Wednesday, 28 December 2011

We Could Be Heroes

In amongst the Christmas Hoopla ( I rate amongst the top 5% on the Grich Scale and can never forgive dear Old Ebeneezer for going Soft on Santa in his dotage) there was some tragic news.
2 Pillars of Great Men cultural and spiritual influence died taking with them the promise of fresh insight into and amusment at what it is to be a Human and more specifically for me how to be a male one.
Christopher Hitchens and Vaclav Havel died within a day of each other both have deeply affected me through what they have written and how they lived their lives. Both men were political animals but with a big fat streak of the poet which made what they had to say more personal and able to stir the senses than any dry academic or career parliamentary nay-sayer. Neither of them lived a vice free life and approached their polite hedonism with a relaxed glee.

I first read about Havel at university, a semester studying socialist states and social revolutions invariably climaxed with the events of 1989. During the Reagan era cold war I grew up less than 20 miles from a US air base in East Anglia and I vividly recall have a very serious, matter of fact with my parents about what would happen should a nuclear war occur. It was an odd feeling as a 7-8 year old trying to understand that living so close to the base meant we would be lucky – we would die instantly. The Russians were evil, hated everything we held dear, were all powerful and would probably cause the end of the world. So it seemed so fantastic that just a decade later I was learning how some very ordinary people doing some very ordinary things had wrestled the ultimate boogey man of my childhood into submission.

The velvet revolution in Czechoslovakia fascinated me because the ordinary people who caused it were artists. Playwrights, poets, novelists. Pennyless, abused, arrested and placed under complete scrutiny by the security services and media in their own country they fought back using the only weapon they had. Truth.
In his essay the Power of the Powerless Havel describes in a beautifull and unassuming way how dissent can bring down a post totalitarian regime. Not by mass demonstrations (although this would come later) but by the simple pleasure of living in truth. If you know that the regime is not working say so. If you know that state produced products are of poor quality don’t buy them. If you know the propagnda to be a lie – don’t repeat it.

I didn’t read his plays until some years after… I’m not a theatrephile but was seeing a girl who was studying the performing arts so reading Havel allowed me to employ the Hitchian trick of “keeping two sets of books”. On the one hand I was being open minded and embracing something that she was passionate about while privately I was revelling in the dull dusty history that she pretended to find attractive in me.

What struck me, particularly in the Vanek plays was that by using humour and absurd irony to merely point at and describe the idiocies of the powerful you could inform more people, more quickly about those idiocies. You could belittle the strong and empower the feeble with laughter provoking words or a barbed witticism far more easily than with hours of rhetoric. I began to become aware of the immense power and pleasure of words as art.

It was this mixture of the profound and the purile that I found again in Hitchen’s writing as well as his television appearences in the US and more lately the set piece theatre (that word again) of the organised debates he was invloved in. My opinion of what he wrote seems a little flat when the internet is awash with eulogies from Salman Rushdie to Richard Dawkins – however the phrase “I couldn’t eat enough to vomit enough” is one that I have cheerfully stolen and will continue to use. It in essence contains the strength of feeling and Hitch’s preparedness to be rude when required as well as highlighting a fresh, playful use of language that he almost always provided. In his Letters to a Young Contrarian he describes and admires an american servicemen who “ratted” on the attrocities conducted by his brothers in arms during the vietnam war. A man who became hated and ostricised for living in truth.

Why are they heroes? For what they’ve done I have to admire them. Havel simply wouldn’t let his art be silenced and learned how to use it to destroy his previous captors. Hitch can’t claim to have rescued a country from an evil despot but by being a leading light in the New Athiesm movment in the US he can say that he at least tried…

Moreover they are my heroes in the way they did these things, it wasn’t what they thought but how they thought. A smile, anecdote and a drink was never far from them (Havel was a bohemian in every sense of the word) and both seemed determined to enjoy these things despite their failing health. While being an unashamed fan boy – their deaths by cancer and lung disease have only strengthened my resolve to not start smoking. However Hitch’s pieces in Vanity Fair describing his travels “from the country of the well across the stark frontier that marks off the land of malady”, never blinked when considering his own role in his untimely demise.

Kind, witty and angry when required both have a little bit of oldschool gentleman rogue about them that I can’t help but find compelling. Not only have they done some trully amazing things they did it with a charm and intellect that I think I’ll struggle to replace. Which is what heroes should be: irreplaceable (especially for a man in his mid-thirties who should know better).

While thinking about this I have been sharing my feelings on heroes with frends and have noticed a distinct gender shift. Men for the most part either have them or can cheerfully recall those thay had when they were younger. Childhood heroes were footballers, graduating to musicians, writers and historical figures later. A hero is the guy who did things you couldn’t, they guy you wanted to be like. Some-one to look upto – ape and admire like King Louie who wants to be like you-ooh.

Of those women that had definite heroes the choices were unexpected. A friend told me with a little embarrasment but meant every word that she was little bit obsessed with Tina Turner and latterly Beyonce. I’m not sure what a nice white middle class english girl wanting to grow up to be a sexually aggressive black american women tells us – but it is certainly a statement.

No-one mentioned the women that I expected, there were no Dianas, Thatchers or Marie Curie (who I recently learned is the only person to have won a Nobel Prize in both Physics and Chemistry) and so I realised that I was again applying my male fan boy criteria.
Most of women I spoke to had a very different attitude for the most part their heroes were people that they knew – Grandparents who were so very kind or other reletives who had dealt with a tradegy. I swung wildly between being slightly underwhelmed to actually being deeply touched by the fact that all these heroes were incredibly real. Empathy with them and a feeling of “I hope I would act in that way when it happens to me” seemed more important than the blokey “if my life were amazing I’d be like you” . I must balance this by sharing perhaps the most moving wedding speech I’ve heard was when a friend who was acting as best man for his brother declared with no embarrasement what-soever that his big brother was his hero, so perhaps it not a gender thing afterall.

I spent christmas with 4 generations of Mackenzie-Naughton women and was relegated along with my dad to fetching and carrying duties. Watching them clearly learn to admire what each had gone through in bringing children into the world while still doing all the practical caring for them I did wonder if there was something in having a hero you could actually talk to.

While I’m waiting to meet mine though, I’ll be the monkey in the corner with a glass of Johnny Walker Black Label…

Monday, 12 December 2011

Zappadan: Being Frank

In part 2 of my contribution to this year's Zappadan I thought I'd talk about, and play a few examples of, the times I've tackled Frank's music. Covering FZ is wrought with danger; how does one balance the musicality, the repertoire and the attitude? I've seen bands try and I've seen bands fail (Dweezil's Zappa Plays Zappa being a notable exception). I've tackled a few in my time, 3 of which are below for your listening pleasure. Sadly missing from the archives (frustratingly I know these are both recorded somewhere!) are a live version of My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama (stylistically somewhere between the Mothers version and the G3 version), and both electric and acoustic guitar renderings of What's New In Baltimore.

Willie The Pimp by chris-walls

Treacherous Cretins by chris-walls

Crew S**t by chris-walls

Something that always tickled me was that Frank's unique soloing style, of just playing whatever was on his mind, was incredibly honest, direct, personal and idiosyncratic. Or in other words, Frank was being frank. Inspired by this turn of phrase and by Zappa solos such as Watermelon In Easter Hay and Zoot Allures I've played about with a guitar solo vehicle called "Let Me Be Frank" a few times over the years. Here are two that made it to tape:

Let Me Be Frank by chris-walls

Let Me Be The Revolution, Frank by chris-walls

Music is the best!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Zappadan: Finding Frank

One evening recently I was sitting in my living room in Holloway, North London, listening to some albums by my favourite artist Frank Zappa. I tweeted a passing comment to this effect and was surprised to generate some interest, including a notification that between December 4th (the day the present day composer stopped refusing to die) and December 21st (his birth), the internet would be celebrating Zappadan. For what it's worth then, I thought I'd share some of my personal Zappa experience.

I don't remember the first time I heard of Frank, but I do remember the first time I heard him. Through my early teens (and to this day) I was a big fan of Primus. Reading interviews online, a recurring theme was guitarist Larry LaLonde's love of Frank Zappa. I remember one interview in particular where Ler said something like "every time I play guitar, I'm trying to sound like Frank". Well I loved Ler's unique style and this just piqued my interest. As a young guitar player I was also getting into Steve Vai's Passion and Warfare, and discovered that Vai started his career as "stunt guitarist" for FZ. I picked up the G3 video where Vai, Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson team up for a cover of Frank's "My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama". My favourite band of all time (and I'd argue also the greatest band of all time) was and is Queen, and I read an old interview where Brian May said he was a fan of Frank's. Basically through my early teens Frank's name was becoming increasingly unavoidable, although his music was notably elusive in the public domain.

In September 1999, when I was 15, I went on a week's work experience with a Leicester producer and music called Steve Nutter. Hi Steve! Steve's girlfriend, it turned out, was a massive Zappa fan (pretty much the only type of Zappa fan you'll find), and after hearing me play guitar she insisted (as we Zappaphiles tend to do) that I should check out Frank. So that Friday afternoon we sat down in Steve's living room and put on the Sheik Yerbouti album. My overriding memory of that moment was that I had never (and still haven't) heard anything like it: thick feedback guitar, lush layers of vocals, complex band performances and bluntly eloquent lyrics.

My next encounter with Frank would be around 5 months later, my 16th birthday in February 2000, after a few months of bewildered browsing in the variable and extensive Frank Zappa sections in Leicestershire's record shops. My friend Seth asked what I'd like for my birthday and I asked for the Cheap Thrills CD you could pick up for £2.99. Seth delivered the goods (thanks dude!) and with my friends gathered round in my living room I slipped it into the stereo. Spoken word opener "I Could Be A Star Now" built my anticipation before the 1988 live version of Catholic Girls blew my mind: unfathomable time signature guitars and horn section stabs trading places with obscene crooned jazz.

I was hooked.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011


Today's blog is the story of the above slice of nonsense from Berkshire-based eBay idiot missybeemer (real name withheld due to decency she doesn't deserve).

Regular readers will know that R-Man and I are no strangers to buying, selling, repairing and indeed rocking used guitars. Sometime in early 2010 I picked up this (my second) Hondo II Les Paul, made in Japan in the 1970s. It arrived grimy and semi-functional, par for the course in such an endeavour. A new set of pickups, strings, and a bit of time with the soldering iron and a damp cloth and a sweet guitar was ready to rock.

In 2011 it became my main gigging guitar, here I am playing it in gigs in July 2011 (just 4 months before it was deemed "in horrible condition"):
Looks horrible doesn't it?

But Chris, I hear you ask, isn't it possible that the "completely worn frets" made it unplayable and sound terrible? Well it's a fair question, as clearly in all my years of guitar playing I have absolutely no concept of what a playable guitar feels like, and with the ample collection of guitars I have to choose from I opted for this clearly worn-out plank from the 1970s instead of my 2010 Telecaster or 2009 Gibson SG out of complete ignorance. Let's listen to a live recording of me playing it in October 2011, just a month before missybeemer passed her questionable judgement:

I'll let y'all be the judge on whether that guitar works.

So anyway, due to my impending move to faraway lands, lamentably I had to cut down the guitar collection; I'd rather they went to be played and loved by someone else than sit in a storage room somewhere. Which is where our friend missybeemer comes in, winning the auction on eBay for a bargain price of £127:

Hi, is it OK to send my own courier to collect the guitar? It would save me a long drive.
Please let me know the collection address if OK.

yours truly:
Yep that's fine - the address is [GM HEADQUARTERS LONDON] - Wednesday or Thursday evening is best for me, or over the weekend?

Will you be sending cash with your courier?

Also if you're interested I have a hard case for Les Pauls which I'm going to sell too?

Hi. I can send the money via PayPal before the guitar is collected. I have a case but could you wrap it in some cardboard so it gets here in one piece?

yours truly:
Hi, No problem - I'll pop it in a padded gig bag for protection if that's ok with you.


Thanks but without some tough protection on the outside (cardboard) it will most likely get damaged in transit. 
Let me know if you can get hold of some cardboard. Just want to avoid potential problems.
I hope this is OK.

yours truly:
I have some cardboard here, no problem

Notice here dear reader that I'm offering protection appropriate to a guitar. Notice also that resident fusspot missybeemer is footing none of the bill for the "Packaging" part of P&P.

Any chance for a weekday between 9am and 5pm? I think these are the hours they work. Possible to collect from the work address or something??

yours truly:
It'll be quite awkward as I'll have to lug it in its cardboarded glory on the tube, if they can do 9am I can wait at home for them and get to work late though?

well, I cant really specify the time but they can collest from a 'safe place' if there is any. would that work?

yours truly:
I'd rather not leave it lying around anywhere! I'll take it to work - let me know the day

So 20 minutes of walking and 20 minutes of tubing later, with a guitar sized cardboard box under my arm:

Hello. The guitar has just arrived. Unfortunately it's a wreck and I am not talking about transit damage because there isn't any.
There are problems you have not described in your listing like taped cavity at the back, pretty much ended frets, various cracks and damages to the finish of the guitar. 

Basically I can't imagine playing this guitar even if I decided to clean it which I am not prepared to do. There is some jam left on the neck pickup...
I hope we can resolve this without much trouble. Please have it back and refund.
Best regards.

Permit me, friend, to refer you to the photos and recording at the top of this blog.

yours truly:

Sorry to hear you're not satisfied with the guitar. Let me address your points:

taped cavity - sorry, honest mistake not mentioning this; there was no backplate on the guitar when I got it so I covered in card and taped down to protect the wiring. It didn't
even occur to me to mention it as being on the back I never see it!

frets - I find no problem with these frets whatsoever? I have been playing this guitar live, in rehearsals, and on record for the best part of 2 years and never had any problem anywhere on the neck

finish - this guitar is over 30 years old; I wouldn't describe any of the finish as "damage" - it's worn as you'd expect any guitar to be that's been played for 3 decades!

jam on the neck pickup - I don't even know what you mean?

So other than the taped cavity, which I do apologise for, and doesn't affect the playability, sound, or look of the guitar at all (being on the back), everything else you've described is what I would describe as well within fair wear and tear for a guitar of this age; I was pretty clear in the description that it's from the 70s. 

If you really feel however that it isn't for you, then I'll accept it back; I've sold a lot of my guitar and amp collection lately and am keen that they all go somewhere where
they'll be played and loved. If you'll organise shipping back to my office (the address I shipped from) then I'll sort you a refund out on PayPal.

JAM ON THE PICKUP?! Weird because I normally only smear honey and maple syrup on my guitars.

Hi, thanks for replying. I will send the guitar back asap. I would appreciate if you could cover the postage as it feels unfair to pay the delivery again just because the guitar turned out to be misdescribed. 
Despite the disappointment I am happy to leave you positive feedback once we have all this sorted.
Paying the postage will also work out for you money wise as we can mutually withdraw the sale and you will be refunded £12 of ebay fees.
Please confirm you are happy to cover the return postage (£10) and we'll take it from there.
Best regards.

yours truly:

I've never had to do a refund before, do you know if PayPal also refund their fees? If not then I'm out of pocket - if so then how about going halves on the postage? I don't
feel the guitar was misdescribed, though I appreciate you were expecting something different - also I went to the time and trouble of packaging it and lugging it across London to be picked up, and have lost the opportunity of having it relisted or bought by someone else this week (and time is of the essence to me as I'm leaving the country in a month hence the sales!)

I may not get chance to reply again today, but will be on my emails over the weekend,


Hi, yes PayPal will refund your fees and I can also make ebay return the £12 by cancelling the transaction. Cover the postage and you have the fees back, the good feedback and a good chance of selling again as the new buyers would not be put off.
You could actually go to and book the courier for £6.99 +VAT if that's eastier. I'm in most of the time so any day is good for collection.

On reflection I was really being too nice here. But then that night I went to see Stewart Lee at the Leicester Square Theatre and he reignited the anger and indignance that was lacking in my attitude.

yours truly:

I've had a think about this overnight and whilst I will let you have a refund if you want, I'm really not happy with incurring any further costs to this; the guitar is in
excellent working order and has no physical defects that are inconsistent with its age, all of which was clear from the listing. You'll not get a better instrument for the
bargain price you paid! There's 6 and a half minutes of evidence here that the guitar is eminently playable:

If you still want to send it back, please ship to my work address and I'll refund when I receive it,


Hi, no worries. My offer was designed to save me money, save you money and conserve your 100% feedback score. Your offer will cost us both extra and clearly is not a win win 
situation but if this is how you want it then so be it. I will sen it back on Monday.

yours truly:
Ok I will process the cancellation/refund when it arrives back.

It sounds like you're threatening to give me negative feedback because I won't pay for the postage - you should be aware that this falls under Ebay's "feedback extortion" policy - there's no need for this to turn ugly; I'm being gracious in allowing you a refund, which I'm not obliged to do, to my own inconvenience and opportunity cost.

After missybeemer gave me negative feedback I reported the above to eBay and they agreed.

Well I think I am being gracious by not opening a claim and not reporting this to ebay. I can take the photos of the guitar and let the ebay team confront them with your description.
As an established seller/buyer I have a direct access to the ebay support team. 
To be hones I could just run this through them and not even address you directly. I hope this shows that I am trying to resolve this in possible easy going manner.
The feedback system is in place to allow users express their opinion about each transaction. 
If I sold an item that is not as described I would apologise and cover all associated costs, but thats just me.
I will not allow this to turn ugly. If you wish I will cover my costs and you will cover yours. Simple as that. I was only trying to be helpful.

I need to buy a new dictionary, my definition of "helpful" is somewhat archaic it seems.

yours truly:
I think covering our own costs is the only way of doing it, as we seem to be at an impasse of opinion. I've apologised for the oversight on the back cavity (which I don't
believe counts as a "significant" issue), and because of this and the fact I want people to be happy with their purchases , I've agreed to do a refund to my own disadvantage.

I maintain that the guitar is as described (unless something's happened to it since I handed over the package); I've evidenced that it's perfectly playable, and the description is quite clear that it is over 30 years old and Used ("The item may have some signs of cosmetic wear, but is fully operational and functions as intended."). As a guitar player and collector of some years my advice to you in the future is to go into a shop and buy a brand new instrument (for several times the price) if you want something that doesn't have signs of wear and tear (signs that it's been played and loved!).

Have a good weekend

Hello. THe refund has just arrived. You have not refunded the postage which set me back almost £20 and yet you are requesting the seller's fees to be refunded.
I am sorry but I made my position clear from the very beginning. 
I will refuse the request and leave appropriate feedback.
Best regards.

yours truly:

Glad the refund has arrived. I refunded you the full amount of the transaction, and as per our previous emails we agreed to cover our own costs. The seller's fees are a 
transaction between myself and eBay; you're bearing no cost from them, in fact they now represent money that eBay has made from me for NOT selling this item.

As I made clear myself, the guitar was not misdescribed and hence I have no obligation, legally or morally, to refund you the postage - this is the cost you bear for exercising what has effectively been a long distance "try before you buy". Indeed you are unable or unwilling to refund me the cost of packaging, admin, carrying the guitar across London twice and the time lost in reselling this item (note had you not bid it would have sold for only £2 less to someone else, who in all likelihood would not have completely askew
expectations of what a quality vintage guitar for £125 would be). I was under no obligation to issue refunds but do so out of respect for other people and love for my
instruments. Unfortunately the grief I've had from you means I will probably change this outlook in the future. Congratulations, in a simple mouse click whose ramifications
affect you in absolutely no way, you have dealt another blow against civil society.

Finally, thanks for everything: I believe the most valuable commodity today is not gold,  nor platinum, nor oil, nor data, nor Higgs bosons. The most valuable commodity is anecdotes, and you've provided me with anecdotal value that will see me through trips to the pub, office chit-chat, and a healthy blog entry.


So there we have it friends. Sellers beware.

As a footnote in case you suspect I may actually just be a complete lying bastard peddling dodgy guitar equipment, here's some of my other recent feedback for guitars and guitar paraphernalia (our good friend missybeemer has good feedback sure, but it's all for selling car parts...) :

Final note: after this big waste of time I now have to go and store it after all as my time to resell has expired. At least it means some time in the future I'll be enjoying strapping it on once again.

Congratulations for reading this far!

Monday, 7 November 2011


Let's cut to the chase: Great Men are going to be playing 2 shows in London this month and you and all your friends should come for the following reasons:

  1. These will be our last shows for quite some time.
  2. We're going to play a completely different set list at each show, covering our entire back catalogue between them.
  3. You can submit requests for which songs you'd like to hear at each show.
  4. At the gigs we'll be selling the last of our Springsteen VS Stallone t-shirts at the bargain basement, holiday season friendly price of £5 each!

Here's the lowdown:

On Thursday November 24th we've been invited by the excellent Motherhood to play at their EP launch at the George Orwell on Essex Road (near Islington and Dalston).

On Wednesday November 30th we're playing at Camden Rock in, err, Camden.

On Thursday December 1st we burrow into our warrens and commence hibernation.

Submit setlist requests on the Facebook events linked above, or on Twitter @Great_Men.

See you soon: bring friends, buy a t-shirt!

Thursday, 20 October 2011


Having grown up a big Metallica fan, and also enjoying a choice bit of Lou Reed (Transformer, Velvet Underground), I was bewildered when they announced their collaboration on the Lulu album. When one track was previewed (The View) I was pretty disappointed; it sounded pretty much exactly what you'd expect and fear it to.

But today when they put the whole album up streaming, I popped my headphones on and got stuck in. And you know what, I enjoyed listening to it. And since the rest of the world seems to be jumping immediately on the "this is terrible" bandwagon, I thought I'd stand up (actually I'm sitting down) and give a different view. I'm not evangelising, it isn't my favourite album ever, but I think it deserves a listen and not a narrow-minded rejection. If you've not heard it, head over here and check it out.

The impression I got after the first track was Lou Reed leaving behind the pop tunes we know he's capable of and turning to a sort of Beefheart-lite. Then three tracks in I realised what was foremost in my mind as a reference point, which I was unable to shake off for the remainder of the album, was the excellent God In Three Persons by The Residents.

Musically I've heard a lot of criticism about the lack of great riffs etc - fair enough, but that's not really what this album is about. In fact on headphones I enjoyed some nice textural interplay between the two guitars. I don't expect Metallica to still be angry thrashers 30 years and a bazillion dollars into their career, I'm pleased to hear them trying their hand at something different instead of trying to jump on bandwagons (St Anger) or attempting to recreate former glories (Death Magnetic). I'm all for musicians making music, you don't have to enjoy it as long as they do (I've always said Great Men songs are written for an audience of 2... we're astoundingly successful with that).

So I've rambled a while and in conclusion: if you want classic Metallica dig out Ride The Lightning, Master of Puppets or the black album. If you want classic Lou Reed put on Transformer. If you're willing to step outside your preconceptions, this album deserves a listen. Many Metallica fans won't like it. Many Lou Reed fans won't like it. People who never cared for either might find something to interest them in these artists. I probably won't buy the album, I might never even listen to it again, but I'm glad I gave it the time of day.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Words with Cupid

What, another blog post so soon after the last?! Verily!

I wanted to tip y'all off to an exclusive, insightful, and possibly life-changing interview that Mr Coloquix conducted with us. It's right here on his blog. It's the only place to go to find the answers to questions like:

  • Which 80s child star is Regan's arch-nemesis?
  • Which be-bop legend are we most similar to?
  • What is a truth machine?
  • Who are the Brain Police? (maybe not that one)

I'll keep it brief, but don't forget to tell all your friends to go and download Tart Hoof, the new Great Men live EP, for free:

Monday, 10 October 2011

Tart Hoof

HOLD ON TIGHT! I have much to tell you.

We played a gig in London last week and with lightning quick, even haphazard, speed, and with little regard to the guitar malfunctions within, we've put out a download-only 6 track EP called Tart Hoof. You can even have it for absolutely free.

Our next appearance will be at Dashwoodstock 2011 in Thamesmead on Saturday October 22nd, at the totally rock and roll time of 4:30pm. Apparently loads of films were shot there, like Clockwork Orange and Harry Potter And The Den Of Feedback. When I say "next appearance" I really mean "next live gig" because, neither of us being invisible, we appear constantly.

Looking forward to November, we're playing at Camden Rock (not a real rock) on the 30th, details to follow closer to the time. We might also be joining our new friends Motherhood for their EP launch sometime.

In my ongoing quest to be a man who owns less guitars (ongoing parallel to my quest to be a man), my 1989 Fender Stratocaster, made in Japan with a humbucker and a Floyd Rose, and rewired by an idiot (hello!), is up on eBay. Get yourself a treat.

Regular readers will know that I love a photo of us out and about eating. Here we are in Ed's Diner:

See you soon!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Rocktober 2011

Wow is it already a year since our triumphant triumvirate of our Camden show with Ginkinta and Monsters in the Attic, our Shazam session, and our blood, beer and flames glory in Nottingham with Ulterior?

This October might not be quite so adrenalised, but we are playing in central London on Wednesday October 5th at The Comedy courtesy of Dead or Alive Promotions. We're aiming to record the gig so if it comes out okay and we don't have any massive disasters I'll put some stuff up for download soon. There's a Facebook event here.

It's been quiet here recently as I've been over in Sydney and R-man has been realising his dream of adventure on the high seas by borrowing a narrowboat. I tend to check in on Twitter when possible so do come and say hello to us there.

See you on the 5th!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The City, The City, The High Castle and Rufus T Firefly

As threatened following R-Man's extensive coverage of How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered The World by Francis Wheen last week, here are the last 3 books I've read, all of which I'd recommend to you:

The City & The City by China Mieville
I read a brief synopsis of this at the British Library's Science Fiction exhibit this summer, and having also heard rave reviews of Mieville's Kraken (now sitting on my "to read" pile). This is a essentially a great slice of noir with a novel (pun intended) spin: it's set in two cities which occupy the same geographical space, but whose citizens must ignore (or "unsee") their topographic neighbours. The punishment for acknowledging, let alone breaching the border between the cities is to be at the mercy of an unseen force that strikes terror into the populace. If that's not enough of an intriguing concept to draw you in I don't know what is. I loved it and can't wait to see what ideas Mieville has come up with in his other work.

Hello, I Must Be Going: Groucho and His Friends by Charlotte Chandler
Long time followers of the blog will know I'm a big Marx Brothers fan. Since my Dad sat us down in front of a video of Duck Soup as a child I've been sold. Over the years I've read various books about the brothers, including both Groucho and Harpo's autobiographies. Whereas they tend to focus on the early years (well, the first 50 or so years of their lives, through vaudeville and the classic movies), this book finds the author living with Groucho during the 1970s, in his 80's. It's a fascinating view of a super-celebrity coming to terms with old age whilst still entertaining, and often outwitting, an eclectic circle of celebrities, artists and performers including then-young bucks Bill Cosby and Jack Nicholson. As well as a fascinating biography, this book, by the very nature of its subject, reduced me to mirth constantly. It also taught me a thing or two about how to live and age, and saddened me that some great stories are now lost forever; on several occasions it's mentioned how Chico lived the most interesting and unbelievable life, but never committed it to paper. Interestingly it's also noted by several that the funniest brother in real life was Zeppo. All these moments lost in time like tears in rain...

The Man In The High Castle by Philip K Dick
A Scanner Darkly, Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report. Philip K Dick has made an indelible impression on science fiction both written on screen. Amongst the many of his works which haven't [yet] been put on film, possibly the most lauded is this one. I read a great piece by Dick once in which he defined science fiction, as opposed to fantasy, as being set in a world like our own but with one significant difference, and exploring the consequences of that difference. The premise of The Man In The High Castle is a simple one: the Nazis won World War 2. Dick explores the social and political ramifications of such a world, whilst also finding time to pit western and eastern philosophy against each other and trick you into thinking you're not reading science fiction at all...

If anyone wants to swap me for a recommendation of your own, drop us a line!

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Mumbo Jumbo Wheen Ween and Guff

As you may well know or suspect, Great Men enjoy a good book. I thought it would be a nice idea to throw a few recommendations at you that we've read recently. I asked R-Man for 2 or 3 reviews; in fairness I did not specify a word limit and in typical thoroughness received the following:

How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World by Francis Wheen

The technological and democratic advance of humanity and the associated benefits we enjoy are according to Francis Wheen, under attack. For the most part these assailants are predictable and obvious. Although Wheen counters their challenges with humourous √©lan you do wonder if the defence of reason against religiosity and the Modern Hippies of Complementary Medicine has been done better by messrs Dawkins and Goldacre. If you enjoyed Bad Science, The God Delusion or God is not Great – you won’t find a lot new in these chapters, but Wheen’s language is not as strident as Dawkins and I didn’t get any shivers of smuggery that Ben Goldacre (nice guy that I’m sure he is) provokes.

The fascinating element of this book is that in Wheen’s view perhaps the most dangerous foe of science and reason is the very modern thought prevalent in almost every single western university.

The explosion of Post Structuralist Relativist literary criticism would seem to be an odd place to look for an enemy of reason. However, Wheen explains with clear irritation that the academic fashion for considering almost any interpretation on any subject as valid, erodes our ability to understand the absolute truths that Science deals in. Starting with the original thinkers Derrida and Foucault, the idea that a text could be re-interpreted from a myriad of points of view and that each of these views brings further insight into this text is a strong one. It is how I was taught history as these ideas spread throughout academia. Comparing Marxist and traditional explanations of an event of the past did indeed bring greater insight into why that event happened.

I do recall the moment of realisation of their limitation, however. Someone, deeply in earnest tried to convince me that all Darwin had done in his Origin Of The Species was to re-interpret the natural world through the eyes and beliefs of a mid-Victorian white establishment figure and was more of an act of hegemony than it was biology. The idea that his years of exhaustive research had led him to these findings or even the fact that he was right, simply didn’t occur to them.

Wheen quotes Professor Alan Sokal (then of NYU) who sums it more perfectly.

“…anyone who believes that the laws of physics are mere social conventions is invited to try transgressing those conventions from the windows of my apartment. (I live on the twenty-first floor.)”

Glib as this sounds – it is a fundamental issue for post-modern thought when it is considering scientific truths. Absolute Zero is just that, absolute, everywhere, forever. Scientific ideas are not constructs but provable. For example the idea of supersymmetry in particle physics rather nicely solves many of the issues that Dark Matter creates for the standard model of the universe. It has interpreted the universe in a way that makes it work and has been accepted as a useful way to explain the natural phenomena we experience.

There is one issue with this theory - It probably isn’t true. Latest results from the LHC have cast huge doubt on supersymmetry and as physicist are not post-modern they do not argue that their construct de-constructs their own concept of self, relative to the cultural signifier* and therefore still equally as valid. They throw it away and come up with a better idea.

This started me wondering about how post-modern thought had affected other areas and affected me directly. Music and fashion now seem caught in a loop of retro-interpretation with bands seemingly spending more time splicing their “influences” (do you really all listen to Can all day on the tour bus, really?) on press releases than actually learning to play. Irony has been reduced from the subtle discipline so cherished by Kierkegaard into a brash dumb monster for the use of people to insulate themselves from real life. The actual irony of reality TV is that it is probably the least real thing available. But that’s OK, cos it’s “it’s so bad it’s good”

In letters to a young contrarian Christopher Hitchens advised the budding polemist that it is not what you think, but how you think that is important. Wheen’s book is good just because it encourages you to do so, it is accessible, witty and enjoyable to anyone who enjoys the provocation of their enquiring mind.

*I have simply no idea what this is supposed to mean – I merely copied and pasted a couple of lines from the post structuralism Wikipedia page. It is a queer addiction of post-modernity to wrap itself in un-intelligible guff.

You've probably read enough for one day, so I'll save my own choices for later. Instead, in keeping with the above, here's my favourite Ween:

Thursday, 21 July 2011

A post about some gigs that happened recently

On July 1st we played a gig in New Cross, South London courtesy of Chamber Club. Due to some technical hitches it was something of a shambles, but a lot of fun and we were probably just more punk than usual.

On July 8th I saw banjo hero, and comedy legend Steve Martin, playing with bluegrass band the Steep Canyon Rangers. They were phenomenal and if you get chance I recommend you get down: great tunes, great musicians, great sound, hilarious banter.

If I were to list my top bands of all time the top 3 would probably be Queen, Guns N Roses, and Primus. Freddie's sadly long gone, Axl and Slash have yet to reconcile their differences, and Primus haven't played in the UK for 14 years. Until this month. My associates and I rocked up to Brixton Academy like giddy schoolgirls and had an awesome 2 hours. Highlights for me included Tommy The Cat, Over The Electric Grapevine, and Is It Luck?

About 6 or 7 years ago I saw one of the greatest gigs I've ever seen: They Might Be Giants at Manchester Academy (and was especially pleased to play on the same stage myself a little while later playing guitar with Swound!, supporting The Crimea). So when I heard they were playing just down the road from me in Camden I jumped at the chance to see them again, and was not disappointed. As my companion said in delight halfway through the show "this band has charisma!". Some of my highlights were Alphabet of Nations, Birdhouse In Your Soul (is there really anything more joyous than a room full of people united by a blue canary in the outlet by their light switches?) and, after spending the whole gig saying "I hope they do Fingertips", out it came for an awesome finale. MystEEEEEEEEErious whisper!

Finally Great Men rounded it off with a show at the legendary Dublin Castle in Camden. I recommend the Deuchars (trivia: a million years ago I was barman at a pub called the White Hart in Quorn; Deuchars was one of our best beers). By the way is everyone else digging R-Man's rock stance as much as I am?

Thursday, 7 July 2011

You Should Be Ashamed

In free elections you get the politicians you deserve. With a free press you get the papers you deserve.
Here at Great Men headquarters we have often shaken a weary head at the truly pathetic nonsense put out by middle age fear mongers at the Daily Mail, but recent revelations about the News of the World have been staggering and disgusting and a little bit unbelievable. My initial reaction to hearing of it being closed down was the same as most - good riddance and how-about that horrid bloody woman too... but is that really all that should happen?
The NOTW used to have 8 million readers, currently 2 Million. That’s a lot of people handing over hard earned cash to stare voyeuristically over the bedroom antics of footballers, the choreographed despair of war widows and some dozy bird from Braintree’s nipples. It isn’t the only one; virtually all of the red tops carry variations on this theme. Magazines such as Heat and OK seem to consist of nothing other than the same photo of female “celebrities” being derided as being too fat or too thin depending on whether they have a new part in a TV show. And these things fly off the shelves.
The highest rated TV programmes are either watching ordinary people do odd vainglorious things in order to become celebrities or celebrities doing odd vainglorious things to appear ordinary.
We lap it up every day. We love it. We are not innocent. We are to blame. We should be ashamed.
I heard the Lesser Milliband describe the closure of NOTW was due to “people power”. It was our power that created the desire and opportunity to sell other peoples tawdry secrets to us. We should be ashamed.
What is to be done? Our time alive is precious and short. Let’s use it with care and dedication. The world is a wonderful place full of wonderful people. Put the newspaper down. Switch off the TV. Go to the pub, a friend’s house, the park. Pick up a book, start a band, save for that trip you always meant to go on.
Stop giving your time and money to the smut hounds and celebrity no-marks and spend it on yourself. It’ll be awesome I promise.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

"Jew!", Lies Giggs

Hopefully picked up a few tabloid readers off the strength of that title.

Great Men have 2 gigs in London in July, and being the generous folk we are we've engineered them to suit every demographic:

Friday 1st July - Chamber Club @ New Cross Inn
with Saturday Kids, Pet Scenes, Plantagenet 3 and Partly Faithful. This is on a Friday night, is only £3, and the party goes on as late as you like. Perfect for out-of-towners and Londoners alike.

with Peanut Butter Lovesickle, The Beast, and more. We're on at 8pm in this conveniently located venue in the heart of Camden. Perfect for working folk after a hard day at the office, and layabouts after Neighbours has been on. Bring a copy of the flyer below for 25% off the entry price!

We've also started the long, turning an aircraft carrier-esque, process of thinking about gigs in the Midlands and the North again. If you'd like to help us out in anyway, give us a holler. Cheers!

See you there!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Spectators at an Execution: Year One

On June 18th 2010, my friends went to the pub to watch England play Algeria in the World Cup. I retreated to my feedback den and, in my ongoing Widdleman VS The World Cup tradition, over the course of the match I wrote, recorded and mixed this track:

England 0 0 Algeria by chris-walls

Some geeky points to note are the dual drum machines (one of them hand triggered - the out of time one!) and the feedback duet that I finished just moments before the neighbours knocked on the door...

Shortly thereafter, R-Man and I learned the song and incorporated it into the Great Men set. We dropped the initial World Cup name in favour of something a little more us (with some conceptual continuity of course - there's a present for the first person to spot it). You can hear our version on the Live in London EP and here's a video of us playing it in the Shazam live lounge on October 22nd 2010:

At some point, I'm not sure when, I started noodling about on an acoustic guitar and over time this solo acoustic version came together:

Spectators at an Acousticution by chris-walls

Since I'm not that great on acoustic, I tried playing a solo (with drum machine) version on electric as well:

Spectators at an Electricution by chris-walls

There's probably more mileage in this yet. If anyone out there fancies trying their own version we'd love to hear it and add it to the catalogue!

Monday, 13 June 2011

Download 2011

Yes, it's the obligatory festival review! I hadn't actually planned on going to Download but got offered a ticket at the last minute (thanks Lou!) so headed on up. As is tradition, Regan boarded a plane to France so as to maintain a rock equilibrium in the Midlands. Due to lack of planning I only set off after work on Friday, hence had already missed most of the awesome bands that were scheduled. Luckily 2 nights before I'd seen The Darkness in Shepherd's Bush so all was not lost. The plan was to arrive in time for Def Leppard's headlining slot. Then 20 minutes before they were due to being, this happened:

So we did the sensible thing and absconded to dry old Beeston for a few Harvest Pales with R-Man and T-Fran. I'd caught Def Lep a couple of years ago so it wasn't too much of a shame to miss them and stay dry for a night, especially since we'd have missed half the set by the time we arrived anyway.

So clean and dry, Saturday kicked off with Rise to Remain. I'm not down with the kidz enough to know anything about them but there was some satisfactory widdling involved. I'm a sucker for bands that look scary, so Ghost were good to look at but unfortunately the mix in the tent didn't let me find out if they were actually any good. So a giant Yorkshire pudding later, we headed over to check out Royal Republic's acoustic set. Sadly by the time we found the Jagermeister tent (secreted down a hidden pathway) we'd missed most of their set. I'm going to go ahead and recommend you watch their excellent Shazam session, even though Great Men have been shunned by the Shazamers now.

Skunk Anansie are always good, but chose a very poor setlist for a festival slot: far too much new material. Cheap Trick were very accomplished for "a brand new band from the United States"... And I was pleasantly surprised by Avenged Sevenfold, they put on a top notch show on the main stage.

At this point I was faced with a tough call. On the main stage was System of a Down, the very first band I ever saw at Rock City. But on the second stage was Alice Cooper, who is guaranteed to put a massive smile on my face. I got in position for Alice and was not disappointed. My advice to you, dear reader, is not to make my mistake of nearly not watching Alice Cooper. Always watch Alice Cooper. There was an especially great vibe in the crowd as clearly most people had never seen Alice before and were totally blown away. A python, 20 foot monster and guillotine, not to mention riffs and solos galore, later, grins and a buzz of excitement abound. I then managed to catch the last 40 minutes of System of a Down, who were excellent (on a sub-Alice plane of course), and as my friend pointed out, probably mentally ill.

The rain held off all night, but just as we contemplated leaving the tent at 10am, the heavens opened. And stayed open. We braved the elements for a cheeseburger and watch Sworn Amongst, who satisfied the 3 main requirements of metal:
  1. Riffs
  2. Solos
  3. Growling silly things. (example lyric: "Die! Die! Die! ... we f**k the system every day"
We then had the misfortune to witness My Darkest Days (apt name), who must have taken a wrong turn on the way to the X Factor auditions. They were so bad that we decided to just leave the whole festival immediately.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Garage Sale

As you may know, in recent months I relocated from a vast palace in Nottingham to a pigeon hutch on a Holloway rooftop. As such I need to jettison some of my life. I figured I'd offer these delights up to y'all on here before putting them on eBay. Email if you're interested in any.

Marshall B65 Basstate with Celestion speaker. Could use some TLC.

Fender Dual Showman 4x12 cab on wheels with outward angled front

Fender Dual Showman 100w valve head, twin channel with reverb. Beautiful and loud. Battle worn around the country with Swound! and Great Men and will do you proud.

Marshall JCM 1960 2x12 cab, used live once (An Evening With Great Men)

Jackson Performer Dinky Reverse from 1997 with Dimarzio Evolution pickups

Kay through-neck

Jackson Kelly Professional with GFS pickups - coil-tapped bridge humbucker and neck P90.