Haiku for the New Year (2022)

Poetry & Writing

Here’s two haiku to start the year off. The first distills my hope that I’ll get out more and meet my friends more often this coming year. But of course, it all depends on this ongoing pandemic:

Twenty Twenty-two

Might I see more friends this year?

Coming months will tell

And one on the unseasonably warm weather we had on New Year’s Day here in Northumberland:

No wind, mild and bright

Warmest New Year on record

It didn’t last long

Wherever you are, make the best you can of 2022 and go easy on yourself. It’s been hard at times, we all know, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Just take care of yourself in the mean time.

Until we meet again…

Happy New Year, everyone. Here are some resolutions for guitarists (reblog for 2022)

Advice & Tips

Hi all and welcome to 2022! You may have noticed that things have been a little quiet on this blog for the last few months. This is for a number of reasons, but don’t panic – I’m fine, just incredibly busy! Expect more posts in this new year, as well as updates on exciting new projects I’ve been working on. In the meantime, here’s a slightly rejigged post on New Year’s resolutions from a few years back. I hope you enjoy it! Until next time...

As a general rule, I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. My philosophy is that changes can be made at any time, so why wait until January?

However, there is something about the end of a year which causes us all to reflect on the previous twelve months and start focusing on our plans for the next twelve. For us working musicians, this would usually mean that we have reached the end of one of our peak times, the ‘Christmas Party Season’. For over a decade (pre-pandemic), I ended the year with a NYE gig. However, for obvious reasons, things have been a little quieter by comparison, which gives us time to ponder on the gigs we’ve enjoyed, what we didn’t enjoy, and what we hope to change for the new year.

So, with that in mind, here are a few of my suggestions for guitar-related resolutions for musicians looking to grow as better musicians in the coming year:

Learn a new style

Always wanted to start learning those jazz chord voicings? Perhaps you keep meaning to work on your reggae & ska rhythm playing? Or your country picking? Blues slide? The list goes on…

Take the time to work on these new genres & styles of playing. We are very fortunate to live in a time where we can access a world of free tutorials on the Internet, or videos in YouTube. However, don’t rule out the possibility of taking lessons to focus on specific areas – working one to one with an experienced guitar tutor does wonders for improving your playing!

Mix things up

Learning a style doesn’t mean you have to abandon all you know & travel the world playing strictly Django/gypsy jazz for the rest of your life (though I imagine there are plenty of worse ways to live)!

Have you found that the majority if your playing has been on acoustic guitar? Trying swapping to electric more often (or vice versa). Do you always practise at the same time of day? If possible, can you change to a different time? Your brain operates differently throughout the day – you may well find yourself going down very different musical avenues simply by switching from a morning to an afternoon practice session.

Sometimes learning to play a song you are very familiar with in a new style works brilliantly in helping your playing. Not only do you freshen up material which might be getting a bit stale, but you’ll have a safer means of exploring new options in your guitar playing.

One area of guitar playing I can’t recommend highly enough is solo performance. By this, I don’t mean the lead guitar solo in a song, but playing the melody, harmony, rhythms, etc on one unaccompanied guitar. It’s something a piano player wouldn’t think twice about, but I’m frequently amazed at how many guitarists simply haven’t tried it properly! If you’re unsure about how to start doing this, there are several books, online tutorials (like this blog!), and of course YouTube videos to help inspire you. Which brings us nicely in to…

Widen your horizons

Music is a language. Even when playing on your own, you are creating sounds for yourself to hear, effectively taking to yourself. But there’s only so long you can do that before you end up going round in circles, or going crazy!

Set yourself the following challenge for the year: discover a new artist each month. Learn from what you hear. Take examples of their playing & try to incorporate it into your own. It can only make you a better guitarist! The beauty of this is that you don’t have to focus on other guitar players. In fact, it might be better not to! Many of the jazz & Blues guitarists I admire take inspiration for their improvisational playing from horn players, translating their melodies & ideas into their own instrument. Try it!

It also helps to get out amongst other musicians, jam, join or start a new band, particularly in a new style. It also goes further than this – always wanted to sing while playing? Start! Learning a new instrument? Do it! The best way out of a rut is to climb upwards!

Get your music ‘out there’

…And if you’re meeting new musicians & launching new projects, you’re already doing this. Go to more live gigs and make sure you perform live yourself more often (when you can), especially new and original music. I know all too well how easy it is to get stuck in one ‘world’ for longer than you might like, finding it hard to make the time to do other things, but I promise it’s worth the effort.

Remember to have fun while you’re out there expanding your guitar playing horizons!

To finish off, allow me to wish you all the very best of health & happiness for the New Year! Let’s make 2022 – like every year – a great year for music, for the guitar, and for you!

Please do get in touch to tell me what your own guitar/music new year resolutions are, and stay in touch to let me know how you’re getting on with them! Tim xx

2021 in books: Roman history special (July-September)

Books

Well, here we are again. This summer has been very busy and at times, very difficult. But there were books, just not as many as I liked. I didn’t mean to take such a deep dive into Roman history in the last few months, but the first book on my list set me off down a path where the (rare) free reading time I had over the summer was largely spent in the Mediterranean past…

Ancient Rome: the rise and fall of an empire by Simon Baker (BBC Books, 2006)

Something of a primer for those new to the subject, this book nonetheless features plenty of interesting information for everyone. Originally published to accompany a BBC series, Baker moves from one period to another, with little linking these areas of focus, which can feel a little disjointed at times.

Baker devotes each chapter to one life in particular, such as Julius Caesar or Constantine. Here, we see a classic example of the Great Man theory of history, in which stories of the past are told through the prism of one man. The downside of this is that readers can be left with the feeling that these individuals were predestined for greatness, which is almost never a forgone conclusion, and indeed only a stance that one can take when looking back on a life that has long since ended.

Nowadays, I prefer books which can take into account the lives of the society in which these so-called ‘great men’ were able to rise to power. Luckily, the following titles have tried to steer more closely to the ‘bigger picture’ approach, to varying degrees of success…

Rubicon: the triumph and tragedy of the Roman Republic by Tom Holland (2003, Abacus)

This one was a welcome re-read. Rubicon is one of my favourite books on Roman history, and Holland one of my favourite historical writers. This books centres in the era Ancient Rome moved from a republic almost half a millennium old to a dictatorship, then empire under the rule of one man for the first time since their hated olden days of kings.

Interwoven into this narrative history are the letters of famous orator Cicero, accounts of the civil wars that gave rise to Augustus (Rome’s first ever First Citizen – Julius Ceasar was only ever ‘dictator for life’), the surrounding empire, wives, slaves, lovers and celebrity chefs. There’s humour and reasoning beyond the usual ‘dates & battles’ format many of us might be used to in history books.

Holland has a knack for presenting his well researched stories in an engaging manner (I have previously reviewed one of his shorter books on Atherstan of England here). However, I mainly read this book again to refresh myself of the historical circumstances in which the next book commences…

Dynasty: the rise and fall of the house of Ceasar by Tom Holland (2015, Abacus)

Rome’s shift from republic to monarchy-in-all-but-name was more piecemeal than some might think. From the pretentions of Julius Ceasar to the encroaching laws which gradually secured the long-term ambitions of Augustus, the path to a (sort of) hereditary title of Emperor, took a few generations to form. This book examines the family line from Julius to Nero. Six rulers who changed the way Rome was governed – the Julio-Claudian Dynasty.

In relating the key events, relationships and bizarre behaviour of these first emporors, Holland also shows us a reflection of the people of Rome itself. He reminds us that the outrageous rumours surrounding the Ceasars survive because that was what the public and historians of the era wanted to believe and disseminate. To some extent, he argues that the lives of the Ceasars, as we know them today through surviving sources, offers a glimpse into the psyche of the empire’s people, and fleshed out the book’s six chapters with examples of customs and lifestyles which changed alongside – or as a result of – their changed system of government.

As always, Holland wears background and humour into the classical sources, making this another riveting and informative read fom the mater of narrative history. Highly recommended.

A note on early sources

The books I am reading were all published this millenium, and rely on scant surving materials from many centuries ago. These few works (or parts thereof) are likely to represent less than 1% of the writng that was made at the time during or following the lives of the Ceasers and thir contemporaries. Can you imagine how differenty these lives would be iewed if we had a less narrow picture through which to study them?

However, it is worth mentioning at this point are three histories widely used as sources again and again for works on the Roman Empire around the time the Caesars. Despite their political or personal biases, they are fascinating reading in and of themselves. Additionally, apart from surviving correspondence written by prominent men of the time – poets and statesman alike – they remain the closest writings to the actual events being chronicled. You should check them out. They are:

  • Tacitus: Roman historian AND politian (lived 56CE-120CE). His Histories and Annals cover Emporors Tiberius to Nero, as well as the year of the four Emporors which followed Nero’s death. He pays particular attention to the invasions of Britain in the 1st century CE, possibly because his father-in-law was a prominent general serving on the island at this time, but overall considered one of the more reliable sources.
  • Suetonius: Some-time clerk for the Emporors Trajan & Hadrian and historian (lived circa 69CE-122CE). His position gave him access to various letters and documents on which he based his famous history of the first twelve Princeps of Rome, from Julius Ceasar to Domitian. However, he was likely mindful to flatter the living ruler and focus heavily on the gossip and salacious rumours about these Ceasars. So not necessarily reliable, but the parts which survive make for entertaining reading.
  • Cassius Dio: Another Roman statesman (lived circa 155CE-235CE) who wrote a huge history of Rome – in Greek – from it’s mythical foundation to the times he lived in,and published a few years before his death. The first sections are mere summaries up until around the 1st century BC, but sadly only parts of his Histories survive to our time.Dr

The restoration of Rome: barbarian pipes & imperial pretenders by Peter Heather (2013, Pan/MacMillan)

Can you tell that I’ve been on something of a Roman history jaunt? Following two books from Holland about the collapse of the Roman republic, it seemed fitting to follow up with a book on what happened next.

From Visigoths reigning as Emporors of the Western Roman Empire, to the rise of the papacy and the empire’s ‘rebirth’ as the Holy Roman Empire under Charlemagne. The story ends with Pope Innocent III cementing the Vatican as the Kingmaker of medieval Europe. It’s well written and highly informative. There are lots of battles and political double deals, with extensive notes and directions to further reading, if this isn’t enough (although I would strongly recommend Norwich’s brilliant history of the papacy, The Popes, reviewed here).

That’s it for this time, folks.

I mentioned I’d review a book about coffee in this instalment. However, although I read and enjoyed David Egger’s The Monk of Mocha this summer, it didn’t fit in with the Roman theme of this review, so I have moved my summary of that book to the next instalment.

Also next time, an actual novel! And more history, as well as books about other books! I’ll also mention a few of my favourites from this year at the end too. Until then…