MUSiC/BOOK REViEW: Stick Control, Stone

Joe Morello studied with George Lawrence Stone. That alone is recommendation enough!

I’ve been dipping into this for over two decades now. Although, to my everlasting shame, I’ve not completed it yet. I use it in my drum teaching all the time.

Morello was Stone’s star pupil. And thanks to Morello’s precocious work on Stick Control, we also have Stone’s follw-up, the snappily titled Accents and Rebounds.

A great tool for developing better reading, and – of course – stick control. Starting with such simple building block as singles, doubles, and grouping of three or four, per hand, the numbered exercises take you though a huge variety of combinations, leading with both right and left.

Stone says play everything 20 times. And play with a metronome at various different speeds. This is terrific conditioning practice on a pad, and fun to transfer to snare. Of course one can then take it to the kit, and orchestrate it there.

Used regularly and with a bit of discipline this book can impart strength, stamina, speed, control of dynamics, and much more. Definitely an essential piece of kit in the drummer’s training arsenal.

CLOTHES/MiSC: T-shirts as Signals

My most recent acquisition in this line.

As a kid I had a few T-shirts – only a very few, mind – that proclaimed something.

One such was a Blackfoot one. They were a US ‘Native American’ rock group, most famous (I think?) for a track called Morning Dew (‘Mourning Jew!?’ says my inner Woody Allen!).

A bit weird, that one. Acquired primarily for the colourful design, at a time when being a rocker/hippy, of sorts, was my intent! I did like the group, or at least the few songs of theirs I’d heard. But in truth, a Thin Lizzy T-shirt, something I now have, but didn’t back then, would’ve been a better representation of my tastes and listening preferences!

I then went through a very long and, retrospectively, rather bleak ‘no logo/label’ phase. A combo of anti-advertising sentiment and a semi (pseudo?) political stance.

Nowadays I’ve relaxed back into a childish glee in using my chest as a communications platform. And I’ve slowly but surely been amassing a collection of T-shirts whose sole porpoise – aside from temperature regulation and public decency – is to let the world know a little about me, without I have to open my yap.

There are still a number of things the puritanical politico-moralist in me eschews; I don’t like brand labels, nor am I fan of slogans. Maybe it’s a legacy of the artist-illustrator-designer part of me? But I prefer T-shirts that are primarily visual. Sometimes, as in the Moog or Lizzy tees, this design is textual. But mostly I prefer pictures or ‘designs’.

Some of these purchases have been happier than others. I’m quite disappointed with how my Mr Natural Robert Crumb T-shirt is fading with each wash. And a couple of Herbie Hancock designs I got (from China, most likely?) are kind of great, design/image wise, but are made from hideous synthetic material (the sort often used for football shirts). I definitely prefer good ol’ plain cotton!

Pics: Herbie tees…

My most recent acquisition – whilst pictured at the top of this post, it hadn’t actually arrived when I started drafting it – is an Impulse record label logo job. I really wanted the maroon variant, with cream disc, etc, the above of the two pictured below. But that wasn’t available. So I went instead for the brown and orange variant below that. Still nice!

My preferred but unavailable choice.
The variant I eventually ordered.

This whole trend towards forlornly broadcasting one’s interests, perhaps esp’ so since I turned 50 (Jan’ this year… gulps!), might seem a bit pathetic. But I reckon I’m past caring!

Here’s a mini gallery of some of the designs I have. What does this little collection say about me, I wonder? I’d like to think it’s just a bit of harmless fun. But Teresa seems to be more of the ‘what are you wasting money on those for?’

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.

HOME/DiY: Work bench base-shelf, and other bitzenbobz…

Two shelves, plus some lighting.*

Once again I’ve been trying to create some order in my tiny workshop.

First (lower) shelf in place.

I put up two marine ply shelves (very strong!), along the left hand wall, attached in part to the shed frame itself, at one end (and in the middle), and the shelving unit at the other. I’ve put my two drill presses on the lower shelf, and all my sundry electric tools, or near enough, on the upper shelf. They’ll need proper homes in the fullness of time. But at least they’re out of the way, for now.

And loaded with gear.

Sundry other fixtures, hooks and little shelves and whatnot, have gone up as well, providing homes for various items. I’m also going to make a portable tool caddy in the style of one Patrick Sullivan shares on his YouTube channel. But that’s a project for later. (See YT Link at bottom)

Cutting channels for the base boards.
Used a ‘skill-saw’; a few minor errors!

But the major job I’ve done, yesterday and today, is to finally insert a basal shelf on my workbench. Again, I’m using some marine ply I got off a Cambridge area FreeCycler, many moons ago. Top quality lumber! Expensive stuff. Very glad I’ve got a stash of it for jobs like this.

Snapped off the remaining wood…
… and then chisel the channels flat.
The base is a three piece construction.

I cut the channels in the legs using a skill saw or plunge saw, set to an one inch depth. Making a series of cuts, the outer and innermost first, and the clearing a bit more wood with more passes. Then I snapped of the ‘fins’, leaving behind a little wood that needed chiselling away to make a nice flat base.

Having got the first piece in, with some glue, and a soft rubber-headed mallet to encourage it into place. I started with the central plank, which goes all the way through to the outer edges of the legs. After that, I had to cut two pieces to bring the width, or perhaps rather the depth, to it’s proper size.

Clamping stuff to get it aligned.

The central board reaches all the way across the bench to the outer edges of the legs. It required serious whacking with a mallet, and even a sledgehammer, to get the board fully in place. I suspect everything’s a tad off, as I generally busk this stuff. I do measure. But I’m not hyper accurate.

The final two boards span a shorter width, between the channels on the inner sides of the legs. The boards are all glued in place. Clamps and a ratchet strap are helping get everything sold and reasonably well aligned.

The third piece finishes it off.

I’m thinking that I might add another similar board nearer the top, and put in two drawers. For the time being I’ll probably use the bottom shelf as a lumber storage and/or a place for one or two oddments, equipment wise.

Note, vice removed, and… sledgehammer!?

The final pic, above, shows the whole thing, albeit a bit obscured by the open door. I removed the vice, as I wasn’t happy with how I had installed it. I’m going to re-fit it, probably at the left end of the bench. I also have another vice that I might add. But I’m not sure where? On the bench, or elsewhere in the shop?

I’m also planning to add dog/holdfast holes. Although I might install a hard-wood top to the bench. My laminated pine top is neither perfectly flat nor very resilient. It’s easily damaged.

Sundry power-tools, on the upper shelf.

The two lamps pictured above, and at the top of this post, were Amazon Vine freebies, for review. Quite nice, although not really to my tastes. But a strip light would ultimately be better (takes up less space!). Observant viewers may spot that I ran the power to the light up and out the front of the ply shelf, so as to avoid any tools damaging it.

FiLM REViEW: A Few Good Men, 1992

Essentially a court room drama, A Few Good Men is also a David vs Goliath type thing, and a reassuring sop on American idealism vs establishment corruption.

As entertainment it works pretty well: Cruise is as charismatic as ever, as cocky young US Navy lawyer, Daniel Kaffee. We want him to win, and he does. It’s well directed, by Rob Reiner, and it captures certain aspects of US martial and civic culture rather beautifully; from the precision choreography of the US Marines in the opening scenes, to various moody shots of beautiful locations.

As docu-drama it’s pure fantasy. Reassuring feel-good fantasy, in which arrogant corruption is humbled before the law. Demi Moore’s role is a bit weird, nearly but not quite Cruise’s love interest, and more the voice of his conscience. Kiefer Sutherland and Jack Nicholson are solid as the ‘villains’.

Kevin Bacon is Cruise’s legal adversary, for the prosecution. The heart of the film is about whether or not Cuba Gooding Jr and his accomplice are guilty of murder in the death of fellow (and unhappy/unsuccessful) Marine, Santiago, who dies during an unofficial but sanctioned ‘Code Red’.

Issues of pragmatism vs idealism, and loyalty vs independent thinking are part of the meat of the plot. But it’s such a prettily shot star-studded affair that any moral heft is rinsed out in a celebrity glare. And the denouement, whilst narratively satisfying, is total hokum.

Not a great film, but enjoyable Saturday evening fare…

MiSC: Blacking a Bottom!

I recently visited our pal Patrick, who’s having his bottom blacked. The marina he’s at is on my route to work. So I’ve popped in to see him a couple of times.

I can’t recall exactly what day this first visit was. But it shows his boat, Impulse, out of the water, prior to the work. Or more accurately as the work gets started.

Pat’s living on the boat whilst the work is carried out. You can see the guv’nor of the marina at work to the bottom left of this photo.

Here’s a view of the business end, prop, rudder, etc. You can see the circular pattern of the cleaning pads in the upper band of the hill.

This looks rather pretty. But it’s not how it should look. As we’ll see later.

Another view of the waterline wear. Interesting abstract patterns. But degradation of the metal looming. Re-blacking the bottom will protect and extend the life of both the metal and the boat.

Visit number two was on Friday 1st October.

This mighty beast must’ve hoisted Pat’s boat out of the water.
This shot shows the before and after change.
Pat’s access to his home.
The lifting beast, and Pat’s shiny new derrière.
An underwater anode!

I didn’t know what these doodads were. Pat told me they’re sacrificial anodes. He explained what they’re for. But I still wasn’t 100% clear on what they did, how, and why, etc. I found this:

By definition an anode is an ingot of sacrificial metal attached to the underwater hull of a narrowboat or canal boat which corrodes due to electrolysis more readily than the hull and propeller. Magnesium anodes are used for boats in fresh water. Aluminium anodes are used for boats in brackish water. Zinc anodes are used exclusively in salt water. (Found here.)

Pat, aboard Impulse.

As a jazz-bo, I think Pat should repaint his boat, and change the name to look like the Impulse jazz record label design. So his boat would still have the same name, but would also proclaim Pat’s live of jazz to those in the know.

Something drawn from or combining various aspects of the above logo variants might be pretty cool!

FiLM REViEW: Rocky, 1976

Wow! What feel good fun this old film is. Like it’s star character, Rocky has real heart. Sure it’s a bit cornball. A bit all-American apple-pie. But it’s also just damn good fun.

Stallone is great as the title character, a bit of a loser and dumbo, but with a good spirit, a big heart, and even bigger pecs/biceps. Carl Weaver is great as Apollo Creed, a fighter with as much brains as brawn, and more business acumen than his handlers.

My inner Alan Partridge is admonishing Rocky, ‘Don’t just be safe. Be egg safe!‘

The love interest side of the plot is really sweet, as well. Rocky pursuing Adrian (Talia Shire), the mousey pet-store assistant sister of his meat-packer buddy Pauly. Burgess Meredith is great as the Boxing Gymn owner who has a troubled fatherly relationship with Rocky.

Written by and starring Stallone, ably directed by John Avildsen, and telling a heartwarming rags to riches type tale of the American Dream, it’s not surprising Rocky won the Academy Award for Best Picture in ‘76.

Sly’s inspirational training scenes are fab!

Rocky’s character is both clichéd and yet still more rounded and subtle than one might expect. And the setting – in the grubby asphalt jungle of the working class neighbourhood, where Rocky operates as a strong-arm (but soft-hearted) debt collector for a rather charming and benevolent (at least as far as Ricky’s concerned) hoodlum – is both vivid and effective. And gives good context for the several strands of socially conscious moral values side of this very engaging movie.

There are several superb set pieces, culminating in the workout routine that sees a triumphantly heathy Stallone bopping atop the steps of the Philly Town Hall, and, of course, the big fight. some of the shots in the training sequences are breathtakingly beautiful. The fight is brutal, and the outcome dramatic but also sassy enough not to over-egg the soufflé.

Skid Row bums still have their dreams…
… and here, in celluloid heaven, they sometimes come true.

Watching this cuddled up on the sofa with a tipple close at hand and arms around the mrs was incredibly enjoyable. Go Rocky!