September Guitar Retreat

For a while now, I’ve been taking about 20 students for a 4 day retreat in the Lake District. We do it at a lovely guest house, located in its own rambling grounds, on Hawkshead Hill – We look at Improvisation, playing what you hear, allowing yourself to hear without reverting to licks, Chord creativity, Fretboard Navigation, Flow, nerves and anxiety on the gig, (performance anxiety in general)  and a lot more besides.

It’s quite an intense 4 days, 10am till 5pm each day, with breakfast and Lunch provided, coffee breaks, nice accommodation, and a lovely room to learn in.

I walk each morning, before breakfast, around 7am, around the lake. Stunning views and a great way to kick off the day. You’re welcome to join me.

I’ll write a more specific syllabus nearer the time. The exact dates are 5th to 8th of September – Let me know, if you’re interested.

 

 

Taking Offence

Tolerating profanity.

Profanity seems to leak into everything nowadays.

But does it, really?

Abso-f…ing-lutely!!

On occasion, with the wind at my back, in a situation that warrants it, I have been known to use ‘colourful language’. Warranted situations comprise of things like, burning toast -watching an underdog come through to win in the last seconds – waking up to Mussolini type dudes receiving the keys to the Whitehouse – receiving a tax bill that will leave me destitute – receiving a tax rebate – being stuck behind a slug on the motorway  when I’m in a hurry – being hounded by someone in a hurry with a snazzier car than mine, on the motorway – being diverted at various points on a 1am journey home, on the motorway – other things on the motorway – and more besides.

I have a reasonable vocabulary – I know words like ‘elegiac’ and  ‘vapid’ and ‘saturnine’ and ‘sagacious’ and ‘flapdoodle’ and ‘wimple’, but apart from ‘flapdoodle’ I wouldn’t use these words very often. We do this all the time. We have stockpiles of stuff we never use. When, for instance, did you last use the word ‘refrigerator’? You know exactly what it is, but you always use the shorter stem – fridge. This is like my sock drawer. Socks, long past seeing a foot, somehow cling to the bottom of the drawer or hide under other, more plump, hated, used socks. I shouldn’t use the plural. Each, of course, is a widowed sock, eyeing up other sock widows for possible fraternising when I close sock-shop for the day, as I peel on a smug pair of walking socks that are a gift to the foot, a caress of wool, a kiss of cotton, or a combinatory canoodle of both. Forgive me, as usual, I digress.

Words. Some words just don’t get it done.  If I whack my thumb with a hammer I’m not going to scream ‘deep folly’ or ‘curses’ or ‘confound it!!!’. I need to spit out a word that salve’s the savage in me – a word that gets to the point – that doesn’t fuck around. I need profanity at such trying times – I need to be tested and I need to fail, miserably; to hug the loser in me.

Embracing terms of endearment.

When I was younger, I was surrounded by women. Mother, Sisters, Aunties, and I was their ‘love’ or ‘dear’ or ‘darling’ or ‘swine’ or ‘little get’ or ‘bloody melt’ (a term of anti-endearment, used by my Mother on many occasions, and one, even though I haven’t the slightest idea of meaning or derivation, I thoroughly deserved).  The point is, I picked up a lot of the gentler terms – ‘love’, ‘darling’ etc, and I have used these all my life for both men and women. Most don’t mind, others get pissed off or feel patronised. And not just pissed off. I’m talking anger here. And it’s a ‘you have no right to question it, there’s no need for debate, shut the fuck up’ type anger.

Well, I can’t do that. That particular stance is creeping slowly into ‘conversation’, not just to burn the bridges of connection (dear, love, darling, petal ) but with a view to closing down free debate and suppressing any dissenting opinion, which is a far more serious threat to the kind of egalitarian society that most of us espouse. This seems to be happening more and more in places where speakers are made to feel that their opinion is not worth the hearing, and, furthermore, that they will actually be stopped, physically in some cases, from expressing it. That, I’m afraid, teeters on the fascistic. The pile, the pyre, in fact, of books that differ in opinions from yours, will be next. A new testament to an old testament. Do not have a voice. ‘There is only one voice. His. And by default, mine. Do you hear me?’ Do I fuck. Language, however archaic, has to be celebrated, surely? If I see another eye-roll at some completely innocuous use of ‘love’ or ‘dear’ or ‘petal’ etc offered as a mini hug or a simple offer of understanding by some guy or gal in their twilight years, I’m going to eye-roll the eye-roll. I understand how the patronising use of ‘calm down, dear, take a chill pill’ is annoying and dismissive, but that has different intent. That has ‘shut up, I don’t want to hear you’ written all over it.

Listening to diverse opinions.

 Shut up, I don’t want to hear you.

This mindset closes down channels of debate. It prevents the possible unveiling of an idea that might have, hitherto, been hidden to us – and the minority who use tactics like insults, misrepresentation, etc (you’re a bigot, a racist, a sexist, patronising,  insert slur, ad infinitum) for even asking such questions as ‘what’s your country of origin?’ or saying things like ‘I love your accent’ or even ‘can I help you with that?’, often leave the majority confused, or worse, frightened to express an opinion that could possibly be deemed offensive, however slight that opinion may be, and too often a person can be demonised for a totally unintended offence. The problem is, an offence taken claims the moral high ground over an offence unintended, and the internet is the perfect place to turn a misunderstood comment into the work of a crazed bigot intent on victimising or pressing their fascistic agenda. ‘Did I just hear you say, Hitler was an artist?’…. ‘No, you didn’t’…. ‘I rather think I did…. Hey, you know what she just said?’….  ‘She said WHAT!!?… She said Hitler had a point!!!??? … OMG!!! ‘…..  Now, I agree, some folk (is ‘folk’ ok?) have a bigoted, racist, sexist, misogynistic agenda and have no intention of engaging in dialogue  or parts thereof. But, for the sake of armchair warriors everywhere, for the sake of dissenting voices, for the sake of weeding out the banality of opinions that say a woman’s place is in the home, or that deny the Holocaust, or use dogmatic rhetoric to bully  us into a frightened silence, for the sake of all that, let’s encourage dialogue – divergent opinions – cognitive conflict – and who knows, when we advocate discourse, especially with those we disagree with or find obnoxious or even incendiary, we could influence an opinion or two, and/or in turn, have our own long held beliefs brought into a new perspective.

It can be difficult for those who are accepted into a baying mob, slapped silly with self righteousness, to offer any dissenting opinion. We accepted you, we’re family now and your voice must melt into the whole, it must mouth the words of the one god, created for your safe passage through a tough life strewn with sullied opinions that we must not tolerate at any cost. And the deal is, we get to say what those vile opinions are. In the words of Upton Sinclair “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” But here, it isn’t a salary – It’s the approval of a group. And that horrid opiate, individual bias, can mutate into collective bias, and if you get sucked in to the vortex of fixed opinion, you are doomed to call someone out for just wanting to hear a ‘controversial’ stance on gender, race, class etc etc. Of course, everyone is biased, but me. 

I’m outraged over the outrage about the outrage.                                      

‘I hate everything she stands for. Her book should be banned’. …..  ‘Have you read the book?’…..    ‘No. I don’t need to’. ……   Seriously?  You punish someone based on a whim? You take a negative view, assume, judge on those assumptions, and condemn, on hearsay?

I read somewhere that a home for the elderly had been reported because the staff referred to the residents as ‘love’, ‘dear’ etc etc. Linguistic tyranny? Some thought so. But I wouldn’t want to condemn on hearsay. I want to find out more. I don’t want to quote-mine articles that confirm my stance. I want to challenge my own assumptions. I do not want to grab for epithets on a whim. It’s too easy. It’s just so easy to look for the people that we know will confirm our long held positions, and all shout ‘He’s a douche’, ‘She’s another bad word’. 

We can choose to take something someone says in the worst possible way, giving it an intent that was never intended, (check out the reaction to your being offended, as a hint – it’ll be startled confusion) or we can choose to take it with a light heart and a smile. 

I do wonder if we can learn to accept and ultimately welcome the possible unease of exchanging viewpoints with people whose ideas differ from our own, even to the point of offending us, and with enough exposure to such views, maybe cultivate sobriety and elegance, creating a place that is not so fearful of expressing age old terms of endearment, a place that isn’t so ready to water down vibrant colours, one that promotes quality listening, that doesn’t make it fashionable to shout down a perceived dissenting voice, that doesn’t demonise or scoff at alternate views, but shows them a consideration and compassion that gives some worth to the oft used term  ‘celebrating our differences’.

And, if ‘celebrate’ is too difficult a stretch, then at least we can strive to understand those differences. Sometimes my own truths are better seen through the rantings of others; as are my misconceptions.                      

This post has a pay-off – Honestly.

‘I couldn’t believe this 7 month old baby could play the drums even better than the 8 month old baby I saw playing for my 3rd favourite band of all time ‘Hard of Hearing Duck’ at the Bowl of Soup in Lollywood’.

jamesfinlaysonpublicityheadshot

A meme is an initial idea that gets passed around from mind to mind, causing a chain of events that eventually turns into ‘a thing’. It’s an abbreviation of ‘memetic’ which is ’emetic’ with a letter missing and, in many cases, means the same thing.

Guilt memes. ‘I think I know the four or five friends who’ll copy and paste this, (don’t share it, copy and paste it)’.

‘You won’t believe what happens next’ memes.

‘Not finishing off the….’  memes.

‘You’re too stupid to do this’ memes.

These are click bait tactics. They attempt to manipulate you. ‘You won’t believe’ hooks often leave you scratching your head and wondering what it was you were not going to believe. Click on a fish, only to watch it, (gasp!), swimming. Click on yet another parrot who’s owner has ‘unbelievably’ taught it to say ‘fuck you’. Click on an old man giving a homeless woman  an eccles cake, (ok, this could be worth seeing but unbelievable it ain’t).  And the ‘Nobody can do this’ meme that everyone can do. How strange is it to see thousands of replies, all saying the same thing? – ’46’. It’s a desperate world and here’s the thing; It isn’t. Confused?  Well, read on. And that, is the point. And it’s a point, all too often, made at any cost.

Which brings me to my point. This post has a pay-off, and if you’re still reading you’ll want to thank me for helping you sleep a little easier tonight.

Ok. Congleton.

Congleton is a town in Cheshire in the North of England. The Bible is, allegedly, the word of God. In the 1600’s, God costs and if you want ‘the word’ you better have the means to pay for it. The problem, is that bears also cost and the town needed a new, much more quarrelsome beast to attract the crowds to the infamous, but getting less infamous by the minute, bear-baiting contests.  There’s money in the coffers for the apparent-word-of-God. So, they used the apparent-word-of-God-money and bought a badass bear and Congleton became known as Beartown.

Ok. King Kong.

I first saw the 1933 classic at the Electric Cinema in Beartown. In the foyer, a guy was displaying an original poster of the famous Kong shot at the top of the Empire State Building that his Father had bought when the film was initially released.

Ok. Ink.

Whilst looking at this poster, someone had inadvertently left a fountain pen that decided  at that very moment to leak onto the poster, which was worth, or used to be before this calamity, a small fortune.

Ok. Think on.

Here is the point. And the pay off.

When you go to bed tonight, before you drift into sleep, think on this;

Think on ink on King Kong in Congleton.

Say it a few times. Now, try and get to sleep. Good luck.

Doh!

james_finlayson___way_out_west

Clothes: To wear or not to wear.

No matter how hard I try, I just do not look good in clothes. 
When I wear clothes I look like an unmade bed. 
Not the down to earth artist Tracy Emin’s work of art
but an actual unmade bed. 
 
Who’s unkempt in the world of fame?
Batman isn’t unkempt, he always looks ‘spockless’ as my mam used to say.
TV chefs aren’t unkempt – they’re just made to look a bit unkempt for a, ‘he’s like uncle Ray or the man who shouts ‘shit’ on the market’ type comment from an attentive family member who comments on just about everything and is terrible with names but never forgets a face.
The fish fella, he’s not unkempt.That’s a ruse to amuse it’s not
how it is when he’s out and about looking for T-Shirts at Armani with crayfish patterns on.
He never had sugar butties at Christmas I bet you that for nothing.
Martin Kemp of the legendary swashbuckling band ‘Spandau Ballet,’

despite the lure of the name, has never been unkempt even for the briefest moment. Apparently, even his digestive system uses a discreet method of packing yesterday’s lettuce and Ribena butties into little Perfumed-by-Garnier boxes and shipping, I said shipping, them off while he sleeps the sleep of the kempt – none of that is true and I made up the word ‘kempt’, just to set the record straight.

I just went off and couldn’t get back.
I’m back now and I look like an unmade bed in clothes.
Without clothes I’m fine – somewhat like this:
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And as soon as I put clothes on, this happens:
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toni-1
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I bought some snazzy trainers because I couldn’t stop wearing my hiking boots which were just so comfortable and gave me an overall manly disposition.
I wore them with suits. On gigs. At weddings. Funerals. For swimming.
Then I glimpsed myself in a shop window in Manchester and I thought
‘you know what, Michael?,’ which is what I call myself when I’m feeling inspirational
and ready for a life change, ‘you don’t have to look like a Farmer’ which is what the guy from Vodaphone guessed as my occupation when I had to fill in a form at the Vodaphone shop and we played a little game to inject an air of ease and camaraderie into an otherwise mundane situation that had the potential to point to awkward but didn’t because of the game but then did because he guessed I was a Farmer then felt awkward when I said Composer (I left out ‘Guitarist’ because it often sullies the lofty title of ‘Composer’ and I knew this would give him a little shock because I looked like a Farmer in his eyes – that was a long sentence).
Anyway, in this shop window, I saw the Farmer.
Snazzy trainers will save you, I thought, and I ordered some online because shops don’t stock size 13 as a rule, or even as a ruler, which is roughly the same size.
They came. They looked snazzy and hip and were potentially going to pluck me
from a woolly, unkempt obscurity tinged with the gloomy prospect of light ridicule,
and instantly thrust me into the world of catwalks and photo shoots with Patrick Demarchelier and motivational talks at ‘Gutbusters’ or ‘Teethworld’.
And then I tried them on.
I have nice feet. The footwear is nice.
Lettuce is nice. Bubble gum is nice.
Toddlers are nice. Long winter walks are nice.
Bikinis with Ken Dodd’s face on  (non-UK use google, please)
and Queen Elizabeth are nice…..
But, and my point is buckling under the weight, I know,
NOT TOGETHER!!!!!
I wrote about this before and someone actually offered to take me shopping
(I haven’t forgotten, Claire) but being 6ft 4in with size 13 feet doesn’t
park me dead centre of Paris and the world of Life-size cut-outs.
My Daughter helps me out as best she can and often performs the miracle of transformation (a skuzzy Godzilla into a young Tommy Cooper – non-Uk use google, please) but she isn’t the Holy Mary (she admitted this) and often has her own life to lead as a Pub Landlady-Midwife-Girlfriend.
My Son, though tall, seems much more able to pick suitable stuff when he’s
on the fashion trail. I point to something ‘what about these?,’
and he spits fashionable teeth of laughter all over the stripped oak floor.
I just don’t get it.
6ft 4in is not that big nowadays. The generation born in the 90s seems to have shot up so the industry has to take that into account and clothe them accordingly and maybe I can benefit from the fall-out.
Or am I just an unmade bed?
Am I destined to be the arse-end of a down to earth artist’s joke?
Or will I be rescued by an angel that has Lionel Blair Non-Uk use google please
fashion sensibilities?
Because, no matter how hard I try, despite the ruse of Rick Stein Non UK etc,
I just do not look good in clothes.

Writing.

I’ve discovered something recently. I have a need to write. Not to be read, so much. After all, the only view needed is mine. A more pressing need is to write words that have a chance to take the air as opposed to pacing up and down in my head. 

Actually, they don’t pace up and down – they pace around each other, shuffling aimlessly and occasionally bouncing off each other like stray boats on a lake, which sets them on a new course of aimlessness. These words are tall, lean, and have badly smudged expressions. Other words are small and round, like Danny Devito but with Billy Connolly’s hair from the 70’s. They dart about with intent on rascality – smashing into each other and dividing into smaller versions of themselves – little fat fractals full of fun and frivolity hell bent on needless alliteration.

I have always written. The muse comes and goes but it only fades into the shadows for a spell, lurking around in a doorway, like Harry Lime, or looking up at my window from beneath a street lamp when I’m trying to sleep. I don’t need to get out of bed to see that tilted hat covering the eyes, and that smug smile that seems part way to saying ‘forget it, bub, it ain’t worth it, you ain’t worth it’ before it sucker punches me with, ‘ok dope, write till ya brain gets mushed then if-ya-hafta, write until your fingers fall off and your hand seizes up and ya don’t see day become night and your belly moans atcha over and over to feed it a meal instead of bourbon and ya wake up clutching a pen in one hand and screwed up paper in the other. But, whatever ya decide to do, whatever ya dare to do, don’t do it in Bogey’s voice, ya schmuck’.

My younger writer was all abstract and twisted metaphor and much too aware of itself. Mercifully, I learned to let go of a vocabulary that drew attention to itself and I focused on what I really wanted to say. I wanted to be clear, to express an idea that captured exactly how I felt. This was liberating and a little more akin to improvising in music, which has been my chosen field of starvation for the past jazzillion years.

I write. I don’t consider myself a writer. I’m a musician – a guitarist/composer and I teach here and there, and it’s mostly this that keeps the wolf from the door. I write to see where the writing will take me and I like resting in the flow of the words. Also, I like to write to see what I think. That sounds a little trite when I put it down in print but it really does help formulate my thoughts into a cohesive narrative and I get to debate something, anything, with myself. This helps stop the rot, or to be precise, it gives my thoughts a voice that reflects back on itself which, in turn,  gives me a chance to re-shape an opinion that I’d previously taken for granted. I do not want to be a slave to my opinions. I want to be fluid, malleable, and I want to be a part of a shared dialogue. This is a theme that beats blood into my life on a daily basis. In conversations with myself, family and friends, shared dialogue gives me a sense of place, of being, and it keeps me in touch with people of all persuasions, from all walks of life. I also like, more and more, the notion of committing to an idea only to let it go, to watch it leak slowly into the vast rivers of the internet to be kicked around by grammar stallions and wordsmiths and turn-of-phrase bruisers -(with the understanding that it will most probably ossify in a pond of calcification) Yes, I just said ‘ossify in a pond of calcification’. Ugly and unyielding and as depressing a phrase as I’ve heard in a while. And it’s mine.

Write. I never urge anyone to do anything – but I’ll shoulder this exception. Don’t sit and stare. Don’t procrastinate. Don’t compare. Don’t try and write the best thing nobody ever thought of. Just, write. Give a voice to all those words that splash around in your head and have a tendency to bruise your tired heart or enmesh you in fuzzy gunk. Go out, get a nice pen and 120gsm paper (it’s the 5,000 pocket sprung mattress of the writing world) or tap away on your computer, and every time joy, sorrow, frustration or the bloated stone of lonely enters your life, put your feelings into words. Don’t do overly-pained lyrical, overly-pawed prose, scholastic bloviation (irony creeps in, even here) or strangled grammar that constantly gawps at itself. If you want to make it snazzy sounding later, then do so, but, for now, just write with a view that the only viewer is you. It’s like blood-letting of old but with a difference – it actually works – it gives you a chance to rest awhile. Read your words at a later date – days, months, even years later. It’s like wandering the corridors of a state of mind that is embedded in your history, and so, it can be consigned to that history. It can be enlightening too, especially if you’ve written honestly and openly. This new vista often gives a fresh perspective and can help you evaluate new storms on the horizon, way ahead of time.

And remember,  the only required view, need be you.