Week 11 : 13th March 1995 : The Bends




Accompany music : Black Star

Going start by jumping ahead to now 2017. All the way through this early part of the year, I have been going through a turbulent time at work, regarding job security, and naturally it made me consider other options. As part of destressing process, I looked for inspiration in the things around me and got away from it by writing this blog. A few weeks ago, in the middle of the maelstrom, I re-read the 10 pieces so far, and I was shocked to see that the one linking element the majority is change. It sort of confirmed my thinking, defined the radical options ahead and gave me a new found belief that no matter what happened, I had the resilience to ride the change and I would try to make best out of it. In the end, I kept my job… but thats another story. This period was tough, but I was prepared as I had went through a lot worse. Welcome to the mid-nineties.

I will (as usual) not go into the grand details but the mid-nineties was one of the most radical parts of my life and defined who I became. A huge rollrcoaster of a decade which had some amazing high points but some awful downfalls into the water chute of despair. It saw me start the decade with a newly found belief system but by the end see me struggling to square faith with life. I started in 1990 newly becoming unemployed, desperately volunteered for something and then via going to University finding my then life defining vocation of a Youth Worker by the late 90’s. My relationships were also ever changing, with some great moments, followed by craziness and emotional turmoil. A series of un-Billy like choices would transform mine and others lives forever. At the time, I was lost in the story, living the dream and having to cope with the consequences.  Friendships also changed but luckily the bonds stayed constant. The main thing that changed was my own perception of myself, in 1990 I wasn’t too sure of who I was, with my views generally reflecting how others saw me. By the end of the decade I had learnt my faults and how to deal with them, but I also learned I had positives and I started to appreciate who I was. I also learned not to regret anything that happened as it made me the person I am today and helped shape the great life that I would have.

My music in the mid 1990’s had also hit a bit of an issue. the extravagances of 80’s Rock/Metal had been absorbed by grunge and Nu-metal. Progressive rock had taken a back seat, with only a few bands such as Dream Theater pushing forward. People were obsessed with Brit Pop which generally passed me by. There was some great rock music around that was more indie and less metal. The music I bought at the time was either very melancholy and  shoe-gazzy or very quirky which reflected the ups and downs of this time. But what didn’t change was was appetite to find something new. Around 1995 I asked one of my friends Riverdance Steve (all friends had nicknames. Steve by the way river danced seemingly to all types of music, including Metallica) to do me a mix tape of his music. What I got back was a mix of early-mid nineties indie/rock bordering a lot on grunge. I remember on the tape were Smashing Pumpkins, Screaming Trees, Alice in Chains and Cowboy Junkies amongst others. All of these I loved alongside a couple of tracks, by a band called Radiohead. A song called Creep and another called Bones.

Creep is an excellent track of its time, that 90’s self doubt through the seemingly garbled lyrics of Yorke, interrupted by grunge power chords became an anthem for the disposed and uncertain. It became a massive hit and subsequently was numerously covered. There is an episode of the excellent podcast Coverville where every song is a cover of Creep. After hearing it on the tape, I bought the album, 1993’s Pablo Honey… and I was kind of disappointed. One massive hit within a mediocre shoe-gazing bunch of tracks with light grunge guitar. The track Bones followed a similar structure but was far more intense and darker. With some hesitation I went out and got The Bends, hoping that i wouldn’t be disappointed. I wasn’t.

After a lot of publicity over Creep, a massive promotion and touring schedule followed, Radiohead had returned to studio (reluctantly) to record a potentially difficult album. What they made was an album of tracks that are experimental, emotional and strangely radio-friendly. It becomes a perfect bridge album between the personal shoe-gazing post grunge of Pablo Honey to the Wider Societal soundtracked scope of OK Computer. The Bends brings together these concepts, recognising the continued personal recollections of Thom York but also transposing them into the wider society. Songs are deeper, darker and move between grunge guitar, indie pop structure, beautiful songwriting and electronic doodling. One of Radiohead’s great qualities is that idea of moving forward and not conforming to what the record companies or their fans expect, whilst always holding onto that concept of challenging inequality and issues in society usually more experimental music. OK Computer, Kid A took this on and their still doing it in 2017’s Moon Shaped Pool. Lets remind ourselves of this genius work, the Bends.

Planet Telex, sets the agenda for the album. Early on, the spaced out reverb electronics and distorted guitar set the atmosphere. The track builds throughout with drum and guitar fills with restrained vocals running alongside. Slight sound effects are taken over with anthmeic chords at start of the title track, The Bends. Yorkes opening slightly sneery verse with responsive chord. The song is beautifully disjoined with almost talking elements and full on rock solo’s exchanging with melancholic elements. The beautiful High and Dry follows, acoustic start with guitar and delicate vocals up front break out into calming anthemic chorus. There is a steady increase in intensity but there is a real restrained feel to this even in the wonderful guitar solo.

Another subtle classic follows. Fake Plastic Trees, again starts with the acoustic guitar and Yorkes vocals this time with atmospheric keyboards giving space in the background. I love how this track builds in volume and adds elements but doesn’t loose any of the delicate impact of the sublime lyrics. The other track on that tape, Bones is next. From the opening echo chords and heavy bass, I think theres a certain relentless brutalism to this track. The chorus especially, has a riff that feels should be in a happy 70’s glam song, but the distortion alongside Yorkes almost spitted desperate lyrics add a distinct heaviness.  (Nice Dream) finishes side one with a almost calming finish. Acoustic guitars and delicate approach again are up front, this seems do much more orchestral. I like very much the choral approach before it kicks off with soaring guitar in the bridge before returning to peace.

The excellent Just starts side 2. The initial kickstart of drums, bass and guitar into the first playful verse sets the tone. The interplay between Yorke and guitar makes this song almost a playful conversation. Then the solo spirals off into its own direction before kicking into a staccato like acoustic section. The final guitar solo with shouting finishes off a great manic song. I love the slow build up of Iron lung, starts very restrained until the power chords suddenly kicks in verse 2. At the end of each verse the dip into madness is unexpected and shows an almost prog inkling. Probably the most melancholy song of the album, ‘Bullet Proof… I Wish I Was’ is beautiful, dark and a fine interlude.

The distinct reoccurring riff at the start of the Black Star builds in volume. We jump straight into a verse Yorkes sublime mournful lyrics about relationship breakdown, beautifully backed up by the band (especially the haunting bass line). The Chorus is anthemic and sad at the same time. I love after the second chorus the use of the reoccurring riff. The final verse with its lovely use of backing vocals both paired back and heartbreaking before an anthemic end with that riff throughout. I love this song, it makes me teary and happy in equal parts.

Sulk, with a staccato guitar opening into another emotional personal anthem of a song. The choruses have a strange-sing-along quality and as most of the songs on the album moves from the quiet to the loud. The final track Street Spirit (Fade Out) is a wonderful peaceful track, reminds me a bit of REM with a bit of menace. The beautiful ongoing riff alongside Yorkes vocal performance sets this up. Again the track slowly builds in intensity but none of the tranquil delicacy is lost. Stunning finish to a stunning album

When asked in one of those on-going Facebook questions (which I never usually answer) for the 12 albums that will stay with you forever, The Bends was one of the first I put down, mainly for how it captured my mid-90’s. The uneasiness with oneself, your actions and consequences. Added to this is recognising the wider world is not so great either and that it also needed a lot of work. It paints a dark (some would say depressing) picture. But Yorke and the band, make songs that are strangely uplifting and in the majority of tracks, provide a battle cry to improve oneself and/or society. That acceptance of the negatives and then the acceptance that you have to do something about it, I feel comes out from this.

In 1995, I had decided to go to University to become a Community and Youth Worker. In the summer, I was lucky enough to visit friends in Berlin. It was 5 years after the wall came down and 50 years after the end of World War Two. With every exhilarating and fun moment came another time of self reflection and deep thinking. Walking around the streets of East Berlin and seeing bullet holes in walls was shocking. A trip around the German national museum following the timeline of German culture, inevitably led to a 20th century of conflict, hatred and a room showing the films from the concentration camps. A sign above the door, implored people to spend time there and watch, saying that this can not happen again. An adjoining room showing the first photographs from Allied journalists in the camps, reinforced this in stunning un-nerving quiet contemplation. In the Check Point Charlie museum we saw displays of stories regarding the wall, of the families divided and of daring escapes across the wall. The role of peaceful protest was rightly highlighted in changing the beliefs in 1990 and helping bring down the wall.

This trip was the perfect introduction to my University course. It built upon my ever-growing belief system that society was not fair and that I had  to change it, even in some small way. It also made me aware of myself, my strength’s and those points I have to improve. Most of all, it helped put into context who I was and that I wasn’t afraid to develop and change. And that stays with me today.

So for the creative element, I was always going to make something based on my favourite track, which is Black Star. So I decided to make a 3D star. I certainly haven’t got the skill to design this as yet, so I used a design for the excellent book, ‘Make Shapes 1’ by Gerald Jenkins and Anne Wild. Its a great resource of mathematical models and used the one for Small Stellated Dodecahedron. The design is made up of 4 separate pieces (laid out on two pages of A4), these are cut out, folded and joined following a numerical order. Initially the first two pieces form separately and then are joined. The third piece starts to be set up and then added to the larger piece and a similar process happens for the fourth and final piece until the complete ‘star’ is made.

As this was to be a black star, I initial photocopied the first design onto black card, which of course I couldn’t see or read. Subsequently I printed the designs onto white card and carried out the process. In the end I ended up with a stunning White star which seemed a little larger than expected (12.5 cm in height). It was a pity that this needed to be coloured in black. First on a few spires I tried with Permanent Marker which faded to a dark grey colour and had a matt finish I didn’t like. Ended up painting in in Acrylic which not only gave great coverage and consistent gloss colour but also strengthened the shape. The final touch was adding a few mirrored embellishments of different sizes to give a little sparkle.

Billy (aged 27 at time of album release)

 

Week 2 : 8th January 2017 : Blackstar turns 1

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Accompany music : Blackstar

I wrote this piece late January 2016, after making the box as a way of paying tribute…. Unfortunately I didn’t have the heart to post it. So to celebrate Blackstars 1st birthday, remember again those 3-4 days & celebrate Bowies life, here it is.

A couple of years ago we had an extended Steph orientated weekend in London. Initially built around seeing her favourite modern dancer Akram Khan at Sadlers Wells doing his excellent and compelling Desh show. We then had the opportunity to see her favourite singer Siouxsie Sioux at the Royal Festival Hall. Again an amazing show. To balance this out I was given free reign to plan somethings for us over the 3-4 days there. Amongst the lovely walks, fine bars and exhibitions at Tate modern and Britain. I was determined to get to one show. The ‘This is David Bowie’ exhibition at the V&A.

We turned up early, queued for tickets and then had an hour wait before our entry time which meant we could peruse the excellent exhibits in the V&A collection. As the allotted time arose we were presented with headphones and a small box. Instead of the usual tour guide where manual operation is needed to access information, the headphones leaped into life when near an exhibit. In many cases it was near videos presentations where the track would boom out, at other times Bowie (and other contributors) would appear randomly in your head. The exhibition took participants on a journey from early Bowie through to the present day in a celebration of his music, fashion, design, acting and his overall inspiration. All of it was spellbinding but there were quite a few spine tingling moments. From his life as David Jones, through Space Oddity through to the Top of the Pops video of ‘Starman’ with sharing a hug with Mick Ronson and pointing at the camera in the harlequin jumpsuit (which was just behind glass a few feet away).  Ziggy Stardust continued into Piero and into  the Berlin Years, culminating in a concert hall, showing gigs on huge screens. Fashion, Stage sets, lyrics, song writing techniques, and films  showing his influence spread out across generations.

IMG_0589All the time the headphones played as we stopped at each set of videos. At one point at a monitor a number of us gathered to watch a few of his most well known videos surrounded by the costumes worn. It was then Life on Mars started up. This is my favourite Bowie song. I love its beautiful piano at the start, with the fragile vocals. I love the way it powerfully builds up and up and leads into sublime choruses. I love the non-sensical lyrics and I love Wakemans fadeout piano solo. But I always find it irrationally emotional.  From the first note of piano and the first shot of red hair and pastel blue suit (which stood almost at touching distance just to my left) I felt myself taking a deep breath trying to hold on. By the first chorus and the amazing bridge that leads to it, I am filling up and the first tear is rolling down my cheek. At this point I took my headphones off, embarrassed at what was happening. And there I was standing in the silence, watching a silent Bowie. I look around at all the other 20-30 people all with headphones in tact and nearly all crying away. Maybe at this point I understood what Bowie meant to me.

I wouldn’t say I was the biggest Bowie fan. I had heard a lot of Bowie singles on Radio 1 as I grew up and I knew lyrics to quite a few of them. It wasn’t till my early teens I heard the full albums. The first was Hunky Dory, then Ziggy and Diamond Dogs. I loved this whole period. Later I grew to like the Berlin era but was a little lost by his later 80’s/90’s productions. I lost track a little and became a little dismayed by his music. It wasn’t till years later I went back and relistened to albums and got a greater understanding of the work I liked and how it had shaped other music I listened to. Recently Mr Drayton Record Player, our communal vinyl playing evening had played a number of the classics, all well attended and gave further insight into his genius. But at that moment in the V&A I got it, Bowie was (like for many others of my age) an integral part of our musical listening life. I may not have liked all his stuff, but the tracks I did were awe-inspiring rock/pop that made me think and made me emotional. In fact the exhibition it was amazing to see how influential he was on society in general.

IMG_0587So January 2016…..

Friday January 8th, a special Record Player was held to play Bowies new album Blackstar. A packed digital lounge settled down for a first listen of his latest opus. A startling black album with cut out star was carefully unwrapped. Inside a transparent sleeve contains the vinyl, it is placed on the player, the lights go down and the light from the powerpoint takes over as the first discordant notes of the title tracks starts up and Bowies almost gregorian hypnotic lyrics kicks in. I had heard this track earlier in the day and loved its Crimson like elements along with electronic drum and bass and jazz sax. And so it continued track after track of stunning songs, mixing the new and old with jazz solos and fills abound. Bowies fragile distinct vocals unmissable throughout with  what seemed his usual bamboozling lyrics which carried so much darkness and emotion but some clever word play which seemed to be a little joke with the listener. Afterwards we talked about it, those who had sat through the previous album had thought he was pointing to retirement then, but this one seemed to hint at it as well. We thought… oh, he’ll be back. We did agree that this was the best Bowie album in years. It was fresh, groundbreaking, inspiring and influential. Afterwards we celebrated Bowie with a quiz and listened to more of his tracks. A great night was had by all.

img_2001Monday 11th January 7:05am : Waking up for work, I sleepily reach over and hit the button of the radio for Radio5, and I lay my head down to hover in the outskirts of dreamland. Usually I am brought around by cheerful discussion of Nicky Campbell, but this morning his voice sounded dulled, broken even betrayed. ‘We have just had confirmation of the social media reports that David Bowie has died’….. I opened my eyes…. What… It was repeated in more broken terms explaining he had died the previous day (Campbell was devastated) and I struggled to take it in…. And then they played Lazarus and the first lyrics boomed out ‘Look up here now, Im in heaven’ and suddenly I was in shock. I kept thinking ‘my god the album makes so much sense now’. They then played a chunk of other tracks which finished me off. On the way into work, those in the know looked shocked whilst being soundtracked by the tinkle of peoples mp3 players playing Fame, Heroes, Ziggy… The day at work was a stunned loss with the constant play of Life on Mars in my head only interrupted when I checked the internet as I remembered more Blackstar lyrics.

Blackstar : ‘Something happened on the day he died’  , Sue : ‘The clinic called, The x-ray’s fine’ , Dollar Days : ‘Don’t believe for just one second I’m forgetting you, I’m trying to, I’m dying to’, I Cant give Everything Away : ‘I know something is very wrong, The pulse returns the prodigal son, The blackout hearts, the flowered news, With skull designs upon my shoes’

There are so many obvious clues but trying to second guess Bowies lyrics remains impossible. What is without doubt is that Blackstar is a stunning goodbye letter to fans that helps with the pain. Amongst all the tributes on Social Media one person stated the genius of Bowie, showed that a terminally ill person created this amazing piece of work and had more creativity in his little finger than the rest of humanity put together.

IMG_0425I remember Elvis dying in 1977 and people being upset and reruns of Elvis movies. I remember in 1980, John Lennon dying, family members crying and his singles dominating the charts. The death of Bowie in 2016, hit me unexpectedly hard and took me back to that day in the V&A, crying in the silence of Life on Mars. Bowie was an enigma, a style icon, a fantastic storyteller, the goblin king, a leader, a hero, an influence and a hell of a musician. Rest in Peace.

I wanted the box created for this piece to reflect the solemnness of the occasion, but also celebrate his influence and life with an array of his images. I chose 6 iconic images and printed them black onto black card almost so they can’t be seen. A star is cut out of two facing sides and a star tunnel created linking both sides. It felt apt that there should be something missing in a box celebrating Bowies influence on all of us.

One year on…… What have we learned

  • No musical icon is indestructible….. Prince, Cohen, Michael, Swarbrick, Frey, Emerson…. Never mind the icons lost of the screen, sport, architecture, art, politics, humanities.
  • Bowie continues to be an inspiration and the planet desperately needs his calmness, humility and common sense.
  • I continue to be grateful for his music legacy which still fills our screens and turntables, which I continue to rediscover.
  • Blackstar continues to be an epic album. It is so deep with every listen unveiling another noise, beat, lyric. The musical styles within are boundless and I think my mini review above, was just the tip of the iceberg.
  • A year on, it still hurts and Life on Mars still makes me cry…. Mind you, so does Lazarus now.

So Cheers to Blackstar on its first birthday, and Bowie (in whichever wonderful alternative universe you’re in) on your 70th.

Billy (aged 48 at time of album release)

2015 – Music of the future, Music of the past

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A belated review of 2015 music.

Many years ago I joined a tradition set up by my friend Chris of making a compilation album of that years favourite songs. It is great to reflect on the music of that year and share the tracks that inspired us. As much as we have similar tastes there is always difference and this usually ends up with many purchases of albums. So in playlist order here is my eclectic 17 choices that made it onto my album of the year.

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  1. Public Service Broadcasting – Go (from ‘The Race For Space’). An album which details the space race between the US and USSR through the commentary’s and newsreels of the time along with some great accessible progressive tunes. A perfect album sold at the great Cosmonaut exhibitions at the Science Museum.
  1. Steven Wilson – Hand Cannot Erase (from ‘Hand Cannot Erase’). Amazing heart wrenching/uplifting concept album based on a true story of a woman found dead in her flat, years after her last contact with anyone. Stunning LP which incorporates huge prog pieces and accessible classics. Saw Mr Wilson live 3 times in 2015, two of which were at the Albert Hall. At the first a perfect rendition of the whole of the album (complete with videos, performance art and guest singers) and the second a retrospective of his solo career. Stunning memorable evenings.

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  1. Freya Rae & Louis Bingham – Curlicue (from ‘Curlicue’). A gig late on the year at the amazing Mining Institute, a decent crowd sat amongst many stern portraits overseeing a lovely gig by Sams flute teacher. This track captivated me instantly with its twists and turns. Freya and Louis have brought together a great instrumental album, bringing a modern mash up of traditional British and European folk music
  1. Between The Buried and Me – Life in Velvet (from ‘Coma Ecliptic’). BTBAM copyrighted madness that leaps from melody to thrash. Music press reported that they were a little more calmed down…. well a little bit.  Their songs are still mighty long except for this track which as it builds from ballad to epic metal, shows they have lost none of their brilliance.
  1. Amorphis – Under the Red Cloud (from Under the Red Cloud). My favourite start to a track this year, twinkling piano into folk rock territory and then spiraling into progressive metal. Epic, powerful, European and a little bit growly.
  1. King Crimson – One More Red Nightmare (from Elements 2015 Tour Book). Was in my top 5 bands to see and I saw them twice in 2015. Playing in some great arenas; the Manchester Lowry and Edinburgh Usher Hall; KC put on a show that was breathtaking and wonderous. What with 3 excellent drummers, excellent vocals, sax, bass and Fripps guitar work there was some stunning moments including Court of the Crimson King, Red, 21st Century Schizoid Man, Starless and this.

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  1. Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo – So Sincere (from 35th Anniversary Tour). Still in my top 5 to see. 35th anniversary album and still rocking with passion and a voice. Always loved the sneeriness throughout this track and it has not wained. Great to see Mr Giraldo getting equal billing.
  1. Vintage Trouble – Run Like A River (from ‘1 Hopeful Road’). A little lost in support of ACDC at Hampden Park, but in a more confined space at the Sage were outstanding. Great mix of soul, blues, Americana and rock with amazing stage presence. This track was just mad, including pit dive, an audience walk over armrests to a 3rd Floor singalong

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  1. Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Chasing Horses (from Motorcade Amnesiacs). A beautiful little track from a good album. Delicate acoustic guitar work, bass and distant drum with simplistic calming lyrics. About halfway the harmonising and keyboards kick in and it lifts the track to amazing
  1. Spocks Beard – Bennett Built a Time Machine (from The Oblivion Particle). Quirky song of this collection, Mandolin riffs carry the early part of this track with some great storytelling of wanting to change your past. The mood changes when Ryo’s prog keyboards kick in and the journey begins as the portal opens.
  1. Anekdoten – If it All Comes Down To You (from ‘Until All The Ghosts Are Gone’). Will I ever find a more laid back band then Anekdoten? I love their chilled peaceful attitude to songs. Abound with beautiful guitar work, mellotron like keyboards, lots of flute solos and even the singer sounds like he’s lying down.
  1. IMG_0319Leveret – Northern Lass/The Kings Barrow (from ‘New Anything’). A sad year ahead as Bellowhead cease to be. Two stunning gigs in 2015 (including NYE) but offshoot bands help. Here Bellowheads violinist (and John Parr sound-alike) Sam Sweeney & band playing up some trad folk.
  1. Richard Thompson – Beatnik Walking (from ‘Still’). Mr. Thompson continues to drift from folk, to Americana to Rock n Roll. This years album and tour see’s him in good form. This jolly track is a walking travelogue of Amsterdam complete.
  1. Gavin Harrison – Sound of Muzak/So Called Friend (from ‘Cheating the Polygraph’). One of the 3 King Crimson drummers covers tracks from his previous band Porcupine tree in Jazz big band form. The whole excellent album montage is like being stuck in a West Side Story fight scene.
  1. Lanterns of the Lake – Through a Cellar Door (from ‘Beings’). A local band playing stunning atmospheric tracks with clever use of distortion. Clever knack of building up tracks to huge heights and gently bringing you back down.
  1. The Decemberists – Make You Better (from ‘What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World’). Huge debate as to whether the new album is more commercial, less folky, more indie. The opening track even is an explanation of sorts. Who cares… great album, fantastic live and a gem of a song.
  1. The Lau – Ghosts (from ‘The Bell That Never Rings’). Sitting on 3rd level of Sage 2, I looked down on 3 musicians playing some relaxing, beautiful modern folk and then they played this 2011 EP track. And I couldn’t get it out of my head. Sad, beautiful and full of meaning of belonging and the need to be somewhere

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The links above are to the youtube videos, mostly live, some acoustic, others promos and one or two album tracks. Please I would ask, if you like the music, to support the artists and buy their music in the physical form. There is nothing better than a piece of vinyl (or a CD if required, or download if hell freezes over). Even better see them live.

IMG_4903There were other noteworthy albums which didn’t make it on here because I either forgot or tracks were too long. Amongst these I would recommend Coheed and Cambria ‘The Color Before The Storm’, Ben Folds ‘So There’, Riverside ‘Love, Fear and the Time Machine’ and Iron Maidens ‘Book of Souls’. All of them are great. It was a tremendous year for seeing live music, especially seeing bands of multiple occasions. I have mentioned some of the highlights above but a special mention goes to seeing ACDC at Hampden Park, probably the last time I will see them. Incredibly great for their age although the breaks between songs have got a little longer.

Unfortunately I am also at the age, where many of my musical icons are passing on. I was saddened earlier in the year with the passing of Chris Squire the fab bassist from one of my favourite Progressive rock bands Yes. I was also shocked by the death of Lemmy from Motorhead although it was kind of inevitable. We expect these icons of music  to live forever, but as we will find in January, even the greatest are human.

Lets hope 2016 brings happier times, great tunes, fab albums and some memorable concerts.

The Art project for this one is two fold.

IMG_0401Part 1 the cubes. The three smaller cubes (3cm) have 17 faces covered with small elements of the album covers of each of the above tracks. There is one blank face. The bigger cube (4.2cm) has my six favourite concerts on it (Steven Wilson, King Crimson, Decemberists, Vintage Trouble, Bellowhead and ACDC.

IMG_0591Part 2: the album cover. As part of the process of creating an album of the year, I create a cover in tribute to a one this year. I decided to take the sublime cover of Lantern Of The Lakes Beings with its bright coloured, slightly faded landscape overpowered by a dark geometric shape and create a homage. I looked through the many photos I have taken in 2015 with the inevitably many of the bridges of Berwick. I take a photo every time I pass on a train. I choose a suitable version and drew a silver cube on it. Simple yet effective.

 

May 2015: General Election (or wasn’t Life Easier with a Swingometer with only two colours)

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Im glad thats over…. The 2015 General election process seemed to go on forever. A long winded campaign which tested the most hardened political animals and impassioned voters. I like Politics on the most part and the art of debate and discussion of a range of issues. Unfortunately the 2015 campaigns lacked coherence with scattered and disjointed policies and personalities.

The Parties daily dose of scattergun policy edicts and the continual lack of discourse did not give a clear view. Even during the meaningless debates, the leaders spent more time talking over each other rather than promoting what makes their party great. Most of all the closeness of polls, caused parties to concentrate on soundbites playing on the voters fears and verbally abusing their opponents.

Everyone stressed (rightly so) the importance of voting, but the above behaviours must have turned off some people. As a dedicated democratic voter, I even struggled to pick a party who I could 100% believe in. I spent most of the campaign, dispairing of the tactics used and continually switching off Broadcasts, debates and news programmes in disbelief.

So to show the issues I had with this years election, I took a little bit of old school Peter Snow and a little bit of ‘Have I got News For You’ to create Billy’s Swingometer of Political No-Nos.

IMG_4797Starting with a basic swingometer. A red circle is cut out then a blue half circle stuck to it. A piece of white card is folded and on the front face a half circle is cut out, creating the space for the swingometer. The red blue circle is placed in-between the sheets and is positioned behind the half circle gap. A silver butterfly clip is pushed through the centre of the circle and through the back of the card. This is fastened in place tight enough for the circle to revolve. Next a pointer is attached from the clip, stuck to the join of colours on the wheel and protruding unstuck over the edge of the gap. Thus making something to grab onto to make the Swingometer swing. The card was glued down the open side but the top and bottom were left open as this seemed to improve the movement of the device.

Next a base was created to help the whole thing stand up. It also allowed mIMG_4798e to colour in a tableau of the dejection I felt after what had seemed to be an eternity of Political rubbish. Finally I made some degrees for the swingometer. They don’t represent stages to the left and right but show some of the things I am not voting for. The List that follows, are the political no no’s raining down over the democratic process this time

  • The Scottish Threat & The English Question
  • Bacon Sandwich Gate
  • Red Lines
  • Racism/Sexism/Homophobia
  • Stereotyping The Poor And Rich
  • Celebrity Endorsements/Interviews/Appearances
  • Debate Interviewers More Important Than Politicians
  • Brain Fades – Forgetting Your Football Team Or Important Policies
  • Someone Else’s Fault – Previous Government, Europe, Immigrants
  • Politicians Pretending To Be Working Class By Supping Beer
  • Poor Quality Leaflets & Party Political Broadcasts
  • Not Answering Questions Or Stock Party Line Answers
  • Pop Interviews With People Who Don’t Care
  • Marginal Constituencies Deciding The Election
  • Business Endorsement Adverts And Letters In Newspapers
  • Difficult Decisions To Make And We Are All In This Together
  • Parties Vying For Centre Ground And Middle England

It should be said that the one positive moment, was the appearance of the local Liberial Democrat councillor on our doorstep who had a 20 minute discussion with me regarding 5 years of coalition and we had a friendly debate regarding their influence (good and bad). A great talk and a brave politician.

So May 7th appeared with the Conservatives and Labour neck in neck in the polls. Lib Dems were struggling, UKIP and SNP seemed to be doing well and would be destined to shape a future coalition government. Early in the morning I went to vote with British democracy in a balance. During the day I planned a paper project of creating an impossible Tangram, which could not solved. The pieces would be the parties based on seat size but with ‘Red Line’ coalition points would create edges which wouldn’t match up. By the time I got home I had a plan.

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Well who would have thought this would have happened. At 10pm the BBC announced an exit poll, in which the Conservatives would have a majority Government. Nobody believed it especially Paddy ‘I will eat my hat’ Ashdown. After Sunderlands very quick return, the unbelievable became fact  slowly during the night. By the morning the Conservatives had gained 331 seats and a majority. Labour were in disarray with 232 seats. SNP were jubilant being third biggest party with 56 seats. The Lib Dems with 8 seats had been decimated. UKIP and the Greens were disappointed with their 1 seat returns. Whilst Northern Irish and Welsh parties stayed pretty static. A couple of hours later, 3 leaders had resigned (one would come back) just to finish off a stunning political day.

Many political experts far more qualified than me will dissect the results and work out why the polls and exit polls were so different. But using the above cubes I will share some of theories which I thought were relevant. This is my take on how it all transpired, you may have your own views (and you’re probably more correct.)

IMG_4800The collapse of the Liberial Democrats. 5 years of coalition government decimated support for the Lib Dems, reducing their seats to 8 and the loss of many of the parties hierarchy. Their support seemed to split to the left and the right (like their politicians) and feed into the big parties.

IMG_4796The SNP effect. The expectation that the SNP would take many Scottish Labour seats came to fruition. But nobody including the SNP expected 56 seats. The Labour party suffered from the previous years Scottish referendum and its closeness to the Westminster establishment. Inadvertently this also led to the strengthening of the Conservatives, with the Tory’s use of the ‘Scottish threat’ of the SNP joining with Labour to form a Government.

IMG_4795The rise of UKIP. Only one seat but the third party (on share of vote). In the South, they took voters from the Conservatives when the policies were not Right enough. In the North, they took support from Labour (finishing second in many seats) by seemingly being more working class. An enigma.

The multiparty system. As I suggested above, when I started voting (in the late 80’s) it was a two horse race between a blue and red team. Every so often the Yellowy/Orange team would make an impact (usually when a protest vote was happening). This time a range of parties had an effect. The threat of a hung parliament and coalition allowed parties to express their views and gave UKIP, Greens, SNP et al more broadcasting time than ever (including participation in debates). Their personalities made bigger impacts without their policies being properly scrutinised. Excluding the SNP, this didn’t result in massive seats but increases in share of the vote (see below). This has lead to calls for Proportional Representation.

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So with the Tangram idea crumpled up at 10pm, I had to come up with another idea. So I have went for a simple and effective info graphic. I have created a cube for each party where the cubic cm’s of the structure equals (ish) the number of seats the party gained. For example :

  • The Liberal democrats cube (4th cube in Orange) represents 8 seats measures 2x2x2 cm
  • The Green cube (6th Cube in bright Green) represents 1 seat measures 1x1x1 cm
  • The Conservatives cube (1st Cube) represents 331 seats (which unfortunately is a prime number) so is 6.92×6.92×6.92cm (approximately 331cm cubed)

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Each cube was created as a template on the computer (handy for getting exact measurements) and cutting out and scoring were carefully carried out. Before I assembled there was one thing I needed to do. I have been very careful not to give away who I voted for or express my personal views about any of the parties in this post but I felt I needed to add this to the artwork. I am too political and opinionated not to say something about how I felt, so inside each box is my own personal views regarding that specific party on a sheet of paper. In each of the cubes, the paper is multiple folded. Cubes got increasingly more difficult to assemble as they got smaller with the thickness of the card starting to effect the measurements.

The finished cubes I think give a clear and simple indication of what happened. I wish politics was this simple. Roll on the next 5 years.

October 2014 – The Lamp Of Sacrifice

Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky tacky…” Pete Seeger

Little Boxes written by Malvina Reynolds and made famous by the excellent Pete Seeger, is a fantastic nursery rhyme like protest song that rails against the then invasion of suburbia and the endless building of faceless, identical housing. Identifying these accommodations as little boxes is a simple metaphor for the song, but sums up the simplistic way we look to draw or build a house when we are young (or to save money and time when we are a building firm). In October on a birthday trip to Glasgow, we were lucky enough to see an exhibition where making buildings is not just making a simple box but is a painstaking study of form, space and time.

IMG_4254The exhibition was Nathan Coley’s ‘The Lamp of Sacrifice’. Originally carried out in Birmingham and then Edinburgh, Coley built scale models of every place of worship that appeared in that area’s Yellow Pages. The Edinburgh version included surrounding areas down to the borders and totalled 286 structures. The buildings have no decoration but distinctly take the forms of churches, mosques, synagogues and other meeting spaces. The Title comes from a John Ruskin quote ‘It is not the church we want, but the sacrifice; not the emotion of admiration, but the act of adoration: not the gift, but the giving’. Coley seems to make this the focus of the work, letting visitors think about who inhabits each building but also about the sacrifice that has been made to create the buildings themselves. In fact in the original Birmingham show, Coley created the buildings as part of the exhibition allowing people to see the time it took to create each structure. In Edinburgh/Glasgow shows the buildings were already prepared.

IMG_4259A friend had seen the show in Edinburgh, and sent a message saying I would love this. The attached picture showing the buildings looked great but also very small. So much so, that when I went excitedly to the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art, I was expecting a tabletop full of miniature models. On entering the Gallery space, I was first taken aback by the vastness of the project, the sheer floor space covered by the not so small structures and the amount of time it must have taken to create so many buildings. The buildings themselves were so unique with enough architectural detail to vaguely identify the role of the building without any of the small detail being required. I loved the way that they were scattered on the floor, with very different buildings being placed together creating city scapes and street views that complement and clash in equal measure.

IMG_4257The building structure was very clever and added to the anonymity of the buildings. The use and choice of card helped with this. The natural brown was not tarnished with any other colours or markings, other than the faint pencil marks of the construction which gave each model a sort of decoration. The thickness and the corrugated edge of the card gave each structure a permanency within the exhibition, giving the impression that all buildings were built from the same materials, no matter what it stood for. This anonymity worked so well, as there was no guide to the buildings. I only recognised one, the unmistakable spire of St. Michael’s Parish Church in Linlithgow, which we regularly pass on the train when visiting family.

We had two sessions at the exhibition and it was interesting to see how the natural light from the skylights played with the buildings and how shadows slowly shifted across the city. This added to the overwhelming sense of calm, peacefulness and awe of this stunning project. Its not often I go to one of these events, and say ‘I wish I had thought of this’, and for one moment I thought this is the madcap type of thing I would do, but I know in my heart I would not have had the commitment and sacrifice to do this. So hat off to Nathan, for this amazing achievement.

IMG_4739I do love places of worship for their architecture and their calmness but most of all when they are multi use area’s giving space and providing services for the wider community outside the confines of specific faiths or beliefs. I had a small dabble with religion in my 20’s when I joined a Methodist church, and for a few years it became a serious part of my life. I sang some great hymns, met some fab people and for a little while, I thought I felt something otherworldly. I even became a fairly rubbish Sunday school teacher. Going to church changed my life, not in a religious way but I  found something in that building that gave my life  meaning and purpose. I was long term unemployed and desperate to occupy my time, so I volunteered in the churches youth project making toasties for homeless people. I didn’t know at the time that this was one of the best youth projects in the North East and I didn’t realise how obsessed I would become about the work and eventually that this would become my career. Unfortunately as my understanding of youth and community increased, my beliefs evolved and my faith faded. I especially couldn’t balance the excellent work taking place on a daily basis in the building and the ethos, beliefs and practice of organised religion on a Sunday. It forms an important part of many peoples lives but it wasn’t for me and I had to leave. For the record, I think I still have faith of some kind, I am not sure what it is but I do know, it is definitely not in the form of an organisation. Maybe what was more important for me now is the building (or the box) and it’s place within a community

IMG_3242Many posts ago (Boxes 8) I talked about putting boxes together to form recognisable building features. I described the process to create towers. After creating a few of these, I went for something a little more recognisable again, a doorway. It wasn’t till years later that I realised why it was recognisable. It looked a lot like the churches portico which I had walked through for years.

photo-29The main structure of the doorway is a large C shaped box, which is essentially a 10x12x6cm box with a 10x8x2cm chunk taken out of it. The design of the actual box is so complicated, so heres a vague artists impression of what the template looked like. As always this required careful measuring, cutting and scoring of the box. The added difficulty with this build was there was a number of complex attachments which needed to be in place before the main construction of the box continued.

IMG_4740The doorway itself is a cut out rectangle of 5 x 6 cm on the most innermost face of the main box. Behind this is attached a multiple pieced attachment. Starting with an inward attachment (5 x 6 x 1 cm) constructed in the same card creating an inner step and on its main face a rectangle was cut measuring 3.5 x 4 cm. Inside of this is another inward attachment in cream card (3.5 x 4 x 0.5 cm) and this forms the door itself. On its main face 4 rectangles are cut out for the panels (1 x 1.5 cm), a line is made with a thin strip of black card to divide the doors and two wooden beads are used as handles. Behind this four final inward attachment in dark brown card (1 x 1.5 x 0.5), creating the impression of recessed panels. This element was created as one piece and then attached to the main boxes panel prior to assembly. Above the main door, a pediment was created with a triangle cut out of the main face, and a outward attachment created using the measurements of the element cut out. Once attached the triangular pediment stands proud by 0.5cm. Its base is 5cm with sloping sides of 3 cm.

IMG_4738The pillars were also a challenge. 4 square holes (1.5 x 1.5) were cut into what would be the inner ceiling and floor faces. Four Pedestals were created of the same measurement but a depth of 1 cm. A small circle is cut into each of the attachments main faces and these were attached to the box. As construction started to carefully take place of the C element of the box, a couple of rolled up pieces of dark brown card were threaded through the pedestals to form columns and inadvertently giving the structure a lot of strength.

The final piecing together was laborious but worthwhile. Only afterwards, I stopped calling it a doorway and started calling it the Temple (like I had with the towers which afterwards became churches). In total (over 8 years) I created 2 temples and 4 churches. Only a mere 280 structures behind the Lamp of Sacrifice exhibition.

So once again, well done Nathan Coley for this achievement and stunning exhibition. If you get the chance to see any of its versions, it is highly recommended

Recommended Reading : Nathan Coley “There Will Be No Miracles Here”

 

11th April 2015: Tabletop Day

A special post for the 3rd International Tabletop Day

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“What’s the deal? Spin the wheel,  If the dice are hot…take a shot, Play your cards. Show us what you got…” – Rush – Roll the Bones

IMG_4676When I was a Little kid, whilst my mates wanted to be astronauts, soldiers, racing drivers or policemen, I had my heart set on being a board game designer. Only at the age of 13-14 I discovered computers and then wanted to be a Computer games designer. This came from always playing and making up games. From the standards Monopoly, Scrabble, Cluedo through to subbuteo, test match cricket and trivial pursuit . Later I would discover D&D (needs a separate post) and games like Battlecars, Kings and Things and early Warhammer. And here I am years later, still obsessed with games which are a little more expensive. Lately the evolvement and accessibility of European and American type games has exploded, with an amazing range of games available from specialist shops like Travelling Man and Forbidden Planet and also oddly Waterstones. One of the key ways of discovering games is through blogs and dedicated websites, such as Dice Tower & Game Board Geek.

6fcb21b65b104688e92628352ad3c310-488x526One such channel Geek & Sundry played its part with a show dedicated to games called Tabletop presented by Will Wheaton. Each week a game is explained and played with Will and 3 friends. You see the gameplay, some of the strategy and the fun to be had. It doesn’t score or judge the game (leaves it up to you). Now in its third season, the range of games played is huge. Some games I already had (and was great to see being played… munchkin) and others I needed after seeing (Lords of Waterdeep). Such is the programmes popularity and its raising the profile of gaming, that the term the Wheaton effect was coined for games which had recently appeared and then went out of stock. At one point Tsuro became an extinct product in the UK after appearing in one episode. Many of the games I will talk about below, have been reviewed.

IMG_4671In 2013, Tabletop announced the first Tabletop day, and its development is described on the website as “International TableTop Day” was founded three years ago as a way for the world to celebrate tabletop gaming together. Every spring, fans host thousands of events all over the world and every year, the event grows. TableTop Day 2014 was celebrated in 80 countries, over all 7 continents, and had over 3,000 events in total. 2015 is going to be even bigger!”

IMG_3681IMG_3681We missed year 1 but by year 2 we were prepared and played a range of wonderful games (Tsuro, Unspeakable Words, Dix-it, Totally Renamed Spy Game, Ice Towers, Study in Emerald & Lords of Waterdeep) with a great group of people. Game get togethers are not about winning games (always) or proving who has the best game. It is about spending time with fab people around the table having fun, having face to face discussion and sharing a great experience. If it includes alcohol and food all the better. These evenings are always relaxing, a laugh and a pleasure and that’s why we have these game nights so many times a year. Although Tabletop Day is kind of special.

IMG_4666So this is my tribute to this great day and hopefully it will make some of you think about trying one of these out. Here is an introduction to my 20 favourite games at this time. As always with these lists there is a number of proviso’s. It is difficult to pick only 20, and if you ask me next week it will have changed.  I do not pretend that these are the greatest games of all time but mainly these are games I (and my fellow gamers) seem to enjoy. Infact I have went mainly for accessible starter games. The list is also in no particular order. In fact I am using the twenty sided game dice to choose the order. So lets start with….

IMG_46601: The Settlers of Catan: You and your fellow gamers are on an island which has been randomly created. The island is rich with resources (Brick, Wood, Sheep, Wheat and Stone) with some areas more abundant then others. The aim is to build roads, villages and Cities from the resources and scupper the empire building of your neighbours (and avoid the robber). Great game for its ever changing board, for trading/bartering and for giving the world a legitimate Geek innuendo line.

IMG_36432: Carcassone: Numbers 1 and 2 on this list are genuine entry level european games. In carcassone, players take turns placing tiles to create cities, roads, fields and temples. They place Meeples to control these elements. Once a city/road/temple is completed a score is given. The continual scoring during the game gives an impression of who is winning, but always the final count up brings surprises. Comes in many variations including Winter and Ark of the Covenant.

11108953_10206855941940470_6027392976841847307_n3: Arkham Horror: HP Lovecraft Cthulhu board games are in abundance at the moment but Arkham Horror is possibly the Great One of the cult. Huge is its size (especially with add ons) and in the time required to play. It provides an intense co-operation gameplay which plays on crisis, pressure and the un-nerving knowledge that the big bad will turn up at some point. Usually we are all doomed but I look forward to playing the full game again up in Scotland.

IMG_42294: Tsuro: From one of the most complicated and long game, to a game so simplistic and quick. A beautifully well made game, from its opaque bamboo front sheet, its red bond gatefold rules, the Phoenix pictured game board, the thick cardboard pieces looking like clay tiles to its distinctive coloured dragon pieces. SO simple to play. Each dragon starts on the edge of the board and in turn places a tile. Each tile details 4 paths linking the 8 points around the piece, meaning they all join up. The dragon follows the path, hopefully avoiding falling off the board or hitting another dragon. Sounds easy… its not

IMG_36805: Lords of Waterdeep: In Role playing games, as adventurers we are used to being asked to do quests from those in power. In Waterdeep, players take the role of the Lords within a D&D game, who need to complete quests by collecting the appropriate adventurers (Warriors, Thieves, Mages and Priests). This is a worker placement game (ie… you have a couple of agents you place to do tasks like gathering adventurers) where there are numerous choices to be made and you find yourself constantly blocked. Again the final scoring really changes the games especially with the secret lord quest type multipliers.

IMG_46566: Dixit: Universally loved game in our groups. I was drawn to it on the basis of its artwork. A deck of cards with seemingly children’s book illustrations (later decks get a little more disturbing but equally beautiful). Each player has 6 cards. Someone takes the role of the storyteller, picks a card and comes up with a word, saying, noise, song which describes it. All other players give a card that corresponds, these are placed out and players vote on which is the storytellers card. Key is not being obvious and knowing your fellow gamers. Points are given out and marked by fab rabbit pieces. Always baffling, beautiful and a pleasure to play.

IMG_45087: Formula D: I am not sure whether I have actually completed a game without crashing out but I love the genuine thrill of taking part in a grand prix. Some will say it is a game which is based on lucky dice throws but there are real tactics in picking the times to go up in gears and risk using the bigger rigged dices (such as the D30)… And then realising that you have landed in a hairpin corner where you have to stop three times, and you have one one brake left. Welcome to the tyre wall.

IMG_46588: Ticket to Ride: From racing driver to train company mogul. Played on a large map of USA, Europe, Asia (amongst others…), Players vie for routes by collecting tickets from one city to another. Tracks are marked by different colours and amounts of carriages, requiring players to collect the appropriate coloured train cards to control that stretch. Once a ticket route is completed the players collects those points. Blocked routes are inevitable and unfinished ones are deducted at the end.

IMG_42249: Roborally. If I had a nemesis game, this would be it. Programming robots to collect flags shouldn’t be this hard, but lasers, pits, bumpers, crushers & the dreaded conveyor belts block the way. Then there are the other players who nudge you off course “accidentally”, whilst you still struggling with recognising left & right (cue the Kylie Dance). By the way Penalty shots are mandatory.

IMG_409210: Quirkle: Colourful simple geometric shape domino like game where you place tiles to create rows of the same colour/different shape or same shape/different colour. Get a row of 6 its a Quirkle & double points. Sturdy tiles & linen bag means that this can be played anywhere (pub)

IMG_465511: Tokiado: What’s the Rush. This game simulating the journey from Edo to Kyoto, promotes a relaxed slowed down approach of painting scenery, visiting bathhouses and temples and eating good food. This beautiful relaxing game seems passive but is actually very strategic.

IMG_358812:Gloom. A game for storytellers & those who can remember characters convoluted backstories. Each player controls a dysfunctional family. The game has a clever overlaying card mechanism each showing bizarre experiences that either makes your family members unhappy or happy. Remember amongst the fab storytelling, you need to make your characters unhappy as possible and then kill off your family.

IMG_448213: All Creatures Big and Small: No Christopher Timothy in the box. Essentially Agricola lite without the families & starvation. Another worker placement game where you build a farm & keep as much livestock as possible. Make sure you have enough space before the breeding phase happens. Only 8 rounds long but a great 2 player game.

IMG_2703-214: Splendour: At our last gaming session, Chris brought this game of jewel crafting & we all thought it played great. Collecting gems, craftsmen, delivery methods , sellers and finally patrons continually builds up throughout the game. Has got also very good poker chip like Gem pieces.

IMG_465715:Munchkin: ‘Kill the Monsters, Steal The Treasure, Stab your Buddy’ it reads boldly on the box of this zany, fun game. You start as a level 1 character with no race and no class (mandatory joke) and need to get to level 10 by defeating monsters usually with terrible pun names. My personal favourite is the drunken avian ‘Tequila Mockingbird’. As monsters are defeated you gain treasures which improve your character. Everyone starts nice and helpful but by level 8, it is brutal with players actively playing against each other. Comes in a number of flavours Bites, Fu, Cthulhu, Good/Bad/Ugly, Conan, Space, Super, Zombie, Apocalypse, Booty, Impossible, Legends et al which you can join them up and have a Space Marine Halfling.

IMG_446216: Camel Up: If you have a strategist gamer in your group, who constantly wins games requiring planning, then this game will provide a great leveller. This game of gambling on Camel races is so unpredictable that it makes strategy pointless. You can try to be calculated about betting on each leg or on the outcome of the race but chaos is always around the corner. Very fun game from the pyramid dice tower and unique camel meeple stacking system. Bet on the last camel half way around, honestly, it probably will win.

IMG_450517: Cycling Party: This is one of the first Kickstarter games I received and is essentially Formula D on bikes. There are a few unique differences, you have a team of cyclists who take on different roles (sprinter, climber…). There is different roll type for hills, the flat, for being in a peloton, a pace line or as a single rider. The best element is that you design the race through the placement of the hexagonal road pieces. So you can have short or long stages, flat or hilly stages. Meaning the design element is endless allowing you to create a tour. Invest in a big table.

IMG_409718: Unspeakable Words: A Cthulhu word game where players are dealt cards and make words. These are scored not in the Scrabble way of unusual letters scoring highly but on how many internal angles are there in each letter. Now the Cthulhu element kicks in, whatever you score you need to roll under with a D20. If you fail you loose sanity by giving up a cute little Cthulhu. These markers will inevitably end up in a pyramid or a conga line. Once you are down to your last sanity, you’re considered insane and the fun starts. You can make up words and definitions and as long as you pass the sanity check, you continue in the game.

IMG_457119: Alhambra: Budding architects will like this lovely designed game of collecting money, buying buildings for your alhambra and building from an inner courtyard. There are a number of clever elements such as rewards for playing with exact money,  the different levels of building and the need to build continuous walls without boxing yourself in. I love the randomness of scoring in the game where the first two score points are randomly found in the money deck.

IMG_465920: Chrononauts: Finally number 20, shows that games can take very difficult concepts and somehow make a great game out of it. If you could travel in time, what would you do? Stop the Titanic from Sinking? Assassinate Hitler in 1936? Stop Kennedy’s assassination in 1963? In Chrononauts you can do all of these and see how the timeline changes. This is achieved with 32 timeline cards, with lynchpin cards (major moments to change) and ripple cards (the aftereffects). For example, stopping Kennedy’s assassination creates paradox’s where history can be changed. For example in 1968, Vietnam Peace accord is signed or 1969, the Russians are the first to the moon. Each player plays a time traveller from a different timeline who has to replicate the 3 events to get home or collect certain items through time. Games are sometimes chaotic but always fascinating.

IMG_4090So thats the 20, needless to say there are many more games that I could have mentioned and would recommend. Games that were close contenders – Small World, King of Tokyo, Mansions of Madness, Takenoko, Fluxx, Zombie Dice, Castle Panic, Study in Emerald. Classics – Kings and Things, Battlecars, Car Wars, Bloodbowl, Runebound, Space Hulk. Big Classics I have not played yet – Agricola, Caverna. Bizarre games that I possibly couldn’t explain – Ice Towers, Ninja Burger, Buntu Circus. Games that I have just got and not played fully – Bullfrogs, Brewcrafters, Bruxelles 1895, Shipwrights of the North Sea. There are so many more..

IMG_4670The paper engineering project element started with an idea to create a Settlers of Catan like island with the hexagonal tiles with their images being the games and using the dice resources numbers as a guide to how good the game was. This was far too complicated, so I have went for a “simple” die design. The D20 is an integral part of D&D play as well as many board games. Along with the criminally underused D12 it is my favourite dice, mainly for their look and their ability to roll. Creating a D20 also allowed to set a list limit which whilst not small is not too big.

IMG_4650The Icosahedron was created through a design found in a template book ‘Make Shapes 1’ by Gerald Jenkins and Anne Wild. I photocopied the design straight onto bright red card and started the long process of cutting and scoring. It was important to get this accurate if the polygon was going to look good. The edges around the 20 equilateral triangles were carefully folded and then a systematic approach was used the piece it together. I was grateful that the design was well labelled. The plain icosahedron looked great but I was a little worried that it would be too small and the subsequent pictures would not work. I shouldn’t have worried.

IMG_4673The next step was to create a template of one of the triangles only slightly smaller. Images were printed of all the games and the template was used to highlight a part which would be recognisable. These were cut out and then “randomly” stuck on the faces of the polygon (there was some decisions to separate similarly coloured images). The smaller triangles leave a separating red edge around all images. I really like the game die and it may come in useful if we ever get stuck on what to play next.

So on April 11th, I will be sitting down with friends playing fabulous boardgames (and probably getting beaten) and having a great fun time. Do yourself a favour and for one hour on Saturday, switch off the TV/Playstation/X-box and play a board game (any game) with family and friends.

2014: All I Wanted For Christmas is a few Blog Posts (as I already have a tonne of Stars)

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“A long December and there’s reason to believe, Maybe this year will be better than the last….” – A Long December by Counting Crows

New Years Resolutions are definite not my thing, but leading up to January 2014 great plans were afoot to take the pop-up blogging world by storm. But at the end of December 2013, tragedy hit and life became a little more important. 2014 became filled with doing family time, enjoyable activities and finding a little bit of tranquillity. Unfortunately the chore of blogging didn’t fit into this but my creative art battled its way through. But now one year on at the start of a new year, I feel its time to return to the keyboard and go through some of the events, creative activities and stars that got me through the year that was 2014. So lets go backwards and start with Christmas.

IMG_3538The December evolution of Christmas cards brought about the usual random creative madness which in previous years had brought about acetate pictures, strange doodles, pop-up angels, multicolour reindeer heads, Japanese Paper Origami Christmas trees and last year snowy peaks with livestock. But this year, it had to be the year of the star.

The early development of these happened in the usual manner. First of all during November, the ritual of buying random items which could be used to make cards. This years items included small paper decorations, cloth gift tags, a stack of cards of different sizes and an intriguing set of recycled wood stars of various sizes from Paperchase. This became the focus for the start of the making

IMG_4494Idea 1 (first thoughts). Taking some small square canvases in white and beige and sticking the wooden stars to them. Very quick to do and achieving a look both classy and rustic at the same time. What was very striking was the texture of the recycled wood next to the canvas. The only problem with this was I had only 6 canvasses and couldn’t get any more.

IMG_4493Idea 2 (Panic development). In need of a few cards for Record Player people, I needed another quick solution. Using white placecards as a base and placing one small wooden star on the front making a striking and minimalist card. Inside a star lyric, of which none had anything to do with Christmas itself…. For example, Buggles – Video killed the radio star, Radiohead – Black Star, Deep Purple – Highway Star and David Bowie – Starman. Later some larger white cards with numerous stars would be created

IMG_3553About the same time we put up our Christmas decorations. I love putting up the Christmas tree and arranging our eclectic collection of trinkets, baubles and weirdness. Our decorations vary from 3 frog kings to angel cats, stained glass trees/icicles to wooden birds/reindeer, and plain white paper decorations to glittery baubles. Every year we get a few new additions, this year a Highland Cow, a few delicate Rennie Macintosh decorations  and 3 glass panels featuring snowflakes/stars cut out of books. We used to have a cool star for the top of the tree which would light up, but last year we discovered it had broke. To remedy this, we decided to create something each year to replace it, and in 2013, Steph did a fab job of creating a constellation of origami stars that balanced precariously on top of the tree.

SIMG_4396o 2014, was my year and I had an idea was to create a 6x6x6 cm cube (predictably) with a star on each face. Usually I would painstakingly draw this, as I have every other cube I had ever created, using a ruler and pencil and then  created a template of a star to draw around on each side. This time before I started, I searched in vane for a suitable star shape. I decided to look in word art and grab an image from there. It was then it suddenly hit me. Why don’t I just create the cube design completely in word allowing the precise position of multiple stars and then this would create a template for the future. To be honest I was embarrassed I had not done this before. So after a few minutes I had created a cube template, placed the stars and created a gap for the cube to fit onto the tree. IMG_4400This was printed onto the reverse of 210gsm Silver card, cut out with scalpel/scissors and then scrap pieces of card and paper sought for the stars. All different colours with a number of different medium used including acetates, Japanese origami papers and glittery shiny card. Once all stars were covered on the inside, the simple assembly took place and I had a star cube. I was a little worried about whether it could sit on top of the tree because of the weight, but it fitted and sat perfectly. It was only then, I realised we could insert one of the lcd lights (as they don’t heat up) and all of a sudden three stars would light up. What I love about the cube, it that because of its unnatural position, its clean lines and silverness, it has a real ominous Sci-fi thing going on.

IMG_4421So card idea 3 (Miniaturise). The majority of cards I make are for friends and work mates and this has to be a quick and easy. Usually I can find something that looks intricate, corporates basic paper engineering techniques but is comparatively quick to process. This year I decided to go with the cubes with stars. This wouldn’t ever have crossed my mind because of the time to it would take to draw out numerous boxes.
But now I had a template which I reduced down to cubes of 3.2×3.2×3.2cm with a single star which allowed me to fit three to an A4 page. These were systematically cut out and a range of paper and card was used to ‘colour in’ the stars. In total 26 mini cubes were created, the majority different from each other. I loved these for their simplicity and clean look.

Card Idea 4 (Personalise). As this year we were in Scotland we took the cubes a step further by IMG_4428personalising a few. I created a 3.9cm medium sized cube with stars on 5 faces, but instead of having random coloured papers on each star, we picked out a few appropriate images for each person. On Heathers cube, a sailing boat and Plymouths Lighthouse appears. On Stephs Mam and Dads, their siamese cats and a Tennants Beer label. On Stu, Suzanne and Graces, a green Cthulhu, a green dragon and Green Lego.

IMG_4413As we had one medium Cube template left, we took it up to Scotland with  different types of card and paper and let our niece Grace create her own cube. The craft sessions of making baubles and R2D2 masks at the Edmond household over Christmas were one of many highlights of a lovely time away with Family. It started with crisis with two days before Christmas, a flood in the attic, created a water feature in Graces and our bedroom. Later a ceiling would fall in but gratefully no-one was injured. Thoughout this, it was impressive that with family (and insurance) support that this was quickly resolved and to the credit of mainly Suz and Stu, Christmas went off without a hitch and was as excellent and peaceful as always.

At Christmas 2013, I had a major crisis, and as above, with the support of family, close friends and web mates, I managed to cope and get through the year that was 2014. For that you are all stars and I thank you.

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