Post-Pandemic-Pause

Blethering

Fuck man, it’s been a long pandemic – and I hope everyone reading this has kept safe and sound.

I thought I’d come back to the blog – even briefly (who knows?) – to give some sort of note as to what’s been happening since April, and it’s hard to know where to kick off.

I’ll keep it short, maybe with the intention on filling things in at a later date, but long and short of it is that things are fine.

Due to a mix of family needs, physical impossibilities, and psychological fragilities Pop-up Books has been on a hiatus since the beginning of the year, really. In its absence, I bought a Rickenbacker 360 and wrote an album. 15 demos all recorded and on my hard-drive. I hope to record them all later in the year and release it some time in spring next year. I’m not rushing it. I want to give it the effort, and time that I think it’s due. I’m very proud of it. It’s jangly, joyous, and at times, very pretty. More on that in the future, I’m sure.

Midway through the pandemic, I moved from my bachelor pad in the centre of Warsaw, out to our cute wee family home now in Bielany, with Marta, the cat, and the dog. I love being here. It feels like the countryside despite still being the city. Waking up and seeing Marta every morning, before walking the dog and starting the day (especially after couple of months of lockdown that kept us apart) is a great life to have.

Just after moving here, I bought a PS4, finished Spider-Man, then started Death Stranding. A dilettante gamer for most of my life, Death Stranding took my breath away, and I’d now say I have another real non-musical hobby. Currently about 3/4 of the way through The Last of Us (the first one), and loving it. My real gaming passion though has been playing – and getting pretty good at – FIFA 20 (The game’s broken!). That’s been a journey, I can tell you. From early on temper-tantrums and rage-quits due to utterly bizarre game-play, to Patreon-based coaching, to now accepting the game’s broken and sometimes that stuff will just happen, to climbing the divisions (currently div3). I’m an Online Seasons man, playing with Newcastle United. I’ve been tempted by FUT starting in FIFA 21, but honestly, I don’t know if I want to invest the time it’ll take grinding the objectives etc.

It became fairly clear that FIFA was filling a football-less hole in my life during lockdown and the return of footy was a glorious relief. Of late the European tournaments have helped me forget Newcastle’s awful end to the season and the failed take-over shenanigans, and I’ve been enjoying the Women’s Champions League too. Most importantly though, it seems that Airdrieonians – my one-true-footballing-love, will be streaming their games using the pixellot technology, so for the first time in a decade I might get to watch the Diamonds every week. Even toying with more football content on the blog, or even a substack newsletter. Who knows.

I’ve been a little neglectful of the radio show podcasts. I’ve not really been treating it as a pod, but as a 1-and-done radio show. Starting September, I’ll be back to doing the show then uploading them again, so hopefully the’ll appear here more regularly. On that note also, it should be shouted out loud that Ola has been instrumental in keeping If You’re Feeling Sinister going in my ‘down-time’ from it. I was struggling with various bits and pieces and Ola kept Sinister going with really only “match-day” input from me, so I’m very grateful indeed.

Very recently, Jules and I have come back together on zoom to discuss Pop-up Books, and we’ve got some plans – even if health, and a second wave of Covid keeps the band on hiatus for a while still, we’re going to get back at it. I’m excited to get started.

Anyways, that’s probably enough for now. More – I hope – soon.

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Radio Kapitał Episode 22 – 25/06/2020

Neil Milton Listens To...

Neil Milton Listens To… on Radio Kapitał

In May 2020, George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis. He died after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by an officer’s knee. A disgusting act that was captured on video, kicking off worldwide protests. Black Lives Matter, which has been a movement since the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin, was on the lips of the world. Defund the police became a new and popular idea. People took to the streets. In June, it felt appropriate to do something to show my own support of the movement.

Episode 22 of the show is the second of 2 shows supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

RADIO KAPITAŁ Episode 22: Neil Milton Supports… Black Lives Matter: Part 2

1. Wu-Tang Clan – Protect Ya Neck
2. Jamila Woods – Muddy
3. Robert Johnson – They’re Red Hot
4. Megan Thee Stallion – Savage
5. Dizzee Rascal – Just A Rascal
6. Miles Davis – So What
7. Ata Kak – Yempa Aba
8. The Ronettes – Be My Baby
9. Young Fathers – Border Girl
10. Sacred Paws – Nothing
11. Amadou and Mariam – Si Ni Keneya
12. Missy Elliot – Get Ur Freak On
13. McAlmont and Butler – Yes
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Radio Kapitał Episode 21 – 11/06/2020

Neil Milton Listens To...

Neil Milton Listens To… on Radio Kapitał

In May 2020, George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis. He died after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by an officer’s knee. A disgusting act that was captured on video, kicking off worldwide protests. Black Lives Matter, which has been a movement since the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin, was on the lips of the world. Defund the police became a new and popular idea. People took to the streets. In June, it felt appropriate to do something to show my own support of the movement.

Episode 21 of the show is the first of 2 shows supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

RADIO KAPITAŁ Episode 21: Neil Milton Supports… Black Lives Matter: Part 1

1. Run The Jewels – The Ground Below
2. Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit
3. Blind Willie Johnson – You’re Gonna Need somebody on Your Bond
4. Baloji – Unité & Litre
5. Stormzy – Vossy Bop
6. Sister Rosetta Tharpe – What’s The News
7. Steel Pulse – Handsworth Revolution
8. Public Enemy – Louder Than A Bomb
9. Donna Summer – I Feel Love
10. Lizzo – Good As Hell
11. Nina Simone – Sinnerman
12. Childish Gambino – This Is America
13. Jimi Hendrix – Star Spangled Banner
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Radio Kapitał Episode 20 – 30/04/2020

Neil Milton Listens To...

Neil Milton Listens To… on Radio Kapitał

In 2001, to release my band’s first single, I emulated my indie heroes, The Delgados, and created my own label to do just that. The Delgados created Chemikal Underground 25 years ago to release their debut single, Monica Webster. A quarter of a century later, and the label is the most recognisable and acclaimed Scottish indie, responsible for releases from bands like Mogwai, Bis, Aereogramme, Arab Strap, El Hombre Trajeado, and many others.

Episode 20 of the show is the third of 3 celebratory episodes congratulating Chemikal Underground for their 25th anniversary.

RADIO KAPITAŁ Episode 20: Neil Milton Listens to… The Music of Chemikal Underground: Part 3

1. The Delgados – Everything Goes Around The Water
2. Arab Strap – Rocket Take Your Turn
3. Norman Blake (with John Burnside) – Girl
4. Aereogramme – Fuel to Burn
5. Sluts of Trust – Piece O’ You
6. Alun Woodward (with Alasdair Gray) – A Sentimental Song
7. Interpol – PDA
8. Idlewild (with Edwin Morgan) – The Weight of Years
9. Ben Tramer – Halloween Theme
10. Mogwai – Christmas Steps
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Radio Kapitał Episode 19 – 16/04/2020

Neil Milton Listens To...

Neil Milton Listens To… on Radio Kapitał

In 2001, to release my band’s first single, I emulated my indie heroes, The Delgados, and created my own label to do just that. The Delgados created Chemikal Underground 25 years ago to release their debut single, Monica Webster. A quarter of a century later, and the label is the most recognisable and acclaimed Scottish indie, responsible for releases from bands like Mogwai, Bis, Aereogramme, Arab Strap, El Hombre Trajeado, and many others.

Episode 19 of the show is the second of 3 celebratory episodes congratulating Chemikal Underground for their 25th anniversary.

RADIO KAPITAŁ Episode 19: Neil Milton Listens to… The Music of Chemikal Underground: Part 2

1. The Delgados – American Trilogy
2. Roky Erickson and Okkervil River – Forever
3. Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat – The Tangle of Us
4. Sluts of Trust – The Greatest Gift
5. Mother and the Addicts – Own Sensation
6. Pánico – Uptown Boy
7. Zoey Van Grey – Mountain on Fire
8. R.M. Hubbert – In Accordia (featuring Rachel Grimes)
9. Sound of Yell – Sated Eyrie
10. Emma Pollock – You’ll Come Around
11. Loch Lomond – Your Eyes
12. The Fruit Tree Foundation – Fall Arch
13. Mogwai – Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home
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Radio Kapitał Episode 18 – 02/04/2020

Neil Milton Listens To...

Neil Milton Listens To… on Radio Kapitał

In 2001, to release my band’s first single, I emulated my indie heroes, The Delgados, and created my own label to do just that. The Delgados created Chemikal Underground 25 years ago to release their debut single, Monica Webster. A quarter of a century later, and the label is the most recognisable and acclaimed Scottish indie, responsible for releases from bands like Mogwai, Bis, Aereogramme, Arab Strap, El Hombre Trajeado, and many others.

Episode 18 of the show is the first of 3 celebratory episodes congratulating Chemikal Underground for their 25th anniversary.

RADIO KAPITAŁ Episode 18: Neil Milton Listens to… The Music of Chemikal Underground: Part 1

1. The Delgados – Monica Webster
2. Bis – Kandy Pop
3. De Rosa – Flight Recorder
4. Malcolm Middleton – Devil and the Angel
5. Suckle – So Happy Before
6. The Phantom Band – Halfhound
7. Miaoux Miaoux – School of Velocity
8. Arab Strap – (Afternoon) Soaps
9. El Hombre Trajeado – Half Cab
10. Lord Cut-Glass – Holy Fuck!
11. Holy Mountain – Tokyo
12. Citizen Bravo, Raymond MacDonald, and Friends – Beautiful Cosmos
13. Aereogramme – The Art of Belief
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To be a Southpaw

Guitar

It started early, at school. Back in the dark days of the mid-eighties, when teachers were less – let’s say – enlightened as they may be now. Those were the days of jumpers for goalposts, chalk on blackboards, and ‘right to write’. Left-handedness, even then, was a source of trouble.

Left-handed – sinistral, southpaw, cack-handed, dolly-pawed, mańkut, corrie-fisted – a ‘sinister’ affliction that affects approximately 11% of the world’s population, and one that is often attributed as correlating with higher creativity or intelligence, though I’m possibly not an efficacious indication of this.

True, we left-handed people feel that we are special – and, let’s be honest here, we are. It was only after picking the guitar as my instrument of choice, however, that I realised rather than a blessing, it may have been a curse.

Here are a few reasons why being a left-handed guitarist can be, well, troublesome.

Enough Wonderwall, how about some Velvets

Ever been at a party in some flat in some student centre of a city? There’s an acoustic guitar. There’s always an acoustic guitar. The student’s front room you’ve invaded is being serenaded with the 7th rendition of an Oasis dirge and you think, right, enough is enough… time for some Velvet Underground. A crack of the knuckles, and you’re on your way except… the guitar is right handed. The guitar is always right handed. Sure, you can have a crack at an upside-down version of Nirvana’s About a Girl, but no-one’s leaving the party tonight hailing you as the next great guitar hero. Foiled.

Is the customer always right?

A new music store is opening on the high street. Signage has been up for weeks. Billboards proclaim an opening-day sale. There’s a buzz among the kids of the town – patiently, if excitedly, waiting for the grand opening to get their hands on a new Vintera Tele, or a Gibson 335, and start unerringly riffing ad nauseam Seven Nation Army. The day arrives. The doors are thrown open. It’s beautiful. Guitars of all shapes, sizes, and colours are hanging from the walls, or nestling on stands. You can’t wait to get started. Of course, there’s something missing. Not a lefty among them. Sure, you can have a crack at an upside-down version of Nirvana’s About a Girl, but no-one’s leaving the shop today hailing you as the next great guitar hero. Foiled again.

“Availability: Discontinued”

With no opportunity to try before you buy, you’ve decided to take the leap and find a guitar online. There’s no shortage of great places to search through – Thomann, Guitar Guitar, Reverb, and many others. You want a Rickenbacker 360. No wait, a Player series Fender Jaguar. No no no, a Gretsch Country Gent. All popular guitars, it shouldn’t be difficult to find one at a decent price, right? Ah, but lefties, even popular lefties, are often short-run productions. The only way you’re getting your hands on that Gretsch is by waiting weeks, months, years, until a lefty appears on the market. (Unfortunately a true, and recent, story!).

Cost of doing business

In the meantime, you’ve decided to opt for a classic; a Mexican-built Fender Telecaster – a lefty. At least they’re out there. Ever present. Ever dependable. You hit up your local price-comparison website. You do a search. And do it again. And again. It surely can’t be working. Yesterday, you saw a righty for a fraction of the price. The guitars can’t possibly be this expensive! Ah, but they can. And when that lefty Gretsch finally rears its head in amongst the bargains and right-handed gems to be found on Reverb, you can be sure you’ll pay a premium for that too. It’s going to hurt in the wallet.

Heading in the same direction

Your Tele arrives by courier and the excitement is palpable. You open up the box, ceremoniously unclasp and open the hard-case. You take the guitar in your hands like a newborn baby. Success. It sounds lovely through your practice amplifier. Your righty songwriting partner comes over to hang out and play together and he discovers a rare advantage in your left-handedness. Just as McCartney and Lennon discovered back in Forthlin Road in Liverpool, there’s some benefit to sitting opposite your partner and having your guitars be a mirror of one another. All the better for picking out those riffs together in harmony.

Mind your head!

Alas, that good cheer doesn’t last past your very first live performance. Tonight, you’ve left the womb-like comfort of your rehearsal room to perform to 10 people at the Nobody Inn. It’s only after load-in and set-up that you realise you and your righty partner may have chosen poorly. You are positioned stage-left with your lovely new Tele pointing to the centre of the stage. Righty? We’ll he’s stage-right with his Gibson Les Paul pointing right back at you. Except the stage is the size of a table-tennis table. Drums, amps, musicians, microphones, monitors, all scrunched up together; and you and Righty are going to be smashing headstocks all night long.

I often wonder if that tyrant of a primary school teacher, demanding that I focus on writing in my exercise books with my right hand, knew something I didn’t.

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Marain (A tribute to Penderecki)

Music Projects

Though largely forgotten about now – even by members of the band itself – my first band in Poland, the Post-rock effort, the Frozen North had an exciting first year. Recording, radio, TV, wee festivals, TEDxWarsaw, and other bits and pieces.

In late 2014, before a malaise and eventual collapse the next year, we were invited by an organisation to create music for a project that planned to send an art gallery to Mars. The further in time I travel from that meeting, the more I think I may have hallucinated the whole thing.

To some degree, I took the creative lead, and heavily influenced by Krzysztof Penderecki and Jonny Greenwood, I took an avant-garde approach. Over time the piece took shape, with the violins of the band providing the cacophonous spine, surrounded by scraped cymbals, bowed bass, and MAX MSP processed guitar. We invited a choir of our friends to join us in our rehearsal room, and we recorded them reciting random and different pages of the Saturn V technical manual as I conducted – a first for me.

For reasons that are plentiful, the band suffered a crippling slow-down over the next year, and we largely disappeared, losing the momentum and good feeling we’d gained in our first. By the time we split, the piece was a distant memory and lay on my hard-drive for a few years.

In late 2018, I traveled with a Rickenbacker, a laptop, and, for the first time, a singing voice, to perform at a small festival in Manchester in England. I’d been asked by the organisers to provide a video installation, and fell upon the idea of something of a retrospective of the music I’d made so far. An hour of music featuring everything from Troika, through my solo modern-classical and ambient stuff, through the Frozen North, and the remixes I’d done for bands like VLMV and Worriedaboutsatan, and finishing with music from my solo power-pop, and (what would be come) Pop-up Books indie-pop.

As I scoured through hard-drives and folders, I came across the unmixed Logic Pro session of this avant-garde thing. Along side Tomek Walczak, who gave me a couple of pointers, I spent a couple of weeks dipping in to it. I added some sounds and I removed some (one member of the band doesn’t appear at all – other than in the “choir”, for no other reason than the audio just didn’t quite fit), and eventually I finished and mixed it down. Once done, I added some strange glitchy video created on my iPhone, named it Marain as an allusion to Iain M. Banks and the sci-fi origins of the piece, then I added it to the film, not expecting anyone than the festival attendees to see it.

This morning, I read on Twitter that Penderecki had died, and I felt deeply sad as he was quite an influence on me. And it reminded me again of this piece of music. While the composition and mix are clearly derivative of their influence, they are deliberately so. A tribute, now, of sorts.

I’m glad I had the chance to work with Aga, Kasia, Tomek, Filip, and Dave on something like this.

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Equipboard

Guitar

For the less nerdy among readers, Equipboard is a community of users where musicians (or fans of musicians) can create profiles listing the gear that they use. For the less known among us, it’s a nice way of sharing your guitars, pedals, amps, synths, drums, etc. Where the site comes into its own, though, are the profiles of more influential musicians; and you can find everyone from Peter Buck through to Hal Blaine, through to, I dunno, Molly Rankin

I had hoped to share my ‘equipboard’ profile from a plug-in, a widget, or some-such thing that might update live over time, but it turns out there’s nothing set up for that, so a screenshot and a link it is, then.

You can find my own by clicking on the image above, or here.

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Silence

On Music

As a child, I was fascinated by silence. That is not to say the times in which I was quiet were plentiful; quite the opposite in fact – even as a child it was difficult to shut me up, much to the eternal frustration of my mother. Despite a propensity for singing and chatting, at times even with myself, I was fascinated by the idea of silence.

An early memory, is of a sponsored-silence held at Sunday School. For those unfamiliar, a sponsored-silence was an opportunity for children to raise money for charity by simply sitting quietly for a set period of time – not an easy task for some. A blessing, though, for those beleaguered teachers, group leaders, or parents that had the, albeit temporary, gift of a roomful of quiet children. Children would tour aunties and uncles and parents and grandparents, and if they were really lucky, teachers and family friends too, all asking for a pledge of £1 here, £2 there, a jackpot if someone pledged a fiver! All for sitting in a room with your pals and keeping your mouth shut for a pre-determined measure of time. It’s harder than it looks.

Another memory and oddly enough also church-based. Each year, from the earliest memory through to leaving the Boy’s Brigade at 15 years old, I would attend church on Remembrance Sunday. After marching in the flags, 11am would arrive and the congregation would sit in contemplative, commemorative silence for 2 minutes before the service would begin.

In the Sponsored Silence, as I sat in a room full of other 7 year olds reading books, doing puzzles, playing games, all without speaking, I would focus on the sounds I could hear in the room. At the time, there was a smug feeling of victory, I had discovered a flaw in the system. Mark isn’t being silent because his jacket is crinkly. Amanda isn’t silent as her colouring pencils are scratching the page. Only I am silent, I think, as I sit quietly biting my nails. Damn it.

In church though, as I sat solemnly taking the concept of remembrance too literally, struggling to remember anyone of whom I knew had died in the wars, my mind would wander and I would listen to the coughs, sniffs, and movement from across the pews. There would be the creaks of the wood, the hiss or clunk of the heating system, the sneaky crinkling of a Werther’s Original sweetie wrapper, or the distant sound of roadworks or a car horn.

Even from a very young age, I realised things were never truly silent. It was many years later that I discovered how integral silence is when used within music. I won’t pretend that, even nowadays, I’m a fan of jazz but the quote attributed to one of the few jazz icons that does fascinate me, Miles Davis; “Don’t play what’s there; play what’s not there”, that’s a wonderful statement on the importance of short moments of rest, or indeed silence, in composition. In truth though, there are countless musicians who have made equally apposite quotes, but it was avant-garde composer John Cage that opened my, and I’m sure many other, eyes to how silence – or the lack of true silence – could be used.

In each of the three movements of his 1952 piece 4’33, Cage instructs his musician with a single word: Tacit. While often misinterpreted as four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence, the piece invites the listener to consider the sounds of the immediate, and sometimes distant, environment in which the performance takes place. My first experience of this piece, transported me immediately back in time to the small rooms, or the nave of Jackson Church, listening to the small sounds invading the silence.

A few years ago, while working on a solo post-rock record, and having yet to find my own voice as a singer, I took to using interviews and other spoken word artefacts in the music. One such was this insightful interview with Cage in which he muses on the idea of silence, and the activity of sound. It’s a beautiful sentiment and one that I think about often; particularly in moments of “silence”

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