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Gig at the Douglas Hotel

Cams practising at home for a gig

I’ve got a solo gig this coming Saturday 25 January at the Douglas Hotel in Brodick, my first solo in gig in over a year.

I generally practice through my PA at home when I’ve got a gig, so that I can get used to the differences of playing amplified. I have a D-Tar Wavelength pick-up in my SCGC Vintage Artist and I couple that with a D-Tar MamaBear preamp and I had never really got my tone dialled until after a recording session a month or so ago, when the sound at the recording session was so bad that I got home and was determined to figure it out or give up on it.

I’ve got the pickup set as:

  • 16: Neutral – No Input Compensation
  • 14: Gypsy Jazz
  • Blend – 11 o’clock, so one hour into wet

It’s really the input selection that makes the biggest difference and that’s where I’d been going wrong all these years!

So, now to prepare for the gig. I managed to squeeze into a corner of the living room with the MamaBear by my side, an SM58 mic and the XLR cables going into my passive Soundcraft mixer. I’ve got one XLR running from the mixer, behind the sofa to an AER AcoustiCube60 and I can leave it set up all week without anything really being in the way. Result!

The tone I’m getting is very good indeed! Both fingerstyle and strumming work well, and the vocals sound great. Even my wife has commented on the good playing, which, I explained, is a direct result of having good sound! If it sounds good, I play well; if I’m constantly worrying about the tone, as a normally do, the playing suffers.

I’m going to see what kind of tone I can get with my Model A tonight. It has a PUTW 54 and UST wired in stereo and I’ve always had trouble getting the balance right. I find that there are too many variables with that set up so, although I prefer that guitar, I find myself using the VA for gigs because of the simple, single-source pickup. I’m now reviewing pickups for my next guitar and reckon I’m going to go with a K&K. I’ve never tried one and they get great write-ups.

Ceilidh Band Accompaniment

Arran Ceilidh Band1

The Arran Ceilidh Band was a five-piece band that I played guitar with. It had a good three-year run and disbanded at the end of 2017.

Reality Music TV Shows and Online Betting

X-Factor panel

Three popular Reality TV Shows with an Online Betting System

Before, placing a bet on a team or an individual player was only done in sports matches. However, today, it would seem that reality TV shows now have a place in the betting industry as well.

Betting on reality TV contests are very much like wagering on sports events. Contestants who are fan favourites have the highest odds but with small payouts, while the “dark horses” will always have the highest pot. Through online bookers, people can now place bets and make money by predicting who will place first by the end of the show. Here are three of the most popular TV shows with an online betting platform:


X-Factor is one of the most popular reality TV shows in the US and UK. As such, it is only rational that a betting system for it was made. This year’s X-Factor, former prison officer Sam Bailey was the fan favourite and the odds were in her favour. In a news report by Betfair‘s Jack Houghton, Luke Friend was her strongest opposition with Nicholas McDonald out of the lead. In the end, it was Sam who won the completion and became the X-Factor 2013 champion.

The Voice

Last year, The Voice UK’s betting market was surprised when Leanne Mitchell bagged the first prize. Not a lot really expected Leanne to win, with the odds against her of only 7/1 during the final leg of the competition. Her toughest competitors during that time were Tyler James and Vince Kidd but due to her unexpected, spectacular performance, she was able to turn the tide and became The Voice’s champion last year.

Eurovision Song Contest

Eurovision is a huge contest in the UK region, being participated by the active member countries of the European Broadcasting Union. It is one of the longest-running shows in the world and one of the most watched non-sporting events. With viewers that range around 600 million internationally, it only makes sense that a betting platform was dedicated to it. This year, Denmark became the favourite of betting fans, followed by Norway, which came through second in the finals.

Ultimately, the online betting business on music programs will keep getting bigger in the future for two reasons. First, it offers an alternative to sports betting where people can not only enjoy TV shows as is but also make a little money from them. In addition, it also does well to the TV programs by advertising them freely online through news articles and betting results.

Christmas Bonus!

DSC 8959

This is my fifth Christmas as a postmaster. The pay’s not great, but it’s a rewarding job in many ways. December is our busiest time, of course, and we do probably three months’ work in one month. So with the running of the business and the multiple thousands of my own money I’ve invested, it’s nice to get the thanks I deserve for all my hard work – 25 1st class stamps. Well, it could be worse, it could be 2nd class!

Lovely painting


Guitar-playing Dad

Rather than reading Catch 22 or the photography book I paid £20-odd quid for this morning to read on the boat, I thought I’d write something that was inspired by Write for your Life episode 101. Creation’s better for the soul than consumption, right? In that episode, host Iain Broome was talking about how he can’t read when he’s tired and can’t stay awake in bed for longer than three minutes. Rather than talk about how I deal with that (answer: audiobooks!), I’m going to talk about what I’ve referred to as my number one passion since I was 21, playing guitar.

When my daughter was born in 2004, I was already obsessed with guitar. I had by then bought and sold a few high-end guitars, was moderator on a couple of guitar forums (remember them?) and even ran one of my own. How good my day was was determined by how much practice time I had managed to fit in that day. We lived in Luxembourg then and it’s a very family oriented country. Parental rights of employees are very generous and so I found myself doing the modern dad thing, working part time or from home. So I was home and able to play a lot while Freya slept or watched CBeebies or Baby Einstein.

In October 2004 I made my first trip to Atlanta to meet a bunch of online friends IRL and it was utterly fantastic. (2007 jam photos) I went every year for the next five years after that, as well as a two-week trip to Steve Kaufman’s Acoustic Kamp in Tennessee. These were good times. Something that stood out to me in both places was the large number of 50-something dads with high-end guitars who were just getting back into playing after a long hiatus while their kids were growing up. I remember thinking to myself that I would never let that happen to me. I couldn’t understand what they were talking about. I had a kid and was playing more than ever, right? My son was born in 2006 and, same deal – play, travel, buy, sell, chat, moderate. Guitars were everything.

We left Luxembourg and moved to Arran in 2008 to take on a new business and that’s when things began to change. I started experiencing a lot of what Iain talks about in episode 10. I was too tired at the end of the day to play anything and, for the first six months, I don’t think I played for more than half an hour. But the passion began to come back slowly. I recall one evening sitting by the coal fire, getting out the guitar and playing some of my trickiest material. Much to my surprise, my playing was just about as good as ever, undoubtedly caused by the fact that I was hearing my guitar for the first time in months and in such a romantic and calming atmosphere. It never sounded so sweet.

So, problem solved? Well, kind of. My playing went from strength to strength. I got asked into a bluegrass band and had some of the best musical experiences I’d ever had, playing local village halls and opening for bigger acts like Phil Cunningham & Aly Bain and Lunasa. The Atlanta jams had stopped happening since I moved to Arran, which, selfishly, was kind of good for me as there’s no way I’d have been able to go anyway. But good fortune shone my way and the host jam, Little Brother, decided to have another one in the October when I was to turn 40. So, I gigged hard that summer, playing local hotels three nights a week and putting all the earnings into my plane ticket. And what jam it was! It was one of the best experiences of my life, to have made such good friends and get to see them all again in one of my favourite places for my birthday. And my playing then was probably as good as it’s ever been.

After that I was feeling burned out. I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and the meds were making me tired and depressed. I came off the strong pain killers that had been propping me up for so long and the guitar playing started to suffer. When I was asked about the following summer’s playing schedule, I opted out. If I wasn’t in bed for 10 o’clock, the tiredness became overwhelming and gigging though the week would mean getting home at midnight or later.

Last year I had a few fairly high profile gigs and they didn’t go great. Well, in actual fact they were probably fine, but my fear prevented me from enjoying them. Family life was okay because I was now home most evenings and getting to see the kids and I was happiest staying home at nights. I’ve hardly played my guitar at all this year. I’ve felt the passion stirring when I’m out listening to music on my headphones and walking the dogs, but I’ve been getting increasingly bitter about being in middle age and not having created anything. I was listening to Fatboy Slim of all people, loving it and wondering why the hell I’d never created anything like that. I’m a talented musician, but in terms of creativity, I suck. So I began to look more towards my second hobby, photography. Like music, it is also all consuming, at least for me anyway. But it has the advantage of making me feel that I’m creating something.

And now I’m at a crossroads again. I have family and work commitments, as well as a podcast subscription list that gives me no breathing space at all during the day. My reading list is also long, but I’m struggling to get to any of that now. But why the crossroads? Well, my good friend and fellow musician that I played in the bluegrass band with has asked me to join him in a new band. I didn’t think I wanted it, but as soon as he suggested it, I got a little glow in my tummy. This guy is one of the best fiddle players I’ve ever heard and, without rhetoric, this could be the chance of a lifetime for me. I know I can commit, and stick to it. Ask my masonic brethren. My worry is the fear. I’m feeling all right just now, but I’ve felt all right before and had the fear come back. I think what I’ll have to do is get back on top of my life again. Cutting back on the podcasts would help (not yours of course Iain!). If only Myke bloody Hurley would stop putting out so much good content! I think that getting on and staying on top will keep the fear at bay. I know that because it has worked before. And better attendance of AA meetings will help too. I reached eight years last month and still need the meetings to keep the darkness away.

Thinking back to what prompted this post, I think what I’ll have to do is start scheduling things in my life again. I did it before for a few months and it was surprisingly effective. I’ll make a weekly schedule of repeating tasks and take care of things in bite-sized chunks. So, rather than reading none of Catch 22 each day because I want a decent sized chunk of time to enjoy it, I’ll allow myself to tick the box after having read only two pages. Rather than practising a song until it’s perfect, I’ll practice for 10 minutes then check the box. Last time I did this, the 10 minutes often turned into 30 or more, but the fact that 10 minutes allowed me to tick the box made me far more likely to pick it up in the first place. What can I say? I’m a box ticker. I think the advice that Iain put into his Room 101 of ‘just write’ or ‘bums on seats’ in this case can work. Schedule 10 minutes of writing time, be sure to do it at a time of day when you know you’re not going to be sleepy (tea time’s the worst for me) and write for 10 minutes. It might become 30 minutes or more, and it might not.

Pens as presents

On episode 23 of the Pen Addict podcast Brad and Myke talked about giving pens as gifts. I tweeted about it at the time:

Well, not only did my wife get me a fountain pen for our 11th wedding anniversary this week, I also got her one. And d’you know what? It was a disaster.

She got me a Waterman Perspective fountain pen in silver with a steel nib, and I got her a Faber Castell Ambition in brushed steel. 11 years is the steel anniversary, see? Now it all makes sense!

My wife has never really understood my love of pens. I thought that it was just because she didn’t have one of her own and that if I bought her a nice one, she’d grow to appreciate it. WRONG! If I’m honest about it, I suppose I just want her to learn to appreciate one of my hobbies, just as she did with me and the horses, but I don’t think I will ever understand how anyone can be interested in such beasts!

It’s not that great an idea for someone who doesn’t know about pens to buy one for someone who does. I have a list. And of course, I’d love to be surprised by a gift that isn’t on that list, but not if it’s something that doesn’t suit my taste. The Waterman Perspective is just such a pen. So both pens are being returned and a lesson has been learned.

And I shall listen to my wife when she exclaims about my latest shiny new pen: ‘it’s just a pen!’. There’s a message in that exclamation!

Dear Downcast

Yours is my favourite podcast app for iOS. Since the iOS7 update, I have a problem. It is this:

I use bluetooth headphones, namely Plantronics BB903+. I keep then on for most of the day and listen to podcasts all the time. When my wife comes through to the kitchen and I’ve got my hands in the washbasin doing dishes, I tilt my head to hit the pause button on my headphones with my shoulder. Job done. Sometimes I have to stop listening to podcasts, whey I’m at work or eating dinner (I’m not that rude!). I might look at Twitter when I’m at work. With iOS6, it didn’t much matter. I’d put the headphones back on, hit the play button and it would start with the last thing that was playing, i.e. my podcasts playlist. Since iOS7, this no longer happens. When I open Downcast, it is no longer showing me my unplayed playlist, but has gone to a different screen. It got to the pain point today where I bought Instacast and tried underscore David Smith’s new app too. I like neither of them as much as I like Downcast, but if you don’t fix the problem, I’ll have to give up on it and switch to something else.

Could someone please take a look at this?

Thank you Downcast. You used to rock and I hope you can rock once again!

Five Pens

I’ve been writing for pretty much most of the afternoon today and having a blast with my fountain pens. I’ve come up with the perfect reason to use them: learning my lines! It’s helping me a great deal to learn my lines for an upcoming performance, and giving me a sound reason to use my pens!

Writing afternoon

I’ve been using:

  • Pilot Décimo, F
  • TWSBI Diamond 580 EF
  • Kaweco AL Sport, EF
  • Kaweco Ice Sport, BB
  • Kaweco Classic Sport, 1.5

By far my favourite pen is still the TWSBI with the Décimo a close second. The TWSBI is favourite because of the nib and the ink it puts down, but the Décimo is favourite because it’s just so darned comfortable.

The Kaweco AL Sport with the EF nib is not as wet as the Décimo or TWSBI, which is not to say that I don’t like it. It’s weird, but they’ve become like children in the sense that you I love them all in different ways! And now I’m carrying five fountain pens to work every day. Madness. But I haven’t enjoyed anything this much ever since I had to quit BMX freestyle.

I’m Fine!

Capless fine nib

I just got a replacement nib unit for my Pilot Capless Decimo. It came with a medium nib and I just wasn’t using it. Bear in mind that I’m a n00b where fountain pens are concerned and the only way of figuring out what I like in my rural island location is to buy stuff to try.

I got the Decimo new from Japan on eBay and for a very good price, so I didn’t mind quite so much forking out for a replacement nib unit from Cult Pens. Not saying I didn’t mind completely. It certainly wasn’t chump change.

But OMG, as the kids say, what a difference!

Now I’m going to have to figure out use cases for the Capless and TWSBI 580 because it seems that I love them both equally. But one’s retractable and one’s got a screw-off cap, so I’m guessing that the Capless will be my shirt-pocket daily carry and the TWSBI will be used for longer-form, i.e. letter writing. I used to write a lot of letters back in my army days, but haven’t done it for years. It’s nice to be back doing that again and my pen friend is overjoyed to be receiving such personal, hand-written ramblings!