The best night of the month

Last night I hosted Album Club #79. That’s 79 months — almost seven years — of Album Club evenings, so I thought it was about time I wrote about them.

Way back at the start of 2011, my friend Bill dropped me an enthusiastic email with a link to a BBC News magazine article about Classic Album Sundays:

A growing number of music-lovers unhappy about the way album tracks are enjoyed in a pick-and-mix fashion have decided to take action.

The rules are strict. No talking. No texting. You must listen to every song on the album.

Classic Album Sundays treat our best-loved records like great symphonies and are being set up in London, Scotland and Wales.

Groups of music fans sit in front of a vinyl turntable, with the best speakers they can afford, dim the lights and listen to a classic album all the way through.

This monthly club in north London is run by Colleen Murphy and for her it is a strike against “‘download culture”, the sense that music has just become an endless compilation of random songs used as background noise.

”Everyone, stop multi-tasking, sit down, open your ears and do some heavy listening.”

Bill’s questions to me: Shall we start an album night of our own? Did I know anyone who might be interested? Yes and yes! This was great — it sounded like a book club without the homework. I was definitely in.

Five of us gathered on a February evening at Bill’s place. A lot of what happened that night set the tone of all Album Club evenings to come. We arrived, had a few beers and crisps in the kitchen and about 45 minutes in we were ushered through to the lounge. Bill revealed that he was going to play us a vinyl copy of David Bowie’s Hunky Dory. He’d printed the Wikipedia notes for the album and gave a small speech about why he had chosen it. Then the music began.

We sat there, in complete silence, listening intently. His stereo sounded amazing. I’d never heard the album before and from the opening notes of Changes to the fading sounds of The Bewlay Brothers it was a revelation. On this particular evening, and for the next couple of Album Club nights, the enjoyment of the music was mixed with the self-consciousness of sitting there in silence with everyone. Where do you put your eyes? Is it okay to jiggle my legs as the music takes me? Could I cough? Eye contact was strictly avoided.

After a few months the format was well-established and we consciously agreed some rules as follows:

  • Album Clubs are held monthly. In the case of being unable to book a date that people can make (August and December are particularly difficult) we can double up with two in the following month.
  • Hosting follows a round-robin format, with each member taking a turn in succession. In the case of sudden illness or force majeure on behalf of the host someone else can step in, ideally the next person in line so that you can simply swap places in the hosting order.
  • The host has to supply all of the drinks (ale, lager, wine) and snacks.
  • Most importantly, the host gets to choose the album. As host, your responsibilities for picking a suitable album are:
    • You must love it.
    • You are not allowed to play an album that you yourself have never heard before (see previous point).
    • Strictly no compilations.
    • No live albums. (This point is controversial with opinions on the rule split down the middle; I personally think these are legitimate albums in their own right but others believe that the inevitable presence of live versions of the artists’ own songs mean they are a type of compilation.)
    • Albums are played as if they had been bought on vinyl, with the end of a side giving people time to pop to the loo, have a brief chat about what they’ve heard so far and top up with beer. If you don’t have the vinyl and are playing the CD or streaming the album, make sure you do your research to know when to press pause. Double albums will have three breaks, triple albums (and you have to be very brave or completely infatuated by the album to choose one) will have five. If streaming, a top tip is to make some playlists of the various sides in advance.
  • At the end of the album, everyone can completely relax and enjoy the rest of their evening. Typically we end up lining up records on the host’s hi-fi that are linked to the album or fit with the vibe in some way. If it’s a Friday, a lot more beer is consumed.

Picking an album can be a difficult affair. Do you go with the one you really love or do you play something that you think people haven’t heard but are likely to like? Experience now tells me that you should go with your heart instead of your head and don’t over-think it. When everyone loves what you play (for me, Siren by Roxy Music, Heartbreaker by Ryan Adams and Tommy by The Who have all been successes) it’s a great feeling; when they don’t (see Human Racing by Nik Kershaw) it can be a bit deflating, but you get over it quickly.

Over the past six and a half years we’ve seen a few people come and go; two of the original five founding members moved away which made membership impossible and with a bit of recruitment we now have a ‘full team’ of eight. This is probably the perfect number — sometimes one or two people can’t make it at the last minute but it still leaves you with enough of the crew to make it worth it. For a while we had six but this means you always have the same two months of the year, no good if you find yourself lumbered with August or December. “Who’s turn is it next?” can always be answered by looking at our back catalogue of events lovingly put together and maintained by Mat.

It’s been brilliant to have an evening every month where I know I can just sit back, relax, listen to (typically) a great album and enjoy the company of a cracking group of friends. For me the best nights have been when I’ve discovered a truly brilliant album that I had never heard before: Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Cosmo’s Factory and Gary Numan’s The Pleasure Principle have been the pinnacle for me, closely followed by the unexpectedly punky eponymous The Pretenders. John famously loved Cosmo’s Factory so much he bought a CD copy of on Amazon before the first track had even finished playing.

Massive love and thanks to Bill for creating what is now commonly known as ‘the best night of the month’. We miss you, fella!

Response hierarchy

It was really interesting to read Michael Lopp’s latest blog post showing his relative probability to respond to an incoming communication based on the medium through which it is sent:

…I realized that I had updated the prioritized hierarchy to how likely I will respond to a piece of communication. From least likely to most likely, this is the hierarchy:
Spam < LinkedIn < Facebook < Twitter < Email < Slack < Phone < SMS < Face to Face

This struck a chord with me. A while ago I wrote down a list of all of the electronic inboxes that were playing a part in my life as I needed to take a step back and see it all. Discounting the ones that are both from and to myself (namely my unprocessed Drafts entries and my Evernote inbox), my own response hierarchy today looks something like this:

Spam < Flickr comments < LinkedIn < Voicemail < Facebook Messenger < Blog comments < Personal email < Goodreads/Strava comments < Facebook mentions < School governor email < Work email < Phone < Twitter < Skype for Business < Telegram/WhatsApp < SMS < Face to Face

Maybe I am over-thinking it as the comments and mentions don’t always require a response (although the notifications do nag at me on my phone and I have a lingering guilt about not looking at them as often as I perhaps should). Anyway, let’s remove those:

Spam < LinkedIn < Voicemail < Facebook Messenger < Personal email < School governor email < Work email < Phone < Twitter < Skype for Business < Telegram/WhatsApp < SMS < Face to Face

Lopp’s analysis of each form of communication is interesting. I’m impressed that he manages to get to Inbox Zero every day both at work and home. I get there sometimes, but it isn’t as frequent as I would like.

My hierarchy isn’t always consistent. Voicemails on my mobile from strangers get much less attention than voicemails from people I know, but even then iOS doesn’t do a great job of nagging me about the ones that I have listened to but not actioned. Occasionally I’ll flick across to voicemail and find six or seven that stretch back over the past few months.

I don’t answer the phone to external numbers on my work phone as 95% of the time it is a sales call; unfortunately for those callers I have also removed my work Voicemail so I don’t need to deal with changing the security PIN every month. The value of voicemail is far outweighed by the inconvenience of accessing it — most of the time my missed calls list is sufficient for me to know who to get in contact with. People who really need to contact me in a work context from outside my company will have my email address or mobile number.

Email is fine for business type things but completely broken for ‘proper’ correspondence in that the more important a personal note is to me, the longer I’ll tend to leave it until I find the time to sit down and write a considered, meaningful response. I fully understand that this may be no more email’s fault than it is the fault of the letter-writing paper that also goes untouched in our house. Perhaps the long-form two-way personal communication is dead in the era of instant responses, or only useful when you have a lot to say to the other person and don’t want to be interrupted or get a reply.

We use Skype at work for instant messaging but it is almost completely on a 1:1 basis with barely any shared channels. It feels like a missed opportunity but multiple attempts to get it started have never caught on. Perhaps our company is too small, or we don’t have enough geeks.

Slack doesn’t feature at all as an inbox for me yet — I’m a member of three ‘teams’, none of which are directly linked to my employer. I mainly lurk and therefore don’t get many communications that way.

Twitter used to occupy a giant amount of time but my usage has tailed off significantly over the past couple of years. For a long while it felt like a real community and that I was part of something — I even organised a small handful of well-attended ‘tweetups’ in our town for everyone to meet — but over time I had subconsciously given up trying to keep up and have gone back to reading blogs and books. I get very little direct communication from it and when I do I’m pretty responsive. The main role it plays in my life now is as an aggregation source of interesting things to read via the wonderful Nuzzel app.

It’s interesting to me to write this down as it gives me a realisation of how complicated things are these days and how much of a cognitive burden it is to keep up with it all. It’s no longer sufficient to get to Inbox Zero with my three email accounts and feel that I am ‘done’; all of the others need to be checked and drained as well on a regular basis.

James Alexander Doran, 1920-2011

On Monday we said goodbye to my grandad, James Alexander Doran, who passed away aged 91 years. It was lovely to see so many people there. I had the privelige of being asked to read the two speeches that were prepared by my aunty Di (with a little added from me) and uncle Ronnie and thought I would share them here in case anyone would like to read them again:

It was interesting to find out that everyone celebrated grandad’s birthday on 26 January whereas his birth certificate said he was born on 27 January – my Dad had a similar experience with his birthday being celebrated two days after the actual day for quite a few years until someone stumbled across his birth certificate, so this seems to run in the family!

I also took along some photos of my grandad to the funeral and some of my relatives asked where they could get copies so – here they are:

Four generations of Doran:
Four generations of Doran!

The Dorans plus a couple of Hibberts:
The Dorans plus one Hibbert

The Doran boys plus one Hibbert:
The Doran boys plus one Hibbert

Dad and Grandad:
Dad and Grandad

Nan and Grandad:
Nan and Grandad

We’ll miss him lots.

Stag weekend in Cardiff

I have just had a cracking couple of days in Cardiff on my brother’s stag weekend along with 24 other like-minded fellows. It has to have been the most organized event of it’s type I’ve ever been on – we had a multi-page PDF before we went complete with full venue addresses (hotel, club, karting etc) and were all given business card-size laminated mini-itineraries when we got there. The best man, Chris, even came up with the idea of a ‘stag phone’ – he had a pay-as-you-go phone in his possession with the phone number on the back of all of our obligatory comedy tops, the idea being that fellow drinkers could text the number with our nickname and get us to have a shot.

I’m still a little worse-for-wear some 48 hours after the event. Good times, but I’m glad we don’t do it too often!

A selection of photos can be found on the web courtesy of a fellow attendee. Stag phone results as compiled by Chris are also available. Next stop, the wedding.

Turning 30 on New Year’s Eve

New Year's EveI just had to get this post in before January was over!

I turned 30 on New Year’s Eve and to mark the occasion we had hired The Old Neptune, a wonderful 15th century house in the centre of Ipswich. My wife had arranged everything (wonderful as she is); in order to secure the house over the New Year period we had to get a committed bunch of friends together and book it up in early 2005, which we managed to do. Although at first glance it seemed quite expensive, when divided up between 24 people and paid for in stages it didn’t seem that much.

The place looked amazing on the website and the rooms looked gorgeous. In order to make sure that everyone got a fair chance of bagging one of the bigger/ older rooms, a couple of weeks before we went we put everyone’s name into a bag and made a video of a ‘live’ draw which we then posted on YouTube for all to see.

In reality the place was even better than it had looked on the website. To be able to enjoy the gorgeous front room and fire, lovely big kitchen and the wonderful dining room with so many good friends was just great.

A few of us had organised a quiz for the first night and we had karaoke and dancing on the second (which degenerated into a bizarre hatfest) – it was only by the third evening that I went to bed even vaguely sober!

For my 30th my wife made me a wonderful book with photos from my very early years all the way up to present day – a really great gift.

In the daytime we headed off to some of the lovely surrounding villages for some winter walks and pub lunches – Felixstowe was lovely (cheese and pineapple toasties, anyone?), we had a bite to eat at the King’s Head in Woodbridge and an enjoyable wander around the pretty village of Aldeburgh.

Thanks to everyone for making my 30th such a fun and special one. More photos in the Flickr group.

Antenna

AntennaA few weeks ago my wife and I went along to the wonderful NFT to see Antenna 18, the latest in a long line of evenings where they present a number of music videos and have some of the directors and producers there to be interviewed and answer quesitions from the audience.

We had a great time – two videos that I would recommend viewing are New Me by Jamie Lidell and Geisterschloss by Oliver Laric – both fantastic. In fact, Oliver Laric can be seen in the first video as well – he’s the guy bopping along dressed in white – as it was directed by his girlfriend, Aleksandra Domanovic. Finally, if you haven’t seen the Plan B video to No Good, you should definitely take a look – it’s like Sledgehammer revisited!

It was fab to do something different – London offers so many great cultural events and we don’t go to enough of them. We may well be back!

A strange Friday night at the pub video

Well, it all started with a suggestion from Mat that we meet for a beer after work at The Boat in Berkhamsted. Now that he and Steph are living so close to us we thought that we should be taking more advantage of it by getting out there and socialising. However, Friday night at the pub is always dangerous as everyone is tired and the beers don’t take quite as long as usual to take effect. We had a good time, but…well, I remember taking a video of Mat but I don’t remember it being quite this bizarre. The dangers of alcohol for all to see.

Mat, what on earth were you doing?

Cycle for Cystic Fibrosis

Chloe Catling Cycle ChallengeSpeaking of cousins, one of my relatives has organised a sponsored cycle ride around West London on Saturday 24 June 2006 to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis. My cousin Chloe suffers from the disease and has to undergo a lot of physiotherapy, drugs and spells in hospital – by raising money for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust we hope to help her and others.

If you’re not doing anything on the 24 June why not join us for a ride? If you’re not a rider you can still donate using the justgiving.com page. Every penny helps!

Boys night out in Berko

Trevor and Stuart murder James Blunt's You're BeautifulHad a great night out on the town last night with Mat, Trevor, Stuart and Iain, visiting a few local pubs that we hadn’t been to before. We started off with a couple of beers at my place before wandering down to the High Street and into the Rose & Crown, a small and friendly ‘locals’ pub. Everyone was busy watching the football so we amused ourselves with a few games of ‘killer’ on the pool table – for money – where Stuart and Mat cleaned up and were very happy to take their winnings. After a couple of pints it was time to go – Tevor decided to take a last-minute trip to the loo and we took the opportunity to leg it and hide from him. Very amusing. We then progressed on to The Lamb which was a bit more lively – they had some good beer on tap and a comfy place for us to sit and talk rubbish for a bit. Once again Trevor thought it would be great to take a trip to loo land when we were about to move on and once again we did a runner. I don’t think I could get tired of that.

Next on the agenda was a pit-stop at the Curry Garden – a place that I seem to be visiting all the time these days – for a lovely meal and a couple of Cobras. Unfortunately we didn’t get the opportunity to leave Trevor this time.

On the way to Mat’s place, where we planned to continue our evening, we wandered past The Bull. Mat was paying more attention than the rest of us and shouted “It’s karaoke!” which is a temptation that I just couldn’t miss. We had a fantastic time, singing, dancing and laughing with the regulars and Stuart and Trevor entertained us all with a muderous rendition of You’re Beautiful at which point the organisers donned their ear protectors. Magic. Unfortunately it felt as though it was all over too soon but we consoled ourselves by heading back to Mat’s for some late-night Mighty Boosh (“I’m Old Greg”) and Halo 2.

Iain and I finally made it back to my place at a quarter to five so consequently I’m feeling pretty knackered today. Great night out though – thanks guys!

Christmas over again for another year!

We’re now back at home after a few days away visiting lots of our relatives all over the southern reaches of England over Christmas. We had a lovely time – the first few days were spent in picturesque Ross-on-Wye with my wife’s family; I over-indulged on the local Wye valley ales on Christmas Eve and spent most of Christmas Day with a slight headache, which I made up for by staying in bed until midday (!!) on Boxing Day. After a lightning quick trip to Bournemouth to see my lovely nan and other relatives we then had a couple of days in Ascot with my folks – more drinking, eating and good times. Still, it’s great to be back home. We’re planning a bike ride or two over the next couple of days and will be spending New Year’s Eve in the company of our great Berkhamsted friends, which is a fab way to end the year. I’m looking forward to a great 2006.

Will’s and Alice’s wedding

Will and AliceBeen meaning to blog this for a bit! A couple of weekends ago we attended the marriage of Will and Alice at the lovely Buckland Hall in Bwlch, Wales. Had a fabulous time – in the words of the registrar, I don’t know why so many people get married in the summer when a winter wedding, with candlelight, log fires and mulled wine, is just as romantic!

It was great to catch up with so many friends from university that I don’t see as much as I would like to and drink the wonderful organic ale that was on offer all night. Top-notch wedding!

Bonfire night in Lewes

Lewes, 2005We spent a great night last night in Lewes, East Sussex, at the house of an uncle and aunt of mine. Lewes is famous for its ‘bonfire societies‘ which celebrate both Guy Fawkes Night and, according to Wikipedia, “the burning of 17 Protestant martyrs in Lewes High Street from 1555 to 1557, during the reign of Mary Tudor”. I’m not sure if the latter is something to really celebrate but we had a great time all the same!

Each bonfire society follows a route through the town and most of them passed right in front of my aunt and uncle’s house, so we had a great view. The display is amazing – hundreds of people carrying flaming torches, brass bands and drumming groups marching by, massive effigies of Guy Fawkes and other characters being dragged through the town, all with lots of noise from bangers and fireworks going off. I managed to capture a few photos – most of them aren’t great, but they give you a sense of it. There’s also a video that I took on my phone which really can’t convey the sense of shock when one of the hundreds of bangers went off in front of us.

It was great to see my uncle, aunt and cousins as well as the rest of the family and friends that were there. Thanks for a lovely evening!

Alcohol-free beer

Alcohol-free Beck's.jpgI spent most of the afternoon and evening at Carl’s new pad in Windsor as he and his housemate Daniel had invited a few people over for a housewarming barbecue. As I don’t eat meat and didn’t want Carl to pick anything up just for me I popped to Sainsbury’s beforehand to pick up a few veggie burgers and sausages for myself. As I wandered around the beers and wine section I came across Beck’s alcohol-free lager. I remember vaguely seeing some adverts recently about it and thought to myself – why not?

The last time I tried a non-alcohol lager was a very long time ago, possibly with something like Kaliber. I remember it being pretty grim stuff, so I was a little reluctant, but thought that the Beck’s would be a good alternative to a ton of orange juice, diet coke, lemonade, water or whatever was available.

I’m glad to say I made the right choice – it was a very pleasant surprise! The beer tastes unbelievably like Beck’s – so much so, that I felt myself waiting to feel the side-effects, which is very strange when you know you have to drive home later. Apparently they brew the beer like normal Beck’s and then remove the alcohol afterwards, leaving just 0.05%! Fantastic stuff. I think I may need to stock up!