Friday, December 26, 2008

New video: The Zamora - 'Harry J (Gunslinger)'

I get so easily distracted these days. There I was reading 'Wikinomics' whilst taking a break from working on a new website, when I came across the BBC's project for opening up its archive to mashups. Excited by the possibility, I put the book down and went to the Net to find out about it, only to discover that it had been a pilot project which doesn't seem to have been touched since 2006. A shame really, but it did lead me on to the BFI's site, where you can also make use of their archives.

A fair treasure trove I did find. Some dusty old reels from the silent era - a few of which were actually made in Hove! Anyway, grabbed myself a few and set to work on my own mash up.

Now, I've got material in mind for video projects for Control K and Shelf Life, so I was going to have to pull out something else that I actually had use of. Turned out that one of the tracks that was written by The Zamora, my old band from Brighton that gave me an early taste of life under media exposure (for all of a week or two), fitted perfectly.

'Harry J (Gunslinger)' was, in a few opinions, the best song that we did together. It was also the track that was most collaborative and so much more of a group effort than some musicians playing along to someone else's song.

I managed to knock the video together in a couple of evenings before Christmas. Better get back on with the website now...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

'The Story Of Stuff' (WN0015)


Two videos today! This one is actually about a year old now but I've just discovered it.

'The Story Of Stuff' is a very nicely animated and clearly presented 20-minute film explaining 'the materials economy' (or consumerism, to put it another way) and how much wastefulness is embedded into modern life.

The film is more from a US-centred point of view, but resonates outside of it too. It is presented by Annie Leonard, a sustainability and environmental health expert.

A clearer version can be seen on the website.

Frontline video from the economic crisis

Here's a report from Jason Parkinson (who did the Shelf Life interview earlier this year) that sheds a little light on the global financial crisis and some London responses to it.

It seems remarkable that while governments drag their feet interminably when it comes to finding the money needed to tackle the real problems that planet is facing, as soon as the banks and money markets start to teeter (having had virtually all regulation needed to save them from eating each other alive), billions upon billions of pounds are magically found to prop them up.

I guess that the alternative of letting them all go to the wall risks bringing down the entire ideological framework that most of the world's 'leaders' have based their entire value sets around - too much to contemplate when primary concerns are more holding onto the reins during short-term electoral cycles.

Andrew Rawnsley also had some good suggestions for better uses of that money for Britain in last week's Observer.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Video for 'Change' now online

This weekend, I have completed and posted the first video made for a Control K track - 'Change'. The video can be seen above or at my YouTube channel.

'Change' is an overview of the key moments of the 2008 US election, culminating in Obama's victory address at Grant Park in Chicago. With bouncing bass, some spectral notes and a laid-back groove, it is an audio-visual postcard from a historic moment on the world stage.

The video revisits some of the characters and key headlines from the tale, then takes a trip through the speech, all in full campaign colours.

When promoting Shelf Life (as with any band), the focus has to be more on the personalities of the members and how they work together as a unit. The video for 'Endgame' would be an example of this.

With Control K, the visual side can be much looser and focus more on images conjured up by the music itself, even explore the use of video as a tool in its own right.

This means that videos for Control K material should be easier to make and have potential for more experimentation than for Shelf Life, which I'm quite excited by. There's already a stack of ideas in the pipeline, just not an awful lot of time available in which to explore.

Guess it'll be a case of 'watch this space, but don't hold your breath'!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Actor robots take Japanese stage (WN0014)

If the world is to be run by robots in the future, we can only hope that they are Japanese-made rather than as products of the US military.

Having seen what Japan can do with robotics after witnessing a robot brass band (note perfect) at Aichi EXPO 2005, I was intrigued to discover today that they are now moving into the world of acting.

A 20-minute play has premiered at Osaka University, featuring both humans and robots. The BBC reports 'in the play, the robot complains that it has been forced into boring and demeaning jobs and enters into a discussion with the humans about its role in their lives.'

What areas of the human experience remain to be replicated by machines? Answers on a comment thread, please...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Shelf Life UK tour report

It might be three months overdue, but better late than never, I suppose.

At the end of August this year, Shelf Life undertook their first ever live dates outside of Japan, with a mini UK tour. The band played The Prince Albert in Brighton and The Good Ship in Kilburn, London.

Above is a short film made by members of the Peace Not War collective, featuring interviews with the band plus footage from the London show. The film is in Japanese and English, and appears without subtitles.

With me already in the UK, the boys arrived from Tokyo on the Monday with a small entourage in tow. Staying in London while I was working up in Scarborough, they managed to squeeze in some UK rock sightseeing and played impromptu shows in Hyde Park and on the banks of the Thames while they were there.

On the Thursday morning, we all met up at Brighton station, for the first time since January. It was a happy reunion and the visitors were notably impressed with Brighton's laid-back hippy vibe.

While wives, kids and other guests took in Brighton's sights, the band headed off to a rehearsal studio to get in shape for the evening show. They had been practising hard back in Tokyo and the set had evolved a little to include more of a Japanese twist on some of the material, with a little taiko drumming here and elements of traditional Okinawan folk there, all mixed in with our rock 'n' roll.

The Prince Albert's live space is a cosy, sweaty room above the main pub and right near the station. It is also the same place that I played my first show with Headland, ten years earlier, so was a bit of a homecoming show for me in more ways than one.

Once enough audience members had filtered in, proceedings could kick off. Viper Suzas hit the stage first, a loose, hard rocking two-piece used to turning up the noise and bantering with their home crowd. Featuring just guitar and drums, their slack but pounding riffs got the night off to a lively start.

Shelf Life followed. I'd managed to get a few familiar faces to come down and show themselves so it wasn't a completely cold crowd, but nobody had seen us before. Brighton audiences, overfed on a dearth of live music in the city, can be notoriously tough to please at the best of times, meaning we had to work extra hard.

This doesn't tend to present a problem at our shows though as we're a very lively band ourselves, plus were wearing matching Japanese costumes and bandanas to add an extra gimmick. To engage with an audience, I think it's very important to stand out from other bands. We threw all we could at Brighton and won the crowd over pretty swiftly.

I'd expected that it might feel a little strange to be performing back in the same place I'd played so long ago, but it wasn't. The band has played together a lot and have developed a good onstage rapport by now. Brighton, then, was just another Shelf Life show.

As usual, we invited the crowd and members of the other acts to join us on the stage for the chorus of 'Endgame'. This proved to be quite a hit and we filled the stage (The Albert having a fairly small one).

The Hornblower Brothers went on after us and topped the bill. A lighter, almost whimsical, folky sound, with a rich sense of humour running through their songs, they were a big hit with the crowd - many of whom had come to see them anyway.

Inspired by 'Endgame', at the end of their set they also invited the audience to join them. The rest of Shelf Life had gone to catch their last train back to London by then, but as I was staying in Brighton that night, could hang on until there was no more hanging on to be done and took to the stage one last time.

Brighton ended up as a very successful start to the tour.

The next day (the second and final date) was London. I'd never played in London before so was pleased to have the opportunity. Although it was a lot of work finding a venue and convincing them to put a band with no British fanbase on, I managed to get us a show in the capital.

Before we could make it up to Kilburn, there was only one place a band forged in a bar called Rubber Soul could go to grab that obligatory souvenir photo. We met up at a Kensington tube station and all trooped off to St. John's Wood to grab our own 'Abbey Road' moment.

I'd visited it once before, nine years previously, and had tried to get a picture of myself crossing the infamous pedestrian crossing outside The Beatles recording studio, but somehow the picture never came out. It's not quite the same with one person either.

Abbey Road being Abbey Road, and seeing as it was a warm sunny day in August, the place was absolutely packed with people from all over the world trying to do the same thing as us. A simple photo of four guys walking across a road in North London should be pretty straightforward. In the end, it must have taken us an hour and a half to finally capture the shot we wanted!

Picture taken, we made our way to the venue. It was a bigger space than the previous night, which was fun for playing but more of a challenge to fill. The Good Ship also has a projector and a blank back wall, so I brought along some DVDs as video backdrops.

Kyoko Rathmell opened the night with a solo acoustic set of Smiths-inspired numbers. Our inclusion on the bill seemed to have triggered off a Japanese flavour for much of the bill, she having Japanese roots.

With two of the original acts having pulled out, I chipped in with some help on filling the bill back up again. Vinyl Gypsy is an artist from New York that I'd gotten to know pretty well through the internet, from the work I did with Peace Not War Japan.

Funnily enough, we'd never actually met, despite her having been in Tokyo at the same time as me once before. As luck would have it, she was actually doing a few dates in Europe at the time and happened to be in London, so ended up being added to the bill.

The music on her MySpace page doesn't give much away, so as well as never having met before, I'd not really heard any representative music either, and was looking forward to hearing what she sounded like.

With a live drummer and herself on laptop and vocals, the set kicked off with ambient atmospherics and some rich, promising lines through the mic. Unfortunately, some inexplicable bug in the system caused her loops to cut out and Mac to die. I've still yet to hear what she sounds like, but if I'm ever in NY and she's got a show on, I'll definitely head down to check out the rest of the sound.

With head down in jobhunting mode for most of the summer and living in a place where singing practise is not too easy, I'd not had as much chance to get my chops in shape in time for the shows. The day before in Brighton, we'd rehearsed for four hours and then played a show (followed up just a little partying afterwards).

When I woke up the day of the London gig, I had almost no voice to speak with, let alone sing with. I sucked singers' lozenges, drank hot lemon and honey at the venue and tried not speaking, in order to keep my throat in as good a condition as I could by the time the show came around.

With little choice, I took to the stage with almost no voice - something I'd never had to do before. We kicked off with the first song, a lively rocker at the best of times, and I could barely produce a sound. On top of that, the space was bigger and audience more spread out than the previous night, so the whole thing could have died quite easily.

I threw as much energy into the performance as I could, no matter whether I could be heard or not. Despite the circumstances, we just about managed to pull it off and even got some people dancing down the front. I'm sure it helped too that we had a video montage of movie samples playing behind us too, making it feel like a bit more of a 'show'.

When it came to 'Endgame' however, it was much harder than in Brighton to get people on the stage with us. A couple of the artists on the bill did venture on and luckily so did some old friends of mine who'd come down for the night.

From the feedback I got afterwards, it seemed like I'd managed to get away with it - to my great surprise.

On next, The Electric Red Drive were a Japanese three-piece based in London and with a good rock sound. Joan & The Shindig Addicts topped the bill, and although I didn't get to see much of their set, they sounded great, seemed to bring the house to its feet and had some strong poppy material.

Tour over, we all trooped off on the Tube to our respective hotels and bid our farewells to each other. As for where and when (if, even) Shelf Life will play together again, I have absolutely no idea.

It does remain an interesting experiment in keeping a band going from opposite sides of the world, albeit sporadically. Perhaps online collaborations over some new material will be the next move.

In time, I'll also put together a short doc on the tour and pop it up on YouTube. Given that this report has taken me three months to get the time to write up, it may take some time!

Brighton 8/10
London 6/10

Saturday, November 15, 2008

New President, new song

Now that the dust has settled a little on last week's incredible news from the US of the election of Barack Obama, I'll add my contribution while it's still fresh enough in people's minds.

The cartoon above, taken I think from The Washington Post, seemed to capture the historic nature of the moment - a convergence of the paths of Presidents past with the movement towards justice and equality for African-Americans. It's a shame though that both of the hands on his shoulders belong to leaders who were assassinated.

The outpouring of joy, relief and goodwill towards America was quite a moment to be part of, almost a Berlin Wall for the 21st Century. There now appears the very distinct possibility that the US will make a more constructive contribution towards the international community rather than the destructive one it has shown for the past eight years.

This is coupled with the potential for action on some of the very real and deep problems that the world is facing, such as the ending of the ongoing war in Iraq (which is strictly speaking an occupation rather than a war, and it remains to be seen to what extent Obama will pull out all troops) and the threats posed by climate change.

Of course, as with Enoch Powell's famous edict, Obama will fail in the end, as all leaders do. He may manage to implement programmes of economic revival, take decisive action on limiting carbon emissions from the biggest polluter and thus set a good example for other nations, and at least make it look like Iraq can finally turn a page from decades of horror stories, even make some sort of meaningful contribution towards a semblance of peace between the peoples of Israel and Palestine.

My prediction here is that Afghanistan will be his undoing. He appears determined to ramp up operations there and encourage others to do the same. The British failed there three times. The Soviet Union's occupation was their undoing. History tells us that Afghanistan is a country that will not be subjugated by foreign force.

Without wishing to rain on the parade though, it will make a remarkable difference to have a new American President with his ample intelligence, his cultural background and such a mandate for progressive change.

I confess that, like many others around the globe, I've been hooked up to news from the election all year. Now that it's over and I can unhook myself, it's like opening the curtains and having the bright sunshine of a new day streaming in through the window.

The ending of the race and Obama's victory inspired me to put together a new Control K song, marking the passing of the election cycle. Titled 'Change', the track is an overview of the key moments of the election and culminating in his victory address at Chicago's Grant Park. It's the fastest time I've managed in getting a tune together and putting it up on the Net, five days compared to the nine months that the last Control K track took me.

I also have a video in mind for it and have started a rough draft of it, but that's going to take a little longer to sort out as I do have a few other more pressing things going on in my life too. Hopefully, I'll be able to knock it together fairly swiftly though.

Check the song out at the Control K page or download it from here. Any comments or feedback are welcomed, even if you think that Obama's no better than any of the rest of the crooks that purport to be 'leaders'. Feel free to pass the song around too, if you like it.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sarah Palin gets caught out by 'Nicolas Sarkozy' (WN0013)

Unbelievable but also highly amusing, Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin has just been caught out by a Canadian radio prank call. Purporting to be Nicolas Sarkozy, Palin runs along with the whole thing before her advisers finally tell her to hang up, after she's been told that she's been pranked.

A 'heartbeat away from the presidency' indeed!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

We Are All Born Free (WN0012)

This delightful animated short film is produced by Amnesty International and funded by the Cooperative Bank. There is also an accompanying children's book.

It is designed to celebrate (and obviously raise further awareness of) the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The film is being shown in UK cinemas now.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The end to leftist conspiracy theories? Then organise.

Was BushCo responsible for the attacks of 9/11? Is there going to be an attack on Iran that'll lead to World War III? Is Obama a stooge for the corporate-military-industrial complex?

In such troubled times as those we've been living through for the past eight years, it's been very easy to come up with all manner of theories as to what's behind it all, and that there's a grand right wing design emanating from the US led by the neocons who are bent on embedding American Empire across the planet for generations to come.

The 9/11 conspiracy theories, for example, occasionally seem deliciously plausible when told that controlled explosions brought down Building Seven or that there was no evidence of a plane found at the Pentagon.

Although it's sometimes been difficult to deny the possibility of the existence of such conspiracies, I've always preferred to take such theories with a pinch of salt.

Yes, it was evident to millions of people across the world that the Bush administration was hell-bent on invading Iraq and that Saddam Hussein didn't have the famed 'weapons of mass destruction' that were used to justify the invasion. Had it not been so obvious, it's unlikely that so many millions of people across the planet would have taken to the streets in protest a month before the 'campaign' began.

However, I've always felt that the march of history has not been one of grand design but rather one of stumbling accident. Could anyone have predicted or even planned that the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand would have ended up being felt so forcefully in the ash and bones of the people of Hiroshima? Not a question that I feel requires an answer.

In every example of despotism stamped upon a people or peoples, those with the grand designs have eventually come undone. Rather than establishing a nation 'pure' for the Aryan races, Hitler ended up shooting himself in a bunker. As Martin Luther King famously said, 'the arc of a moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice'. In other words, bad shit happens, but it all comes good in the end.

I came across an interesting article by Philadelphia-based writer Dave Lindorff on Common Dreams today that chimed with my thinking on these matters, which can be found here. It reminds people that if (as is looking increasingly likely) Barack Obama becomes President Obama next week and as the man himself has said, the work really begins.

The evidence provided so far through the long, dark night of the first 'world US election campaign' suggests that he is a good man with great potential who may well prove to have a genuinely historic presidency. The reality, however, is that even cleaning up after Bush is an insurmountable task for any man, let alone a nation. That's before even beginning to deal with the multiple challenges facing the planet at this juncture in our history.

It would not be enough to simply prepare to be disappointed by yet another world leader that showed early promise and then turned out to be as rotten as the rest. Now, more than ever, it the time to organise, to take action, to get educated, and for people across the world to come together and find common cause in orders to solve our collective problems together. Whether economic, environmental, cultural or political, the peoples of this earth have more in common with each other than not.

We can all do our bit, however small.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

W endorses McCain (WN0011)

I've been getting so bad at blogging these days! Whereas my wife seems to manage at least a post a day, I've not put anything up for about seven weeks - terrible behaviour.

In the past, I've tended to have so many consecutive projects on the go that things don't really get completed except at a very slow pace. Nowadays, I'm trying to actually finish things before I pick up something else.

The blog is an ongoing activity, so this is an attempt to throw a little something out there from time to time, so I don't completely get out of the habit.

I've been away from this blog for so long as I've had my head down in a large project - my first book. It's almost ready to go public, and I hope to launch it soon. There's also the Shelf Life UK tour to report on, which is heavily overdue.

With 10 days to go before the election that is probably going to decide the direction that the world is going to take over the next four years, I throw in here a clip from 'Saturday Night Live' (SNL).

SNL's Tina Fey has spoofed McCain's VP candidate Sarah Palin so well. In the above clip, Will Ferrell joins her with a pretty good Bush too.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Wordle takes on US party conventions (WN0010)

Barak Obama's acceptance speech, in a 'Wordle cloud'

John McCain's acceptance speech, in a 'Wordle cloud'

Nine months since the last 'Web Nuggets' post - this is a blog that's been rather off the boil recently! Just to show that it's not been completely neglected, here's another little nugget from the Web today.

I discovered Wordle a couple of months ago, a fun tool created by a former IBM engineer. Paste text into a box and it generates word clouds, like the above examples taken from the acceptance speeches of the two American presidential candidates. It has rather a nice way of demonstrating the key themes of a text, whilst also being rather attractive graphically.

Other example convention speeches can be found at the original post.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Shelf Life UK tour dates announced

Shelf Life are coming to the UK for our debut British tour dates. It's been quite an operation to organise, particularly when my priority has had to be on job hunting, but we finally have our first gigs outside of Japan. When I left Tokyo, the idea with the band was to try and continue by trying out new ways of working, collaborating remotely over the internet for example. We do have to be all in the same country at the same time to be able to play live though (at least at the moment)

We will be playing at The Prince Albert in Brighton on Thursday August 21st and at The Good Ship in Kilburn, London on Friday August 22nd.

Other acts at the Brighton show are with The Hornblower Brothers and Viper Suzas. Doors open at 20:00 and entry is £4. This will be a special homecoming show for me, having spent many years performing with other bands in Brighton. The venue is at 48 Trafalgar Street, just below Brighton Station. Radio support for this show comes from Plug Cast at Brighton's Radio Reverb - listen out for a Shelf Life track in the stream on Sunday August 3rd at 19:00.

The London show runs from 19:40 till 04:00 and features several other new acts, including Joan And The Shindig Addicts, plus DJs. The Good Ship is on 289 Kilburn High Road with Kilburn as the nearest Tube station. Entry is £5.

Our album 'Best Before End' will be on sale at both shows and there is an iTunes launch for the collection set for August 18th, the week of the tour.

If you're in either town and have the time on the above dates, please come on down and show the boys a welcome.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Control K on Best Of MySpace - wanna remix it?

I'm somewhat thrilled to announce that one of my tracks - 'Eloise Twisk' from the Control K album 'The Front Line (Redux)' - has just been featured in the latest episode of the 'Best Of MySpace' podcast by Gill Mills.

Apparently, Control K was nominated by a listener of the show - whoever you are out there, thank you very much!

As a younger musician, I always really wanted to get a track played on the John Peel show. This must the modern equivalent. While the music doesn't seem to be quite as diverse as his line-ups, it is nevertheless a fine selection of up-and-coming artists.

Jill described the track thus:
Well handled electronica from Japan, which, given the right remix, wouldn’t sound out of place on a global phone ad. As it stands you can quite happily drift off to this and imagine the summer you’d like to be having. Under water.
So here's a thought. If anyone out there is interested in remixing the track, perhaps we could nail some sort of licensing deal out of it. I'd be very interested to see what someone else would make of the track too, so here's a good chance to explore the collaborative power of the Web.

If you'd be interested in remixing 'Eloise Twisk', drop a comment on this post and we can take things from there.

For other visitors, do please have a listen. My track appears in podcast # 35 and can be found close to the end of the file. Clicking on the image at the top of this post will take you directly through to the Best Of MySpace page, where you can hear it and many other fine tunes. I've also added a widget to this blog too - scroll down to below the News section and listen directly from this page.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

UK live promoter wanted

My band are coming over here in August for our first ever live dates outside of Japan. I've put a video ad together to try and get us a promoter in order to organise some shows (don't quite have enough spare time on my hands to do it myself).

We are planning to play shows in and near London (such as in Brighton) on August 20th, 21st and 22nd. Support slots, festival dates, all gigs considered. It's only a couple of months away now, so I'm hoping to find someone soon.

If you or someone you know are up for doing some live dates this summer with an energetic Anglo-Japanese rock 'n' roll band with a well-honed live act, drop us a comment on the video, get in touch through our MySpace page or send us an email to shelflifemusic(a)

Promo CDs available on request.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Next POTUS

'A More Perfect Union' (Full Speech)

It's common and natural to take pleasure from being right. Who, after all, wants to be proved wrong? Sometimes, however, being right is the wrong thing for all.

Two US election cycles ago, back when stakes didn't seem quite as high as they do today in terms of the threats to our global future and American elections were still more of concern for Americans than for the rest of us too, I remember the deep concerns I felt about the Bush Coup in Florida. He'd run a relatively innocuous campaign and there didn't seem to be a whole deal of deep blue water between Bush Junior and Veep Gore, so there was a feeling that it might not matter too much which one became the next President Of The United States (POTUS). Not knowing the name of the leader of Pakistan or claiming to think that the Taliban were a pop group added to Junior being built up to be 'the kinda guy you'd like to have a beer with' (despite actually being a former alcoholic), whereas Gore was just 'too clever' to be President.

The rest being history, we now know that Junior turned out to be a lot less 'compassionate' or even 'conservative' than he appeared to be on the campaign trail and Al Gore went on win a Nobel Peace Prize - the differences between them that were played down at the time couldn't have been starker in the end.

I wasn't at all happy to be proved right about it, but once Junior had managed to grab the keys to the Oval Office, I just knew that there was a war coming. I didn't quite imagine that there would be two, three, many of them or that much of the world would become considerably more militarised than it needed to be, but either a feeling in my bones or an ability to sniff the prevailing global winds told me of more dangerous times ahead.

Being an optimist at heart, I consoled myself with the thought that no matter how bad they (Team Bush) made it, no matter how much damage they might do, a very possible upshot of it all could well be that Junior serves as the nail in the coffin of the 'rich, white, male POTUS', and that he would so discredit his creed by his actions in office that the American electorate would finally be ready to try something different. This in turn would be a good thing for those of us outside of US borders, for when America sneezes, the rest of the world catches cold.

This adage may now be less true than when Junior grabbed the wheel as he has been a most careless driver and in attempting to be the most forceful vehicle on the road, he took his eyes off his mirrors and allowed himself to be if not yet overtaken then likely to be soon. The Indian and Chinese cars on the road are looking in much better shape than eight years ago and there's some pretty nifty Brazilian and Russian ones too.

Anyway...back to the point. I'm going to dare to say it and stick my neck out with another prediction. This may not seem like such a revelatory thing to say, but that merely illustrates how much things have changed over the last eight years.


This will be, on the whole, a very good thing. Whoever inherits the job is going to have a hell of a mess to clean up, for starters. If there is going to be any clearing up to do, it will take someone really smart - not 'book smart' but 'wise from experience' and able to look at things from other perspectives - to be able to do the job well. There is no restoring America to the position it was in on the global stage before Bush, the world has changed too much for that, but there is the potential for the US to become the 'force for good' that it likes to think of itself as (and that doesn't mean military force). It may be that this can only happen when the person fronting the nation state operation doesn't obviously come from that long line of rich white Europeans that have been running things for so long, but is actually a blend of all the peoples that make America what it is.

Barack Obama is clearly a very smart guy. In terms of changing America's image abroad, his election would do that with one fell swoop. He's shown his ability to persevere and win graciously by beating Hilary Clinton in the primaries and then bringing her on board his campaign (she's gone from an attacker to an firm advocate in a very short time), suggesting that he can do the same with the Republicans. There is a lot of uniting needed to be done in order for the US not to become some battered and wounded animal that lashes out at the rest of the world in the future.

This is not to say that he would be perfect. It is an impossible job, after all, and all our leaders in the end fail, somehow or other. But I will nail my colours to the flag (so to speak) and state here that I believe he will get the Presidency and will do a pretty damned good job of it too. This matters now to the rest of the world as well as the US so much more than it ever has done before.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Rural and online living

I'm going through a self-imposed moratorium on most creative activity for the time being, while we wait out the transition period of moving from Tokyo to settling somewhere here in the UK (hopefully London). The wedding is over and that was a major operation. The job hunt continues apace, with that dream job hopefully just around the corner to be more than just the cherry on the cake.

Until that next phase is reached, I can't really allow myself to get too into making any new songs, putting together the scraps of video ideas, compiling the book projects I have in mind, or writing many more stories or articles, as any of these would easily distract from the main task in hand. Almost there, almost there.

In the meantime, there's still a notable backlog of content patiently awaiting uploading and other online activity always beckons. As the eagle-eyed among you may have spotted, I've finally managed a little tinkering at the edges of my blogs. While not exactly a relaunch, this one does have some of the more recent Blogger features that I'd just not had time to even think about incorporated into it, and it certainly looks a lot better for the spruce up. There's as RSS feed button (at last) and I'm proud to claim 15 subscribers since I added it just a few days ago (thanks to Feedburner for showing me how easy it really was). Do please hit that button and join up - it might even encourage me to post a little more regularly!

The other links have been tidied up a little more, with my other sites listed near the top and a roll of blogosphere compatriots a little lower down - if you're reading this and you think yours fits with the Globalism scheme of things, drop me a link and I'll take a look. The posts are now more easily navigable and there's also a news feed on the page. Consider this an experimental move at the moment - might also throw some widgets for my favourite news sites up instead, once I've developed them.

For the time being, I'm back teaching again (at the best school I've ever taught at, which is lucky). The wife and I are are living at the folks' place while we get ourselves sorted out, and it is perched right on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors. After Tokyo, it's quite a radical change. Greenery everywhere and surrounded by nature - a delightful respite before we get back to the 'Big City'. There's pheasants in the garden, owls and foxes making their night time noises, grassy banks and neat gardens brimming with all sorts of colourful flowers, and such a clean freshness in the air.

We're also blessed with wide open and expansive skies too, and some of the most fabulous colours get thrown up over the hills and woods during sundown. The pictures on this post are a few tasters, advance previews before they make their way onto the Flickr site. Seems like they're good enough to share early, so here you go!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A married man

Three weeks ago yesterday, I became a married man, a husband. The dust is finally settling enough on the day for me to mention it here, before it passes into memory.

I proposed way back on Christmas Eve 2006 and it took until now for us to get to the wedding day. Naturally, all weddings take a lot of care and planning but this one was quite a big job - most of it having to be organised and arranged long distance, from Tokyo. Truly a marriage of the internet era!

All the essential elements were in place before I arrived back in Britain, but the fine tuning had yet to be completed. These are the seemingly smaller details that should be just a little 'icing on the cake' but are actually far more time consuming. While this was going on and I was reintegrating myself back into UK life, my fiance was still on the other side of the world, finishing off her job contract, so it proved quite a challenge to get things right.

A key lesson learned (and passed on to me by my best man) was 'Whatever you do on the day, make sure you keep your bride happy', something I think I mostly achieved. Another one that I picked up myself was the importance of an Event Manager or someone who can deal with the big picture on such a big day. I wouldn't recommend moving continents, job hunting and organising a wedding at roughly the same time, but I think I just about pulled it off!

The event itself was in Brighton, on the last day of the Brighton Festival. Always a risk in Britain, but part of the thinking was that there'd be a good chance of decent weather, which we were fortunately blessed by a good run of it. The ceremony itself was at the Royal Pavilion (pictured above). I had a small studio flat opposite this building back in 1995 and was confronted by this grand vision every time I opened the front door. Given that it was to be an Anglo-Japanese marriage, it seemed only appropriate to let it take place in one of Britain's buildings that most symbolise the coming together of East and West!

Indian exteriors, Chinese interiors, and slap bang in the middle of a British Victorian seaside resort. As could be expected, there's a certain ostentatiousness to the building that makes it feel a rather grand place to be getting married in. We were pretty lucky to bag a booking during the Brighton Festival too.

I'd been denied a look at the dress until she actually walked into the room and I have to say that I'm glad I was - she looked quite breathtaking when she walked into the room. The ceremony was an enjoyable and good-natured one, with many people who'd not seen each other in years and some who'd never met each other all coming together for our big day, something I felt quite honoured by.

We took a little 'victory lap' through town once the rings were on our fingers, with photographer in tow (an uncle of mine, over from Germany) and it was a most amusing sensation to stroll through the streets I'd wiled away my twenties in, with a beautiful bride from the other side of the world in tow. How far I'd come since those times, I thought to myself.

People were out on the streets, soaking up the performers and entertainers that were rounding up the festival, and many offered us their congratulations - another enjoyably unusual sensation.

The evening event was held at a venue called The Old Market, a grand place often used for classical concerts on the other side of town. Most of my friends and family managed to make it there on time (hers were smaller in number and the Japanese are very good on timing anyway), but I had a little more of an element of desperation as I tried to pull everything together that I'd not been able to sort out in time. Another big lesson learned - there are some things in any event that you just can't control, no matter how hard you try!

Anyway, all-in-all it was a great party in the evening too. We had guests from eight different countries, which is probably the broadest range of nationalities I've encountered at any wedding. I began my groom's speech with a 'Good evening' in English, Japanese, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Welsh and Romanian, being languages spoken by those present.

One of my mates that came to it described it afterwards to me as 'very cosmopolitan', which was an interesting comment. It's not a word I would generally use to describe the circles I move in, which culturally tend to be very broad these days, but I suppose that if the company one keeps is less culturally mixed, it's a natural adjective to use. Either way, I'm happy to have been able to put on a 'cosmopolitan wedding'.

I embark now on a bold new adventure and am thinking for two rather than one (though I've actually been doing that for quite some time now anyway). This blog will contain the writings of a man with another perspective on which to look at life - that of a husband. I don't know how different that will make things or whether it'll encourage me to post more often than I currently do, but here's where it'll be happening...

Saturday, May 31, 2008

'McCain Vows To Replace Secret Service With His Own Bare Fists' (WN0010)

I was delighted to stumble across 'America's finest news source' The Onion recently. Last time I went anywhere near the online version, it was running on a subscriber-only basis so wasn't particularly open for browsing. This was quite some time ago and upon returning I find their site being all things Web 2.0 and open, thus more accessible. Guess that online advertising must be paying that much more than when I last looked.

Anyway, The Onion shows that America does satire in its own way and just as well as Britain. I really enjoyed 'The Day Today' (1 2) when the BBC ran it and it seems that The Onion is now running video reports reminiscent of that, updated for a more contemporary audience.

Here, in 'The War For The White House', Republican contender John McCain shows off his credentials as a 'tough man', vital positioning for any US Presidential candidate!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Dropping Knowledge

After leaving them loitering on my desktop for months, I've finally managed to upload a couple of new videos to my YouTube channel.

I came across the Dropping Knowledge (dk) organisation through a filmmaker friend in Tokyo that did some work for them. I'm always on the lookout for ventures that aim to enhance international understanding and am particularly interested in ones that embrace the technology of our age in order to do that, so they were a great find.

The first film lays out their aims of asking questions as a means of encouraging social change, while the second is of one is of dk's activities, the Table of Free Voices. This event, held in 2006, brought together leading thinkers from around the world and posed a series of questions to them set by citizens from across the planet.

The films themselves are issued under the concept of 'copyleft', where a user is 'free to copy, use, modify, publish, broadcast or otherwise redistribute any portion of these films, and (is) actively encourage(d) do so.' This is a relatively new concept to me and could be a fantastic means of building a contemporary global cultural commons.

I have always questioned the world around me. What's your question?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

British Summer Time begins

So, as it probably always was going to do anyway, the Japan adventure has come to an end. Six weeks ago, I left the city that had been my home for four and a half crazy years and came 'back home', to Britain. Although it had all seemed so alien to me when I first arrived, I had made Tokyo into my home, having done and experienced things there that I would never have dreamed of five or more years ago. It changed me in countless ways, mostly all positive (I think) and made me into a different man from the one that stepped onto a Japan Airlines flight in September 2003, bound for the other side of the world.

In October of last year, whilst I was actually in Buenos Aires taking in my first spring in the Global South, I was one of the roughly half a million people that fell foul of the biggest consumer collapse in Japanese post-war history. The company that I had been working for, a vast corporation with about a 60% share of its market that was spread all over the country and symbolised by a peculiar pink cartoon rabbit with a yellow beak, a giant that had been teetering on the brink of collapse all year, finally fell with an almighty crash.

This was unfortunate enough to say the least, but given that my fiance and I were intending to relocate to the 'green and pleasant land' from whence I'd come and our pending nuptuals were looming ever closer, it necessitated an early return to Blighty for me - 'man goes ahead to lay the foundations before being joined by the missus at a later date' sort of thing.

January in Tokyo was spectacularly cold and we had a fair amount of snow, unusual for that city these days in our times of shifting climate patterns and rising global temperatures. I felt somewhat cold inside as well as outside, for I had grown to love the place and in my heart wasn't fully ready to go. Still, when a man has finally found his perfect women he must do all that he can to hold on to her and there was to be no future for us in Japan, other than visits to the in-laws and to show the kids the other side of themselves, when they finally come along.

I wrapped up my activities, played a final farewell show with the band, bid farewell to close friends and business partners and set off to hand my ID card in to the customs official at the airport, promising to all that I would be back and that it was not the end but merely the end of the beginning.

That heavy heart sank a little further upon alighting at the other end, as the reality of three months away from my beau spread and I was once again faced with probably my least favourite of all airports - London Heathrow. With hindsight, I got in just in time given the recent debacle of the much trumpted and then heavily maligned opening of the new Terminal 5. Touted by The Queen as 'a 21st-century gateway to Britain' yet described in The Guardian as 'more like a 19th-century doorway to Calcutta', I did at least manage to avoid that level of misery. Still, none of the tubes were working when I got out of the terminal that I did land at, so at least I got a little bit of business as usual.

After the slick, machine-like efficiency of Japan in general and Tokyo in particular, to describe it as a shambles doesn't quite come close to an understatement. I wonder how on earth this country is going to cope with having the Olympics in 2012, knowing too that the Chinese will be setting the bar very high for this one.

Dropping my suitcases at a parental loft on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors, I spent my first month back running around the country, crashing on floors and grabbing job interviews whenever I could. The picture above was taken a couple of days after arrival, when I discovered a nearby mere coated in ice and shrouded in mist, making for a slightly eerie but essentially English looking scene - the likes of which I'm much more alert to these days.

Not having a base anywhere in particular was pretty unsettling as in my mind I was pretty much still in Tokyo anyway, yet my eyes and tastebuds were deceiving me. I took a pair of chopsticks with me everywhere, maintained the good habit of taking shoes off in the house (which makes for dirty socks in England, though I keep this custom up in any country I visit now) and marvelled at how much bigger everybody looked. Still, it was probably a useful exercise in reaquaintance with my old country as I fitted in a number of visits to London, plus Brighton, Wales and swathes of Northern England, which must have grounded me in the reality of being back.

There have, however, been many very pleasant surprises too. The new St. Pancras International terminal in London, depicted above, proves that Britain can sometimes get a major engineering project just right. The concepts of 'green living' and 'ethical consumption' have become completely mainstream now, with organic food, carbon concerns and fair trade initiatives having become as British as rain. 'Reverse culture shock' and no longer being considered 'exotic' aside, it does also have to be said that the British are essentially very nice people too. Even in London, I got smiles from strangers - a rare sight indeed in pressure cooker Tokyo.

Traipsing across the sprawl of London for an interview or a floor to sleep on, I was also able to take in some of the wonders of the place. A look at 'The Gherkin', an amble around St. Paul's, a stroll over Millennium Bridge, a potter through the Tate Modern, all of which served to remind me what a wonderful city London is in so many ways, despite the frustrations of the tube or the cluttered rush of it all. It's actually quite a beautiful place really. Where Tokyo screams vibrant youth at you, London kicks back and wears its old age gracefully. Mind you, it's still got its troubles too, as the poor fellow in the picture below demonstrates. Some things are unlikely to ever change that much.

Last night, the clocks went forward by an hour, thus heralding the official beginning of British Summer Time. After a foul and wintry Easter, it finally feels like spring is in the air. The daffodils are in bloom and a light breeze ruffled my hair today instead of the howling gales that first greeted me.

I have now got used to being back here again and although it looks like it might go right up to the wire in terms of landing that 'back on my feet again' job just before the wedding kicks in, I feel positive that it's all going to turn out for the best.

And that's got to be a good thing!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

'Peace Not War Japan' promo video

This is the official promotional video for the 'Peace Not War Japan' (PNWJ) compilation album, released in Japan in 2006 on Dynastic Records.

The video features clips from tracks featured on the album, including 'Hallelujah Jambo' by Cheryo & The Berovolas, 'Crevasse' by Hiroshima's And More, and 'Kaiki' by Hope - as well as some of the artwork featured in the collection. There's a few of my own photographs in there too.

Naturally, this would have been more effective to use as a promotional tool a year and a half ago, when the CD was released. However, when you're running a volunteer collective, a full-time job, a band, a writing gig and a whole bunch of travelling too, you don't always get the time to do everything that you want to do! As I'm leaving Japan very soon, this is part of my tying up all those loose ends before I go.

This clip was my first attempt at putting something together in Apple's iMovie and the first time I had the chance to do any video editing since 1995 - a long time away. Although I'm keen in future videos to try and steer away from Apple's obvious templates for slick-looking video effects, I'm still very impressed at what's possible with the program.

With a digital camera (a mobile phone even), a laptop and a YouTube account, anyone with the imagination to do so can make and distribute their own films. The democratisation of filmmaking - another moment brought to you by the digital age.

Learn about PNWJ here.

Shelf Life final Tokyo shows

After living in Tokyo for almost four and a half years, I will be leaving Japan next month to return to the UK. It is with some sadness that I leave this place, but also great excitement at the opportunities that lie ahead and a good sense of achievement at what I've done here. I'm sure that this blog will be leant on quite heavily as I deal with the transition.

To mark this departure, my band Shelf Life will be playing two final shows in Tokyo, one of which I'll also be supporting as Control K.

The first will be at Rubber Soul in Kokubunji on Saturday January 26th, the place where Shelf Life began. The Control K set will contain extracts from 'The Front Line (Redux)' album, along with some of my other work and a selection of tracks that I've heard and dug while I've been living here. Shelf Life will be playing material from our recently released 'Best Before End' album.

Entry is free. Doors open at 7pm, the music begins at 8pm. A link to a map for Rubber Soul can be found here.

The second and last show will be at Shinjuku Marz on Monday February 4th. Presented by Japonicus, there will be five bands in total playing, including Cassette from South Africa, and full DJ support. The show starts at 7pm. Tickets are available at 2,300 yen in advance and 2,800 yen (plus drink) on the door. Marz is near Seibu Shinjuku station and a link for a map for the venue is also available here (Japanese only).

Shelf Life's CD album 'Best Before End' will be on sale at both events.

If you're in town, come down and see the best before the end!

See you down the front...

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

New photo website launch

I'm pleased to be able to announce the launch of my new photos website - Globalism Pictures - containing images taken from my travels around the world over the last five years. Although some regular viewers of this site may be aware of it already and viewed some of the sets, I've finally completed work on it and got it up to date.

Since 2004, I had been using Sony ImageStation's services for displaying images from my travels. A few months ago, that service announced a pending closure, which encouraged me to switch to the far superior Flickr photo sharing service.

On the downside, this meant a lot of work transferring existing images and albums over to the new service. On the upside however, the new one is a much better service that allows far greater flexibility, display options and networking opportunities.

I have moved all existing albums over to Flickr now, updated a few albums with some new pictures and added seven new sets that cover some of my activities during 2007 - including the trip to Argentina (my first time in South America).

Below are some of the new images on display at the site. Clicking on the image will take you straight through to the relevant set on the new site.

If you are already a user of Flickr and would like to join Globalism Pictures' network, please add me to your Flickr Friends.

Iguazu Falls

Buenos Aires

Colonia, Uruguay

Toronto & the CN Tower

Yokohama Fireworks

Dance For Peace Japan

'A window seat, please'

Albums updated with new images are Images Of Britain, Tokyo and The West Pier.

All original albums can also be found at the site, including a large number of sets of photos of Japan, plus pictures from Korea, China, Barcelona, Dubai, Tanzania and Nepal.

'David Byrne's Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists...' (WN0009)

'What is called the music business today, however, is not the business of producing music. At some point it became the business of selling CDs in plastic cases, and that business will soon be over. But that's not bad news for music, and it's certainly not bad news for musicians. Indeed, with all the ways to reach an audience, there have never been more opportunities for artists.'

Former Talking Head David Byrne has written a fascinating article about the state of play in the music industry and opportunities for musicians today, published over at

In the article, he defines well what we mean when we talk about music, describes exactly what it is that record companies do and outlines six models of operation for musicians, including ways to look to the future.

These six models are as follows:
  • The 'equity deal', where the artist is wholeheartedly owned by the companies and managers.
  • The 'standard distribution deal', where the record company bankrolls the recording and retains the copyright forever.
  • The 'license deal', similar to the above yet where the artist retains the copyrights and ownership of the master recording.
  • The 'profit-sharing deal', where the artist gets a minimal advance from the label and profits are shared equally between the artist and the label.
  • The 'manufacturing and distribution deal', where the artist does everything bar the manufacturing and distribution.
  • The 'self-distribution model', where the music is self-produced, self-written, self-played, and self-marketed.
The article provides some invaluable advice for upcoming musicians and some very useful insights into the direction that the 'music industry' is heading. A worthwhile read for anybody interested in making a career somehow from music and many useful insights for those that already do.

The full article can be read here.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Solastalgia...or how our minds will be victims to climate change (WN0008)

The threats posed to the planet and its environment by human-induced climate change are now well documented. Rising sea levels leading to the disappearance of many coastal cities and nations, vast numbers of environmental refugees and mass extinctions are amongst the many perils we are said to be facing.

Wired magazine today reports on another danger to add to the pile-up: 'Solastalgia', or a form of homesickness that one gets when one is still at home.

Coined by Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht and identified from the scores of interviews conducted with fellow Australians who have described 'their deep, wrenching sense of loss as they watch the landscape around them change', Albrecht believes that he has identified a new type of sadness.

Wired goes on to postulate:

'People are feeling displaced. They're suffering symptoms eerily similar to those of indigenous populations that are forcibly removed from their traditional homelands. But nobody is being relocated; they haven't moved anywhere. It's just that the familiar markers of their area, the physical and sensory signals that define home, are vanishing. Their environment is moving away from them, and they miss it terribly.'

For so long, humankind has distinguished itself from other species by adapting the environment to suit itself, unlike other species that adapt themselves to suit their environment. However, we mess with Mother Nature at our peril. Perhaps this is an indication of one of her means of fighting back - by attacking the Achilles Heel of our emotional responses to stimuli.

The rest of the article can be read here.

Illustration: Brandon Kavulla

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Back in the UK...for Xmas

Like old British buses, you wait for ages for one to come along and then two come at once - here we go, two blog posts in one day!

Here follows a small selection of pictures taken from a trip back to the UK over the festive season - some wintry, some funky, all Blighty.

These along with many others can be viewed in the 'Images Of Britain' set at my Flickr site.

Interior at Moshi Moshi, Brighton sushi restaurant

Brighton's Royal Pavilion at night

Brighton Pier sign

Tribute to The Godfather, on a Brighton wall

Original Banksy, on a Brighton pub wall

Village wall complete with lichen, Scarborough

Garden ice in winter

Dusk at Throxenby Mere, Scarborough