About matthewpritchard72

I am a UK-based crime writer. I have so far had two books published in Britain and one in Germany.

Malcolm Young, R.I.P.

Last week, one of the greatest riff-writers and rhythm guitarists in the history of rock died – Malcolm Young of AC/DC.

Malcolm Young was Angus’s elder brother, and while all of the focus has always been on Angus’s jaw-dropping lead guitar and onstage histrionics, it was Malcolm who ran the band. Without the sound of his Gretsch slashing out those super-tight chords in perfect lockstep unison with the bass and drums, the band would not have rocked half asMalcolm Young hard, especially in the guitar solos – listen closely to a song like Gone Shootin, and you’ll find that when the solo really takes off, it is because Malcolm has changed what he is playing, not Angus.

Also, never has any musician done so much with so little – a few simple chords played atop basslines that pump out root notes – and for such a length of time: no matter how many times Young returned to the well, fresh water remained, water with the sharp, ice-clean bite that only the DC can deliver.

So perfect was the formula, in fact, Young never needed to change it. During AC/DC’s entire career to date, there has never been any deviation from the pattern: no minor chords, no acoustic guitars, no experiments with synths or brass sections or trios of backing singers. What you got was simple: Malcolm’s guitar on one side, Angus’s on the other, and a thunderous rhythm section straight down the middle.

Malcolm Young suffered dementia at the end of his life, to such an extent that his memory began to fail him: a music journalist wrote that the most heart-breaking sight he witnessed in his career was Angus, 30 minutes before a gig, teaching Malcolm how to play his own songs, a process they had to go through on every night of the tour.

Both the Young brothers have influenced my guitar playing style over the years, but it was not until I focused hard on how Malcolm played that I learned how to make music rock with the type of dense, dynamic wallop I had always heard in my head. Malcolm Young may be dead, but I am certain his music will still be relevant and influential 50 years from now to anyone who writes ROCK in capital letters.

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Samuel Peyps, Sexual Predator

Samuel Pepys. The very name conjures images of 17th century London and Merrie Olde England – powdered wigs, livery coats, lantern-lit taverns, plague, fire – and his diary is celebrated as one of the most important historical documents in English social history.

And yet, Pepys was a rampant sexual predator. There can be no doubt of this, for, unlike Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey – against whom, we must remember, there are mountains of allegations, but no convictions as of yet – Pepys stands accused by his own pen. Pepys

On 18 August 1667 Pepys wrote: ‘Into St. Dunstan’s Church, where I … stood by a pretty, modest maid, whom I did labour to take by the hand and the body; but she would not, but got further and further from me, and at last I could perceive her to take pins out of her pocket to prick me if I should touch her again’.

Elsewhere, there are more successful encounters as he gropes and forces himself upon shop girls, tavern girls and street girls, with Pepys showing a particular yearning for girls in their teens, such as his wife’s 17-year-old companion, of whom he wrote on August 6th, 1665:

“Dressed and had my head combed by my little girle to whom I confess that I am too friendly, recently often putting my hands in the two things of her breast; but I had to stop it lest it bring me to some major inconvenience.”

So, here’s the thing: where does Pepys fit in among all the recent public indignation about sexual predators among celebrities? Are his diaries tainted by his predatory ways? Should their place among the canon of English literature be re-evaluated because of this disgusting and reprehensible behaviour?

Or, if on the other hand, we dismiss his sexual predations as the norm for that period in history, where is the cut off? When is the point in history that we say, ‘Before this date, it was fine to grope women, as that was the way men were back then; but after this date, it becomes criminal behaviour’?

WWI: Popular Misconceptions

I have read about WWI nearly all my life, and with it being November 11th today, I decided to compile a list that I hope might rectify some popular misconceptions about the war.

The soldiers were not always stuck in trenches: 1914 and 1918 saw huge armies engage in huge battles that swept across Belgium and France. It was not until the beginning of winter, 1914, that the armies became immobilised, and trench warfare began. This static period of warfare lasted until 1918, when the German spring offensive, and the subsequent British, French and American counterattacks, created a war of movement again. horses-and-men-in-gas-masks-during-tests-to-find-the-best-protection-against-gas-attacks-pic-dm-965360765

The British were not heavily involved early on: Britain had a very small standing army, and was only able to send six divisions (roughly 60,000 troops) in 1914, most of whom were dead by 1915. The survivors referred to themselves as “The Old Contemptibles” after a dismissive remark made about them by Kaiser Wilhelm.

The French suffered terribly: disastrous tactics and uniforms that included bright red trousers meant the French had already lost 300,000 men dead by the end of 1914 (or, to put it another way, in just five months). The scale of this disaster is best seen in the perspective of subsequent years: for example, in the whole year of 1916 – which included the terrible Battle of Verdun – the French lost 252,000. By the end of the war, nearly 5% of the entire French population was dead (as compared to just over 2.5 % for the British, and 3.5% for the Germans) and a further 2,300,000 men had been wounded.

CaptureThe Germans nearly won the war in March, 1918: the Kaiserschlacht (Kaiser’s Battle) broke the British lines and sent the British army tumbling back in conditions that verged on a rout. A twelve-mile gap opened in the line, and German troops poured through, threatening to break out and drive a wedge between the British and French armies. However, the fast-moving German stormtroopers leading the attack could not carry enough food and ammunition to sustain themselves and the offensive petered out.

The soldiers were not always floundering knee deep in mud: in spring and summer, the trenches were relatively dry; in winter, they iced over. The 1917 Battle of Passchendaele is mainly responsible for the popular image of WWI soldiers as being perpetually slathered in mud, as torrential rain flooded the Ypres area while the British were conducting a major offensive. The troops were made to fight there for more than three months with very little to show for it; the entire battlefield was later captured in a single day during the summer of the following year.

Poppies were chosen as a symbol of remembrance due to a poem written by a Canadian doctor, In Flanders Field.

German helmets, though similar in design, were far bigger in WWI than they were in WWII. This is something film makers nearly always get wrong. Watch out for it.

Parents Without Children – Part 2

Yesterday, I saw my children for the first time in 17 weeks. The reunion was intense: my daughter and son ran to greet me, shouting my name, and leapt into my arms when they reached me. My six-year-old son clung to my neck like a monkey; my nine-year-old daughter merely nuzzled my chest softly as I stroked her hair and fought back tears.

IMG_6831Then we sat down in my mother’s living room, and I listened to all their news, gabbled at that 78 rpm speed so typical of excited children: what they’d learned at school, what books they had read, what sports they had played. For a brief moment, the champagne of emotion washed through me – fizzy, fun, intoxicating – as the emotional bonds of parenthood rekindled, and I connected again with all that is best in me, those facets of personality I strive to possess on a permanent basis – to be kind, attentive, caring, humble.

But as is so often the way in the muddied maze of divorced parents, the grey clouds soon gathered as innocent comments made by the children began to form a composite picture of what was happening at the other end of the line: letters and presents that had been posted but had not arrived; inconsistencies in the reasons given why the children could not stay with me at weekends.

As I listened to this with growing irritation, I noticed that my children are now realising something is amiss between Mrs Mummy and Mr Daddy Man. My six-year-old suddenly announced that his greatest desire would be for everyone he loves – parents, Grandparents, aunties, uncles – to “all live together in a big house”. He then asked why this wasn’t possible, but in a rhetorical kind of way, speaking more to himself than to me. “Don’t we have enough money, Daddy?” he asked. My attempt at a response stuck in my throat like a wishbone.

My daughter is nine, and sharp as a tack, with a quick, agile mind far beyond her years. She said nothing on the subject, but her eyes as we parted spoke volumes. She does not yet possess the language to vocalise her thoughts on the situation, but the dismal, spiky shadow of divorce’s after effects already creeps behind her, mirroring her steps, waiting for the chance to trip her, bloody her nose and beat out a little of the child from within her.

As we kissed and embraced at our parting, I thought suddenly of my ex and of all the years of pointless bickering and petty hatreds that have filled the gravel pit formed by our failed relationship and that lie now between us like brackish, stagnant water – the slightest stirring of the scummed surface releases all sorts of foulness. And I realised the irony that, as my children grow towards maturity, part of me is constantly stumbling back towards the pettiest facets of infantilism . . .

The 109s’ Flight Log: 23/10/17

Last weekend, we headlined The Star concert hall for the first time. We have played this Guildford venue before (in fact, the first time we played there, we almost had a fight with another band) but never as the headlining act.

IMG_2071There is no feeling quite like getting up onto a good-sized stage and blasting out songs with experienced musicians through a decent PA – suddenly, all the long hours of practice and song-writing make sense: the crowd’s presence causes something secret and hidden within the music to awaken, unfurl its wings and take flight.

The audience’s reaction serves to fuel this process, leading to a state which most musicians describe as the “extra member” syndrome: adrenaline causes the interplay between instruments to become so instant and intuitive, it literally sounds as if there is an extra person on stage playing along with the band, filling out its sound and adding muscle to each song’s dynamics.

The Star gig was the first at which very few of the band’s friends attended – meaning the crowd was composed of strangers who were genuinely interested in the music – and I realised how well social media complements playing live: when people see our name on a live line-up, they can Google us, see really professional videos of songs that are really professionally recorded, and make an informed decision as to whether they like our music or not.

It certainly seemed to have worked last Friday: one gentleman had driven up all the way from Cornwall solely to see us perform.

Much kudos to him, and I hope he thought the trip worthwhile . . .

 

The 109s’ Flight Log: 23/10/17

Last weekend, we headlined The Star concert hall for the first time. We have played this Guildford venue before (in fact, the first time we played there, we almost had a fight with another band) but never as the headlining act.

There is no feeling quite like getting up onto a good-sized stage and IMG_2071blasting out songs with experienced musicians through a decent PA – suddenly, all the long hours of practice and song-writing make sense: the crowd’s presence causes something secret and hidden within the music to awake, unfurl its wings and take flight.

The audience’s reaction serves to fuel this process, leading to a state which most musicians describe as the “extra member” syndrome: adrenaline causes the interplay between the musicians to become so instant and intuitive, it literally sounds as if there is an extra person on stage playing along with the band, filling its sound and adding muscle to each song’s dynamics.

The Star gig was the first at which very few of the band’s friends attended – meaning the crowd was composed of strangers who were genuinely interested in the music – and I realised how well social media complements playing live: when people see our name on a live line-up, they can Google us, see really professional videos of songs that are really professionally recorded, and make an informed decision as to whether they like our music or not.

It certainly seemed to have worked last Friday: one gentleman had driven up all the way from Cornwall solely to see us perform.

Much kudos to him, and I hope he thought the trip worthwhile . . .

Flying the Zeppelin

I listen to at least four or five hours of music every day while I am writing my books. Every year or so, I hit an obsessional phase, during which I spend weeks listening to nothing but the same band. At the moment, the band of choice is Led Zeppelin.

I have the deluxe versions of all their albums and some live ones, so I have more than 10 hours of their music, and this constant diet of some of the best riffs in rock music has percolated down from my ears to my fingertips: a lot of the songs I am writing now are emerging with a distinctly Zeppelinesque sound, which is no bad thing – it is always a joy to take something I feel is perhaps slightly derivative, and then hear the other guys in the band add their own input and turn it into something totally fresh.wealp95792

This is the main reason that all our songs are attributed to The 109s rather than to individual band members: I may write most of the riffs, but they do not become songs until everyone else has added their magic to the mix. The amount of drummers and bass players that have been financially shafted over the years due to unfair song-writing credits is legion.

This week The 109s will be working on material for the third album, ironing out the artwork details for Hollow Point (our second album) and preparing for a headlining gig we have this Friday, October 20th, at the Star in Guildford.

I hope to see some of you there.

Birthday Bash – The 109s’ Flight Log – 09/10/17

At the weekend we played a birthday event for a dear friend of the band’s. This bash had a real old-school festival/rave type feel: the event was set up in a field, kids and pet dogs played happily together on the grass, and the smell of a huge bonfire was carried by a fresh wind, creating that autumnal smell which is so redolent of England.

22228265_10159595553970624_4056225944946497227_nI don’t get nervous before gigs, but I did find the wait to go onstage difficult at this event: I have been teetotal now for more than two years and was surrounded by many friends with whom I used to drink and drug.

I admit, I did feel a slight pang of regret at no longer being able to run with the wolf pack, my belly filled with booze, my head high and hazy with pills and powder, but it was a momentary thing. Sobriety is just so pleasurable once it properly flowers and takes root within a person.

We played in a canvas marquee that proved to have excellent acoustics and tore through a 9-song set in which a complex new song, Unit 731, had its debut.

This week we will be working on another new song with a complex arrangement. I feel my song-writing abilities have really hit their stride now, and I am looking forward to pursuing this particular burst of creativity to its end.

It’s One Louder, Innit? – 02/10/17

This week The 109s will be preparing and practising a nine-song set for a gig this weekend at Wurzefest, a private event held to honour a friend’s birthday. It is sure to be an emotional gig, as the birthday boy lost a close and dear friend a few weeks previously, so the band are intent on giving it 109% when they hit the stage.

Which brings us to the problem of the drums.

120711-Bonzo-BWSteve is not only the best drummer I have played with, he is probably also the best musician I have ever played with – and after 25 years gigging in the UK, Spain and Italy, I have played with a LOT of musicians.

That said, though, he is also the LOUDEST drummer I have ever encountered. He attacks the kit with a Bonham-like wallop which means when The 109s play, both guitars and bass have to be turned up LOUD to match him – which in turn pushes up the vocal and monitor-mix volume, which can lead to ear-piercing squeals of feedback, or prevent the singers being able to hear themselves. Hopefully, the sound system will be big enough that we can mike up all the instruments, avoid any volume problems, and give Steve the opportunity to really let rip.

A wise man once said “A band is only as good as its drummer”.

The 109s are lucky in having a spankingly good one.

Parents Without Children

Daddy and ChildrenLast week, I lost my temper and head-butted the lock stile of a door in my flat. As a result, I now have two black eyes and can officially say, “I fought the door, and the door won . . .”

So, why this act of pointless aggression?

Part of it had to do with the struggles that my latest book – which took 20 months to write – is encountering in finding a publisher. But what really fuelled the head-butt was the current absence of my two children in my life: I have seen them three times since Christmas, and the last occasion was 4 months ago.

The temptation to launch into a bitter tirade against my ex now fizzes at the end of my fingertips. But that is not my purpose: written expressions of anger are as stupid and pointless as . . . well, as head-butting the lock stile of a door. Instead, I simply want to say how it feels to be a parent separated from his or her child/children.

The current involuntary absence of my children provokes in me a sad and melancholy pain that, like the shadow I cast, cannot be escaped or outrun; it feels as if something deep and fundamental within me has been wrapped in hessian sacking and left to fester.

It cannot be otherwise, for I love my children more than mere words can convey (and yes, I am aware of the irony of my being a novelist and saying that). Fog precedes me, clouds hang above me, and I walk with my eyes cast downwards, for the world holds little sense when such a primal emotion as parenthood is left to flap and tangle pointlessly, like plastic sheeting blown by a drear and bitter wind.

In the days when I was drinking and drugging myself to death, my children represented something clear and clean to which I could cling while drowning in the sump of my own life; they still hold that redemptive, cleansing power now.

Their smiles are precious to me as starlight on still water, and each new achievement they attain – walking, talking, reading, writing, being able to identify all seven crew members in the film, Alien – fills a dry and hollow hole in my heart I did not know existed before their arrival in the world. I am theirs entirely and eternally: I would pluck the salt out of all the world’s seas should it spare them tears, and give my life gratefully to save them from harm.

I dedicate this post to all those who empathise with these feelings, and offer this thought by way of an ending: whenever I pray, or make a wish, it is always the same one – that my children be granted simple, happy lives, surrounded by happy, simple people . . .