Making Virtual Music, but Really

I massively enjoyed tonight’s Last Night of the Proms. Some have accused it of jingoism  in the past with all that flag-waving, but, let’s be honest, it’s all about the music, of course it is. With fine tunes from Borodin, Donizetti and Rossini, to name but three, and tenor, Juan Diego Flores, dressed as Manco Capac, founder of the Inca civilisation, it’s hardly a rousing celebration of Britishness. Even Padington Bear, who made a surprise appearance, is from Peru.

Yet I do feel that this kind of life-affirming, ‘let’s-all-join-in-the-songs-even-if-we-don’t-know-the-words’ kind of event is something we Brits do so well. We’ve always loved a good party and a good sing song, and the Last Night is just one of the most public.  Even the the daily concerts that lead up to this grand finale have a warmth and informality about them that I can’t imagine being replicated elsewhere. Heavens, when a symphony is played, people applaud BETWEEN the movements! Simply not done under normal circumstances, dear boy.

The Proms are sponsored by the BBC which has done a brilliant job of drawing in the viewing and listening public. This year’s ‘Virtual Orchestra’ is a great initiative to encourage people, who may well have hidden the instruments they once loved at the back of the attic, to dust them off and play a tune. Any instrument will do, almost. Have a look a  the list.

Bravo to all of you who take part.It’s so easy to bundle our creative talents away at the back of the attic of our mind, and sometimes all we need is a little encouragement to rip back the dustsheets and get cracking again. We all mean to, when we have the time. One day, we say, we’ll get our metaphorical ladder out and have a good rummage and maybe take up playing, painting, writing again. When we have the time. Come on, if we wait for ‘enough’ time, it will never come. We need to make time and not be scared of that. Maybe just ten minutes to start with. And, this is the important bit -it doesn’t need to be great, or even good, what you do then create. We’ll have no truck with ‘I’m no good at this any more.’. Who said you weren’t, apart from you? Who made you Ruler of the Kingdom of Good?

But, seriously, I say this because I go through it too. I have to tell myself, ‘Just a little bit of writing, every day’. No judgements, no critiques. Just doing. I want to and because, to be my best self, I need to. Can’t say fairer than that.

Now, hand me my air banjo.

Happy creating to you all.




Social Loafing and A Team of One

Teamwork is a wonderful thing, but technology allows us all to be teams of one these days. Over dinner and a glass of something (I believe it was water) the other night, a friend told me about her husband’s new album. Not for him expensive studios and mixing desks and wee CDs for sale, not that we have any record shops left (sigh!). No, he made it totally alone, playing the guitar in his living room, adding the other instruments on his computer and producing the whole thing to a point where he was able to market it online. Brilliant!

Would it have been a different album if he had made it with a team? You bet! Would it have been better? No, it would have been different. He hasn’t had to alter his vision and if we don’t like it, well, that’s up to us. He likes it, is proud of it, and that’s enough. Having listened to it, I can tell you I think it’s brilliant. No, I’m not biased. I’d like to tell you more, but I’m hoping to interview him for the podcast, when all will be revealed. (I know, another shameless teaser advert.)

I also follow a number of self-published authors on social media and I am always amazed at their commitment, not just to their writing, but to the time they put in to engaging with readers. Not to mention the hours spent on marketing and publicity.

Like my musician friend, I like to create alone, but I also like a good natter. In fact, you’d be hard-pushed to find somebody who loves a good natter more than I do. Plenty of my best ideas come to me in ‘lightbulb’ moments during conversations, moments I wouldn’t have had alone. But these aren’t forced moments, where each of us is compelled to come up with brilliant ideas as the clock ticks down, like an episode of ‘Countdown’. I fear the yawning chasm of an empty diary awaits, should I introduce brainstorming sessions into a girls’ night out.

For brainstorming is what that would be, and although it might seem like the new rock and roll, given the importance so many organisations give to it, it has serious limitations. In any group of people, organisational dynamics will tend to trump the generating of ideas. A shy person with a brilliant idea is likely to take a back seat to a more dominant person in the group, even if their idea isn’t as good or as innovative. There’s also less pressure on us if we work in a group. We don’t need to give 100% of ourselves, we can just be a constituent percentage of the whole. All that wasted percentage left over! I learnt a new term for this today, it’s called Social Loafing. I like to learn new things.

So, better then to work alone? And how does this affect us creatively?

Well, getting the best ideas doesn’t necessarily mean working in a freezing, friendless garret. Why not get your ideas down on paper, work on them and then test them out on the world? For our creative endeavours,it helps to have clarity of vision, before you get your feedback. I read recently that the great Philip Roth always tests out later drafts of new novels on a group of readers. Not his first draft, mind, maybe his third or fourth.

Of course, many brilliant things are created by teams of people, but I bet you’ll find, if you strip the thing right back, that the basic idea came from one person.

FACT: All the brainstorming in the world won’t give you an idea. It can help to develop one, or plant the seed of one but the idea comes from inside you, either as a result of something someone said, or a thought you had, or….well, who knows where ideas come from? You can’t buy them on eBay, that’s for sure.

In life, in work, in creative endeavours, our new ideas, whatever they are, move us forward. Be a team of one, and keep the ideas coming. Write them down, because, if you can’t use them today, there’s always tomorrow. Not all of them will work, but that’s ok. And when you have a pile of ideas, you can take your Team of One (yes, capitalising now) out for an awayday, or a posh lunch, or even a Christmas party. Because more than a good natter, we all like a party.

Keep the ideas coming, and happy creating until next time.

Mel X



Viva La Musica – The Podcast

Hello friends

Following on from my last post, here it is, the latest podcast. It’s an inspirational interview with Barbara de Biasi, head of London’s Fireworks Music School.

If, like me, you’ve ever regretted not learning an instrument, and are wondering if it’s too late, you’ll want to hear this. Seems its not too late, and there are huge health benefits too. Here it is on Soundcloud. Scroll down too, for more useful links, including the Fireworks Music School. Give ’em a call.


And here it is on Podomatic:

Here’s Barbara’s website:

And the music school:

Read about research into the positive effects of music:

Well, that’s enough to be getting on with for now. Enjoy the podcast and keep creating.



Viva La Musica!

I’m writing a TV ad for my latest podcast. The episode will be ready on Wednesday, so I’d better get to it pretty damned quick. The ad will feature me in  a starched, white apron, flashing my starched, white teeth and holding a packet of NEW Squatting Toad, ‘The podcast that adds a pinch of creativity and removes the stain of hate.Try it now. Guaranteed or your money back.’

Well, you’ll all be getting your money back. And I’ll be giving it back because I lied to you. A proper bare-faced lie, like the ones we’ve heard here in the UK this week, the ones that tell you that foreigners are dragging our country down, taking everything and giving nothing in return.

Can you tell I’m angry? Too right, I’m angry. What were we thinking, voting to leave the EU, and on so-called evidence that foreign migrants are diminishing the nation? AND on the very day I interview one of the most inspiring people I have ever met, who lives here in London and just happens to be Italian.

OK, so now this is an ad for my upcoming episode and you’ll want to hear it, because you will agree that Barbara de Biasi’s contribution to our cultural life is immense. She’s a composer and a music teacher and a passionate believer in the power of music. Here’s an article on just one of her recent projects.

Yes, the lessons were free!

We know creativity is crucial and, as I mentioned last time, what sets us apart from the animals. Barbara has travelled many miles from her home to find a place that has offered her the opportunity both to learn and to give back. She deserves better than the threat of having to leave or having to jump through administrative hoops to be able to stay.

Advert, rant, information – what a lot just one post can give you. Stay tuned for my interview with Barbara, and share it far and wide, if you agree that we need to keep our world, our hearts and our minds open. Then we can really show we are above hate and destruction.

Viva La Musica (as Barbara might say)!



New Podcast – The Radio Show with Peter Evans

Hi Everyone

Check out my latest podcast interview here on Soundcloud. I’m talking to Peter Evans, Presenter of Ice Station and Poets Anonymous at

Some useful links if you like Icelandic music or Poetry:

Enjoy the podcast and let me know your thoughts.



New podcast: The Open Mic Night

Hello friends

My latest podcast is here. It’s on Podomatic, Soundcloud and iTunes.( You can subscribe at iTunes.) Yes, I’m everywhere. And if anyone is wondering what instrument Dan is playing in the opening music, it’s the humble Stylophone. A 70s childhood , anyone?


And here’s the link to  Podomatic

Enjoy the music and have a great week.



A Precious Banjo and a Great Big Apology

Dear Friends

I hope you enjoyed the last podcast, my interview with the Wrablers. Since I posted it, I keep seeing references to the healing power of music. Some of them, it has to be admitted, posted on Facebook by the Wrablers. But the message is consistent, music does you good. I don’t have many regrets in life, but I do regret that I can’t play an instrument. Still, life isn’t over yet, and, if I have a long and active retirement, who knows what I can achieve?

Let me share with you this excellent short documentary I heard on the radio the other day. ‘Vital Mental Medicine’ takes its name from a quote by Polar explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton. On the fateful journey to the South Pole on the Endeavour, one of his team took along a banjo. Shackleton understood the power of  music to shore up the crew’s morale on such a long and difficult voyage and, as the ship was sinking, ran aboard to rescue the banjo himself. Their regular concerts had become essential to everyone’s well-being and they weren’t going to give up on these.

You can hear the programme here:

I realise theirs was an extreme situation, four and half months waiting to be rescued with their routine periodically broken by a good old sing song, but the priniciple applies to all our lives. And it doesn’t have to be music.

I’ve started reading other people on this topic of creativity too, and will share my thoughts in a later podcast.  I’m also thinking of taking a sewing class. That might not sound too adventurous, but for me it’s quite a leap. It was always a bit of a joke when I was at school just how bad I was at anything arty or crafty, and I wonder now if that was unfair. If anyone can sing, can anyone sew? Or bake? Some people will always be better than others, as is the case with singing, but is it possible to have zero ability? More on that later, too.

So back to the Wrablers and a huge apology. I neglected to credit one of the members who was part of our interview. So, Janette Lee, take a belated bow. After all, you introduced us to Pouffe Drums, and for  that we thank you.

I’ll be back with you again soon with a new podcast and more. In the meantime, Happy Creating.


The ‘Lament’ of the Stressed Out Worker

‘If only I wasn’t so stressed, I could be so happy.’ Sound familiar? Even when you count your blessings, there’s always a ‘but..’.

I try a lot of things to de-stress, but there’s little that has the power of music. As I settled down to write this, my background listening was the old Scottish folk song ‘MacCrimmon’s Lament’. Truly beautiful. A little mournful, perhaps, as MacCrimmon died in the Jacobite uprising. If I have one regret in life, it’s that I can’t play a musical instrument. I have a gut feeling I’d be quite good, but play more with my heart than my head. Technical prowess would be forgotten in the moment, a bit like when I was ballroom dancing as a child. All pouting features and wavy arms but no footwork. So I listen, I consume.

For the podcast, I interviewed a friend of mine last week. She holds down a full-time job, but spends hours of each day crafting and making. She was very clear that it relieved stress and made her happy. No mere consumer, Emma. You can see and even buy some of her work here:

How do we create the virtuous circle that makes us happy enough not to be stressed, so we can do the things that make us happy?  We’ve just got to push through and make those changes. Right now, apart from being busy getting the podcast ready, I am really working on making life changes. And that in itself can be stressful, but with the potential for great rewards.

Do read fellow blogger, Patti Clark’s, latest post:

Of course we know that being happy is good for you, but the research quoted here shows just how detrimental unhappiness can be.  Now I’m stressed thinking about that! No, seriously, it’s really inspiring.

So, what can we do? Consuming culture is a good place to start. Music lifts the soul. Art can do that too. Even a good bit of telly. But Squatting Toad is about being creative, so let’s create. You’ll hear more from Emma in a podcast soon. But let me know what you’re up to, what’s taking the stress away, and what’s making you happy.

In the meantime, a couple of tunes for you. The aforementioned MacCrimmon’s Lament

And one that really does lift my spirit

Enjoy and stay happy and creative.