HOME/DiY: Workshop – Tool Caddy, Phase 2

What I wound up with, brought indoors.

I followed up phase one of my tool caddy build, with the second step: adding a back panel/spacer strips, for taller and thinner stuff.

Much to my surprise and delight, since my most recent major tidy up and reshuffle, whilst things are far from complete or ideal, I can at least work in the shed workshop space now.

This ‘instant access’ tool caddy should help increase efficiency.

Cutting and gluing spacer strips for the back panel.

I used marine ply for the spacers, busking the dimensions completely. It would later transpire, rather miraculously, that these spacers turned out to be near enough the exact same thickness as a piece of random ply I bought from West End DIY. How unlikely must that be!?

Cutting spacer strips with the super basic sled.

Cutting stuff on the Kity is going well at present. Although I think the blade – the same one that was in the machine when I bought it – needs either sharpening or replacing. And the very basic cross cut sled I made/adapted is doing sterling service.

Gluing the base strip on the rear of the tall segment.

The strip that runs along the bottom at rear is there to stop certain things, such as rulers, dropping straight through. I chiselled a few little bits away here and there; not all the way through. Just sufficiently to add more depth for some of the tallest ‘tall boys’.

The back panel gluing up, clamped and weighted.

After gluing the back panel in place I also screwed it in position. After which I planed some of the faces a little, to smooth and square things up a bit. Like Patrick Sullivan’s version of this idea, which is my inspiration for this project, mine will have two more sections, or tiers.

The single most satisfying part of todays work on this project arose out of a real pain in the ass: when I went to glue my spacer strips to the rear of the tall segment, I discovered there was a hump down the central axis of the chopped/glued board.

I have a planer-thicknesser for exactly this job, but I’ve still not got it hooked up to a motor, and running. I must attend to this ASAP! So I had to go old school, and simply plane the mother flat. That entailed sharpening my smoothing plane.

Time was, not that long ago, when I hated doing this, as I’d spend ages getting nowhere. But I now have the right tools – a plane-iron guide, a whole range of abrasives, etc. – and a few planes in basically good shape, that just need fine-tuning type maintenance. So it was pretty quick and easy restoring a keen edge. And once done, planing the rear face of this block proved easy as pie!

FiLM REViEW: Monsters of Man, 2020

This is a weird mish-mash of a movie. Certain aspects, such as the core idea of AI-enabled military robots, used for nefarious ends, are quite good (if not exactly unique nowadays). Others, well…

Six holidaying US do-gooder doctors get lost in the forests of the Golden Triangle, where they run the gauntlet of drug gangs and their jungle booby-traps. Unfortunately for them they wind up in a village where a rogue US/CIA military-tech op’ is just getting underway. They rapidly become accidental eyewitnesses the dirty ops guys are keen to eradicate.

The CIA and Cyborg ‘baddies’ air-drop four ultra ‘hi-grade’ military kill-bots into the forest, as a real world test of the hardware/software capabilities. One of the bots is damaged during deployment, losing a key part of its ‘brain’ or control unit. The other three butcher almost the entire village, where the docs have wound up. Fortunately for the latter, ex Navy SEAL ‘Mason’ is also there.

Mason gets them out. But they start haemorrhaging lives. The three fully functional kill-bots hunt down the survivors of the massacre, whilst the fourth goes on a bizarre journey of cyber self discovery. All through this a trio of tech-nerds, flown in to ‘mastermind’ what rapidly becomes an appalling debacle, is having a crisis of conscience, as they realise they’re not simply ‘training’, but doing a fully lethal ‘black op’, with (mostly) innocent civilians as the guinea pigs and collateral damage.

This is a very, very, very uneven affair. Certain aspects are quite good, even emotively powerful, or reasonably clever. Others, such as the typical and arbitrary ‘some get away some don’t’, and non-stop action vs long hiatus, are weaker. A lot of the issues may be consequences of the fact that the whole film is probably about 20-30 mins too long.

There are some brilliant and/or beautiful locations (Cambodia, I think?), quite a bit of no holds barred brutality, and an interesting if convoluted plot. Very patchy and uneven, but quite an enjoyable watch.

MUSiC: Cop, Swans, 1984

Amazing music.

Many years ago I was in a short lived group with some friends at sixth-form who were into Sonic Youth, The Pixies, Dinosaur Jr, Einsturzende Neubauten, and all sorts of other stuff similar to or connected with such bands. What’s often (or is that just sometimes?) called the post-punk/no wave scene. I must admit that, whilst I liked some of these bands and their music enough to stick with the group for the brief period in which it existed, it wasn’t really my scene, man.

Some of the recordings that really reached me in the truly primal unmediated way I like best – and ordinarily at that time that might have been anything from a sweet bossa nova, like let’s say ‘Quite Nights Of Quiet Stars’, by Jobim, to ‘Pachuco Cadaver’ by Beefheart, Joni Mitchell’s ‘Little Green’ or ‘Criminally Insane’ by Slayer – were the early records by Swans. I think that was for several reasons, some of which I’ll go into in a mo’, but possibly chiefly because, as numerous critics and fans have pointed out, this is simply music like no other.

The sheer raw power of the music, and the brutal darkness of Gira’s lyrics, are frequently alluded to in descriptions of this music. But there are a few other things that I particularly like that I don’t feel are usually mentioned. One of these is that – and ok, granted, the lyrics are pretty horrifying – quite a lot of the music has a bizarrely beautiful quality, at least for me, deriving from two factors: its sheer intensity, and the fact it is so unique. Another element is that, for all that it is unrelenting, dark, and brutally minimal, yet there’s a note of looseness and improvisation. Jazz seems hardly the right word, but those are qualities that jazz prides itself on having at its heart.

The loose improv element is most apparent in the incredible drumming of Roli Mosimann, probably the best drummer The Swans ever had, in my view. Also the production has an incredible clarity that stops it dating. Comparing the brutally raw and unprocessed sound here to the compressed and reverb drenched drums of ’80’s Sonic Youth, for example, makes the latter sounds far more dated. Easy-listening this ain’t, and I can generally only take it in little doses these days.

Opening track Half-Life and closing track Thug (opening and closing the original Cop LP*) are, I think, the moments I dig the most. Slow grinding repetitive riffs, bass and guitar locking into huge but minimal slabs of raw distorted sound, and the drums crunching away, but just occasionally showing an inventively syncopated edge, and all moving in an intense slow-motion. Most so-called heavy music sounds like the froth on a weak lager compared with these numbers. And lyrically heavy metal and associated dark/intense genres tend to be utter garbage, kind of prurient teen horror movie type stuff. The darkness of the lyrics here is of an entirely different order.

But Holy $**t, Cop is an amazing and intense ride for the ears, the mind, and the emotions! There really is nothing quite like it. Turn it up loud, and prepare to be terrified, mesmerised, but perhaps also moved, and maybe even awestruck. Definitely not music for all occasions. Cop isn’t uniformly brilliant. But the best is, thanks to its uniqueness, astonishing.

* These days Cop is usually most easily found as part of a variety of ‘early Swans’ type compilations.

FiLM REViEW: Life, 2017

Set on board the ISS crewed with an international team, some time in the unspecified near future, a Martian soil sample, brought back by the Pilgrim 7 probe, yields a dormant life-form. The ISS boffins bring it back to life, only to wish they hadn’t.

Life is very clearly and obviously heavily indebted to the Aliens series. But it doesn’t have the same high drama of the ‘original’. Nor do the characters have the charisma of the older films’ cast.

But that said, there’s enough that’s original here, and it’s all somewhat more ‘realistic’ – the super-evil-kelp-demon-alien aside – in terms of the basics of life aboard the ISS (as opposed to the whole Alien Nostromo trip), and how things might go wrong, making it fairly watchable.

My wife is the one that usually suggests we try a sci-fi movie, and so it was on this occasion. I’m the sci-fi sceptic, who finds the whole genre big on promise but small on delivery. With a few exceptions. Life is okay, neither great, nor awful.

As with all the Aliens movies, and many a horror film (or classic western, for that matter), this is essentially a siege, with malevolent evil vs plucky humanity. Perhaps the best and the worst thing about this film is the final twist.

MUSiC: The Police, Live, 1980 (Rockpalast, Essen)

Rather amazingly, this is the same year as the previous Police gig, also recorded for the German Rockpalast TV show, as covered in my last post. But The Police are evolving, rapidly ascending the heights of Pop Olympus. They come onstage to a backing of Voices Inside My Head*, from their follow up to Regatta de Blanc, Zenyatta Mondatta.

Sting wears a Regatta de Blanc T-shirt, and plays an upright stick bass. Summers looks smarter, in a snazzy striped ‘sports jacket’ and white T-shirt. Stewart Copeland is striped and very sporty, and now has a more plush drum throne, with back support! The venue is waaay bigger. Hamburg was a medium sized theatre, Essen looks like a stadium.

Sting on ‘bull fiddle’.

After Don’t Stand So Close To Me, from their new album, Zenyatta Mondatta, and Walking On The Moon, from Regatta de Blanc, Sting swaps back to his normal electric bass, and they kind of go punk Bo-Diddley, on Deathwish. They’re definitely looking and sounding that much more like pop stars. And it’s the same year as the previous neo-punk-jazz onslaught!

Copeland still drives the band with the same ferocious energy. They still jam out a lot, but it feels slightly more restrained. At least at first. They’re still playing one or two non-album oddities, like Fall Out, and Sting is adding synth touches via what might be a Moog, and what look like Taurus pedals.

Man In A Suitcase is the next live workout for a number from Zenyatta, their latest release that they were touring to promote at this time. Whilst this still has some of the upbeat energy of their earlier era, it’s also more brightly melodic.

When they get to Bring On The Night the change from the previous performance seems more pronounced. This time it’s not quite as manic nor intense. I think this is partly due to the scale of the venue; the sound is more diffuse in a bigger space. But the performance also differs, being more restrained, less wild. It’s interesting to see how they work at building the tension under Andy’s guitar solo, in a way that differs massively from the album version.

They go into the double-time frenzy, as they did previously, on the Hamburg gig, but it works a little less well. This is partly due to the muddy wash of delay on Copeland’s kit, and partly, again, because it’s made more woolly and diffuse by the sheer scale of the venue. I’ve always preferred theatres and smaller venues to stadiums, for gigs. Stadium concerts are more about money than music, as far as I’m concerned.

Things come into a sharper focus again for De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da (memorably desscribed by Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge as their ‘nonsense anthem’!). The newer, slicker, more pop Police sound and style are coming to the fore now. It’s still intense, but smoother and decidedly less spiky. Any punky rough edges are gradually being worn away.

Sting’s bass once again is noticeable at times for the very approximate tuning. It being live things are a bit more forgiving. In the studio they’d never have let such sloppiness pass.

The Truth Hits Everybody is a track from debut, Outlandos d’Amour, and a brief and energised nod to their roots. After which the upright bass comes out for another Zenyatta track, the spooky and much more mellow and moody Shadows In The Rain (which is apparently about hard drug use!). This song would be totally reworked for Sting’s solo debut, Dream of the Blue Turtles. But here it presages the type of soundscapes that would eventually come to dominate The Police’s final album, Synchronicity (Tea In The Sahara, Walking In Your Footsteps, King of Pain, etc).

When The World Is Running Down was and still is a favourite of mine from Zenyatta. The weird juxtaposition of rather joyful music with the maudlin post-apocalyptic ruminations of the lyrics are, well… unusual! Sting gets a bit funky at one point in the jam section/guitar solo, playing a high register lick on the bass, and supplying the low-register via his pedals.

The Bed’s Too Big, rather like Bring On The Night, suffers a little, to my ears, from the translation into a much bigger venue. I think the band’s performance is very similar to earlier in the year, in the main. But the larger space soaks up and dissipates the intensity. I think if you were at the gigs, these numbers may well have retained their magic, or even intensified it, with the extended jam or improv sections. These are two of my definite favourites in their album versions.

Driven To Tears is a monster track on Zenyatta, partly cause it’s a great song, but also because Copeland’s drumming gives it an added edge. Here the most striking thing about it might be the sudden appearance of overtly socially-conscious lyrics from Sting. It’s not the first instance of this, just the most overt and strident. The trio give it a real powerhouse workout on stage.

The Police then neatly segue into, and play their way out, on a string of what, by then, were the hits that had turned them, and were continuing to turn them, into mega-stars: Message In a Bottle, Roxanne, Can’t Stand Losing You (with a bit of Regatta de Blanc by way of intro), before closing with a spirited medley of Next To You/So Lonely.

The contrast in the two concerts of the same year is quite striking. In Hamburg they’re a slightly punky band, excited at their ascent, and blasting their music through the more intimate venue with astonishing power. By the time they arrive in Essen they’re fully fledged pop stars, and the big ‘production’ in a huge venue, whilst superb, and undoubtedly more ‘mature’, also loses a whisker in the intensity stakes. This is partly due to the evolution of their songs and overall sound, and partly the scale of the gig.

This DVD contains both concerts.

Both concerts are excellent, and they are (or were?) available together on a combined DVD package (see accompanying pics). Hearing these concerts sends me back to the original albums. What a band! These two terrific films capture The Police scaling the heights.

PS – Thanks to a pal, who gave us tickets to see The Police when he couldn’t go – thanks buddy! – Teresa and I saw them during their 2007 reunion tour. It was a good gig. But the old intensity wasn’t quite there. Andy Summers in particular was showing his age (and of course he has passed away now). And it was in a bigger venue than I like. We were actually behind the main stage, and quite high up.

* The background intro version sounds like a synth n drum machine demo? It’s certainly not the studio/band version, which benefits from a terrific drum performance from Copeland.

The rear of the DVD combo, with track listing.

MUSiC: The Police, Live, 1980 (Rockpalast, Hamburg)

For stuff like this YouTube is great. I wonder how long it’ll stay this way?

This gig finds the Police in their high-octane early incarnation, quite neo-punk, in terms of energy. It’s more confusing than appearances might suggest though, as they are, essentially, a power-trio. Quite a rock-mongous beast! But whereas most power trios would have an axe-wielding guitar-hero, Any Summers is more art-rock weirdo, and the instrumental star is really Copeland.

Sting is, well… Sting, bankably good looking and charismatic (as Andy Summers wryly observed from the get go), with a brilliant voice, song writing skills to die for, and seemingly born to the role of frontman. Not in an Elvis or Ozzy way, but just by being himself. Fantastic!

Sting rocks his incipient mullet.

Personally I love their mellower side, the first real sign of which is the mesmeric Bring On The Night. It’s still way more pumped than the Regatta de Blanc album version. But the ethereality and the melancholy of the Sting aspect of the group is allowed to simmer and come to the boil wonderfully.

Also very notable is the jazz-prog side of the group, not in overt ‘genre’ terms, but in the fact that songs are frequently allowed to breath in extended passages of improvisation. For example, in Bring On The Night they go into a totally intense double time blast variant that I’ve not heard on any other performances.

Also very intriguing are tracks like Fall Out and Visions of the Night, which are not part of The Police’s album canon. But when they return to the more familiar material, with Bed’s Too Big Without You, they go into a blinding cosmic über-jam that finally resolves back into the song. And the go waaay out! Astonishing!

Copeland at work/play.

One of them, Sting, I think, is triggering some synth effects, and Copeland’s drums often get treated to washes of dubby delay. so they generate a massive sound. And this despite not having a conventional lead spanner of a guitarist. Summers can cut loose with the blues rock style thing, as he briefly does on a Bullet train from Japan version of Peanuts.

This is a young band, riding the crest of their burgeoning stardom; btheir energy is super intense. I think Stewart Copeland is a very large part of this. And what a monstrous driving drummer he is! His kit, like his his playing is unique. His use of hi-hat and tide so much more expressive than the average rock/pop drummer. And his fills and use of odd accents, literal splashes of sound, and the octobans and roto-toms, all add up to a unique voice in driving seat.

Roxanne is also put through the extended-improv wringer. The German crowd are wigging out. And who could blame them. What a performance. Even the rather approximate tuning of Sting’s bass can’t put a dampener on proceedings.

FiLM REViEW: Rocky II, 1979

For years I’ve avoided almost all franchises and follow-ups in the world of films. With just a few exceptions.

Having recently watched Rocky, and thoroughly enjoyed it, I thought I’d give Rocky II a go. Stallone wrote, directed and starred in this follow up to his breakthrough, whereas the first movie was directed by John G Avildsen.

Rocky II starts with an extended précis of the end of Rocky, which is kind of weird. Nowadays such things would be much slicker and shorter. But it’s kind of cute!

The movie’s premise is very simple: Rocky is torn between his love for Adrian, and a desire to retire from boxing (and his gangster/street life hustle), and Apollo Creed’s taunting calls for a re-match.

The Stallone/bandana affair starts here.

It’s not as well directed as Rocky, but it still has a lot of heart, as they say. And Rocky’s struggle to reconcile his warring emotions and the pressures of providing for a wife, and possibly a kid, all make for an engaging if simple story.

Creed and his camp are good again, as the worldly wise and business savvy slick big timers. And we get to see the domestic impact on both Creed and Balboa, the former in splendour, the latter in poverty.

Once again there are a number of set pieces, from the shopping spree and visit to the zoo, to the church and hospital purgatory, the time in the gym as perdition, penance and finally absolution, the training scenes (much like before only turned up to 11!), and, of course, the fight itself.

Not quite as good as Rocky, but certainly not the kind of brainless trash cash-in that so many sequels to initially good films are (the kind that have made the very idea of sequels so off putting to me). Enjoyable if hammy fun.

FiLM REViEW: No One Lives, 2012

Aha! As the Partridge used to say. Back of the net! Etc. Actually this is trash. Total trash. But it’s the kind of trash I’ve been rooting around for.

The trouble with a lot of modern American films is that they’re populated with the most disgusting abominations of sub humanity imaginable. Rather like Trumpist America itself. A cesspool of self-interested armed aggressors.

It’s therefore kind of appropriate that ‘they’ – the gang that starts the movie by butchering a family who return to find said gang robbing their home – kidnap a monster even more depraved than themselves, who then serves ‘justice’, American style, i.e. sadistic ultra-violence, upon them.

The film starts, you might say ‘cleverly’, but I think that’d be misplaced, with the ‘final girl’ scene, as Emma (Adelaide Clemens) – the human McGuffin of the movie – runs through the woods. Flynn (Derek Magyar) the most repellent of the gang, becomes a kind of macho substitute ‘final girl’. Or is that role actually reserved for Denny (Beau Knapp)?

Luke Evans is The Driver, a sociopathic and psychopathic mass-murderer and kidnapper, with a trailer full of kill-kit and a babe in both passenger seat and boot. The former may be the latest in his Stockholm Syndrome experiments, the latter is Emma.

America is unwell, this sort of product is a symptom of the disease. And yet, decadent and hypocritical as this may be, it is kind of entertaining. Oh, humanity… I would weep for us all… but I’ve been all cried out for some time now.

FiLM REViEW: Edge of Darkness, 2010

One of Mel Gibson’s favourite, or at least most common roles, is the self-righteous and enraged everyman, wronged and out for truth and vengeance. He’s so macho he steamrollers over all politesse and BS.

Airdrop him into a high level conspiracy and, well… it’s all a load of convoluted bollocks, frankly. In terms of believability the plot here is fairly preposterous.* But in terms of the fun we might have, watching Mel G punch his way through concrete? That’s, possibly, another matter.

The film starts with with Craven, Gibson’s character, meeting his near as damn it estranged daughter, at the airport. A cop, Craven is unhappily married to the badge, and lives alone. He takes hisdaughter, clearly ill, is pallid, vomiting regularly, and clearly troubled in mind. Just when we think she’s going to open up about what’s ailing her, she’s blown away, on the doorstep of Pop’s home. It’s assumed this is an attempt to kill Craven, gone wrong. But is it?

I’m not a fan of Ray Winstone, or ‘Wockney cankers’ in general. His presence here put me off watching this on several occasions. His role is to be the Yin to Gibson’s Yang, the devil to his angel. Mind if devils and angels are essentially the same, and basically just hitmen/butchers… hmmm!?

Also, in typical US casting style, Brits, posh or working class, are almost always ‘baddies’. There’s an almost hilarious twist here though, as Jdward… er, sorry …Jedburgh (Winstone) is a faux-mystic/intellectual assassin, who likes cigars and quoting poetry – what class! – and other ‘eyebrow’ literature. But, surprise surprise, he’s at his most eloquently candid when he says is with bullets.

A slightly odd supernatural/spiritual thread runs through the film, also connecting Gibson’s and Winstone’s characters. But the unifying theme underneath all of it, is death. America loves death. This film loves death.

Is it any good? Myaah… is it enough fun to warrant watching? Just about. Hardly a hearty recommendation!

* Mind you, if we all knew the horror of what really goes on in the corridors of power it might make the most insane plots seem entirely plausible.

WORK: Power & Gadgetry

As a drum teacher working in various schools, I’m frequently faced with the need to power gadgets of various kinds: from the guitar amps I use, to bring backing tracks, metronome etc, to a level that competes with the drums, to iPhones and iPads for the apps and music, and so on.

I‘ve gradually switched from ‘hard’ (paper!) copies to PDF files for a good deal of my teaching materials, over the last two or three years. It lightens the physical load. But it can be bad if devices conk out, and power can’t be sourced.

This latter point also raises the spectre of the online connectivity issues. Schools often make it harder for visiting music peri’s and the like to access online services than for their own full time staff, with changing visitor passwords, and sometimes blocking sites or apps that music lessons might benefit from access to.

My view from my off-kit teaching position.

Anyway, I very rarely post on’t blog about work. Indeed, this might be the first such occasion!? I thought I’d put on record, for my own benefit, an unofficial summary of how I’m doing such stuff at this point.

The accompanying pics are from a school that’s only recently been built, and as yet only has pupils from year groups 7, 8 and 9. So it’s a new and growing institution.

When I first started teaching here, I was in a tiny boxy music rehearsal room. Par for the course. But not the best space for drum lessons (far from the worst tho’, either). But as of Sept’ ‘21, I’ve been giving my lessons on the swanky stage of the shiny and pristine new theatre/auditorium. Nice!

I supplied a rug, to stop the kit sliding around.

It’s a bit echoey – big space, very high ceiling, reflective surfaces – but softened a little by hooooge curtains. And all black. So very ‘pro stagecraft’ in look and feel. Esp’ with the fancy lighting rigs over-head.

The little extension pictured above now travels with me to all my schools. It would be a bit better, if it had a rather longer lead. But it does bring three ordinary plugs and two USB type (?) connections closer to me, wherever I may be sat.

For amplification I have three options, of which I will generally always have two: first, a Bluetooth ‘boom-box. This is good for listening to stuff when not actually drumming. It’s not quite loud enough to compete with an acoustic kit, however.

I got this power supply hub type extension from Amazon.

The other of the essential pair is a guitar amp. I have a Fender 15W and a Roland Cube 15W. They both play up a bit here and there. And they also have different aux inputs: the Fender has a phono pair, L and R, whilst the Roland just has a 1/4” stereo jack socket. Both are fed audio via either an iPad or iPhone, via a (?) stereo jack.

Both amps can be unwontedly noisy, and both are, especially with loud music and heavy hitters, only just loud enough to work well when teaching drums on acoustic kits. All the kits are I teach on are beginner level quality acoustic sets. I’m soooo glad none of them are cheapo e-kits!

I far prefer acoustic drums and cymbals to electric gear. The only e-kits I’ve tried and liked are the very top of the range ones from Roland, in the £3-5,000 area.