Friday, 24 September 2010

; )

Today, I explained the awesome power of the semicolon to my ten year old students; I felt the time was right.

If I achieve nothing else as a teacher, I hope that I've played some small part in triggering the resurgence of that most undervalued and misunderstood of punctuation marks.  So elegant; so versatile; so addictive; so intimidating.

And I mean intimidating; if I write a letter of complaint I never fail to include a couple of semicolons.  My reasoning is that, as it seems that most people can't quite remember what they are for, when they see one in your writing they immediately assume you are well educated, intelligent and not to be trifled with.  This is, of course, rubbish.  Any tit can use one without too much effort at all; I don't know much more about grammar than what is required to teach ten year old children.  However, I have found the little semicolon to be devastatingly effective; it is the quick flurry of jabs before you deliver the knock-out right hook.

So far, my trusty semicolon has delivered a full and frank apology from a major car hire company and a no-questions-asked payout from an insurance company in cash, to name but two and not mentioning the scores of quailing and intimidated people at the sharp end of some pointed grammar.

So, get involved!  Join independent but related clauses!  Create lists!

Just think of the semicolon as a more cuddly and less severe full stop.  You could just join two sentences that you want to group together.  For example:

Just think of the semicolon as a more cuddly and less severe full stop; you could just join two sentences that you want to group together.

Isn't that nice?  So graceful and sleek.  I love 'em.

The top tip I give my students is this: think of a sentence that consists of two clauses joined with the word 'because'.  For example:

I feel sick because I have eaten too many chips.

That sentence is made out of two smaller potential sentences, "I feel sick" and "I have eaten too many chips".  Either could exist on its own.  If you take out the 'because' that is holding them together and swap it with a semicolon it looks like this:

I feel sick; I have eaten too many chips.

So much more distinguished.  The 'because' trick, as we call it, is pretty much foolproof and rarely goes wrong.*  Your writing immediately looks more sophisticated and you look more learned; people take you more seriously and are more likely to do as you say.

I get the kids at school to go home and ask their parents how to use a semicolon; the answers that come back are always very entertaining, and the salt-of-the-earth kids in my class love being able to out punctuate the older generation.  Anyone of my generation (I'm 35 and a product of the creative writing, anti-grammar fads of 70s and 80s education) is unlikely to feel confident about using one.  In fact, many language experts worry that it may soon disappear altogether.  We could soon live in a world where the only echo of the semicolon's glorious and debonair history is the cheeky wink symbol I've used as the title to this post.  That would be a shame and a real loss.  Witness how mastering the semicolon's simple rules is quite a thrill to young kids; they suddenly feel like they are in control and even masters of their often baffling and frustrating mother tongue.  I love to see bad lads that are so often reluctant to get into writing suddenly get a bad case of semicolon fever: "The ball hit the net; the shot was unstoppable".

The Americans love a bit of the semicolon (although they too are worried about its future) and we could learn a thing or two from them by getting them back out of the punctuation box, blowing off the dust and employing them to devastating effect.  Just be careful: one can easily overdo it (as I have intentionally done here by way of illustration) and look like the worst kind of sanctimonious grammar bully.  Less is more: it's all about considered and effective timing.

Use semicolons; they make you sexy.

*Please note that there is absolutely no way that you can use a comma in place of the semicolon in that example sentence.  Commas can never join sentences.  If a full stop could work there, a comma never will.  That would be a comma splice, one of the few offences along with treason and drawing spectacles on the Queen's face on stamps that is still punishable by death.  At least that's what I tell children.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Is it wrong to love another man?

This video replaces the original one that I posted, removed from YouTube for some reason or other.  It's the same performance, but you need to go to about 1:25 to find it.  Or you could just watch the whole thing.

I love Pino.  If you're a regular here, you should know this by now.  Here are some of the main reasons I love him so:
  • He is a bass player;
  • He is a bloody good bass player;
  • He is playing a Fender Jaguar bass here, which is, let me tell you, very cool;
  • He's quite unassuming and nice;
  • The variety of music he plays is - in all honesty - truly staggering.  If you've got spotify, you may like to have a goosey gander at this.  If not, then you'll have to take my word for it;
  • He looks a bit like Jasper Carrott;
  • He's Welsh.

Enough said.

This track is from a live performance with French "smooth jazz" pianist Philippe Saisse and session drummer par excellence Simon Phillips.  PSP is a trio they formed to express themselves a bit and write material to showcase some of their strengths as players.  OK, it's a bit cheesy.  OK, it's a bit nerdy.  But, do you know what?  I don't give even the slightest bit of one.  And nor should you; this is brilliant music and brilliant musicianship, even if it is probably the direct inverse of cool.  Pino's playing is stupendous; the way he uses his right hand - one finger on each string with thumb on the E - is ridiculously hard to do without sounding like a sponge being hit with a slightly gone-off cucumber, but he manages to get attack and power all the same.  Amazing.

He doesn't over play.  He doesn't show off.  He's a proper bass player, not one of those "LOOK AT ME!" players.  He sits in the pocket, keeping everyone in order, doing his job.  But, every now and then, he sticks in a fill or flourish that is truly breathtaking.  I shall resist and not list them all with a ludicrously geeky description of each like the last time I eulogised Mr Palladino.  Just watch and find them for yourself.

(Though, if you ask me, I will tell you.  That is a warning you ignore at your peril.)

The other two dudes are pretty good too.  Well done them for providing a context for the king of all bassists to perform.  I salute them.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

One, two, three, eleven.

You may or may not be familiar with the works of The Swiss.  If you are, then the video above will - hopefully - bring a nostalgic smile to your deranged features.  The tippy-toed dance of Don't Meditate In Such a Way was the band's hallmark.  They would labour for hours over some of the most intense, uncompromising and mildly irritating music that could be created, unleash it on an unsuspecting public and, coup de grace delivered, would stand back and gauge the punters' reaction.

"I like the funny dance you do in that funny song", was far and away the most common comment on our work.

Ho hum.

We (for it was a band comprising Stewart Ford, Nigel Savage, Gareth Hamer and me) didn't mind though.  The band was envisaged as an antidote to the shoe gazing, self-important and largely humourless music scene we'd all had more than our fair share of.  We were serious about our music but had problems taking ourselves seriously.  You've got to enjoy yourself haven't you?

The Swiss, alas, are no more.  Or are they?  You can never tell with The Swiss; often no gigs happen for years at a stretch, and then, for reasons that are unknowable, suddenly a couple will come along at once.  However, Stew Ford, the main song writing force of the band is so utterly and unstoppably prolific that it is not long before more of his musical world leaks out into the open.  He has recently released a record of his own songs entitled Silence Is Golden.  It is a brilliantly intricate work that is very different from the apocalyptic sound of The Swiss; guitars are bell-like rather than guttural, rhythms dance rather than stampede.  You can recognise the Stewness though: guitar and bass parts woven together that, if untwined, would make no sense on their own, time signatures that are so devilishly complicated it's best not to think about them too hard.

Though think about them I must.  Stew is playing some of the songs off Silence Is Golden, and despite his immense, multi-instrumental talents, needs people to play the bits he hasn't got enough hands for.  So he asked some old Swissmen and Robin Mitchell - a trusted friend of the band and massively talented musician in his own right - to help him out.  This means that I've been doing a lot of counting to eleven recently...

Tightrope.mp3 by Stewart Ford

...and trying to replicate the mid-range growl of a Ford bassline. Not easy, I can tell you.  But refreshing to play music that challenges and makes me think.

The gig is at St. Paul's church, Coronation Road in Bedminster on Saturday 18th September. I think it starts at 6.30pm. Do come and help me count to eleven.

And, following the ancient Swiss custom when departing, I leave you with this: