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Chris's Blog Archive: August 2023

This month I finally released the book about last summer's adventures taking part in the Fifty/Ninety songwriting challenge, and it's been getting some very complimentary reviews from people who have bought a copy. Thank you, and thank you! You can get a copy too; it's available on Bandcamp and the link is right underneath this section of the page.

August was a busy month musically, but less so for anything else. I'm definitely under the weather at the moment and I suspect I'm beginning to see the long-term effects of getting Covid last autumn. None of that has been good.

I make music. These days, I make lots of music. Last summer, for instance, I wrote 117 pieces of music between July 4th and October 1st. So many people asked me, "Why?" or "What on Earth were you thinking?" that I decided I'd write a book about it. The book will also introduce you to the delights of setting up a recording studio of your own, so you can do this sort of thing, too. It's called A Grand Adventure. The album features twenty tracks—most of them not previously released—that were recorded during those crazy three months. The book is included as both a .pdf file for your computer and as an .epub file for your eBook reader. I hope you'll find it interesting. It's taken me the best part of a year to write, so I hope you'll understand why this is a paid release.


The August Bank Holiday weekend gets under way today here (but not in Scotland, which had the holiday at the beginning of the month instead). True to form, the weather forecast is for sunshine and showers and as I write this, it's heavily overcast, but dry. Last night the minimum temperature in the back garden was just 7°C (44°F), which used to be quite usual for around here in the final days of August. These days, it feels exceptional. It's been a wet and mild summer here this year in stark contrast to last summer's record-breaking temperatures, but over in Europe, things are very different and the temperature for Bern in Switzerland is expected to hit 34°C (93°F) this afternoon.

I have no plans to do anything special this weekend. The motorways will be gridlocked, because they always are over the Bank Holiday weekend. I've just checked, and the average speed southbound on the M5 past the junction for Charfield right now is just 15 mph, and it's not even midday yet. Further south around Bristol, things have already ground to a halt. So instead I'll be staying at home and continuing to work on writing and recording more songs for the Fifty/Ninety songwriting challenge that I've taken part in every year since 2013.


After looking at my blog from back then I've realised that August 2013 was when I started using Toontrack's EZDrummer software to create drum tracks for my music after getting the demo version on a CD with the Novation Launchpad I'd just bought. Since then, Toontrack's software has become an indispensable part of my studio setup and after listening to the sort of music I was making before I started using it, it clearly had a significant effect on the quality of the material I was creating.

My songwriting output is slightly ahead of where I was ten years ago on this date. At the moment I have 37 songs posted to my profile page on the challenge's website (the thirty-eighth song you can see there is a duplicate of an existing track, but it's presented as a YouTube video with a cartoon animated version of me created by my pal Tom Spademan, which is not something I expected to be writing in my blog this year). I think I'm doing some good work right now, and my friends Mel and David said just that in the chat during my live stream on Twitch last night. Working more slowly than I did last year (when I'd already got 63 songs written) has let me focus more on the quality of what I'm making and there have been several times this month where a song has reached the point where I've simply said, "Nope, not working", deleted the whole thing, and started again. It's been profoundly freeing to have got to the point creatively where I can decide to do that.

And seeing the photograph I'd taken back then of a large tegenaria domestica standing in front of my washing machine in the kitchen made me smile, because some things never change; there was an even larger one standing in just the same spot when I walked into the kitchen last night to get a glass of water before I went to bed.


I've already replenished the bird feeders in the back garden today. I've also put food out on the bird table. The flock of house sparrows which haunt the feeders has now grown to more than thirty, which is lovely to see, and the number of collared doves which hang around underneath them and pick up any seed that drops to the floor is now well into double figures.

The bird table has developed its own hierarchy, too. Top of the tree are the corvids; sometimes magpies but more usually jackdaws, as was the case today, although it was rather nervous and flew off, calling loudly (and I'll explain the reason for its nervousness in a moment). Next were the local starlings, who turned up mob-handed and cleared out all of the mealworms in the food mix in less than five minutes; they never have any interest in anything else I put out and fly off as soon as they're done. And then finally the collared doves and sparrows move in to clean up what's left. By tomorrow morning, there won't be a single seed left.

But this proliferation of bird life has gained the attention of others. A couple of days ago I was standing next to the bird table with a kettle full of tap water, topping up the two bird baths (they get a lot of use at this time of year) when something whizzed rapidly past my ear and crashed into the flower bed next to me. Mystified, I could see something brown with tabby stripes half-hidden in the foliage and thinking it was a neighbour's cat, I took a step towards it to try and shoo it away.

At which point it exploded out of the undergrowth, flapped up onto the back fence, glared balefully at me for a second, and then flew off.

It was a sparrowhawk. I didn't see a single bird in the garden for the rest of the afternoon.


The local electricity transformer went bang on Wednesday afternoon and all the power went off here for an hour or so. When it was restored, my burglar alarm was not happy about things; the lead-acid battery in the control panel had drained during the outage and wouldn't charge back up again. The control panel let me know about this in no uncertain terms, and I had to switch the system off at the wall to stop the sounder going. I'd forgotten just how loud it is, which is the point of having one, I guess.

I've now fitted a shiny new battery and reprogrammed the box with all the codes I was using before its memory was wiped. You wouldn't believe how stressed out I got about not having a working alarm system, even if it was for less than forty-eight hours (and I seldom if ever leave the house these days, remember). My stress levels have dropped back to more sensible levels now that everything is working as it should do again.


But I'm a bit of a physical wreck at the moment. I'm in a lot of pain and the kidney stones have really been making their presence felt since my misguided attempt at home maintenance earlier in the week. Although I'm still making progress on the Fifty/Ninety songwriting challenge, and uploaded song number thirty-four to the site this afternoon, I have taken a few days off this week and will continue to do so next week. Even if I didn't record anything else for the remainder of August, I would still be ahead of schedule when September arrives, so I can easily afford to kick back for a few days.

So I won't be streaming on Twitch on Sunday evening. I need to give myself a break, and I have been absolutely terrible at doing this over the last few months. I've been in denial about how ill I am, I think. Unfortunately the state I am in at the moment means that being in denial about it is no longer possible.

I've still got an enormous pile of books to be read. I have some albums to listen to. I've got the new series of Only Murders In The Building to watch. So I think I'll be able to keep myself occupied.


I am very sore this morning. I have to be careful how I get out of this chair, because if i move the wrong way it hurts. I rather overdid things yesterday. To start with, I did a big gardening session and cut back the magnolia in the front garden and a bunch of brambles in the back. Then I mowed the lawn for the first time in weeks. Then I got the stepladder out of the garage and cleaned the conservatory windows and its glass roof.

And then I pretty much collapsed in a heap. Even after I'd soaked in a hot bath for an hour or so and taken some painkillers, I was very sore. Things have eased up a little this morning, but everything still hurts. I don't think I'll be doing much today.


It's my birthday. I've had a very large mug of coffee and some very nice sugary treats from Belgium (thank you, Mel and David!) and as a result of that I feel nicely on top of things, which is most unusual for me on a Friday. I've already updated my biographical details on my Home Page, which is often something I forget to do for months. WGBH Jazz is playing quietly on the big system while I update a few of the site's other pages and bring the blog up to date.

Not that this requires much effort, however; aside from the page I have listing the books I've read this year, my main pursuit over the last week has, of course, been to make more music for the Fifty/Ninety songwriting challenge which I'm more than a little bit obsessed with once again; I've already got 28 pieces of music uploaded to my profile page, and I have two other pieces in various stages of completion waiting for me to add the finishing touches. I'm a good couple of weeks ahead of schedule to hit my target of writing fifty songs by October 1st but nowhere near the pace I managed to sustain last year. By August 12th I'd already hit fifty songs (and you can still read about how I managed to do that in A Grand Adventure, which is still available on my Bandcamp page. People have been saying extremely nice things about the book along the lines of "I couldn't stop reading it." It also seems to be helping people taking part in the Fifty/Ninety challenge to write more songs, which was one of my goals in writing it, so this pleases me a lot.

There are other things to do, of course. The laundry basket is full; yesterday, the garden waste bin was emptied for the first time in two months (the collectors had been on strike), so I can start pottering about in the garden again. I really need to sort out getting the patio and the back step rebuilt, as currently they are both gently disintegrating. But much to my delight (and as a result of the large quantities of bird food I leave out for them) the back garden is full of birds these days. It's lovely. All of those things can wait for the time being. I'm taking the rest of the day off today. I have a fresh bottle of Aperol and there's some Prosecco chilling in the fridge for later on.


Storm Antoni blew through here yesterday afternoon largely without incident. The M5 motorway southbound was at a standstill, but that's just normal for the summer holidays around here. But afterwards the wind started to come from the north, and the temperature has dropped sharply. The minimum overnight temperature here was just 6°C (that's 43°F). It's a remarkable change from the sweltering heat we were experiencing here at this point in the year twelve months ago.

Personally speaking, I prefer this sort of weather. It's much easier to find a sweater to put on than to try and cool the house down when you don't have air-conditioning.


Thank you to everybody who has already bought my new book and the accompanying 20-track album. Sales have exceeded my expectations but if you could share the link on your social media accounts I'd be very grateful.


If you were watching my Twitch show this evening you'll already have seen that I've just released something a bit special on Bandcamp. A Grand Adventure is my account of writing 117 songs in ninety days for the 2022 Fifty/Ninety songwriting challenge. Yes, I've written a book. The book is included with your purchase on Bandcamp as both a .pdf file for your computer and as an .epub file for your eBook reader. You also get the original versions of twenty songs that I wrote for last year's challenge. Yes, that's right: there are twenty songs on this release, which would have made this at least a double album back in the old days. It would have come out with a proper gatefold sleeve and everything. They're good songs, even if I say so myself.

A Grand Adventure

Most of the tracks on it have never been released before. They're also completely unadulterated; what you get here are the original, raw demo versions of the music, just as they were when they first saw the light of day. I hope you'll be surprised at how good they sound; I don't often blow my own trumpet or anything but I hadn't played any of the work I did last year back for months and when I listened to it again in order to choose which tracks to include on the album, I was very surprised by how good this stuff sounds, right off the bat. I've got pretty good at doing this sort of thing over the years, I reckon.

Because of the considerable amount of time and effort I've put into this album (and particularly into the book, which has plenty of illustrations and photographs in it) I've taken the unusual step of setting a minimum price for it on Bandcamp. But I think it's worth it.


It's Bandcamp Friday on Friday, and that means that on Thursday evening on my regular music live stream on my Twitch Channel I will be launching my latest release. This one will be very different. As well as 20 of the demo songs that I recorded for Fifty/Ninety last year, this album also includes a 217-page eBook (in both pdf and epub formats) about how I did it—and how you can go about setting up your own home recording studio as well. Do it! It's fun!


It's August. This year simultaneously feels like the days are rocketing past at super speed but the months are crawling by. Yesterday I looked up from working on another piece of music for the Fifty/Ninety songwriting challenge and noticed that it was nearly half-past five in the afternoon and I'd been sitting in there for four hours straight. I really do need to keep reminding myself to get up and move about a bit when I get engrossed like that.

But it's a lovely feeling.