The (Best) Little Fest in the West


So, on the first day at Loopallu I was talking to a (pleasantly drunk) member of the entourage of the Glenrothes-based band Sergeant, who was getting over just how long it had taken them all to get up to Ullapool. He asked if I was local. “No, I’ve come up from Cambridge”, I replied. I wasn’t showing off – it sounded rather daft to have travelled all that way for this “little fest in the West”, actually. But it was a great couple of days. Of course, the Saw Doctors were brilliant – they always are – and were unsurprisingly the highlight of the weekend for me. You’d have expected the other headliners, Franz Ferdinand, to also be a cut above the rest, and indeed they were, in the tradition of “bigger name” bands who have the ability to effortlessly take a festival up a notch. The “finds” of the festival for me were Sergeant and The Family Mahone. I always think a festival is good if you can find one new band you like each day, and Loopallu didn’t disappoint. (Big) Top work!

Led Zeppelin in Scotland?


Yeah, I know, sounds unlikely, doesn’t it? But there was a lot of buzz at Loopallu about a new festival next year in the Highlands, called Otterfest 08, and maybe it was a bit of Chinese Whispering, but I heard “Led Zeppelin” mentioned in passing. Probably just a rumour, but watch the Otterfest 08 web site in case there’s any news. It looks a bit amateur, but I imagine Woodstock did too.

The Perils of Procrastination

Half Man Half Biscuit CD spines

I’ve been meaning to do a “Top Ten Half Man Half Biscuit lyrics” blog entry for, well, years. And I’ve never got round to it. Unfortunately, other people have done it, so if I ever do, I’ll just end up looking like the exploiter of second-hand ideas which I probably am. Maybe I should get on with starting the Half Man Half Biscuit lyrics project, in which I aim to publish the lyrics of every HMHB song, ever. That’s an idea I’ve been mulling over for ages. And it wouldn’t take long, would it?

(Update: I’ve done it)

Music download services compared: a Mac user writes


There is intelligent life out there beyond the iTunes music store, you know. Over the past few months I’ve used two other music download services, mainly because for all its good points, the iTunes music store sells all its music with some godawful “copy protection” system which keeps nagging you about “authorised machines” and once – when I tried to load my music library onto a new Mac – even told me I was no longer allowed to play songs I’d paid out 79p a track for (which in many cases is more expensive than an old-school CD is!).

So here are my thoughts on three music download services, from the point of view of a Mac user (although for that you could probably read “anyone without Windows XP” …and that includes you, Windows Vista users!).

The iTunes Music Store
On the plus side, everything you could want, as soon as it’s released. Really easy to use, working perfectly even if you haven’t got a Windows XP PC (in fact, and not surprisingly, seems even better on Macs than Windows). On the minus side, strange anti-copying stuff (“DRM”) is built into the tracks, and the UK prices are 60% more than the US ones, which is a complete ripoff. Quality is good. More recently, some higher quality tracks have been added without the copy-protection stuff (hooray!) but the prices can then go well above the cost of buying the CD – and can anyone tell me why you’d download stuff if it’s not cheaper than buying a CD, with its perfect sound quality and nice packaging?

Seems to be a nice friendly site, based in the UK, with an interesting subscription model. A reasonable selection of music to download, including a lot of (mainly obscure) stuff for free if you’re a £50/year subscriber. However, the speed of response of the site is appalling, and there’s no download manager software for non-Windows-XP users, so you have to download tracks one at a time – and when I say one at a time, I mean it: you can’t click on the next one until the one before has downloaded at a tortoise-like pace. A 10-track album is currently taking me about an hour to download on a 10Mb cable connection. I could have driven down to Tesco and bought the CD in 10 minutes. I’m not even going to go any further. If it wasn’t for the fact that a subscription is a cheaper way of getting Danny Baker’s All Day Breakfast Show podcast, I’d have politely requested my money back. Avoid.

Eclectic selection of music – plenty of non-mainstream stuff which I’ve been happy to explore and download – at about a third of the price of the iTunes music store. Good therefore for completing the more obscure corners of your collection, such as jazz, folk and new age. Comes with a download manager for Macs, so downloading the stuff to your desktop is easy, and then you just have to drag it into iTunes, which is OK. Quality is acceptable (MP3) but no more. Worth subscribing to if you like the look of the music on offer.

If anyone comes up with a service which has the usability of the iTunes music store, top quality (lossless) files and prices which undercut buying CDs, I’ll willingly drop hundreds of pounds a year on it, I suspect. In the meantime, buying CDs is still – irritatingly – the best choice for me. One click at Amazon or wherever, drag the CD into iTunes when it arrives, and you even get a ready-made backup disc with professionally printed artwork. So it’s old school – but what is there not to like?