Messages of Support

Hi Alistair Like you I have been diagnosed with MND, from start of symptoms last October to no...

posted by Tony Laporta

My dear friend Keith was diagnosed with MND within 9 months he passed away in Dec 2010. Such an a...

posted by Brian

To Alistair, Keep going. I saw you on BBC Breakfast this morning and haven't stopped listening...

posted by Lizzie

Hi Alistair. Amazing to hear you on the radio this morning. I have done a similar project to you ...

posted by Ronnie Upton

Alistair Saw you on BBC this morning and bought your record immediately. It is just brilliant. Y...

posted by Blokesnet

Happy Memories

Me and my friend Matt finally finished the film about our float to the coast adventure. Brings back lots of happy memories.

All songs in the film are available on the album ‘Alistair the Optimist’. Buy it now at the MND Association shop. All proceeds go to the MND Association.

Float to the Coast

You can buy my album from the MND Association Online Shop

It’s been a long time

It’s been a long time since I last wrote my blog. There have been many reasons for my inactivity including going on Holiday, having my PEG insertion, my weakening voice and hands and also the end of the Optimist campaign, as I handed over to this year’s team optimism. I wish this year’s campaign every success and hope all the team optimism members get a lot out of the experience and manage to raise awareness of MND and the work of the Association.

For my part being involved in a campaign for the MND Association has been a mainly positive one especially when I look back and consider all the amazing people I have met, been reacquainted with or received support from  for the last 12 months. Also, it is extremely doubtful that I would have completed an album of original songs without the aims of the optimist campaign not focusing me and driving us onwards. The album and awareness campaign are things I am very proud of and I am grateful to the MND Association and the MND community for their encouragement in helping me achieve these things.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing mind you. The headache of trying to promote an album and campaign has been testing at times and I have found increasingly the tag of Alistair the optimist to be an aspirational one and not always a true reflection of my state of mind. It has always been my understanding that optimism is not a state of unbridled joy and happiness but perhaps one in which we hope to achieve good things despite trying circumstances.

I know the campaign has increased awareness and understanding of MND I just hope that we haven’t missed an opportunity to really make a breakthrough in putting MND out there in the public domain alongside other (often better known and understood) conditions such as Parkinson’s, MS etc. Doing this is essential and until we do significantly raise awareness of MND many people living with MND will continue to be poorly served by aspects of the NHS and social services. Whatever happens next, I have an enormous sense of pride in what I have achieved over the last year and the legacy I wanted to leave for my children.

Changing the subject completely – it’s been three weeks since I stayed in hospital for the insertion of my PEG. In case you haven’t come across it before a PEG is a feeding tube which is inserted through the stomach wall using an endoscope and small incision. It is a fairly minor and common procedure for people living with MND and I had decided to get mine fitted whilst I was still able to do so (things become more complicated the longer you leave it and their weaker your breathing becomes). I had to have a couple of nights in hospital, although the procedure itself only took about 20 min. I was awake throughout the procedure and only lightly sedated so the endoscope camera, guide wires and tube were passed down my throat with my full knowledge – not very pleasant! Anyway at least I got it done and now have the peace of mind of knowing that when my swallowing becomes a real issue then I will be able to use my PEG to take my medication, fluids and nutrition. Despite the relief of getting this over with I also have experienced feelings of sadness that this is another event which marks the progression of the disease.

I find it increasingly difficult to blog as I am relying on voice recognition to type. This has put me off sitting down at the computer, but I’ve decided I need to be more proactive. So I’ll leave you with this blog as I’m off to watch the Tour de France but I’ll write some more blogs in the next few weeks. Next one: a great holiday and amazing fundraising.

Who are ‘Alistair The Optimist’? (part 4)

I interviewed each of my band mates to find out a little bit more about the recording of the album and their contribution to the ‘Optimist’ campaign. This time it’s Matt’s turn…

What is your name and position in the band?

Matt Hemson


What instruments / tracks do you play on the album?

Double Bass, Electric Bass, Acoustic Guitar, 5 String Banjo

How long have you known the other members of the band?

I met Al, Paul, and Jez at Kingston Uni when I was a wee laddie back in 1989 just when the Stone Roses were at their peak and Oasis hadn’t even started. I met Alex probably 15 years ago when he was singing for “Grand Atlantic”and Jim I’ve known now for 5 years.

Fill us in on the other bands that you’ve been in.
I was in a couple of dodgy Goth bands bands before forming “Shakehole”with Al, Jez and Paul in 1990 and embracing a bit of Britpop. I think we weretually quite good and had a few cracking tunes that still buzz around my head a couple of times a year. At the same time I was in a really fun punk/ska band with another friend of ours (the mighty Jim Wells) and Al used to drum for us whilst wearing a wig. Ask him about his wig if you get the chance. I’m now in three bands (ranging from Motown to Banjo Folk) and love writing songs for all of them.

Describe the recording process for this album. Was it as rock and roll as people envisage?

It was epic. The pressure was on to get the takes right in one or two shots as time was so limited. I had been on holiday so hadn’t had the chance to rehearse with the others which meant lots of improvisation (i.e. mistakes!). But it all just clicked and seeing Al drumming away with a massive grin on his chops was the best thing about the whole experience. Plus the songs were really strong i.e. all killer, no filler.

Pick two or three tracks on the album and describe what they mean to you.

Metal Men

In The Wake is just a knock out single and one of the best songs I’ve heard in a long time. It should be No 1 in 15 countries right now. I especially love Paul’s guitar work on the track; at the end he raises the power of the song dramatically and drives it home so beautifully.

The New Regime is a one of my favourites too as I love Kathryn Calder’s backing vocals and the cajun violin solos. The whole piece has a deep south  feel to it, plus I got to put banjo on the track, and as we all know the banjo is the most optimistic instrument ever invented. It can change the world!

Leading Eye is close to my heart as it’s one of those songs that was written in 10 minutes at 2am one night and just came out of my guitar fully formed in  some mysterious way. I love Alex and Jim’s harmonies throughout and Al’s fantastic drumming really makes it soar from beginning to end giving the whole song  a great swing. It’s a good song to travel too, plus my kids now sing it around the house, which is hilarious.

What is your day job?

I am the Director of The Therapeutic Media Company and focus on helping people in need of additional support improve their quality of live through creative media and education initiatives. And in the evening I teach guitar and banjo for fun and organise the odd charity event such as the Bath Banjo Festival www.bathbanjofestival.com in aid of the MND Association.

Who / what are your musical influences?

In order of growing up: The Beatles, David Bowie, Paul Simon, Robert Smith (The Cure), The Cocteau Twins, The Stone Roses, The Dead Milkmen, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pete Seeger (for banjo), and for some reason I now can’t get enough of old Motown hits. They are inspirational.

In a word describe the rest of the members of the band.

Jez – Songsmith

Paul – Maestro

Alex – Talented

Jim – Creative

Alistair – Superhero

Video Blog: Recording the Album

Alistair talks to his brother-in-law Tim Delap about recording the ‘Alistair The Optimist’ album. Film made by Tim Delap.

Who are ‘Alistair The Optimist’? (part 3)

I interviewed each of my band mates to find out a little bit more about the recording of the album and their contribution to the ‘Optimist’ campaign. This time it’s Paul’s turn…

What is your name and position in the band?

My name is Paul Benham. I am the member of the band that is furthest away from all the other members of the band.

What instruments / tracks do you play on the album?

I think I played on all the tracks on the album apart from ‘Now What’. I played acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, slide guitar, glockenspiel and ukulele.

How long have you known the other members of the band?

I’ve known Alistair, Jez and Matt for 23 years. I’ve know Alex for 17 years and Jim for about 10 years.

Fill us in on the other bands that you’ve been in?

I’ve been in the following bands:
That Bush / The Remote Sensations (with Al and Jez)
Sleeper / Shakehole (with Al and Jez and Matt)
Bitchin’ Lactators (with Al and Jez and Matt)
King of the Mountains / Grandatlantic (with Al, Jez and Alex)

Describe the recording process for this album.  What it as rock and roll as people envisage?
I was asked to submit a couple of songs for the Alistair the Optimist project. Alistair chose The New Regime and Precipice. Once the ten songs had been agreed on Al, Jez, Alex and Jim got together and rehearsed them a couple of times in England. I got to listen to the rehearsal sessions and learnt the songs. I recorded my guitar parts over the rehearsal sessions and posted them online for the others to comment on. The first time we all played the songs together was when we turned up at the studio to record them. The recording sessions were a lot of fun. It was fantastic to play music with my friends after many years apart, something that I didn’t think was ever going to happen to me again. After the recording sessions came the more difficult (and sometimes tense) process of listening to the tracks, deciding what the mixes should sound like and adding extra instrument parts where we thought they would add to the songs. We were lucky to have some talented musicians contribute to some of the songs. Finally the songs were mixed (by a variety of people in a variety of locations) and mastered ready for release.

Pick two or three tracks on the album and describe what they mean to you.

My favorite two songs on the album are probably ‘Now What’ and ‘Precipice’. Now What has a beautiful melody that Alex delivers wonderfully, a stripped down arrangement and lovely lyrics written by Alistair. Precipice was a difficult song to get right and so a lot of work went into the post recording sessions. The additional horns and Jim’s great vocals make the song shine.

What is your day job?
During the day I spend my time bending computers to my will.

Who / what are your musical influences?

My musical influences include Guided By Voices, The Posies, Elbow, Galaxie 500, Neko Case, The Shins, The Pixies, Spoon, and Wilco.

Describe the other members of the band.

The band members in one word – Antidisestablishmentarians

xx

Alistair The Optimist – recording the album

Today I found a quiet corner and listened to ‘Alistair The Optimist’ again. As I listened I thought back over the recording process and the fun we (mostly) had while making the album. Here are some of my thoughts…

The album was recorded over 3 days in August 2011 at Cross Leaze Farm Studios near Bath. The studio was built and is owned by Charles Grimsdale, who my band mate Matt had met through the local music scene. We met Charles and he kindly offered to record the album with us – for free!

We all agreed that we should try and capture as many tracks as we could over one long weekend, and to do this Charlie suggested we set up the band to record a live session. This turned out to be a fantastic idea as the studio (a stone C17th barn with views across a gorgeous green valley) suited a live and mainly acoustic vibe, just what we thought we were after.

In the end we managed to record the basic live performances of all ten songs that weekend, as well as vocal and guitar overdubs. Of course my drum set up had to be adapted to my new playing style. I was no longer able to use the foot pedals and my strength and coordination in my upper body were on the wain, my stamina was also becoming a problem. We overcame these problems by setting up the bass drum on it’s side next to the snare so I would be able to play simple rhythms with my drum sticks – additional percussion was overdubbed my me afterwards (or Alex when I became too tired). Also, we had written (by accident or design?) short and uncomplicated songs which certainly made my drumming role a lot easier.

I am amazed by how much we achieved during the three days at the studio and also by the quality of the finished tracks. Of course we had a few tricky moments, particularly at the beginning of the sessions when our lack of confidence in the songs and our own parts really shone through.

We were very under-prepared for the recording sessions and at times it showed. Alex, Jez, Jim and I had met up for three rehearsals beforehand but the entire band had never played the songs through together before we started the live recording session! In fact Paul and his guitar had only just flown in from the states the day before and Matt had been on holiday.

I am pretty sure the whole weekend would have been a disaster had Jez, Paul and I not spent a long time figuring out arrangement ideas, sharing lyric and chord sheets and compiling a spreadsheet called ‘who’s playing what and when’. Bizarrely, the preparation we did for the album did feel very reminiscent of my teaching career – I felt like I was planning a series of lessons……rock n roll!

After we had finished the recording sessions, the lengthy and at times difficult process of post production and mixing began. We added more guitar, harpsichord, zither, ukulele, dobro and percussion parts and also wrote a few string parts which were beautifully played by Catherine Strauch and Maria Beaven. At this point the album went ‘transatlantic’ as Jon Nachez (California) – horns, and Kathryn Calder (Vancouver) – backing vocals, added their talent to the mix. Kathryn is an established singer/songwriter and member of acclaimed Canadian band ‘The New Pornographers’ and it was simply brilliant that she offered to help with the album. Kathryn got in contact with me via facebook after hearing about the ‘Incurable Optimist’ campaigns.

She had lost her mother to MND/ALS a couple of years ago and was really excited about the album. Kathryn was very busy and getting ready to go on tour, but she found time to run down to her friends studio and record some beautiful vocals for three of our songs.

The album was mixed by a host of volunteers including members of the band, Richard Wilkinson (offered his services after seeing an ‘Incurable Optimist’ poster on the Tube), Graham Pickford (sound engineer/producer and friend of Jim), Charlie Grimsdale (with Patrick Phillips and a memorable visit to Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios) and Paul Lane (recording engineer and colleague of Jim’s).

All fine and talented gentlemen who gave their time and expertise and sprinkled magic dust over all our mistakes. Eventually the 10 tracks were ready for mastering (I still don’t understand this ‘dark art’) and sent up to Jay at KJAMM in Nottingham and then either uploaded to various digital platforms by Ditto Music or replicated to CD by John at Double Vision Group. I asked friend Marcus Walters at New Future Graphic if he would create the album artwork as he is a genius artist and designer.

Alistair The Optimst Album CoverI love the artwork and think it ties in with the flavour of the music. I was keen to have all 6 members of the band on the cover as this project was all about friends working together, against time and in order to realise an ambition. With my name in the title I was especially focused on communicating that this was a band and not a solo record.

So that’s it. I won’t bore you with explanations about the meanings and inspirations for each song… think I’ll leave that for another time. However, I will just add that Jez, Matt, Paul, Alex and Jim are all incredibly talented musicians and song writers, close and loyal friends, and time spent with them is always treasured.

 I hope you enjoy the album.

Alistair x

Who are ‘Alistair The Optimist’? (part 2)

I interviewed each of my band mates to find out a little bit more about the recording of the album and their contribution to the ‘Optimist’ campaign. This time it’s Jez’s turn…

 

What is your name and position in the band?

 Jez – Guitarist / Arranger / Mixer

What instruments / tracks do you play on the album?

 Guitar electric and acoustic, zither, harpsichord.

 How long have you known the other members of the band?

 Most of them about 22 years.

Fill us in on the other bands that you’ve been in?

Lein To Disaster, Shakehole, The Bitchin Lactators, Grand Atlantic, Jimbob, The Fiona Clayton Band, Ceamarie.

Describe the recording process for this album.  What it as rock and roll as people envisage?

No. It was two lovely days in the Avon countryside, eating plums and cake and drinking endless cups of tea. Charlie Grimsdale did a superb job of setting us up in a live room and positioning mics so we could play the tracks all together live but still capture enough sound to get a polished mix out.

He also did a great job of configuring Al’s drumkit so that he could play a “kick” sound with his hand instead of his feet and then overdub hi-hat/ride cymbal parts – it worked really well.

My involvement with the album. Aside from writing two of the songs I would have to say that i probably put the “list” in A’list’air!

Helping to organise bits and pieces really. Some of the tunes needed knocking about a bit , so I helped on that side. Re-shaping one or two with Al to meet his exacting requirements. Recording rehearsals and distributing demos to make sure we were all on the same page.

Setting up the online workspace that helped us to make this project work, even though some of the contributors were overseas. Playing a bit  of guitar, zither and harpsichord on the tunes, arranging and recording some of the string parts. I mixed a few tunes and also helped mix a few others.

It has been a fantastic endeavour and also one with a result i personally am really proud of,  but i think we can all agree it has not been a particularly smooth road.

Pick two or three tracks on the album and describe what they mean to you.

I got the idea for “In The Wake” when i drove past a horse tied up on  a roundabout. He looked very sorry for himself.  So it got me thinking about writing a song from the perspective of that horse. But then i didn’t get very far with that, so it turned into a list  song. Basically listing disappointing/disappointed things and situations.

It should be stressed that i did NOT write it with anyone in  mind apart from myself ! 

I realised that the bulk of the song is pretty  depressing , with all sorts of downer imagery like blackened vaults and  lost raindrops, so i wanted to make a play out that was more positive  to balance it, hence “roll the stone away”. 

So it’s a game of two halves  really Ron. Want to shoot yourself at the start, see the light at the end. It should also be stressed that all the vaguely religious imagery  is only imagery and belies no “faith” on my part!

What is your day job?

I own an infrared thermography business.

Who / what are your musical influences?

Rufus Wainwright, Metronomy, Pixies, Guided By Voices, The Shins

xxx

Who are ‘Alistair The Optimist’?

I interviewed each of my band mates to find out a little bit more about the recording of the album and their contribution to the ‘Optimist’ campaign. First up it’s Alex…

 

What is your name and position in the band?

Alex Moore

What instruments / tracks do you play on the album?

Singer, b-vox, rhythm guitar, electric bass, egg shaker

How long have you known the other members of the band?

I have known the rest of the band since about 1995 when I moved to London to be in a band .. any band .. we met through our friend Laura, who went to Kingston with Jez, Paul and Al.

Fill us in on the other bands that you’ve been in.

Alistair was such an inspirational and natural drummer, with so much style and feel, that it was difficult to be in a band with another drummer (although I tried) after the 5 or more years I had been playing with him.

Also, as time went on, and Alistair’s work and family commitments increased, he wasn’t drumming as much. So I felt it was my duty to keep him playing to a certain extent ..

I would badger and cajole him into one band after another, with varying degrees of success. Recently I have had been working with other drummers, but if Al could still play, I would be playing with him.

Describe the recording process for this album.  Was it as rock and roll as people envisage?

The recording of this album was a minor miracle, in that we got the most part of all 10 tracks recorded, pretty much live, in three days at Charlie’s studio.

This was down to a fair bit of rehearsal, and some top-notch recording and instrumentation techniques from Charlie himself. Al was unable to use pedals by this stage, but he still had enough left in his arms to get that fantastic playing style across.

In hindsight, this was our last window of opportunity. I don’t know if the session was all-out rock’n'roll, but there were a few fights (normally with me involved).

 Pick two or three tracks on the album and describe what they mean to you.

In The Wake – probably my favourite .. Jez’s song about how there is no god, and religion is a promise that’s always just a lie from a bunch of clowns in the end ..

Metal Men – we wrote quite a few years ago – Al wrote some lyrics which I put to music. It’s about the end of innocence, and so on ..

The lyrics seem more poignant now than they did then .. the same can be said for most of the tracks I think.

I wrote So Long and No-One in a session last year, in amongst a bunch of other tracks. I set out to write some new material on my own, and I think Alistair’s situation weighed heavily on the session, and the tracks I came out with were all pretty dark, lyrically ..

When Alistair asked me to play something around the campfire on the Float to the Coast trip, I played him No-One, and the next morning he said that he had been thinking about recording an album of original songs, and he’d like No-One to kick off the process .. that was when I knew why I had written it.

What is your day job?

I work as a Broadcast Engineer in a Television MCR (Master Control Room)

Who / what are your musical influences?

I like to listen to a wide range of music, but I’m not sure that any of it ends up in the songs I write .. I normally just hit a guitar until something moderately tuneful comes out.

In a word describe the rest of the members of the band.
In a word:

Jez – Enthusiastic

Paul – Ex-pat

Matt – Encouraging

Jim – Elevated

Alistair – Endangered

COUNTDOWN TO LAUNCH

Christmas seems like a very distant memory now and I’ve found myself reflecting on a ‘difficult’ January. I suppose my last statement is a little obvious as each month we live with MND is more difficult than the last. My ever diminishing strength, total reliance on others and sense of being trapped in a failing body have got the better of me at times and being an ‘incurable optimist’ is definitely something I aspire to be and only now achieve with immense effort.

 In December I went to the MND Centre in Oxford for a three monthly check up to discover that my breathing had deteriorated significantly. As a consequence I was asked whether I would be interested in a trial being run by Sheffield University which aims to assist respiratory function and life expectancy. The DiPALS trial will use conventional non invasive ventilation techniques in combination with a diaphragm pacing device to try and maximise and prolong patients breathing. I have now signed up for the trial and start my treatment and monitoring later this month. Let’s hope the trial is successful and I will keep you posted on how I get on.

 Work is continuing here on the official launch of the ‘Alistair The Optimist’ CD. We now have a date, loads of lovely CDs, a promotion campaign and two beautiful music videos (almost ready) and a ‘making of the video’ film on it’s way too!! We filmed the video for ‘In The Wake’ a couple of weeks ago and had I had a great time with the 20 cast and crew. My powered wheelchair is the star of the show and the ‘rushes’ look amazing. I can’t tell you any more details at the moment as I’m sworn to secrecy – sorry.  All very exciting indeed!

Alistairx

‘Alistair The Optimist’ is launched!

Six months ago I decided to fulfill an ambition to write, record and release an album. I was working against time as I have Motor Neurone Disease - a horrible, terminal illness with no effective treatment or cure and an average life expectancy of between 2-5 years. The album is also part of a nationwide campaign of ‘optimism’ which raises money and awareness for the Motor Neurone Disease Association. Well, we finished the album and we are very proud of it. In fact it’s a good job we recorded when we did as I am now no longer able to play drums as my motor neurones die and my muscles weaken. Had I delayed the decision to go ahead with the recording and had my band mates been unable to commit their time, energies and talent at such short notice then ‘Alistair The Optimist’ would not have been completed – or if it had then it would have involved me pushing buttons and not actually playing on the tracks (not a very satisfying outcome).

The feedback from people who have bought the album has been very positive so far and we have even received a few 5* reviews. At the moment it is available as a download via itunes and Amazon with 22% of the proceeds going to the MND Association. A CD will also be able to buy from the MND Association online shop by the end of January, 100% of the profit will go to the MND Association.

In addition to the album you will soon be able to download the music and lyrics for all the songs on ‘Alistair The Optimist’ via this website. This means you will be able to sing and play along with the CD or even play and record your own versions of our tunes – brilliant!

I don’t want to spill all the beans about how we intend to market the CD, but I wanted to let you know that two music videos are currently in production (possibly a third soon) one of which is to be filmed in Los Angeles and the other in erm……..Somerset. We all hope the videos get lots of hits on YouTube and promote the message of ‘incurable optimism’ to the wider world.

Right, I’d better go…….I’m busy, busy, busy and typing this has taken ages – bloody useless fingers aaargh!

Alistairx

Alistair the Optimist

Listen to clips from the new album 'Alistair The Optimist'.

Whet your appetite with In The Wake and The New Regime