Promises (As The Years Go By)

Posted on 30th January 2011

On the 14th November 1985 I went along to The Marquee on Wardor Street in London to see the first gig by IQ with their new singer. I had been there 4 months earlier to witness Peter's last gig (at the time) with the band, so like everyone else was keen to see what the future held for the band.

Having got to know the band and crew very well, I got there early and was fortunate enough to be in the club helping Lol focus the lamps when Paul Menel appeared. Doubtless all the introductions washed over Paul, but he and the fans got to know each other well over subsequent years. After 2 successful albums,  and bigger success in Europe for IQ, in 1989 Paul decided to move on. After an initial release of 'Freedom', also featuring Tim Esau, things went quite for several years.

Then in 2010 after some chance meetings, Paul started to pull together a new band, and started writing songs that would be recorded for his forthcoming album, Three Sides To Every Story. With John Jowitt and Steve Harris, both recently of arK fame, recruited into the band, they began rehearsals for a short mini tour.

The first gig at The Peel in Kingston upon Thames, took place on 29th January 2011. It was a great night and it was worth the wait to see Paul back on form again. Playing songs from his time with IQ, as well as several new songs, the band were having a great time, as were the audience. Playing for just under 2 hours, the fans were treated to some classic performances, including two versions of Sold On You, after the backing track in Promises played up in the encore. Surprise of the night was the rare performance of Colourflow, complete with a Dancing In The Dark moment of picking the girl from the audience to sing the duet with Paul.

The new songs fit well with the old songs, and several are a natural progression from the days of IQ. Personal favourite of the night, and on the album too, was Little Gorgeous Fool. Don't miss the band live if they're playing near you.

For more my photos of the gig: Paul Menel @ The Peel 29th Jan 2011

File Under: ark / gigs / iq / menel
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New Scientist

Posted on 20th May 2010

As mentioned in a recent post, Ark are back. They are currently putting the finishing touches to a new album, Wild Untamed Imaginings, which is now planned for a September 5th launch date. However, despite the band working on all the tracks for the album, there was one song that needed something a little extra. New Scientist has a school yard chant in the song, that in the original was handled by the band themselves. For the new recording they wanted to make it sound a little more convincing.

With all of us now having families, the idea was broached about have our kids do the backing vocals. Very quickly the idea of a Kids Chorus gained hold, and one sunny Sunday afternoon in late April we all (well apart from Tony and Tim) descended on John Jowitt's abode in Stourbridge, for an afternoon of recording. The kids were pointed at the garden and told to make friends, which they did with ease, almost as if they'd known each other for years, while the adults enjoyed food, drink and chatted about how long it had been since we'd all seen each other.

Midway through the afternoon, Mark and John prepped the mic and got all the kids together to record the chant. Originally they were going to do an indoor version and outdoor version, but the outdoor version went so well, we didn't need the other. The kids threw themselves into it and all had a lot of fun. After recording the chant, we let them loose on the garden again. However, unknown to any of the kids, Mark had left the microphone recording to take in some ambient sounds of the kids playing. Not quite sure whether they'll use any of it, but there'll be plenty to chose from :)

Pete, having missed playing with the Arkie Boys Football Club, tried to drum up enthusiam to form an adults versus kids football match. With John's house backing onto the Park, they decamped using trees, coats and jumpers for goal posts, with Pete, John and Mikey on one side and most of the kids on the other. My Dan was delight to score against the grown-ups, but in the end it was 4-1 to the Arkie Boys. A rematch has been suggested.

Click here for just a selection of photos from the afternoon. I'll be adding more to the Ark Appreciation Pages in the next few weeks.

File Under: ark / dan / ethne / music
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Flag Day

Posted on 5th May 2010

In 1989 I was working with iQ on a short tour of the UK. The support for several dates came from a band called Ark. They came from the Black Country in the West Midlands, which happened to be a lot closer to me than London and Southampton, where iQ were primarily based. Although I would still help out iQ for a good while, with Ark being closer and doing more gigs, I came to be more and more involved with Ark.

After the iQ gigs, I kept in touch with Ark, and thanks to Danny Mayo, who happened to live in Hinckley, near where I was living at the time, got to quite a few gigs. The one that changed it for me though was a gig at The Royal Standard in Walthamstow, North East London. Anne Fox, who is iQ guitarist Mike Holmes' sister, invited me down to the gig with a few other friends of iQ. We all had a great time, and I was moved enough to want to buy the album they had for sale, Dreams Of Mr jones. I didn't have enough cash on me, but thankfully Anne lent me the money to buy it.

Upon getting home and finally listening to the album, I was impressed with the songs. Even after just the few gigs I'd seen of them, I was convinced this was a band that looked like they were going to go places. From the end of 1989, I started going to more and more gigs, helping to unload and load the gear, doing lights occasionally (where the venue had controllers), became occasional driver and generally became an official roadie for the band. I'm not sure when exactly I crossed over from just being an enthusiastic fan to a roadie, but I'm glad I did. Over the next 5 years we toured, recorded and had a blast. Well most of the time. It all ended in March 1995, and the band members went on to other things.

In 1998 I bought my first PC and got on the internet from home. I then began my first interest in website design, development and deployment. The first website I ever launched was the Ark Appreciation Pages. It's often said start with what you know, so I did. The site remained virtually unchanged for 12 years, and although content got added from time to time, in the last few years news and updates began to dwindle, despite having lots of archive material needing digitising to put online.

In 2009 the band got together in a pub and talked about a possible reunion gig. John Jowitt and Steve Harris had been talking about doing some of the old songs again, and put the idea to Tony Short and Pete Wheatley. To their delight all were very enthusiastic to playing Ark songs again. Rehearsals began, with new drummer Tim Churchman, and very quickly more than just a reunion gig was on the cards. A tour and an album were starting to become a reality. As such in January I started looking redesigning and relaunching the Ark Appreciation Pages. The old site was in desperate need of a makeover, and as it was the closest the band had to an official site, it needed a severe clean up to promote the new line-up.

Talking with the band, it transpired that they were planning to launch an official band site. A site that was firmly aimed at promoting the new line-up. With the Ark Appreciation Pages having so much archive material, it was much better placed to look at the band's whole career, and perhaps most importantly from a fan's perspective. The band have been very supportive of the site over the years, and they wanted it to continue, so my aim is to compliment the official site as much as possible.

On Monday 3rd May, the new website was launched with a new domain, ark . eology . org. I'm disappointed I hadn't thought of that domain before, as the old grango address has now found it's way onto many sites referencing the band. The domain name itself seems to fit well with the site itself too, allowing fans to dig a little deeper to uncover the history of the band. And with nearly 30 years of history to draw on, that could potentially be a lot of digging ;)

The new site is now a dynamic site, and as such is a better fit to update content on a more regular basis. Expect regular updates of photos, and hopefully each month at least one set of mp3s added to the site. As the band start to tour again, new live material will hopefully be uploaded too. I'm really pleased to be working with the band again, as they have been missed. The 5 years I spent touring with Ark, helped to shape my future and introduced me to Nicole. I have great memories of those days, and it will be wonderful to be able to see some of the old crowd again. We might all be a little older, have families and the like, but we now have a new generation to educate as to why Ark were such a great band. Please check out the new site, and let me know what you think. If you're a fan of the band too, and have any archive material you can share (photos, reviews, mp3s, scans of ticket stubs, magazine adverts and reviews), please get in touch.

Ark are back.

File Under: ark / music
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Long Time Gone

Posted on 4th May 2010

It has been quite a few months since I last posted here. Quite a few events and projects have happened and held my attention since I last wrote in my blog. And I still have a backlog of photos and videos from last year to get through too!

I did wonder whether anyone might think that after talking about Why The Lucky Stiff in one of my last posts, that I had done the same. Well for those who follow my CPAN Testers work, will know that CPAN Testers 2.0 has been a rather major project that finally got properly underway in December 2009. It's nearing completion, and I'll cover some of the highlights in a future post. Although it's been my most consuming project over the last 6 months or so, it hasn't been my only one. As mentioned in another of my last posts, I'm writing a book about how to host a YAPC. Due to other projects taking a higher priority, this has taken somewhat of a backseat for the time being, but I do plan on getting a second draft together within the next few months. I have looked into self-publishing the book and I'm now planning to have it formerly submitted with an ISBN (the internation book numbers) and supplied via print-on-demand print runs.

Another project that has been ongoing alongside my CPAN Testers work, has been my website management system, Labyrinth. This has been the website application I have been developing since 2002, and although several other Perl web frameworks have now been developed since, to lesser and greater degrees, Labyrinth has had the disadvantage of only having 1 core developer for the past 8 years. It's not an application that will revolutionise web development and deployment, but it has very successfully worked for a number of websites I have developed over the years. After having been relatively stable for the past year or two, I'm now cleaning up the code so I can properly release it as open source. This is mostly so that anyone wishing to contribute to CPAN Testers, or the YAPC Surveys, will then have all the code available to them. If anyone wants to use it and help develop it further, that would be a welcome bonus, but realistically other web frameworks have gained so much mindshare that I'm not expecting Labyrinth to make much of a dent any more. Not that that is a problem, as Labyrinth has made deploying websites so much easier for me, that I'll just be glad to let people help on CPAN Testers and the YAPC Surveys.

Speaking of the YAPC Surveys, YAPC::NA 2010 and YAPC::Europe 2010 are fast approaching. These will be next projects to get up and running. Thankfully the code base just needs a few upgrades to the latest version of Labyrinth, and some work on skinning the CSS to match the respective YAPC sites. All being well this should only take a few days. Then I'll be looking to release this version of the code base for anyone wishing to run similar surveys for themselves. I've already had one interested party contact me regarding a conference in October, so hopefully the code will be suitable, and only the questions need adapting. We shall see.

My other major project this year, also began back in December 2009. As some readers are well aware, I am an ex-roadie. From 1989-1994 I was a drum tech, lighting engineer and driver for Ark, one of the best Black Country bands ever. Not that I'm biased or anything ;) Last year the band got together for some rehearsals and planned a few reunion gigs. With interest gaining, an album was also planned. So this year, the band began recording and booking gigs. As a consequence the Ark Appreciation Pages desperately needed a makeover. I'll write more about what happened next in another post. Ark are back, and Mikey and I are delighted to be able to be involved with the band once again.

That's just a few of the projects that have taken up my time over the last 6-8 months. There are several others that I hope to post about, with family, time and work permitting. Expect to hear a little more from me than you have so far this year.

File Under: ark / book / conference / labyrinth / opensource / perl / website / yapc
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Twenty Years On

Posted on 3rd January 2008

Ark Appreciation Pages

Ark Appreciation Pages

Sometimes it's easy to think we live in a small world.

Over Christmas I played a few games of Hunters And Gatherers with DanDan. It's a game he really likes and the rest of my games are little too advanced for him at the moment. As a consequence I don't get to play Settlers Of Catan, El Garnde, Rail Baron or Elfenland very much these days. Every now and then I think about going along to a local games club, but never seem to get around to it. On New Year's Day I decided to lookup the Halesowen Boardgamers website again, except it seems I found the old website. I've thought about going along a few times over the last 5 years or so, but with their meetings clashing with Perl or Linux meetings, it's not happened.

As the website I found (the old one as it turned out) hadn't been updated in a while, I felt prompted to check whether the group is still going and sent an email. It seems they do still meet, every Wednesday at the same venue. Then I got a second email from Dave, who helps run the club. He'd had a quick look at my website and was surprised to discover that I had been involved with the band Ark. It turns out he was the original drummer with Damascus, the band that laid the foundations for Ark, and I even had him listed on the website! He tells me he has lots of stories, photos and even some tapes of the early days, so fingers crossed some of them may materialise on the website at some point. If nothing else he says I've definitely got to come along to a club meet :)

Even though Ark ended over 12 years ago, there is still a lot of affection and interest for them. Band members still occasionally drop me a line to let me know what they're doing or help to fill in some of the gaps on the website. Fans often ask if I have various releases available. Every now and then I'll meet someone who has seen them live, usually at Edwards No.8 and will reminisce how much they enjoyed the gig. With Gel still playing locally with Bleeding Hearts and John Jowitt still playing with IQ, there is still plenty to keep the interest going. As such, this year more than ever, I plan to upgrade the Ark site. I have been doing bits in the background for most of last year, but I have so many photos and tapes I really should get a move on and make them available. Who knows may be it'll mean I get to meet a few more band members and fans.

Another music/techie crossover moment happen a few months ago when I was arranging some dates with Leicester LUG to go over as part of the 2008 Birmingham.pm World Tour. Gary who organises the meetings also happened to look at my website and discovered that I was involved with Prolapse. It turns out he knows Turk, and used to work with a few of the guys, and sees them occasionally around Leicester too. It's quite possible we've even met a few times at the gigs. I'll be doing a couple of talks for the LUG this year, so it'll be fun catching up with Gary to see what other stories he has to tell of the band :)

In these instances it isn't really a small world, partly as Haleowen and Leicester aren't that far away, and also that both Ark and Prolapse are fairly recent memories, but it is nice to cross paths with people who remember the gigs and have interesting tales to tell. Plus they were both great bands and are worth remembering. I'm looking forward to meeting up with both Dave and Gary, and hopefully it'll prompt me to sort out the photos and tapes I have of both bands :)

File Under: ark / games / gigs / music / prolapse / roadie
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Rock 'n' Roll Manifesto

Posted on 24th April 2007

Bleeding Hearts at The Roadhouse

Bleeding Hearts at The Roadhouse

On Saturday night (21st April 2007) Nicole's brother, Jon, and I went along to The Roadhouse in Cotteridge, South Birmingham to see Bleeding Hearts play a local gig. I'd never been to the venue before and was delighted to discover it. Almost next door, The Breedon Bar used to be an old haunt, and I played many a gig with Ark there. Gel, who was the bass player with Ark, is now the bass player for Bleeding Hearts, and incidentally the reason why Nicole and I got together. The venue reminded me of some of the better gigs Ark played in their time, so hopefully I'll have good reason to go along in the future.

Opening band were the German band Lack Of Limits, who have played with Bleeding Hearts several times, to the point where Bleeding Hearts help them to tour the UK and Lack Of Limits help Bleeding Hearts to tour Germany. The bands are well suited to each other, as although they play a similar style, Lack Of Limits lean more towards the folk side and Bleeding Hearts lean more towards punk. LOL have improved immensely since I last saw them, was very tempted to get a more recent album. Towards the end of the gig they got Gel on stage to help with percussion (tamborine) and tomfoolery (a Gel speciality).

After a short break, Bleeding Hearts took to the stage and played an absolute blinder from start to finish. A mix of old and new songs galore featured in the set, from Democracy, My Country, Sirens Song all the way to newer songs that don't even seem to have a title. I spoke to Nick after the gig and mentioned I liked the 'Ego' song, and he told me that he'd had people refused to buy their latest album because that song wasn't on it! They are much more than one great song, as they have plenty liberally scattered over all their albums. In fact at times, it gets hard to take their albums out of the CD player :)

After nearly an hour and a half, they left the stage, only to be called back for more. The calls for 'Caravan Song' and 'Glad 2B Alive' seemed to poll equal votes, so they ended up playing both. Two great songs to end a great set and a great night out.

The band are recording a live album next month, at Boarshead Tap, Worcester Street in Kidderminster on 12th May. During the last live album, Anarcoustica, Nicole can be heard to shout "We love you Gel!". We even had a placard with it on that DanDan carried around at the first Levellers' Beautiful Days festival. The band have now asked that Nicole repeat her performance, so she's thinking of other things she might be able to say. Whether it gets recorded or not remains to be seen. If you can catch Bleeding Hearts on the current or a future tour, do so, they are a delight to watch and listen to.

For those who might be interested, I culled a selection of the 1600+ photos I took on the night and you can see Lack of Limits and Bleeding Hearts in the appropriate photo pages.

File Under: ark / bleedinghearts / music
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