The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke

For all these years that I’ve been a fan of the rock band Queen, and Queen II (1974) is one of my favourite albums of theirs, I had no idea that the song “The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke” was actually describing a painting by English artist Richard Dadd.

The painting took Dadd nine years to complete, from 1855–1864, and is only 54 x 39.5 cm in size. You can read more about the history of The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke on Wikipedia.

This video shows us Freddie Mercury’s guided tour through the painting.

The next time I’m in London I must go look for it in the Tate Britain collection.

I’ve found my perfect music player: MusicBee

Screenshot of MusicBee, playing Opeth "In my time of need" from Damnation (2003).

Screenshot of MusicBee, playing Opeth “In my time of need” from Damnation (2003). Click for full-size screenshot.

For as long as I can remember that I’ve had an internet-enabled PC (I got a Windows 98 machine in late 1999) I’ve been using WinAmp for listening to music. Last week I moved to the lesser-known MusicBee and it is perfect for my requirements. I can’t believe just how good MusicBee is.

Your mileage may vary

I had a long conversation with a friend of mine on Facebook the other day about how everybody’s music player requirements are different. A lot of factors influence your decision about a digital music player, e.g.

  • How much music you have.
  • How/if you tag your music.
  • When you listen.
  • Where you listen.
  • On which device(s) you listen.
  • Whether you need to share your collection with other devices on the network.
  • Whether you prefer visuals (e.g. album art) or text-based interfaces.
  • etc.

How I used WinAmp

I used WinAmp primarily for two things:

  1. Listen to music.
  2. Rip CDs to MP3 format.

I used WinAmp like a CD player (I’d load one album and listen to it) or a radio (I’d load it all 23,000+ files and listen to them on shuffle). I used very few other features to be honest.

A while ago WinAmp switched off its access to the Gracenote database. That’s a service that allows you to query the names of the album title and tracks of a CD you are ripping to MP3 (other formats are available). For my 195 metal CDs project that’s pretty important to me.

It was time to try to find something else that might let me make the most of my music collection: find stuff that I’d not listened to in a long time, better make use of my tagging of albums (I use the excellent mp3tag).

The contenders

Despite how popular it is to listen to music on a computer, there are surprisingly few mainstream players:

I opened Windows Media Player… and promptly shut it down again. I then reached for foobar2000, which a number of friends had warmly recommended to me. “I think you’ll love it,” said one. I didn’t last much more than an hour with it.

Tomahawk was installed, and then uninstalled within an hour too. I liked the idea but I don’t share music playlists with friends, I don’t need to find out what other artists sound like the one I’m listening to. I didn’t need all the connected stuff, I just wanted to better manage what I had.

I then tried Apple iTunes for a few days. I’d used iTunes as my main player at work for a while but I found it too bloated and quite unintuitive in places and so returned to WinAmp. What I liked about iTunes this time was the albums view.

Grid of album covers. Selected album shows a list of tracks beneath it.

I like how iTunes lists albums in a very visual way.

But what I found frustrating was how it handled metadata and artwork.

MusicBee

Which was when I found MusicBee and it is perfect for me. Within an hour I had customised the user interface to just the way I would like it:

  • I’m using the beautifully clean DarkGREEN Metro skin, which I find highlights the artwork.
  • I have lists of genre, artist and album on the left-hand side.
  • In the middle I have a grid of album artwork (very similar to how iTunes handles it).
  • On the right I have playlist and other metadata displayed.

Having pulled in my entire music collection, I discovered errors in the way that I had tagged some of the music, and how few tracks had album artwork embedded.

A few hours later, staying within MusicBee, I had a lot of the tagging sorted out, and MusicBee even pulled in the missing album artwork for the rest of my collection.

This would have taken me weeks to sort out using WinAmp and mp3tag, or iTunes on its own.

Android remote

My last PC had an infrared remote control for my Creative soundcard; I’ve kind of missed that with this PC. I discovered that some kind chap has written MusicBee Remote for Android which is also clean and simple.

MusicBee Remote for Android.

MusicBee Remote for Android. (Click for full size)

Conclusion

This hasn’t been a full review, just an immediate ‘gush’ about how wonderful this music player is.

I really couldn’t imagine going back to WinAmp now. Already this has helped me discover a number of CD box sets that I ripped to MP3 and then completely forgot to listen to all the way through.

If you fancy a rediscovering your music collection and are a Windows user then I wholeheartedly recommend MusicBee.

Brian May’s guitar setup and bass guitars

I’m a sucker for articles or videos about Brian May’s handmade guitar, the Red Special. Premier Guitar has both, and is one of the best and most thorough that I’ve seen.

Something I didn’t realise was that in May’s original design for the guitar, which he built with his father, he had included an ‘F-hole’, like a violin. The article shows an arch top guitar that Andrew Guyton from Guyton Guitars built for him featuring that F-hole.

What is not featured on the video is that Brian May Guitars now make a large number of variations of his iconic guitar, including the original (in a variety of finishes), a mini guitar, an acoustic and now a bass.

I remember as a teenager making sketches of a bass guitar version of the Red May Special. I wonder if I still have them? I dreamed that one day I would build my own… maybe one day. Now I see that both Brian May Guitars and Guyton Guitars have built bass versions and they are quite beautiful pieces of craftsmanship.

There’s a new book scheduled to be published by Hal Leonard next month with the snappy title Brian May’s Red Special: the story behind the home-made guitar that rocked Queen and the world. More information on the Queen website.

Beautiful piano playing by Rich Batsford

Rich Batsford—In the Moment (2014)

Rich Batsford—In the Moment (2014)

A friend of mine from National Youth Choir of Great Britain days, Rich Batsford, has released a new album called In the Moment, which is really quite beautiful.

The album consists of ten improvisational pieces on piano which are gentle, thoughtful and meditative. Exactly what I need on this emotional day of voting.

You can listen for free on Bandcamp before committing to paying for it. It’s only AUD $7.00 (approx GBP £3.90).

Incredibox — interactive human beatbox

Incredibox

Incredibox version 3

Well, after that epic political post about the Scottish independence referendum yesterday, here something a bit more fun to put a smile on your face, or give you something to listen to while you’re up all night listening to the results programme on the telly.

I can’t believe I’ve not blogged about Incredibox before. It’s fantastic and never fails to cheer me up!

Incredibox is an interactive beatboxing web application (that requires Adobe Flash) where you drag and drop different symobls onto the chaps as they appear from the right. The symbols tells them what to sing, with categories split into beats, effects, melodies, voices, and other things depending on which version you play around with. You then just chop and change to create new combinations and new tunes.

I love it, and there are now three versions. Version three is linked to above, here are the other two:

Incredibox version 1

Incredibox version 1

Incredibox version 2

Incredibox version 2

Greensky Bluegrass

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a John 5 album which had some bluegrass influences, so I went in search of more bluegrass music on YouTube. I discovered this song “Demons” by Greensky Bluegrass, which is a jolly fine tune. Some splendid beards and facial hair too.

Queen—News of the World (1977) on Family Guy

Brian shows Stewie a copy of Queen—News of the World (1977)

Brian shows Stewie a copy of Queen—News of the World (1977)

Queen was the first rock band that I fell in love with. So I was delighted when I spotted this screengrab from an episode of Family Guy.

And even more delighted when I found this accompanying video on YouTube:

“He’s bleeding man! He’s bleeding! And nobody’s doing anything about it!”