A Ripping Yarn, Pt. 1

Several years ago I decided to rip my CD collection to mp3 format. At the time the hardware was such that ripping a CD was a slower-than-realtime event. Typically two or three times slower than realtime. Couple that with the lack of a broadband connection so CDDB lookups were either done on dial-up, or more usually not done at all – so for most of the CDs I ended up typing in all the track details by hand. With a collection of about 250 CDs it was inevitably going to be a long and arduous process.

We had a Linux box where I worked, so I found a command-line front-end to the usual ripping and encoding tools (cdda2wav and LAME) and set about ripping a few CDs per day. By using a command-line client I could drop to a virtual terminal and start the rip going, then flick the machine back to the graphical interface so that the rest of the staff could still use the machine for their normal day-to-day tasks. Of course this meant that I could only start a rip going if nobody else was using the machine at the time: Some days I managed to rip as many as five CDs; some days none at all.

The whole process took almost a year, and yielded a collection of 128Kbps mp3 files. Reasonable quality, but not great. I knew at the time that one day I would have to rip them all again to a higher standard, but back then storage space was tight and 128Kbps files were still enough to fill my hard drive.

To be continued…

The Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain

A couple of nights ago I ventured out to Oxford to see The Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain for the fifth time. They perform wonderfully realised (not to mention funny) ukulele-based versions of everything from Steppenwolf to Status Quo, and from Marilyn Monroe (“Running Wild” – her ukulele number from “Some Like It Hot”) to the theme from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”. And yes, they even throw in a little George Formby in for good measure (performed in their own style, it has to be said).

By far the highlight for me, however, is their rendition of Kate Bush‘s “Wuthering Heights”. I’ve always hated the original version, but The Uke’s rendition has me laughing out loud every time. It’s worth trying to see them live if only for this track – but I can almost guarantee that you’ll find much more to enjoy than that.

Do your ears a favour

It’s good to see that, despite the litigious nature of the RIAA (and recently their UK counterpart, too), there are people in the music industry who actually understand the value of letting people download their music. Often these people are independent artists who would prefer to have people listening to their music than not – especially if there’s a chance it will encourage more people to turn out to their live concerts. One such band is Steadman.

Some history: A few years ago (well, about a decade) a friend of mine used to rave about a band called The Dharmas. At the time I was at university in Manchester and on the postal mailing list for an artist called John Otway (no doubt more on him in future posts). At some point during my studies Otway’s mailing list mentioned a gig in Manchester, so off I trotted to a venue whose name I can’t remember, for an evening of belly laughs and smiles (Otway is more comedian than musician, really).

This venue, like most others, had posters advertising their other forthcoming events. One of which was a gig by the Dharmas. Light bulbs lit (though only metaphorically – this was the archetypal dark and dingy venue), I put two and two together (which in itself is a feat which would have surprised my former maths teacher), and I remembered the glowing recommendation that my friend had given of them. So it was that a couple of weeks later I trotted off to the nameless venue once more.

They were fantastic, and I was immediately blown away. It was easily one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. I signed up to their mailing list, and managed to see them once more (and buy a couple of singles) before the band split up. I only wish I’d seen them a few more times.

From the ashes of The Dharmas came Steadman – named eponymously after Simon Steadman, The Dharmas’s frontman. With the new band came the release of an album that The Dharmas had recorded and never released, and the promise of a Steadman album to follow. They played a few gigs and I managed to get to one of them. Unfortunately technical problems forced them to play a short (and partly acoustic) set, and to date that is the only time I’ve seen them live.

Since then they seem to have concentrated on a career Stateside. They’ve released two albums, but seemed to have gone very quiet for quite some time. Until I received an email from their mailing list a couple of days ago. They are still together, and have had the good sense and decency to make their previous recordings, and those of The Dharmas, available for free download from their website.

Now I have to be honest here: The Dharmas’s album is good (as are the Steadman albums, incidentally), but it fails to capture the real magic of their live performances. One or two tracks come close, and it’s well worth a download anyway, but they were one of those bands who had to be seen live to really appreciate them.

However one thing you should do is go to the website, find the downloads section, and go to The Dharmas’s album and singles section. Now, without further ado, download the single version of “Whirlwind”. It is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard and, in my opinion, a better version than the one on the Steadman album Loser Friendly – but don’t take my word for it, download that one as well. Because both are available for free download, along with many other tracks. It’s good to see a band that really “gets it”, so please do support their generosity by going to see them live if you can.