Category Archives: Music

Squeaky bum time (with zombies)

Squeaky bum time - it's not rude - it's a potato for goodness sake. It's saying, please download The Spirit of Christmas by Fynnjan. You'd better do it. That spud has got it's eye on you. Geddit?

Squeaky bum time – it’s not rude – it’s a potato for goodness sake. It’s saying, please download The Spirit of Christmas by Fynnjan. You’d better do it. That spud has got its eye on you. Geddit?

It’s crunch day. Almost zero hour. Teensy weensy bit stressful.

You know the 11-year-old boy with Aspergers called Fynnjan that I’ve been helping – and you’ve kindly been supporting – and his song The Spirit of Christmas for autism charities? (The National Autistic Society and Nordoff Robbins music therapy.) Well – tomorrow/Sunday – is UK Top 40 day. If enough people have downloaded the song from iTunes and HMVdigital.com, then we’ll get into the Top 40 and thereby attract media and public attention and radio play. That platform will be a huge boost towards the Christmas no1 spot and a fantastic news peg. So all the hard work and support has been working towards that point.

If it doesn’t get into the Top 40 tomorrow, then we’re probably stuffed. Stuffed being a euphemism. So it’s squeaky bum time (as ex Man Utd boss Alex Ferguson used to say).

Charlie Adlard unleashes The Walking Dead in support of Fynnjan.

Charlie Adlard unleashes The Walking Dead in support of Fynnjan.

Against us are ranged money, money and money. And the Xfactor. And Beyonce’s surprise release. And retreads with cover versions. And paid-for front cover advertising. And the corporate machines.

But FOR US – a genuine good story, a small boy’s courage, a tiny band of dreamers and… AND ZOMBIE MAN!!!

Charlie Adlard is the artist for The Walking Dead. He’s ace. He’s drawing a one-off piece of artwork in his inimitable style. There’ll only be three copies. You – or any other fan of his work – can get it for free by downloading Fynnjan‘s song The Spirit of Christmas from iTunes or HMVdigital or via www.fynnjan.com Very cool!

1 Zombie

The artwork is a series of frames depicting Fynnjan’s interpretation of what Aspergers and other mental health issues are like for those that have them.

According to Fynnjan, life has three rooms. Most people are born into the second room. They go through the door into the third room to reach their potential. Children with Aspergers and autism are born into the first room. they don’t know that there are any other rooms. They don’t know there’s even a door. But with the right support, they can find the door and catch up and then work towards realising their own potential just like everyone else. He received great support from special educational needs staff at primary school. He knows he was lucky. He wants the same for other children.

This post is not a plea to get behind Fynnjan or to support him. Because many of you have done so already – with posts of your own, sharing, comments, downloads of the song too, and even donations to the charities. It’s been moving and humbling. I want to thank you properly, but I don’t have time just now. Because it’s squeaky bum time.

So – if you can – please share this post. Or copy the picture with the details of the Charlie Adlard competition and post it on facebook, twitter, instagram or wherever. And maybe we’ll do just enough to squeak into the UK Top 40 tomorrow.

Here’s the video:

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You South African beauty

Nelson MandelaWho could resist that winning smile? Well… 28+ years in prison proves there’s no accounting for taste.

What a beautiful man.

He may have been a bit of a rubbish MK leader of the armed struggle, but Rolihlahla the troublemaker went on to be the world’s most effective ambassador for peace and reconciliation in prison and afterwards. (Though here’s a less rosy view of Mandela’s legacy.) He changed tack on HIV/Aids too. If only more of us were able accept enlightenment.

I was fascinated with South Africa when I was young – one of the causes. So in 1984, when “Mary Manning of Kilmainham, a 21-year-old cashier” (as the song goes) and IDATU member was suspended for refusing to sell South African (apartheid) produce in Dunnes Stores on Henry Street in Dublin, Irish Anti Apartheid Movement members like myself got up to mischief at other Dunnes branches in support.

The strike never really grabbed the popular imagination in Ireland, but it also led to a law change on the import of apartheid produce to the country, and the strikers eventually had a street named after them in post-apartheid Johannesburg. Back then the strike made me proud to be Irish. (Here’s the song – I can’t find the Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger version.)

Nelson Mandela mural, Falls Road, Belfast 1988

Nelson Mandela mural, Falls Road, Belfast 1988

Nelson Mandela has long been (appropriated as) an icon in some parts of Belfast. However, to be fair to the appropriators, the same man seemed pleased and sympathetic.

I guess it was at least partly because of Madiba that I travelled to work and wander in South Africa. Lots of good times.

Among the highlights – taking a street paper seller to Cape Point (he was the only black visitor), operating an informal taxi service for the day round Khayelitsha Continue reading

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Daydreams

Brenda FassieI never daydream. I don’t have time. Maybe sad. But true.

But since you* asked, I had a go today. A driving daydream that transformed my twisting route through the dark wet leaf-strewn lanes of England into a roar across the big bright dry spaces between Bethlehem** and the Free State border. The soft relentless rhythm of Vuli Ndlela by Brenda Fassie (right) helped transport me. My smile grew to fill the imagined landscape.

But why dwell on daydreams when I can see a crazy impossible becoming reality every day this month – and hopefully the next. I’ve told you before about my wee friend Fynnjan, who has Aspergers and is trying to get the song he wrote to Christmas number one, to raise funds for autism support. Well, he now has a proper music video. (Please share it.)

From being written off as a no-hoper, bookies are now offering odds on Fynnjan succeeding of 16 to 1. We’ll have to wait and see. Though if you want to nudge him forward, you can pre-order the song (in two versions – so you can do it twice) from iTunes here https://itunes.apple.com/gb/artist/fynnjan/id728507389

And his redesigned website with more information is here www.fynnjan.com

The issue of Fynnjan’s unusual name has been raised – or more specifically, its spelling. It’s unique (I think) and distinctive – which is great. It means the best url was available. But people tend to spell Fynnjan incorrectly when searching for him online – finjan, finyan, finnian, etc – which means they don’t find him.

What should be done? Change his name to Continue reading

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When I was young… I was a pop star.

Cover Art FynnjanIt’s true. Early morning calls from TV – “Can we come round and film you?” Radio stations. Promotional CDs. Music video. Posters. The lot.

My song was even played at half time Wycombe Wanderers v Cheltenham FC. And that’s the epitome of pop stardom.

OK, OK – I admit it. I’m not talking about myself. I’m looking into the future at the memories that my friend Fynnjan will have. He’s 11 years old, he has Aspergers – and he’s in the midst of an audacious bid to get to Christmas number one with a song he wrote himself. It’s called The Spirit of Christmas.

He spent Wednesday doing that very difficult thing – smiling on cue, again and again, for hours on end – with film cameras glaring surrounded by the main crew and then the “making of” film crew – all braced themselves for “Just one more run through.” That was for the music video – it’s still being worked on.

So what’s this really all about?  Fynnjan tells it better than me:

Sometimes I just get tunes in my head. In October 2012, when I was 10 and had nothing to do at my Granny’s whilst my parents were on their honeymoon, I decided to write one down. I thought it would be nice to show my music teacher, Mrs Smith. She said it was so good that she wanted me to perform it at the school Christmas Concert, if I wrote some words to it. At the concert, I sang the opening verse and my Dad, Wink filmed it.

Fynnjan centre with mates in studioAn awful lot of fuss was made and Mum was really happy as she had not ever heard me sing before! Mum sent Wink’s video to her sister in Australia. Auntie Sarah also made a fuss and suggested Mum get it recorded professionally. Luckily, Mum had spent the last year recording an album for my Dad’s band Buzz, so she had an idea about how to do this. She asked me if I wanted to record it. I said this would be OK as long a I could use it to raise some money for Asperger’s.

I wanted to raise money for Asperger’s to help other people like me and also to help my school to help other children who have special needs. I needed a lot of help from my school and if it weren’t for them, I would still be crawling about under tables refusing to come out. Now I have the confidence to sing in front of my Mum and the whole school.

nas-logo.ashxI went on the internet to see what the biggest charity for Asperger’s is and it is The National Autistic Society, NAS for short. I sent them an email and they thought it was great idea and would support it.

I asked Buzz if they would play the backing on my song and together we sorted out an arrangement which would be right for a single, about 3 minutes long. We recorded the music and I sang a guide vocal so Mrs Smith could teach my Y6 class the new arrangement ready for the recording. I recorded my actual vocals on 13 July and on 16 July my whole class came to Runway Studios to record their parts.

Three girls in the studioIt was the hottest day of the year and funny to think we were singing about Christmas trees and sleighs! During the day the word got out and Mix 96, an Aylesbury Radio Station wanted to interview me. So we did that on the way home.

We all had an epic day out and it was a great way to spend time with my friends on one of the last days we would all be together. Five days later, we broke up and are now at different Secondary schools. Since the big recording day, I got busy designing the look of the website, drawing the buttons, etc, which I hope you like!

My aims are:
To raise lots of money to help people with Asperger’s and Autism.
To raise awareness of Asperger’s to show that with quite a lot of help, people like me can understand how most of you see the world so we can live more happily in it with you.

Nordoff Robbins Logo Landscape Colour JPEGSince then, another charity, Nordoff Robbins music therapy has come on board as well as the National Autistic Society. And 10% will go to help special educational needs provision at Fynnjan’s former primary school in Seer Green in Buckinghamshire.

Lots more has happened too. Fynnjan and his mum Su were featured on BBC Radio 4 (you can listen here – fast forward 1 hour 15 minutes in). Su said on air that trying to learn about the music business in such a short time was like studying for a law degree – but crammed into just a couple of weeks. Among the people who heard this mum taking on the music industry’s corporate giants were some other spectacular women – respected professionals in music management, plugging, social media and film making. Like the rest of us, they were already busy. But somehow they’ve pushed everything else (including their livelihoods) to one side, to help Su and Fynnjan in what, all of a sudden, is no longer quite such an impossible dream.

The director Cathy Jones (right) arranges the children for The Spirit of Christmas music video shoot.

The director Cathy Jones (right) arranges the children for The Spirit of Christmas music video.

I’ll celebrate them another time – perhaps in a post on the subject of female solidarity. Because along with Su, it’s women taking the lead. Not considering it. Not assessing it. Not talking about it. Doing it.

I can’t share the video yet. But it was huge fun to make. (The director wouldn’t let me be filmed. Apparently I looked so fabulous I would have distracted attention from the children who sing the song. Or something like that.)

ITV News interviews Fynnjan

ITV News interviews Fynnjan

But you can see Fynnjan on ITV News – here. Now other outlets are taking an interest. Generous businesses lend a hand. Volunteers muck in. It’s a daunting, crazy, wonderful thing.

Not long ago Fynnjan‘s mum had never heard him sing. Now he’s aiming for the top of the charts. If ever there was an example of what a child could achieve – he’s it. The boy with an aversion to the limelight is enduring it to give his classmates an experience they’ll never forget. The kid who had communciation problems is holding his own in live broadcast interviews with complete strangers. (He even had a reporter from Italy to cope with.) The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

So it’s all lovely. But what’s the catch? Yes – there is a catch.

This all depends on people pre-ordering the song via Fynnjan‘s website – www.fynnjan.com or you can search for him by name on iTunes. All the pre-orders will kick in on the official December 9th release date and – hopefully – rocket his song The Spirit of Christmas up the charts.

Fynnjan and his mum Su

Fynnjan and his mum Su

You can also “like” his page on facebook or follow @fynnjan on Twitter.

This is a post for the Loose Bloggers Consortium. (Sorry I missed last week folks, but you have an abundance of words this week.) The LBC members sharing stories of their youth include  Ramana, Delirious, gaelikaa, Grannymar, MaxiPadmumShackman and The Old Fossil.

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Be pessimistic when you’re young, but optimistic when you’re old

The optimist is on the right hand side of the picture, with her arm round the pessimist.

The optimist is on the right hand side of the picture, with her arm round the pessimist.

Be pessimistic while you’re young, but optimistic when you get older. Do you agree?

I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the message from Diana Athill in her entertaining autobiographical installment  Somewhere Towards The End.

To boil it down further: Be thankful, be appreciative, be optimistic. (Don’t worry too much about being pessimistic at all.)

It’s not just Diana Athill’s credo – she was inspired by newspaper interview with 100+-year old Holocaust survivor Alice Herz-Sommer.

According to Alice, people are born either pessimistic or optimistic.

According to Diana, pessimism or “a painful sensitivity to evil” may be useful in providing a spur to struggle against wrong, but optimism enables one to endure.

Do you agree with either of them? I think I do. Though I also think one can change or learn new behaviour – so the born pessimist may mellow Continue reading

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Death is not “unfortunate”

Meet Siri - more on her below.

Meet Siri – more on her below.

Writing about something that’s both intensely personal and universally shared should be a gift, right?

So today’s topic is bereavement.

Not so simple, huh?

Phil Adams is worth reading. His wife Rachel died. There’s an excerpt below, but you should definitely click on the title and go to the full piece, which is called…

My wife’s death was not unfortunate.

Time hasn’t healed but it has enabled me to put a lid on things around other people.

The struggle, bizarrely, has been telling it straight to a bunch of complete strangers. Resisting the temptation to sugar the pill with vacuous, inappropriate platitudes.

Hello, my name is Philip Adams. My wife and I have a joint policy with you. Unfortunately she died at the end of March…

Unfortunately?

Where did that come from?

What possessed me to say that?

Unfortunately is what I say to a client when I can’t make a meeting.

It has no place in a conversation about the death of my wife. Continue reading

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Music

Komla - pic by Lorenzo Guerrieri http://www.lorenzoguerrieri.com/

Komla – pic by Lorenzo Guerrieri http://www.lorenzoguerrieri.com/

There is not enough music in my life. But here’s my personal top ten lis of live gigs of 2012 – in no particular order, except for number one.

10. Komla – In a Soho basement. Never seen, heard nor heard of them a week ago. Very good – mellow, charismatic, smooth – a bit Eagle Eye Cherry (which is a good thing). The band website is here. (They were supporting the relaunch of the charity Art Saves Lives.)

Aletia Upstairs9. Aletia Upstairs – This Cape Town, South Africa singer song writer and I shared a radio studio. I was plugging an excellent book, The Obituarist, by, ahem, me – available to download from Amazon here or Smashwords for non-kindles here. She arrived expecting to play some CDs, but rose magnificently to the unexpected  challenge of playing live instead. I’m listening to one of her CDs as I type. South Africa can be very annoying in the same way Swiss people are – irritatingly and seemingly effortlessly multilingual. Aletia sings in various languages. (You can see her and hear the radio show – and me – by following this link.)

8. Tom Williams and the Boat – Another intimate performance. Just Tom and Anthony (lovely riff) Vicary rehearsing for a live radio show I produced. It was almost as though I’d arranged the whole thing just so that I could have a gig all to myself. But I’d never be so devious, would I?

7. Adam Beattie and the Consultants – Again, another complete surprise. Very good, including a song dedicated to and about his late grandfather, who died aged 100. (Or so the songs say anyway.) See it here.

6. Africa Express – Baloji, Paul McCartney, Baaba Maal, Damon Albarn, Fatoumata Diawara, Noisettes, Rokia Traore, Seye, Spoek Mathambo, Thandiswa, Tony Allen – breathtaking array of African musicians and some Brits playing behind Kings Cross railway station in London. Assembling and moving this crew must be the musical achievement of the year. You can get a flavour here.

Tsivi Sharett - pic by Ottavia Castellina

Tsivi Sharett – pic by Ottavia Castellina

5. Nights at the Bonnington Cafe – cheap food, priceless music. Pretty much everyone there is a performer except me Continue reading

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