Week 10 : 11th March 1975 : Welcome To My Nightmare

Accompany music : The Black Widow

Its one of my earliest TV memories. It’s June 1974, I’m six years old, at my grans, it’s Saturday teatime and I am so scared. I have spent the last half hour hiding behind cushions and parents, as the Dr Who took on giant arachnids in The Planet of The Spiders. I was so frightened of them climbing on peoples backs and the huge queen spider, every time they appeared I let out a shriek and hid away. At the end of the episode, I hid again as the doctor transformed from a grey curly haired melodramatic actor to a brown curly haired melodramatic actor (who I would later become obsessed with). This was my Doctor Who epiphany and I would stay frightened for many years to come. As many of my age, I would hide behind the sofa, from the Daleks and especially the Cybermen. To be honest not much has changed, when the Weeping Angels start attacking now I find myself reaching for a large cushion or look at my phone in case someone has called.

I am even worse with horror films. I quite like the idea of horror, and I love the atmosphere and the mythology. Vampires don’t bother me (I love Buffy The Vampire Slayer on TV or Near Dark/Lost Boys/Fright Night on film), Werewolves are kind of cool ( I quite like American Werewolf in London) but I struggle with gore and especially suspense. I think thats why I struggle with Zombie based things with their slow meandering stumble towards an inevitable gruesome ending. I can’t even say I have watched a whole horror film without looking away or seeking sanctuary behind some upholstery. I “saw” Nightmare of Elm Street, 3 times at the cinema and saw 60% of it (and jumped at the same bits). I used to go to all night horror movies at the ABC cinema on Westgate Road, five films a night spent hiding behind legs or closing eyes.

I looked up the horror movies of 1974/75 around when this album came out. I struggled with both the big hits, I have never got through 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as its far too gruesome. The horror film of 1975 was Jaws, which I have watched (80% of) but the music freaks me more than the action.  I do have a soft spot for older Hammer House films with fab actors Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Also the 60’s Roger Corman films of Edgar Allan Poe, which were equally dark and ridiculous, mainly because of its charismatic lead actor, Vincent Price. By the 70’s, Price had continued to appear in the odd horror movie (Theatre of Blood) but now appeared regularly on various TV series and specials. One TV special in 1975, found himself reprising the role he had carried out on an album (long before Michael Jacksons thriller). This mock shock horror concept album  of dreams of a boy called Steven, would become one of Alice Coopers biggest hits (and my favourite of his).

Opening with the title track Welcome to My Nightmare. An acoustic and whispered start builds in it’s sleaziness and more deranged vocals. There’s a fab jazz horn section before Alice ramps it up even more. It’s a fab start to the album.

Devils Food, hits with big riff and shout out lyrics. Suddenly leaping into spaced out effect bridge and into the one and only chorus. The breakdown follows into Vincent Price’s moment. His speech as a museum curator overseeing his prize collection of spiders is simply amazing. Price’s turn of phrase and pronunciation of words is the star of the show. The way he takes great delight in how the Black Widow ‘kills and eats’ her partner is both funny and creepy. The way he stops starts sentences also is great. The sentence ‘causing intense pain, profuse sweating, difficulty in breathing, loss of consciousness, violent convulsions and finally ………..err  death’ is worth playing over and over again. This introduction fits perfectly into Alice’s spoken response at the start of Black Widow. The song rolls on, in sinister fashion with grinding riff and guitar interjections. The star of this is Alice’s creepy and held back delivery of the story and the warnings about the creature. The marching drum beat and the guitar fanfare riff that herald the ending of the song are great.

Alice Cooper albums always have these weird quirky tracks. Clicking fingers, piano and cabaret style performance and rousing singalong pop chorus make Some Folk a great song. Then even better, it kicks off, tumbles out of control with a deranged Alice and spiralling guitar. Makes it even better. Only Women Bleed, is a truly beautiful song about a truly awful subject. It’s a great emotive delivery by Cooper, retelling the terrible situation but sadly stops short of being a true protest song.

There is something kind of ironic listening to ‘Department Of Youth‘ at this time. Being associated with Youth Services for a long time, this song makes me happy as it sums up some great elements that sum up youth peoples participation, how they should be listened to and their role in society. In the state of the country at the moment, it is much needed now. With its 70’s glam rock groove it’s a really uplifting track.

Another brilliant rock song Cold Ethyl is next with a subject matter not needed on this blog. Strange relationship preferences innocently sang out against great riffs and song structure. Less said about the sound effects in the breakdown before the final verse the better.

The wind up organ effects of Years Ago, start the real concept element of the album. Sinister nursery rhyme lyrics herald spooky noises and Stephen. An Exorcist/Tubular Bell starts, Alice’s child like voice goes into musical territory broke up by the Exorcist piano riff. The choral element when it arrives screams Stephen. The track builds in structure through the guitar solo and brings us back to Stephen soliloquy and further choral responses. Stephens story continues in The Awakening. starting sparingly the track builds in intensity and then gives way gently to a quiet end.

The last track is another  great example of an Alice rock standard. Cue great riff, song structure, shouty lyrics and singalong choruses. The guitar solo and xylophone elements are so happy. Escape probably follows on from the story but does seem a little out of place. In the end it leaves a happy smile on the face at the end of a great album.

So why do I love this album so much with some of its dodgy subject matter and weird concept elements. It may not have the hits of Billion Dollar Babies or the overwhelming concept of From the Inside, but somehow it combines both of these to some extent. Fab songwriting and great performances wrapped up in a Hammer House like black veil which never takes itself too seriously. Only wish I was reviewing this at the end of October, as it’s perfect Halloween fare.

Alice is one of my favourite artists. I first saw him in the mid-eighties and I was genuinely scared. I wore a red jumper to the gig, in case I was splattered by blood and was worried of the big balloons which were rumoured to contain live spiders. I don’t think he was in the greatest of places at that point, seemed genuinely angry and on edge which added to his performance. I would see him many more times, where he seemed more mellowed and content with life but the shows did not lack intensity and were far more coherent.

Of course his shows are legendary. Stage sets like haunted houses, monsters straight out of Doctor Who, ghoul roadies, ridiculous weapons plus there’s the character of Alice. One part psychopath, one part ringmaster, one part cheerleader and one part misunderstood. Every gig follows the story of the character falling on the wrong side, is mistreated, ‘accidentally kills’ someone/thing, is judged, dies in a various way and then comes back to life. I have seen the “death” in numerous different forms. Guillotine, hanging, iron maiden and electric chair. All expertly carried out. On one very mad occasion the story cycle played out 3 times with 3 different endings. All this stagecraft is only as good as the songs and Alice can call on a huge number of excellent tracks which are instantly recognisable and strangely singalongable. That combination of great music and theatrics makes Mr Cooper (& welcome to my nightmare) frighteningly good.

The art for this had to be a little scary. So what better than make the Black Widow within a card. The numerous times above I have discussed spiders, shows I am not exactly happy with them. I should be fascinated by them especially their amazing web making but there’s something about their legs and random motion which is unsettling. Take for instance an incident at a Steven Wilson gig a couple of years ago. Half way through a very long track I felt a smack on top of my head as through I had been hit with something. Suddenly I felt something crawling across my hair and then my face, it was a big spider (not as big as the Queen one btw), after fantastically swooshing it away it seemed to disappear. I went back to the music only for a few minutes later for it to reappear and attempt to get back on my face. Frantically I waved my arms, trying to get rid of it (may have looked like I had went into a psychedelic dance from on stage) and again it disappeared. Worried it was still on my person, I left the auditorium, went to the toilet and took off my shirt…. nothing there and assumed I had got rid of it. So I took the opportunity to use the urinal, only to turn around to see the spider walking away from me. My skin still crawls thinking about it.  I used the actual spider image in this bunting piece from a Misplaced Childhood post and creating a spider card again would be a challenge.

I decided to make a pop-up spider and wanted it to be about the correct size. So I used a place name card as the background for this to limit the largeness. The spider is created from 2 black shapes cut out for the abdomen and the head. These are made to pop up via v-folds which lift the body and head as the card opens and because of their closeness seems to suggest they are a whole piece. I made numerous attempts to make legs pop up, which proved difficult. So there is one set of legs which v-fold behind the head which raise up whilst the other six are stuck loosely to the card, allowing the ends to rise a little. A metallic red skull like shape is stuck on the abdomen to signify the Black Widow. Although it doesn’t pop fully, it does give a suitable fright when opened. I added a front cover as though it was a 50’s b-movie or a pulp fiction horror book and on the back the lyrics Alice speaks at the end of Prices monologue.

Billy (aged 7 at time of album release)


Week 4 : 23rd January 1977 : Pigs Might Fly

Pink Floyds ‘Animals’ turns 40

Accompany music : Pigs (3 Different Ones) Roger Waters – Mexico 2016

img_2058Early January 1977, the governor for Georgia, Jimmy Carter is inaugurated as the 39th President of the USA. A couple of months later, Carter would visit Britain and Newcastle. I went with my family  to witness him standing alongside the Prime Minister Jim Callaghan and the Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Cllr Hugh White (who coincidentally was the father of one of my drinking buddies, Paul). Carter would receive freedom of the city and with a ‘Howay the Lads’ would charm the North East. It’s the only time I have seen a President or a Prime Minister in the flesh, and it is strange to think both men would last only one term. History would (unfairly in some cases) see them as fairly ineffectual leaders. Carter would do many honourable things, including striving for peace in the Middle East (and do many more after his presidency) but was viewed as not being strong enough on foreign policy. Meanwhile Callaghan had in the previous year taken over from Wilson, and was shoring the parliamentary party with deals with the liberals. A year later  a continued policy on pay restraint would tip the balance and the Winter of Discontent would cause his downfall. In 1979 in Britain, the public turned towards a very different politician, Margaret Thatcher and in 1981, America would take it a stage further by electing former actor and Governor of California. Ronald Reagan.
photo-16In 1977, (as a 9 year old) I had little or no interest in Politics, I knew who the leaders were and the main people in parties (as you would see them on the news or Parkinson). I didn’t connect them to all that happened in society. I remember 3 day weeks, rolling power cuts and a year later, the strikes during the Winter of Discontent, but I didn’t necessarily link them to the policies of politicians. As I got to 13 in 1980, I started to pull these strands together. I could start to see the policies of the Conservatives were further right and were already causing issues to the North East of England and I feared leaving school and not having a job. In ’81 I remember Reagan being elected, wondering what had America done and worrying whether the world would survive.

I have previous written about a turning point in my political understanding was when I read the book Animal Farm by George Orwell. I summed it up in the post as (in my allotted 140 letters), ‘A dystopian allegory of Russian Revolution, with the slide from uprising to how power corrupts through use of doctrine, propaganda & violence’. Most of all it give me the understanding that political revolution and change  is sometimes necessary…. but beware of who you put in power because they are possibly worse than those you have deposed.

So on 23rd January 1977, Pink Floyd release Animals. A concept album that is roughly based on Orwells novel, with Capitalism instead of Stalinism being the target. This time 3 animal types tell the story, the authoritarian powerful dogs, the ruthless manipulative pigs, and the unquestioning sheep. With the latter in this group rising up to take down the Dogs. The album made up of loosely connected tracks echoing the changes within British Society at that time. As with the Orwell novel, Animals presents a dystopian, dark world of moral decay, of political manipulation, discrimination and violence.  Even when the underdogs rise, the light at the end of the tunnel is not so bright as they would hope.

img_2059The album starts and finishes with ‘Pigs on a Wing‘, which seems a little out place with the dark subject matter within the rest of the album. Waters voice and acoustic guitar reminds me of ‘Wish you were here’ but the lyrics in part 1, seem to focus on loneliness and isolation whereas part 2, I feel, moves towards a more happier place with the importance of working together. Both tracks are sublime and give light to the main dark filling of the album.

The distinctive off beat acoustic guitar riff, and fading organ herald the track Dogs. The subject matter places Dogs as the heads of business with Waters superb lyrics like “club tie and a firm handshake, a certain look in the eye and an easy smile” and the ruthlessness which they show “to pick out the easy meat…to strike when the moment is right”. Takes a moment to realise that this is Gilmour singing with such relish. Surprisingly for a track of this nature, it is so laid back, slow in pace with Gilmour (as usual) not hurrying and stretching every note. Add some Floydesque long keyboard and guitar solo’s and it’s epic.

img_2056Pigs (3 Different Ones) starts with pig noises, electronics and we are into a track similar to that of Money or Have a Cigar. We aren’t told who the 2 of the 3 pigs are directly (the 3rd one is mentioned as moral campaigner Mary Whitehouse) but the lyrics seem to describe those who think themselves as a class above (“Big man, pig man, ha ha, charade you are You well heeled big wheel, ha ha, charade you are”), of moralising (“You’re trying to keep our feelings off the street”), of digging through dirt (“With your head down in the pig bin”), and spreading untruths. I love the groove of this track that goes along with Waters drawl of lyrics and change in menace in choruses reminiscent of the Beatles.  Theres also some great elements such as the repeated choral organ and Gilmours soaring solo.

Bleets of sheep are interrupted by the opening organ notes of Sheep. The track builds with the organ and a bass line which reminds me of an an old school Doctor Who theme. Then suddenly leaps into desperate leaping verses with Waters lyrics flying towards the listener (‘Harmlessly passing your time in the grassland away, Only dimly aware of a certain unease in the air…) driven along by Waters bass and spiky guitar and sci-fi organ interludes. Halfway through a vocoder version of Psalm 23 can be heard spoken in the background leading to the final verse of revolution as the sheep rise up “Bleating and babbling we fell on his neck with a scream, Wave upon wave of demented avengers, March cheerfully out of obscurity into the dream’. The end of the track returns the bleats as the sheep return to normal life.

img_2053Needless to say I really like this album for its grandiose tracks and meaning. It is an album which you can listen to in the background and it is kind of calming with a great groove to the music throughout. But listening closer the additional musical elements and nuances add complexity and the gently spoken lyrics drip with spite, cruelty and resentment. It’s a revelation that took me quite a while to appreciate fully. I think at the time, after Dark Side and Wish You Were Here, a similar feeling was felt about this album. It lacks the variety and length of those two albums but makes up for in meaning and passion and is a perfect lead in to ‘The Wall’. It should also be put into context, that this was a 1977 anti-establishment album in the height of Punk and an full 10 months before for the Sex Pistols NMTB album to arrive. Floyd seem to have had picked up the vibe that people were sick of the current establishment and working systems. As discussed above industrial issues were rife and the establishment were telling people how to behave including censorship by public serving groups. A change was going to happen and the ballot box was the way to do it. So the sheep had their say, bye bye, to Callaghan. Hello Thatcher.

I think voting is really difficult. Too many politicians are corporately similar and when parties start vying over the same policies and the same centre ground, it’s almost impossible to distinguish the good from the bad. I believe in peoples power to get rid of establishment, the oppressors and those who do not listen. I appreciate that sometimes to do this, people may need to side with those, who you may not always agree with (and you will have to live with that afterwards). Popular movements are springing up at every election, challenging the established political system and removing the centre ground. Instead people are stretched out across the whole political scale with greater numbers in the far left and right camps. I am happy in elections when turn outs are high, and people have their say…. I just wish they think of the consequences before doing so. As I said in the last post, change is a good thing but people need to consider what it leads to and who it puts into power.

It is strange how history repeats. In 2017, a new revolution at the polls within referendums and elections at difficult times,  brings new leaders, May and Trump. And now 36 years later, I find myself having those similar feelings as I had as a teenager of a fear of being unemployed and a worry of the world ending. 

Look, it all might be okay…. and pigs might fly.

img_2054The card for Animals is based on one of my favourite rock stories. The classic cover of Animals was conceived by the band with the genius Storm Thorgerson, and depicts a pig flying over Battersea power station. For the shoot Floyd got a giant 30 ft pig balloon made and floated it over the Power Station ready for photographs. A marksman stood by in case in escaped. Unfortunately, the shoot lasted for a 2nd day, someone forgot to book the marksman and of course the pig escaped. It floated over Heathrow causing mayhem and was spotted by planes, went missing and was eventually found in a farmers field in Kent where it had crash landed.

So a sky blue card is used and photographs of the Power Station (faded with pink) is cutout and attached to front and card. There is no pig on the front. Inside there is a pop up consisting of 4 cloud shapes, all v folded and glued in one behind the other. These are all on top of a piece of white card shaped like a cloud. Next a strip cut from stiff transparent plastic is used to support a pink pig and this is glued/taped in behind one of the clouds giving the impression of the pig flying. A guide rope is attached to one leg and additional clouds and a plane is added to the inside.

Billy (aged 9 at time of album release)

Pop-up Diary March 15 – Every Year Is Getting Shorter (Pink Floyd – Dark Side Of The Moon)

The album “Dark Side of The Moon” by Pink Floyd, reaches its 42nd Birthday and gets a belated birthday card

On the 1st March 1973, one of my favourite albums of all time was released. At the time I was 4 years and 5 months old and I only have vague recollections of this time. Mainly it consists of playing with toys and my first attempts of drawing. The most coherent memory is sitting in a sunny rose garden at my Grans. A couple of months later it would be joined by remembering my Dad being excited about Sunderland winning the FA cup. I lived in a family where music formed the background noise, and I grew up with radio 1  with its mix of old sixties and new glam, it engrained into my being and I started to love music…. but I wasn’t aware of this album until many years later.

IMG_3293As I grew up my tastes developed and by 1981, I was being devoured into the world of rock, metal, folk and prog. Over the next years, I would spend most of my time with friends sitting in bedrooms listening and discovering music which stretched our imagination and tastes. Many times we had heard of bands or heard single tracks but not whole albums. So when someone got something that we hadn’t heard, we would gather and await expectedly. This one evening, someone had brought an album by a band I had heard of as I liked some of their tracks (some were even of this album). Most of all, I knew the distinct cover… It was one of those unobtainable albums that was instantly recognisable on the shelves of Virgin (like Court of the Crimson King or Sergeant Peppers) which I couldn’t afford. Carefully my friend placed the vinyl on the turntable and passed around the striking black cover, with its simple prism and ray illustration. As the needle clicked into the first groove, we dimmed the lights and quietly listened to the building heart beat of Pink Floyds ‘Dark Side of The Moon’. Music for me, would not be the same again…..

The heartbeat soon gives way, to electronic sound effects and distant voices building to a subdued scream. The ambient chilled soundscape of Breathe starts with seemingly beautiful lyrics which turn out to be the first bit of the dystopian albums subject. The pace slowly builds through the electronic sound effect instrumental On the Run until a synth holding pattern is reached awaiting the inevitable ticking, bells, alarms and chimes.

IMG_3294Time is one of my favourite Pink Floyd Tracks, a beautifully built song around some of the best Waters lyrics and a Gilmour  solo. In my first year as a Youth Worker, we did a session where we got young men to pick a song that meant something to them and read out a lyric. Time was my song, and symbolised for me, the previous year of long term unemployment, the abstract boredom, the depression it brought and the need to move on with life. The verse after the solo is stunning (see left) and still strikes a nerve today as  when I read this out 25 years ago.

The song at its finish, falls into the reprise of Breathe and segues into Richard Wrights sublime piano for Great Gig in the Sky. Cue some climatic singing with building spiralling crescendos throughout. And just when you think it will just get higher and higher at halfway it suddenly calms down. The piano leads the way with the vocals following suit until they both fade away. The cash register starts brings on the capitalist baiting Money. Waters bass is dominant in this song, making this track strut along with an arrogant swagger perfectly suited to this subject matter (which fitted perfectly into the 80’s we were living in). The sax solo heralds the change of pace and a stunning Gilmour solo, with its sublime bridge which changes the style and pace before an explosion of solo again.

IMG_3289Us and Them, grew on me as I became a youth worker and grew my social conscience. An excellent protest song with sublime lyrics about choices of war, the simple choices of life and how those affect those around you.  Prog synths herald the interlude of Any Colour You Like, interspersed only by Gilmour/Waters/Mason fills until the melody for Brain Damage is established. Almost nursery rhyme like in its simplicity. Its a serious song about mental health thats been twisted into a beautiful singalong. It famously builds and builds with laughing voices until we reach the receptive nature of lines that form the apex that is Eclipse.

DSOTM continues to be an album that thrills and calms me in equal measure. It is a stunning piece of work which has a social and political conscience but is musically sublime. The changes of tempo of the different tracks are fab but somehow fit together, due to clever editing and use of effects. Leaving the album a complete work of genius. I love it and thats why I made a 40th birthday card. It was 2 years ago and I didn’t do anything with it. Cue another sublime Roger Waters lyric from Time as a handy excuse ‘Every year is getting shorter never seem to have the time, plans that either come to nought or half a page of written lines…”.

IMG_3286Taking insipation from the iconic Hipgnosis designed cover, I created a pop up prism in the centre of the card. The prism is black, which caused a number of issues in getting the design to stand out enough for cutting and making folds. The edges were coloured in carefully with a white pencil to give the impression of the prism and this was glued into a black card. A single line of white card is attached on one side for the initial beam whilst on the opposite side a cone of rainbow colours appear. This was achieved by cutting separate strips of coloured card sticking them together and vanishing with PVA for good measure. The result is simple but effective. I now needed a front cover. I knew it should have the white beam as part of this, so a similar strip of white card stretches across the top left and finishes where the beam starts in the centre of the card. As it was a birthday card, I thought a badge would be appropriate. So I created a triangular prism badge in black card with a white outline and 40 today written within. Finally some of my favourite lyrics were printed on the back.

Hopefully this will be the first of number of favourite album celebration cards. Hopefully the next won’t be as belated

140 Influences in 140 (& a few more) letters…….. Number16 – Animal Farm

photo-16To celebrate World Book Day on March 5th 2015, heres an extended 140 influences introduction that ends with a 140 character book review of one of my favourite books.

According to the WBD website ‘World Book Day is a celebration! It’s a celebration of authors, illustrators, books and (most importantly) it’s a celebration of reading”. Schools especially take the opportunity to promote children’s literature usually by getting young people to dress as their favourite characters, much to the dismay of some parents. If this had happened many years ago, I would have wanted to have been Snowball the Pig.

In 2009 I attended the 5th Fickling lecture on the developments in Childrens Literature at Newcastle University. That year, Nick Hornby was to talk on the subject of how all literature is young adult literature. He started by talking about a recent article which encouraged authors (like himself) to name the 10 books which children should read in school. He read out a list that one esteemed literature person had come up with… The Odyssey, Don Quixote, Hamlet, Paradise Lost, Lyrical Ballads, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, Portrait of a Lady and The wasteland. Nick pointed out that he had only read a few of these (I had read 2 and a quarter), so why were we expecting our children to read such heavyweight classics. He went on to say that he refused to write a list and instead he would rather the children came out of the school  cherishing at least one book which they enjoyed and changed their thinking. No matter what the subject matter was.

photo-17I was not a prolific school reader. I liked books but struggled to keep an interest in shakespearian tragedies, home county upper class snobbery or authentic victorian dramas. Instead I found myself absorbed in factual books and then Science fiction and fantasy. The school curriculum did not usually cater for this (except for the year we had to read Arthur C Clarkes ‘A Fall of Moondust’) but it did make me read one book which would change my beliefs. I loved history and this clever seemingly simplistic story mirrored a period of time I had just discovered. It made me politically aware at 13 years old but it wasn’t till later I discovered how politically powerful this story was and how it applies to politics in any decade. The modern fable of pigs, sheep, dogs , birds and horses changed how I thought about political systems and authority in general. The book was George Orwells Animal Farm.

‘A dystopian allegory of Russian Revolution, with the slide from uprising to how power corrupts through use of doctrine, propaganda & violence’

photo-18For this post I created a pop-up, which I have called ‘The evolution of Napoleon’ as a homage to the book. Its made up of three silhouettes of a pig, a pig in a bed and then disturbingly a pig in clothes with a beer and shotgun. This is to show the changes throughout the book of the main pig characters. The background is a white card with bold red stencil print of the 7 commandments. Three support structures have been cut and pushed out enabling the pigs to stand up. The whole card was then placed inside a black card to add a bit more stability.




October 2014 : Libran birthdays

“The fallen leaves that jewel the ground. They know the art of dying. And leave with joy their glad gold hearts In scarlet shadows lying…” – October Song – Bert Jansch


“We are born at a given moment, in a given place and, like vintage years of wine, we have the qualities of the year and of the season of which we are born. Astrology does not lay claim to anything more.” Carl Jung

“Librans will be at the centre of the social circle with friendship, good eating and drinking featuring heavily. The coming together of stars on the 12th will bring about situations requiring specific diverse strategies. Indecisiveness will hit heavily when presented with a range of graphical images although artistic Librans will later make colourful patterns which helpfully sets up others for success. Some quick wits and a balanced prismatic strategy will be required for situations with unfathomable rules. Seek the path that leads to success, be clever and choose the one that doesn’t fall off life’s board. Don’t be lazy, grab the wheel of the car, travel at speed but avoid that last corner or you will crash and burn. If you play fair and avoid life’s pits and conveyor belts you will reach your flag. Useless someone has a big gun and knocks you off course…”

A Libra Horoscope for weekend October 11th-13th 2014

Charming, Open Minded, Fair,  Detailed, Artistic, Social, Co-operative, Idealistic, Creative and Balanced are all positive traits associated with people born between September 23 – October 22 according to various Astrological websites. In the negative column there is Procrastination and Laziness. I was born on October 14th and strangely, I look at these descriptors and would assign the a lot of these towards me. Personally, I don’t believe in Astrology at all (especially the nonsensical prediction of events) but I do agree in part with Jungs quote above. In my training as a Youth Worker, I looked at how people develop over time and the roles played by nature and nurture. Maybe as Jung seems to imply, I have these traits because I was born in the Autumn, early in the morning, into a certain family in a town in  Northern England. Equally I may have these traits because my Mother constantly pointed out that me being creative, fair, open minded, indecisive and lazy were all Libran traits and I may have unconsciously adopted these. More importantly, I believe I was brought up by great parents to accentuate these positive traits which happened to be ‘LibraIMG_4200n’.

Famous Librans include Eminem, Mark Rothko, Oscar Wilde, Arsene Wenger, Mahatma Gandhi, Harry Hill, Le Corbusier, Lee Harvey Oswald, Friedrich Nitzsche, Margaret Thatcher, Bob Geldof, TS Elliot, Vladimir Putin, John Lennon, Chevy Chase, Alfred Nobel, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Bridget Bardot and Sting. I look at this list and I see some of the positive elements in some of these people, in others I shudder to think that I share the same traits as them.

Its fair to say though, I am lucky that the people I know, born between the above dates are not like this. I have two good friends Sam and Cath who are the easiest of company. They are social, open minded, intelligent, calming and both have a “degree” in geek. For a number of years I have been happy to share our celebrations together. It started with me and Sam, as our birth dates are 2 days apart and we share the same group of friends. Then Cath joined in on a couple of occasions. In October 2014, one such shared birthday event was planned which included good food, fine alcohol and gaming madness. I just needed to make some cards

I love making birthday cards for friends as they give the opportunity to be completely different and create something unique and bespoke. See my single post of 2014 about making record shops and Bryan Adams cards for Chris and Lisa. It a license to be very Creative. My fellow Librans excelled in this also in 2014. IMG_4232Sam creating me a book based on the word -opolis. Knowing my love of doodled city landscapes, Sam started putting words into google linked to me with the ending –opolis… ie Billyopolis. This was produced into a fantastically barking tome. Cath had earlier in the year produced a series of letters which we received in December 2013/January 2014 in time for a Cthulthu game playing session. Each dated 100 years ago from Edinburgh, they follow a Lovecraftian theme of mysterious locations, tormented victims and everyday objects that turn menacing. In this case silver birch leaves, which just happened to fall out of the last letter received. These letters were so compelling and mysterious as we didn’t know who was sending them and also made a perfect short story.

IMG_4210So when I looked at making a unusual card for Caths special birthday, this story leapt to mind. I decided to make the letters into a book, which would be trapped inside a frame and surrounded by silver birch leaves. The initial element was creating a book. Steph (as the fastest typer) typed out the letters and then I tried a number of times to create the pages. The difficulty was not only getting pages in the correct order but also getting the text size right.  The text needed to be small but not too small that it was unreadable. I was also conscious that I wanted a number of pages which could be spaced out. These layout issues IMG_4203took a while until finally deciding on a Cambria size 5 font which gave 10 pages of text and 2 pages for a name plate and credits page. To get over the printing on both sides, all pages were printed out on a single sheet in pairs and once cut out. These were stuck back to back with their corresponding pair. This sounds as confusing as it was to do. Once dry, we were left with 3 thick sheets of paper which were folded down the centre and put together became the 12 pages of the book. Each page measures 4.5×6.4cm. A cover of black card, a little larger than the pages was cut and  a front title plate revealing the made up title ‘The Mystery Of The November Crags’ created. On this a single black embossed leaf was printed. Pages were placed inside the cover with a little PVA glue and once in place, Steph added a few stitches to secure.

IMG_4207Next leaves were required. We are lucky that over the years we have collected lots of printing equipment including a really good set of leaf stamps. One of which closely resembled a birch leaf, so after a bit of trying out ink and paper colours. Steph printed a sheet of green leafs of different hues on off-white card. As I started cutting them out I realised that these were probably a little too large. With some creative cutting I was able to cut down the leafs to more accommodating size whilst adding some randomness to the shape.

IMG_4208The frame’s were a great find, only £5 each at Debennams’s. These measure 10cm x 15cm (with a cm more on either side if using the border). Importantly it had enough depth of 1.5 cm to allow a paper element to reside comfortably. Assembly started with a backing piece of paper in slate grey being glued to the back plate of the frame to give a little stability. Spacers were then placed on either side of the spine of the book forcing the book to open at an angle when it was placed on the backing sheet. Further spacers were used to separate pages to add more depth and movement. The 40 leaves were then added at first to the book, some fully on pages (and sometimes hidden away), others poking out as though falling out. Then the rest were added to the background and the border. The border along with the use of spacers on some of the leaves added a little more depth. The whole piece was delicately put into the frame and looked great. Final job was to create another little book to hand over at the same time. This was a very satisfying build.

IMG_4218Sam’s card then followed along from this. Being the tree person the obvious link to the leaf stamps was inevitable. Issues abound over the size of the leaves as before as its difficult to build a tree when its foliage is a third of its height. So after a couple of practices to try a build a complex pop up leaf holding tree to live inside a frame, I went for an easier option.

IMG_4214A silhouette of a tree was used as a template. This was specifically picked for its lack of leaves and its general spookiness. Two versions were printed onto dark brown card and cut out. Assembly of the tree was a simple task with having one of the brown tree’s on top and then on the bottom having a darker reverse version by flipping the tree over onto its black printed silhouette. These were folded down the middle and with a little PVA down the Valley fold and a couple of stitches the two trees were held in place. Later small spacers were used the separate these elements at an angle.

IMG_4215Whereas Caths card had taken on Lovecraft colours on black, grey and green, this card was destined to be more Autumnal. The palate of the leaves were to be reds and golds, to go along with Sams house. Much experimentation ensued from Steph of printing a variety of leaf style, in various colours on selections of Red, Gold and off-white card. All leaves were glittery and  embossed. This time I didn’t want to fill the frame, and try to give the impression of leaves in the foreground blowing off the tree in the distance, so only the 12 best ones were cut out and used.

IMG_4217This time a wood veneer frame was used from the same range. The slate grey background replaced by a warming delicate brown colour and the assembly followed a similar route. With tree placed on the backing sheet, with slithers of spacers providing the depth. The 12 leaves were then scattered around the tree without touching it, some on the background others on the border. Again some were raised up to add to the movement.

These two were really enjoyable to make and with very Libran procrastination it is very difficult to say which is my favourite.

IMG_4231The weekend of the 11th to the 13th was an excellent celebration. Food and drinks on the Friday night with friends listening to music and generally catching up. Card and Present swapping took place, and we were all overjoyed with what we recieved. The next day (the 12th) after a small meander into Newcastle, the madness of board gaming began. Games played throughout the day (from top left clockwise) Dix It, Tsuro, Ice Towers, Formula D, Quirkle and Roborally. I won’t go into the games in detail, as a gaming post will follow later in the year.

I won no games but as the pretend horoscope explains above, it was full of the usual close calls. In a last lap of Formula D, I threw all caution to the wind, racing along at full speed only to crash on the last corner. In Dix it, it was a one bunny race until I stalled half way, bamboozled by the images being presented. The most gutting experience was Roborally, I love this game but I am totally useless at it. I inevitably get stuck on a conveyor belt or fall down a pit. This time, unbelievably I ended up 3 squares away from the finish, only to get pushed back and didn’t recover.

In the end, winning was not important. Having a laugh with good friends, playing fab games, drinking great beer and sharing my birthday with my fellow excellent Librans is all I needed.

My favourite albums of 2012 (Part Five)

The final instalment of my favourite albums of 2012. Each accompanying pop-up is made within a 1 hour timescale and is within a standard place card.

IMG_2642Album 9) Pineapple Thief – All The Wars

An unusual named band with a style only marginally influenced by the other PT band. Pineapple Thief take over a no mans land, somewhere between Muse and Radiohead. A slightly indie rock approach with progressive sensibilities. The last album ‘Someone here is missing’ was excellent (see the ‘State were in’ track) but the ‘All the Wars’ album is a step up again. Generally tracks are melancholy in nature, usually acoustic initially waiting to build into crescendo with powerful riffs and sweeping orchestral elements. One or two tracks take more a Muse tack, with pounding bass, drum, and guitar. Most of all the songwriting is stunning and the lyrical content emotive and meaningful. Oh, and they were excellent live

Key Track: All The Wars. Acoustic guitar, a simple drum beat and a voice start this meaningful track dripping in melancholy. The lyrics reveal the need to resolve a relationship and absolving blame through a set of calm reflective verses. Cello’s kick in at the end of the first verse and continue throughout adding another level to the emotive arrangement until returning to the acoustic for the last line.

IMG_2644The place card for this Album, features a simple black band which holds three very small Risk cards in place. A design was found for some classic cards and after a bit of Sketchbook Pro manipulation the country names where taken off and replaced by ALL, THE, WARS. The three sides were placed together with three Risk reverse card designs. After printing the strip of cards were folded in half (with reverses on one side and fronts on the other) and stuck together creating fronts and backs for each card. All that was left was to cut out the cards

Other recommended :- Build a World, Give it Back, Someone Pull Me Out, One More Step Away

IMG_2638Album 10) Between The Buried and Me – The Parallax II – Future Sequence


BTBAM are an acquired taste and so very hard to explain to anyone. Some of the comments of previous albums (taken from Wikipedia) show how difficult this is. Previous album ‘Colors’ was described as ’65 minute opus of non-stop pummelling beautiful music’,  ‘New wave polka grunge’ and ‘adult contemporary progressive death metal’. The following album ‘The Great Misdirect’ was described “as a noisy Coalesce breakdown, 3/4 Mastodon groove, 9/8 The Mars Volta, Queen chromatic build up, and Megadeth chorus”. Parallex II follows a similar path. Another concept album of brutal progressive metal with excellent musicianship including moments where all members seem to be playing different tracks at the same time. There is nothing boring about this challenging album, BTBAM don’t allow you to relax at any time, with changes in style and pace throughout. I have seen them live twice and found them exhilarating, but also seen other punters shaking their heads in confusion whilst leaving. In my book, they are missing out, as these are one of the most progressive groups around

Key Track – Astral Body. This track strictly shouldn’t make any sense. Rush / Dream Theater like build up gives way into verses where guitars, bass and drums seem to be in their own jazz metal excursions. Screaming vocals add a ‘Focus’ like mayhem whilst individual fills and solos add more to madness. So many musical styles are thrown together in this challenging 6 minutes of excellent progressive musicianship that you could be left confused…. or very happy. Good luck

IMG_2637For this pop-up, I decided to create a diagram that shows a Stellar Parallax which is described as ‘the effect of parallax on distant stars in astronomy. It is parallax on an interstellar scale, and it can be used to determine the distance of Earth to another star directly with accurate astrometry’. Read more about it here on wikipedia… its too confusing to explain… a bit like this album. Anyway, a simple thin column of black card is created along the fold of the place card to hold the delicate diagram. A circle of silver card was cut out with the diameter line left intact. in the centre a rudimentary sun shape is place and at 12 and 6 o’clock, two blue card Earth’s are placed to show the their orbit and the times in the year where the parallax will happen. Two large silver viewing arrows are cut out and placed in a prescribed diagonal fashion crossing each other at the point of an imaginary star (gold circle) and ending being pointed at a couple of other stars. Confusing album, concept and pop-up…..

Other recommended :- Bloom, Silent Flight Parliament, Telos, The Black Box

This way to Albums 1&2 , 3&4 , 5&6 & 7&8


So we finally reached the end. The pop ups were all fairly easy but the choices were painful as there were a number of rightful contenders. So heres 10 further recommendations of bands, albums and key tracks which could (or should) have appeared

Futureheads ‘Rant ‘ (Beeswing), Justin Townes Earle ‘Nothings Gonna Change The Way’ (Nothings Gonna Change The Way), Arjen Anthony Lucassen ‘Lost In the New Real’ (Pink Beatles in a Purple Zeppelin), Tame Impala ‘Lonerism’ (Elephant), Joe Bonamassa ‘Driving Towards The Daylight’ (Driving Towards The Daylight), Bellowhead ‘Broadside’ (Roll the Woodpile Down) , Marillion ‘Sounds That Cant Be Made’ (Gaza), Storm Corrosion ‘Storm Corrosion’ (Drag Ropes), Hogarth & Barbieri ‘Not The Weapon But The Hand’ (Naked), Ian Anderson ‘Thick As A Brick 2’ (Banker Bets, Banker Wins)

My favourite albums of 2012 (Part Four)

The continued look at my favourite albums of 2012 (hopefully which will be finished before the end of 2013). Each accompanying pop-up is made within a 1 hour timescale and is within a standard place card.

IMG_2620Album 7) Imagined Village – Bending The Dark

Take a good dose of folk music and modernise it to  show a more multicultural British society. Violins and guitars sweep in perfect company with eastern instruments and modern electronic back beats. Traditional songs are given modern twists whilst newly written tracks touch on  subjects such as the occupy movement, riots and the banking crisis. All are amazing multilayered gems that are accessible at first but with more listening it pays dividends.

Key Track: Winter Singing. Instantly accessible track lit up by Eliza Carthy’s fragile sublime vocals with backing growls from Martin Carthy. The tune itself feels really off centre with a stop/start approach of changing time signatures. Fiddles, guitars lead the way over more mystic instruments and some electronica background. An odd but so clever song

The pop up is based on the Winter Singing track above. A simple long triangular support branch was created in black card using a mountain fold. It is placed within the card and stuck down to give a roughly 60 degree angle diagonally upwards. At the end, a small hole is inserted and black thread threaded through attaching to the branch and a pre cut snowflake. Allowing enough space for the snowflake to dangle without hitting the floor. As the card opens it looks like the snowflake is hovering mid-air. A few other snowflake toppers are added and are decorated with notes of music.

Other recommended :- Fisherman, Captains apprentice, Sick Old Man

IMG_2616Album 8) Rush – Clockwork Angels

Before its release the question was where would this album fit into Rush’s 18 previous studio releases. The early released tracks Caravan and BU2B gave an early positive indication of an album of strong positive songs and on its release, it did not disappoint. A Steampunk concept album with real power with Peart, Lifeson & Lee pulling back the years (a decade maybe), each displaying the usual technically ability but ramped up with tons of individual solos that fit into a focused work. Even the production that that hampered some recent efforts lifted the album. There are too many great tracks on this to go through individually but needless to say, they are excellent. Best album since Counterparts…. discuss

Key Track – Headlong Flight – Just over 7 minutes of Rush at their bombastic best. Multilayer riffs, bass beats and drums raise to a crescendo into driving (very Rush like) verses. Stop start with changes of paces in chorus and so many individual fills and solos. Each take their turn around the 4 minute mark but this just adds to the sublime pace and power of the whole.

IMG_2618For this pop-up, I tried to make a Zeppelin to go along with the Key Track, but feared this was technically mad and more than an hours work. Instead I used an old friend, a template of an angel by Robert Sabuda which I have used for Christmas cards previously. This template itself deserves a post for the times I have adapted this, so I will detail this fully at another time. This time I took the template and shrunk it to 40% of the original so it would fit onto the place card. It was printed onto gold card (on the white reverse) and cut out. The white side was then coloured in black as to not stand out. As this is a steampunk concept album, I doodled on the angel a series of cogs and levers in black fine liner (none of which is technically correct). The angel is stuck into the card and when opened hovers ominously.

Other recommended :- The Wreckers, Clockwork Angels, Halo Effect, Seven Cities Of Gold, Caravan

Albums 9 & 10 to follow soon.

This way to Albums 1 & 2 , 3 & 4 & 5&6