What To Do in Winter


LongReefI have always been of the view, since I first went to live in Australia, that climate, or if you prefer, the weather, has a real and profound impact upon a culture and society.  Coming from Britain where I grew up with long cold and often snowy winters I learnt to spend long evenings and even days indoors reading, watching TV, playing music and to some extent playing board games although I wasn’t especially interested in those.  It became very clear to me that the Australian lifestyle and general attitude towards life and its problems had much to do with the generally beautiful climate.  Sydney has a temperature range that is especially conducive to outdoor pursuits be they at the beach, on the water or in the bush.  Sports that can only be played in summer in Britain can be quite comfortably played all year round in Sydney and many other parts of Australia.  I remember my friend and former squash partner exclaiming “we’re here already, this is paradise!”

The great Paul Keeting in Parliament
The great Paul Keating in Parliament

Of course there are parts of the country, and here I am thinking of the far North, where the expression “going troppo” refers to a very real state of madness brought on by the relentless heat and humidity.  It is as warm and humid in Darwin in winter as it is in summer in Sydney.  The summer is unspeakable and I would never willingly visit the “top end” in that season, but that is just me.

Kate has observed numerous times while we have been here in Bath that the “British love their parlour games“, by which she means that there are a plethora of game, quiz and panel type shows on TV (QI, 8 out of 10 Cats, Pointless, Mock the Week, Have I got News for You, Never Mind the Buzzcocks – the list is endless) usually with a set of inter-changeable comedian(ienne) participants who must make a very comfortable living out of these gigs.  Some have been doing certain of these shows for literally years.  This is very much part of a people who needs must live indoors for a significant portion of the year.  It also seems to me to stem directly from the Dickensian parlour games of a Victorian past.

2016-01-04 15.26.47So what have I been doing to wile away the hours indoors apart from watching panel shows on TV and reading interminably?  Well I do have a guitar here which I bought almost as soon as I arrived.  It’s an Epiphone SG (the poor man’s Gibson SG) and I have a lovely little Blackstar amp (made by ex-Marshall amp guys).  Incidentally, I noticed that Paul Weller’s band were using Blackstar amps on this year’s Jools Holland’s Hootenanny.  Good choice guys and great show, by the way Jools, if you are reading this!  I have several online guitar courses ( mostly from Griff Hamlin at Blues Guitar Unleashed) that I have purchased over the years that I try to work on but I need something to inspire me.  I always play alone and essentially practice blues scales and improvisational “lead” playing but really one needs a band to play with.  The first solution to this problem is to play with backing tracks, of which there are a great many to had on the internet.  The next problem is to not make 2016-01-04 15.27.22too much noise.  In the first instance that is solved with a pair of headphones but to play with a backing track requires a mixer.  I found a very nice little one that was inexpensive, an Alto ZMX52, I expect you are all familiar with it.  This lets me play over a backing track from my PC, hear the result through the headphones and even record the result in what is commonly known as a DAW or Digital Audio Workstation such Audacity or Reaper.

As any aspiring guitar student knows there are multitudes of Guitar tuition channels on YouTube for every possible style imaginable and many of these have tutorials on how to play, in detail, that is chord by chord and note for note, hundreds of well-known songs.  I had always fought a bit shy of these up until now seeing them mainly for learning mainstream, pop-style or folky-type songs until I was reading a transcription of a really excellent and insightful speech by Bob Dylan at a Musicares event in which he talked, among many things, about a friend of his – Billy Lee Riley – who had only one major hit called Red Hot.  (If you are interested in Bob Dylan I really encourage you to read this speech.) On locating this on YouTube I noticed another piece covered by Billy Lee, one made famous for British audiences by both Van Morrison and The Animals, namely Baby, Please Don’t Go which is something of a blues standard going back into the mists of time with folk roots to boot.  You should take the time to watch this rendition by “Them” from 1965 (and get really blues nerdy about whether it was Jimi Page playing on the recording or not):

I will leave you to follow up on other versions but you may notice, in the list of related videos on the right, one by a Channel calling itself “MyTwangyGuitar” which turned out to be a rendition of and lesson on how to play this song in the style of the “Them” performance. This led me on to find several other lesson videos for this song in a variety of styles which further led to other great sites with tutorials on how to play the sort of old-school blues-rock type of stuff that is just what I like.  So that it how I shall be spending my long winter hibernation – learning to play some great old blues numbers.  Maybe only in my dreams but who knows, stranger things have been known.

I couldn’t finish this post without coming back to the man himself, whose speech put me onto this trail.  Here is a young Bob Dylan doing his version of this classic and proving, if any proof were needed, that he was/is an extremely accomplished guitar player:

3 thoughts on “What To Do in Winter

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