‘Mercury retrograde’ causing untold mischief …

I’d never of heard the term ‘Mercury retrograde’ till a few years ago when dear friend Guy Barker explained a bit about this astrological phenomenon, which happens about 3 times a year.  A planet in retrograde looks like it’s moving in reverse, an illusion occurring when a faster moving planet overtakes it, like if you’re on a speedy train going past a slower train it can feel like that slower train is going backwards.  We’re slap bang in the middle of one now.  It started on July 26 and will end on August 18th although there’s a two week revving up/down period either side.

People all over the world for centuries have maintained that during this period, communications breakdown, some experience travel delays or lost items, technology can go haywire, emotions run high possibly leading to anxiety disagreements and misunderstandings of mammoth proportions.  There are websites by the dozen advising you to tread carefully during these three week cycles, try not to make any important decisions or sign any big contracts.  Hold your tongue, don’t take things to heart.

I’ve never knowingly been affected before but genuinely feel I’m being clobbered from all sides by this one like a ticking emotional time bomb and I’m not alone.  Alan the dog seems more restless and proper barky… but then maybe he’s feeding off me… not that I’ve knowingly been barking …although!?

I just put a search for Mercury Retrograde into Twitter – it’s not just me, folks all over the globe are blaming the plodding smallest planet for pretty much everything and in every language, from being late to work, or worse losing their jobs to falling out with their partners and friends or having the worst haircut imaginable.  Much as it’s useful to have an astrological occurrence to pin every bad move you make on, I do believe there’s no smoke without a fire.

From as early as the mid 1700’s the term ‘Mercury retrograde’ has been knocking about astrology circles causing untold mischief, but astronomer Dr. Mark Hammergren of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago takes this modern day superstition with a pinch of salt, questioning if people looked at any twelve month block would these periods in question all be especially catastrophic, or do misinterpreted messages and technical problems occur throughout the year, “when things go wrong and Mercury isn’t in retrograde, we don’t get that hashtag. It’s called Monday.”



“It was so damn hot today I thought I’d write something to cool myself off…”

So, as I skulk about in the sweltering temperatures this bizarre heat spell is relentlessly inflicting on us, it strikes me as ironic to think that all over the world, songwriters are busy composing and nurturing this year’s crop of Christmas songs.

We recorded our Festive album during the hottest weeks of July 2013, I remember thinking there was something so comforting singing about snow and frost, wearing shorts and t-shirt in a baking hot studio.   The photo shoot for the album took place during the recording and involved us all sitting down to a full roast turkey dinner with all the trimmings in 30 degree heat – nice.

Many of our seasonal favourites were written during the hottest months, Leroy Anderson started work on Sleighride in a cottage in Connecticut in the Summer of 1946 whilst just 100 miles south in New York, The Nat King Cole Trio would record 2 versions of The Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…) in June and August that same year.  One of my favourite singers, Mel Tormé co-wrote the song with lyricist Bob Wells, Mel recalled walking into Bob’s house and seeing the first 4 lines of the song on a writing pad resting on the piano, Bob is quoted as saying, “It was so damn hot today I thought I’d write something to cool myself off. All I could think of was Christmas and cold weather.”

In his autobiography “It Wasn’t All Velvet” Mel goes on to say that whilst he was thrilled that Nat King Cole was making his song a terrific success, he couldn’t help notice that he  had sung the last line of the bridge, “To see if reindeers really know how to fly.“ Grammatically speaking it should have been “To see if reindeer really know how to fly.“  Ever the perfectionist Nat King Cole, corrected this mistake on the 3rd and 4th versions he recorded in 1953 with Nelson Riddle and 1961 with Ralph Carmichael.  The earlier recordings from 1946 have now become valuable collectors’ items, which goes to show doing something wrong is sometimes worth more to some people than doing something right!

Curiously when Judy Garland sang The Christmas song with Mel at the piano on her TV show in December 1963, her take on the same line was “To see if rainbows really know how to fly.”  Factually and grammatically correct in Oz perhaps?



Music is a universal language and works best when shared.

“Music is what feeling sounds like. Music is what healing sounds like. It has the power to bring people back to life. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it. It is powerful, and beautiful.” These inspirational words are taken from a letter written by a young woman called Alisha, a patient in a children’s hospital to her friends at the Melodic Caring Project.

The Melodic Caring Project (MCP) is a not-for-profit organisation set up by husband and wife team Levi and Stephanie Ware in Seattle, USA more than a decade ago, offering children and young people in hospital, isolated by their illness’ the opportunity to have live concerts streamed to their rooms free of charge.  The performers give shout outs and dedications throughout the show to the viewers who are called RockSTARS, the kids and their families can watch anonymously or participate in a live chat with other viewers all over the world.

We had the pleasure of having our Leeds Town Hall concert streamed around the globe via MCP to said RockSTARS or JazzSTARS as we renamed them for that particular evening.  Reading the comments and feedback from people in the UK and further afield after the show was mind-blowing, not to mention deeply touching.  As I am wont to say every week on my radio show, “Live music is the very best thing for you” it’s a statement I have always lived by and to have the opportunity to share the music we care about with an unexpected and receptive new audience is a truly wonderful thing.

MCP has only recently launched in the UK thanks to a hook up with James Marples, Marketing Manager of Chesterfield College in Derbyshire.  Media and Childhood Studies students work alongside MCP and Sheffield Children’s Hospital to shoot and stream the concerts, work is ongoing to establish links with other hospitals and hospices across the country.

It’s a win win situation, rewarding for the artists and children watching, but also the students filming our concert, who were a lovely bunch and very grateful to be a part of the project, they gave 100% in both skill and attitude.  Also let’s not forget the audience who paid to come to Leeds Town Hall and who played a massive role in creating a warm and noisy live atmosphere they too enjoyed being part of the process.  Music is a universal language and works best when shared.