How I Didn’t Learn to Play Guitar

In 1989 I got a book that was just strumming easy chords to famous songs. It was frustrating because they weren’t necessarily in the right key and so I couldn’t play along with the records. But I persevered. Went don’t a few dead ends – such as spending months fingering the open E chord the wrong way.

I had an Epiphone superstrat. But no amp for the first couple of years. I plugged the guitar into my boombox and if I wanted distortion just turned it up. I knew nothing and that probably slowed down my learning.

But things got better when I bought a Led Zeppelin tab book. It was mostly inaccurate, but it got me started on lead and riffs. But the big change was when I realised that I could play the notes from Black Dog in any order I wanted and they worked over the same notes. I’d discovered the pentatonic scale. So improv began.

I started buying American guitar mags that had tabs to songs in. And I bought tab books I had no chance of being able to play. But I’d enjoy muddling through playing along to Satriani’s Extremist album despite not being able to play the widdly bits. Though funnily enough it was often the riffs I loved more than the widdling anyway. By the time I started uni in 93 I would spend weeks pouring over tab books and could (back then, no chance now) play most of Maiden’s Fear of the Dark album.

The main thing for me though was right from the start I was more interesting in writing my own songs rather than play someone elses. Even now my repertoire of other artists’ material is very low. I would have been a better guitarist if I’d had lessons, but less fun for me I think. I enjoyed the journey, I wasn’t looking for some destination. I would do stuff like use two boomboxes to record my own songs with sound on sound – dubbing my live playing into it – adding drums from a cheap keyboard. I enjoyed the muddling through, the experimenting.

A Calamitous Day

The Prime Minister has signed the Article 50 notification. Our country has begun the process of leaving the Europe Union. The 52 percent that voted for Brexit (actually 26 percent of UK population) is now in charge. Whatever happens now is their fault. Don’t blame us if it’s a complete mess. And don’t blame the poor, the immigrants, the muslims, the homeless, the children, the sick, doctors, the nurses, the banks, the schools. This is your UK now, if you voted for this, own it.

I’m sort of an immigrant to this country. I sneaked in. It is a country I have loved but always felt a bit of an outsider; aware that I was adopted by both a new family and a new nation. I’m lucky in that the colour of my skin makes it easy for me to hide in plain sight in the UK. But it also means people have been willing to share their hateful views with me – thinking I’m one of them. But I’m not. When I hear their racism, the darkest recesses of what might be loosely called their soul, when they use immigration to justify this political leap into the dark, they are talking about me and my children.

And so no, this doesn’t end today. Like millions of others in this country I will fight for a decent future for my family. A future free of hatred and bigotry, a future free of lies painted on buses, free of ignorance and lack of education. A future where instead of isolating ourselves and dreaming of some version of 1950s that only existed for a privileged few even then – instead a future where we try to be part of something bigger and better for the benefit of our children and their children. A future where expertise, education, science, and truth are still important.

Today the UK takes a terrible first step into isolation, into a petty small minded version of this country that’s unwilling to be part of a community. A hideous mashup of The Darling Buds of May and Love Thy Neighbour. A future molded by US health insurance companies, big sugar, the Daily Mail, Murdoch, a USA in political turmoil, and the Kremlin.

I still hope our government will see sense. I hope they realise the incredible damage that could follow and thus make a brave u-turn. But I fear that the most likely outcome is that our children will be damned to a nation suffering a prolonged political, social and cultural ice age. We have a government more interested in maintaining party unity than protecting us against any external threat to the UK. We’re sleepwalking into oblivion with the scriptwriter working in Cyrillic.

To those who voted for setting the clocks back 40 years, I hope you enjoy your bendy cucumbers and incandescent light bulbs. But I don’t think they will be much compensation for the many hardships to follow.

In some ways I hope you are right. It would be wonderful to think we’re beginning a new golden age, a revitalised and glorious United Kingdom, once again earning the Great in Great Britain. We’re not though, we’re really not. You can’t build a golden age on bigotry and lies.

Maybe one day the 52 percent will understand that, and they will even apologise to us. Until then, the rest of us will fight this massive mistake. Not just for our sake, but for your sake and that of your children too. Because that’s what being part of a family, union or community is all about. You’ve just forgotten.

Hello and welcome visitors to the site. As you can see a lot of the blog content is old. I’ve moved some content over from the old site just to give some depth. But many of the technical and current affairs articles were out of date so they haven’t made the trip over. But there’s plenty of new content coming soon. I’ve got some music gear and photography reviews coming up. And with Article 50 about to be triggered I’m sure I’ll find something to say about that. Thanks for visiting.

The Best Worst Guitar

Epiphone 435i – a 1980s superstrat. HSS, with locking trem. I didn’t know anything about guitars. But I decided I wanted to play electric guitar. Mainly to fit in with some new friends at sixth form. But unlike any other hobby I picked up in my youth – this was one I stuck with.

I didn’t know what kind of guitar to buy. I just ordered one out of a neighbour’s Littlewoods catalogue. They sent the wrong one – a bass. Then sent the right one. But it was wrong too. Instead of the even cheaper guitar in the catalogue I received the Epiphone 435i that wasn’t even listed.

I had no idea what a locking trem was. Managed to break a few strings trying to tune with the locking nuts tightened. But this cheap HSS guitar with its skinny neck was the only electric guitar I had for nearly 20 years. Learned my first notes on it. Played it a lot live at university. In my late teens and early twenties I must have played for hours every day. I was never any good, but that didn’t matter. I loved that guitar.

It was also special because it was a gift from my mother, who would pass away two years after buying it for me. She encouraged me and listened when I learned something new. Telling me I sounded great, even though I knew I didn’t. At her funeral a friend of my mother’s told me mum used to stand quietly outside my bedroom and listen to me play. She’d told this friend I was really good.

When I met my first wife and we were getting a flat together I brought the guitar down to London and left it with her until I moved. It was the most precious thing I owned. She understood why I left it with her until I moved down. It was a statement of where my heart lay, of how important she was to me.

Within a year of our marriage my wife was dead, at just 35. After my wife died I didn’t think I’d play guitar again. I don’t think I ever wanted to play guitar again.

Until I met my second wife. She encouraged me to play again. We even formed a band for a wedding gig. And I started to practice again. My poor Epiphone 435i, now nearly 20 years old and played to death, wasn’t in great shape by now. The frets were worn flat. I’d filled the straplock holes with matches and glue more times than I could remember. And one day while practicing for the gig the whole locking trem disintegrating, the main metal weight sheering off the rest. And of course it would be a weird size and hard to replace.

My wife bought me a new guitar to do the gig. I still have a few pieces of that Epiphone. Not the whole guitar, but some bits. After a very hard life it pretty much fell apart.

It was guitar given to me by my late mother, held and cherished by my first wife who was taken tragically young, and was played again thanks to the love of the woman who picked up the pieces.

It was a shit guitar. It was the very best guitar.

American Truck Simulator – First Impressions

Hurrah American Truck Simulator has finally been released. The favourite game of many a dad everywhere sees a shift in focus from Europe over to the USA. SCS Software’s new game is a celebration of Americana and initially features California and Nevada, with other states to follow later.

So what’s it like?

American Truck Simulator is a lot like European Truck Simulator. In some ways it feels more like an add-on rather than a full fledged sequel thanks to the reuse of the gameplay model and interface. However there’s plenty new to enjoy – speed cameras make way for cops, turning right on red takes some getting used to and there are new mandatory weighing stops. The big draw is of course the USA location and for that the game is definitely worth the modest £14.99/US$19.99.

While initial impressions make one think not a whole lot has changed that idea is soon dispelled by trying a few deliveries. There’s more traffic now. The trucks and trailers you drive are much bigger. And the parking challenges have got a heck of a lot more difficult. The player may be driving on wider roads, but with this much bigger trucks 90-degree turns are a challenge.

For many of us SCS Software’s Truck Simulator franchise is more about feel than technical wizardry. The game is very attractive but can be rough around the edges, quite literally as anti-aliasing options are limited. However it’s very easy to get the game running at 60 fps thanks to good optimization.

Once again SCS has neatly sidestepped the issue of gaining lots of music licenses by allowing the game to use streaming radio. There’s something genuinely wonderful about hooing along a Nevada interstate with a country station doing its thing. I was driving towards a sunset yesterday evening when the radio station began playing the classic Convoy. A wonderful moment.

American Truck Simulator is not exactly action packed. But then it’s not meant to be. This is a relaxing game, and one for those who love to explore and take their time. In this American Truck Simulator and Elite Dangerous are kindred spirits, in fact combat aside, they are very similar games – albeit with a difference in the vehicles involved. They certainly scratch the same gaming itch.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first few hours with American Truck simulator and am looking forward to further states being released and modders getting their hands on the game. It seems SCS Software has done it again – created a wonderful entertaining time-soak form the unlikeliest of source material. Highly recommended.

You can read more about the game at the SCS Software website. The game is out now on Steam or via this Amazon link – American Truck Simulator (PC DVD)

Breezy Westbay

It might have been blowing a gale, but it was also lovely and sunny at Westbay in Dorset yesterday. The day before the town had been very quiet, with rain driving visitors away. But the winter sun brought out plenty of visitors yesterday despite the cold and wind. I decided to head over with my camera. I travelled light for this one, just my Fujifilm X-T1 with the 27mm f/2.8 and 14mm f/2.8 prime lenses.

Breezy Westbay 019

Golden Years

Breezy Westbay 010

Breezy Westbay 003

A Voice for Ellie

Today I published my first short story on Amazon Kindle. Well not my first ever short story. It’s just the first that I’ve published on Amazon’s Kindle platform. At nearly 12,000 words I think it’s a bargain for 99p. The story is called A Voice for Ellie and is a fictionalised semi-biographical tale. The story is available in the UK, USA and many other Amazon stores.

If you are kind enough to buy the story please do leave a review – good or bad – I really value your feedback.

You can find the story A Voice for Ellie by Harry Neary at Amazon.

Garden Tweeter

Oh the horror, Twitter was down for over an hour this morning. I sat and watched the birds in the garden. It’s a beautiful sunny and frosty winter morning. Plenty of birds in the garden looking for something to eat. So I filled up the bird feeder and eventually we had some traffic.

Garden Birds 006

This is a heavily cropped image from a 55-200mm lens. I am going to have to buy some lottery tickets so I can get the newly announced Fujifilm 100-400mm.

My Photography Year 2015

2015 wasn’t a year where I was very prolific. I didn’t venture far from home with my camera so you’ll notice plenty of shots from the same local area. The year has been interesting in photographic terms in that I feel I’m finally developing a style – or at least have a better idea of the style that I’m working towards. The black and white shots at West Bay and the moody colour shots of the village of Broadwindsor are examples of that. At the very least it was a year I finally started getting past gear and working towards better photography even if I didn’t always achieve that.

This is my favourite photo I took in 2015. In reality it is two of my favourite photos I took this year. They were taken in January. However it’s only taken until December for me to realise they’d work well stitched together. And now this is my photo of the year. And if proof were needed that gear isn’t everything this was the product of my Canon Powershot S120 compact camera.

Stormy West Bay

What of the rest? I’ve never been very interested in portrait photography for its own ends. Yes I take lots of people photos – but these are family shots taken to document our children growing up. But I’m finally beginning to appreciate a beautiful portrait and I think 2016 will be the year I explore the art myself. Part of the catalyst for this change is watching the videos of Damien Lovegrove, a photographer whose work I absolutely love. So expect to see more portraits when I return for a similar post next year.

While I don’t think it’s been a vintage year, here are my favourite photos of 2015.

Best of 2015