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Blog Archive: December 2017

The Lights Of London
On Wednesday evening I met The Baubles Of My Tree in London's fashionable Covent Garden area of London for a new Christmas Tradition: A Walk Around The Christmas Lights!

This had been the aforesaid Presents In My Sock's idea, but it had been left to me to work out our ROUTE, which went RATHER well if I do say so myself as shouldn't. We first popped into a PUB for a reassuring DRINK, gazing in awe at the HUGE tree in Covent Garden itself. COR it was good, it was SO BIG that the wooden plant pot it sat in was about EIGHT FOOT TALL! They'd made a lovely job of decorating it too, we were IMPRESSED.

After our beers we wandered round to Trafalgar Square, feeling VERY Christmassy with all the twinkly lights and people merrying around. That bit of London feels dead Christmassy for about six months of the year anyway, but was even more so here in Christmas Actual!

When we got to Trafalgar Square there was a ginormous CHOIR singing Christmas Songs (they were singing along to a tape tho, which was a bit rum) next to The Big Tree From Norway which everyone learns about on Blue Peter. The tree itself was jolly good, but the decorations were a bit rubbish, especially compared to the Covent Garden one. It looked like someone had just attached eight strips of fairy lights to the top and dangled them down in straight lines down the sides. We agreed this must be due to Brexit.

Next we stomped around to Regent Street, which in contrast looked INCREDIBLE. When we went to see the Lumiere Lights a while ago there had been giant FLOATY FISH and ANGELS down the street, and it looked as if they had taken inspiration from that, as there were huge ANGELS all the way along with flapping wings. It was lovely, also approx 1,000,000 times nicer than last Christmas when they had Disney Adverts all the way along.

Being on Regent Street meant we had to go to Tibits for tea, which was GRATE, and then on the way home we stood at the corner of Oxford Street looking at the lights there too. These were done like giant advent calendars, which looked FAB. It was all dead good, in fact, with only the Big Tree in Trafalgar Square anything other than ACE. This WALK OF LIGHT was a new tradition, but I feel it will be a long lasting one!

posted 22/12/2017 by MJ Hibbett
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Storm House Sequel
Yesterday found me celebrating a MOMENTOUS MOMENT in CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE, for LO! I finished the first draft of "The Utopians" AKA the sequel to Storm House!

It has taken me two months of an hour or two's writing a day to get to this point, which may not sound like a lot but certainly FELT like it! Those two months were just for the "writing up" of the book, as I'd spent approx 8 months before that working on the PLOT OUTLINE. This was something I learnt to do on my MA, working under the MENTORSHIP of Mr A Cartmel. He was intent on getting the actual story worked out, at some great length, before he'd agree to let me start the WRITING, which turned out to be absolutely brilliant advice. It made working out the overall plot MUCH easier, as it's PEASY to move whole chunks of story around at that point, and you can clearly see which bits aren't working. Best of all it meant that when I did the first proper draft I didn't need to worry about what was happening next, and could just enjoy WRITING it and putting loads of GAGS in!

It's been lovely spending fictional time with the Storm House team again, they are a LOVELY bunch of characters who always seem happy to YACK AWAY to each other. Also, for the last book I was adapting it all from a screenplay, but this time it was ALL NEW, so I could go all over the shop and do all KINDS of KRAZY STUFF, and I think I pretty much did!

The plan now is to leave it alone for at least a month, so that when I go back for the second draft it'll feel like a SURPRISE. Hopefully most of the surprises will be GOOD ones - I do enjoy a good laugh at my own jokes, and I'm pretty sure I'll have forgotten them by February - but there'll also be the long slog of getting my enormous paragraphs of waffle into something that makes sense. I'm quite nervous about whether it'll be any GOOD, but also quite excited in case it iS!

All being well "Storm House: The Utopians" will be out in the summer, around the same time of year as the first one was out, but you can rest assured that I will not keep quiet about it when it's ready!

posted 21/12/2017 by MJ Hibbett
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I Have Seen Star Wars And Have Opinions
I've spent the past few days nervously NOT looking at anything on the internet that had the word "Star Wars" anywhere near it, as I was determined to go in SPOILER FREE. I did see a couple of mentions of it being "surprising" and "not what you expected", but was doing quite well until Mr FA Machine emailed The Band to see who wanted to talk about it. I didn't want to miss out on BAND CHAT, and was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to hold out for much longer without gaining Unwanted Knowledge, so yesterday I booked the afternoon off and headed down to the Odeon on Tottenham Court Road to see it.

For those who have as yet remained unspoiled, there now follows a picture of The Validators to give you time to look away!

The Odeon Tottenham Court Road is not what you'd call a Good Cinema by any stretch of the imagination - it's tiny, it's cold, and it's not exactly PLUSH - but I do have a soft spot for it because it's where I've seen MOST of the Superhero and Sci-fi films that have come out since I've lived in That London. It's been handy for my WORK for most of the time, which means I've been able to go at non-peak times and enjoy it in aN uncrowded room in the company of my peers i.e. other middle-aged IT types. This was VERY MUCH the audience when I arrived early for the 2pm showing yesterday, and we all enjoyed the same BITS together with Light Chuckles. It was lovely!

The film itself was GRATE. My only slight disappointment was that it wasn't as Different and Groundbreaking as I'd been led to believe, although that did mean I spent the whole film CONVINCED that ANY of the characters could die AT ANY MOMENT. This made the bit with Finn and The Giant Space Cannon VERY TENSE INDEED for me!

My favourite bits were a) anything with Rose in it (she is THE BEST) and b) the whole story of Rey's parents. MAN ALIVE but I was pleased about that - I HATE it in fantasy/sci-fi when characters are FORETOLD DESTINIES and SECRET PARENTS and INHERITED POWERS. It is an entire narrative which says that the only worth these characters, and by extension ANY of us, have is nothing to do with our own actions, but instead comes SOLELY through our parentage. It is basically a TORY version of heroism and it WINDS ME UP NO END! Having a character find out that her parents were nobody famous, and that her destiny is HER OWN is a fantastic message to the 99.9999% of people in the Universe who do NOT have Space Warriors or BLOODY WIZARDS for parents. More of this sort of thing please!

Other things I loved were Luke Skywalker's last words, every time that Adrian Edmonson and ESPECIALLY Domhnall Gleeson were on screen (the "can you hear me?" bit was MEGA BRILL), all of the JOKES (so many jokes!), and the way the film goes "Yes, these PORGS are LUDICROUSLY cute. We know it, you know it, let's ENJOY it!" Oh, and also Finn getting to kill his Evil Line Manager. HOORAH!

In fact, I think I'm enjoying it now, the next day, even more than I did at the time. This is very handy because, as is the way of my people, I will almost definitely be watching it MANY MORE TIMES!

posted 19/12/2017 by MJ Hibbett
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Very Festive
On Sunday afternoon The Lights On My Tree and I headed over to Leytonstone for our traditional attendance at the St John's Church Carol Service with our pal Ms H Arnold. It was a right grim and wet night out, but once inside it was warm, noisy, and EXTREMELY festive.

I love this Carol Service, it fits in exactly with my idea of what Christmas, and indeed our GRATE NATION, should really be i.e. a mish mash of hundreds of years of different ideas, full of all kinds of people, churned up with deranged selection box of odd traditions which no-one's quite sure how they started, and held together with goodwill and sticky tape. THUS, alongside the traditional prayers and readings there was a children's percussion EXPLOSION (it made The Music Of The Future sound like a FLUTE CONCERTO), a ROCK BAND, a BRASS SECTION, some extremely glorious choral singing, the Nativity as told by a children's TV presenter, the vicar getting the words wrong, and of course the lighting of the Christmas Tree followed by the traditional response by the congregation of "OOOooooOOOOOO!!!!"

It was bloody lovely and, as ever, suddenly MOVING at various expected and unexpected junctures. I always get a lump in my throat when we get to "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" as it reminds me of my Nan coming to see my school nativity play when I was in Junior School, but there were many other MOMENTS dotted around when LO! the spirit of Christmas did o'er shadow me. The big one this time was when the choir stood in the aisle on their way out and sang the last verse of the final carol with the organ, brass section AND the band all blasting out. It sounded SO ENORMOUS I had to stop singing to have a sniffle!

After all that our traditional trip to the Red Lion over the road was much needed, and on this occasion it was augmented by the presence of erstwhile VOON iconoclast Dr N Brown. I haven't seen him for AGES so we had a good old chat about Diverse Topics and it ended up turning into a little bit of a session, ending with the traditional acknowledgement of a good time well had: "Shall we have a whisky?" The cry went up "YEAH!"

We had so much fun, in fact, that when we got home we decided to have a CHIPPY TEA, rather than struggle through attempts to COOK. It was a delightful end to a delightful evening, and we went to bed feeling DECIDEDLY festive!

(I didn't feel particularly festive when I woke up this morning, mind you, but then again what could be MORE Christmassy than a Seasonal Hangover?)

posted 18/12/2017 by MJ Hibbett
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They Did, They Did Rock Us
Last night The Audience In My Arena and I went to see QUEEN! Executive Summary: It was GRATE!

The gig was at our FAVOURITE big venue (i.e. the only one we ever go to), the O2 arena. It's dead good there - not only is it SUPER PEASY to get to from our house, it's also actually dead nice. It is VAST but feels quite cosy, the seats are comfy, the sound is good, and the bar is easily accessible. This is pretty much all I require from The Big Gig Venue Experience, and the O2 fulfills all criteria ADMIRABLY.

It was the aforesaid Kick Drum Of My Kit's idea to go, and indeed she PAID for the both of us, which was pretty flipping amazing. We'd checked stage times before going and arrived with about 20 minutes leeway... and then stood in a MASSIVE shuffling queue for 20 minutes. They were doing individual bag checks and metal detector walk throughs into the main arena, which, thinking about it, I guess is understandable, but did mean it took AGES to get through. Once we WERE inside I spotted two seats on the AISLE and RIGHT near the doors. "I wish those were our seats," I thought, and they TOTALLY WERE! Even better, the person in the seat next to us never showed up, so we not only had EASY ACCESS to bars and toilets, but also LEG ROOM! We even had time to go and get BEER before the ACTUAL start time - we were GIG WINNERS!

This actual gig itself was BRILLO. You know these Stadium Rock Shows that you read about? It was one of THOSE, done by MASTERS of the GENRE. There were LAZERS and SMOKE and EXPLOSIONS and SCREENS and a GIANT ROBOT and everything you could wish for. There was also a great deal of BUSINESS over the course of the two hours, including Adam Lambert riding a pink tricycle for "I Want To Ride My Bicycle", Brian May doing a BIT in the middle of the Arena with a Stereographic Selfie Stick, and Roger Taylor doing a DRUM SOLO FACEOFF with the percussionist (surprisingly there were only six of them onstage throughout - Queen, Adam Lambert, a bass player, percussionist and keyboard player). A small, teenage, voice within me said "This is decadent and ludicrous!" while a much larger, WISER voice, replied "YES AND IT IS MAGIC!"

The SONGS were RUDDY FAB throughout - they started off with a couple of songs that I Did Not Know but then it was pretty much ALL THE HITS, ALL THE WAY, even including the DAFT ones like "Fat Bottomed Girls" and the ENORMO HITS like... well, do a list of all their many many many hits, they DID them! Adam Lambert was also GRATE - as The Members Of My Band pointed out, the fact that he was YOUNG and AMERICAN worked in his favour, as it meant he wasn't a direct replacement for F Mercury, and it was LOVELY seeing how pleased Roger Taylor and Brian May seemed to be to have him there. He's been with them for five years now, and I imagine it has given them a new lease of LIFE that they weren't expecting, it was all rather DELIGHTFUL.

They also handled the whole "Freddie Mercury Isn't Here" bit VERY nicely, with him popping up on video at the end of a Brian May solo version of "Love Of My Life" (which was PRETTY EMOTIONAL) and then during "Bohemian Rhapsody", but that was it. Adam Lambert did a speech near the start saying he wasn't replacing anybody, and after that it all felt RIGHT. The only thing that felt slightly odd to me was that at no point did anybody mention John Deacon. When he appeared in the video section for "Bohemian Rhapsody" it felt like everyone had forgotten he'd existed!

It was, as stated earlier, GRATE, and we emerged from the 120 minutes of ROCK feeling PRETTY JOLLY HAPPY in a crowd of people who had been ROUNDLY entertained. Well done, The Band Queen + Adam Lambert, well done!

posted 14/12/2017 by MJ Hibbett
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The Making Of
This year's Christmas song - Have A Drink With Us (Drink Doch Eine Met) - has been going down REALLY well with everyone so far, which is EXTREMELY gratifying. We knew that WE loved it, but it's great to know that other people do too!

Evidence of this enjoyment has come in various ways - views of the video, sales of the Christmas Selection Box album (i.e. in that there have BEEN some sales, most years there aren't!) etc - but most importantly in the form of EMAILS from people who've enjoyed it. This has been the best part of the whole process, to be honest, and again it's surprised me quite how many people have emailed, it's been lovely!

Amongst those emails there has been a recurring question, asking how we did the "music box" bit right at the very end. For those who have been following the SAGA of this recording, this was the secret item I was on about a couple of weeks ago which Frankie said would "increase the Christmassiness by 1100% GUARANTEED". I think we can all agree that it did EXACTLY THAT! It's actually a programmable music device that he got from Ikea (or Muji, or Habitat, or some other place that sells Christmas Novelty Items near the checkout tills, he can't remember) YEARS ago because it looked so COOL, and remembered when he was thinking about the session. When we were CHALLENGED by Cologne Popfest to learn the song they sent us a fanzine with the sheet music inside, so Frankie was able to use his MUSICAL BRANE to transpose the NOTES into DOTS which he punched out, individually, from the ribbon provided with the gizmo, and which he then sticky taped together to form the LOOP which you can see in the video.

It took him FLIPPING HOURS to do but, I reckon it was totally worth it! In the video it is played by Emma, but I think the one you can hear was played by Frankie - Emma played it on top of a box of mince pies, which I don't think had quite enough RESONANCE to provide the lovely noise you hear on the track!

This section was filmed during the recording session, and is the only part of the ORIGINAL video (which was deemed "too glum") to survive into the new improved SECOND video. In order to provide contrast, and to give an insight into the INTENSE SERIOUSNESS of our recording sessions, and also as a BIT OF FESTIVE FUN, I'll stick both versions below. I think you'll agree that we used the right one!

(original version)

(second, much better, version)

posted 12/12/2017 by MJ Hibbett
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Have A Drink With Us
The grand plan was to release our Christmas song today, on a Monday as is traditional, but then when we got up yesterday morning it was SNOWING! We've lived in The Olympic Village (I don't like to mention it, but yes, we do live there) for four years now and this was the first time we had had ACTUAL SNOW that settled, so it all felt VERY CHRISTMASSY INDEED.

"You should put the single out today!" said The Snowflakes In My Flurry.

"I'll ask The Validators" I replied, pretty sure that none of them would be awake at 9am on a Sunday. I mean, we're in a band, surely everyone had been up until 2am clubbing? I can only assume that they had all stayed up all night long partying hard and were still up, as by approx 9:15am everyone had replied to say that they ALSO felt VERY CHRISTMASSY and agreed that it was the right day to do.

And so it was that Have A Drink With Us (Drink Doch Eine Met) was UNLEASHED upon a waiting world, with a video which you can see right HERE:

Originally we'd done an entirely different video, made up of all the footage we'd shot of each other when we were recording it, but after the aforementioned Frames Of My Reel remarked that it was "too dull", and The Validators CONCURRED, I set my BRANE to thinking of a replacement. Next morning I woke with a) a stinking cold and b) an idea to do something with Finger Puppets. Mr F A Machine suggested using cut-out figures instead "like Captain Pugwash" (and also suggested the ending to the story, which is THE BEST BIT), so I spent a delightful afternoon sat in bed doing CRAFT, creating the rather lovely Christmas Tale you see above.

It's now been just over 24 hours since we released it and I am DELIGHTED to find that people so far seem to be really enjoying it. We've even sold a few copies of the Christmas Selection Box album, which never usually happens! Wonderfully, most of these sales have come from Germany where, I assume, people are aware of the FANTASTIC original version by Bläck Fööss.

We're all very proud of this song, I think it's our FAVOURITE Christmas one for AGES, and as ever any mentions, tweets and so forth would be LOVELY! Let's spread some FESTIVE DELIGHT!

posted 11/12/2017 by MJ Hibbett
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Christmas In Stratford Actual
On Monday night The Shops In My Centre and I walked through Westfield Stratford, over the Bridge into Stratford Actual, through the old shopping centre and over the road to attend a CAROL SERVICE at St John's Church. I have lived in old East London for nearly 15 years now and have been past this church about a MILLION times but have never been inside, so was quite excited to find it a) lovely b) HUGE and c) RAMMED with people.

The service was put on by Newham Music and it featured a wide variety of groups which they work with, including the E20 Community Choir which the aforementioned Notes On My Scale is a member of. Once inside she went off to find the rest of her lot and I sat down at the back, surrounded by the extremely Christmassy RACKET of excited kids, grumpy teenagers, tired parents, and school violins being dropped.

We'd missed the first half of the show, which I guessed had run LATE in the traditional manner, as the "ten minute break" we arrived in the middle of carried on for another half an hour! When the concert did get going again it was BRILLIANT and also rather MOVING. The second group on in our half was a school ROCK BAND, who were FLIPPING ACE, ESPECIALLY when they did an EXTENDED version of "The Ocean" by The Led Zeppelins. You could feel the HEAT of their music teacher being DELIGHTED that he/she had got them to perform this, especially when it went into EXTENDED IMPROV. Hilariously, a couple of Newham Officials decided that this would be a good time to try to get everybody to clap along, at PRECISELY the moment when time signatures got swapped about all over the place. ALSO at the end they did a sudden STOP, the singer said "We are Newham Music Collective!" and then they did a STADIUM ROCK FINISH. It could only have been improved if she had said "We Are! Newham! FLIPPING! Music Collective!" but I guess they might have got DONE if she had.

Next up was the E20 choir and I must admit I was a bit professionally worried about how they were going to follow THAT, but I need not have been as they were RUDDY WONDERFUL. I have, I think, only previously seen them either outside or in non-acoustically-advantageous rooms, so was not quite prepared for the SONIC AWESOMENESS of them singing Actual Christmas Carols in an Actual Christmas Church. COR! It was LOVELY!

It then got EVEN BETTER at the end when the BAND came back on and also ANOTHER choir, this time of children, so that they could all do "Merry Christmas (War Is Over)" together. It began with the kids singing verses and the band doing a gentle backing, but when the adult choir came in around the fourth verse it was WOW! I got one of them tingles up and down my spine that you read about, and the hairs on my arms LITERALLY stood on end. THEN when the music built up and the kids came back in singing the "War Is Over If You Want It" bit, I do not mind admitting that I had a genuine TEAR in my eye. When you hear it sung like this you realise what a POWERFUL song it is, and how clever John and Yoko were to stick in such an Actually Pretty Radical Anti-Establishment Message into a genuine CHRISTMAS HIT.

Needless to say, I felt SUPER CHRISTMASSY by the end of it! HOORAH!

posted 8/12/2017 by MJ Hibbett
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A Family History Adventure
I spent most of Saturday in SHEFFIELD, not for ROCK nor even for BOOKS this time, but rather for FAMILY HISTORY.

For LO! it was my mum's 70th birthday and so a select group of family had gathered to go and look at the place where my Grandad was born. The idea to do this had come about because for years my mother has "occasionally" mentioned that she'd like to know where he was actually born - we know he came from Sheffield, and that the family moved to Donington a few years later, but that was about it.

THUS I got my Detective's Raincoat on and set about some SECRET interweb research. Luckily for me my Grandad was born on Christmas Day, so it was PEASY to track him down in the records office and I was able to get a copy of his birth certificate, which showed where he was born and also where his father lived a couple of months later. These were two different addresses, so we assume either they moved, or my Great Grandmother went to stay somewhere else for the birth. I looked up BOTH places on Google Streetview and found that there was NOTHING there anymore! Both addresses were in the SLUMS which were knocked down long long ago, but it looks as if Sheffield has still not got around to putting anything else there yet. There's a couple of new flats going up nearby, but otherwise it is abandoned factories and car parks. My ROOTS are basically an indie band video from the 1980s!

The original plan was just for me and my little brother to take The Parents to have a look, but this developed to included several COUSINS. Mr CM Smith (PARENT) had said a few weeks ago "They can all enjoy your tour!" which was a little bit ALARMING to me because, as mentioned above, the "tour" was basically looking at two car parks. HOWEVER, The Markings Of My Bays came to my rescue by doing some of her own research, and discovering a chap called BIG RON who did historical walks, so she got him BOOKED for the afternoon and all was set.

Things started well with me and the aforesaid baby brother, The Artist Thomas Smith, travelling up on the train, but then quickly went wonky when we received urgent messages to call my Mum's phone - Chris does not have a mobile phone or email address since he retired because, he claims, he "doesn't need one". This has made it SOMEWHAT DIFFICULT to conduct SECRET DISCUSSIONS about our arrangements, and SUFFICE TO SAY there have been decisions made since the weekend about what he's getting for Christmas!

It turned out that there had been a mix-up with the hotel Chris had booked us all into, and that we were all staying in the OTHER Premier Inn at the other side of the city from the one we'd thought. There then followed half an hour of HECTIC calls and arrangements, notably involving my AUNTIE who hadn't been able to come but was in PRIME POSITION to be communications hub, contacting various travelling cousins. It was a BIT OF A PANIC!

After that though all was BLOODY GRATE. We strode out to meet Big Ron who took us on a short walk with a LOT of talk. Crikey o'Reilly but he could talk! We learnt MUCH about the history of Sheffield and also EVERYTHING else, and he provided a FAB pack of pictures, maps and newspaper cuttings for Mum to read later. I tell you what, if you ever need somebody to explain some Sheffield history to you I would DEFINITELY recommend Ron!

It was VERY chilly so after about an hour we retired to a nearby pub, which rather wonderfully happened to be The Grapes. where The Validators played SEVERAL shows some years ago. It is a LOVELY pub, and the evening gently moved into Generalised CHit Chat which would continue back at The Premier Inn (which did us a LOVELY tea) and afterwards. It was BRILL!

ALAS I fear there must have been something a bit dodgy in the Yorkshire air that night, as the next morning on the train back both myself AND my sibling felt DECIDEDLY unwell. I'm sure I felt AMAZING at approx 11:30pm when I refused another whisky and loudly announced I had to go to bed, so that must be the only explanation!

posted 5/12/2017 by MJ Hibbett
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Christmas Time Is Here Again
Finally it is the first of December which means it is ENTIRELY ALLOWABLE to get EXTREMELY CHRISTMASSY - and flipping heck, after a year of NEWS like the one what we have just gone through, I think we all deserve to get VERY CHRISTMASSY INDEED.

Christmassiness began chez nous this morning with this year's first play of Christmas In The Heart AKA The Bob Dylan Christmas Album AKA The Most Christmassiest Album OF ALL. I bloody love this record, it is both the best Bob Dylan album EVER (and I say this as someone who likes a LOT of Bob) and also the best Christmas album EVER. Yes yes, I know about The Phil Spector one, but this is LOADS better - "Christmas In The Heart" sounds like everyone's having FUN recording it, "A Christmas Gift For You" has an air of OFFICE PARTY to it, one that is taking place during your lunch hour without any BOOZE allowed and then you have to go back to work.

Anyway, we have started listening to it which means Christmas is GO! To be honest I have been ready for Christmas ever since Sunday's recording session in Derby, and this feeling has only been increased over the days since due to the MIXES I have received from Mr F A Machine. I am happy to report that the recording of "Have A Drink With Us" sounds EVEN BETTER than I thought it would, with at least THREE portions of SUBLIME FESTIVE MELANCHOLY along the way. We all listened to the "final" mix last night (which usually is by no means final) and were astonished to discover that it was pretty much perfect and thus WAS final! HOORAH!

With this all done I now need to get to work putting the VIDEO together, and then next weekend I'll get it all sorted out for adding to Christmas Selection Box (which is getting pretty full now) and you'll be able to hear it for yourself on Monday 11 December. I can't WAIT for everyone to hear it - this one is PRETTY SPECIAL!

posted 1/12/2017 by MJ Hibbett
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