Category Archives: Music

Remote Hero?

I know some of my readers will have seen this on John’s blog, but for others…

A wonderful thing has happened. There is a new and marvellous recording of one of my all-time favourite tracks, Mark Knopfler’s Going Home, the theme music from the also-wonderful movie Local Hero.

As if that weren’t enough, it includes contributions by, well, basically everybody famous who ever picked up a guitar… from Sting to Joe Satriani, from Sheryl Crow to Eric Clapton, from Peter Frampton to Joan Armatrading… the list goes on… with Ringo Starr on the drums. I wish there were a video or some sort of annotation so you could see who was playing when.

And then it gets even better… this is a production in aid of cancer charities. You can listen to it, buy it, download it, and the proceeds go to a good cause.

Tilly and I are currently touring the Netherlands in our campervan, and this makes for fabulous road-trip music. I wonder how big a donation I’d need to make in order to be allowed to use it in my upcoming YouTube videos…

Our parking spot last night on the north Netherlands coast. This is very close to ‘Riddle of the Sands’ country: a rather different coastline from the beaches near Arisaig used for “Local Hero” (but we did visit those on a previous campervan trip).

Disquieting fact of the day?

Taylor Swift sells more music than the entire categories of jazz or classical.

FT – 5/2/24

Drug-inspired Lyrics

I know that many popular lyrics have been inspired by the use of drugs, so I thought I’d try my hand at it.  This was written recently while packing for a journey.  Or, perhaps, a trip.  My brother, a highly-qualified medic, was on hand to help. With the lyrics, at least.

John and Yoko are busy composing the melody, but in the meantime you can sing it to the tune of It’s a long way to Tipperary.

I need one more Atorvastatin
  I’ve got one more to go.
I need one more Atorvastatin
  It’s the neatest pill I know.
Goodbye to cholesterol
  Farewell, LDL!
I need just one more Atorvastatin
  And all will be well!

I expect it to become a hit amongst other middle-aged music afficionados.

Now I want to learn to play the double bass…

(direct link to video)

The AI Ballad Of John Henry

Friends this side of the Atlantic may not be familar with the story of John Henry, but you can read about him on Wikipedia.  John Henry, the story goes, was a ‘steel-driving man’ whose prowess with the hammer was formidable.  

At one point, he took on a steam hammer, side-by-side, and won… but the effort also killed him.

It’s not quite clear whether John Henry was ever anything more than a legend, but he has inspired statues, books, animations, compositions by Aaron Copland… and almost everybody seems to have recorded musical versions of the story, including Jerry Lee Lewis, Bruce Springsteen, Lonnie Denegan, Harry Belafonte, Woodie Guthrie… to name but a few.  For a brief version, here’s Tennessee Ernie Ford, or I rather like the slightly longer story as recorded by Johnny Cash.

My friend Keshav, of course, asked ChatGPT to write a version, which also covers the threat posed to traditional skills by the coming of machines.



If you need a cheery start to your Monday morning…

… then here’s a little Vivaldi for you.

Thanks to John for the link.

How to make a timeless music video

I always liked the song-and-dance routines in the great old movies, and have mourned their almost total disappearance (while acknowledging that having people break spontaneously into orchestra-accompanied melodies doesn’t, in most cases, tend to improve the realism of your plot!)

Well, it turns out that there’s a fun genre of YouTube creations, taking footage from the old masters and remixing it with more modern music, with some clever editing and retiming. For me, somehow, divorcing the dance from its original music and showing it in a new context only emphasises how good the performers were.

Here’s a very nicely-done favourite; did you know that Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth liked Led Zeppelin?

This has been going on for quite a while — here’s another example from 2015 – but I think the one above is very nicely done. And what better way to start the week than with Rita Hayworth’s smile?

The Hymn of Acxiom

This is haunting, beautiful, and spooky. And it’s from 2013, but I’ve only just discovered it.

It’s by Vienna Teng, and it’s most fun to watch her introduce it live:

But if you want the lyrics more clearly, someone’s done a nice transcription.

Mellow mornings

On John’s blog, for some weeks now, he’s been running a series of recommendations: Things to listen to instead of the morning radio news. This is a jolly good scheme.

I used to be a big fan of the BBC’s ‘Today’ programme, but have become ever more frustrated with the presenters, who are so much more interested in asking questions than in getting answers. Mishal Husain, in particular, seldom lets anyone finish a single sentence. And that’s even before you get to the contents of the news itself, which isn’t the most positive accompaniment to breakfast. No, if you want to read or listen to the news, do it a bit later on; don’t start or end your day with it — that’s my recommendation! The only thing worse would be starting and ending your day reading social networks.

Anyway, my variant on John’s scheme is that the most common command I used to give my Amazon Echo — “Alexa, play Radio 4” — is now increasingly replaced with “Alexa, play music by X”, where X is a classical composer. This does require you to have Spotify, Amazon Music or a similar music source linked to your Alexa account. (You’ll have quite a lot of Amazon Music available automatically if you have Amazon Prime.)

Why not try a few of the following over the next couple of weeks, to start your day on a different tempo?

  • Alexa, play music by Handel
  • Alexa, play music by Franz Liszt
  • Alexa, play music by Thomas Tallis
  • Alexa, play music by Johann Strauss Two (it seemed to prefer that to ‘the second’!)
  • Alexa, play music by Chopin

Now, this post would have more impact if I finished it here, but I think it’s worth offering a few practical tips.

  • I couldn’t get it to play a favourite of mine, Bernhard Crusell, though he’s definitely on Spotify. I’m guessing this is because Alexa needs to recognise the name before passing it to Spotify, and it had trouble with this one, helpfully offering ‘Crouseau’ or ‘Soft Cell’ as alternatives!

  • Sometimes you’ll get variations on the theme. You may get a playlist based on the composer, or music from the Johann Strauss Orchestra. But it’s likely to be in line with your mood anyway! If you think “Surely this wasn’t written by Chopin?”, then a useful query is “Alexa, what’s playing?”. And occasionally you may want “Alexa, skip!”

  • If you do have more than one source of music available, you can compare them for variety. As I type this, for example, I’m greatly enjoying the playlist I get with “Alexa, play music by Corelli from Amazon Music”. Recommended.

Finally, you will, of course, be limited by the audio capabilities of your particular Amazon device. If you have Sonos speakers or similar linked into your system, then you can use that instead. In my case there’s a big Sonos speaker hidden away on top of the fridge, and if I say “Alexa, play music by Chopin in the kitchen” to send the audio stream there, it’s a completely different experience.

And I think we can agree that Frederic deserves it.

Revelling in Ravel

There have been lots of wonderful examples during lockdown of the musicians from bands and orchestras recording individual parts at home which are then edited together into a combined performance. John linked to this rather pleasing Ode to Joy, for example.

But my favourite so far is from a few days ago: the NY Philharmonic’s version of Ravel’s Boléro. Play it on the biggest screen and best speakers you can manage!


Adding custom ringtones to your iPhone using iTunes

In case you’re Googling for it, or in case I forget how to do it…

If you search online, you can can find various articles about how to take an MP3 or AAC audio file and make a .M4R-format file which an iOS device can then use as a ringtone. I’ve had a bit of Gilbert & Sullivan as mine for years, and have probably infuriated and/or amused those around me in equal measure when my phone starts announcing that I am the Captain of the Pinafore…

I lost this, though, in a recent wipe and re-install of my phone, after which I discovered that iTunes no longer makes it at all obvious how to put these custom ringtones onto your device. It’s easy if you buy them on the iTunes store, of course, but otherwise no amount of dragging and dropping would get my old favourites into iTunes or onto my phone.

But it turns out that there is still a way, and it’s documented some way down on this Apple page. As a quick summary:

  • Connect your phone to your computer, so it appears in the sidebar of your iTunes
  • Go and find your ringtone(s) in the Finder or Windows Explorer and COPY them.
  • Select the ‘Tones’ section of your device in iTunes and PASTE.

This works fine for me in iTunes 12.7 – no dragging and dropping needed. You should then see your ringtones, and be able to choose them in Settings > Sounds on the iPhone.

Guaranteed way to cheer up your day

Spend 10 minutes with the brilliant Victor Borge.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser