Back to school with the FB LSC group

Today I went back to school for the first time in over 25 years to learn a bit of Spanish. At 08:00, when the Enforex school opened the doors on us new starters, I was standing firmly outside of my comfort zone on Alicante’s esplanade. Initial assessment confirmed that I’m an absolute beginner (I took a test and guessed a lot) but my anxiety and nervousness soon crumbled as I got into the swing of things. By the time that five hours had passed I had to concede that I’d enjoyed the whole experience – and I can’t wait for tomorrow’s instalment.

 

For over a year now, I’ve been part of a closed Facebook group. FB LSC looked like lots of fun when I heard about it back in 2017. The idea’s a relatively simple one – a group of people keen to hear new music and to be pushed out of their comfort zones get together virtually to listen and comment upon new tunes nominated anonymously by others in the group. It all takes the form of a monthly song contest and (one of the immediate pulls for me) the scoring is based on the Eurovision point system. 

After getting the hang of things by awarding my points in one contest (FB LSC 24) I was able to nominate a track in the next. I thought I was playing it safe going for a solid number from the back catalogue of The Lovely Eggs but it didn’t register much interest from the other panel members and limped home in 15th (out of 19 songs) place. The winners of that contest by some margin were The Babe Rainbow, a band I’d not heard of before but was happy to be introduced to. 

The LSC was founded by Conor Fanning. He still participates in the contest and was happy to provide a bit of background.

“I initially set up the group on last.fm. I cannot take credit for the idea as it is based on the Eurovision voting structure and there are other versions of this idea on the internet. The reason I set it up was I missing a social connection with fellow people who were passionate about music. Through the medium of last.fm I felt it was appropriate. What came from it was not simply just a means to express individual taste but also to form a community. During those days we were on average between 25-30 participating members. And the group as a whole had up to 400 members. The community aspect built from the live shows, people would comment and chat live as the songs were posted. It was a fun environment. It was particularly enjoyable for those who were open-minded to other genres and people’s negative comments on their entries. There were some members who appeared to take these personally sometimes and left the group. What was interesting was you would usually see a band of supporters actually emerge to encourage members like this to not take comments personally. The group also offered a general forum for discussion topics and lots and lots of games. This was a very active space that allowed members participating or new and old members to build a community-like environment outside of the contest. I honestly put a lot of heart into that group on last.fm so when last.fm removed the group function I was rather bummed out. The group on Facebook – I’m not involved with the administration side of it. I was actually asked by Martin for permission to carry it over to Facebook.”

Martin takes over the story:-

“I’ve been involved in the contest since 2010 and the fifth contest back when it was on the old last fm site.  At that time we were few in number.  Conor was the founder and Jens has been involved since the inception I think.  For me it’s provided a group of people who are passionate about an exceptionally wide range of music.  It’s opened my horizons to genres that I would previously never have even considered exploring.  It’s allowed me to look outside of the English speaking world and find some incredible artists from other nations.  It’s inspired my love for nordic female led folk/acoustic music and spurred me on to explore electronica in much more detail than I had previously.  To top if off, as well as being an excellent vehicle for musical discovery, it is peopled by a bunch of thoroughly decent folks.  There is no nastiness and everyone is free to disagree with each other on the songs.  When that happens it is nearly always done respectfully and it is good to get other perspectives.  I’ve been one of the hosts now for a long time and when Last fm ruined itself and got rid of the social aspect it was me that started up the facebook group. Jens and I then oversaw the migration to here from last and even prompted a few people to actually set up their first FB accounts just so they could stay involved.”

It’s fair to say that the track record of the tunes I’ve entered to date hasn’t been spectacular. Winning is obviously for muppets but I’m yet to come close. I’ve not even scraped inside the top five and one or two of my entries (which shall remain anonymous) have been placed last (although not with nil points). I randomly entered a song by Nahko that I was somewhat ambivalent about and his musing on dragonflies came in sixth overall – my best effort to date. A PR company has just sent me details about his new track; Hamakua resonates with me more. 

 

 

To get a sense of the latest LSC playlist, you can look here on YouTube. 

 

 

Why don’t you take a step outside of your comfort zone today, challenge yourself with something new and throw yourself into this fine bit of social network fun? To join, search for LSC General group on Facebook and request membership. Martin or Jens will then sort you out with what you need. Or, if that sounds too complicated just speak to me. Hasta pronto.

Barrio Boutik, Alicante and Illumenium

I had to write something at this desk – correspondence from a charming boutique hostal in the old town of Alicante. Downstairs in the Barrio Boutik, the bedroom has a little narrow alcove at the end of which is a small desk. There’s an ornamental lamp on it. And a mirror on the wall. Whenever I look up from the glare of my I-pad, I’m reminded that I desperately need a barber. 

 

The Barrio Boutik is exceptional value for money and a great place to stay. I think that the French owners were a little concerned that I might leave a critical and harsh review about the noise that surrounds. It’s located in a vibrant part of town and I was suitably warned after booking that Saturday night noise can permeate until the early hours. Us hardened festival-goers don’t mind the background beats as we drift off to sleep – and if it gets too much there’s always earplugs. 

 

Truth is that the noise is currently pleasant rather than intrusive. There’s a punk club just down the road and if I wasn’t such a loner I’d consider heading back out. 

Initial impressions of Alicante are positive. I’m here to learn a new skill but I do wish I was able to speak a bit more Spanish right now. From mid-afternoon, stags, hens and birthday bods have partied with raucous intent, plastic cocks stuck on faces with the dressing all fancy. I’ve felt like an outsider looking on. My ‘holas’ can lead nowhere.

Earlier as I walked up the esplanade, I was stopped by an enthusiastic youngster waving a CD under my nose. “Do you speak English?”, he asked. I was grateful to respond, to feel potentially useful. Turns out that Illumenium are an Estonian metal band. They’re wildly and widely travelling around Europe actively pushing their music into the hands of anybody who might listen. I refuse to feel bad for not buying the CD despite being urged to support a group of struggling musicians realise their dream. Illumenium’s determination is undoubtedly impressive, as is the quantity of their Facebook followers (“We have over 100,000“, I was told, the efforts to impress me by numbers falling upon deaf ears).

 

Of course, being the music geek that I am, I had to head home to this desk and listen to Illumenium. As I’d suspected, it’s not my sort of music. It could well be decent and the future of metal but I have no critical framework in which to base it. Regardless, I have all sorts of respect for a band that are taking such active steps to promote their music. I’d be keen to know what other Sonic Breakfast readers with a heavier taste might think. 

 

My first week in Spain

I’ve been in Spain for a week now having left Leicester with my carload of ‘stuff’ back in March.

 

By now I should be settled into the villa that will become home for the next year. But the previous tenant is dragging her feet and despite paying no rent to Sarah is showing few signs of urgency in terms of vacating. It’s all a tad frustrating. The lawyers might well need to get involved. Without Sarah’s permission, the current tenant (who we’ll call mad-dog woman for ease of reference) has been using the property as a dog rehabilitation home. The fixed kennels that have been installed on the land don’t appear to be coming down. This could be a long and drawn-out process. 

We’ve tried to use the time productively by touring around the vast and varied Muebles that operate in these parts. Warehouses by the side of roads almost look closed when you drive up to them (and some are – we set off an alarm in one when we innocently wandered in). But enter inside these sprawling caves and you’ll find all manner of home furnishings. We figure that the furniture currently in the property might need replacing when mad-dog woman and her troop of fifty dogs finally decide to leave. Not that anything can be bought as yet. 

We’ve also used the time to visit some of the lovely attractions around these parts. On the drive down from Bilbao we stopped overnight in Zaragoza. I wish we’d got the lift to the top of the Basilica on a day when my legs weren’t still feeling the ferry-wobbles. The view from up there of this fantastic city was surely impressive but such was my feeling of retrospective sea-sickness I clung to the lift shaft and barely looked down. 

The day trip on ‘Dave’s Coaches’ to Cartagena was also impressive. “Is this a history-like place?”, asked one punter to another, blissfully unaware of what they were about to see. In truth, although I’d read about the place in tourist and history books, nothing can really prepare you for being there. As you walk out of the Teatro Romano museum into the open-air space of the theatre itself, it’s hard not to be overcome by the sheer scope and size. I delivered my best Shakespeare soliloquy from the stage of the theatre, demonstratively flinging my arms in OTT fashion as I pondered the meaning of life. Sarah bought me back to earth by pointing out that this arena pre-dated the Bard by a mere millennium and a half.

Accidentally stumbling upon the burial of the sardine fiesta in Murcia last Saturday was another highlight. We caught the train from our temporary hostel in Crevillente keen to see the swish elegance of the casino and to experience the highly-rated tapas. We had no idea that we’d enter a city full of noise, vivacity and carnival troupes handing out toys and trinkets to wide-eyed children. As we shuffled down the main promenades full of Spanish cheer and beer, I couldn’t help thinking that the decision to spend a year adventuring in this country is a wise one. 

Sarah heads back to England tomorrow and then I’ll be very much alone. I’ve met lots of people willing to help in evicting mad-dog woman but it would appear that patience is the right tactic for now. She’ll go when she’s ready to and then I can concentrate on getting the villa into some semblance of order. Nothing seems to happen with haste here and it’s best to go with that flow. I’ve enrolled on an intensive Spanish language course in Alicante for the next two weeks. I’ll be sharing accommodation with other students, something that I last did 25 years ago. It’s been so long since I’ve attempted to learn a new language it’s likely that my brain will explode. In my spare time, I plan to listen to new music and blog about what I’ll find. I’m also going to see if I can get myself accredited for ‘We Are Murcia’,  an exciting festival that’s soon to take place in the city. 

Until next time, here’s a tune I heard whilst sat in the town hall in Catral yesterday. It took on new meaning amongst the inefficiencies and frustrations. 

 

 

 

Ferris & Sylvester, August And After & Lozt – Cambridge Boat House – February 23rd 2018

As my plans to move to Spain edge ever closer, I’m keen that Sonic Breakfast will still host gig reviews from the UK. My good friend, Paul Champion, has covered a couple in Leicester and now the lovely Katy Adkins reports from Cambridge after a happy Friday night. 

 

Sonic Breakfast introduced me to Ferris and Sylvester with its blog (here) about their newly released EP, Made In Streatham (Jan 31st 2018) and it was a love-at-first-listen affair. Over the last month this has been my go-to music and I’ve felt that inquisitive longing to get to know their work more extensively. Last night’s gig in Cambridge has left me temporarily sated. 

After a drive of just over an hour, with my +1 sidekick in tow we arrived at The Boathouse, Cambridge, to find just a single parking space available and it was directly outside the venue – joy!  This adventure was going very smoothly so far and there was a growing sense of excited anticipation for what was to come. 

The Boathouse is part of a popular chain of gastro-pubs and seemed an unlikely venue: we found that we were not the only people to find themselves questioning the bar staff about whether we were in fact in the correct place.  We were directed through a small door, upstairs to the intimate function room, where seats were set out in front of a small, warmly-lit stage area.  Whilst waiting for the acts to prepare and as people arrived I learned that this was one of a number of warm-up gigs being hosted around Cambridge by the organisers of The Den Stage as part of The Cambridge Folk Festival set to take place in August 2018.  They whet the appetite of potential crowds with up and coming acts whom have already graced The Den stage or those who are expecting to later this year. 

 (To read about the support acts, click on page 2)

Louis Brennan – Airport Hotel

It felt somewhat neat and a little appropriate on Valentine’s Day to receive the new song and video from Louis Brennan, Airport Hotel.

 

Sending brightly-coloured cards with glossy emotions does little more than sabotage and sanitise the complicated feelings we all experience around ‘love’ and it’s perhaps this that turns many off from celebrating with flowers, chocolate and poor poetry on St. Valentine’s Day.

In Airport Hotel, the emotions are real and raw; let yourself get carried away with Brennan’s expressive, baritone voice as it gradually reveals the story of ‘forbidden’ love that permeates throughout the song. The string arrangements rise and fall as Louis ponders how he might explain to his wife (and kids) that he has fallen for another. It’s stark, dark and yet beautiful storytelling that’ll surely tug on the most emotionally detached. 

The release of ‘Airport Hotel’ comes slightly in advance of Louis’ album ‘Dead Capital’ which is scheduled to drop on February 23rd. It’s an album that Sonic Breakfast is quite excited to hear. Back in 2017, Louis released another track from it, ‘Bit Part Actor’. Brooding, dark and melancholic with the poetry taking centre-stage, the video stars one of Sonic Breakfast’s favourite comedians, Ed Aczel. 

In despondency, it’s entirely possible to find lovely art.

 

 

 

 

Todd and Jingyu – Find Me Find You – A Story

As this week builds towards the corporate schmalz of Valentines Day, Sonic Breakfast has unearthed a delightful record about love for your listening pleasure. 

Find Me Find You: A Story by Todd and Jingyu is quite an album. We’re suckers for stories here at Sonic Breakfast and this one beautifully documents the relationship of our leading characters. The first half of the record takes us from the pain of previous friendships that weren’t quite right through to the initial connection and meeting between Todd and Jingyu. The second half shows how, despite some cultural differences (Todd is American and Jingyu Chinese), the love that develops continues to grow. 

One suspects that this is still a couple who hold hands when they walk in the park. You get the sense that Todd and Jingyu wake every morning with that secure knowledge of being able to share the wonders and curiosities of the world together. 

Musically, the story of Find Me:Find You also touches on many of Sonic Breakfast’s pinch points. There are counterpoints a-plenty within the sweet, observational duets that make up much of the record. You can easily imagine that you’re listening to the soundtrack from a stage musical here; a simpler Sondheim shall we say?

Do listen to the record from start to finish if this has piqued your interest – it’s freely available on line and well worthy of digging into. For now, Sonic Breakfast wants to share two songs with you . 

‘Find You’ is set before Todd and Jingyu meet. Both are establishing their online dating profiles, boiling their wants and desires down into a simplified cliched language that might appeal to their dream partner. And wrestling with themselves over the apparent stupidity of it all.

‘Boy And Girl’ is the album’s central stone. It’s the thoughts of Todd and Jingyu when they first meet; the initial rush of excitement when they realise there’s a connection; the nervous energy that’s expended when you babble on about the first thing that comes to mind in those moments when any silence might be considered awkward rather than perfectly natural.

These are happy romantic tunes, awash with the sweetest of uncorrupted innocence. It almost feels like Spring is in the air.

 
 

Jonny & The Baptists – Leicester Cookie – Wednesday 7th February 2018

February – a month in which the beers are flowing in Leicester. Comedians head to the city to check if their half-baked ideas might have any mileage before launching them onto Edinburgh in August. It’s not all work in progress at the Comedy festival though and for the last few years I’ve seen some great acts whilst reviewing for the local daily paper, the Mercury. 

 

I think this review of mine from the Jonny & The Baptists show I saw on Wednesday night was in Friday’s printed paper. But I can’t find it online anywhere so I’ll publish here…

 (Click on page 2 to read the review)