Sunday, January 26, 2014

Martin Simpson - Vagrant Stanzas

Martin Simpson, Vagrant Stanzas
I am really a rock music fan. If you browse my CD collection, it is mostly rock. Planet Rock is permanently tuned into my digital radio. However, I have a quieter side too, and that betrays an admiration for folk music. By no means all folk music, however. I find some of it excruciating. But when it's good, it's hard to beat.

A few years ago I went to a gig called the Four Martins. It was a guitar playing evening, 4 guys called Martin each with a distinctive style, and it was very enjoyable. And the best of the four to my ears, was Martin Simpson.

Subsequently, I did nothing about following up on this chap, but by chance recently I came across an advert for this album, his latest. I had a quick listen on Spotify and ordered it immediately, in fact the "Deluxe Limited Edition" version, with an extra CD included.

It is Martin Simpson playing a guitar or banjo and singing... that's it. But it sounds fantastic, it's just bliss. To me anyway - my missus thinks it's a bit dreary. Well yes, I see her point, there are very few upbeat songs here, it is all a bit sad... typical of folk music generally I suppose. In fact one track, "Jackie And Murphy" - I defy you not to have a tear in your eye by the end, and an anger of the injustice the story of the song portrays - read the sumptuous sleeve notes to find out more... quite moving.

So the songs are written by Simpson himself, or are arrangements of traditional British and American tunes. The production is unobtrusive but perfect for the music. The guitar playing is superb and the singing... well elsewhere in this blog I review a Kate Rusby album and repeat the cliché that she has the voice of an angel. There's no reason I couldn't use the same phrase to describe Simpson's voice, but it don't sound right, do it? Let's settle for the fact that his voice is just perfect for what he's singing, can't imagine how it could be bettered.

Very highly recommended, 10/10, you could buy it here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

130,000 miles in a diesel Vauxhall Astra H/Mk5

Okay, well I guess 'best car' is pushing it, as it's certainly not one of the most exciting, but 130,000 (almost) faultless miles, can't be bad.

And, though complete records aren't available, from what I can tell it returned 54mpg when it was new, and it was returning 54mpg to its final day.

And hey, look left, the old girl isn't looking too shabby either... from a distance...
It's been replaced with the Ford Focus that appears in other articles on this blog comparing Astra with Focus, see the first one HERE and the second one HERE. To save you reading them, I'll summarise by saying that though the Focus is okay, it's not as good as the Astra.

But what it is, is younger. 4 years and 60,000 miles younger. And there was a rather alarming list of 'issues' to address in the not too distant future. Time to bail. Good luck to the new owner, you're getting a cracking car.

Here is a brief summary of how that 130,000 miles went: the car arrived late, having been found to have a faulty steering pump during its pre-delivery check, not a good start, but as it turns out not a sign of things to come. We immediately took it on holiday to Scotland, where its virtues emerged rapidly, low fuel consumption, powerful performance and comfort. It then spent a lot of time going from North to South Wales and back again, never giving the slightest trouble for around 80,000 miles over a four year period. I then took it over from the missus when she got a new company car (the Focus). I had to have new brake pads and disks fitted. It did school runs then for the rest of its time with us, plus the odd foray back to the Midlands. Eventually something did go wrong, the alternator failed and I just made it home on battery power. While fixing this it was discovered the water pump was on its way out, so another replacement. And a coil spring broke, and eventually I had new rear shocks, and some front suspension bushes replaced. Other than that it was the original car when I sold it, original clutch, exhaust, turbo, everything. The one thing that was a problem was the aircon. When it worked, it worked well, but during my tenure of the car, it hardly ever did work. I had it pumped up and checked several times, always failed after a month or two. Ah well, the weather has not been that good in recent years!

So, now I'm in the Focus every day, and to be honest I miss the Astra. It went better, had a less harsh ride, and had none of the irritating niggles of the Focus. As the RAF would say "Per ardua ad astra" - if I work hard I'll get another Astra. Ahem.