2015: A Brief Blast Back Through the Year Fantastical…

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2015: thanks and ta-ra to the Year Fantastic…

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2015! Whoa! Yeah, that happened. Way back on New Year’s Day I doodled up a unicorn and, with a hopeful spirit, hailed 2015 as the ‘Year Fantastical’. Turns out that it lived up to that title and then some. From my perspective, it’s been a pretty damn fantastic and quite incredible year.

So much happened in 2015 and I feel like I’ve done a lot, experienced a lot and learned a lot. Come the end point where we get all reflective and retrospective (it’s customary and inevitable) I’m struck by how ‘big’ and full of stuff this year seems. I’ve got so many memories of moments streaming through my mind and from all of them flow a multitude of thoughts and feelings. Some people say that I think and feel too much (tsk and hush, you people!) but, hey, I can be no other way. Plus, thinking and feeling are what make us human beings and what make us realise that we’re alive. The alternative is living on autopilot and if you’re living on autopilot you’re probably not engaging with life and consciously appreciating it. Hey! Life! Existence! Appreciate it!

So then, here I am thinking and feeling over 2015 and appreciating it before we say ta-ra. It’s been a year in which I thought and felt a lot. I smiled a lot. I cried a lot. (It was the death of Spock, the Norwegian Eurovision entry and Inside Out) I had triumphs and I also had some disappointments, but the good stuff far outweighs the bad bits. I’ll focus on the good in this brief personal look-back, ’cause there’s no point me dwelling on the crappy and/or grave bits here. (Though I will give a shout-out to several late, great cultural icons and my all-time favourite t-shirt which is lost somewhere in Italy. *sighs* I miss ’em all.)

Off the top of my head, here are some of the things I did and experienced that made 2015 genuinely awesome (as in they inspired awe and made me go “awwww!” or “awwww yeah!“): I got a tattoo; I levelled up as an English teacher by passing a CELTA course; I got to explore Dublin and Zürich among several other culture vulture trips; I took a train ride through the Swiss Alps; I saw what’s left of the Magna Carta; I got to enjoy la dolce vita over and over in bella Italia in places familiar and new (including Verona, Padova, Venice, hitherto unexplored sections of the Liguria coast and Emilia-Romagna to name a few); I went to the opera and enjoyed that experience in Verona’s ancient Roman arena; I became a hero to a whole new set of Italian children in Milano, Torino and the countryside near Padova; I composed the summer hit single that was ‘Pineapple Hands‘ and that became a minor cult phenomenon; I gave ‘Free Hugs’ on Valentine’s Day in the world’s most beautiful shopping arcade; I witnessed Italy’s biggest food fight – the all-out insanity that is Ivrea’s Battle of the Oranges.

I like this photo as an image to encapsulate the beauty, adventure and feeling of 2015...

Yeah, this photo sort of encapsulates the feeling and adventure flowing through 2015…

Throughout, I doodled like a demon and have spent most of the year with inky fingers. I also wrote some pretty good stuff and had a lot of fun working away at various creative projects. Daredevil , WiiU videogames and hanging with my family made home downtime a good time when I wasn’t off on (mis)adventures. Otherwise – turning to ‘important stuff’ and current affairs for a second – in spite of it all, there were progressive political and social moments in 2015 that gave me hope. The same goes for technology and science (there’s water on Mars!) and, sportswise,  I’ve been enjoying the Boston Celtics’ continued upward trajectory towards contender status.

Sonically speaking, my soundtrack to 2015 was mostly Dinosaur Pile-Up and Ghost and they gave me immense live shows to experience and brilliant new albums to crank to death. As for films, there have been so many superb movies released this year but my two favourites of 2015 were Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Mad Max: Fury Road. They beat all the rest for spiritual reasons, sentimental reasons and because they are stand-out supreme imaginative visions and masterpieces of cinematic storytelling.

I decided to close the year in suitable style by watching The Force Awakens again and that makes me even happier as I head into the future. Having had my nice nostalgia moment I’m now going to close this self-indulgent rear-view-mirror ramble. First though, before I hurl myself heart and soul into 2016, I’d like to hail all the human beings who shared the experiences and really made 2015 something special. I had a blast with both old friends and new friends this year and I’m grateful for all the energy, the companionship, the generosity and the niceness that people have directed my way over the past twelve months. It means a lot and I truly appreciate it. High-fives, hugs and ‘awww yeah!’s to everyone.

So, that was 2015 then, and thank you 2015. I say it’s high time we hit the New Year and moved on to the fresh adventures and experiences lying ahead in 2016. Awww yeah. I’m excited…

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Heart…

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2014: Cue the Upbeat, Uptempo Montage Moving Through My Year Gone Past…

It’s the end of the year! So there! Yeah! 2014, then -. thanks, ta-ra. Aww, but I feel like it wouldn’t be the right thing to just skip on into the shiny/shitty future without noting its passing and pondering a (short, very short) moment on the past twelve months. I don’t really want to dwell on things and get caught up in zeitgeist ectoplasm and retrospective navel-gazing so I’m going to fly through it in an upbeat, uptempo montage. Cue the montage…

*OOGA-CHAKA, OOGA OOGA. OOGA-CHAKA, OOGA OOGA…*

(… and I’ve filmed everything in Dutch angles so we’re all anxious and on edge, ’cause this is the age of being-on-edge and anxiety…)

Hey! I am James Clayton and I am moving through space-and-time-and-emotions-and-ideas. Pleasure, pain, ups, downs, upside-downs, down-upsides, maybe-sideways. Uncertainty, near-certainty, false-certainty. Something of nothings and nothings that might actually be something. Ambiguity and ambivalence. No, I don’t know. Really, I’m very lost and reckon (hope?) that time and, in fact, the entirety of existence is an illusion. Even so, conventional time-comprehension and the calendar says that we’ve been going through 2014. What happened? The following things happened, in no particular order. (A lot of current affairs and huge real-world socio-politico-economic things occurred, flamed and roared over. They’re all rounded up, reacted to and wrestled with elsewhere. A lot of those things make us sad and angry, so I’m going to stay in my ludicrous world of 2014 for this, pausing only to say that’s its not as ludicrous as Kim Jong-un’s. Hey Little Kim! You ludicrous, man!)

Personal shenanigans: I wrote some things, doodled some bits ‘n’ bobs, ran a few month-long projects here and there and daydreamed a lot. Things I wrote and doodled went up on the internet and in zines but the best stuff is still in my head. Alternate reality incarnations also unleashed groundbreaking epics and art masterpieces but I’m playing catch-up to those guys (Yeah, they see me comin’). Lots of stuff on the internet, and then I flip between my things and the fog of information, disinformation, Wikipedia entries and basketball highlights reels. The pixels burn me out a bit, cyberspace seethes, the Twitter stream turns into a steaming torrent and portals on Facebook show me prettier pictures of places that seem more appealing. Andiamo! Adventure! Go travel…

I discover Dublin this year, find solace in a Shropshire countryside writing retreat and dig London again during the annual videogame convention bro-trip. The most epic adventure, however spans the summer and takes me further afield. I jump on a plane and then I jump on another plane to go back to and, again, go back to Italia. Lo adoro – è il luogo dove il mio cuore è. Italian friends old and new. Refamiliarised with familiar places and enjoying an array of new cities and experiences. I realise that I have a spread network of extended families for life and I feel alive, connected and soul-fulfilled. And then there are all the old and new friends from all over the world and we’re all brought together and share the sacred summer camp tutor bond. (It is sacred. We have rituals, shared hallucinations and an unshakable faith and sense of vocation.) It’s all-singing, all-dancing, educational entertainment English-teaching action. It’s fun and games and frustration and trauma and battle scars and war with demonic bambini. It’s physical and mental exhaustion but it’s also triumph and exhilaration and it’s the greatest time of my life. This summer was the best summer, so grazie.

Away from the best place with the best people, best food and best quality of life (yeah I’m in love), the other most-excellent stuff is culture. A vast celluloid sea of supreme movies inspired many smiles, many tears, many emotional and cerebral moments in the dark space of the cinema. Oh my Godzilla: Inside Llewyn Davis; Her; erm, Godzilla; Guardians of the Galaxy; Boyhood; The Wind Rises; Edge of Tomorrow; Captain America: The Winter Soldier; Nightcrawler; The Babadook; Pride; Dawn of the Planet of the Apes; FuryThe Raid 2; Black Sea; The Double; Calvary; Only Lovers Left Alive; The Grand Budapest Hotel; The Lego Movie; 12 Years a Slave; and so many more to make this movie-maniac go wild over and over. There are too many genuinely awesome films, so I have less time and inclination to watch much TV. The most terrific telly is Cosmos and BBC documentaries in my 2014.

There are also lots of books and comics, but they’re mostly old books that weren’t published in 2014. Fresh music moving me most would be Monster Magnet Milking the Stars and Weezer telling me that Everything Will Be Alright in the End. “EVERYTHING WILL BE ALRIIIIIIIIGHT… IN THE EHHH- EEEEEEHNNNND!” Now I’m dancing and all the freak misfits of the galaxy are having an empathetic moment where we realise that we’ve been losers and been through some noxious crap but that, hey, we’re okay. We’ve grown and we’ve learned some things. We’re better for the experience. We’re moving forward together into the future, ’cause we’re slightly crazy, cosmic quirky heroes hooked on a feeling and high on believing…

I think that’s what I’m taking from 2014. Am I forgetting a lot of things? (most definitely yes) What did it all mean? I’m not really sure and I don’t really care anymore, to be honest. I’m already in 2015. See you there, in the future. TO THE FUTURE!

*blows a kiss to 2014. Love you and remember you always, sugar…*

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Saying "Bye!" and jumping off 2014…

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Rock ‘n’ Roll, Sonic Sensations and My Retrospective 2013 Musical Mixtape…

Rock ‘n’ roll! I hope you, reader (hey you! Thanks for stopping by!), had a very excellent Christmas. I did (thanks for asking. Sweet of you.) and I’m now in the post-Christmas, pre-New Year place of reflection. I am reflecting. I’m like a mirror. No, I’m like a looking glass. No, I’m now through the looking glass, Alice, and everything just gets curioser and curioser. I don’t know – bear (white rabbit?) with me. Everything is all a bit weird in this still-Christmas-but-not-really-Christmas-anymore phase. It takes time to get into some kind of rhythm and reason, y’know?

Anyway, back to rock ‘n’ roll action after a rest and on to rumination at the end of the year. ‘Tis the season to do navel gazing, drink down some Nostalgia-Lite (it never goes down smooth) and work out what you did over the course of the past 12 months, just because that’s what people do. This stuff gets really boring and self-indulgent really, really fast so I’ll keep it brief because I don’t want to be really boring and self-indulgent and you don’t want me to be really boring and self-indulgent either.

The vital info: last night I joined my Old Man and Sean McGinty on BBC Radio Lancashire again for the final FNAT show of the year. We talked about curry-dusted parsnips, Professor Brian Cox and the phenomenal lack of body odour in Korea (none of them are related but, actually, all of them are related because everything’s connected and we’re all made of the same matter that exploded out of the Big Bang at the very beginning of the Universe and it’s amazing). We also did a fair bit of retrospective stuff looking back at the past year in rock music and if that sounds interesting to you you can find it on the iPlayer for the next seven days.

To prepare for that programme I took a sweep across the year’s sonic landscape and, in doing so, I realised that I haven’t been listening to a massive amount of new music. Altogether it reminds me that my approach to music is still shamefully immature and rigid and that’s a rut I’m eager to get out of. The majority of the time I’m on autopilot, listening to the same things over and over and over again, ad nauseum until I get bored. Too much of a good thing is actually overkill, Liberace

When I do consciously attempt to take control over the reflex insta-groove it takes a while for fresh material and new (or ‘new old’) artists to sink in. I can put this down to several factors: 1. I (ab)use music as background noise and that means that it’s degraded when it deserves to be appreciated properly as something more than supplementary aural wallpaper; 2. I’m using digital streaming services and that means I’m no longer buying CDs and physically handling music which, in spite of the positives (space, instant availability of near-infinite material), also induces passive indifference and decreased imminence when it comes to listening to music; 3. I’d say I’m still slightly hindered by the sensory damage done during a prolonged past period of depression in which enjoyment of music was impossible. I have to work a bit harder to establish a relationship with music but it’s well worth doing ’cause I want to rock out and feel some rhythms.

The moral is don’t get depressed and take time to consciously experience and enjoy music in open-minded, highly-aware fashion. Attempting to take my own advice and embrace aural exploration, I put aside some time and space to go over the new releases of 2013 that I actually got round to listening to. I then picked my top 10 tracks from the records I’ve really dug and compiled my 2013 Primo-Grade Supreme Sonic Splash Playlist Mixtape on Spotify. Here’s a run-down of those righteous jams…

  1. KvelertakÅpenbaring from the Meir album. I can dig Norse metal that makes you want to rip holes in mountains.
  2. Föllakzoid9 from the II album. I can dig Chilean cosmic psych-dirges that make you want to go for a float through interstellar space.
  3. AirbourneReady to Rock from the Black Dog Barking album. I can always dig stright up fist-pumpin’, headbangin’ Aussie rawk ‘n’ roll.
  4. MelvinsDoctor Mule from the Tres Cabrones album. I can dig bizarro bludgeon riffola that makes your eyebrows dance of their own accord.
  5. Monster MagnetMindless Ones from the Last Patrol album. I can always dig more psychedelic space rock jams from the Bull God.
  6. KavinskyProtoVision from the OutRun album. I can dig French electro instrumental concept albums about an undead ’80s Testarossa crash victim who’s come back to haunt his girlfriend..
  7. Queens of the Stone AgeThe Vampyre of Time and Memory from the …Like Clockwork album. I can dig it when QotSA get really dark and broody and produce the most beautiful and poignant soundtracks to an existential crisis.
  8. Dinosaur Pile-UpLip Hook Kiss from the Nature Nurture album. I can dig surging, bittersweet alternative rock anthems that make me want to fall in love with a girl with a lip ring.
  9. PixiesAndro Queen from the EP1 EP. I can always dig Pixies, especially when they do the washy-dream surf guitar thing.
  10. Daft PunkContact from the Random Access Memories album. I can always dig Daft Punk and RAM was my most-played, favourite album of the year. Electric throwback French disco was, thus, my jam of 2013 and the absolute absolute of the whole thing is the final track which sends me a transcendental cosmic trip. I hear this and feel at one with the Universe. Yeah, after the disco comes the deep and metaphysical…

I guess that works as a Top 10 then and probably does a decent job of representing the kind of stuff I’ve been crankin’ repeatedly alongside old familiars and a few ‘new old familiars’. Gigwise I got to see The Sword, Whitesnake, Avenged Sevenfold, Pixies and Airbourne supported by Orange Goblin so they were all a bonus. Back home, I also listened to a lot of movie soundtracks – my personal favourites of 2013 being the Maniac OST – because I love film music and its easier to write and work to scores because there are fewer distracting singalong moments. I’ve also got an extra shot of impetus to seriously delve even further into classical and opera music. That came from watching the BBC documentary series Howard Goodall’s Story of Music and from visiting La Scala in Milano when I was over there in the summer.

I need to open my mind and ears more in 2014, so feel free to throw sounds at me. I’m all amped up for aural exploration and new sonic sensations and I will now go and listen to them and curtail this self indulgent, boring ramble about what I did in 2013. A few more brief retrospective blogposts may surface in coming days before 2014 but I’ll keep ’em brief. Less talk, more rock. Cut the chatter, spin the platter.

Ah enough, I’m getting up and going off to dance to some French disco…

Crankin’ Up the Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas Audio Carnage…

 

Yulekulele solo! *shreds*

Rock out! That above is the Yulekulele and it’s one of the Magical Christmas Artefacts on my Advent Calendar. I’ve got a lot of air Yulekulele action going down at the moment because I’m listening to a lot of festive rock music. Nay, I don’t just listen to the music – I feel the music. I respond in harmony. I thrash around, howl out th’words, throw shapes and headbang like a ho-ho-ho-mofoco. ‘Tis the season, after all…

I do this because ‘Christmas is Awesome‘ and because the sound of seasonal music is, erm, music to my ears in a period I figure with should appreciate with a perky, celebratory attitude. It’s also been sweet to discover that certain artists have laid down surprising festive tracks that I never knew they existed. Sir Christopher Lee has done multiple heavy metal Christmases! Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish have a beautiful cover of Walking in the Air! Bad Religion have recently released an EP called Christmas Songs and it’s a wonderful, spiritually-uplifting irony-free punk rock blast!

Some of these things will be getting cranked on tonight’s FNAT radio show on BBC Radio Lancashire. I’m going to be joining my old man and Sean McGinty again from 10pm to 1am and I’m mainly doing it to mash Merry Christmas Rock Music in everyone’s earholes. If you would like to hear some yulerific riffage you can tune in online. It’ll be fun and may boost your spirits and help you battle pre-Christmas stress. You will definitely get to hear some odd versions of old yuletide favourites and it may help you feel a bit more festive if you’ve not already (like me) gone completely Christmas crackers.

For now though, I will leave you with a link to my Christmas Den of Geek column, a  link to my current jam (erm, cranberry sauce?) and a singing gingerbread man because it’s Christmas and ’tis the season for music and magic…

Crumbs, that’s a beautiful rendition of ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’…

Pictonaut Challenge: Audionaut Drowning in Sound Doodle…

Thwum. Thwum. Thwum. Thwuuuuuuuuuum…

Drum roll please. *Drum rolls and a cymbal crash* Thank you. Following up the Pictonaut story post of the other day, here’s an extra doodle…

An Audionaut drowning in sound...

An Audionaut drowning in sound…

These inky scribblings are the result of a convergence of several things. One: I haven’t done much drawing recently and need to get my sketchin’ fingers working again ahead of some projects (namely, teaching Italian children in interactive fashion and participating in a daily drawing challenge in August). Two: my Pictonaut story was very bleak and political and I wanted to produce something that celebrated aural love and imaginative escapism as well. John Steele’s piece does that and I direct you over to his site where you can find details about the monthly Pictonaut challenge from the High Priest himself. Three: I seem to spend a lot of time with headphones on submerging myself in soundscapes and at the moment my mind is mainly swimming through Random Access Memories. I’m all about electro-sensory stimulation: hence this quick tech-sketch.

Now, back to riding those basslines, feeling the beats and tuning into to the pure electric energy and harmonious melodic spirit through my plugged-in headphones…