Learning an instrument has changed beyond recognition; YouTube did that and when you see my teacher you might consider joining me too!

Well, that week went pretty quickly. So quickly that it’s left me way behind with my ukulele practice, (laugh with me folks, not at me). Yes, I’m having a good square bash at learning to play the uke which I hope will harvest more success than my failed attempt with the accordion some years ago. I happened to mention one day that I thought the accordion was a much underrated instrument; guess what I got as a birthday surprise that year. One of my three New Year resolutions is to learn to play an instrument and I’ve chosen the uke because, well, how difficult can it be? And of course, it’s a happy instrument. It makes people smile although not yet when I play it but I’m confident of eventual success.

I’m also somewhat behind with my second resolution which is to write more letters. There was a time when a wrote a letter every day and I am gradually recovering the habit. Mostly, people smile when they receive a letter and I like that concept. See the theme developing here?

My last resolution is to strive to bring, ‘Cheerio!’ back into common usage. I am doing rather better on this one. A light hearted ‘Cheerio!’ with a farewell smile tends to be reciprocated with a smile back and that can’t be a bad thing. I expect a nationwide revival of “Cheerio!’ by early summer.


The Big Guy made a few friends along the way

Fats Domino died today, (kind of weird to reflect on the fact that he lived for more than twice as long as did Elvis). Moments when the Greats pass on are not moments of sadness. Rather, they are an opportunity to reflect and celebrate lives lived and at 89, the big Creole Louisiana man certainty did that. They will be arguing for decades about his contribution to music and if indeed, he was the original 'Granddaddy of Rock & Roll.' For sure, his early transition from Boogie Woogie to Rock & Roll with his early 1949 single "The Fat Man,' is considered to be a landmark record in the evolution of music but as he himself said, '"Everybody started callin' my music rock and roll, but it wasn't anything but the same rhythm and blues I'd been playin' down in New Orleans."

My only contribution to the debate is that it would be rare for a guest to come for dinner and not to hear at least one Fat's track on my eclectic playlists. My favourite Fats track, which is a wee bit maudlin but I like it nonetheless, may be found here but the clip above of Fats playing with the incomparable Jools Holland in 1988, and who himself has done so much for live music, tells us much about the mans genial and warm hearted character. 

For no better reason than they both came up in my iTunes library search I find I actually have much more Fats Waller than Fats Domino....... Fats Waller died 74 years ago. What does that say?


Wilbury Down

Nobody's Child.... gets me every time

I note that rock legend Tom Petty left his mortal coil today. I can’t say that I know much about him or indeed his music except that is, for his contribution to my favourite band, that antidote to the modern music industry, The Travelling Wilburys. A group which included Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty must have something special about it.. and they did.

Handle With Care; Pretty cool when you have Roy Orbison just for the chorus

I first came across the band at a charity dinner in 1990, held at a restaurant in Beauchamp Place, the name of which I have long since forgotten. The dinner was organised by Olivia Harrison in aid of  The Romanian Angel Appeal. To be honest, I was a bit out of my league at the dinner but it was nice to be included. I nervously cast my eye down the items in the silent auction which read like a Bond Street Wish List. The auction proper had items that would challenge the pockets of a Lottery winner; holiday for ten in Mustique, that kind of thing. As I say, bit out of my league. Then they played a song on the sound system. By the end of the first verse of ‘Nobody’s Child,’ taken from the soon to be released first Travelling Wilburys album, I had my cheque book out. Song still gets me every time I hear it.

Farewell then Mr Petty and thank you.


I see that Cat Stevens, or Yusaf Islam as he chose to call himself when he abandoned music in 1979, auctioned his guitars and decided to devote himself to philanthropic and educational causes in the Muslim community, is back with a new album. While not his first since he returned to music ten years ago or so one track 'Blackness of the Night,' on the new album, 'The Laughing Apple,' is destined to join so many others from his pen as music of our time.

While listening to it earlier, the events of late last Sunday evening came flooding back. I was standing on a damp pavement outside a hotel in Doncaster with a friend, catching some fresh air after drinking 'just one more.' We were heading to a young persons funeral the next morning and Sunday evening was a time to seek emotional catharsis or sanctuary, or perhaps both, before what would be a very tough day ahead.

Alcohol though can both suppress and amplify emotion and we were both feeling pretty maudlin when we met Simon who shuffled toward us through the light drizzle. He asked if we could help with some 'spare change.' Happy to take our minds of other matters we made some enquiries of Simon, not least because he had two massive black eyes. It transpired he had taken quite a kicking a day or two before. He was he said, walking to Gainsbourgh. Gainsbourgh is a long way from Doncaster. Simon, was in a bit of a mess. A discreet enquiry about room availability at the hotel brought the night manager out who, as a boxer in his spare time, said, 'No way, he looks concussed,' and called an ambulance, which was absolutely the right thing to do.  

While we were waiting for the ambulance I slipped Simon a couple of notes for breakfast and a bus fare and we chatted on. "Why are you helping me,' he asked. 'Because we're ex soldiers and we don't leave people behind,' I said which was a touch theatrical. The truth is we were helping ourselves feel better about life. Simon burst into tears. I didn't expect that. We forget sometimes, how far a little kindness can go and what a rare commodity it is for many. 


She's a chesty wee thing and she can certainly sing.

I ticked the ‘I’ve been to a pop concert,’ box a few years ago when I sat on the grass at Wisley with a chum, (front row), and a bottle of Tattinger to jolly things along, while we bathed in the sunshine and smiles that Katherine Jenkins brings to tired old bodies. In fact, I liked it so much I went back the next year to see her at Hampton Court. She can certainly throw out a tune or two. So, I’m pleased to see that she has been named the number one classical music artist of the last 25 years by Classic FM, (can you believe it’s 25 years since Classic FM was launched?). I think I had something to do with that… the two certainties of a Crumble Christmas are that every year I will receive socks and a Katherine Jenkins CD. I now have a few. 

Apple; Enemy of the State

Transit Camp in Hong Kong, forty of us cheek by jowl in an old Nissan hut. Getting to the jungle in Brunei was a relief.

Transit Camp in Hong Kong, forty of us cheek by jowl in an old Nissan hut. Getting to the jungle in Brunei was a relief.

Ask a soldier of my era what new development had the biggest impact on their daily lives and they will bore you to tears for hours and all will have a different answer. Some will say it was the switch from DMS boots and puttees to 'Boots, High Combat.' Others may say the introduction of Clansman radios from the antiquated A41's while others will simply say, "Mrs Thatcher." Some contrary souls will allude to the BATCO battlefield code rather than the old Slidex while others may point to the SUIT rifle sight for use in Ireland. The wits amongst them however will probably say either 'promotion,' or 'leaving!.'

The item though that had the biggest and most meaningful impact on my daily life was the invention and sale in 1980 of the Sony Walkman. Obviously, life as a soldier involves living in close proximity to other men; travelling, sleeping, working, relaxing. Sometimes, life can get very 'cosy,' indeed. Accommodation in most Security Force bases in Ireland for example tended to be cramped and rudimentary with triple bunk beds crammed end to end. I was lucky on one tour, sharing a small attic space of an old rural police station with three others, 'at least we'll be first to know when the mortars hit,' we used to joke. Travelling by truck, train or t'plane as a unit was never much fun. For reasons best known to itself, it seemed to take the Army five times as long to move anywhere than it takes anyone else. That could mean 12, 18 or even 24 hours on troop trains moving from one part of Germany to an exercise in another part.

Everyone has their own stories but the Walkman, well it was a godsend.  Suddenly, despite being in the (usually very smoky), confines of tight places with the unique combined smell of wet leather and '58 webbing, rifle oil, brews, beer and bodies one could put the headphones on, close the eyes, and drift away to another place listening to a tape that the girlfriend had put together and given to you on your last leave. It gave me, and our generation, a first taste of temporal escapism and I promise you, what is now taken for granted was first greeted with sheer, deep and meaningful joy.  That is apart from one commissioned ex RSM who I shared a tent with at an American training area called Grafenwohr in Germany. Although we were non-tactical he didn't take well to this instrument of the devil. He started by accusing me of being a 'mongrel punk rocker,' who would, 'have your brained fried into mush, if there was anything in there,' and who would end up being 'bayoneted by a charging enemy through the flaps of the tent because I had my head up my arse.' 'Thank you for the advice, David,' I said, 'Shall we go to the Mess Tent for a beer where you can tell me more about all my shortcomings?' Funny isn't it.... all anyone says afterward is, 'I made lifelong friends.'

I haven't lost the habit of listening to music through earphones so it came as something of an unwelcome shock to discover that Apple are to stop production of the iPod Nano and whatever the wee small thing the size of a stamp is called. This is an unwise and calamitous move by Apple, if not for them then certainly for me. How do they expect me to listen to music on my telephone when after only six months the wretched things have a battery life of about four and half minutes? Size, shape, usability it's all wrong, wrong, wrong. I simply can't see me fishing, standing in a river listening to the 79th Farewell to Gibraltar on my phone... too risky if it goes in the drink. And falling asleep to music? Well, there are a whole different set of consequences for Mrs Flashbang to my tossing and turning while attached to an iPod than there is to a clunky iPhone. It's not going to end well. This is what happens when you sell your soul to a single manufacturer..... they all let you down eventually..... bastards. I'll say that again, utter bastards.

Of course, those egg-head Geeks in Cupertino may think it's very smart and clever doing away with the trusty iPod but what about the lads stagging-on in outposts far away or on or deep under the ocean in ships and submarines. There's not much use for a mobile telephone on a submarine. Of course, mobile phones give an easy give away electronic signature to the enemy... especially in identifiable clusters. Question.... exactly who's side are Apple on?

'So, enjoy it while you can Crumble,' I hear you shout. I intend to but I am going to go one better. Just for all you three loyal readers I'm going to share part of my current sleepy-bye, night-night play list. I have a few. This week I'm passing through the Sixties and while I rarely get through the first five or six tracks before nodding off there are some absolute beauties here. As they say on the Upper East Side, 'Enjoy!'


Foot Tapping


The weekend break in the Six Nations gives me the opportunity to feed my somewhat neglected blog. Not having finished a couple of longer pieces, here then, is a cleaner to gap fill.

I previously wrote about the joys of spending a rainy Saturday afternoon perusing the dusty recesses of Tower records in Piccadilly and unearthing eclectic music pieces. Writing it at the time reminded me of my first visit as a young teenager to the sort of trendy record shops that you always felt were a hazardous risk to personal and public hygiene. You know the sort of place, racks of LP's with an unshaven hippie with unwashed dank and greasy hair behind the counter who treated you with contempt and disdain if you uttered anything resembling a polite question. The first time I went into one of those places I walked out with my first, and last, LP; Bridge Over Troubled Water. I couldn't make head or tail of the rest of the nonsense and never went back. 

itunes and Youtube mean I don't have to do that ever again.......... and the joy is, I keep finding eclectic and interesting music, often surprising myself while doing so. Here then are three tracks which, while may be old news to you, have added a little bit of joy to my weekend.

I have an abiding affection for old Music Hall and a deep and sincere love for Twiggy. Here then is the magic mix. The English language expended adequate adjectives for Twiggy decades ago; lets just say she is a very special girl and this is a rather fun old time song.

Timi Yuro.......... possibly the most explosive voice I've ever heard. How could it have taken me this long?

Darlene Love hitting the Wall of Sound. Spector, deviant pond-life that he is, was a musical genius. What a girl though, what a voice, what is there not to love?






Catch Up Crumble!

Nine Million Bicycles........ I fear, I've rather missed out.

Back to Desert Island Discs and last Sunday Kirsty Young presented the show with castaway, Nadiya Hussein, a young lady famous for being a bit useful in the kitchen and for being what the BBC appears keen to portray, (in a rather patronising way), 'a good next-door Muslim.' Mrs Hussein is indeed, an engaging lady and I rather enjoyed her selection of music. Now the famous Crumble playlists are, on the whole, at least 40 years behind current music trends and have a habit of going further back and loitering around the twenties and thirties with the occasional foray into the forties and fifties rather than into anything more fashionable. This may be why I had never heard of another lady called Katie Melua until she turned up on Mrs Hussein's DID playlist. I like Katie Melua and fear I have rather missed out. We're going to put that right. She wins immediate promotion into my 'Best Ever Dinner Party Playlist,' and my 'Going To Sleep,' playlist. It's iTunes-download-frenzy-time and thank you to Mrs Hussein; you're more than a cook to me.

I also note that Katie Melua is going on tour and is playing in Guildford in November. As luck would have it the show is sold out. I'm not surprised. I've only ever been to two concerts, (both to see Katherine Jenkins, once at Wisley and once at Hampton Court), and was thinking I might make this a third. Perhaps next time then. Still, the girl is a shoe-in for the 2016 Thinking Man's Crumpet list; that's for sure and for certain.

Hi Girls!

So my girls are storming through New York en route to Cuba on a Mother & Daughter trip, (the Foreign Office and National Debt Office have been alerted).

Just in case you are missing me and the dogs girls, here's a playlist just to remind you of home... (and MB, don't dare suggest they've gone over there to get away from my music..).

March of The Cameron Men

Brian Hopkins, singing The March of the Cameron Men (in Gaelic and English) 

I came across a piece of music this morning on a Regimental Facebook page which I would like to share. Although somewhat eclectic for some tastes the joy of this being my own blog is that I can post whatever I please. So I shall. 

The clip above is a recording of Brian Hopkins, made when he was a member of the Queens Own Highlanders regimental Band. The Queens Own Highlanders of course were the young offspring of the forced marriage between the Seaforth Highlanders and Cameron Highlanders, an amalgamation among many that happened in the period between the late fifties and late sixties following the 1957 Defence White Paper. Some regiments such as the Cameronians chose the abyss of suspended animation or disbandment rather than amalgamation. Having taken their pain early the Queens Own Highlanders took another political sucking chest wound when they amalgamated with the Gordon Highlanders, another fine regiment, in 1994, to form The Highlanders. Then, ten years ago all the Scottish regiments were brought together to form the Royal Regiment of Scotland with the Kings Own Scottish Borderers and Royal Scots amalgamating to form one regular battalion of four in the RRS, (plus two reserve battalions) with the Argylls reduced to company strength, (Balaklava Company). 

(picture by Graham Bonnyman)

If you are losing track don't worry. It's been difficult enough for former members of regiments to keep up with the rapid change both to Scottish regiments and others throughout the Army. However much we wish it the clock is not going to be turned back and we all are duty bound to get behind and support the young soldiers of the new entities. Some new regiments such as The Rifles have succeeded following 'buy in,' from all their constituent parts from the retired cadre of more individual regiments than I could possibly remember from the Devon & Dorsets to the Durham Light Infantry, to the newest recruits. Others will take longer. That is probably the case in Scotland, which is historically more tribal, but there are deep seated cultural and historical reasons for that. 

One other consequence of military downsizing, (the Army is now 50% of the size it was when I first enlisted), is that the military and pipe bands have also been compressed in size. The Royal Regiment of Scotland for example has been reduced from one military band in each of the old seven regiments to just one regular band. Does it matter? Well, not to anyone in government, of whatever hue, and certainly not to anyone in the Ministry of Defence. I happen though to think that it does matter a great deal. 

Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland

I'm firmly in the camp that believes the MOD has been misguided in downgrading military music over the last 20 years. The failure to appreciate it's positive impact on the Army way of life, it's ability to strengthen the bond between civilians and military and as an aid to recruitment has been unhelpful in every way. Moreover, the musicians were always the unofficial custodians in battalions of deep seated and hard won tradition through music, song, poetry and with some traditions, dance. Importantly, they sustained and renewed those traditions by writing new music but it tended to be music that maintained the cultural thread with the home and hearth of the individual battalions recruiting area. In this regard, pipe tunes such as The Barren Rocks of Aden, The Crags of Tumbledown Mountain and The Sands of Kuwait spring to mind. I have no doubt the current band of the RRS do a fine job and are very fine musicians but the game has changed for it cannot be the same. As an aside and of passing interest, much American Bluegrass, Country and Gospel music has it's roots in Appalachian ballad singing which has a direct line through Scots emigrants to the style and tradition of the song above.

My view from the cheap seats then, is that recordings such as the one above by Brian Hopkins are something to celebrate, not just because it is a fine and gentle melodic piece in its own right but also because it echoes with rich history and deserves to be remembered. I'm told that Brian taught himself the Gaelic with help from native Gaelic speakers in the Pipes & Drums and that another Corporal from the band, Tommy Graham, taught himself the clasarch (small harp) to accompany the song. The song would often be given a formal rendition after dinner at an Officers Mess dinner night. With so few bandsmen available I wonder what they do today? Put on a CD? Or perhaps the Adjutant makes the youngest subaltern learn and sing it which, however painful it might be to hear, would be better than letting such gems fade from the collective memory. 

The Rev Dr Donald MacDonald

Finally, as you sit there reading and wondering what all this blether about amalgamations is all about and why it is an emotional subject, may I direct you to a previous post about the Cameronians amalgamation which offers one of the finest pieces of oratory I have ever heard by their regimental Padre, the Reverend Dr Donald MacDonald. For good measure, this was the response of the Massed Bands of the Scottish Division after the announcement.