Saturday, 30 January 2016

OTAC is 5 today (and yours for free)

"Hey, Xtra Mile?", the phone conversation began, "It's me, Ben Marwood. Outside There's A Curse is five years old at the end of January and I'd like to give it away for free."

Actually come to think of it, this was all over email. I'm rubbish on the phone. Anyway, after some discussion about what kind of 5th birthday party I was going to throw it (a superhero party was agreed), and after I had overcome the sudden, inexplicable urge to eat jelly and ice cream, Xtra Mile gave the go-ahead, and here we are.

Today, 31st January 2016, my debut album from 2011 is entirely, spectacularly free from Bandcamp for the whole 24-hour UK time period.

Outside There's A Curse is, as far as Ben Marwood albums go, pretty popular. It was my first Xtra Mile release, it was reviewed in Kerrang! which in my eyes makes an Actual Album, it has 'Singalong' on it, it has the Postal Service cover on it and even as a man who is often sick of hearing his own songs in recorded format before they're even finished being recorded, I can listen to OTAC all the way through without accidentally clawing my own eyes out.

I'm very proud of it, but apparently not everyone in the world has heard it. If you don't own it already, this is your chance.

Go get it here, and spread the word:

Outside There's A Curse (link expired)

Monday, 30 November 2015

Gimme Shelter

About six years ago I played Union Chapel with Frank Turner and a host of others. It was Christmas. Frank got stuck in France and had to be airlifted in arrive late. My family stayed out late in the bar whilst I ran for the last train. Here we are:




























Look at us there, all sprightly and young.

This Christmas, it will be my pleasure to join Frank at Union Chapel, this time with the aim of raising thousands upon thousands upon thousands of pounds for one of our favourite charities, Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity. I've known about this for a while and not been able to tell anyone, so I'm glad to finally get this news out there.

I spoke to Frank a few weeks ago and made an off-hand comment that I would be looking to do a show or two in 2016, and all of a sudden this was dropped into conversation. I ummed and ahhed before realising that if I turned down the chance to play the Chapel for Shelter alongside Frank, a huge part of my soul would have shrivelled up and died.

The show is on Saturday 19th December at, you guessed it, London's Union Chapel. Tickets are balloted only, £30 a piece (for a great cause etc), Lewis Bootle opens and you can apply right over here.

Friday, 30 October 2015

health, 2.0

Readers!

It's been ten months since I threw my musical toys out of the pram and went off to do other things, and whilst normally we get to October and ask each other where the year's gone as if we don't know, it's my duty to report that 2015 at Marwood Towers (two bedrooms, rented) has felt about four years long. To boot, looking back at the blog posts in a year which has felt not unlike being stuck in motorway traffic, it seems I've treated you to the following delights:

  • An announcement that I was curating some shows in Reading last March
  • A post asking everyone to vote in May's UK elections
  • A link to an Ask XMR article where I gave dodgy life advice
  • A rant about the government

I think it's fair to say that those things are probably not why people come to read this blog - it's certainly not why I set it up, anyway - and so it's probably about time we had a real update on the last ten months' happenings beyond the social media sprinklings that I've been dishing out willy-nilly.

That said, you should probably also know that I started drafting this update in July (yes, July) and so in order to get this finished and posted I am restricting myself to just five succinct points. After all, this is still the intro; a full-length unedited update would probably take up all remaining space on the internet.

So here goes.

1. I'm alive
If you had to study my life's works so far, one of the things they'd all have in common is that I've been alive for all of them, and I'm delighted to say that will continue. This might seem like a completely redundant point, but when I put everything on hold last year I was being tested for all manner of Terminal Bastards to try and get to the bottom of things in a setting where such things as The End are discussed particularly frankly and at least one person definitely didn't rate my chances. By the end of January I'd seen a stream of specialists and the one thing they all agreed on is that while no-one has any idea what is actually wrong, it isn't serious. You could argue that being that certain about something you can't identify defies logic, but LA LA LA LA I can't hear you.

If the hiatus post seemed overly emo, I will readily admit that I was resigned to my impending death, and it was a source of great embarrassment between me and everyone I confided in when I didn't die after all. Only joking about that last bit. Mostly.


2. Mental health is important
In the end, we arrived at a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which, whether correct or not, drastically reduced the amount of time I had to spend being prodded by the medical world which was absolutely fine by me. What became clear pretty quickly was the total lack of solution to the CFS problem as it is, in essence, not so much a precise diagnosis but more of a checklist of criteria the patient's condition satisfies. As a result, two people diagnosed with the same illness can have two entirely different sets of symptoms that have progressed in different ways, from a slow decline to a sudden plummet into Illhood, meaning that what helps me might be useless for the next person.

What people do seem to agree on is that the mental outlook of the patient does have a part to play: I'm not saying that thinking you're going to get better means you'll get better, but resigning yourself to a lifetime of illness and despair at the hands of this beast will probably help you get there. Being serious about mental health, admitting defeat when you need to and keeping a positive attitude has been key to recovery and to that end..


3. Everyone is great
.. it was largely possible thanks to a network of friends who remain a brilliant mixture of the optimistics, the straight-talkers, the relentlessly-attentives and some plain lunatics. I had cards, messages, emails and on one occasion a fucking binder full of well-wishes and it was all deeply touching once I repressed the feeling that I had become some kind of strange charity case. Incidentally, you shouldn't repress your feelings. I hear it will make you ill.

There are too many people here to thank, so let's not do that here. You probably already know who you are, but if you think you're borderline, flip a coin.


4. Playing/hearing/watching music is getting easier
At first I was afraid. I was petrified. Also I felt very sick whenever I tried to play guitar, the combination of trying to stay balanced coupled with co-ordinating my fingers being just too much, and don't get me started on trying to project vocals under those circumstances.

Unhilariously, the problem also extended to going to gigs, where standing up whilst listening to loud music in the darkness presented me with a problem for some reason (normally Where Does The Floor Keep Going?). A list of quirky symptoms still remain, some of which are truly hilarious, keeping me away from doing shows, although I'm sure it won't be long. I can string five or six songs together in a row, and I no longer go jelly-legged whilst walking down staircases, so before too long I guess I'll be able to play short shows even if the stage is at the bottom of a giant flight of stairs.

That said, cutting out the music stuff did do wonders for reducing my stress levels, but..


5. I have begun work on album three
.. as much fun as laying around not doing any music was (and for a while, it really was), by the end of the Spring I was in the process of upgrading my studio for the first time since I bought it in 2002. Out has gone the trusty Tascam 788 8-track which I used to record most of This Is Not What You Had PlannedOutside There's A Curse and, on reflection, not enough of Back Down, and in has come a Tascam DP-24, with such mind-boggling features as SDHC capability and a USB connection. I'm living in the future/not so far in the past.

There's not much exciting information I can give you at present, other than recording started a few weeks ago, rhythm section rehearsals to pull the loud parts together are due to start in the last days of November and none of the songs are about Trevor McDonald.

There are your five points. See you in ten months!*
b


*mostly joking

Saturday, 11 July 2015

South Street Arts Centre, and the ongoing struggle

The hiatus is nearly seven months old and I've been terrible at keeping people filled in. I owe you an update, really, but this is a slow-moving target and so there's always tomorrow.

There are other things which are perhaps more time sensitive, and that's why I want to talk about that thing that arouses us all: that's right, we're going to talk about the recent UK budget and the threat to the needy. And the arts. Which isn't the same.

Phwoar. Right?

I know, I know: we all know it. The Tories hate the arts because there's not a lot of money in it and funding theatre, shows and activities for us plebs to do has never been high up on their list of priorities. "Get off your soapbox Ben Marwood, Reading's Sexiest Bachelor 2002", you all say. Quite why you felt the need to invent an award for me is beyond me, but I'm flattered all the same.

This Government is the pits, but I am actually going somewhere with this, albeit somewhere heavily Reading-centric (sorry).

In this latest wave of cuts assigned to austerity and balancing the books - fine, whatever, let's not get into that here - Reading Borough Council's funding that isn't ringfenced (eugh, that term) is being cut by a third, and so the council has started doing the legwork ahead of their big meet on July 20th, planning what cuts might happen and by how much. There's a big list of depressing numbers over here if you're interested, among them heavy cuts to learning disability services, mental health services, extra care housing and so on. So far, so Tory.

However..

(Sorry. Recently Michael Gove, living Pob puppet and somehow Secretary of State for Justice, circulated a memo that asked MPs to stop starting sentences with 'However'. I couldn't let that go without mentioning.)

However, I know nothing about the state of those services to defend them, though I will happily jump on that bandwagon when someone smart fills me in. The thing that stood out to me the most was that the council are reviewing the use of their buildings in Reading and typically the one which is facing the axe (aside from underused libraries) seems to be South Street Arts Centre, a two-roomed venue (one 80-100 cap, one 200-250) specialising in theatre and live music and ideal for those moving through the grassroots of the entertainment industry.

Now, I can't claim to have always enjoyed going to South Street - I had a string of very average shows there, though in recent years it's been much better - but to close it would be a terrible shame for the lovely people who staff it and the fantastic acts who pass through there and aren't me (like the wonderful Alex Horne, who is there in September). The suggestion that South Street's extensive portfolio of acts and nights could be relocated is bonkers: the other council venues in Reading are the Hexagon (much, much bigger than South Street), the Town Hall (the same size, but with a schedule already just as busy if you include wedding receptions) and the 3Bs, which is so without definable use that I didn't even know it was still open despite walking past it every day.

So, if you've ever been to South Street and would like to go again, you could probably do worse than sign this petition:

https://www.change.org/p/reading-borough-council-do-not-close-south-street-arts-centre

Will it change much? Who knows, but staying silent would just be to give up and given that South Street is a council venue, I don't expect the staff there can make much noise to defend themselves (as council employees in a council venue).

Safeguarding entertainment in Reading is important to me, and hopefully to others too. I do not want to forever spend my evenings in front of prime time ITV. If towns are judged by their individuality, Reading would be one step closer to a chain store-only wasteland without places like South Street Arts Centre, or the Rising Sun Arts Centre just up the road.

These are the first cuts of many. If cuts like these aren't happening in your area already, they probably will be soon. The Conservative Austerity train is heading to your town and whether you like it or not as a country it's exactly what we ordered in May. The Conservative Party are businessmen if nothing else (and so often, nothing else) and will run the country as such. Perhaps all we can do at grassroots level for the next few years is to identify the causes we hold most important and the things we don't want to lose, and then fight for them. This is the way things might have to be, short of some global revolution, which - and let me put this bluntly - isn't ever going to arrive if your figurehead is Russell Brand.

In Reading, the fight for the arts starts here.

Footnote:
All this probably seems pretty trivial in the week where George Osborne mostly punished the poor just for being poor, raising the income tax threshold to benefit the employed whilst abolishing tax credits and benefits for hard-up families. I get it, really I do. There seems to be this idea among some of the financially-secure employed that the low-earning families are there because they don't work hard or they have five children and dine out on your taxes and exclusively your taxes, but that's bullshit isn't it? We could all work our bums off every day forever, but if you only get paid an hourly rate and it's low, you take home that low pay no matter how hard you work. If we really have to balance the books here and we're all in it together, perhaps we should all have taken a percentage income cut together, employed or not. But that won't get you votes, will it?

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Take life advice from Ben Marwood

I think it's been long enough now since the election to come out of hiding. The people shouting across Facebook have settled and will go back to the e-petitions, normal petitions, protests and word-spreading whilst we wait for the next General Election to roll around a few years down the line. I'll be honest - I was saddened by the result, but in no way surprised.

You're due a health update, I guess. That'll be along soon, but if we're catching up on news we may as well start with me being a temporary agony aunt over on the XMR Hub a few months back.

See me answer questions such as:
What happens if you put a werewolf on the moon?
What is your favourite irrational number?
What is the capital of East Timor?

Neat eh? You can find it on the Ask XMR page, dated 05/04/2015.

b. x

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Vote.

Today is the 19th of April 2015, which means that unless Russell Brand accidentally rips apart space and time with his alternative to the current system (which I'm sure is due any day now), tomorrow is the deadline for registering to vote in the UK general and local elections.

To me, voting is pretty important, a chance to have your say in who represents you day in, day out for the next few years. I appreciate that not everyone feels that way, but if you're someone who intends to vote but hasn't yet registered and is dragging their feet, the link is right here:

https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

As if you need any further opinion on the matter, me and some rock stars recently let Punktastic know why we consider voting to be a priority. You can read all that over here, and they even used my quote in the header. Totally famous.

Good luck, UK.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Not cured, but curating

Hi!

Admittedly, I may be no closer to playing shows of my own, but that doesn't mean I can't give the fine people of Reading, UK some shows to go to.

Starting tomorrow, I'm the guest curator on Tuesday nights at the Purple Turtle on Gun Street, a bar where me and a great many of my friends have staggered blindly around wondering which way is up. Since those days it's had a huge makeover and these days puts on some decent shows, and for five Tuesdays in March my aim is to not completely destroy that reputation.

These shows are FREE and 18+. Come on down.

MARCH
3rd: Oxygen Thief + Matthew Greener
10th: Grant Sharkey + Buildings On Fire
17th: She Makes War + Seasons In Shorthand
24th: Retrospective Soundtrack Players + Damien A Passmore & the Loveable Fraudsters
31st: Quiet Quiet Band + Bruce Neil.

See you there!
x