A love letter to everyone making music

I used to hate a lot of bands when I was young, often for the most spurious of reasons. Nirvana and Pearl Jam had a bit of a feud going on? Well, I loved Nirvana, so of course I must hate Pearl Jam. Some of my friends hated Teenage Fanclub because they’d had to sit through them at a festival whilst waiting for other bands to come on? I must hate them too, even though this experience involved me in no way whatsoever. I even made a compilation tape titled ‘Babybird Must Die’, the only crime of this particular band being to have one big hit that became irritating through over exposure.

Of course, I didn’t really hate any of these bands, some of them I even secretly quite liked. I was just, like most teenagers, a little angry, a lot insecure, yet overconfident in my often stupid opinions. I am only glad the internet wasn’t around then to record them, although any stupid opinions I retain today may well outlive me. I’m not sure it’s even possible to truly hate a band, despite the legions of internet commenters doing their best to suggest otherwise.

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I wish that I lived in a simple world – Music, The Internet & Me.

A sixth form computer room in 1998, and it’s hard to imagine how excited I was to hear a low-quality 30 second clip of a song by Brazilian-American metal band Soulfly. It was the first time I had used this new-fangled internet thingy people were so excited about, and of course the first thing I wanted to use it for was to listen to music. I sat, headphones on, in awe and wonder at the idea that I could hear a bit of a song without buying the CD or waiting for it to come on the radio. Little did I know where it would lead.

Stepping back a bit, to 1993, when music began to truly matter to me, options for hearing the kind of music I loved were very limited. Evenings on Radio 1 were pretty much the only place you could hear indie or alternative music and I listened religiously to the Evening Session, John Peel and Mark & Lard. MTV existed (and was still primarily a channel that played music videos), but not in my house. You might get the occasional band or video I liked on Top of the Pops or The Chart Show (the first place I heard Nirvana incidentally), but you could hardly rely on it.

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On a Good Day is changing

On a Good Day is coming to end. Well, its first phase in at least. When I started this blog, it was intended to be a personal blog about being a dad, a way of preserving of my thoughts and memories of fatherhood. But I love music as well, and so I thought, why not make it a blog about both fatherhood and music.

Problem was, I never really able to crowbar those two subjects together in a way that really worked. I was also constantly torn between blogging just as a hobby, and trying to make the blog ‘successful’ (whatever that means – lots of readers I guess). Eventually I came to realise that trying to make it successful was taking all the enjoyment out of it for me, and that at this point in my life I didn’t have the time or inclination for blogging as anything other than a hobby. I’ve learnt a lot over the last few years though, and now have dozens of others ideas for blogs and websites, some of which may even come to fruition in future years.

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Blog : Gil Scott the Heron and Other Children’s Stories

I hate almost anything that could be considered performing, especially when put on the spot. This has been the case as long as I can remember. Back in my schooldays, one year the school decided it would make a great ice-breaker at the start of the new school year if each class wrote and performed a song together in front of the rest of the school. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than singing, on stage, in front of hundreds of my peers, and tried desperately to think of a way out of it. Eventually I settled on the idea of just staying in my seat when the rest of my class went up on stage. Fortunately, either no-one noticed or no-one cared.

Another time, when at a teenage party my friends’ band invited me up on stage to perform an Oasis song with them, mainly because I happened to know all of the words and I’m not sure their singer did. Again, I wanted no part of this, and my chances of being a rock n roll frontman were over before they had begun (probably a good thing in retrospect). This stage-fright, this fear of performance, can manifest itself on the most unlikely occasions, which hardly qualify as performance at all. I remember being at a fancy dress party, not all that many years ago, where the theme was mythical beasts (I came as a Mongolian Death Worm, which mainly involved wearing a sleeping bag). The host of the party invited us in turn to pull our most ghastly faces to the group and, unnecessarily embarrassed, I refused.

Doing a speech at my wedding did improve my performance confidence levels a bit. I woke up very early on the morning in question so had plenty of time to practice. Plus, I was in a room full of people who only wished me well. So, I think that one went ok. I made lots of people cry at least, which is surely what it’s all about. Becoming a parent though, is what has truly made me a performer, because as a parent to a small child you don’t have much choice. Whatever works to cheer them up, you will do, whether it’s songs, stories or silly dances. At parent and baby groups, there’s all these things and more. I can’t imagine many other situations where I would sing and dance in front of that many other people without alcohol being involved, but as everyone else in the room is in the same situation you end up throwing yourself into with gusto. I do at least, some parents still look pretty embarrassed by the whole business.

So, whilst if anyone else demanded I sing a song on demand, I would surely still refuse (Karaoke is still my idea of hell), but if my two year old daughter does I can hardly refuse, nor would I want to. She has also started asking me to make up stories on the spot, or at least handing me a blank pad of paper and saying “read me a story” which amounts to the same thing. This doesn’t come naturally to me so I usually turn to music for inspiration. When I did creative writing in school and had to think up the name for a character it would usually be somehow related to one of my favourite bands, and things are no different now.

The first time my daughter asked me to make up a story on the spot, my thought process went something like “What do kids’ like? Animals? Birds? How about a heron? And the heron of course must be named Gil Scott after the great black poet, writer and musician Gil-Scott Heron” And so the tale began of Gil Scott the Heron and his riverside friends. I decided not to base the story on Gil Scott-Heron’s own novels though. Having read ‘The N*gger Factory’ not so long ago, I’m not sure it would be that appropriate for a two year old. Although who can say when it is too early to introduce your children to 1970s racial politics?

Subsequent stories have had similar inspirations. My personal favourite was the story of four music-playing pixies named Frank, Kim, David and Joey. Of course, Frank and Kim fell out for a long time, but they made friends again eventually and lived happily ever after. I left out the bit where they fall out again and Kim is replaced by a superficially similar pixie, but it doesn’t feel quite the same.

The possibilities of musical inspiration for children’s stories is almost endless. I’m sure I could make up a decent tale about a Starman waiting in the sky. Or one about a laid back dog called Snoop. Or Maggie’s Farm where all the animals have a lovely time (admittedly this might go against the spirit of Dylan’s song a little). It would be nice to think that, if my daughter takes an interest in music when she’s older, she may realise where the inspiration for these tales came from.

Blog – In defence of uncertainty

My social media feeds have started to depress me recently. So full of people with such strong opinions, but often with little to back them up. Social media has been like this for some time of course, but the current political turmoil in the UK has made it even more prevalent. Some people have got into the habit of posting and sharing any meme, quote or article which seemingly supports their point of view, without considering whether they specifically agree with that particular meme/quote/article, or even whether it is factually accurate.

My own politics are left-leaning, and nearly all my Facebook friends and the people I follow on Twitter are also lefties, at least to some extent, so most of the nonsense I see comes from my own side. I expect the Tories and Ukip to lie, distort and mislead, but I (perhaps naively) expect better from people I, mainly, agree with. I often find myself starting to write long-winded responses to posts I feel to be misleading or inaccurate, even if I agree with the broader point being made. I usually abandon halfway through, because I’m not sure a social media argument has ever led to someone changing their opinion or admitting they were wrong.

What surprises me more than anything though, is the certainty with which people express their opinions. It’s rarely “I think this…” or “I believe that…” but more often “THIS IS HOW IT IS AND ANYONE WHO THINKS OTHERWISE IS A ****”. This may well be a case of the pot calling the kettle black, as I may previously have been one of the most argumentative, opinionated, people around, but I think I have (mainly) grown out of that by now.

This certainty of opinion is by no means limited to politics. As a parent, I’ve been astonished by the vehemence with which some parents claim that their style of parenting is the only correct one. As a music lover, it’s amazing how often you see people insisting that one album or band is definitively, empirically better than another, when what they really mean is that they personally enjoy it more. Friends of mine will recognise the irony in me saying this, as I have spent most of my life giving such definitive opinions on music myself . I’m fairly sure I once told one of my friends that Trompe Le Monde couldn’t be her favourite Pixies album,as it had to be Doolittle or Surfer Rosa.

The older I get though, the more I realise that, I don’t really know all that much about anything. As a parent, I’m pretty much making it up as I go along, and what I have learnt probably only applies to my own child not everybody elses. When it comes to politics my opinions are based on a little bit of knowledge and a lot of gut instinct.  There may be a few subjects I know more about than the average person on the street – music, cricket, porters (the beer not people who work in hospitals), the history of the papacy (long story). Even with these subjects there are thousands of people who know more about them than I do.

There is so much to know in this world, that we cannot expect to understand more than a tiny proportion of it. That knowledge makes me aware that I could be wrong about almost anything. For example, I truly believe that Brexit will be disaster for the UK, as should be clear from the piece I wrote on Friday. But, I’m not an economist, or a political expert, and even those people often get things wrong. We could turn out to be fine. I think it unlikely, but I can’t claim it’s impossible, or that I’m certain I am correct.

So, I try my best not to express my opinions with too much certainty, as they could well be wrong, but I often fail to meet this standard. I still find myself expressing very strong opinions on the qualities of particular football players, even though I watch so little football nowadays that Gabriel Agbonlahor could be better than Pele for all I know. I’m sure there are plenty of other occasions where I present unfounded opinions as definitive without even realising I’m doing it.

But I try, and I think the world, or at least social media, would be a better place if we were all prepared to be a bit more uncertain, to admit that we might sometimes get things wrong, and that those we disagree with may sometimes get things right. I’m not suggesting anyone abandons their deeply held principles, or that we should not defend those principles with passion and vigour,  but most of our viewpoints are based on a mixture of principle and judgement, and it’s those judgments can be mistaken.

It’s not as bad it sometimes seems though. The people who shout the loudest on social media, and take up a disproportionate amount of its’ virtual space, tend to be those with the strongest opinions. They are not the majority, though. I remain convinced that most people are, like myself, certain only of their uncertainty.

Anyway, in case this piece came across as a little holier-than-thou, here’s a list of things I’ve got wrong over the years, to get the ball rolling. Not exhaustive of course, I don’t have all day.

  • I remember saying that it wasn’t possible to be a good person and also vote Conservative. I disagree with the Conservatives policies as much as I ever did, but I no longer believe that voting for them means you are irredeemably evil (although I suspect some people I know may still think that is the case).
  • I voted Lib Dem in 2010. That didn’t turn out well. Although I could be wrong about being wrong of course, as we don’t know how things would have turned out otherwise.
  • I never thought that I’d get married. Initially because I didn’t want to, latterly because I just didn’t think it would happen. The day I met my wife I went from being almost completely sure it wouldn’t happen to being almost completely sure it would pretty much instantly.
  • I thought there was no way that Donald Trump would be the Republican presidential nominee and as recently as this morning thought that Boris Johnson would be our next Prime Minister.
  • I thought that Stephen McPhail would become one of Leeds United’s greatest ever players (bit of an obscure one for the non-football fans amongst you).
  • I thought I would never listen to country music, or jazz.
  • I thought that Ipods would never catch on, and that Iphones would never catch on, and that Ipads would never catch on, and that Apple Watches would never catch on (I may still be right about the last one of these).
  • I thought doing a maths degree would be the easiest option, because I was good at it at A-Level.
  • I thought I would never get tired of going to Glastonbury, but I did. I still plan to go back when I have my mid-life crisis though.
  • I thought moving into a house with three flights of stairs between our bedroom and the kitchen when my wife was heavily pregnant was a good idea.

Turns out that thinking of all the things I’ve been wrong about is both worrying and strangely reassuring. I wonder what I’ll be wrong about next. And if anyone who reads this blog or who I know in real life would like to remind me of other things I’ve been wrong about…maybe don’t bother.