Jul 28

A New World

So, with the demise of my previous Dwarf Fortress due to an unexpected flooding and all the carp-related issues that brings, it’s time to generate a new world to try out all the shiny new weirdnesses that 0.40 brings. Here’s the world in question. Wish me luck – I’m going to have “fun”.

The New World.png

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Jun 17


So, nelefa.org fell off the internet last night, for the first time since 1997. This was thanks to the company hosting the domain screwing up the renewal process by, well, not renewing :-/ As their tech support department are only around during UK office hours, this resulted in the domain vanishing until lunchtime today.

This affected everything – not just the website. So if anyone has emailed and got a bounce back – well, try again and it’ll work 🙂

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Jun 07

Michael, Row the Boat Ashore

We’ve all stopped talking about Pete Seeger, now that the loss isn’t quite so keenly felt. But you’re not forgotten, Pete. You’ll never be forgotten.



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May 30

West Highland Way

So, I’m doing the West Highland Way in July. I’ll be posting updates here as cell coverage / wifi availability allows. Really looking forward to it – a bit of isolation and hard graft is something I sorely need right now.

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Mar 26

Darling Molly Gray

A simple but lovely tune, playing in open G tuning on a Shackleton banjo.


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Mar 24

Two new banjos: Part 1 – The Shackleton

Okay, so I got a bit carried away – I have received both a Shackleton banjo and a Barry Sholder fretless gourd banjo in the last week and they’re both, frankly, stunning and very different in character.

I’m going to split my musings over two posts because each instrument is exceptional in its own way and deserves a post of its own as a result. This is, of course, nothing to do with me trying to get my head (and fingers) around playing a fretless 🙂

First off – the Shackleton. I pre-ordered one of these way back in July 2013, before there was so much as a design concept in place. For quite a few reasons.

Firstly, I’d heard the “Islander Ash Leaf” banjo which the company behind the Shackleton (originally Banjos Direct, now the Great British Banjo Company) had commissioned previously and – well – better musical minds than mine were blown by it 🙂

Secondly, I’m a big fan of Shackleton the explorer – along with Christopher Lee, he’s one of my idols.

Thirdly, and probably most importantly, the vision of what these guys were doing blew me away. Despite the economic climate, despite the ready availability of mass-produced (take that to mean what you will) banjos from the far east, they were going to design and manufacture a British banjo on a large scale, using as many British parts as possible, and at a price point to rival the ‘Big Boys’. What they were planning was nothing less than re-vitalising an industry that hasn’t been seen in Britain for sixty years.

A few weeks after my speculative preorder, the company launched a kickstarter campaign to help fund the project – which quickly met 160% of its original target, resulting in over 150 advance orders.

Then a few months later the first Shackletons began rolling off the benches of a very hard-worked team of luthiers – a banjo which, with the exception of a Remo head and Grover tuners (and a couple of minor bits), is made entirely in Britain. The neck, carved from a single quarter-sawn block of Appalachian rock maple, is turned and hand finished in Britain. The pot – a multi-ply arrangement, finished in birds eye maple and hand made by Premier Percussion – features a rather nice bearing edge instead of a tone-ring. Even the stainless steel brackets and tension hoop are made in Norfolk. I’m not going to wax lyrical about the peg head – save to say I like it a bit 🙂

Yeah yeah yeah, you’re saying – get on with it. How does it sound?

Like something three times the price, that’s how. Listen:




The Shackleton itself is surprising light, coming in at around 2Kg. It still manages to have the depth of tone of a much heavier instrument (not sure how they’ve managed that) and the sensitivity and sustain is just incredible.  Every aspect of the instrument reeks of quality and precision – it’s easy to say ‘hand-made in Britain’, but when you actually open the box and take out a work of art which is assembled and set up to such exacting standards – well, I reckon the banjoneers at the GBBC are going to be very very busy from now on, and I reckon that Sir Ernest Shackleton would be proud. After all, in his own words, “Superhuman effort isn’t worth a damn if unless it achieve results.”

It’s customary, at this point, for me to find a negative to balance my glowing review. Sorry folks. I have no negatives to give you. Yes, it’s a little more expensive than some of the ‘looky-likey’ banjos (Deering Goodtime, I’m looking at you). But that’s because, bluntly, it’s a better instrument. There are no compromises here. The last time I was banjo-shopping I played pretty much everything I could find that cost less than £1,000 and the Shackleton trumps all of them.

At the same time, though, there’s no complexity. There’s no money wasted on pretty pearl inlays, Scruggs tuners, armrests or anything like that. The instrument, with it’s relatively few tension brackets (and, really, with modern mylar heads, there’s no need to wreathe your banjo pot in bolts any more), has a spartan elegant look. You’re paying for tone and playability, not an inlaid dragon on the fretboard. And I love the headstock 🙂 Have I mentioned that already?

So – there we have it. If you’re looking for either a first time banjo or an upgrade without going into four figures, this is the one to get.

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Mar 17

Shackleton Incoming

Here’s a thing of beauty. March 2014 will go down in history as the month when British-made Banjos reappeared after a sixty year hiatus.

Shackleton Certificate

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Feb 25

The Unquiet Grave

Leaving Appalachia for a bit, let’s visit medieval England…

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Feb 17

Little Boxes of Amazing Grace

Something gentle for a monday morning.

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Dec 31

2013 in Review


This really was a tough one. So much great stuff this year – both discovered and newly released. Turisas released the quirky but still good ‘2013’. Great though it was, it was a little bit of a let down after ‘Stand Up And Fight’. In the end, though, it came down to two albums – the prog-tastic ‘The Theory of Everything’ by Ayreon and ‘Unsung Heroes’ by Ensiferum. Two entirely different styles and – frankly – I just can’t say that one pipped the other to the post. I’ve been listening to them both equally. So they both win 🙂





Not difficult at all. In a year full of utter dreck, Life of Pi, Les Miserables, Pacific Rim and Cloud Atlas stand head and shoulders above the rest. And there was a clear winner this time. Cloud Atlas just had EVERYTHING.


There were a stupid number of awesome things in this category. Sadly, Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep doesn’t make it in the list as I haven’t finished it yet. But Cormac McCarthy’s ‘All the Pretty Horses’ stands out above everything so tall as to make it a moot point anyway.


So there we have it.

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