Archive for the ‘bass guitar’ Tag

Girl Power

Growing up in the 1970s, I was acutely aware of gender stereotypes. I was a very ‘girly’ girl as a child – fond of dresses and dolls. I didn’t climb trees, I didn’t like getting dirty. Then I moved into the 1980s, and adolescence, and I became more aware of the imbalance between girls and boys. And it seemed unfair. I figured out very early on that I didn’t want to have kids, and I liked doing things that girls weren’t supposed to like doing. I started writing horror stories at age 14. I started playing Dungeons & Dragons at 15. I was the only girl in the group for much of the year, and I have already talked about how all the boys ganged up on me in a previous post.

Fortunately for me, when I want to do something, the fact that other girls don’t do it has never put me off. But this isn’t always the case. A lot of girls are put off pursuing an activity or career they enjoy, because being the only girl can be off-putting, especially if you get picked on, as was the case in my first D&D group.

This is why it’s crucial to have role models, especially for girls. Why are there not more women playing lead guitar, or bass guitar, or driving race cars? Why are there not more women pilots, or women fire fighters? There are, of course, women doing these things, but they are still very much in the minority, and they need to be a lot more visible in order to inspire the next generation of young women to follow in their wake.

My inspiration for playing bass guitar was Suzie Quatro, who I remember seeing on ‘Top of the Pops’ in the 1970s and I thought she was a cool rocking chick. My inspiration for writing horror was Stephen King, who of course is male but he writes sympathetic female characters – something some male writers aren’t able to do – and it never occurred to me, as a teenager, that writing horror was something women weren’t supposed to do. Over the years there have been a number of people who have said to me something along the lines of ‘what’s a nice girl like you doing writing horror stories?’ but it does happen less frequently these days, and I hope people are more enlightened. After all, in the view of many people the first modern horror novel was FRANKENSTEIN – written not only by a woman, but one that was only seventeen years old at the time.

Mary Shelly. Image (c) National Portrait Gallery

I’ve considered myself a feminist since the 1980s. Although we have made some inroads since then, it seems we’ve still got a long way to go. I was touched recently by a news article about four-year-old Esme, who told her mother she needed to be a boy because she wanted to be a fire fighter, and she’d only ever seen male fire fighters in books and she ‘didn’t want to be the only girl.’ This prompted fire crews all over the UK to post tweets and videos from their female fire fighters, to prove to Esme that you can be a fire fighter if you are a girl. The story is encouraging, but also highlights how important it is for female role models to get more coverage.

We also seem to be making some inroads in sports. The women’s football league got national TV coverage on terrestrial TV for the first time this year, and had the best viewing figures ever. And the England team did quite well, I note – getting to the semi-final. I am not a follower of football, but this made even me happy.

I am also happy that there is a series of races for women drivers, again on terrestrial TV, for the first time this year. I have been a fan of Formula 1 for over 25 years, and I’ve been banging on for just as long that there aren’t enough opportunities for women racing drivers. This year we have the Formula W. OK there are only six races, of only half an hour each, which is nowhere near equivalent to Formula 1, but they don’t have anywhere near the investment, and it is a start. If people watch the Formula W races, and support them, they might get more investment and most importantly these young women (and they are all young, but so are the male drivers), will pave the way for little girls who dream of becoming racing drivers to understand that this is a dream within reach.

We need these trailblazers. We need women of courage, battling against the preconception that women can’t do these things to prove that they can, and the fact that they are doing these things needs to be publicised so that young girls can see that they can do these things and they won’t be ‘the only girl’.

The final Formula W race takes place at Brands Hatch in the UK next weekend, and I have tickets. I will be there in the stands, cheering on these trailblazing women.

In a small way I hope I am also encouraging a new generation of women bass players. When I have my bass guitar lesson, there is a young girl – maybe about 12 – who watches me through the door for the last few minutes while she waits for her own lesson to start. She seems to genuinely enjoy watching me play, and always gives me a ‘thumbs up’ at the end of my lesson.

I feel that at last we are taking steps towards gender equality. They are very small steps, but at least they are being taken. Which is why it’s so important to support trailblazing women when they come along, forging a path for others to follow in their wake. And it’s why I am so excited about going to Brands Hatch next weekend for the final race in the Formula W series. It doesn’t really matter who wins the championship. In my opinion, all of these women are winners.

I’m finishing this post with a video of the trailblazing woman I still see as an inspiration: Suzie Quatro, performing ‘Devil Gate Drive’ in 1974.

My Life in Music: 1978

In 1978 I was living with my mother and sister in a small council flat, and my sister and I went to stay with my dad every other weekend. We were still living in Mossley in Lancashire, but we were now on the other side of it.

Mossley was, and still is, a small town. The church was often the centre of the community in small towns, and it certainly seemed to figure prominently in our lives at that point in time. My sister and I went to Sunday School at St George’s Church, and I went to the same church hall once a week for my Brownie pack meetings. I remember the vicar coming round to talk to my mother about cleaning jobs, which she was looking for. As a single mother she was working three jobs around feeding us, taking us to school, picking us up again, and putting us to bed. I never realised that at the time.

The church was involved in a lot of fetes and festivals, and Whitsun in particular, taking place in the Spring a few weeks after Easter, was a big deal. Every year at this time we had the ‘Whit Walks’, which appears to be unique to the North West of England. There would be a big parade through the town, and everyone who belonged to any of the churches would participate. My sister and I would both get new dresses for the occasion, and we’d join the parade, walking through town and waving at people who lined the streets to watch.

Each church also crowned a ‘Rose Queen’ every year. As far as I can tell the Rose Queen originates from the May Queen, but I can well understand why the Christian church changed the name – the May Queen has somewhat sinistar pagan origins connected to virgin sacrifices. The ceremony would be held at the church with all the queens from the neighbouring churches in attendance for the ‘coronation’. Sunday School took place in the church hall, and although everyone was in the same hall there were lots of tables in there and the classes were divided up by age (and apparently by gender). In 1978 it was my Sunday school class – a group of eight-year-old girls – from which the Rose Queen was chosen. The honour went to the girl with the best attendance. I was never in the running – although I was told I had to go to Sunday School I wasn’t made to go every week. In the end there were two girls who had the same perfect attendance, and in the end they had to draw lots to find out who got to be Rose Queen. The one who didn’t win had to be a Maid of Honour like the rest of us, wearing a long dress and carrying the Rose Queen’s train, at not only the coronation of our Rose Queen but at the coronation of all the other Rose Queens as well. We also got to ride on a float in the Whit Walks, which I quite enjoyed because it meant I didn’t have to walk that year, and I was never very fond of walking, even as a child.

So the picture here is from June 1978 and shows me and my best friend Helen in our ‘Maid of Honour’ dresses. I think the picture was taken outside the church hall. My sister is in the middle, in her ‘Whitsun’ dress. Helen and I were born four months apart and were friends from infancy because our mothers were friends. We went to the same school and the same Sunday school and were pretty much inseparable until the point we moved to Canada. I never really had a best friend in quite the same way after that, and she’s someone I would dearly love to find again, but have failed to do so, despite many Google searches. Sometimes you have to accept that people in your past stay in your past.

Anyway, being a Maid of Honour for the Rose Queen was quite possibly the most exciting things that happened to me in 1978, in a life that consisted of school, Brownie meetings, Sunday School, watching TV, playing with dolls and weekend visits to my dad’s house. One of my favourite TV shows was Top of the Pops, which would have a weekly count down on all the chart hits, and it was filmed in a studio where they would roll out some of the top artists of the day performing their hit song to a studio audience. I was already a big Abba fan, and they featured frequently on ‘Top of the Pops’ during the 1970s, but generally in a video and not a live performance because of the distance involved in travelling from Sweden.

This year’s selected song is one that I remember watching on ‘Top of the Pops’ this year, but for once it’s not Abba. As an eight-year-old I was a very ‘girly girl’. I liked wearing pretty dresses (one of the reaons I liked Whitsun so much; I always got a new dress), I didn’t like getting dirty or climbing trees and I thought boys were noisy and uncouth. But I saw this video, featuring a tiny but dynamic woman sporting an enormous bass, and something awoke inside me. Something that would grow up to be a wannabe rock chick.

It’s entirely down to Suzi Quatro that I now play bass guitar and like strutting my rock chick stuff at open mic nights, and it was this song that first brought her to my attention – “If You Can’t Give Me Love”, which hit the UK charts in the spring of 1978. The video is the performance I remember watching on ‘Top of the Pops. Note that the instruments are not plugged in, because all the songs are mimed. I never twigged that at the time.

New Year Reflections

The start of the year is a time to reflect on what’s past, on where you find yourself at the present, and where you want to be going in the future.

We are now a couple of weeks into 2016 and I find myself, on the whole, to be in a pretty good place. I have several publications under my belt including three novels and another coming soon (SUFFER THE CHILDREN, my first novel, due for re-release from MuseItUp Publishing later this year). I’ve got two more novels in progress, and ideas for a few more. The day job is going well, and I’ve seen significant improvements in my health since taking the decision to drop twenty pounds in 2015.

However, my life is also pretty packed. The day job pays well but works me hard, and I spend not only eight hours a day five days a week there, but three hours a day commuting to and from London. I have my bass guitar lesson once a week and am doing regular open mic gigs with Hubby. I am trying to develop a regular exercise routine, we play Dungeons and Dragons twice a month, I run the T Party writers’ group which meets once a month, and this is before we start talking about fitting in the writing, the promotion, the conventions, and holidays.

Don’t get me wrong – this is not a whine. I am where I am in my life because I chose to be there, and I do not regret anything. However, there is always room for improvement, and the start of the year seems to be a good time to look at what I  can do better.

First of all, this blog has been neglected for the last couple of years, and I am going to endeavour to change that this year. Monday will still be the guest blog feature Monday’s Friends, as it has been for some years now. Wednesdays will be a writing-related post, cross-posted on the WriteClub blog. I hope to pick up the Ten Commandments of Writing feature, which rather tailed off halfway through last year. Friday Fears will feature with more regularity, and I would welcome contributions of two-sentence horror stories from anyone who feels inclined to send me one – credited, of course.

In addition, I’d like to feature other posts on the blog, about more general subjects. I can’t promise this will be weekly – it’s more likely to be once or twice a month. But when I started the blog, I was talking about commuting and London and weather and travelling and all the things that I deal with in my everyday life. And because I don’t want to be the kind of writer that only comes online to say ‘buy my book’, I’d like to get back to this again.

So, that’s one resolution: more regular blog posts. A second, more personal one, relates to the aforementioned weight loss. This was something that I didn’t really discuss on the blog, but those who follow me on Twitter will be aware of it, since I was Tweeting about my weekly weigh-ins.

This was something that came about when I went on a short holiday to France in June and couldn’t get the zip of my favourite summer dress done up. Coming at a time when I’d lost several family members and friends to cancer within a fairly short period, I was more mindful of needing to look after my health and decided the time had come to get a bit healthier. The weight loss was all about trying to shed bad habits, as well as a few pounds. I hate the gym, I hate vegetables and I love all things sweet and sugary. But sometimes you have to do things that are good for you, whether you want to or not. I aimed to get back to ten and a half stone (that’s 147 lbs for the Americans amongst you), which is what I was when I last lost weight, in 2009. The intervening years had apparently seen a gain of over twenty pounds, which I wanted to lose again. I managed to hit my goal just before Christmas, but then came all the eating and drinking and not moving from the couch for two weeks that accompanied the holiday season, and I’m now a few pounds above that goal again.

However, I resolved at the beginning of this year to try and go back to the good habits I’d adopted at the end of last year: regular exercise, more fruit & veg, fewer sugary treats, fewer takeaways, less red meat. I’ve ridden this whole weight-loss roundabout before. The weight comes off, I go back to eating what I like to eat, it comes back on again. This year, I want to try and keep the weight off – especially since Hubby bought me several new dresses in my new smaller size for Christmas, and I want to be able to keep on wearing them.

It can be quite difficult as a writer to stay fit, since writing generally involves sitting on a chair for hours at a time, moving only to get more tea and another couple of biscuits (favourite food of The Muse, apparently). And I am inherently quite lazy. I have no trouble getting up early to write, especially when my early morning writing sessions involve a yummy breakfast muffin at the coffee shop I set up in, but I am much less inclined to get up early to go for an early-morning swim.

There, then, is Resolution Number 2. And then there are the writing resolutions, which I discussed in the December round-up post. I have two novels to finish. I have to crack on with them.

There’s an additional resolution that comes in to help me with all the others, and that’s to be more organised. I’ve got a rather anally retentive personality anyway, and I love lists. Lists are the key to staying organised. I have to do lists for every week, involving both writing and non-writing related goals, and they get dutifully ticked off as I complete the tasks. Finding time to write, or to exercise, equally involves noting appointments in my diary and making sure I turn up when I say I will – even if not doing so lets down no one else but myself.

It’s always dangerous to declare one’s intentions in a public forum, since you have a lot of people to answer to if you fail to fulfil them. But it also provides a good motivation to sticking to your resolutions.

Hence, I start the year full of good intentions. I guess we need to come back here at the end of the year and see how well – or otherwise – I’ve managed to do!

Whatever you wish for this year, I hope 2016 delivers.

Burns Bass

WP_000171This is my Burns bass. It’s a 1962 Vista Sonic Sunburst. It used to belong to my dad, who played bass guitar in a band in the 1960s. He told me he bought it in Tin Pan Alley in London, one day when the neck of his previous bass broke and he needed to find a new one in a hurry because he and the band had a gig to play.

When he found out that I was learning to play bass, he gave it to me, as he hadn’t played it in years. For that reason, I will never sell it.

It’s a bass with attitude. It’s heavy, and it’s loud. I have yet to find a proper gig bag that it fits in, because it’s got a long neck and a big headstock. It’s older than me, and probably in better condition.

Note the sticker of the dude playing guitar. If you think he looks a bit 1970s, you’d be right. When I was about eight years old I had a book of stickers, for colouring in and sticking on things. I coloured in the guitar dude, and dad asked if he could have it. He stuck it on the Burns, and it’s been there for the last 35 years.

Whenever I take the bass out on open mic nights it always gets attention. Proper rockers know what it is, and that it’s rare.

So the bass is something special. I wish I could say the same about my playing.  But I’m still learning, and I’m learning right-handed in spite of being left-handed (as it happens you need both hands to play bass guitar, but I might tell that story some other time). I do open mic nights with Hubby, and our friend Julia, who does vocals.

I’m going to leave you with a video of an open mic performance from earlier this year, in which I do my stuff on the Burns. This is a rendition of Mudcrutch’s “Lover of the Bayou”. And on this one, Hubby does most of the vocals.

Yes, I know I look very serious. I was concentrating hard.

Rock Chick in Training

I took on a new hobby last year. I started taking bass guitar lessons.

I’ve had secret ambitions to be a rock chick for years. I think it started with Suzie Quatro, in the 1970s. She was a Cool Chick who played bass. She looked like a woman who knew what she wanted, in spite of being so small the bass guitar she played was practically as big as she was.

At my 40th birthday party – with the 80s theme – I indulged in my fantasy and turned up dressed as Joan Jett. Complete with 80s rock star wig. See attached pic for the evidence…

I can’t play the guitar I’m holding in this picture. A few years ago we got a bass guitar for me, I got myself a book of lessons, and attempted to learn, but I found it all rather tedious and not being very disciplined about these things, soon gave up and the bass guitar sat amongst all of hubby’s electric guitars, untouched, for years.

Last year I decided to pick it up again. This time I booked weekly lessons. This I thought would make me more inclined to stick with it. Unfortunately, there are no more hours in the day than there were before, and trying to fit in practise time, amongst everything else in my life, is sometimes tricky. I quite often go to my lesson and my tutor says, “how’s practise been going this week?”. And I have to say, “er, it hasn’t….”. Fortunately he doesn’t get too cross when I admit I haven’t picked up the bass between lessons. I just have to accept that progress will be slow when I don’t practise.

Hubby has been encouraging me to play some fairly basic bass lines so I can accompany him on his Open Mic nights. But he’s been playing for over 30 years and I’ve been playing about 9 months, and sometimes I have to remind him of that.

He bought me a shiny new shoulder strap for the bass. It’s hard to make out clearly in the attached picture, but it’s a bright yellow strap with “crime scene – do not cross” written all over it. I thought it was highly appropriate, and it makes me happy to have it on my bass.

I can now play three songs that I am happy to get up and accompany Chris on when he does them at Open Mic nights. The attached video is the first (and so far only) filmic evidence that I play bass in public. I’m not in the opening shots, but the guy behind the camera, Gerry, did a pretty good job of making sure I got my fair share of camera time.

So this is me, Chris and Julia doing Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” at Bar XLR in Epsom.