Thursday, 23 January 2014

Is there life on Mars?

No but there appears to be water on Ceres!

Which is amazingly exciting. We know there is ice in our solar system but actual water on and coming from Ceres is an amazing discovery. Especially as water - as far as we know it - is tied inevitably to life. This is a result of water being an ideal solvent for life processes to occur in.

Does this mean little green men? Well no but it does mean there is a chance for single-celled life to exist there - maybe multi-cellular but most probably single celled.

Actually it doesn't matter if its just the remains of life the chance that life has existed somewhere other than on Earth is still incredibly exciting!

This brings me to the excellent Bowie song. NASA are still investigating how a rock managed to appear in front of Opportunity recently. The chance is this is due to the rover itself dislodging and knocking the rock in front of itself. Still however anything out of the ordinary about Mars seems to capture our imagination and very quickly get reported all over the place. Well maybe not all over but it seems to be reported with more fervor than the Ceres discovery.

Which is strange as we all know how important water is for life!

However how many people know Europa has a surface covered in ice and an oxygen rich atmosphere?

Yet we still haven't fully investigated the possibility of life there, obviously the planets hold us in more thrall? Or maybe its just budgets can only stretch to missions in our local (ish area).

Actually scratch wanting to find out about life elsewhere in the universe, I think we need to first learn how to deal with life on Earth effectively!

Issues like this - sorry got massively side tracked with the senseless slaughter of dolphins in the week a new river dolphin species was discovered always remind me of this video by the too good for words Carl Sagan.

I have nothing more to add.


Sunday, 5 January 2014

Unfinished Melody: The 12” Pianist Story

I wrote this a long time ago... +Dev  edited it into the format you see below. It is about +Dev , +Graham , +Richard and myself.

Unfinished Melody: The 12” Pianist Story

Beginnings & Debut Album

12” Pianist have always divided opinions. Many viewed them as one of the most innovative rock bands, not just of their generation, but also in history. Others claimed that the band was simply not as good as it should be. Their use of lyrics drew particular attention. Were the lyrics simple in order to convey a message? Or were they a reflection of the band members’ sensibilities and intellects? Whatever your views or likes and dislikes about the band, there is no denying that theirs is an interesting tale of rock excess and the price of fame; which cost them almost everything. Eventually however, their love of music and their fans brought the group back from the edge of oblivion and is steering them into a bright future…

The origins of 12” Pianist can be traced back to September 2000, when they formed in the Friary School Sixth Form Centre in Lichfield. Founding member Chris Gibson had just quit the punk-rock trio ‘Unnamed Band’ due to personal issues with the bands direction, and its lack of progress (the band had never formally performed a gig or even written or recorded any material to play at said gig). With friend and guitarist Richard Mapley on board, Gibson decided to form a band that would not be pigeonholed into any single genre. As it turned out, critics created a new genre for the band, dubbed: ‘prog-punk-electro-pop-rock’. With the recruitment of Dev Patel on drums, and unusual instrumentalist Graham Cartledge, the mark one line-up was complete.

As the band recalls: “It was clear from the early jamming sessions that melding four individuals with differing backgrounds and preferences for music would be tricky.”
However, Gibson explains that it took ‘a surprisingly short amount of time’ to work it out: “The first few sessions were shit; I mean really shit! We all wanted to play different things at different speeds.
“I wanted to do some overblown 14 minute long instrumental pieces with synthesisers and fantasy-inspired imagery; Dev wanted us to be doing heavy metal type beats with the pace and power getting right in people’s faces and heart beats.
“Mappo wanted to play these punk songs that were shouty and had interrupted beats, and Gra would sit in the corner hitting spoons together or playing a swanee whistle and seeing how far he could push it.
“Eventually though, we realised that we were all such shit instrumentalists that we needed to take the simple facets from each of our favoured genres and run with it!”

Unfortunately with the fuss of what type of music the band should play, they didn’t give any thought to lead vocals.
Dev recalls: “Gibbo has a completely atonal voice when he sings modally and the only vocals he can manage are falsetto.
“Since our early work didn’t really suit that, the idea was a non-starter.
“Gra shouts a lot, which would have been good for some old school metal, but not for what we were working towards and Mappo struggles to keep his guitar riffs going without giving him lead vocals.”

It just so turned out that Dev possessed a haunting rangy voice, full of energy and raw magnetism, which was suitable for the punk style songs, which populate the bands early work. On early live recordings, Gibson and Cartledge can often be heard singing backing vocals in such a manner as to cancel each other out, adding an additional element to the performance.

With Patel now on drums and lead vocals, Gibson on bass and backing vocals, Cartledge on ‘other’ and backing vocals, and Mapley on guitars, the line-up was complete and the band began to play open-mic nights at local clubs. They became renowned for their energy and mainly rhythmic beats: it transpired that Mapley could only play rhythm guitar. To add to this, Patel had to stop drumming in order to sing the verses, which lead to Cartledge playing a simple snare drum during the verses and then switching instruments during the chorus and breakdowns at which point Patel would continue the drum beat.

Despite this, the band found popularity, as their lyrics were simple and repetitive; which was ideal for inebriated revellers to sing along to, and their beats were easy going; which people enjoyed playing along to. The band was beginning to gather momentum, which lead to a four-album deal with the prestigious Obsequious Metamorphosis Records (OMR).

The band’s debut album, ‘I’d Like a…’, received mixed reviews, most of which were unfavourable. Q described listening to the album to be like ‘listening to epileptic monkeys in a music shop’. Kerrang claimed that ‘this is the kind of pompous crap your un-cool uncle would listen to while he fondles a choir boy’. The Sunday Times was even more critical: “I wish these boys had stopped before they’d started.”
The Daily Mail was also hyper critical of the style of the album with their remark: “This is the kind of music asylum seekers on ASBOs and benefits would make.”
The sole positive review of the album came from NME who made the band their cover and stated: “This is the greatest, most innovative debut album in 30 years! Fresh and original; this is an instant classic.”

The band was undeterred as, despite the negative press, album sales were strong. It broke into the UK Top 20 Album Charts and remained there for three weeks, peaking at 19, before slipping down and eventually out of the charts.
‘I’d Like a…’ spawned three singles which achieved reasonable commercial success. The first single, entitled ‘I Want to Do Your Mother’, peaked at #38, although its theme and style were more suited to the lavish live shows. The more simple and sweet ballad of young love, ‘Hold My Hand, then Sit On My Face’, fared much better. It charted at #11 before outrage saw it withdrawn from the shelves, resulting in it only charting for one week.
However, the standout single was the epic prog-rock inspired ‘This Fish STILL Has Bones In It!’ which was based on a BBQ event in Gibson’s life. The single broke the top 10, reaching #3, where it stayed for four weeks before dropping into the top 20. In total, the song remained in the UK top 20 for a mighty three months and helped promote the band’s extended first nationwide tour.

It was at this time however that Gibson, working on more ambitious material for the tricky second album, began to have difficulty sleeping and Cartledge, having had an over-heated Mapley sweat on him on stage, began to shower three times a day. These issues began to snowball and plague the band during the years they wrote and recorded their second and third albums.

Second Album & First European Tour

For the tricky second album Chris Gibson took on near-complete creative control, and the band continued under Gibson’s direction until the fourth album. Richard Mapley remembers that particular band meeting very well: “Gibbo [Chris Gibson] walked into the room looking like he hadn’t slept in a week, when it turned out it was three weeks, and threw a load of papers on the table and informed us that it was the next album.
“We all looked at each other thinking, ‘what the fuck dude?’
“But he was adamant. The bad reviews had really affected him; especially the criticism of the lyrics.
“We were just pissing around but all of a sudden we were inappropriate and crude.
“What’s with that?
“Anyway we looked at the stuff and we really liked it so we decided to run with it.”

Cartledge also conceded that the music on offer was of a high standard: “It was better than the first album and he told us we could add our own feel to it so we just ran with it.”

In a departure from the previous album the dance-ability of the songs took a back seat to the music and Gibson began writing about dreams, previous dreams and his wish to be able to sleep in order to dream again.

“It gave the album a real dream-like quality that I think people liked,” remarked Dev Patel.

The album ‘Why Can’t I Sleep… With You?’ charted at #3 and received mainly positive reviews with most critics impressed by the maturity and scope of the songs. Cartledges use of household cleaning sprays on the track ‘My Bed Feels Like Rusty Nails’ was highly praised although urban legend states that Cartledge was actually cleaning the studio at the time and not deliberately contributing to the track!

However a lone dissenting voice was NME who slated the album claiming that it was ‘the product of a bunch of schoolboys trying to act like adults’ and that ‘this album has lost the fun of the first album and replaced it with stuff that isn’t fun!’.

However the band was undeterred, especially after the five singles released from the album had performed so well. ‘My Bed Feels Like Rusty Nails’ became the bands biggest single reaching #2 in the UK charts and breaking, for the first time, the top ten in many European countries while claiming the #1 spot in Belgium for 4 months!

What followed was a gruelling tour schedule encompassing the UK and Europe that would test the friendship of the band members as well as expose the cracks that their sudden rise to fame had created. It was during one fateful trip to a café in Amsterdam that Gibson was first introduced to Horlicks, which would lead to a dependence on the substance that would nearly tear the band apart.

Also on this trip, Cartledge’s compulsive cleaning caused huge problems in the hotels the band stayed in. They were famously evicted from the Hilton in Paris after he was found vacuuming the corridors at 3am wearing nothing but a white ‘moon suit’ and a fedora. Patel would also begin to fall victim to the excesses of fame as he began buying thousands of DVDs at a time – many of which he has never watched.

The tour was finally completed at Twickenham Stadium in England on October 23 2002 in front of a sell-out crowd. The band played one more gig for friends and family in the Sixth-Form Centre at the Friary, where it all began, before taking a holiday.

The Troubled Third Album

Due to the effects of his Horlicks addiction (he was averaging five cups an hour at its height); Gibson was sleeping, on average, 19 hours per day. However he was still able to write enough material for the rest of the band to work off and create the third album.

As he remembers it: “It was like a mental fog. I was just so relaxed all of the time it was untrue.
“I think at this point I began to believe my spirit was due to leave my body so whenever I was conscious or had enough about me to work I was incredibly productive.
“The problem became being able to put my ideas across to the rest of the band as most of the time I had my head in a cup drinking more H’.

However both Mapley and Patel remember the time differently: “It was beginning to show that he was in the midst of a Horlicks addiction,” said Patel.
As Mapley recalls: “The work he was bringing us was shite. I mean really ropey.
“And what made it worse was that Gra wasn’t there at all to help out with it.”
Indeed Cartledges compulsive cleaning led to him being frequently absent from the recording studio as he was busy sterilising his apartment. When he was able to attend in order to record something it would take him hours to get all of the instruments suitably clean and he insisted on washing his hands between using each instrument.

“It was terrible for live shows, but then I [Gibson] can’t talk. I was mostly asleep during them.”

The difficulties with Gibson and Cartledge allowed Patel and Mapley to morph Gibson’s rough musical concepts into something more in line with their own musical image. As Gibson was half asleep at most of the recording sessions for the third album he was not in a position to argue with the direction the album had begun to take and, as a result, the album had a stripped down feel to it since most of Gibson’s complex arrangements were lost in his mind as his Horlicks addiction reached its worst level. Cartledges involvement was also minimal as he spent most of his time in an aseptic tank!

On March 3 2004, nine months behind schedule, 12” Pianist’s third album was released to the paying public. ‘Screaming Orgasm’ saw Mapley take charge of most of the lyrics which prompted a return to the boyish style of the debut album, whilst Patel provided a much more intense musical accompaniment by drawing on his influences in heavy metal. Whilst reviews were generally positive they were split over the use of lyrics, especially in songs such as ‘Handcuffed to the Bedroom’ which contained the line: “Lick my love truncheon, then I’ll beat you with it like a convict.” Despite Mapley attempting to explain the metaphors of the lyrics no one believed him and in their review of the album NME dubbed him ‘Captain Bullshit’.

Despite the mixed critical reception of the album public reaction was positive which forced OMR to create the most extensive tour in the bands history. In the summer of 2004 12” Pianist played an extensive festival list including the famous Glastonbury set where Gibson was playing on a chaise longue and fell asleep halfway through ‘Spaff In Your Hair’ and Cartledge, dressed in his now trademark white moon suit and fedora, was busy sponge bathing the front row rather than joining in with the set.

The tour moved on to mainland Europe where the final nail sealed the coffin of the band. During a gig in Düsseldorf Cartledge ran out of hand soap mid set after a stage hand failed to get replacement soap to him and he collapsed and had to be carried from the stage in a state of hysterics. To compound matters Gibson was found two days later half asleep on a beach in Calais eating Horlicks out of the tub with that little blue scoop wearing only a feather boa. He couldn’t remember the gig or how he got from Germany to northern France. Patel quit the tour, much to the managements shock, and retired to his newly purchased multiplex to begin a DVD marathon that would last five months as his collection was now standing at over 250,000 unwatched films. Eventually emergency services transported the severely dehydrated Patel, who had been living on salted popcorn and a famous brand of cola, to hospital where amongst other ailments he was suffering from severe eyestrain.

The tour was cancelled and OMR were on the threshold of pulling the plug on 12” Pianist when a spokesperson for Mapley announced the guitarists retirement from the band to become a lighthouse keeper. With the only viable member of the band now living on an interesting but dangerous outcrop of coastline OMR were stuck as to what to do about the band. The tour for ‘Screaming Orgasm’ was a financial disaster and the public soon began to forget about the troubled stars.

OMR produced a fourth album based upon demos, unfinished songs and live material entitled ‘12” Pianist: The Final Verse’. On hearing that they had now been released from their contract at OMR, and that their manager who had first signed them had given the go ahead for the fourth album the members of 12” Pianist were either unable to care, or no longer did. On April 28 2005 a message was posted on the bands official website confirming that they were on an indefinite hiatus.

Solo Work & Other Projects

Richard Mapley was the first member of 12” Pianist to branch out into other projects. The acoustic ‘Richard Mapley – Live from the Lighthouse’ became a favourite of BBC Radio 2’s Terry Wogan and received positive reviews from critics. More mellow and grown up than his work with 12”, the contrast showed that Mapley's solitude in the lighthouse had finally allowed him to begin to view the world as a responsible adult and not a drunk horny teenager. In autumn 2006 Mapley quit his lighthouse keeper job to tour full time and promote his second solo album - the upbeat ‘Brighter Futures’.

After recovering from his epic movie marathon Dev Patel became an in-demand session drummer and eventually returned to regular touring with Volcanic Albatross - a heavy metal group from Coventry. Patel’s drum beats and fills were so fast and complex on the title track from ‘On a Flaming Wing and a Hollow Prayer’ that it was believed to be the product of a drum machine and not a real living person. Patel quashed this rumour by performing the song live on Channel 4’s ‘The Paul O’Grady Show’ even though he was not scheduled to be a guest!

Whilst recovering from his mental breakdown over the lack of soap on stage Graham Cartledge briefly relocated to Munich - which he claimed to be ‘ruthlessly clean’. New-wave rockers ‘Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte’ (German for black forest gateau) asked him to contribute some unusual sounds for their upcoming album ‘Everything Smells of Poo!’ Cartledge jumped at the chance and produced some of his finest work to date - especially on the tracks ‘Ich bin eine Dame (I’m a Lady) and ‘Die Mechanisierung der Industrienation‘ (The Mechanisation of the Industrial Nation). It was at this time that he began to see a hypnotherapist in order to help cure his incessant cleaning.

Beginning a strict regime of yoga and juice, Chris Gibson detoxed his body and began to be able to enjoy healthy and natural sleep. Following this he again became a prolific songwriter. He also began to work with Patel providing distinct backing vocals on some Volcanic Albatross albums. In late 2007, following the bassist’s death in a combine harvester racing incident Gibson stepped in to help the band finish the tour. In January 2008 Volcanic Albatross broke up and Gibson and Patel travelled to Germany to visit Graham Cartledge who had now made a complete recovery.

By February 2008 Gibson, Patel and Cartledge were again playing music together and invited Graham’s younger brother Philip to join them. The foursome went by the name ‘Voluptuous Weapons’ and released a self-titled album in May 2008 and followed it up with a UK tour. A massive success, the band attempted to get Mapley to join them however he was busy in the USA trying to ‘break it’.

However, Mapley's tour of America had an unexpected side effect. The youth of America had been slowly introduced to the music of 12” Pianist in the three years since the bands hiatus and most of the TV and radio stations wanted to talk to him about this band rather than his solo work.

Returning to England feeling deflated, Mapley sat down with his young family to watch VH1’s ‘Most Unfulfilled Acts of All Time…Ever!’
“And there we were, number fucking 12! I mean wow, how can you ignore that shit.”

He quickly contacted his former band mates who themselves were at an impasse over the second album for Voluptuous Weapons. As Gibson recalls: “The first album had mainly been the songs we had generated over two years of recovery and rehab.
“Every time we sat down to write something for the next album it was a 12” Pianist song.
“Then out of the blue Mapley rings up asking if we want to ‘get together and maybe see how it goes’.”

Comeback & Future

Voluptuous Weapons were instantly shelved and work began on an EP to ‘test the water to see what the public thought’. Patel remarked: “We recorded the EP because we were scared. We didn’t exactly shower ourselves with glory towards the end of the first round!”
However the EP was a hit both critically and commercially. ‘Captain Eclectic Rides Again’ featured songs written by each of the members for the first time on a 12” Pianist album and also featured new member Phil Cartledge who had been retained from Voluptuous Weapons to take over drumming duties while Patel focused solely on lead vocals. The final song on the EP entitled ‘Song #6’ is the first work to have been written by the new line up and was released as a single on an independent label. It went straight to #1 on the download chart where it stayed for seven weeks. This firmly established the bands return and a successful UK tour was followed by a world tour which took the band up to early 2009.

In May 2009 the refreshed and focussed 12” Pianist returned to the studio to create the fourth album that mismanagement at OMR had prevented them from recording. ‘Forward Thrusting Motion’ retained the boyish lyrics from their earlier work and combined it with more grown up themes and progressive musical structures. Critical reception for the album was unanimously positive. With Q giving it a five-star rating, believing ‘this is the album we knew they had in them but just refused to produce’. The Sunday Times proclaimed it the ‘best cross-over album in years, I defy anyone not to find something to love about it’. The lone voice of dissent was from NME - but then no one listens to them any more.

Released in July 2009, the album crashed in at #1 on the album chart while the title track claimed the top spot in the singles chart. An extensive world tour is scheduled and the band is pencilled in to headline many of the major festivals in 2010. New member Phil Cartledge silenced the critics in a recent interview when he was asked if he felt the more fragile members of the band would survive such an intense and gruelling tour schedule. ‘Fuck off, wanker’ was all he needed to say! Gibson himself has come out stating that the band intends to move on to bigger and more ambitious projects after the tour.

12” Pianist are back, bigger and stronger than ever and hopefully they will continue to be around for many years to come. God knows that without them, music is too repetitive, too boring and not nearly enough fun!

S. Icophantic

Chairman of the 12” Pianist Fan Club