touched turned to gold, although I needed to be a bit older to have an awareness of this. Hotter Than July was released in 1980 and was his last great record and since I have a memory of it being played when it was new, I have decided to opt for this one as one which changed my life. I was five years old. The ballad “Lately” has been a lifelong favourite and one which I often like to attempt on karaoke. The album also spawned the hit singles “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” and “Happy Birthday”. This was years before I commenced my journey into rock music and my appreciation for Stevie Wonder has been the subject of some surprise for people over the years, especially through the “long hair and biker jacket” years. Whilst Hotter Than July is a great album, my most favourite era of Stevie Wonder is his trilogy of albums “Talking Book”, “Innvervisions” and “Fulfillingness First Finale” released 1972-1974. Quite simply, the man is a musical god and his music will stay with me whilst ever there is breath in my body.

I grew up listening mainly to pop music throughout most of the 1980s. The radio was always on at home and my dad always liked to watch Top of the Pops. It was a fantastic era for music and even the most commercial hit singles were well crafted. Long before the era of manufactured bilge, artists had to actually write their own material and do it well to get anywhere. One album which sticks out especially is Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” from 1984. Trevor Horn’s production work was legendary (in fact it was arguably more his album than the band’s) and the songs were brilliantly crafted. It was quite progressive in nature, featuring long form songs and remixes of the popular hit singles “Two Tribes” and “Relax” as well as a kick-ass version of Springsteen’s “Born To Run”. It has been some years since I listened to this record and writing this piece has inspired me to buy it again on CD.

My first favourite rock band and inspiration to start playing guitar was definitely Dire Straits. I can’t recall exactly how I came to originally discover them but I remember being 13 years old and immediately obsessing over them. I had all of their albums on cassette and played them all on constant rotation. The first one I bought was the compilation album “Money For Nothing” and so I guess I should say this is the one which changed my life. However, the Straits album I keep going back to is their eponymous 1978 debut. I guess because it’s probably a bit more miserable than the rest of them but the production is just sublime. In contrast to the huge epic production of Welcome to the Pleasuredome, it’s simple back to basics rock. Very carefully crafted and considered guitar tones just melt through you, complemented by Mark Knopfler’s evocative semi spoken vocal. “Sultans of Swing” was the hit of course but this album must be heard in its entirety and on vinyl.

In my mid-teens, many of my school friends were getting into the heavy metal of the day. It was the late 1980s and Iron Maiden, Guns n Roses and Metallica were the sounds of the day. Although I was to later catch up with them, I was on my own journey of musical discovery. My dad’s friend Paul had recommended an album to him which was to change my life forever. That album was “Trespass”, the 1970 album from Genesis. I fell in love with the band in a huge way and later bought their entire back catalogue, along with various related solo releases. It’s a significant body of work. Although not an obvious choice for fans of the band and progressive rock, Trespass was my first love and it remains to this day my favourite album of all time by any artist and unsurprisingly Genesis remain my favourite band of all time. Every track on Trespass is a masterpiece. The textures and soundscapes are beautiful from organic acoustic guitars to heavier rock passages and Hammond organ. Peter Gabriel’s amazing voice sits wonderfully in the mix taking you on a journey. From the opening line of “Looking for Someone” I was hooked. To the average Joe, the name Genesis tends to be synonymous with Phil Collins, yet he was not to join the band until the album after this and this was sadly their last with creative genius Anthony Phillips. I really can’t recommend the band enough. Every album has some absolute gems on. Fans of heavier music tend to favour the Peter Gabriel era which was pre-1975, up to and including “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” but I love all eras of the band. Genesis started my obsession with progressive rock, taking in music from Yes, King Crimson, Van Der Graaf Generator/Peter Hammill, Marillion and later Pink Floyd which leads me nicely on to my next choice.

I had not really paid any proper attention to Pink Floyd until around 1994. I was a regular in the Mannville Arms pub in Bradford and the legendary jukebox contained “Wish You Were Here” and their new release “The Division Bell”. I remember the first time I heard “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and I was blown away. I proceeded to regularly invest many pound coins in putting the albums on constant circulation in the pub.
For me, it’s difficult to pick between the two as to which one changed my life but The Division Bell has endured as my absolute favourite Pink Floyd album. Often derided by Floyd heads, I think it is their best work. Although I loved their earlier work with Waters, by the time they were doing the likes of “The Wall” and “The Final Cut”, the band was losing itself in Waters’ ego. “Animals” was their last great album with him. After his departure, it took the band quite some time to find its magic again with David Gilmour at the helm. “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” had some great moments but The Division Bell was on the money. Sadly it was to be their last proper album. I never tire of listening to it and watching David Gilmour play “High Hopes” live a couple of years ago reduced me to tears. Quite simply magnificent.

Throughout my life I have always been a huge fan of moody and atmospheric music and so discovering Fields of The Nephilim felt like all my Christmases had come at once. “The Nephilim” was my gateway album to goth. It was 1991 and my friend Adam introduced me to this music. His older sisters had been goths throughout the 1980s and he was exposed to it first hand. I promptly went out and bought everything I could find by the likes of The Sisters of Mercy, Fields of the Nephilim and The Mission. I transferred “The Nephilim” and “Dawnrazor” onto a cassette, one album each side and it lived in my Walkman most of the time. There were never many of us who were into goth in our circle of friends and I guess in Bradford at least this largely remains the situation. My attention drifted onto other musics over the years and it wasn’t until much later in life that I rekindled my love for goth and formed a band of my own. It was really a toss-up between this album and “First and Last and Always” by The Sisters of Mercy and were I not limited to 10 albums, then both would surely be included. They both changed my life at around about the same time and in the same way.

Like many of my peers in the late 80s/early 90s I started listening to heavy metal. It took me a little while as I didn’t take to it at first but I eventually got into it at the age of 16/17, which is around about the same time I started going to the plethora of rock/alt pubs and clubs we had in our city. I guess my gateway album to metal had to be Metallica’s “…And Justice For All”, which I discovered just before the “Black” album was released. Of course the Black album became ubiquitous for many years and there are probably thousands of bands out there across the world who are playing a cover of “Enter Sandman” at any given time. I preferred the harder sound and progressive nature of Justice. I remember regularly rocking out to “Harvester of Sorrow”, “One” and “Dyers Eve” on the dancefloor of Bradford Rio’s on a Friday night. Like the obsessed music fan I was, I promptly went out and bought the back catalogue of not only Metallica but the “big four” as well as many many other bands. Out of the thrash bands, Slayer were my favourites with special mention to “Seasons in the Abyss” which is one of the few metal albums that I still listen to from time to time. That’s not to say I don’t still like metal and I particularly enjoy it live. Metal has introduced me to lots of my friends over the years and it’s a brotherhood that I still feel very much a part of even though I’m more on the periphery these days.

My love of goth and my love of metal were both serenaded in about 1993/4 when I discovered the likes of Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and Anathema. They were the big three of the underground in the early to mid 90s and although I kind of stopped following their work in subsequent years, those early albums remain a big influence on me to this day. It is so difficult to pick one album from this era but Paradise Lost’s “Shades of God” was the first one I discovered. Their follow-up “Icon” was a Mannville jukebox favourite as was My Dying Bride’s “Turn Loose The Swans”. Special mention goes to My Dying Bride’s “The Angel and the Dark River” who’s opening epic track “The Cry of Mankind” was a firm favourite. I happened upon a bunch of guys one night who had been trying to get a band together for some time to play music of this style and I immediately got excited. They needed a bassist. I owned a bass. I ended up becoming the guitarist. I loved playing in Dark Embrace and my thoughts and playing often hark back to those days. 1994-1996 was an awesome time to be in Bradford and a great time for underground metal. It essentially came in three flavours, death, doom and black and any mixture of therein. My standout memory from this time was playing with Solstice and Anathema at Rio’s. It was an awesome night. We ended up taking the Anathema lads round the corner to the Underworld club for a late pint after Rio’s closed. We had to ask the tour manager’s permission and he said “don’t be too late, they have to play London tomorrow”. I think we ended up getting trashed and leaving them in there at about 4am. Great days indeed!

Many of my musical influences ran in parallel and round about the same time as I got into metal, I also liked indie. The standout album for me was The Stone Roses eponymous release. Where the metal brought dark and shade, the Roses brought light and I enjoyed many a night in Tumblers nightclub dancing away to the likes of The Stone Roses, Suede, Blur, The Smiths, The Wedding Present, Carter USM, PWEI, Happy Mondays and many more. Special mention goes to The Smiths “The Queen is Dead” which remains one of my all time favourite albums and one of those rare cases of every track being blindingly good. Much of this was before Oasis emerged onto the scene who I never really got into that much. They were a sort of poor man’s Roses in many ways with the personality of a road accident.

I have always had an appreciation of punk but it wasn’t really until about 2000 that it came to the fore. The musical style changed my life but it’s difficult to pin it down to a single album but for me I think it has to be The Adverts “Crossing The Red Sea”. It has a perfect mixture of melody, power and creativity whilst keeping it simple. TV Smith has a great voice which reminds me of Peter Hammill at times. I have an appreciation of punk in all its forms and I loved playing it in my band Wild Trash. I am more into the first wave, more melodic stuff than the hardcore stuff. Other notable albums are of course The Damned’s “Damned Damned Damned”, The Ruts “Grin & Bear It” and Adam and the Ants “Dirk Wears White Socks” as well as the most obvious example of “Never Mind the Bollocks, here’s the Sex Pistols”. Being a part of the punk scene was an amazing time and it’s something I intend to do more of in the future.

Bassist required for original alt rock band

Bass guitar player required for new and as yet unnamed original material alternative rock band.

We rehearse at Voltage Studios, Bradford on a nominally weekly basis.

We have a small number of songs so far, taking in influences from Rolling Stones, Smashing Pumpkins and Dinosaur Jr amongst others. We have a very wide range of influences between us and are still in the process of finding our sound. This is the ideal opportunity for someone who is itching to be a part of a new band, creating some original music.

Own gear essential, own transport preferred. Age not an issue. The rest of us are in our 30s and 40s but we’re not fussed whether you’re 20 or 60 as long as you are keen and can play.

If you feel like this is the gig for you, then please get in touch at one of the addresses below. We are very keen to get cracking!

Please help us by re-tweeting or sharing this message with anyone you feel may be interested.


By Idle Hands Posted in Blog

The work of Idle Hands

After some consideration, I have decided to create a new blog and Twitter account specifically to document my studio activities, essentially treating it as an entity in its own right. It’s early days yet with little content but I aim to expand as I go. It will be very Dawn of Elysium-centric for a while as the album is my main project but I will be doing more different things as time goes by. I have named it Idle Hands. Feel free to read/follow as you wish.

Web – http://idle-hands-studio.co.uk
Twitter – http://twitter.com/IdleHandsBD10

By Idle Hands Posted in Blog

2017 – Order through chaos

This year has been about pretty fundamental life changes. All of them good and most of them hard work. I didn’t realise that settling down could be so chaotic!

We have relocated home twice this year. We made the move initially from the city centre to the area of Idle where we had a fairly troublesome 6 month tenancy. The owner of the property had some considerable problems which affected us directly and quite profoundly. It was a disappointing experience overall because we saw ourselves staying there for much longer but it simply didn’t work out in the end.

In the summertime, we found ourselves moving once again, this time on a much more permanent basis. Our new place is lovely and not too far away from Idle. Minor teething troubles notwithstanding, it has been relatively stress-free since we moved in. Moving home is fairly traumatic as it is and after having done it twice in such a short space of time, it’s not something I wish to repeat.

We barely had chance to catch a breath when in late summer, Emma and I got married. Of course us being us, we simply had to do it in Las Vegas with an Elvis impersonator. It was an amazing and full-on experience. The autumn was taken up with a couple of parties which we arranged in October and November respectively. It was so lovely to share our experience with so many family and friends, some of which we hadn’t caught up with for a while and some who had travelled some distance to be with us.

Since then, the chaos of wedding and parties turned to the chaos of Christmas. Not having much chance to plan, it has felt a bit more rushed than usual. We are looking forward to our first married Christmas together in our new home.

So amongst all of the above, music has been much less prevalent. I started the year with Man Down but ultimately this did not work out, which I have talked about in other blog entries. Looking back, Man Down was a short flash of something which seemed to appear very quickly then disappear just as quickly. We recorded and released the Christmas song “Man Down the Chimney” around this time last year and had one fantastic gig but despite having some strong material, the project didn’t work out as we had hoped. It lasted about a year all told, starting in May 2016 and after I left in April 2017, it lasted another month or so before the remaining members went on to do other things. If truth be told though, the bottom really fell out of it in the new year. I still have all the rehearsal recordings and there’s some great material so perhaps we can do some proper studio recordings at some point. Mikey has expressed an interest for the two of us to work together again and I have missed him dearly since the band, so we’ll see what time will permit.

Dawn of Elysium has still ploughed along in the background. We played just 3 gigs this year and released a single in April. Our profile has been lower for a while as we’ve been trying to write and record new material. Given the upheaval described above, this has not been easy. Of course Emma and I are in the band together so music has not always taken priority. We were hoping to release a second album or at least an EP this year but it just hasn’t transpired. Don’t get me wrong though, there’s some fantastic material being developed, which may take listeners of our music by surprise. However, there is much work to be done before it’s a releasable entity. I think it is ultimately time to take a step back and give it some space. You can lose yourself in the writing and recording process at times and I think we have all missed actually playing our songs and doing gigs. So, in 2018 we have decided to do just that. We’ve a couple in the pipeline already and are on the lookout for more opportunities to play.

The frustration of Man Down not working out and lack of live activity led me to start looking for a brand new band in September. My intention was to steadily get something together with a view to starting in the new year. As it happened, it came together quite quickly and we kicked off in October. It’s still early days and we don’t yet have a name but ideas are flowing. Most of us had never worked together before and barely knew one another so we are still very much getting used to playing together. I suspect it will be a little while before we’re ready to get out there but we’re enthusiastic.

Since we moved into the new house, I have finally achieved a bit of a personal goal which was to set up my little home studio. When we lived in the apartment, there was never any space to set it up properly and there is only so much you can achieve with headphones. I began setting it up in the house in Idle but when it became apparent that this would be temporary, I was reticent about doing much with it in anticipation of packing it all up again. It’s only a small space but it’s reasonably comfortable and very usable. I have recorded and mixed bits and bats in there and I’m improving each time. There is a whole host of activities and projects I want to do. I have toyed with the idea of starting a new blog to describe the studio in more detail and document my progress, I just need to apply more focus, which is something I’m hoping 2018 will bring.

My immediate plan however is to enjoy Christmas in my new home with my new wife and look forward to a bit of relaxing winter sun in the new year as we take off for sunnier climes for a few days. Have a great Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Riding the cloud again

I have always been an over-thinker and over-worrier. I don’t know the root cause of it but it drives me insane at times, especially during the darkest days of the year. I guess some aspects of my childhood were not straightforward, particularly in my school days. I always think people think the worst of me or are mocking me (even some people whom I consider friends). Common-sense suggests that they are not but it’s difficult to focus on that when your head is in a dark cloud.

It’s a self perpetuating exercise to seek reassurance because I believe that comes across as needy, which is seen to be a socially negative trait and so the anxiety continues. Most of the time, it seems to make the most sense to simply say nothing. Although in contradiction to that, some might see me as emotionally expressive anyway. Believe me, there is a lot which I keep to myself.

I suppose being creative exacerbates this, where often work goes ignored or uncommented on. That’s just the way it is, the nature of the beast. Although music is something which should be a personal expression done for ones self, feedback, be it positive or negative is not only reassuring but very useful. You know where you stand to some degree. Absence of feedback, especially from those who’s opinions you value the most contributes to the crushing self-doubt, which most musicians or artists will recognise. It’s not that one seeks approval so much as seeks a frame of reference from which to move forward. Silence and indifference are so much more a cause of anxiety than anything negative and because I consider music to be an extension of the self, it feels to me like being physically ignored at times. It’s never been about recognition or popularity, it’s more about connection or lack of.

As I said though, superficially it’s the nature of the beast when being part of something musical and will always be thus. I just keep on keeping on, doing what I believe in and for those kind enough to take the time to connect, I am truly appreciative. As for these low ebbs, I just sit tight and ride the cloud.

10 years on – the more things change, the more things stay the same

Ten years ago, I once again started frequenting an old haunt of mine called The Mannville Arms. It was called The Head at the time and had been subjected to a great many changes since The Mannville of old had closed in 1995. Located just across the road from Bradford College, it was very much a student pub with a student vibe. It hadn’t hosted anything particularly noteworthy until my friend Tom started there, apart from some DJ nights with Steve, the manager at the time. There was a general feeling that a change was going to come. Mick Dunn was working the bar and he decided, in conjunction with his brother Billy to buy the lease on the place with a view to restoring the pub’s name and vibe. Tom booked the bands and I jumped onboard as a DJ, primarily doing monthly nights but also the odd additional session. I’d been a DJ since 1996 at the Smithy and Empress pubs.

The more I used the place, the more I got involved. It was very infectious. It had always been my favourite pub of old and it was amazing to see the resurrection unfold. I eventually became ents officer for the place, overseeing the entire roster after Tom left and loads of people got involved in the burgeoning scene. At one point, there was some form of entertainment on every single night of the week, be it live music or DJs and punters flooded in.

It was awesome. There was also a real sense of renaissance in the Bradford music scene at large as more and more places turned their attention more to live music and DJ nights. We tried to establish a collective called the BMC (Bradford Music Collective) to attempt to collaborate and cross promote. This worked to varying degrees and most folks were very helpful towards each other. However, despite pleasantries, there was often an ever so slight underlying air of territorialism as quite understandably, everyone wanted to make sure they had their fair share of punters. There were only so many people to go around after all and bills had to be paid. It’s this territorialism which has plagued Bradford over the years, sometimes more than others, which any landlord or manager of one of the city’s venues, past or present will testify. It can be a tough and at times political game.

It gave me many a sleepless night and caused a number of mini-breakdowns as well as self-doubt and doubt in the trust of others. Friendships were tested as I got too close to what I was doing and I became defensive in the face of criticism. Tensions were high.

After the closure of the Mannville in November 2009, over the course of the next 7 or so years, I was to be involved in other venues, each time running myself ragged. I stepped down from regular involvement in 2014 and organised my final event at the beginning of 2016. By this time, the landscape had changed considerably. Old places had closed, making way for new places and new faces. Things seemed on the surface to be very convivial.

After 20 years of being involved in Bradford music scene events in some capacity, I did my last DJ gig on the New Year’s Eve of 2016. My lifestyle was changing. I was ready for the next phase of my life which involved moving away from the city centre and settling down a bit. I’ve still had my bands and I will always be involved in creating and playing music but the events game is not for me anymore.

So far in 2017, I have relocated home twice and my trips into town have been sparse. However, I have kept in touch with people and keep my ear to the ground as much as I can. I sense that between some parties, the politics is still ever present and with it the ill-feeling, mistrust and territorialism which have for years plagued Bradford. I have no reason to not remain neutral and I do hope that differences can be rectified for the sake of the customers above all else. When I was in the thick of it, we were stuck in the middle of a major conflict between venues. It was all very uncomfortable. The punters voted with their feet, ultimately away from the city centre and everybody lost out. The people who learned from that lesson are all now out of business or have moved away and it took a while for things to improve again. It would be a real shame to see things deteriorate again. The traits I recognise from myself of that era, I have noticed in others in more recent times. For those still involved, I would urge you to take a step back from it once in a while, settle your differences, try and cultivate a culture of support and trust and above all else, be positive. People really dig that!