Muddied and Bloodied at Burton Bradstock

Today is the first day of a new week. Our youngest is back at school following his bout of chicken pox. And that meant I could finally get on with some work. I had a lot to think about for a new project I’ve volunteered to complete so I decided to go for a walk to get my thoughts in order. I decided to head to Burton Bradstock for some bracing sea air and to get my thoughts in order.

It didn’t really work out that way. Instead I provided a great subject for an amusing gif – should anyone have been filming me. The wind was howling at Burton Bradstock this morning, the sea was wild and the air was extremely cold. Not a lot of thinking got done initially. I’d brought my camera along and walked up the east path from the beach to get a better view of my surroundings.

I wasn’t feeling inspired, even creatively with the camera nor with my thoughts on the report I had to write. Rejoining the path was where things went wrong. The ground was extremely muddy and stepping down a slope the grass gave way to the mud and I began to fall. During this fall I spun around and landed on my chest and face.

There wasn’t much of my front that wasn’t caked in mud. A kind dog walker passed by and managed not to laugh and instead asked me if I was okay and if there wasn’t anything they could do. We had a brief chat and I said the biggest damage was embarrassment. That wasn’t quite true as I discovered heading back to my car – there was a definite limp and my left arm was very painful.

At least all the mud was on my front which meant the car seat wouldn’t suffer. I got home and cleaned myself up, discovered that I’d bashed my left elbow quite a bit and filled my sleeve with blood. The funny thing is what was running through my mind in the minutes and moments before I fell. A few minutes before I’d approach a gap in the headland then said to myself “no, you always promise the wife you’ll be safe.” and so turned away from the edge. The irony was my fall and injury took place well away from a danger point, it was merely trying to return to the path. “You’re not very sure-footed Harry,” I told myself. “How sure-footed aren’t you? See those goats that climb the side of a near vertical damn, well I’m the opposi…” It was at this point I fell.

And so dear readers that is why I am going to post these photos – because I bled to get them. The extreme tone-mapping is far from my usual style, I normally hate it, but they lend the images and anger that perfect fits how I felt at the time having made a complete arse of myself at Burton Bradstock and covering myself with mud.

The Whole Women Bishops Thing

Imagine for one moment that rather than being a lapsed Roman Catholic married to an Anglican priest I’m actually a member of the Anglican church. Think harder now, imagine that I’m actually the Archbishop of Canterbury and this is the speech I would give to the Anglican Synod today regarding women bishops and the future of the church.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. We are the laughing stock of the nation. Out there in the real world women are working as teachers, firemen, soldiers, police officers, fighter pilots, surgeons and particle physicists. But in here some of you still exist in the dark ages. Well your time is over.

Some of you make representations that you’re struggling with issues of theology, of traditional and biblical teaching. I think you are full of shit. Our church was set up as an alternative what we saw as a Catholic church that had lost its way, too fond of traditions and rituals. We had a new prayer book meant to be relevant to the people of that day. And what are we now? Another church stuffed with our own traditions and rituals, clinging onto the BCP, a book that is also no longer relevant. So what if that’s what you had as a child – were you a child in Jesus’ day? Do you pray in Aramaic? What does that matter in the 21st century? What does that matter to the people on the estates, lost and alone? We need to share our love in the language of today.

We spend tens of millions of pounds each year trying to keep crumbling ancient and beautiful churches upright. Churches with no disabled access, no toilet facilities and with leaky roofs due to lack of funds and continued lead thefts. We have become an organisation that is all about curating the past, whether that is our old buildings or outmoded ideas on gender and sexuality. It is time we moved on.

It is time we abandoned all our broken parish churches. IF they are of historic or architectural worth to our nation there are organisations such as the National Trust that will look after them. But we no longer need to. Meanwhile we will save money by building new modern buildings that are as useful to our communities during the week as they are on a Sunday morning. They will be sources of hope and warmth, not drafty old stone millstones around our neck. You might argue that no-one will drive a few miles to these new central churches, but that is wrong. In villages up and down our nation people climb into their Range Rovers on a Sunday morning to go get their newspaper. Why can’t they do the same on a Sunday to attend church? Aren’t we worth more to them than the racism and borderline paedophilia of the Daily Mail they foolishly buy? And there will be plenty of room in their cars for the people who don’t have their own transport.

We need to abandon our old expensive and irrelevant church buildings. They are holding us back. We also have to abandon those people whose crumbling and irrelevant opinions are making our church the enemy of freedom, love and compassion in this nation. It is shameful that we still ordain those who oppose the ordination of women to any role in the Anglican church, or the ordination of people based on their sexuality. It is shameful. We need higher standards in who we ordain, even if that means a smaller church. The promises made in ordination must from this time on feature a promise to uphold the ideals that no-one should be discriminated against based on their race, nationality, gender or sexuality. New priests must live up to this promise or they are not welcome in our church, for they do not represent what we are about. We want loving caring priests, blind to race, sexuality and gender, people who have a heart for our church, not bigots or those egomaniacs who seem more interested in their own self promotion.

And to those here today who could not make such promises? Thank you for your service. But it is time for you to leave. Collect your P45 on the way out. You are no longer represent the new church, a church based on love, not divisions, bigotry and misogyny dressed up as theology. And yes I mean you bigoted laity members too. Out. It is about time the church stood for something. In these dark times, beset by a government – which many of you foolishly voted for – that is the enemy of Jesus’ teachings, the church needs to stand up for the downtrodden, the poor and bullied. We are not going to be party to these things anymore, not in our church, not in our name.

We will have a small church. But a church that means something, stands up for what is right. And I hope a church that is attractive to those with the right heart, those people afraid of us in the past that would now see us as somewhere they could call home. And so we would grow, and grow healthily. New buildings and new hearts, fit for the challenges of the 21st century.

It’s time to end the hypocrisy. We are riven by divisions. For example we have male clergy shacked up secretly with their boyfriends who oppose the ordination of women? Does that sound like a church that’s interested in love? In supporting one another. People who want to hide who they love, yet at the same time hate the freedoms of others. Ladies and gentlemen we must embrace marriage – not gay marriage – but marriage for all – man with woman, man with man, woman with woman. We must get behind this to reclaim marriage as a sacred thing, something we can support for all, to make families important again. No more hiding in the closet for us. And we must support the ordination of bishops -not women bishops – but men and women as bishops, as leaders.

Our church is staring death in the face. We ordain clergy we don’t even think are good enough to be paid to do the job, but we ordain them anyway, then they work badly for us for free. We ordain mothers and fathers and yet still expect them to work as much as priest with no family. We ordain those who hate others that we ordain. We ordain people who struggle with who they love because they feel we will not support them. We allow bigots among our parishes to form cabals and stack the laity vote. These things must end.

We need to move forward. Men and women, gay and straight, black and white, we have a church to rebuild, a nation to support and represent, good news to spread, help to give, love to share. We can do this together or not at all. Will you join me?

And for those of you who feel they cannot, the exits are at the back, please leave now so we can get on with our purpose, our mission.

Jumping Ship from Sony to Fujifilm?

Next week Sony will announced its successor to the NEX-6 camera. I’ve owned an NEX-6 since the camera was launched in the UK and it’s been a mixed relationship. As many have discovered with Sony in the realm of console hardware the company is excellent at physical devices, but terrible at firmware. There are so many features that could be easily added to the NEX-6 by a software update yet Sony has failed to do so during the life of the camera. So next week’s announcement of a replacement is likely to be the deciding factor on whether I wave goodbye to the E-mount system and instead jump into the arms of Fujifilm.

I’m in the market to upgrade. I ditched my Canon DSLR gear for NEX-6 in 2012 and have certainly been happy with the result in terms of lighter, smaller gear and image quality. I have no complaints at all about the detail and dynamic range in the pictures coming from my NEX-6 – certainly much better than the Canon EOS 40D and EOS 50D I used to own.

But where I am disappointed is in terms of usability. There are so many little niggles I’ve discovered over the last year or so with the NEX-6. While the image quality is excellent the firmware is just too simplistic and lacking in options that could have been easily offered in firmware updates. For example no options on minimum shutter speed with auto ISO, no ability to turn off pre-focus, no decouple of auto-focus from the shutter button. As someone who used “back button” focussing on my DSLRs that’s a feature I do miss. I’ve also been disappointed with the lenses on offer – yes there are some very good ones – but these are very expensive, there’s little middle ground. F1.8 is as fast as it gets even if you’re will to hand over £800 for a Sony made Zeiss.

But what has this got to do with Fujifilm? The Fujifilm X-E2 and X-T1 have been making eyes at me and I can’t help but say I’m smitten. The X-system appeals to me both in terms of camera design aesthetics, image quality, ergonomics, firmware options (and updates) and the range of lenses.

I’ve come close to ordering the X-E2 a couple of times over the last week or two. But I am now waiting to see what Sony has to offer in the A6000. Despite the NEX-6 being fine hardware and most of its issues being fixable with a software update – I’m willing to give Sony a chance. So I want to see what it can offer in the new model – but it’s also going to have to impress me with some indication of where the lenses are going. I’d like to see a faster standard zoom than the 16-50mm kit even if that is larger and something like the Fuji 23mm f1.4 that isn’t a ridiculously expensive Zeiss offering.

To be honest I’m not expecting Sony to appease me. It’s a shame as I really like the NEX as a piece of hardware. And unlike my switch from Canon I think I’ll likely hold onto my NEX and lenses rather than sell them at a big loss. Certainly it’s worth having a range of focal lengths until I can afford to expand the glass I can afford after an X-system purchase.

So the A6000 is going to have to be pretty special rather than a minor upgrade to dissuade me buying a Fujifilm camera in the near future. The X-E2 with 18-55mm lens seems a very obvious sideways move for me. Though my head is being somewhat overruled by my heart and its lust for the exciting X-T1. Either way I’ll be buying a camera and kit lens and won’t be able to afford any new glass for a while.

What could Sony do to keep me? Nothing in terms of hardware, I believe the hardware is excellent. What Sony needs to do next week – and I think it’s very unlikely it will happen – is convince me that the company listens to users, is interesting in expanding functionality via firmware updates and has a lens roadmap made up of more than cheap lenses and very expensive lenses with little in between.

I’d rather not buy another camera for a very long time. But what I want is the right camera, one that doesn’t hinder what I want to do and one that treats me like a grown up. I’m not sure Sony is interested in selling me a camera like that.

January Storms at West Bay

Today is beautifully sunny here in West Dorset. The wind is calm and the seas tranquil. But this wasn’t the case last week. Not being a suicidal fool1 I avoided the worst of the weather and stayed tucked up at home. However I did venture out to catch some of the last windy weather at West Bay.

The sea made for a tricky subject on that day. This was partly down to all the salt water spray being thrown at my lenses. The bigger issue was the position of the sun making it hard to shoot towards the open sea. I did get a few shots I like though.

1You know, those twits you hear about on the news that tend to jump in a river or the sea to save their dog. The person usually dies and the story is ended with “the dog survived climbing out of the water itself.”

The Official Grumpyrocker Best Albums of 2013

Better late than never – it’s our round-up of the very best that rock and metal had to offer in 2013. And there’s not any noodly limp Waitrose-folk arse-water in site.

Before we move onto the best records of the year it’s traditional we cover a few disappointments. First a real stinker – Megadeth’s Super Collider. I can’t fully review the album because I’ve never been able to listen to the whole thing. Yes it’s that bad. Endgame showed a band back on form and while the follow-up 13 wasn’t as good it still seemed Mustaine had something to offer. However Super Collider is so bad you wonder how it even came to be. Did no one say “Dave, these songs are shit, shall we try something else?”

Disappointing but not on the same scale as the Megaturd is Amorphis’ Circle. This is a band whose releases I look forward to eagerly and this latest album flat out disappointed me. Where’s the band that created Skyforger?

Cathedral released their final album The Last Spire. This is a pretty good album. My disappointment is a more personal issue, disappointed they are calling it a day, and disappointed they didn’t go out in a “huggy bear oh year” Midnight Mountain glitterball kinda way. But kudos to the boys for not trying crowd-pleasing nonsense and doing their own thing. I just would have liked some silliness.

The Gathering released Afterwards this year. It seems to be an experiment in how far material first revealed in 2011 could be milked. While remix albums can be good this post-rock revisit to the album Disclosure did nothing for me at all. If I wanted to play an album through some TC Electronic reverb and delay effects I could do it myself thanks. Come on folks, lets have some proper new stuff.

The biggest disappointment of the year is the continued shittiness of production and mastering across the rock and metal world. We’re still being sold crushed mixes that sound awful. One of my favourite albums of the year might have made it right to the top if it hadn’t been mastered to death. The loudness war has to end, it’s possible to be heavy and brutal without trying to destroy any musical dynamics. Hell, one of the best sounding releases of the year was the Full Dynamic Range re-release of Carcass’ Heartwork. That CD didn’t lose once ounce of heavy in getting a decent sounding release.

On the other side of the coin some bands are still peddling 24-bit 192K versions of their albums like these are a sonic orgasm. Mix and master your album properly and even a 320K MP3 will sound really good. Me, I like a good CD to be honest and a 16-bit FLAC rip for archiving purposes. More bands should join the Bandcamp revolution and sell us decent quality FLAC files – we don’t need 24-bit nonsense. Yet Amazon continues to sell some of the worst sounding MP3 files available today – some shocking low bitrates on offer.

But I digress.

Before we move on to albums of the year, let’s do song of the year. Going to surprise you with this one, especially as Carcass’ The Master Butcher’s Apron was the runner-up.

Yes really. Now let’s get on with the best albums of 2014. As usual I don’t include re-releases and live albums in my list. But we’ve had some good live releases this year – Nightwish’s Showtime Storytime featuring the phenomenal pipes of Floor Jansen is definitely a highlight of the year.



Taking direct inspiration from sequences within Fritz Lang’s silent masterpiece Metropolis, Cult of Luna’s Vertikal offers the sprawling, beautiful, haunting sound scape of a dystopian future. The synth work often recalls Vangelis’ wonderful Blade Runner soundtrack. But it’s the rhythm section that takes things to the next level. The importance of bass guitar in post-rock/metal can’t be underestimated and the low-end rumble’s integration with the percussion gives Vertikal its momentum, preventing the slower sequences from stopping any progress. Joined by powerful guitar riffage and those very metal vocals we have an album that at times is quietly beautiful if unsettling and in parts throbbing with classic metal guitar. Cult of Luna’s great achievement in Vertikal is bringing all this work together into a cohesive whole. Like many ambient post-rock/metal albums you’ll find nods to the giants of the genre – Pink Floyd. But Vertikal isn’t a softly softly album, it retains that power and that anger you might expect from Roger Water’s finest moments, not the sleepier elegiac passages of Gilmour/Wright collaborations. Anger isn’t the only emotion featured within. The often brutal picture of the future painted by Vertikal is brought to a more human and emotional end by the last track Passing Through.
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No you’re not reading this wrong. Yes I know it’s not really as good as many of the records on this list, but I never said this was an objective list. We’re talking art here – as subjective a subject as there ever was. Fintroll’s latest album makes it onto this list because it is damn good fun. Sometimes you want some music that will make you smile and this is the metal album of the year for smiles. Ridiculously good fun if you like black metal versions of circus music.

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Written when it was unclear whether the band would have a vocalist well enough to sing on it the result is a concept-album that works wonderfully as an instrumental only composition. Buy the 2CD versions and you get that version. More amazingly the vocal version is just as good if not better. The concept wins the 2013 up its own arse award – but I love 70s prog excess – here The Ocean has created an album that seeks to take us on a journey into the depths of the sea but also deeper into relationships. As the depth increases so does the pressure in the lyrics and the heaviness of the music. A great concept that the band has managed to pull off.
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Let’s face it, if Steven Wilson doesn’t take any holidays he’s going to be on this list every year. The man can’t seem to do any wrong and continues to create fascinating intelligent music that’s hard to categorise. Not only are the songs fantastic, Wilson has surrounded himself with excellent musicians and pulls off one of the finest modern progressive rock records recorded. This one deserves to sit along your Pink Floyd on the shelf.
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The appearance of 13 in this list is a testament to the brilliance of Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler. When these two men work together magic happens. Forget all the talk of Ozzy being way over the hill, of Wilk’s drumming being flat and boring – this album works because two giants of metal are riffing together again. Would this be a better record with Dio? Undoubtedly, but we’ve still got a massive slab of classic metal here. If only the pacier bonus tracks had found their way onto the regular album we’d have had a classic on our hands. As it stands we have some old guys making better metal than most of the young guys and all power to Iommi and Butler for that. Long may they riff.
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No no no not the joke that is Geoff Tate. But even so, who would have thought the rest of the band would arise from the ridiculous legal shenanigans to create one of the best metal albums of the year? In Todd La Torre the band has found a real star – his vocals on this eponymous album are superb, what a range the man has. It is so great to hear Eddie Jackson’s bass clang away like old times. Scott Rockenfield’s drumming is his best for many a year. And in Parker Lundgren Michael Wilton has found a guitar sparring partner worthy of the band. The only downside is this album is too short and it is brickwalled, a better mix and a couple more songs and this could have been our album of the year. This is the real Queensryche, welcome back lads.
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The gods be praised – a metal album where you can hear the bass. Omnium Gatherum had a hard act to follow with Beyond, New World Shadows was a storming record. But the progressive death metallers returned in 2013 with an equally strong album and again one that grew on me with every listen. So while I was very enthusiastic when it was released I love it even more now. Few bands combine beautiful music and heavy music as well as Omnium Gatherum – there’s so much to enjoy in the dynamics of the band’s work. Beyond sees a band at the top of their game, I only hope they can keep up such a high standard.
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Here we have the first of three records vying for album of the year. From this point on any of these three could have won it. Pineapple Thief’s Bruce Soord created this solo record with Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse in mind for vocals. The result is a fabulous modern progressive rock record that shines with superb instrumentation, modern sounds and beats and great melancholy vocals.

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The metal world reacted with delight – Carcass are coming back. But then the doubts set in. After all, Carcass created some of the best heavy music ever recorded, how could a return be anything other than disappointing? We needn’t have feared. Holy effing heck though what a return. Carcass’ Surgical Steel is easily the best metal comeback we’ve ever heard. It is a huge striding monster of a heavy metal record. This is a crushingly heavy record, superb death metal with plenty of melodic moments to enjoy. Riff and riff of heavy. We needn’t have feared.
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So here we have it, the official Grumpyrocker best album of 2013. Dan Swano has returned to save metal along with his guitar-playing mate Ragnar Widerberg. The Inheritance is everything a modern metal record should be – it’s, powerful, heavy, intelligent and beautifully performed. Not only that it is actually recorded sympathetically – a proper dynamic mix – we even get the vinyl mix on the CD as an extra. There’s so much in The Inheritance to enjoy – moments of 70s prog, modern death metal, very light acoustic touches, massive heavy riffs, death metal barks, big-lunged crooning. Dan has thrown the whole thing into this record and it is a glorious musical statement. You can hear older influences like Genesis alongside more modern ones such as Opeth. In many ways this is the Opeth album we wanted this year but didn’t get. Swano has one hell of a voice, he belts out these songs like a metal Elvis and to show off he wrong the songs, played the drums and produced the damn record. Meanwhile Widerberg has done a great job with the guitars offering plenty of meaty riffs, more reflective moments and melodic solos. Buy it.