An evening with The Other Favorites.

This week I had the pleasure of seeing The Other Favorites play a gig in London, as part of their current USA, Europe and UK tour. So as an off-topic warning, this post is not about fountain pens but is to tell you about this remarkable duo, for the benefit of any yet to discover them.

The stage is set. Bush Hall, Shepherd’s Bush, London 20 August 2019.

The Other Favorites are the American folk and bluegrass guitar duo, Josh Turner and Carson McKee. Currently both based in New York, they were friends in school and have been putting out music videos on YouTube since 2007. These, even the very early ones, show an astonishingly high standard of musicianship and include a wide range of pop and rock classic covers as well as some of their original songs.

I first stumbled across them on YouTube, about five months ago, where I had been watching finger-style guitarists Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins, Tommy Emmanuel and Richard Smith. Josh Turner, not to be confused with the country/gospel singer of the same name, has to date produced over 300 videos and attracted some 77 million views.

As happens with YouTube, it keeps plying me with more of their videos to watch. I have watched well over a hundred, many of them several times over.

Of course, there are plenty of good guitarists out there but what I find unique about Josh is his versatility. He is a multi-instrumentalist playing various types of guitars (folk, classical, electric, gypsy-jazz), banjo, mandolin, a lute, electric bass, drums and keyboard.

Secondly, he seems equally at home in a wide range of musical styles, from folk, pop, bluegrass, classic rock, Latin pop, jazz and swing, plus classical music for guitar. His videos feature many other musicians and singers too. And he has a very pleasant singing voice and a wide vocal range, such as on a cover of The Beach Boys’ Auld Lang Syne, where he sings all the parts. Other good examples of his video work are David Bowie’s Starman and Pink Floyd’s See Emily Play, on which he plays almost all the parts.

Combine all this virtuosity with a high technical ability at performing, recording, mixing, editing and producing and his natural ease and likeability on camera and you have a rare combination of talent and ability.

Carson McKee too has a great singing voice and is a superb acoustic rhythm guitar player and occasionally can be found on percussion. Josh and Carson’s voices blend really well together and their harmonies sometimes put me in mind of The Everley Brothers among others.

In May I discovered that The Other Favorites were playing in London, on 20 August at Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush. I jumped on the tickets and was greatly looking forward to seeing them live, as I continued catching up on the videos. They are currently touring with Reina del Cid, a 31 year old American singer-songwriter guitar player and Toni Lindgren, guitarist who also have a huge following on YouTube for their regular videos on Sundays, called “Sunday Mornings with Reina del Cid.”

The concert did not disappoint. Bush Hall is a former dance hall dating from 1904 and made an ideal, intimate venue. I am guessing that the audience was of about 300. Sound levels were just right and I was sitting about six rows back, close enough to see their facial expressions.

Carson McKee, Reina del Cid, Josh Turner and Toni Lindgren

The show began with a set of nine songs from Reina del Cid and Toni Lindgren, joined on stage by Josh Turner for one song, to play electric bass, on Woolf. This was her song about Virginia Woolf of whom she was a big fan having read all her books and diaries.

Next Josh and Carson took to the stage. Their first song, “Angelina”, put down a marker of just what a high standard of guitar work we were in for. This was followed by “Solid Ground” memorable in their video for being recorded at the coast with surf crashing on the rocks right behind them. Next, Carson introduced “The ballad of John McCrae”, a murder ballad that he had written, explaining that the tradition for such songs had come to the States from the UK and that the juxtaposition of dark lyrics with jaunty melodies “tickled his funny bone”.

They then played another original, one of their earliest songs made together in 2007 called “Flawed recording”, the tune and lyrics of which stay with you.

Next they shifted gear to give a blistering performance of Richard Thompson’s “Vincent Black Lightning 1952” equalling in my view, Richard Thompson’s own rendition when I saw him in London a year or so ago.

Then they played another of their originals, “The Levee”, another one which is enjoyable to watch on their videos on guitar and banjo with great playing and vocal harmonies.

Carson had learned to play guitar from his father and jammed at family get togethers with his father and uncles. Bob Dylan had been a big influence. They then played one of their favourite Dylan songs “Don’t think twice it’s alright”.

This was followed by a beautifully pure vocal harmony for the Irish song “The Parting Glass” with no instruments. Then, in another change of pace they followed this with a rousing performance of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”, another of their covers which is a must-see on YouTube, for Carson’s spirited vocal delivery, Josh’s guitar solo and for the way they fall about laughing at the end.

At this point, they were joined on stage for the rest of the evening by Reina del Cid and Toni Lindgren to play as a foursome, adding two more acoustic guitars and female vocals which was a joy to behold. They sang “Morse Code”, a rather delicate and sad song that Reina and Josh had also recorded together for a YouTube video.

Josh released his first solo album, in April 2019 called As Good a Place as Any, with all songs written, produced, mixed and mastered by himself, at home. (Just pause, and take that in). The next piece was “Nineteen and Aimless” which is the first track on his album.

The foursome then played Patsy Cline’s “Tennessee Waltz” followed by “The Weight” by The Band – making good use of the four voices for the cumulative rising harmonies in the chorus.

It was then almost time to end. They were brought back on stage to enthusiastic applause for an encore and played “Dooley”, which can also be seen on their videos followed by “Stuck in the middle with you” from Stealers Wheel.

It was a very impressive show. Given that they were well into an extensive tour, the show still seemed fresh and intimate and they were genuinely glad of their supporters here in London. I got to meet them all at the merch desk!

If you missed them this time, then Josh hopes to tour another show later in the year when he will perform the entirety of Paul Simon’s Graceland album. And meanwhile there are plentiful videos to catch up on as well as his solo album which can be heard on his web site.

Edit.25 August 2019: for a handy list of songs they played with links to each song in their videos, visit setlist.fm and see their Paris show of 18 August which had much the same content.

Off to explore a new Galaxy.

I suppose like many other people, I had become addicted to my mobile phone. Not for phone calls, but for all the other features, particularly looking at Instagram, WordPress and for music, comedy and fountain pen stuff on YouTube.

Since July 2015, I had been using the same Samsung Galaxy S6, purchased on a 2 year contract. When that ended, I took out a SIM Only contract for 12 months and then another. So for almost four years, I had accumulated a lot of stuff on this device.

The end, when it came, was swift. On Friday evening, the last thing I remember watching on the phone was a video, which YouTube had thoughtfully suggested would be of interest to me, of a a man called Luca playing U2’s With or Without You, all by himself on an acoustic guitar with three necks (the guitar, not Luca). But when I next looked at my phone, it had become very hot and would not switch on. I tried to restart it, holding down the on/off button plus the volume down button simultaneously, for over 12 seconds. Nothing. I tried recharging it. Still nothing. There was no indication that it was even charging.

On Saturday morning, after several more unsuccessful attempts to revive my phone, I took it to the local EE shop. The phone shop guy was unable to revive it either. As the phone was out of warranty, the option of sending it away, for an expensive repair and replacement battery, given the age of the phone was not recommended and it looked like time to buy a new phone.

I asked about Samsung’s new Galaxy S10. I had heard of this, from seeing it on a poster the size of a house, while travelling in Dubai recently. They had these in stock but deciding that you want an S10 is only the beginning. First, there were three different versions – the S10e, the S10 nothing and the S10 plus. Being a novice I opted for the middle one. Next there was the decision about what contract to choose. This meant deciding how much data download you want per month (up to a possible 100GB I think) and then, whether you want to make a big upfront payment and have 24 small monthly payments, or a small upfront payment and have 24 big monthly payments (or a million options in between). To decide this, the phone shop guy and I gather around his tablet screen while I try to do the mental arithmetic to work out the total cost over 24 months of the dozen or so options.

In the end, I go for a 10GB monthly allowance and opt for somewhere in the mid range for the down payment and instalments.

I was asked if I would like a Samsung smart watch for a small extra monthly payment. I declined this. In lieu of this, they were able to bring down both my down payment and instalments considerably, as a reward for my loyalty to EE.

Finally I had to chose the colour of the phone. They had black, white, hi-viz yellow (not that one) or “prism green” which looked interesting and seemed like a good idea at the time. And off I went with my new phone.

I spent much of the remainder of the day in setting it up, sorting out email, installing Apps, clicking an endless round of consents to End User Licence Agreements, putting in passwords and then trying to input my contacts from my old-school paper address book. Given that my old phone was dead, it was not possible to transfer the data direct.

All of these chores take your mind off what is a bit like a bereavement. It takes time to sink in that some of the photos on my phone, screen shots captured from Instagram stories and such like, which I had not backed up, have gone.

Another thing that’s gone is my database of my fountain pen accumulation. I had used a handy App called Memento where you can create and edit a database for anything you like. I had one for my classic cameras and another for pens purchased, with fields for the make and model, date of purchase, price paid, ink used (with dates of ink changes) and then notes for miscellaneous comments. I was up to 244 entries (although a few of the pens had since been moved on).

It was useful to look back and see what I had bought over a particular year. Also, I enjoyed having a record of the inks that I had tried. This was sometimes helpful if I had forgotten quite which ink was in a pen last and whether I could just refill it or clean it first. And the database could easily be sorted by date or alphabetically by pen name. All gone.

You might say that anyone who has so many pens that he needs a database, has too many pens. Yes, you could say that. Fountain pen enthusiasts often talk about the fact that pens (and associated accessories of inks and journals) are addictive, just as mobile phones are addictive. And if we are spending all our time addictively collecting pens and addictively looking at pens on a mobile phone screen, then we are in double trouble.

In my mobile phone Gallery I had moved all my photos of fountain pens into a separate “Album” which had probably around 2,000 images in it. This sounds dangerously like the sort of fact that we hear on the news, when police are involved.

So what is the good news? I haven’t yet bonded with my new phone and do not yet feel like picking it up constantly to check for Instagram posts or new posts on WordPress. Perhaps wiping the slate clean with my pen database and mobile phone pen photo library, will help me in some way back to normality.

On the other hand, the new Galaxy S10 has, I have discovered, an amazing camera with three separate lenses, for normal, wide angle and telephoto images. It is also rather good at macro photography. And it comes with a whopping 128GB of storage space for those new fountain pen images. Also the screen size is 6.1 inches as opposed to 5.1 inches for my old S6.

So it is not all bad news. I have only had the new phone for two days and I am sure we will bond gradually. I have 30 fountain pens currently inked but I have made a list of them not so long ago in one of my journals and can just about remember which ones had had a change of ink since then. I think I had better make a new start with a database, to give my mind something to do.

The moral of the tale is to back up your stuff from your mobile, if it is important and you do not want to suddenly lose it. And for what we do lose, sometimes it is not so bad as it seems and we awake to new opportunities. I am looking forward to giving those three camera lenses a try.

The joy of macro.

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Staedtler Mars micro 0.7mm mechanical pencil

Who doesn’t love a mechanical pencil? I already have several but could not resist this one when it was less than half price in our local Rymans.

Recently, I have been enjoying a revitalised enthusiasm for photography, prompted by the acquisition of a new Nikon Coolpix A900. New camera day! I was attracted by a host of exciting features, particularly the articulated screen, the ability to shoot macro from 1cm, a massive x35 optical zoom with Vibration Reduction, (Nikon’s anti-shake), 4K video, 20 million pixels, Wi-Fi connectivity and many more. It was some years since I last bought a new camera, if you do not include mobile phones and things have move on a lot in that time.

There are a few things that it doesn’t have, such as the ability to shoot in RAW, or a touch screen, which I decided that I could live without. Exposure compensation settings are readily to hand, as are white balance settings and colour adjustment. It is wonderful to be able to have white paper looking white, even if taken under artificial light in the depths of winter.

It is the ability to take macro shots with such ease, that I have found most exciting. Even hand-held shots seem acceptably sharp but with a small tripod, combined with a two second self-timer delay setting it is better still. Here is my new pencil again.

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Getting up close with the Staedtler mars 0.7mm mechanical pencil.

Here is the production date stamp on the elegant black and chrome guilloche Cross Century II fountain pen:

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Date stamp on the collar of a Cross Century II fountain pen.

Obviously it is tempting to try the other extreme and see how the telephoto performs. I tried a quick shot of the moon, with a manual exposure and a few stops of under exposure. This was the result:

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The moon over London. The farthest subject that I have photographed so far.

Finally, one of the subjects that I wanted to photograph better, was paper. Not ideal with a mobile phone. I wanted to be able to capture the texture that you see, particularly under high magnification and with a low wintry sun slanting in to add contrast to the ups and downs of the paper surface. I shall continue experimenting with this but am always impressed and appreciative of the professional looking close-up photography that I see on fellow bloggers’ sites. Working during the week, there is limited time to enjoy the daylight hours at this time of year but sometimes it all comes together with a bit of sunlight at the weekend. Here was one of my early efforts. I used to think that Paperchase soft flexi notebooks had very smooth paper but under high magnification, the surface looks more like a newly plastered wall. Most of my fountain pens love it.

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Paperchase note book. Conklin Mark Twain Crescent Filler, with Jinhao X450 medium nib and Aurora Blue Black ink.

 

Remembering Mr Chiu Fa Chan.

 

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Today marks the second anniversary since my father in law, Chiu Fa Chan passed away on 29 July 2015. He was in his 90th year.  He had been fit and active, but died after a short stay in hospital from complications following an operation.

As a young man, growing up in China, he went to sea, working on cargo ships and travelling the South China Seas. He rose to second officer. Later, in China he was to become a respected lecturer in navigation. He was still in touch with some of his former students from decades ago, now all elderly. He enjoyed a reunion with a group of them when he last visited China.

For the last twenty years of his life, he and his wife lived in London, not far from my wife and I.

He knew of my interest in fountain pens and I would sometimes show him my new acquisitions. He once told me the story, that with his very first month’s pay at sea, when going ashore at Singapore, he had bought himself a new Parker 51. Unfortunately the story had a sad ending as it went missing from his cabin not long afterwards. I don’t think he bought another one.

Last year at the London Pen Show, I bought a Parker 51 Aerometric in cedar blue which bears the markings Made in USA, 9, which I think dates from 1949 and so would be a similar age to dad’s pen if we still had it.

People often remember what they bought with their first earnings. In my case, after some temping work in my college holidays in the late 1970’s , I bought a portable typewriter and a book Teach Yourself Typewriting and laboriously set about learning to touch-type, (up to a point), little knowing that I would be spending such large chunks of my working and leisure hours at a keyboard in the years to come.

This morning my wife, her mum and I visited the peaceful gardens of the Golders Green Crematorium, North West London to see dad’s memorial stone and leave some colourful flowers, which my wife had brought from his own garden.

 

 

 

Off topic warning: the story of an unexploded bomb.

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Today I was asked to put together some notes about an unexploded bomb which had remained in the family for over 40 years before moving to a museum.

It seemed impossible to tell the story without saying a little about my late father, who died in 1983.  It is not about fountain pens but there is a little about collecting things. And so here is an abridged version.

The story of dad’s bomb.

My late father was born in Ealing in 1929, and grew up in Hangar Lane, West London. He was ten years old when the Second World War broke out in 1939 and remained with his parents throughout the war.

From the 1950’s until 1974 (when made redundant) he worked for Ultra Electronics, in Perivale as a general and electrical maintenance engineer. He then moved to a similar position at EMI in Ruislip. He had left school with minimal qualifications but was very practical and experienced at making and fixing equipment.

One of his main hobbies was target shooting. He had a firearms licence and always kept a variety of pistols and rifles, which he would shoot at Bisley or our local gun club, often bringing me with him from a young age. He also had a few old muzzle-loading flintlocks and percussion cap pistols and one which he had built himself. He enjoyed casting his own bullets in lead, in his garage. He also built a small cannon on a wooden carriage, which he fired in the garden at midnight every new year’s eve to see the new year in.

He collected old incendiary bombs and tall, brass anti-tank shell cases, which, along with his cannons and large jagged pieces of shrapnel, were arranged on the floor around our TV set.

Against this background, the largest item in his collection was an unexploded German 500 pound bomb. As I recall, he got this in the mid 1970’s from an industrial estate, possibly near Perivale or Kew, West London where, probably since the war,  it had served as a speed limit bollard, standing upright by the roadside, with its base set in a car tyre filled with cement. It was painted white with the speed restriction painted in black figures, for vehicles entering the estate.

I remember going in the car with him, to collect it. I have a vague recollection of him telling me that he had heard the bomb fall during the war. I suppose if you heard a bomb falling, you would wait for the explosion and if none came, you would be curious to find where it had landed.

I cannot recall now how he knew it was there or why it was being disposed of. Perhaps the site was being redeveloped and he might well have simply asked whether he could have it.  I believe we went there in his grey Vauxhall Cresta Deluxe, a 1966 model, which he had bought second hand with part of his redundancy money and so it would have been around 1974 or shortly after.  The bomb went in the large boot of the car. I imagine we left the plinth behind.

At home, he set about cleaning it up, at the back of the garden, near his bonfire patch behind the garage.  He was confident that it was safe. The cylindrical metal detonator device had been removed. He had read several books about the various types of detonators and tense stories of bomb disposal work, on UXB’s (unexploded bombs).

Originally there would have been metal tail fins on the bomb but these had long since gone. He was able to access the inside of the bomb case, through its base. It was largely empty, the explosives having been removed but there were vestiges of this (TNT perhaps) around the inside, which he chipped away and which came out in thick, rusty brown clumps. These, he assured me, were quite safe and he chucked them on his bonfire, where they fizzled and spat a little.

Once satisfied that he had got the inside as clean as he could, he gave it a new coat of paint, in British Racing Green. He then made a sturdy wooden cradle for it and a bench seat at the top (pictured). For the next 15 years or so, it remained in our house in Ickenham, either as a seat around the dining table or latterly, in the hallway beneath the coat pegs.  We enjoyed having it. It was a rather different and eccentric, to have a 500 pound bomb in the house.

Dad died in 1983. The bomb stayed in the house until my mother moved some six years later and since then has been in the wider family, in the custody of my aunt until she also moved house in 2016 and then my cousin. Now, having survived for over 70 years in these various unexpected roles, it will be great for the bomb to move to a museum.