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Ian Briggs » Blog

Blogging and me…

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 24th April 2014 at 5:53 pm

Categories: Uncategorized | | No comments

My blog has been drastically underused in the last year. Most of my social networking needs have been satisfied by twitter; useful for it's brevity as I consider I've been finishing my PhD (including writing my thesis) and started a new job in the last 12 months. Perhaps understandably, I have been reducing my online presence to a minimum, or at least to brief comments!

I am also struck at how twitter has developed into something that allows me to get useful news or information about things I need, all without opening up a browser.

This blog started out as an experiment in web design, and I am proud that I have developed a full website from scratch that incorporates all the aspect you see, all created from HTML and CSS coding, through to graphic design and incorporating the WordPress blog within my main site (harder than I thought).

The site has most often been used in the past for posts about films I like, or otherwise. However, this role has now been taken up by Letterboxd. This is a great website that is one of the few to which I subscribe. It allows me to post reviews, compile lists of films, and maintain a film diary; all of which leaves me feeling that this blog is a bit redundant.

So in searching for a use for this site, I figured that my latest venture into the world of homebrew may be a good thing to add to the lists of things I write about.

Since spending a short amount of time in Portland, Oregon last year, I was struck by the passion shown by the local people for their beer. I think the main thing I was attracted by was the fact that people didn't really drink beer to get drunk (an important thing to state at the outset of my venture into homebrew!). Rather, they brewed their own to appreciate and understand complex flavours, and to produce an affordable drink that they could share with friends and family; something hand-crafted and unique that they could enjoy together and use feedback to make the next one better or different.

I think homebrew appeals to my engineering mindset along with my love of cooking and experimenting with recipes. The ability to craft something to share with others, and not only invite people round for some food, but also to produce a pint of something I've created feels like a great thing to do.

After dropping plenty of hints that it was something I wanted to do, I received a Woodforde's Wherry kit beer for Christmas. This is a box containing two tins of malt extract, to which water and yeast is added. After two weeks, this is put into bottles with some sugar and left to condition. This is the stage I am at now: hoping that his brew will turn out like the glorious English Bitter I remember from my time living in Cambridgeshire.

My next step in homebrew is to replace the tins of malt extract with proper malted grains. For this, I am fortunate that the homebrew scene in Ireland seems to be taking off apace (nowhere near as popular as in America, but at least it is moving). So, I am about to get some grains and hops from our (reasonably) local homebrew store, and hope that Saturday will be the first all-grain brew day!

This might prove a useful purpose for this blog. The lack of film reviews should not be mistaken for a loss of interest in films, although the recent film festival in Belfast did somewhat dampen my love for the cinema itself (or rather, the annoying people that inhabit them), but anything film-related will henceforth be documented on letterboxd.

I will continue to post things about Evernote, a service of which I am ever-more passionate; especially since I have managed to get a few colleagues using it (it was even mentioned as a positive aspect in my annual review!!). But overall, twitter seems to be the place I use most often.

Most things I read on other blogs are infinitely more useful than anything I post here, so perhaps I should direct readers to these sites instead. Either way, expect to see some changes to this blog…

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The latest with Evernote

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 9th April 2013 at 7:15 pm

Categories: Computing, Work | Tags: , , | No comments

Those who read the stuff I write will know how much of a fan I am of Evernote.

Recently I have tried to go as paperless as possible. I don't think it will ever be possible to go completely paperless as there will always be documents we need to keep…drivers licence, birth certificate etc…but electricity and phone bills and receipts? No way. In addition to putting most of my home office paperwork into Evernote, I have been trying to get my real office paperless too!

Most of my work involves running computer models and writing down endless pages of results. However, when it came to writing papers, I have found it incredibly difficult to find the particular note I wanted to reference in my log book. So now every result or plot I get from my models goes straight into an Evernote note which is titled with something obvious and relevant to the contents. I don't bother putting a date into the title any more as I have learnt how to make use of Evernote's saved searches, as well as other organisational tips thanks largely to Jamie Todd Rubin's excellent Evernote blog, of which I am a big fan.

I have a notebook in Evernote for every aspect of my PhD project I am working on. This keeps all the work I do in separate areas and consequently, it makes it very easy to find when I need to – writing my current paper has been much easier thanks to having results and plots at hand. Having a timeline of work and results has also highlighted the areas I need to work on, so it is really helping to shape and organise my research. If I do write something in my paper logbook, I can take a photo of it with Evernote's page camera which does a reasonable job of scanning the page.

As part of the PhD, there is also a lot of reading to be done. When I started, nearly three years ago, I would print every paper I found online and put it in a box folder on my desk to be read. When I read it, I would write a short view and print this and file it in another folder!! When it came to writing up this research, I had no idea which review belonged to which paper, or what some papers contained at all.

Now, I have all my papers scanned into PDF format in a research notebook in Evernote and at the top of each note, as I read them, I write a few bullet points on each paper. I also write in the reference for each one so when I come to write about the research, I can just open each paper in Evernote and immediately have a few points showing the highlights of the paper, and copy and paste the reference into my bibliography. I have also tagged each paper so I can see related ones together.

I find my use of Evernote has really developed, even over the last few months, and has made writing much more structured, efficient and enjoyable. Using it on the iPad is also incredibly easy. Recently, I have been using it for everything…my film database, blogging ideas, foursquare checkins (which automatically get put into Evernote thanks to IFTTT), and the list goes on.

Today's conference highlighted how much my use of the iPad and Evernote has come on…no more pen and paper to take rushed notes that I can't read after the day's over, but instead, one note with the name of each presenter and a few bullet points about things that are mentioned, and I can take photos of peope's business cards instead of losing them I my bag or desk when I get back to the office! What's better is that Evernote can search the images for text (I've no idea how), so I can find people's contact details very quickly.

Well that's enough evangelical praise…are you using it yet?

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Today at the BFI

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 8th April 2013 at 11:10 pm

Categories: Films | Tags: , | No comments

I'm just back from seeing The Place Beyond the Pines at the BFI Southbank. I have to say it contains a lot of what I don't like about cinema…obvious plot, predictable twists and a film that is such fodder that it was barely worth seeing.

Ryan Gosling's performance was solid, but really the film was too long by about an hour as the three strands of the story took forever to finally wind up. It dawns fairly early in the story what is going to happen, and from this point on you are begging for it to end. I think the woman I passed on the way out summed it up well when she screamed with full fury: “I hated every second of it, it was shit!”

Tonight's other film, Point Blank by John Boorman was a much more enjoyable, if slightly confusing film. A very contemporary feel, it had a simple, straight-ahead story, but the almost abstract themes running through it were visually striking and the editing gave the film a tense, unnerving feel.

I'm hoping to get back to the BFI tomorrow night and hope to see more before I head home.

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Posted by: Ian Briggs on 8th April 2013 at 1:27 pm

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Isn't it funny who you meet in airports?

After a miserable time queuing to get through security, feeling stressed and fed up, I was sat having a pint to calm the system and a guy sits down beside me and announces to the table that he's desperate for a pint of Harp before he goes back to England…then he puts half a dozen bags of Tayto cheese and onion crisps on the table (“for the misses”).

Lightened an otherwise rubbish time sitting in the departure lounge – there really is nothing to do in Belfast City Airport other than drink!

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Film Review: To The Wonder (dir. Terrence Malick)

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 25th February 2013 at 10:51 pm

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Where to start? Following on from Terrence Malick's 2011 film The Tree of Life, I thought I knew what to expect from To The Wonder. Or so I thought.

Tree of Life offered an ethereal view on the origins of life, including the now infamous scene of merciful dinosaurs. This was fine in some respects as the film also made a reasonable attempt at a cohesive plot to glue together the various scenes which punctuated the storyline. It felt as though the film had an overriding theme, and although it was undoubtedly strange, you could kind of understand what Malick was hinting at.

With To The Wonder, I felt Malick was following on where he left off two years ago. The ethereal feel to the film was very much in evidence. Throughout. Annoyingly so. Did the film have a theme? Well, yes, but it was difficult to see how all the random shots of people wandering through wheat fields added much to this story of love.

Filmed almost entirely at sunset, the film had a golden hue throughout, with camera flare appearing in almost every shot. This just became grating, and when added to the constantly moving camera, coupled with characters who couldn't walk in a straight line and had to meander and spin through life rather too obviously, it became an odd parody the longer it went on. It felt like a badly filmed Chanel advert at one point. You could hear people laughing and sighing every time another shot appeared of a child-like woman aimlessly spinning through a field! At least ten people walked out of the screening I saw; the most escapees from the cinema I have seen since Dogtooth, which was at least genuinely controversial.

And then you have the characters themselves. Emotionless, naive, they appeared almost as bored as the audience were. Ben Affleck had nearly a dozen words throughout as he staggered and stuttered through a remarkably wasted appearance which, most of the time, involved him staring sullenly or awkwardly using gestures instead of speaking.

Overall, the film had a feel of a concept piece: something which was artful in its own way, and which would probably stand up well as a piece of art. But there are numerous European directors who provide a beautiful, cinematic, artful experience as well as a damn good story, without being pretentious (Ceylan, Kieslowski and Tarr spring immediately to mind). To The Wonder was obnoxious in trying to deliver art for the sake of it.

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Favourite Films of 2012

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 23rd December 2012 at 10:36 am

Categories: Films | Tags: , , , , , , | No comments

In what is likely to be my last post of 2012, and seeing as I have no plans to get to the cinema before the year is out, I thought I would do the same thing as last year and write a blog about some of my favourite films of the year. In alphabetical order:

Top films of 2012


The latest film from one of my favourite directors, Michael Haneke, was unsurprisingly brilliant. An emotional tour-de-force that extracted every ounce of skill from the two lead actors (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emanuelle Riva), this was one of the films I was most looking forward to this year; it did not disappoint!


Usually, seeing Ben Affleck's name on the poster would discourage me from seeing the film. However, based on a glowing recommendation, we braved it and Argo turned out to be one of the best of the year. Tense, gripping and beautifully shot, this was a brilliant thriller that avoided most of the stereotypes associated with 'good-versus-bad' films and simply told a good story.

The Artist

Although technically released in 2011, I didn't get to see this in the QFT in Belfast until January 2012. What can I say except that it was stunning?! I loved the concept and it would be the only film I saw twice this year. On the second viewing, my enthusiasm remained high!

Good Vibrations

Local films have tended to be hit or miss over the last few years. Good Vibrations, however, was an absolute winner. Shown at The Belfast Film Festival in May, this was funny, politically charged and featured an excellent punk soundtrack. It gave a fresh perspective on The Troubles and avoided the usual clichés.

Le Havre

This film by Aki Kaurismäki was a real delight. Bleak, cold and poverty-stricken, the story provided the only warmth of the film. Darkly funny in parts, it was a nice visual continuation of Carné's stunning Le Quai des Brumes (in which Jean Gabin was wonderful), also set in Le Havre, which was shown at the BFI earlier this year.

The Kid With A Bike

The first Dardenne film I have seen, and it was a rather nice story of a boy who lost his father (and his bike) and ended up being cared for by a kind stranger. Some good moments throughout, which made up for the slightly soppy ending.

The Master

I didn't know what to expect going into this film, apart from something loosely based on L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. Joaquin Phoenix delivered a devastating performance but for me it was Philip Seymour Hoffman who stole the show. His character was perfectly played and his emotional, rage-filled outbursts were perfectly-placed punctuation marks for the pent-up aggression displayed throughout the film.


I think I would describe this film as a 'sleeper'. Not many people saw it, but it was a film that was full of charm and told an interesting, well-crafted story. Told in two halves, it showed off some beautiful cinematography and the opening scene with the camera spinning round the main character was beautiful. The quasi-silent, historical second half was a nice counterpoint to the modern first half the film.

The Turin Horse

The interminable passing of time…and that was just watching the film! Slow, methodical and two-and-a-half hours long, but never a wasted scene. Supposedly Tarr's final film, it was full of his trademark long takes and featured even less dialogue than usual, underlined with a simple repetitive score. It felt like he was describing the end of time, and the end of his film-making with one profound full-stop.

Other notable films

La Grande Illusion

I saw this when it was re-released at the BFI in London, and it was a real gem (Jean Gabin again). One of the most incredible films I saw this year, it was beautifully composed, funny, and way ahead of it's time for a film made in 1937. A true classic!


This film did not get great reviews: many complaints about the “contrived and even bizarre final revelation…” (Peter Bradshaw, Guardian) but to be honest, I still enjoyed the film. Yes the ending was too strange to be true, but this is cinema…it's not real!


With a story written by Aaron Sorkin, I was expecting this to be good. And thankfully, it was. A good, fun story, with 1000 words per minute, and decent performances from Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Shadow Dancer

This film by James Marsh was premiered at the Belfast Film Festival. I didn't like it as much as others did, and the reviews I've seen since are positively glowing. That said, it was still a decent attempt in the 'Norn-Irish-film-about-The-Troubles' genre, though I felt it painted a slightly rosy picture of the situation, apart from it's mock-shock ending.


Bond is back! Was exactly what I expected, which is to say: mindless fun. Bond meets Bourne with some action-packed entertainment and the return of the DB5.


I'm a Family Guy fan, so this film was always going to make me laugh. I liked Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis, and Seth Macfarlane was free to do all the stuff that was too rude for Family Guy! Easy watching, switch-off-your-brain fun.

The Third Man

I finally got round to seeing this and it went straight on to my non-existent list of favourite films! Welles was magnificent as Harry Lime and the photography was amazing: full of Dutch angles and a gleaming black and white print.


Paddy Considine's brutal film was another cracker, and Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman starred. Eddie Marsan as the sadistic husband was also impressively horrible.

Worst films of 2012

Amongst all these 'favourite' films, why not a section for some of the most dreadful tripe I saw this year? Here are a few of the notable 'worst' films I saw this year…

Les Infideles

“The players”, to give it it's English title featured Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin. I can say little more than it was lousy…except to say, ridiculous. In many ways. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for it…


Billed as “Bold, and Blisteringly Funny” on the poster, the trailer for this was indeed quite funny. Unfortunately, the funny bits in the trailer were the only funny bits in the film. The rest was silly, contrived or just plain dull.

But the award for the worst film I saw this year goes to:


Such a shame that the usually-impressive Juliette Binoche was stifled by a rubbish story. Though she did her best to drag a good performance out of it, the film was genuinely awful and described by Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian as “massively preposterous and supercilious” as well as “toe-curlingly predictable”. That just about sums it up.


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Gig Review: Joshua Redman, The MAC, Belfast, 15th September 2012

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 16th September 2012 at 10:08 am

Categories: Music | Tags: , , , , , | No comments

Belfast’s newest venue, The MAC, played host to the Joshua Redman trio for the penultimate gig of their Irish tour featuring Joshua Redman on tenor and soprano saxophones, Reuben Rogers on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums.

The trio performed a wide range of music including original jazz compositions, rock, funk and classical, all blended beautifully into Redman’s free-flowing style; definitely the widest range of repertoire of any small group gig I’ve seen.

Joshua Redman, Reuben Rogers and Gregory Hutchinson – The MAC, Belfast, 15th September 2012

As well as a cover of Led Zeppelin’s The Ocean, another standout piece was a version of Riddle Me This, a stunning jazz-funk piece written by pianist Aaron Parks, a great blog of which can be read here. A YouTube video of this fascinating piece is also embedded below.

The group didn’t suffer from the lack of piano as I thought it might; this was the first trio gig I had been to, but the sound still had rich harmony and a full texture, thanks in part to an extraordinary rhythm section. Hutchinson on drums especially was working overtime, using all manner of techniques to fill the room with sound.

Redman’s playing was intense and energetic, using all of his body in a real physical performance. His soloing was, at times, reminiscent of a mathematician explaining the theory behind the conservation of angular momentum, or deriving some complex equation from first principles (but then I’m interested in stuff like that); he has an incredibly intellectual approach to improvisation, where you can almost hear him working out where his music is going – there was a complexity and structure to the sound that was very well thought out. His sound, particularly on tenor, was incredibly smooth, rich and velvety; one of those rare players that has a real ability to create a creamy tone full of colour.

It was a great performance and was also the first gig i have been to for which I can thank last.fm – this is how I came to hear of Joshua Redman a few years ago.

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Posted by: Ian Briggs on 22nd August 2012 at 6:21 pm

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , | No comments

Just time for a quick blog as we’re spending a couple of days over in Enniskillen and today we visited the Marble Arch Caves. Very busy and slightly disappointing that the usual boat tour wasn’t running but still it is an incredible place to visit…probably up there with the Giant’s Causeway in terms of tourist attractions to see.

After this, we went to the National Trust property at Castle Coole to see an Anthony Gormley art installation dedicated to Samuel Beckett. Tree for Waiting for Godot was a stainless steel tree created in cooperation with an Australian piece to celebrate Beckett.


I thought it was great and it is part of a whole series of Beckett-themed events around Fermanagh, and in the basement of Castle Coole the rooms had been transformed into a walking storybook, with each room filled with stories, sounds and recitals taken from Beckett’s works Company and Molloy.

Particularly atmospheric was the music room filled with a mixture of a Gilbert and Sullivan recital told by Beckett with Schubert melodies playing over it.  Slightly surreal but the whole event set the senses on alert.

More to come tomorrow with the hope of some water sports thrown in too.


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How I use Evernote at home and work

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 30th June 2012 at 4:24 pm

Categories: Computing, Work | Tags: | No comments

This blog post is a run-through of how I have come to use Evernote as a file-management system and digital repository.

Background Reading

I originally installed Evernote a couple of years ago but didn’t really make use of it apart from storing links to a few webpages. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I began reading of the real benefits to be had from making good use of the programme.

I read a number of easy-to-find websites recently which helped to find some uses for Evernote. They are listed here for reference:

– Ten ways to save time with Evernote: http://goo.gl/ObyjN

– How to email your documents erectly to Evernote: http://mhyatt.us/iEHGw1

– Evernote Case Study: http://goo.gl/pIQwf

– Ten tips on how to use Evernote to its fullest: http://www.thesolopreneurlife.com/?p=6014

These sites, and many others, helped me to decide how I would use Evernote, and how to organise it to suit my needs. The main driver behind all this was the desperate need to reduce the amount of paper we had filed away in our home office. Two filing cabinets full of papers, drawers, folders, boxes all crammed with forms, bills and receipts from years ago. So I set about sorting the stuff to keep, stuff to keep a digital copy of, and stuff to get rid of entirely!

Setting up Evernote

Evernote stacks and notebooks

Evernote stacks and notebooks

In its most basic use, Evernote can obviously save notes. To tidy things up a bit, these notes can then be filed in notebooks, and similar notebooks can be grouped into stacks. You can see this in the image to the right where there is a financial stack, which contains a lot of related notebook for banking, receipts, tax and utilities.Within each of these notebooks is a selection of individual notes containing things like bank statements, utility bills etc.

The main tip I have found to keep things tidy is to keep the stack titles as general as possible (i.e. Financial, Work, Hobbies). Notebook titles should be a bit more specific (Banking, Music, Photography etc.) and the actual note should contain detailed information as to its contents (including title, date if applicable and maybe any people to whom the note relates).

I also have an INBOX notebook (notice the ! to keep it at the top of the list) which contains random stuff. But things only stay here briefly until they are filed somewhere more meaningful.

I also use tags in Evernote mainly to aid in searching for things. For example, within my banking notebook I have notes relating to a couple of different banks, current accounts, and credit cards. This is where tags come in to separate each note into sub-categories within a notebook. This helps to avoid having hundreds of notebooks being over-specific and makes things very easy to find.

Uses for Evernote

So that is how I have set up Evernote, but how to use it every day?

Firstly, I probably do use it every day now and here are some of the things that I use it for:

– Note taking – revision for a recent project management exam proved Evernote’s worth by being able to take revision notes and avoid writing things on reams of paper.

– Film reviews – I like writing reviews for films that I see, and Evernote provides a great place to store and file reviews that I can then send to twitter, google+ or other websites that I write for.

– Blog ideas – any ideas for updating my blog get stuck in a notebook for future development (including this one!)

– Web clippings – one of the main uses for me. This allows me to get rid of bookmarks and instead, store webpages with their full colour, images, formatting and to have them sync between any computer I use. No more losing bookmarks or forgetting which computer they are stored on.

– Financial records – as mentioned above, I have scanned all my bank statements, letters, terms and conditions etc. and got rid of all the useless paper that the banks sent to us. The paper has been shredded and is now being used to feed worms and make compost! I also use the scanner or camera on my phone to scan in any important receipts or utility bills and eliminate more paper. All sensitive data is encrypted either using Evernote’s in-built encryption (for text) or I use an Apple automator script I wrote to encrypt a pdf file before uploading to Evernote.

– Personal records – Optician prescriptions, dentist records etc. are now stored electronically so I know where to find them even if I’m not at home.

– Travel details – All information relating to trips goes into the travel stack, and split into notebooks depending on the journey. The notes in here can include anything like maps, places to go, things to see and bars and restaurants to check out, all in a self-contained notebook for each trip. I also clip webpages for train timetables and forward flight and hotel reservation emails to the same notebook.

– Shopping – Things I want to buy get stored here along with a shared notebook for shopping lists that my wife can edit from her account.

– Work – This is the main reason I upgraded to the premium account. Things like meeting information, book clippings, papers and reports get stored here along with images I might use for any of my own papers. The benefit is that all this information is easy to find and can be searched (in the premium version of Evernote, even handwritten notes can be searched), and there is no limits to the type or size of files you can upload.

So that is how I am using Evernote, and the amount of space we have saved in our office is incredible. I hope this will inspire some others to use Evernote, but at the very least it provides an entertaining insight into my own obsessive compulsive desire for order!

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Gig review: Evan Christopher, North Down Museum, 30th May 2012

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 31st May 2012 at 6:59 pm

Categories: Music | Tags: , , , | No comments

It is not often that world-class musicians visit Northern Ireland, so when the opportunity arose to see one of the very best clarinettists close to home, I couldn’t afford to miss out.

Evan Christopher

Evan Christopher

Direct from New Orleans, Evan Christopher played a concert in the North Down Museum in Bangor, where an audience of almost one hundred people turned out to see him.

In a previous blog post I wrote a review of his last visit to Northern Ireland in 2010, in what was a great gig at the Black Box in Belfast. This time he returned with the same group of stunning musicians: David Blenkhorn on guitar, Dave Kelbie on rhythm guitar, and Sebastien Girardot on bass.

The playing was top class: beautiful interactions between the instruments, virtuosic playing from all the ensemble members and repertoire that was a mixture of slow, romantic songs (including one with Christopher singing vocals which was a nice interlude in the programme) contrasted with full-on, high-energy rhythms.

The solos were inventive in their style, but also full of that blues roots that screams New Orleans jazz. I also particularly enjoyed the fact that the performance did not follow the usual jazz format, in that the solos were mixed up and seemed to blend into one another seamlessly.

Christopher’s clarinet playing is sublime; a breathy, sultry low range lifts into a vibrant mid range and the clarity and ease with which he hits the very top notes is just amazing. As with all pro musicians, he has an incredible ability to make the most difficult things looks very easy, and this is true of the rest of the group: David Blenkhorn’s guitar playing is subtle when playing with the others, and yet he produces brilliantly crafted solos when needed.  Similarly the rhythm guitar playing of Dave Kelbie is so relaxed but provides that solid straight-ahead percussive ‘beat’ that drives the music forward, and is backed up by some fantastic bass playing from Sebastien Girardot who manages to create a rich, resonant sound and include some percussive slap-bass technique that gives  his solos a difference dimension.

It was another fantastic gig from this quartet and a great opportunity for people to hear this unique sound. I have embedded a YouTube video of the group below, which is well worth a listen. Check out this fabulous group if you ever get the chance.


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