Reconnecting: Nature’s Melody and Mental Health

Reflecting back on this year there is something that most, if not all of us, have been able to partake in – reconnecting with nature.

The stresses and pace for modern life can distract us from all the natural beauty that surrounds us every day. As we’ve had more time available to us from lockdowns, furloughs and unfortunately redundancies, there is some benefit to our daily Boris walks.

mental health
start point sunrise

Nature in all its seasons orchestrates sounds and songs that can keep us in tune with our very own nature. It can help keep us grounded by keeping our minds healthy and renewed with positive thoughts. It can also help us to escape in our own headspace to a place to comfort and peace.

I’ve found myself surrounded by symphonies of birdsong, the gentle trickle of the brook or even the roaring wind. Even as I sit here on a headland in the South Hams watching the old sun rise on a new day I can feel the energy and life in all the sounds around me… the crashing waves on the rocks, the whistling wind, the calling gulls and the eerie howling of the wind in the caves below. Even watching the blazing sun rise into the sky adds to the spectacular show that I’m witnessing. There’s motion, tempo and life. 

In a year that has been dark for many, where there has been death, sadness and negativity… this can disrupt or even irritate our mental wellbeing. Being forced to slow down life can help us to think and to contemplate. For me, spending time in nature has been a positive experience which has helped me to keep my mind focussed on positive perspectives.

I’m a fan of J.R.R Tolkien and his masterpiece stories set in middle earth. There’s a quote I’m particularly fond of that says, “where there’s life, there’s hope”.

Songs, poetry, literature and other forms of creativity can communicate utter garbage, while some can echo lifelong truths. For me, this quote fits hand in glove with how I want to approach challenges like 2020.

hobbiton
hope

Going into lockdown I started to enjoy being lazy. Time to slow down and catch up on some tv series I could binge on, great! For some this is dream come true, for others it has been a real struggle. After thinking about it, I knew I didn’t want to tolerate the behaviours and attitude that came as a result of lockdown. Instead, I wanted to engage with it, I want to look back on this time and for it to be profound, as a time where I was still able to grow and learn despite circumstances. Even in the midst of despair, I wanted to find hope and maintain good mental health.

When I look and see terrible things happening, I wanted to see with new eyes something that revealed the opposite. When I heard negativity in the news, politics or social media, I wanted to hear the opposite with new ears.

As a musician, it has been hard not to share and enjoy your passion with others who are like-minded. As a band, we have missed seeing a lot of our friends and music family this year through our gig circuit and summer festivals. At the beginning of restrictions and lockdown in England I had thought that music was being completely silenced…how wrong I was.  There is always a song playing, always a tempo and always a melody. We just needed to reconnect with it.  

Keep safe, Mark.

karens

Christmas Karens

I have to admit I am particularly tickled by the attack of the Karen memes across social media. The “Karen” can be found in many areas of society and as someone who has put together many, many Christmas Carol services I can tell you that nothing like tradition can draw out the Karens en masse.

A bit of background: I used to run a church worship team, which means I was pretty much in charge of music within the church I was in. The duties also included organising the Christmas Carol Service every year.

If you’ve known me for a bit you’ll soon realise I don’t like doing anything just for the sake of doing it and for the longest time I wasn’t very fussed with Christmas Carols anyway. After a couple of years of doing the same kind of thing, I felt that the Carol service needed a refresh. I can already feel your Karen senses tingling. Isn’t the point of Christmas Carols to do things traditionally?

Karens

Traditions are Good(ish)

carolers

As someone who is part of a long-standing traditional belief system, I have come to see that tradition has a place as long as it’s alive. Doing something for the sake of something has always seemed pointless to me. So many people view the Christian faith as outdated and with no real grasp of the modern day. The songs that have comforted us by their familiarity are often just seen as songs to make us feel good when actually they have a real significance.

Each song has a story and the lyrics themselves are usually far more in depth than the Christian Christmas Songs we get nowadays. ‘Silent Night’ was commissioned in 1818 to played specifically on guitar because the church organ had been damaged in a flood.

‘Once in Royal David’s City’ was written to illuminate teaching of the virgin birth. One of my favourites is ‘Joy to the World’ which wasn’t even written for Christmas but as a celebration of the return of Jesus – but has been adopted for the yearly Christmas use.

I wanted to bring meaning back to the songs and to give our church something to look forward to each year. We experienced with a folk/country style, a full rock-band show, a semi-acoustic affair utilising virtually every musician in the church… it’s been a wild ride.

Karens of the Bells

BUT… when you do something like meddle with the carol service then a gaggle of Karens appear to ruin all the fun. The problem with our modern world is not that everyone is entitled to their opinion (I agree) but that everyone feels that they can express it.

I jest, obviously there weren’t many people who actually complained. Actually a lot of people appreciated the effort that goes into organising these events (and for those of you who know, it takes a lot to organise these events).

One thing the Karens have taught me is to be less forward with my own thoughts. Sadly our society has decided that personal preference dominates (maybe that has something to do with social media) and I don’t really want others to feel how the Karens made me feel.

I also think I should apologise to people named Karen at this point…

Merry Christmas

The Bible says that Christmastime heralds ‘peace to all men’ (and women) and who doesn’t enjoy all the warm and fuzziness that comes with the season? People are more open to forgiveness, community and hope at this time of year. But why doesn’t it last?

What if we all decided to prefer the other person and choose selflessness on a daily basis rather than confining it to a couple of weeks a year?

Join with me internet! “No more Karens!”

Tom

Check out our 2020 Christmas Special ‘Alpha Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Goo Goo Dolls

Goo Goo Dolls Gig Review 25/2/20

And yes it’s a bit late…

It’s really no secret that Mark and I are fond of a lot of the same bands, just check out our inspiration lists on Spotify.

I’m going to take the credit to for introducing the Goo Goo Dolls to Mark. I’ll write about the Goo Goo Dolls and what they mean to me another time but this was the third time we got to see this incredible group.

We drove up on a cold February day, blissfully unaware of the Corona that was going to punch our world into lockdown a month or so later. We parked in Birmingham City Centre and headed toward that strange building that looks like a spaceship which houses the fantastic Bull Ring Mall and got ourselves a sensible Nando’s. We made our way to the Birmingham O2 Institute and cued up while some people try to buy our tickets and others tried to flog their CDs to us. Love the ingenuity.

Valeras

We got into the Institute and being the old refined humans we are, we found seats. DO NOT JUDGE. We got a couple of drinks (Cherry coke ‘cuz we’re ‘ard) and listened to the support act in the form of ‘Valeras.’

I’m not sure what box to put Valeras in, but after following them for a while now I can see that’s really what they wouldn’t want. Seeing the ‘bigger bands’ support acts can either be a delight of finding a new band or a constant watch-watching to see if they’re leaving. I like them!

They ran through their set professionally and the lead singer is engaging and makes every effort to get the crowd into their tunes. I’m fond of the song ‘Playing with a Gun,’ and I definetely recommend them.

www.valeras.co.uk

Listen to Valeras on Spotify

Third Time Lucky

Mark and I now seem to have a two year tradition of seeing the Goo Goo Dolls. I have to tell you, we saw them in 2016 and I never thought I’d get to see them. I cannot express the joy I felt the first time as it just seemed far out of what I would experience. Actually the second time was just as good as the first time.

And the third time? JUST AS GOOD. The band were touring their latest studio album Miracle Pill, which is another strong inclusion in their catalogue. They get a fair bit of criticism for not varying out of their style but you know what? It’s good so shut up.

John Rzeznik and Robbie Takac are the leaders of the group, hiring the other guys for their full performances. The two of them have been together a while and are clearly a strong unit and makes me wonder if Mark and I will be like that in 20 years or so.

Of course they blast through their 90s signature classics (including ‘our song’ Iris) with ease, the decibel level of the crowd clearly rising when these songs turn up. What interests me are the new songs of which we only got to hear five. They do have twelve albums worth of songs to pick from and keeping the punters happy is probably the key ingredient for their thirty year career.

The real standout for me was ‘Autumn Leaves’ which had an extended solo, a real dramatic air punching affair. It’s my favourite song on ‘Miracle Pill’ and absolutely piques my inspiration.

It’s after seeing a band like the Goo Goo Dolls, who I’ve been with solidly since 2007, that I get pumped for the performance. The energy of the crowd singing your songs… the joy… love it.

www.googoodolls.com

Listen to the Goo Goo Dolls on Spotify

Tom

top 10

Top 10 Songs from My Youth

The old man speaks! Now that I’m nearing 40 (not quite but way closer than the others) I realise there are a lot of songs that remind me of those golden years. I think it’s true we all look back with rose tinted glasses at the past, maybe the younger you are the less complications you see?

I was considering the songs that became a soundtrack to where I was at that time. Bearing in mind I wasn’t even that into music until I was around 15.

I thought I’d offer my ‘Top 10’ songs that make me feel like a teenager.

Nothing – A

Love this song. Their other songs not so much but the pounding, the riff, the shouting, the weird keyboard bits (I even got an email from their management when I enquired how keyboards work in a heavy rock band).

The music video is pretty good too.

Listen on Spotify

Rock My World -Michael Jackson

He came back! After a few years Michael Jackson returned with a very good album. No… shut up it IS a good album. It’s massive, so many songs and essentially the first three are pretty much the same… but Rock My World was fun, energetic and just… brilliant.

Listen on Spotify

My Glorious -Delirious?

This was an eye-opener for a young guy who thought all Christian worship music was done on the piano. It was rough, it was real, it was loud and brash. Never really played it in church (in fact I’m sure churches are still not ready for it).

Listen on Spotify

Just a Day – Feeder

Could’ve gone with Just the Way I’m Feeling too – you remember the video? In sixth form, we seemed to recreate the music video in the common room. We didn’t film it, but we often paused the song (like in the video) and took a drink then carried on with the rocking. This song was a lot of fun and is still pretty decent now.

Listen on Spotify

A Little Respect – Wheatus

Ashamedly this is how I first heard of the song. I’ll also admit I prefer this version too. My pre-understanding days of watching a bloke with an acoustic make the sound of an electric still haunts me… Fun stuff.

Listen on Spotify

Pink – Aerosmith

I know this song is a little naughty but it is so fun. I can’t sing like Steven, so you won’t be hearing a cover anytime soon. This song feels like one of those you’d belt at karaoke. Actually yeah, get me down the karaoke and I’ll do this one.

Listen on Spotify

You Know You’re Right – Nirvana

The last song they recorded before Kurt killed himself. I’m not a massive Nirvana fan, obviously Nevermind is a masterpiece but it was nearing the end of my Sixth Form days when this was officially released for the first time. There’s something struggling and dark about it – I find it compelling and the arrangement is amazing.

Listen on Spotify

Learn to Fly – Foo Fighters

This was the version of the Foo Fighters I fell in love with. It wasn’t as heavy as they were or where they returned, but it was this playful straightforward rock that grabs me every time. Applause for Mr Grohl and friends please.

Listen on Spotify

Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out of – U2

Possibly the ultimate memory of my Sixth Form days, a beautiful tune with a very sad back story involving the suicide of Michael Hutchence of INXS. My own story involving this song and U2 in general is coming soon!.

Listen on Spotify

Losing My Religion

Some might say this is a weird choice for me. Although it’s something that has never happened to me and I can say with a certain degree of confidence it won’t, the R.E.M. classic struck a chord with me because of its maturity and composition. It’s raw and honest which is sort of reflective of the instrumental choice for the song. The style I’d like to bring to Alpha Tide one day.

Listen on Spotify

So there we go: a few tunes for you to enjoy.

What songs hold a special place in your heart?

Tom

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The Chinese Folk Song Tu-Ning

This is a solid Joel-joke. But there’s a bit of a rumour that I am a little obsessed with having many guitars with me…

I’d to address this head on if I may. No one looks at the drummer and says he’s got too many drums (looking at you Mike Portnoy) or that the lead guitarist has too many pedals. Just because you took five guitars to a gig once you get a reputation… there were also two keyboards…

Being a fan of rock and roll bands over the years you get to see a lot of guitarists have a little friend walk up with a different guitar then swap that with the one they were just playing. Sometimes they’re using alternative tunings… and this caught my attention.

A New Avenue

Sometimes I can find the standard tuning a bit stale and stops me from finding the creative niche for a particular song. Being a fan of the Goo Goo Dolls you get see a guitar swap for nearly every song and not only that: it’s hardly ever the same guitar for any two songs! The current thought is I take up more room than Joel and his drums…

Famously the Dolls’ song ‘Iris’ has one of the unique tunings in guitardom: BDDDDD! I’ve had a go a couple of times but generally speaking I’d like to get more than one song out of any tuning. I don’t have the space for 18 different guitars.

With the door open to a different tuning, different sounds can be made from my rhythming. At the moment it’s the acoustic guitars that I’ve been experimenting with. Let me share my discoveries.

Standard: EADGBe

Guitarists you know this one! Why I am mentioning it – well I am currently experimenting with cut capos… yeah… while this essentially turns it an alternative tuning anyway the base tuning remains. It requires a bit of a think and experiment but some decent sounds are beginning to emerge.

DADGAD

This was the first different tuning that I began to mess around with. This is probably most famously used on Led Zepplin’s ‘Kashmir’ song that Jimmy Page played on the electric.

One of the benefits of playing a tuning that is pretty much an open tuning is the ability to play melodies as well as striking the guitar rhythmically. I love this tuning and it works particularly well with the Faith Venus acoustic guitar as it hits a high tone which sounds beautiful.

You can hear us use this in ‘See You Soon,’ and ‘Shiny Shoes’. This is the guitar Tom uses for Iris too having found a way of playing the acoustic riff using the shapes found in the DADGAD tuning.

Open G: DGDGBD

This one hasn’t appeared in a live set yet but a couple of the new songs we’ve been working on have this to get a different feel to them (keep an ear out for ‘Indigo’ and ‘Wild Flower’).

Open G is literally the chord of G played without any chord shapes so barring the frets with a finger pretty much hits a new chord every time. It also has the same advantage to play melodies while playing rhythm.

Anymore?

When it comes to the electric guitars, I haven’t written anything yet with an alternative tuning but use capos (I am the capo king). I have a couple of ideas with the Drop D tuning, where you take the top string down a tone so you can get angry rough sounding chords, but nothing we’re using in Alpha Tide yet.

I do own a few guitars and it would be nice to grow into the next phase… you need to buy our CDs, T-shirts, listen to us online and get pubs to hire us!!

Takeover…Someone Else

STOP THE PRESS!

That literally doesn’t mean anything anymore does it? Tom will be taking over Mama Pik’s Facebook Page on May 9th. He’ll be supported by Con O’Neill.

Mama Pik is a local legend! She’s an artist liaison, manages Holly Morwenna and folk band Tempest and is just a brilliant human being.

Con O’Neill is a local singer-songwriter who released ‘Bed Beneath last year listen below.

Life in Lockdown

Best laid plans… what gets me about this whole thing is how arrogant as a species we are.

“We’ll be alright” – ignoring quite apt near-prophetic warnings from George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Bill Gates about a potential global virus.

Whine over.

Life in lockdown hasn’t been too bad for me. I want to say though that in no way am I saying that lightly. I realise that far too many people have died and many more will before we beat it.

Pandemic Pondering

I’m writing this from the middle of the 2020 Corona virus pandemic. Getting down my thoughts and feelings from the perspective of someone who hasn’t been effected apart from the lifestyle.

As musicians, we in Alpha Tide haven’t really made much money from our ventures. We are sort of in mildly privileged positions in our living arrangements so we’re not too bad. Like most we’re frustrated that we can’t go out and play: I’ve been uploading videos of ‘Quarantine Covers‘ on YouTube and been involved in an encouraging daily vlog on Instagram.

We had great plans for 2020 in Alpha Tide, sadly they didn’t really include festivals as most seem to have sorted their lineups before even telling us they were open.

Our second album was beckoning us to work on. With us having introduced Insomnia, Ikigai and Chances into our live set, we had begun on two new songs that were very nearly ready. Tom even played new(ish) song ‘Bulletproof’ on the ‘Together at Home’ Instagram gig back in March.

Corona Questioning

With the frustration of normal life being put on hold, it’s got many people questioning something. As a band who are firstly about our faith, it raises many, many questions.

We do not despair though, and we believe our fear isn’t to be listened to (although honestly sometimes it can be overwhelming). The big question I ask is’do we really want to go back to this world full of assumptions?’

Taking stock and slowing down has become part of the norm for these few weeks. I am also challenging my own assumptions and the main one for me is ‘what is success?’

Viral Visions

I’d love Alpha Tide to be the next Coldplay or U2 or Foo Fighters but we’re not really any of those bands and what we offer is different.

We wanted Alpha Tide to be redefining the landscape and on the surface you might say we’ve not made a dent at all. Our listens on Spotify and Apple Music aren’t very high, festivals don’t want to book us and radio stations don’t play our songs.

BUT…

Let me tell you three stories that have changed my opinion of success.

An Anchor

I know a family where the parents have separated and two teenage daughters were both struggling to deal with their close family splitting apart.

There have been several of us loving them through this heart rending situation. One person told me recently that after a particular hard night, they wanted to listen to Alpha Tide as our music brought them comfort and familiarity while their world turned upside down.

A Confirmation

Another (now) friend actually began her own faith journey after seeing us up close and recognising that our integrity on stage reflected us off stage. What we sing about being the reality in our lives.

This has led to healthier relationships; deeper connections with people and a mission to help and support young people.

A Confidence

We’ve gotten to know a few lovely people on our journey in Alpha Tide. One of these friends sadly passed last year. Such a beautiful soul, he messaged me a few weeks after being told he hadn’t long to live to personally say he’d come to faith.

Corvid Conclusions

Whether you see eye to eye with what we believe is not the point here. The point is that after taking stock; what is important has greatly changed.

Success to me is now not about playing on big stages (that would be nice though) and it’s not about getting our music ‘out there’ (also would be nice) but about those three stories you’ve read above.

As I started off saying: this virus has caused a lot of us to reassess what’s important. We’re thankful for the technology to communicate but we’d much rather people be in person – and some of us have decided to make a bigger effort when we can get out there (I know I will).

I’d like the world to change: I’d like to see justice ‘flow like a river’ in our country where currently the rich seem to have more benefits than the poor (more on that another time).

My conclusion is this: having the time to reassess is good. Taking a breath and slowing down is good because you know the success I want to see is touching people’s hearts. And THAT is ok with me.

Tom

Spotify: Year One

What an odd thing to do a blog about. I wanted to get across a few feelings about my transition from purely ‘physical’ music to streaming. Definitely came to the party pretty late.

I love music and remember the excitement when one of my favourite bands released their latest album. I realise that a few of these groups are very popular and like a bull to a red flag I love a ‘deluxe’ boxset. It’s like a mist descends: I the love the anticipation…

Back in the Day

In 2008 I fondly remember Oasis released their ‘Dig Out Your Soul’ album. This was the first album they released after I’d really gotten into them (see what I mean about being late to the party?)

It was a big set with four vinyl, two CDs and a DVD with a huge book full of lyrics and it was beautiful. 8 years later I actually got a record player!

The thing is, and I’ll be honest here, music is expensive and buying full price CDs was getting a bit pricey. I’d check through Amazon’s second hand listings and Poundland to get a good deal. It often crossed my mind that streaming might be the way forward to help with the bank balance.

So I spent a little time condensing my CD collection and getting rid of the cases (at the moment I’ve still got the inlays but we’ll see how long this lasts) and then I saw a ‘3 months for 99p’ deal for Spotify so I took the plunge.

Streaming

It’s now been over a year since I changed over to using Spotify and I had a few predictions going in and I found them to be right!

So for a set fee I can listen to the billions of songs that exist across the Spotify platform.

I’ve found bands Steam Powered Giraffe and current favourites Katzenjammer that I might never have had the joy of hearing. Of course there was always YouTube but I could never really get on with listening to tunes that way.

All I do is load up my phone with 20 albums + and off I go.

The Cons of Spotify

You know what’s on my mind? That these artists aren’t getting a lot of money for their hard work (and this is coming from an ‘artist’ who is also on Spotify). You need SO MANY listens to make it financially viable. The bigger artists like Coldplay, U2 and Foo Fighters are sort of doing OK with millions of monthly listeners.

There’s also the fact because I can listen to SO much music that investm ent into bands and following your favourites isn’t as important anymore. As digital cameras sort of made photographs less valuable because you now had access to 100s of photos that could just delete like that – you’ve now got super commercially focused, throwaway music. Same with film/TV streaming.

When you bought a CD it was an investment and you’d have to listen to it a lot; you’d get value out of it. It’s not the same now as I don’t need to put a lot of time into really listening. Done, done and on to the next one.

The Future

Am I going to stick with Spotify? Yes I am. Like I predicted all this above, I also predicted that it would save me money and it has. I now like this money saving scheme of mine! It’s got its claws into me but you know what? I still want to listen to my favourites… and when they’re one of my big favourites I’ll still buy the deluxe boxset (or at least the vinyl!)

What does this blog state? It means I’ve been sucked in – but having access to back catalogues of Weezer, Feeder, the Rolling Stones and finding new bands like the above and Larkin Poe has been such a great experience.

Tom’s Inspiration Playlist

Mark’s Inspiration Playlist

Mattie’s Inspiration Playlist

Joel’s Inspiration Playlist