Sunday, May 23, 2010

Quasimodo and Quasi-modal.

Chances are you won't recognise this diagram, or understand it, but you'll certainly have experienced its effect. It's a bell-ringer's chart.

If you live near a church, as I do, you’ll know all about the bells. You might bless them or curse them, depending upon the time of day and how you’re feeling (I happened to be ever so slightly fragile this morning) but you’ll certainly notice them.

To the untrained ear a peal of bells might sound like a random cacophony, no more structured than the noise from a hen-house. But it’s not so – or at least it shouldn’t be.

I used to do a bit of bell-ringing as a lad (anything to get out of school for a couple of hours) and whilst I’ve forgotten most of the little I learnt I can tell you that a peal of bells is as structured as a logarithm.

You have charts to follow, wond'rous complex, where you attempt to ring your bell at just the right moment - which will depend upon the bell before yours and whether that has been rung at the right moment. In the example at the top of this post, you are the blue bell, No.2. You can see that the order changes from round to round, and it’s your job to follow the bell that has just been rung.

Bell-ringing can be as physically dangerous as it's mentally taxing. This is the original heavy metal, after all, and trying to control half a ton of swinging bronze ain't easy. If you should hold on to the rope for a split second too long, you’ll find yourself whisked up to the ceiling and forced through a hole no bigger than a doughnut. No wonder campanologists have heads like traffic cones.

So next time you’re driven crazy by the sound of the bells (the bells!) spare a thought for the boys in the belfry, who are attempting the impossible – the Quasi-modal no less – on your behalf. Then curse them anyway, and put a pillow over your head.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Nuts in May

The squawking of horsehair upon catgut, the thwacking of sticks, the merry jingle of noddy bells...

Ah yes. It’s that time of year again.

The Morris Men are back from wherever it is they migrate to in the winter, prancing about on my patio, and frightening the ducks with their strange cries.

It’s supposed to represent  the heart of old Albion, the epitome of Englishness, but Morris dancing always seems vaguely foreign to me. Like Trick-or-Treating, or boules, I don't really get it, and so I can never muster much enthusiasm. Still, they’re the ones that are out in the sunshine dancing and drinking beer, whilst I’m sitting at my laptop working, so maybe they’re not as daft as they look.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Variety Performance

I’ve been tipping up at a few open mic night sessions over the last year or so, inflicting myself on a blameless public and generally being a nuisance.

Playing semi-pro since I was in my late teens, I’d forgotten all about this world – reminiscent of the old folk clubs – where people get up and sing for free. It’s as mixed a bag as it always was, old hands, young guns, the ever hopeful and the forever hopeless. Here you’ll find seasoned players maybe road-testing a couple of numbers before taking them out to the bigger clubs, the one-trick ponies who’ll play the same song every week to ironic applause, the earnest self-penned songsters whose appearance usually indicates a swift trip to the bar. But you also get the occasional gem, some young girl who gets up and sings unaccompanied, awkward and shy, not knowing how to stand or where to put herself...and goes on to rip your heart out.

There are usually at least as many performers as listeners, but all do listen, which can be both gratifying and intimidating. Other musicians watch you with critical eye, sympathetic should you stumble, appreciative of any flash-gittery successfully pulled off, curious afterwards to learn whatever you might have to show.

And nothing goes on for too long. As a player you don’t have the normal gig pressure of trying to hold down a whole evening, and as a listener you don’t have to endure some interminable toss that makes you wonder where you can lay your hands on a pint of diazepam. Variety is what you get, and I suppose that this is where the great British tradition of Variety stems from. The roots of it remain, though leaf and branch have long died away.

The photos were taken by my friend Mark Kelly, last St. Patrick’s day. Suitably grizzled and grainy. It looks as though I've startled a leprechaun.

Friday, May 14, 2010


Musician and writer friend Richard Madelin sent me this great clip of French band Sanseverino. It was a reminder of another French band we saw some years ago in Austin, Texas, and then again in San Francisco - '8 and a half Souvenirs'.

It's a wonderfully assured performance. I said to Richard that as the Americans are with Country music, so the French are with this. If an American musician sat down with a French musician, each would recognise and acknowledge the other's identity and style. Whereas if an English musician were to to turn up, he'd be recognisable to neither but would rob both.

Richard said that the English musician would rob both and still get it wrong.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Reasons to be cheerful.

It's always a relief to get appreciative reviews from the professionals. A good opinion can be very helpful in bringing a book into public awareness, and a subsequent boost in sales. On the other hand an ill-judged one can be very damaging, especially when it contains plot spoilers - as I know to my recent cost.

But it's the lesser heard voices of the target readership that are actually the most importamt. You can't fool young readers, or force them into being engaged, no matter what recommendations come from on high. If they find your work boring, or patronising, then they'll soon put it aside. But if they like it, then the chances are they'll let you know.

So I'm delighted whenever I get emails from readers telling me how much they've enjoyed a particular book, or when links to young readers' reviews appear in my inbox.

Here are a couple received this week that have cheered me up no end.

Larkin's Book Bloggers

Dear Steve Augarde, I ABSOLUTELY loved The Various!!!!!! My friend recommended the trilogy when I went to her house and I'm so glad she did!!!I really like Midge's character, in some ways she's a bit like me but that's not really the reason I like her I just think she is the kind of person I would really like as a friend!! I reccomended the books to my school library and they have just been put on the shelves so I hope everyone in my school gets to read them!! I can't wait till I read the next books! But anyway a couple of questions....... What inspired you to write the Various Trioligy? Was Midge based on anyone in particular? Which of your books do you like the most? Do you think people who read and loved the trilogy would love your new book X Isle? And FINALY my friend also asked you this question but i'm afraid i can't remember the answer !! Would you like to make the books into a film? And if you were would, where do you think would be the best place to film it? Anyway I love writing stories and I'm really interested in fairies and magic and stuff like that and was wondering if you have any tips for writing stories/novels etc.? Thank you so much!!
From Kate, Age;11 from London