Monday, July 27, 2015

Vinyl log 22 - 27 July

DayMonthYearArtistTitle
27July1970Fairport ConventionUnhalfbricking
27July1988Fairport ConventionGladys' leap
27July1989Fairport ConventionRed and gold
27July1989Fairport ConventionHeyday
27July1989Jackson BrowneWorld in motion

With the help of an online 1970 calendar, I was able to piece together a timeline for the events of July 1970, 45 years ago. It seems that on Friday 24 July, I went to London to participate in a weekend camp held by Habonim, in advance of the two week summer camp. One of the great things about those days was that you could meet someone new, become good friends over the course of a day or two, have meaningful conversations ... and then never see this person again. There were a few people that I met that day - all at least two years older than me - that I never saw for another few years, so I'm not really sure who was there. Anyway, I recall having a long conversation with someone about Fairport Convention: I must have said that I had just bought the Fotheringay album, and this person said that if you liked that, then you'll like 'Unhalfbricking'.

As it happens, I remember that someone at school brought 'U' in one day; I remember looking at the sleeve but wasn't sufficiently motivated to listen to the record - shame, as this is one of my favourite records of all time.

The day after returning from the camp, I went out and bought this album. I remember clearly buying this from a shop which sold mainly electric appliances near Blackboy Hill, at the top of Whiteladies Road in Bristol (very interesting juxtaposition of names!). What I don't remember is why I bought it there: it wasn't the sort of shop which normally sold records and certainly there were no facilities for listening to records in advance of buying them (which is what we used to do in the shop near school).

The first song to which I became attracted to was "Who knows where the time goes" (obviously). I remember at some stage listening to this record whilst in the bath and finally appreciating "A sailor's life", which until then had been the track I was most likely to skip (or was that "Cajun woman", which I already knew and disliked from "Nice enough to eat"?). Of course, much later on, "Genesis Hall" and "Autopsy" became the preferred tracks.  It's a shame about the three Dylan covers; if only "Si Tu Dois Partir" had been replaced by another Richard or Sandy song....

I was thinking last night at how "Genesis Hall" - set in the form of a Scottish ballad - predicted the sort of songs which Richard would write in the next few years: in a sense, it was already preparing people for "Liege and Lief", even though this wasn't on their minds at the time.

I must have gone to the 'real' summer camp a day or two after purchasing this record (reference to this can be found here).



By the mid-1980s, I was very disenchanted with music. Almost all of the musicians whose music I had loved a decade earlier had ceased to be active, and those that still issued records seemed to have lost "it". The 'New Romantics' sounded interesting at first, but their songs were full of 'ear candy' without any real substance - empty calories. Computers had displaced music as my main interest in those years.

At the same time, I had become a more public official of my kibbutz; in those days, such officials (such as the secretary, treasurer, farm manager, etc) would frequently travel to Tel Aviv on Wednesdays, when they could meet officials in the kibbutz movement as well as counterparts from other kibbutzim. I had begun traveling most Wednesdays, but often had a few hours spare time between meetings; I used to utilise this time by leaving the area of the kibbutz movement offices and walking to various shopping areas in Tel Aviv.

One day, I found a record shop just off Bograshov Street; as it was hot outside, I entered in order to cool down. When I perused the racks of records (for old time's sake), I was astounded to discover in the 'F' section two new records by Fairport! These were "Gladys' leap" and "Expletive delighted". I read what I could of the sleeves and tried to understand how one of my favourite bands had reconvened; who was this 'Maart' character? I knew the name of Ric Sanders from the late 70s Albion Band, but how did he come to be involved?

Unfortunately I had no money with me  (these were the days when kibbutz members did not have private bank accounts and had little need for physical money) so I couldn't buy them that day. Presumably a week later, armed with cash, I went straight to that shop and bought the records. On the sleeves, I read something about a 'Cropredy festival'; the name was familiar - I bought a tee shirt with that name in the Fairport font at one of their concerts in 1977 - but meaningless. Let us not forget: this is 1988 and the Internet does not yet exist (universities were connected but not the general public - I became connected in 1992).

The musical style on "Gladys' leap" seemed familiar; songs such as "Bird from the mountain" and especially "The hiring fair" instantly became part of the Fairport canon for me. The latter song, especially, seemed quintessential Fairport, and the violin sound brought back many memories.



A year later, many things had changed: I was leaving one kibbutz and about to join another. I knew what the Cropredy festival was and even intended to attend it in the summer of 1989, as we were in Britain for a month's holiday and recuperation. In the first few days of arriving in Bournemouth, we went down to the centre and the large open gardens there. I have a strong memory of walking in a pedestrian area on "the other side" of the centre with "Heyday" under my arm, so presumably I bought three records there.

"Red and gold" was me getting back up to speed with Fairport; it had been released shortly before my visit and I knew about it in advance, whereas "Gladys" had been released three years before I even knew about it, let alone bought it. "R&G" contains some more classic tracks (especially the title track) along with some filler. 

I was excited about "Heyday", which contains radio performances from 1968/9; most of the tracks were covers of American songs, some very obscure, but some were alternate versions of songs with which I was extremely familiar - cue "Percy's song" from Unhalfbricking. I was very curious to hear them but I don't think that I had an opportunity to do so, as there was no record player in the holiday flat where we were staying.

I am surprised by the purchase of the Jackson Browne record. I had loved his first four albums (bought within a few months of each other at the end of 1976, beginning of 1977, in the same way that I had bought the early Fairport records), but was lukewarm towards his later output ("Lawyers in love", especially). I remember buying a record of his in the mid-1980s in a record shop on fashionable Shenkin Street in Tel Aviv, during the period of maximal disillusionment with music, and not liking it very much. So the purchase of yet another JB record - which I probably haven't heard since buying it - is surprising.

To sum up: one day, four records by the same group, spanning twenty years of their career. Quite a coincidence that they were bought on the same calendar date.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Vinyl log 21 - 25 July

DayMonthYearArtistTitle
25July1972Richard ThompsonHenry the human fly

As I wrote once, "On this day 35 years ago (25 July 1972), I bought a copy of Richard Thompson's first solo album, "Henry the human fly", from a record shop on Kilburn High Street". I documented the purchase in that blog, so I won't repeat myself.

This is, how can I put it, a rather quirky record. Richard himself seems to be perversely proud of the urban legend that this was the worst selling record ever released on the American Warner Brothers label - an accolade which I have seen attached to other records (notably Randy Newman's first album, "Creates something new under the sun"). The two major complaints are Richard's voice and the lack of electric guitar. The latter doesn't bother me and well, that's how Richard used to sing at the time. 

In one of the recent interviews promoting Richard's latest release, "Still", he wished for access to the original multi-track recordings so that presumably he could remix and improve the vocals. Whilst I find it intriguing that he can't access them (wiped? licensing issues?), I hope that he doesn't change them too much, as over the past 43 years, I have become enamoured of the original. There are instrumental ideas there which are much better than those on his current recording; in fact, his early recordings often include a multitude of instruments, each playing a specific part. I find those parts very much enhance the basic guitar/bass/drums recordings, making them refreshing to my ears. Offhand, the last song that I can remember which had this kind of treatment was "Beeswing" - and that was from the mid 1990s.

For me, the best track on this album is "The angels took my racehorse away", whose lyric is typical of Thompson. Musically, it's a hash of Chuck Berry along with some traditional tune played on two violins, and contains a killer guitar solo (no electric guitar, hey?). I often wonder how this was recorded: probably the basic track was rhythm guitar, bass and drums, with that guitar being mixed out at various points. Other notables are "Roll over Vaughn Williams", "The poor ditching boy", "Shaky Nancy" and "The new St George".

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Vinyl log 20 - 22 July

DayMonthYearArtistTitle
22July1970FotheringayFotheringay

This record is one of the surprises of the vinyl log: had I been asked before I started on this series, I would have said that I bought it in May 1970. This would have been shortly after the concert where I saw them in Bristol; did Nick Drake support or was he missing that night? I remember that the Humblebums appeared. Had Fotheringay been less laid back then they would have had product to sell on their one tour, but this was the beginning of the 70s and they were only recording the album at the same time as they were touring.

So I had to wait a few months until July. Unfortunately, like many records in this series, I have no recollection of buying it. I think that I purchased it in the big record shop near school (even though I would have been on holiday by now), but that's no more than an assumption.

Many of these songs have stayed with me through the years: I recall recording (with two reel to reel tape recorders) a version of "The pond and the stream" that summer and I also recall working out the guitar solo in "The sea". I used to play "The banks of the Nile" with Erica in 1973/4; she and I would sing alternate verses (in fact, I should have a recording of this somewhere).

And of course, when I worked on my Sandy Denny tribute album, "Nothing more", "The sea" and "The pond and the stream" were included.

I wrote a few months ago about asking Jerry Donahue about the guitar playing on this record. Whilst I did get a reply, it was only in the style of "sorry, too busy to answer now". I should write to him again.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Vinyl log 19 - 20 July

DayMonthYearArtistTitle
20July1972Van der Graaf GeneratorPawn hearts

Considering how influential this record has been on my life, it's possibly surprising that I don't remember very much about its purchase. On the other hand, the summer of 1972 was full of emotional moments (see here), so may it's not so surprising.

I know that I spent about a week in London prior to going to Israel for the first time around the 27th of July and I had the record there, hence I must have bought it in London. I have no recollection of purchasing it but a little voice is whispering that I might have bought it in central London.

The record was not new to me: my friend Robert had bought it in January 1972 and it didn't take long before I was bashing out a truncated version of 'Man Erg' (verses only) on our piano. Robert's record was supposed to have come with a lyric sheet, but there wasn't one enclosed so I wrote to Charisma, at the same time expressing callow feelings about 'Refugees'. To our extreme surprise, Peter Hammill himself wrote back, sending the lyric sheet and also the lyrics to 'Easy to slip away'. As was said in 'Casablanca', this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

From later on in the year, I have a very strong memory of sitting by the gas fire in my bedroom, listening to this record and reading Hermann Hesse's "The prodigy". Every time I hear the saxophone solo, I think of this. "The prodigy" also had a profound influence upon me, but fortunately I did not follow in the footsteps of the titular boy.

Whilst listening to a new disc for the first time the other day, I was suddenly assailed by a memory of listening to PH for the first time. Trepidation mixed with curiosity at what VdGG would serve us for us after their first two albums; Peter's steely voice intoning ' I stood alone upon the highest cliff-top, looked down, around, and all that I could see were those that I would dearly love to share with crashing on quite blindly to the sea....'. A few years later, I began to understand those lyrics properly: I included the final verse of 'Lemmings' in that year's mock-Haggada. They seemed to refer as much to the plight of Soviet Jewry as they did anything else. Peter himself referred to this as a very political lyric.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A partially documented trick in Priority

I wrote a few days ago about writing a program which takes date from an external program and imports it into Priority. There are actually two external programs: Imos creates a spreadsheet file and I wrote a program in Delphi which takes that file as input and creates several new text files which serve as input to Priority. The Imos developers added a new definition which I had to handle, both in the Delphi program and in Priority; whilst it was fairly difficult to handle this in the Delphi program, it was easy - on first sight - to handle it in Priority. The whole point of the Delphi program is to make things easy for Priority.

But as I looked deeper at the new definition, I saw a new problem: sometimes Delphi would output a file containing data regarding this new definition and sometimes Delphi would not output such a file, because it was not required. The program in Priority would look for this file, not find it and create an error, thus halting the program. Putting it simply, I needed a way in Priority of checking whether this external file exists.

I opened the documentation for Priority development and looked for such a function. Whilst it is documented how to copy a file, rename a file and delete a file, there was no function for checking whether it exists. There is, however, a function for getting a file's length; I cannot think of any use for this function, apart from the use which I found, of course. My way of thinking was that a file which does not exist does not have a length.

The documentation shows the following:

LINK STACK TO :$.STK;
ERRMSG 500 WHERE :RETVAL <= 0;
EXECUTE GETSIZE 'path/file name', :$.STK;
:FILESIZE = 0;
SELECT ELEMENT INTO :FILESIZE FROM DUMMY
WHERE ELEMENT > 0;
UNLINK STACK;

'Stack' is the name of a table in Priority which contains one field of type integer. The program 'Getsize' presumably adds a tuple to this table, containing the file size. The 'element > 0' bit is required as almost every table has a tuple with the primary key having the value 0; this simplifies matters when joining tables.

The sharp of eye can see that there is an error in the above code: it should be 'select element from stack'.

I thought that there would be a problem if the filesize is zero, because how would my program distinguish between the pre-existing tuple where element is zero and the inserted tuple where element is zero? So I elected to sum the values of the field 'element' and assume that the file exists where the sum is greater than zero. When I ran the program, I discovered that a non-existing file will cause -1 to be the value of the inserted tuple.

All of the above is moot for someone who is not interested in the gory details. Here is a snippet of code which will check in Priority whether a file exists:

SELECT SQL.TMPFILE INTO :TMP FROM DUMMY;
LINK STACK TO :TMP;
:FS = 0;
EXECUTE GETSIZE 'path/file name',, :TMP;
SELECT SUM (ELEMENT) INTO :FS FROM STACK;
UNLINK AND REMOVE STACK;
GOTO 1 WHERE :FS = -1; /* jump if no file */

The above would cost you money if you asked any Priority developing company; here you get it for free.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Highlighting cells in Excel based on their absolute value via Delphi

As part of the management program which is an ever continuing project for the Occupational Psychologist, there is one module which compares values (obtained from our flagship program) from one customer/settlement with those obtained from another customer. In statistical terms, this is known as 'comparison of two means'. Those interested in the statistics of the subject can find an explanation here. For those interested, if the absolute value of t is greater than 1.96 than the difference is statistically significant at the 95% level, and if the absolute value is greater than 2.576, then the difference is statistically significant at the 99% level.

After I wrote the code to obtain the correct values (surprisingly hard at first), I decided that it would nice if the statistically significant values were displayed in different colours from normal values. In Delphi, the values are displayed in a grid which obtains its values from a clientdataset, so this code isn't particularly difficult:
procedure TTwoCustQ400.grMaleDrawColumnCell(Sender: TObject; const Rect: TRect; DataCol: Integer; Column: TColumn; State: TGridDrawState); var avalue: single; begin ... with sender as TDBGrid do begin if avalue >= 2.576 then canvas.font.color:= clRed else if avalue >= 1.96 then canvas.font.color:= clGreen else canvas.font.color:= clNavy; DefaultDrawColumnCell (Rect, DataCol, Column, State); end; end;
The only complication in this code is obtaining 'avalue' from the clientdataset, but that's just fiddly. Of course, code was added to export the data displayed on the screen to Excel. This is easy now that I have library code which does this - as far as this module is concerned, it only needs to make one procedure call and that's it. The real complications began when the OP wanted the values in Excel to be coloured as they are in the grid. This isn't something with which I've had much experience, so it required a few false starts.

First of all, the naive version:
Procedure ColourCell (xrow, xcol: word); var avalue: single; col: word; begin avalue:= abs (strtofloat (XLApp.ActiveSheet.Cells[xrow, xcol].value)); if avalue >= 1.96 then begin col:= 6; if avalue >= 2.576 then col:= 3; XLApp.ActiveSheet.Cells[xrow, xcol].interior.ColorIndex:= col; end; end; for i:= 2 to max do begin ColourCell (i, 6); ColourCell (i, 10); ColourCell (i, 12); end;
It took me a while to realise that I didn't need to obtain the value of 'max' - the number of rows in the spreadsheet -from the spreadsheet itself; as I was creating the sheet from a csv file, I could obtain the number directly from the stringlist from which the file was created.

Whilst this code works, it is theoretically slow as it requires the xlApp instance to be accessed twice for every cell; as three columns have to be checked, this means that there are many accesses. Fortunately there are only about 40 rows in the spreadsheet so the inefficiency wasn't too apparent.

My researches showed that Excel has a conditional formatting function of its own; I could use this function to create a macro which I could then translate into Delphi. This site showed some interesting code, but it wasn't overly clear and it contained only two conditions.
RangeString := 'B'+inttostr(Num1+1)+':M'+inttostr(Num1+1); Ranger := ws.range[rangestring]; ranger.FormatConditions.Delete; ranger.FormatConditions.Add(XLCellValue,XLLess,'=b$'+inttostr(Num1-4)); ranger.FormatConditions[1].Interior.ColorIndex:= 7; ranger.FormatConditions.Add(XLCellValue,XLGreater,'=b$'+inttostr(Num1-3)); ranger.FormatConditions[2].Interior.ColorIndex:= 3;
When I created a macro in Excel using conditional formatting, the above code became clearer. I discovered that in Excel I could create three different conditions - but I needed four. This is why I initially abandoned using a 'native' approach in favour of the naive approach (the difference is only 't', which ironically is the value that the statistics code calculates - never mind if you don't get the joke).

When walking the dog - always a good time for thinking about programming problems whose solution elude me when facing the screen - it occurred to me that I don't have four conditions (less than -2.576, less than -1.96, greater than 1.96, greater than 2.576) but rather two conditions: abs (x) greater than 1.96 and abs (x) greater than 2.576. Once I realised this, I tried creating such a function with the conditional formatter in Excel - success! I also decided that instead of painting each cell's background in an appropriate colour (that's the 'interior' part in the above code), I could keep the same background (important when printing) and simply change the font's colour.

One more improvement: instead of calling the function three times for three non-sequential columns, I could create one range containing all three columns. Here is the fast, native version:
ranger:= sheet.range['F:F,J:J,L:L']; ranger.FormatConditions.Delete; ranger.FormatConditions.Add (XLExpression, EmptyParam, '= ABS(A1) > 2.576'); ranger.FormatConditions[1].Font.ColorIndex:= 3; ranger.FormatConditions.Add (XLExpression, EmptyParam,'= ABS(A1) > 1.96'); ranger.FormatConditions[2].Font.ColorIndex:= 6;
3 is the code for red, 6 for green and 7 for yellow. A yellow font made the numbers almost invisible which is why I changed the colour values.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Vinyl log 18 - 10 July

DayMonthYearArtistTitle
10July1974Fairport ConventionNine
10July1974Sandy DennyLike an old fashioned waltz

This is an easy one to remember: I bought this pair of records in an arcade opposite Cardiff Castle. This was my first shopping expedition after returning home from my 'gap year' in Israel; it probably took me a  day or two or recover before I ventured out from what was my new but old home (this is the house we lived in when I was a baby, but then we lived on the ground floor whereas now we were on the second floor).

I was underwhelmed by the Sandy record; I didn't like the the 1930s ambience of the record and the strophic nature of the songs didn't help (see here). There are two songs which have stayed in the playlist: 'Solo' and 'Carnival'. This is actually the second song that Sandy wrote called 'Carnival': there is a much earlier song which didn't get past the demo stage. I have a copy of it somewhere.

The Fairport record was at least interesting: the Fairport+Fotheringay line up had coalesced into something unexpected with English, American and Australian influences coming to light. Unfortunately, their songwriting was not at the same level as their instrumental prowess, otherwise this could have been an excellent record.

I first attended the Cropredy Festival in 1989, 15 years almost to the day after purchasing these records. When I arrived at the Brasenose Arms pub in the village, I was somewhat bemused to find myself at the place where the photographs for the album had been taken. There is also a promotional video shot in the garden of the same pub.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

New lyrics

About a year and a half ago, I wrote about trying to write lyrics for a song whose music I had written a few months earlier for the Tzora song festival. The dream about walking with the Queen did not return, so the tune lay without lyrics for a long time. In fact, I had forgotten about it, but in any case, I felt no impulse to write lyrics.

Writing about peppermint tea and qualia the other day caused me to wonder whether I might be able to write a song whose lyrics discuss qualia. Today I had the time, and to my pleasure I managed to write the following lyric.


What is it like to be a bat?
Us humans never will know that
What is the taste of young white wine?
The words you choose don't match with mine

Philosophers have coined a name
To label mental states like pain
Like tasting tea or seeing blue,
They view things differently from me or you

Qualia denote how things seem to us
The experience of fun, the touch of a loved one
I can't explain them to you, you can't explain them to me
Qualia, qualia, qualia, qualia, ah…..

We all agree that sea and sky
Relax us but no one knows why
A rose by any name smells sweet
But can a  honeycomb be beat?

A limitation here applies
We feel things which we can't describe
The green of eye, the red of sand
These are things that we can't understand

How was it for me? I thought you enjoyed it
You're glowing like the sun, come let's repeat it
Qualia denote how things seem to us
The experience of fun, the touch of a loved one
I can't explain them to you, you can't explain them to me
Qualia, qualia, qualia, qualia, ah…..


Whilst writing those words (which took a few hours), I was reminded of the two main differences between English and Hebrew in terms of songwriting: Hebrew is more terse (fewer connecting words) and the emphasis falls on a different place in the word. Thus the original lyrics contained more words and the tune was written to fit them. In English, I was constrained to use mainly monosyllabic words, although I managed to fit in 'Philosophers' - but that didn't leave much room on the same line! In terms of emphasis, "things seem to us" might seem normal when read from the page but have to be sung in an awkward manner. When spoken, the emphasis is on "seem" but when sung, the syllables "seem to" are on weak beats and "us" gets emphasised. Who knew that writing lyrics could be so technical?

Now that the lyrics are complete, I can work on the arrangement. The original was deliberately vanilla, as the idea was to bring the lyrics to the forefront; the arrangement was simply to provide a background for them. But now that I have taken complete ownership of the song, I feel free to change the arrangement. I suspect that the macro structure of the song will stay the same but I have changed a few instruments. The bass part needs some work but I don't know yet whether any other parts will be revised.


I also discovered that there is a song called 'Qualia' on SoundCloud although naturally it sounds nothing like mine. It is also a world class luxury resort in the Whitsundays. qualia is a private world of sensory perfection on Hamilton Island (Australia).

Monday, July 06, 2015

Interfacing with Priority from an external program (2)

Six months ago, I blogged about writing a program which would import data from the Imos program into Priority. A key statement in what I wrote appears at the end: I didn't bother with building the bills of material as this will require a fair amount of fiddling and imagination. I don't think I got very far with this at all as the required data was missing and I had great difficulty in explaining to the contractor what we required.

About two months ago, we met with representatives of the biggest kitchen cupboard manufacturers in Israel (it so happens that their CEO used to work for us). They use Imos and our CEO thought that the meeting would be mutually beneficial. As it happens, they didn't want any information from us, but they did warn us about the suitability (or otherwise) of the program. We came away from this meeting exceedingly depressed; afterwards I was witness to an hour long conversation with the contractor (who was not present at the meeting, naturally) in which he explained how this company is not representative and how their problems would not affect us. We almost decided to drop the project there and then.

About two weeks ago, one of the kitchen cupboard representatives started working for us. I wondered whether we had poached him but he told me that he left that company of his own free will and only later was approached by us. He knows how to develop in Imos so he is functioning as a middle man between the demands of Priority and the capabilities of Imos.

We met twice last week; the first time, I explained what data was required from Imos so that I could build an order and define bills of materials. The second time, he produced a spreadsheet which contained most of the required data in a form which I could use (there were a few intermediate versions which weren't suitable). I started to write a Delphi program which would read this spreadsheet (xls format) and output files which could be imported into Priority.

Since I last worked on this subject, I discovered a fairly simple method of building bills of materials so I was able to implement this new method. Yesterday I worked on the program which I had started on Thursday, expanding and correcting. At the same time, I worked on creating suitable interfaces in Priority. By about 2pm, I had a program and an interface which worked perfectly - at least, as far as we had defined the data.

Today I added some more flourishes and to be honest, I am very pleased with what I have achieved. Unfortunately, almost nobody will be aware of that achievement and those that will be will not understand the level of sophistication required. I suppose that, like my music, I have to be satisfied with the pleasure that the final work gives me, without expecting that anyone else will appreciate.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Peppermint tea

When we were in Florence, my wife discovered the occasional Peppermint tea bag in the breakfast basket; as she prefers infusions and green tea to the British black tea accompanied with milk, she took to this readily. She had an upset stomach from the Chinese food that we ate on our first evening and I knew that peppermint tea was supposed to be good for the digestion, so I suggested that she drink it.

I looked for this tea in the supermarkets of Florence and Venice but was unable to find it. When we returned home, I did some research on the Internet and found a supplier - GiftSpot  - who would send us a package of six boxes, each containing 20 tea bags, for $17.14, not including postage. The postage cost the same as the tea, so each tea bag costs 1.12 NIS. A box containing 25 bags of green tea here costs about 28 NIS, so the price per tea bag is 1.12 NIS. I didn't mean to detour into economics, but anyway the tea has the same cost as regular tea in Israel. Just for comparison, the nettle tea which I drink is about half the price.

The package arrived yesterday. When I opened the first bag, a wonderful smell of peppermint assailed my nose. I have lost most of my sense of smell (I blame the few months I spent working with a nasty chemical called acetonitrile in 1978 for this) but fortunately, peppermint comes through strong. I added a few drops of peppermint tea to the chocolate milk shake that I was making for myself and the result was heavenly.

According to the blurb, Peppermint oil is derived from the Mentha Piperita plant. Its leaves are collected, lightly dried and steam distilled to extract the essential oil. Potent and great smelling, peppermint oil is a very useful substance for aiding digestion, relieving stomach gas and bloating, reducing the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), preventing nausea, letting go of stress, helping with respiratory problems and stopping bad breath. Particularly for the beneficial influence it can have on your digestive processes and several other reasons, it is also an effective flatulence remedy. Being a relaxant and antispasmodic for the digestive tract, peppermint oil can help stomach gas to pass through your system more easily and may help to reduce painful cramps and bloating. The volatile oil menthol in the distilled oil can also increase the flow of bile and other digestive juices to help improve digestion.

I wish the package had arrived earlier as I have been suffering from some undiagnosed stomach problem (probably parasites) for the past few weeks; I'm feeling better now.

I wondered how peppermint differs from the common Israeli mint otherwise known as nana. According to the Hebrew wikipedia, in Israel grow four varieties of nana: Mentha pulegium, M. aquatica, M. suaveolens and M. longifolia. As none of these is M. Piperita, this explains why nana is not peppermint; it doesn't explain why I don't like nana but at least gives a hint. The page claims that nana is milder than peppermint, although I don't know how 'mildness' is defined.

I mentioned the subject yesterday to the OP, who asked what the difference between spearmint and peppermint is. Apart from saying that they come from different species (Mentha spicata vs Mentha piperita), the difference is in taste, and taste is a qualia (up pops David Lodge and his excellent book "Thinks" which introduced me to qualia).

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Vinyl log 17 - 1 July

DayMonthYearArtistTitle
1July1970Fairport ConventionLiege and Lief

45 years have passed since I bought "the most important folk album of all time". I don't remember buying this, I don't remember listening to it and I certainly don't remember what I thought about it then. I know that my guitar playing improved immensely through playing along with L&L, I know that I was impressed with Richard Thompson who played guitar solos on the low frets of the low strings, I know that the record even influenced my very early songs.

Of course, this record was the first in a very long line of Fairport family recordings which I have bought. Why, even this morning I belatedly ordered RT's new "Still" album. I had already seen Fairport live before buying this record, but that was the 'Full House' line up; apart from "Matty Groves" and the instrumental medley, nothing the chaps played in February came from this record.

I still don't like "Reynardine" and am not particularly fond of "Tam Lin", but the other songs on this record still take my breath away. As an exercise, I have just put the disc in the player to see whether listening to the songs brings back any particular memories; "Come all ye" conjures up a certain mood but no more. Thinking about it, this song is quite atypical; although an excellent calling on song, there isn't really anything else like it in the canon.

"Farewell, farewell" is so modest and so perfect; if one wants to find fault, then the wah-wah guitar hidden behind everything else seems unnecessary. On the other hand, the Leslie toned guitar on "Crazy man Michael" is sublime. Thinking about it now, it's interesting that Richard was trying some contemporary sounds which weren't in the Fairport tone palette - and never returned.

In view of the sad news this morning, it is good to remember that the nucleus of the original Fairport - Richard, Ashley and Simon - are all doing well. Swarb, despite his premature obituary and ill health, seems to hang on. I haven't heard anything about DM in years, which is a shame. Of course, Sandy left us years ago. Listening to her singing again, her voice seems so clean and open, possibly a little vulnerable, free of all the melismatic trimmings which so weigh down today's divas. Swarb's playing too is simpler and less frantic than his later style; this is easier to listen to.

I suppose that this record is in my DNA.


Bruce Rowland, Chris Squire RIP

A few days ago I learnt of the death of Chris Squire, eternal bassist with Yes, and this morning I learnt of the death of Bruce Rowland, drummer with the late 70s Fairport Convention. The latter was not unexpected as a few weeks ago it was announced that Bruce was entering a hospice. Squire's death was unexpected: apparently six weeks ago he was diagnosed with a special form of leukemia.

Bruce was a music veteran, a drummer who had played at Woodstock (in Joe Cocker's Grease Band) and supported many other artists. He was drafted into Fairport in 1974 during the "Rising for the moon" sessions after Dave Mattacks left. He stayed for the next few albums: the unfortunate "Gottle o'gear", the splendid "Bonny bunch of roses" and the hit and miss "Tipplers tales". Then Fairport split for what seemed to be the final time and Bruce apparently gave up the drums to become a farmer in Denmark. That at least is the lore; I don't know how true that is. Bruce was a steady drummer and played what was required of him; the evidence shows that his Fairport work places him behind all the other Fairport drummers.

My contact with Chris Squire was only during 1971: I attended a Yes concert at the beginning of the year (actually, they were supporting Iron Butterfly), bought their breakthrough "Yes Album" shortly after and lost interest after "Fragile", which was released later on that year. On stage he was a dominant figure: tall, playing a Rickenbacker bass, dressed in a cape and pom pom boots. His sound on record was similarly dominant. Yes were the subject of a television documentary which I remembered watching; coincidentally I found this on YouTube about two weeks ago and enjoyed watching it. It contains much footage of Squire in his prime.