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Thursday
Sep132007

Where's my head at.

I noticed that we're about mid-way through September and I haven't written anything here for a bit. So I thought I should put some drivel down!

I'm gearing up for the final release from 'Twisted City', Pieces/Gimme Something, on Monday. It's a double A-side, and with this last single, I've got a real 'end-of-term' feeling about the album now. I'm getting ready to stop plugging it and to pick up a guitar and make a new racket.

Releasing the album has been a very interesting, often challenging thing to do. For years I sat on the material and I think I almost didn't want to put it out, because it wasn't ready. I wanted to get it to a stage where it sounded so good that everybody would like it. Obviously that's a very silly idea, and, once the album came out I got over that pretty quickly. I'm pleased with the reviews - particularly Tony Clayton-Lea's in the Irish Times - but you can't please everybody with an album, and the idea that you can perfect a record indefinitely until it reaches some ideal condition is daft. But you don't always realise that when you're in the middle of making it.

With the new album that I'm recording at the moment, I'm taking a different approach - I'm speeding through stuff. That's not to say that I'm holed up in a studio with a bunch of amphetamines (although that might be one way of doing it), but I'm trying to get takes down quickly and have a slightly more 'warts and all' approach to it.

I haven't come up with a name for the album yet. Whereas 'Twisted City' is all about London, this record is entirely concept-free and any themes that come out of it are not planned. I think there's going to be more emotion and more styles in the new record.

I'm hoping to put some rough mixes up on Myspace soon enough for people to listen to. For now, stay tuned to Radio 2, as 'Pieces' is getting the odd spin. I still think that's one of my better tracks, and one day twould be nice to see it riding high in the charts. But alas, until the powers that be take a chance and do a bit of playlisting, I'll just have to be content with considering 'Twisted City' as a cult classic (as it was referred to in a recent review) rather than a multi-platinum selling one.

That new album title - answers on a postcard please...

Saturday
Aug112007

Greystones harbour

Before I moved to London, I lived in Greystones for many years, and I've spent a lot of time in the beautiful Victorian harbour, just walking on the beach or enjoying a pint and watching boats come in.

I'm really saddened to see that developers have been given the go-ahead to build all over it. In other countries, the harbour would be preserved, treated as 'listed'.

I've set up a Facebook group that people who want to campaign against this development can join. If you use Facebook, please do everything you can to spread the word about this group, which is dedicated to using what little time is left to save Greystones from losing something which is really worth treasuring.

The group is here: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=4311437482&ref=mf

Thanks,
Chris

Friday
Jul272007

The Monopoly Tour

I'm up to my old 'unusual gig' antics again...

I've got a single - 'Pieces' - coming out on September 17 in UK and Ireland; to mark the release I'll be doing an odd tour of London based on the squares on the Monopoly Tour. Basically it's going to involve a guitar, some beer, and 29 streets. The dates of the events are 30 August (preview show in Islington) and 1 September (the whole thing).

If you'd like to come, visit www.chrissingleton.co.uk/monopolytour/ for more information and to register your interest. To listen to 'Pieces' visit www.myspace.com/chrissingleton where you can hear the track in full. To buy the single, please download it from

Tuesday
Jul172007

The one thing Gordon Brown should do

We've got a new prime minister, so it's time to get political. Ish.

There's been a lot of noise on the blogosphere - and elsewhere - about what Gordon Brown should do now that he's prime minister. I've read an interesting mix of instructions, from the hang 'em and flog 'em brigade, calling for the removal of immigrants from the UK, to anti-war protestors calling for the removal of troops from Iraq. Depends whether you're on the Sky News or the Guardian website respectively.

A lot of people have extensive 'to-do' lists for Gordon - and admittedly, I have a quite a long wishlist myself - but if I met him, I'd ask him to do just one thing. And it's something which should transcend political divides; a political reform that, if they hold democracy dear, no left-winger or right-winger should be afraid of. I would ask Mr Brown to introduce a fair voting system, in place of the first-past-the-post voting system which is currently used in the UK.

In the UK voting system, an MP is elected to represent a constituency if they get a higher number of votes than any of their opponents in that constituency. This is not the same as winning a majority of votes. For example, a candidate could win a seat if she got 10,000 votes and her two opponents got 9,500 and 8,000 votes. In spite of the fact that far more people effectively voted against the winning candidate than for her, she would still win.

This may seem unfair at a constituency level, but it leads to incredible distortion at a national level. As an example of this, consider the 1983 and 2007 elections, which led to large majorities for the Tories and Labour respectively.

1983 Election*
The 1983 election saw a massive Tory landslide - they got 397 parlimentary seats compared to Labour's 209 - and a 'mandate' for Thatcher to carry out her revolution. But she only won 42% of the vote: 58% of the UK population did not want her party in office. But the Tories' 42% share of the vote resulted in them winning 61% of the seats in parliament. Is this fair?

1997 Election*
Labour's 1997 landslide is just as dubious. Their remarkable 418 seats in parliament and their historic majority was on the basis of winning 43% of the vote.

Although in both elections it was clear that the parties that ended up in government won the largest 'chunk' of the vote, they did not win the popular vote outright and ended up with majorities which, on the basis of votes cast, they did not at deserve.

In fact, since 1945, no party that has entered Government has won a majority of the votes (i.e., more than 50%). Labour came close in 1951, with 49.4% - and actually lost the election.

The 'strong government' argument
The main argument that I've heard being made in favour of the first-past-the-post voting system is that it produces 'strong' governments, as opposed to fragile coalitions that are prone to collapse. That may or may not be the case - but it's irrelevant. A strong government that effectively was not elected is not preferable to a coalition that was, regardless of its perceived 'strength' or coherence. In any event, my home country, Ireland would disprove that particular notion, with one party, Fianna Fail, having been in power for most of the past 25 years under a proportional representation system, in coalition with various minor parties.

If it's good enough for them...
The answer to all this is obviously to switch to a voting system where the number of seats a party receives broadly corresponds to the number of people voting for them. This doesn't mean doing away with constituencies or local MPs - it just means switching to proportional representation. And besides, if PR is good enough for elections in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland - surely it's good enough for UK general elections?

More information
Make Votes Count - http://www.makemyvotecount.org.uk/about.html
Electoral Reform Society - http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/

* Statistics from House of Commons Research Paper 03/59: UK Election Statistics 1945-2003

Monday
Jun252007

Facebook - the new Myspace?

Facebook - the new Myspace?
Facebook really seems to be 'on the up' at the moment. People I know who would never have set up a Myspace page now have a page on Facebook (including, incredibly, my girlfriend). Why is this?

I think there are four main reasons, to do with the new 'acceptibility' of social networking, Facebook's interface, its general trendiness right now and the rise of broadband.

Acceptibility of Social Networking
Until fairly recently, I think that most people approached sites like Myspace and Facebook with a degree of trepidation - either because they perceived them as being havens for weirdos (and lets face it, they are) or internet dating sites (which have less of a stigma attached to them these days, but a lot of people still don't want to be seen resorting to to the net to find love). Increasingly however, social networking sites have become part of the internet mainstream, and people are less scared to use them. Facebook seems to have come along at just the right time in this respect - it's the new kid on the block just when social networking has been deemed by society as an acceptable thing to engage in.

Facebook's interface
Facebook's interface probably also has a lot to do with the sudden explosion in its popularity. Firstly, Facebook pages are arguably less 'threatening' than Myspace pages, because they are not (yet) so customisable. A lot of people personalise their Myspace pages to the extent that they become offputting, either due to the nature of the content or the fact that the content (multiple images, videos, tracks) takes so long to download. Secondly, the Facebook system makes it extremely easy for people to scan their address books for people they know who already use Facebook; consequently, more and more people start using Facebook to communicate with their friends, in the process generating a reason to return to it.

Facebook is trendy
As mentioned above, Facebook is the new kid on the block, and new kids on the block usually get a lot of interest - for five minutes at least! Facebook is, quite simply, trendy; and when you combine trendiness with the "viralness" of the whole social networking medium, you have a potent formula for success.

Broadband
More and more people are getting broadband - at last count 55% of UK households had broadband access (and this is a figure that's rising). People now have the capability and desire to upload and share large content (videos, songs, images) in a way that was hitherto impossible or very difficult - and social networking sites provide an ideal medium for this. Again, Facebook is in the right place at the right time - it's the social networking site du choix at a time when more and more people are signing up to broadband.

Which is better, though?
I think that given all the above, it's easy to see why Facebook is on the up: it's a good product and trendy, operating in a 'viral' medium at a time when social networking and broadband usage are on the up - a bit of a no-brainer. But is it better than Myspace?

If I had my musician's hat on, I'd say no. Myspace is currently better for musicians for two main reasons - the song player is dead easy use, and probably more importantly, Myspace is associated more with new music. Consequently, a lot of music industry people use it to search for new acts, and music fans use it to 'try before they buy.' Also, whilst the level of customisation that Myspace offers can lead to some terrible, terrible pages, it is nice to have that facility - I can, for example, 'brand' my site in a way that matches my website and other marketing material. The key thing is to be sensible about customisation - don't overload the user with so much content that they can't access the page.

Also, from a 'selling stuff' point of view, Myspace is arguably better - because Myspace lets its users put lines of HTML code into their pages, organisations can encourage their 'friends' to put banner ads for products and services directly into their pages - at no cost. This arguably works better for the not-for-profit sector than big business, because people are more likely to identify with a cause than a particular product (and consequently want to promote it). The two main types of banners that I've seen on Myspace which individuals have put on their pages are ads for charities and for bands, both of which tend to evoke stronger feelings and affiliations than say, Fairy Liquid.

But as a social networking user, I'd argue that Facebook has more to offer. It's generally simpler to operate, and the news feeds that it provides let you 'keep tabs' on what your friends are up to. An example of this is the nice little 'status update' feature - a one-liner that you can broadcast to your friends, telling them what mood you're in, whether you've just had a cup of tea etc. I suppose this has a slightly sinister side to it too - your privacy goes out the window a bit, although in theory you can choose what exactly you share with people. In practice however, it's a godsend for the obsessed...and the site hasn't earned the nickname 'Stalkbook' for nothing. But it is fun.

For me though, there's one thing which makes me infinitely prefer Facebook to Myspace: it isn't owned by Rupert Murdoch. Yet.

Chris Singleton now has a Facebook group at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2348827711. Feel free to join it.

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