Michael Caswell’s rant about smoking

When he was around, Michael Caswell was an extraordinarily effective teacher, to the few who could handle his brutal honesty.

And brutal honesty is what we need sometimes.

I’m a much better guitar player and navigator of guitar tones and sound as a result of spending time with Mike. He was an extraordinary guitar player and I’m glad he at least did one solo album before leaving us far too early.

But today I wanted to share one of my most memorable moments in a lecture room with him in regards to something else.

He decided to call a break between a two hour lesson of guitar assessments. Thinking the fresh air would do everyone a load of good.

As per usual, you would walk outside of the buildings of my college and straight upon the exit would be a handful of students smoking. To everyone else, walking involuntarily through smoke and subsequently consuming it passively isn’t particularly pleasant.

As we came back upstairs, he marched through the room, and was quick to express his exasperation at the amount of students who were smoking.

‘Let me tell you something about smoking’ he said, ‘we are in a superficial industry in music, when you’re 30, you’re supposed to look like 20, and when you’re 40 you are meant to look like 30, do you know what smoking does to you? The OPPOSITE!’

What followed was a silence as students got ready to be called up for their performance assessments. Another 20 seconds later:

‘AND IT STINKS!!!’

This was the hilarious and candid way he used to address a class, but in a way it defined his ethos about the need to she light and truth on a habit and he always had best intentions for everyone and in some ways, conceded that not everyone will listen.

But if you did listen, it could benefit you in more ways than you realise.

Professionalism in communication

Communication is a key skill at the heart of every single organisation and operation and it’s really surprising how often I’ve seen this done badly.

If you work for a company, you want to know up front what their values are, and what purpose you serve, having a management tell you that up front and letting you know what is expected of you allows you to have a firmer grasp on what contribution you make.

When it comes to politics in organisations and motivations behind certain decision making, having communication that firmly establishes what is being done and why is of upmost importance. Otherwise, frontline workers start becoming cynical about their head office staff.

Education and Health. Two of the most important factors in a country are always marred by professionals trying to do their job being dictated by ministers who know nothing about the day to day details.

Freelancers setting deadlines to serve clients, responding to messages and emails in a timely manner, receiving and paying invoices. When all of this is done as is expected, it is a heck of a lot easier to establish trust and mutual respect.

With every will in the world, you can have the best intentions and the desire to do good work, but if there is a gap in communication, then it’s more likely that that goodwill is eroded.

It’s good to know where we all stand and are at with everyone else.

Do first, inspiration later

When I write my daily articles, I get inspiration from the fact I have to write them daily. I got very annoyed with myself for missing yesterday as well!

When I write an album, I set out a vision for what I want to create through the process of writing down ideas of aesthetic, sound-worlds, reference points and tiny fragments of ideas.

Inspiration when it comes is amazing and I love it when it happens. It normally happens when I am walking or cycling but you cannot rely on or attach yourself to inspiration to getting work done. Otherwise it becomes a trap where you feel you can’t achieve anything because you are not inspired.

It is from putting down a practice routine, embedding a fruitful and rewarding habit that we manifest a body of work that we can be proud of and from my experience, inspiration is a heck of a lot easier to come by when you are in the process of doing something than waiting around for a signal to tell you so.

Full picture.

When we read a headline, it’s very easy to have a gut response to it. One which is excitable. This is because this is how headlines are designed, to grab your attention, to draw you into the story.

The media many times plays the outrage card, and how many of us have been outraged for some years at immigrants, unelected bureaucrats and the way Ed Miliband consumes a bacon sandwich.

Headlines and the way the narrative is designed can easily sway our views, and more often than not, it points us to a direction of confirmation bias, reaffirming what we believe and what our values are.

This is not the way to progress collectively. We need some impartiality blended with differing opinions, we need balanced debate where balance is appropriate. We need all of our viewpoints to be challenged and we need to normalise the notion that we can be wrong and we are entitled to change our mind on something.

In short, we need a full picture, the reasons as to why something is the way it is or what motivates a person of power to decide the actions the way they do. Without such analysis and scrutiny, we fall into the trap of letting people getting away with scapegoating and using their leverage to benefit their own interests whilst gaslighting everyone else.

Journalism of the highest calibre is of utmost important, one which fights against anti-intellectualism and negative partisanship. Lots of work to be done.

Knowing more than you think you know

Music notation is a very good example of this.

I’ve had students who are quite frightened by the notion of attempting to read a score or perform music that’s put in front of them.

I understand the hesitation, transferring the semiotic information from your eyes to your hands is a complex process that takes years to master.

But the process of reading itself is something any musician is capable of doing.

They trick is to find the pulse, then spot patterns, spot rhythms or high and low notes, and all of a sudden you are able to pinpoint particular features.

As musicians learn theory and about the elements they are then eventually able to put all those different jigsaw pieces of information and place it together into a music score.

Start with the details, and work from there. You know more than you think you know.

Using leverage for good

Footballers tend to get scapegoated a fair bit.

Upon initial glance, it’s obvious as to why. They are paid a lot of money for what is essentially a wonderful irrelevance. They are involved in a global business where a lot of sketchy economics and corruption occurs.

Yet, more than most other forms of celebrity, I point to footballers who are doing good.

Marcus Rashford pretty much single handedly forced the Tories to U turn on their cruel stance on free school meals.

Jordan Henderson is campaigning fiercely to stop anti racism.

Trent Alexander Arnold has launched a campaign to tackle child poverty.

Andy Robertson is working to make healthcare and football more accessible.

Mohamed Salah’s presence in Liverpool has decreased Islamophobia and he launched an anti drug campaign in Egypt.

Juan Mata, Mesut Ozil, the list goes on.

So to tar all footballers with the same brush is a bit assumptions and unfair. It’s a lot more grey than that.

And for those listed and the ones I’ve omitted who are using their privilege and leverage to do good have my upmost respect.

I would call on anyone in that position to explore their values and get behind a cause.

And you don’t need to be a footballer or celebrity to do that as well. There’s a lot of work everywhere that needs to be done, to make things better.

Social media steers us towards the self, and whilst that is a normal and to be expected, using it for good certainly has it’s virtue.

And credit where due to all of those who use their power to do some good.

Longer days

When I lived in the Middle East, the daylight hours were pretty much set in stone.

5:30-6:30am was usually when sunrise happened and 6pm – 7pm was when sunset happened. The sunset could be absolutely gorgeous and during the winter months, the weather was gorgeous.

Now I’m back in the U.K., I’m cherishing the longer days. I finished my show at 9:45pm and cycled home and could still see the sunlight.

The mountains and city of Cardiff became a silhouette in the darkness. Lights glistened across the river, and after a pretty horrendous month of persistent rain, we finally had a clear sunny day that had a hint of freshness about it.

I look forward to a summer with long days, hotter weather and long days of daylight.

Artistic vision vs The Committee

Bat for Lashes is going it alone.

I’ve always admired her work. She’s done 5 albums and all over those records are songs that are brave, experimental and uncompromising.

Yet she has seemed to have had a bit of a rough ride as far as labels are concerned and the reason is clear.

Labels want financial success above anything else, so much so that they would rather thrust mediocrity that’s guaranteed to appeal to some superficial degree than anything that takes a risk and dances on the edge.

This was not the case before the 2000s, labels sought out talent and gave them time to nurture their sound and craft and have a few misfires along the way. Now if you want to do this kind of thing, it’s most likely that you are on your own.

Labels follow the data, then they have a committee of multiple producers and songwriters to manufacture the hits.

Popular does not mean better.

And when an artist follows integrity and gets things right, it hits on a level deeper and more resonant than anything a team of writers seeking out the average marketplace.

The good news is you don’t need permission any more to make your art, in the way you want to make it. If you are inspired to follow your own tuning fork, do it and don’t let any groupthink convince you to do otherwise.

Overcoming Hurdles.

Liverpool got into the Champions league.

They also got third place and after the season they’ve had, as a supporter I’m tremendously happy.

Injuries ran amok, most devastatingly at centre back, and the system of the team was completely disrupted and during March, it seemed to completely nullify out attack.

There were moments when I thought that European football wasn’t going to happen at all. The last five games saw Liverpool more like themselves, more stability, more creativity going forward and more last minute heroics (Allison’s extraordinary header).

Kudos to Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams, a young centre back pair that have earned a wealth of experience and have established themselves as premier league players.

At times, luck has run dry, one obstacle has come after another and things did not look good, but with resilience and the right attitude, the team fought back and it’s a job well done.

It’s good to have obstacles come in your way, they provide, new challenges, new experiences and lessons and I look forward to seeing how the team do next season.

Roll on the Euros.

Part of a whole.

Are you cog or are you a linchpin?

Are you compliant or a creator, a contributor, a spark?

Everywhere, humans create a web of systems that operate to achieve something, a coffee shop, a railway network or a film.

Each of these systems have personnel involved. There are the big names, the CEO, the director, the captain but then there is everyone else. Varied levels of skill sets, roles and responsibilities and without any of these people, the systems run the risk of a flaw, or a lesser quality of experience.

When systems run, things are as expected, it’s all okay but is potential wasted? How many people hate their job for example? How many do the bare minimum? How many of us watch the clock tick by? How many of us are weighed down by bureaucracy?

As we move from industrial to digital, there are opportunities for us to re-evaluate our relation with work to which passion can blossom, creative potential can be met and no matter how small a role someone plays in the way in which something operates, they can do work they are proud of.