On Friday night, Magoo are celebrating their 25th birthday at the Norwich Art’s Centre, and whilst there’s always more to be said in looking forwards rather than backwards, it seems a more than appropriate point to briefly return to a moment that is now a somewhat indistinct memory.

Back in a time when the world seemed a slightly less finite concept, I attempted to forge a life in the world of light entertainment looking after the “telephones and typewriters” for a band called Magoo.

To be frank I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

Thankfully I don’t think the band were entirely clear what was going on either, so we kind of suited each other just fine for a while.

When I first started working with the band I only really had one goal, and that was to record a session for John Peel. I made a vague deal with them that I’d help as much as I was able to, as long as when, or at that point probably more honestly if, they ever got to record a session for Peel I would be allowed to make a guest appearance.

So you can imagine what the 12 December 1995 meant to me, as that was the day Magoo travelled down to the BBC’s Maida Vale recording studios (number four from what I can recall) to record their debut session for the show.

As ever with these kind of events I don’t recollect much about the day, other than feeling wildly overawed and hugely out of place. After all this was the place that almost every band I’d ever loved had come to record at some point. This was the place where Delia Derbyshire had laid out huge lengths of tape loops in the corridors to produce the theme tune to Dr Who for the Radiophonic Workshop. The BBC Symphony Orchestra even called it home.

And here we were.

Magoo recorded four songs that day, namely Baxter Preminger, Eye Spy, Goldwyn and last but not least Valley As A Whole. And it was in the middle of this last tune that the band got to make good on that earlier agreed deal. With a good understanding of my limitations as a musician I played just a single chord during the three minutes of treble-heavy racket – a hugely enjoyable chord mind, and one that will stay with me until little else does (if you’ve got things to do and people to see, my moment of infamy begins at the 3:02 mark and ends, well, quite quickly after that).

Here are three of songs from that first session, sadly my recording of Eye Spy seems to have gone missing in the intervening years. 

Of the three songs that still remain in my archives I have to admit to never having really liked Valley As A Whole, despite my appearance on it (contrarian to the last). I much prefer Goldywn – which owes more than a little to the repetitive racket of the band Loop, and Baxter Preminger – which was always a favourite and remains so twenty plus years later.

(For reference the ‘bloke’ mentioned by Peel in the introduction to Valley As A Whole was probably me – I’d gone up to Leeds for Sound City (do they still do these?) in an attempt to learn about “telephones and typewriters” and bumped into him after one of the events – in my defence I don’t think I ever claimed I was a member of the band but to be honest all I can really remember about the conversation was that he’d been for dinner at Delia Smith’s the previous week. This probably says all you need to know about my ability to make the most of a situation.)


So come along on Friday if you can, Magoo are well deserving of your time and support and twenty five years is a mark well worth celebrating.

Happy birthday Magoo!

Exhibition openings in my hometown are somewhat few and far between, so it’s pleasing that one such event last weekend was dedicated to a subject that has become an increasing obsession with me, namely the flatlands.

Of the six artists responding “to the idea of flatness” Rhona Fleming’s work was what I found most intriguing, with a number of abstract pieces featuring fragments of objects and ink sealed in resin. Christopher Skinner’s range of lino prints, detailing the telegraph poles that often appear the only sign of life in a otherwise empty land, were also highlights, as were Andrew Olley’s excellent photographs of the largely featureless fens and the architectural detritus of the industry of agriculture that inhabits them, (Andrew also scored extra points for featuring Ongar Hill in one of his chosen shots – which was always going to play well with me). 

Flatlands, the exhibition is on at the Greyfriars Art Space in King’s Lynn and is open until Saturday 29 July 2017, if you’re in the vicinity in the next week I’d recommend a visit.

Me Again


It’s been a while eh?

Have been struggling to be inspired and upbeat in the last couple of months – a variety of factors, most of which I have little or no control over. That said I do have (some) control over how I respond, so I’m back here to attempt to continue to accentuate the positive.

Back to Ongar Hill (again).

This time as a direct response to Tim Dee’s Into the Wind programme, recently shown on BBC4 – if you’ve not seen it go and watch it now, it’s easily one of best things that’s been broadcast on television this year.

In Into the Wind Tim walks from Guy’s Head, at the mouth of the River Nene, along the route of the Peter Scott Walk to stand on the edge of the Lincolnshire coast* and attempt to record the incoming wind.

“As I have grown old, even though I have liked most of the people I’ve talked to, I’ve become more and more keen on listening to the sound of the world after we’ve all shut up. This means going after wildtrack, the song of the Earth, for its own sake – wind, above all, pure wind. And Richard Alwyn, who directed Into the Wind, caught me at it. He asked where I might like to go for a walk and talk about the weather. I showed him my fluffy dog on a stick and said the Wash, that jaw-bite out of East Anglia, opening to the sea.

So I thought I’d try my hand at the same.

Obviously my kit isn’t in the same league as Tim’s, but that’s perhaps no great surprise given that he’s an experienced producer of radio for the BBC, and I’m not.

We walked in the opposite direction to the route followed in Into the Wind and eventually found the pathway that stretches across the marsh to the Inner Trial Bank, a peculiar man-made island (albeit that it’s not ordinarily an island) built in the early 1970s, as part of a now long defunct government research project. For a location so relatively close to the everyday it’s a wonderfully remote, disconnected place which I really can’t recommend visiting enough.

I have a sense I’ll be back (much) sooner than later.

*The pedant in me needs to point out that although Tim starts his walk in Lincolnshire he actually completes his recording in Norfolk  – an admittedly minor point, but as a Norfolk boy an important one.

Of The Grid


Although it’s true to say that the world wide web is home to all sorts of dullards and blowhards, it’s equally true that if you’re prepared to put the effort into seeking them out, there are more than enough individuals whose company is worth keeping.

Mr Richard Weston, who you may or may not know as @acejet170, is a man located firmly in the latter group, and is responsible for the very handsome piece of work pictured above.

An example of the Marber Grid in the wild.

Hopefully some of you will recognise it as a homage to Romek Marber’s famous grid, designed for his work with Penguin in the early 1960s, however if not now’s the time for you to investigate further.

Before you disappear off though, I have good news for those of you thinking that one of these wonderfully intriguing pieces of art, celebrating Poland’s finest, would suit your unfeasibly fashionable homestead, as Mr Weston is making them to order – and this is where to stake your claim. It’s also where you’ll find Richard’s blog, which to be honest you should probably be reading instead of this.

Bravo Mr A Jet170 – and thank you.

BLOG - Speechification Alternate

A few years ago there was a corner of the world wide web called Speechification.

According to those behind Speechification it was “A blog of Radio 4. Not about Radio 4 but of it. We point to the bits we like, the bits you might have missed, the bits that someone might have sneakily recorded. And other bits of speech radio might find their way here too. Of course, one day this might turn into something else… maybe a new way of curating radio, or maybe it won’t.”

As an indicator of what they were were pointing people (and in this instance specifically me) towards, a blogpost from 2008, which is an alarming aside (but that’s for another day), states that they “have allowed me to pick up on an excellent interview with the Pet Shop Boys from The London Ear on Resonance FM, a half hour guide to Glitch presented by Paul Morley (somewhat incongruously broadcast on Radio 2) and a programme on Erics, the legendary venue in Liverpool (which was still very good despite being presented by Steve Lamacq)”.

Sadly it didn’t become a new way of curating radio, and after returning for a short while following a break from its original run it’s now no longer transmitting.

With that being the case I’m going to try and pay homage to what the Speechification folk were doing and occasionally publish blogposts to remind myself of some of the great radio that I’ve listened to, and at the same time signpost anyone who finds themselves here to programmes they may have missed. I don’t know how often I’ll publish these posts, that will be somewhat dependent on others, although I will try and persevere with them.

So here are three programmes, all from Radio 4, and all I hope, firmly in the spirit of the original site.

A Call from Joybubbles 
First up is an introduction to the oddly fascinating world of phone phreaking. Where Josef Carl Engressia Jr. (aka latterly Joybubbles) a blind boy with perfect pitch, discovers he can make free phone calls and create all sorts of telephony based magic merely by whistling. And yes you’re right it does sound unlikely.

On the back of mentioning this programme on twitter the fine people at @MaraidDesign also pointed me to two further associated pieces of radio, namely Long Distance from Radiolab which covers similar but different ground to A Call from Joybubbles, and this episode of This American Life from January 1998 which tells the “stories of who we are on the phone, of things we learn on the phone, and of things that happen on the phone that don’t happen anywhere else”.

Second Side Up – a Life Captured in Radio
Second, naturally, is this from the always excellent Between the Ears slot on BBC Radio 3, that “celebrates innovative and thought-provoking features that make adventurous use of sound”. This episode tells the story of Second Side Up, a long running radio show created by Mark Talbot, albeit one only distributed on cassette to a small network of his friends and family. This is a lovely piece of radio and the fact that people are quietly going about these sorts of labours of love is always cheering.

The ‘Apostrophiser’
And finally, and continuing with the theme of labours of love,  a programme on Bristol’s very own grammar vigilante. This story has been reported all over the shop so you’ll have probably come across the gentleman in question already. That said this is still well worth a listen and having seen a couple of TV news reports on the apostrophiser and his work it’s also a great example of the pictures being so much better on the radio.

Off The Map


BLOG - Madiera

I like to think there is a certain amount of rhyme in my reason, although it appears that despite that belief I’m often still sat here staring into space.

Others make far more sense of it than me.

Gavin Pretor-Pinney, founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society, in a TED talk entitled Cloudy with a Chance of Joy, justifies the pastime (perhaps unsurprisingly in specific respect of the appreciation of cloud-forms), particularly as an antidote to the modern world.

“You’re not going to change the world by lying on your back and gazing up at the sky, are you? It’s pointless. It’s a pointless activity, which is precisely why it’s so important. The digital world conspires to make us feel perpetually busy. Sometimes we need excuses to do nothing. We need to be reminded by these patron goddesses of idle fellows that slowing down and being in the present, not thinking about what you’ve got to do and what you should have done, but just being here, letting your imagination lift from the everyday concerns down here and just being in the present, it’s good for you, and it’s good for the way you feel.”

However it’s Patrick Barkham in his excellent book Coastlines The Story of Our Shore, who when talking about his response to the landscape at Scolt Head on the North Norfolk coast, explains how I feel even more clearly.

“As I floated in the North Sea, I considered Caspar Henderson’s idea that Scolt was a site for hypnagogia. I guess it is obvious that we can reach such a fluid and imaginative state of consciousness in a liminal landscape like Scolt, a small coastal island that flexes like a living thing and grows like a child. It becomes easier to see how we might be affected more than we realise by our surroundings if we are lucky enough to spend time in one of the last wildernesses of southern Britain. Here it is possible to return to a childlike state alone with the sea and sand and silence, completely absorbed in the present moment.”

Whilst it’s rare that I inhabit a world quite as distant as the landscape Patrick describes (albeit that it’s not actually that far from where I call home) I think it’s clear that I get the same sense of hypnagogia from the simple act of staring out to sea, or up to the skies.

Which is just as well in times like these.