Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How to make a spinning (gym bike) class less boring.. Rock Metal Spin!

If you've taken Spinning classes at the gym, or if you teach them, you might just be sick of the boring, repetitive, tame, uninspiring drivel that's the soundtrack to most of the classes. Yes, the beat's there, and the songs are chosen to match the planned "route", up hills and sprinting along straights and back to rolling hills and then that horrible-impossible climb... But wouldn't it be better if the music were cool, too?

I put together a Rock Metal Spin playlist. It's about 40 minutes long, and some of the songs are nicely extended so that you can't sneak a breather in and have to really, really get the cardio going. And yes there are several Five Finger Death Punch songs in there. They are brilliant for the gym.

And yes, I've tested it, that's why I can't breathe right now. Give me a few minutes...

Here's my Rock Metal Spin playlist:

HIM: Wings of a Butterfly (3.32)  Steady warm up
5FDP:  Cold (3:48)  Steadily increasing, heavy, hills
Gemini Syndrome:  Syndrome (3:33) Very heavy but steady hills. Some downhill if you like.
5FDP: House of the Rising Sun (4:07)  Begins with a breather... then sprints
Marillion: Power (6:07) Long hill that gets steep at the end
Alter Bridge:  Calm the Fire (6:05) Middle-of-the-ride steady road: recpvery
5FDP: Remember Everything  (4:39)  Another set of big hills
BMTH:  Can You Feel My Heart  (3:47)  Sprint intervals. Oh yes you will sprint.
Gemini Syndrome: Left of Me (3:06) Short intervals
Joy Division: She's Lost Control (4:56)  Steady straight road all the way up a not-too-steep-hill. Tired yet?
Alison Moyet: This House (3:56) Warm-down and stretching. And who cares about genre labels anyway?

If you happen to be a spin teacher and want to use this list, I've linked--as far as possible, and quite sadly--to the non-"explicit" or "radio safe" versions, but you'll want to check and make sure. Even better, buy directly from the band's own websites.

And you also need to check whatever it is you have to check to make sure that all rights are taken care of when playing music as part of a business or whatever you usually have to do for your playlists. (I have no idea what you have to do, am just know that there is something/some type of licensing that allows the artists to be compensated!) (And I don't want anyone to lose their jobs because the whole spinning class sings out, "But what the F!*! do you know!")

Shame we can't make and share and buy playlists on iTunes any more...

Monday, January 27, 2014

Thank you Zoltan, for bringing me the horizon. Oh and the UK press too.

I grabbed a copy of Metal Hammer magazine, January edition, at Barnes and Noble the other day, mostly because the packaging showed that there would be something about Philip H. Anselmo inside, but also because it's British music press and -- dare I say it again -- the British music press is so much better than the awful so-called music press over here where you can't find a decent article for the ads. Sigh... Great magazine, Metal Hammer, but like Prog Rock magazine and Classic Rock magazine and others, all the tour dates are for the UK (despite some effort by the publishers to make this a more transatlantic publication, the majority are sold in England, Scotland, Wales... and we get them over here several weeks late).

On page 46, the "critics choice" of the best metal albums of 2013 begins. Includes some bands I've seen and reviewed this year--Dillinger Escape Plan, Five Finger Death Punch, Philip H Anselmo, HIM... but no Gemini Syndrome. Can't say I'm surprised, as GS haven't appeared in the UK... yet.

But then I see my friend Zoltan of Five Finger Death Punch.  Top of page 48.

(OK he's not really my friend. He can't "friend" any more people on Facebook, that's the reason why, OK??? I just have this cool picture I took of him at Aftershock. So I can call him friend, right???)

Zoltan Bathory, guitar, Five Finger Death Punch, Aftershock 2013
Zoltan Bathory of Five Finger Death Punch, Aftershock 2013
So my pal Zoltan, on page 48, Metal Hammer has published his top five albums from 2013. Number One on Zoltan Bathory's list???   Lux, by Gemini Syndrome.  (Not just friends... we're soul mates now!!!!) So today I'm expecting everyone in the UK to be listening to Gemini Syndrome, not because I say so any more. But now because you read it at the top of Zoltan's list.

So... as he obviously has great taste (to go with the guitar skills, I'm not so sure about the automatic weapons), I took a look at the rest of his top five. In particular, Sempiternal from Bring Me The Horizon.

The first time I listened to Sempiternal, I couldn't get past Oliver Sykes' vocals. I thought his throat would fall out. (The rest of the music made an impression: melodic, heavy, engine of a bass and drum line, almost-orchestral arrangements, and some football (soccer) chants that you know the crowd will sing along to.) The second time I listened to Sempiternal, the silence between the tracks made me realise how much I wanted to hear the next song. And the third time I listened to Sempiternal, I was totally hooked on Sykes' vocals. Even if that voice is not sustainable, this album is a classic.

(iTunes classifies the album as "punk". Really? Really???? Come on... Does anyone listen to anything before labelling it???)

"I can't drown my demons, they know how to swim."

"Go to hell, for heaven's sake".

Bring Me The Horizon are from Sheffield (if you know Sheffield, you'll know why "metal" is the true name of anything and anyone who comes from there... Google Sheffield steel). So maybe that's why I hadn't heard them before, being on this side of the pond now. Check them out on their website: or on Facebook. (Shows me that they are really still quite unknown over here, when I see they have more than 4 million followers on Facebook, and yet only one of my Facebook friends "likes" them.) But they are on their way to the USA now! Tour dates here:  IMPORTANT: remember that the dates are written English-style not American! Day, month, year! Darnit... I'll be out of the country when they play San Francisco. DARNIT DARNIT DARNIT.

My prediction for 2014: Bring Me The Horizon will be big in the USA. And Gemini Syndrome will be big in the UK.

Let's get this year started.

And thank you, Mr. Bathory. Friend.

If you like Macklemore...

... check out Matt Van Sol (previously known as SpitNice or Spit NYC):



Here's just one example: "Toxic" (Explicit/Parental Advisory/whatever warning you need)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Rock the zoo. Sacramento zoo and its rock stars.

"Are you shooting a show tonight?"
"No... nothing on. Bored. Maybe I'll go to the zoo."

Truth was, I'd seen someone-else's collection of black-and-white zoo-animal photos online this week, very highly-contrasted images, and I thought I'd "borrow" the idea and see what happened to it. That's how you learn and improve... see photos you like, play with the idea, see if you can do the same (or better), but usually find you are putting your own spin on it anyway and it turns into something unique.

The black-and-white concept bit the dust the moment I saw the flamingos. (Zebras don't count.) So I just shot from my own perspective... and guess what. Zoos are just like rock concerts.

There's the up-the-nose shot.
Sacramento Zoo giraffes

There's one of the stars (usually the drummer) who's hiding behind stuff, where light is not always perfect, and autofocus is useless. (This star is called Red Panda and it's the only part-decent shot I have of him/her.)

Sacramento Zoo Red Panda

The great moments when you capture members of the band as they play together, having fun.

Sacramento Zoo giraffes

The in-your-face-mouth-wide-open moment...

Sacramento Zoo snow leopard

... and all the long-legged dressed-up-pretty girls hanging out together and looking at their reflections...

Sacramento Zoo flamingos

That guy with the mohawk and goatee and loads of ink, standing close to the stage. He's always there.

Sacramento Zoo zebras

Even my obsession with close-ups of the performers' hands.

Sacramento Zoo chimpanzee

But darnit. I really, really thought I'd get away without a Miley moment...

Sacramento Zoo giraffes

More pictures of Alison Toon | Photographer's music photography can be found at

More pictures from today's visit to the rock star inhabitants at Sacramento Zoo can be found at in the Toon's Tunes gallery.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Photographer's choice: Zenfolio or PhotoShelter? Or... PhotoDeck? Yes, please!

UPDATE, Jan 25th: It's taken about two weeks for the images to be fully re-indexed and made searchable through Google, with the new location taking precedence over the old server (with consequent broken links). I can breathe again now! Yes, I recommend PhotoDeck. Use my discount code if you want to try it, you'll receive 50% off your first month!  YG@UTGRCO

UPDATE, Jan 2015: I have finally moved, copied, or more accurately, re-exported from Lightroom and then made a new import to PhotoDeck, all of the photos that were stored on Zenfolio. This weekend, I migrated my domain name. It was not painless. It was a huge amount of work, and now that I've migrated the domain name, I have to go and fix each and every blog post that had an embed from the Zenfolio site. So it's still not finished.

BUT... the images on the new were showing up in Google search in under 24 hours! "Not a Zenfolio issue", I was told, over and over again. Yeah, right... Conclusion: PhotoDeck is much more expensive, and it takes a heck of a lot of time and effort to migrate once you're already established somewhere else. But the SEO improvements, the licensing and sales functionality, make it well worth it. Don't forget: use the code below if you're trying PhotoDeck. You'll get a discount!

 UPDATE, Sept 2014: I'm in the process of migrating all my photography, and my domain, to PhotoDeck, It is going to cost considerably more than Zenfolio--and that is a big downside--but the major upside is that photos are now being indexed and found, almost immediately. The PhotoDeck functionality for stock photographers is just what I was looking for. (If you want to see the work-in-progress, go to Once all the photos are moved and everything has been redirected, I'll move the domain too and it will go back to

Try it and see!  Use this coupon code to get 50% off your first month: YG@UTGRCO

ORIGINAL POST, Jan 2014: I've been hosting my photography portfolio on Zenfolio for over a year now: The music can all be found at I really like the ease of managing the site, and the way I can design it to look the way I want it. I like that I can create URLs specifically to sets of photos--URLs that make sense, like or or But I don't like the SEO. Really, I don't.

I've had an ongoing discussion with the Zenfolio support team (who always reply to support calls very, very quickly, even if it is me rattling on again about SEO). Individual images on Zenfolio sites do not appear to be indexed by the major search engines. I believe that this is, in part, due to Zenfolio's site maps only reaching the gallery level--the collection of images--and not each page of the site which contains each image's own, often-unique, keywords and text. Despite all my best efforts at keywording, tagging, labelling and otherwise adding text wherever possible to enable good searching, I cannot find any way for Google, Bing etc. to identify and find individual images. (If you Google some of my pictures, you'll find that they are either found on this blog,, or if they are found on, they are tiny thumbnails, found on a gallery page and not the image or image pages themselves.)

So when I saw info about PhotoShelter's advanced SEO and free trial, I thought I'd try it out and compare with Zenfolio. Here are the results. I'm not including price in here because it wasn't a big concern--functionality was the priority.

What I loved about PhotoShelter:

- Setting up licensing and prices. As a mostly editorial photographer, I have to be sure that the licensing is correct and that editorial images are not sold for commercial purposes. PhotoShelter not only makes it easy to set up licencing in many different forms, it also uses pricing from fotoQuote(r) to help you to choose your pricing--not essential, but a helpful indication of the prices you might charge.

- The concept of image-page-level sitemapping, and automatic upload of the sitemap each and every week to Google. However, after more than a week using PhotoShelter, I did not see any of my PhotoShelter images appear in Google searches, but I know that I had not given it enough time to really test it. Would be interested to hear from other editorial photographers about their success.

- Image security. It's really difficult for anyone to copy photos with the PhotoShelter security settings. Of course, there's always a way around it, but what PhotoShelter does makes it really difficult to "borrow" a decent image. But...

What I did not like about PhotoShelter:

- Online image quality. When I exported the same photos from LightRoom and uploaded them to both Zenfolio and PhotoShelter, the quality of the image as displayed by PhotoShelter was just bad. Many of my concert photos are taken in (very) low-light environments, and PhotoShelter appears to increase the noise that I've spent ages cleaning up. And Zenfolio does not. (I've printed poster-size prints from my Zenfolio collection, so I know that the images themselves are fine. This is just down to how PhotoShelter renders them for the internet.)

- The time lag between uploading photos, and seeing them on the site. I.e., if I uploaded an image, saw that it looked horribly grainy, worked on it a little more, uploaded the same image again... the first version would remain on view for hours. And hours. PhotoShelter support told me that it can take up to 24 hours and that this is expected behaviour. And there's a time lag or a bug in how gallery links are displayed to visitors versus a logged-in photographer, too, but I didn't get to the bottom of that one (and yes, all the galleries were set to visible).

- The very limited functionality for design of my web pages, in comparison to Zenfolio. While PhotoShelter has new layouts, and some of them are really nice, there's a limited selection and limits to what you can do with them.

So... my decision is, for now, to stick with my Zenfolio-hosted site. And keep working on the SEO. I'm told that the more people visit my site, the better the SEO will be... even if there isn't an image-level sitemap. I'm sceptical, but if you'd visit the site, or link to it from yours, you might help me out.

Go visit! 

People of Aftershock 2013

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Philip H. Anselmo, live and alive

A friend, a wise man (or is that a wise guy) once said that parents shouldn't like all the same music as their kids. His theory: if you can have discussions and learnings and meaningful disagreements about musical differences, you always be able to have discussions and learnings and meaningful conversations with them about everything else that matters in life. (Thanks, Geoff, I hope you don't mind my borrowing that.)

My introduction to Pantera and Mr. Anselmo was not through my own musical journey, but by means of loud music escaping my then-teenage daughters' bedroom walls. This was their music, as was Metallica and NIN and a few others. That's how I learned to appreciate this generation of metal, while they had learned Sabbath and Budgie from me and mine. (They are adults now, and we all have very varied musical tastes... but rock and metal and progressive are still at the core.)

So, of course, I had to jump at the opportunity to see Phil Anselmo and his latest band, The Illegals, when they came to town last night.

Great, great show. 

Phil Anselmo has such a strong, but approachable, presence. He's funny and he's kind. He was teasing one of the security guys because he looked "too young to know all my music", and asking people in the "old-school anti-clockwise" mosh pit to pick up their brothers and sisters if they fall, because we're all here to have fun not get stomped. (I thought mosh pits were like plug holes and the direction of water and depended on longitude, not time... but now I know.)

He made me laugh. I wasn't expecting that.

With his recording company Housecore, Phil Anselmo is involved in projects non-stop; supporting and encouraging new musicians (but also telling them to do their own thing, not copy his). He's been through a lot of physical pain and probably does so every day (my photo pass has a picture of screws in vertebrae and metal holding a spine together, and that just had to hurt). No doubt the life of a touring musician is a challenge at times, but it didn't seem a problem last night, on stage at Sacramento's Ace of Spades, with an audience of young and older and my-age too, enjoying one of the greats of heavy metal.

Just one request... next time (and there will be a next time, right Phil???) can the show be on a Friday? So that this town and it's working people can give Anselmo the full-house, all-night-long, raucous Sacramento treatment he deserves? Or maybe... Aftershock 2014????? Now wouldn't that be cool. Maybe we should suggest it.

Great show. So glad I went. My daughters are jealous.

More photos from the show can be found in the gallery on 

Author & Punisher. Wow. Seriously.

Just when you think that you've heard every type of music, seen all there is to see of instruments, become a little jaded by bands who sound a little-too-much-the-same... along comes Author & Punisher.

Wow. Just WOW!!!!

Supporting Philip H. Anselmo (he of Pantera), Author and Punisher was the second act at the Ace of Spades last night. I hadn't done much by way of my usual research, was expecting all metal, and was wondering what the heck that contraption was, squatting heavy and menacing, like a rough mock-up of a Geiger sculpture or Alien film set, on a carpet in the middle of the stage.

Part keyboard, part metal and wires and torture instruments, part man, part impossible. All music to my ears.

Tristan Shone -- for he is all of Author and Punisher, creator and engineer and musician and mastermind -- took his place not behind, but inside, the contraption, the instrument, the music. Author and Punisher is a one-man-band, but not a one-man-band like any seen before. He is wired in and connected and part of the machine, so much so that at times I was wondering about electric shocks.

The labels are "industrial doom" and "drone metal"; I don't think that does it justice. It's the creepy sound of the inner workings of the machine that spews nightmares. It's the groaning of planets as they align on the darkest night, and the spawing of new universes. It's the music of the factory, after all the workers have gone home, and the metal itself has come to life.

Sometimes I expected to see steam, smell methylated spirits, and to be transported to an H. G. Well's future, with top hats and dress coats and Tripods. The light/video show behind the machine-man combo added to the atmosphere. The audience, at first distant and tenuous, grew closer and louder and more appreciative with each and every song. If you can call man-machine-electronic-torture a song?

I can and I will call it music. Some of the newest, most interesting music I've heard in a long time, and very powerful kick in the open-your-mind area.

Wow. Seriously... Wow.

Anyone looking for a movie soundtrack should put Author and Punisher on the list for immediate review. And the album Women & Children is available, now. Go listen. It's for you.

More photos from this concert, see the gallery on 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Alt-Country (and not Cntrl-Alt-Delete). Think Springsteen meets Nashville.

I hadn't heard of "alt-country" prior to this week, and apart from a few minutes touring websites and YouTube, had heard nothing of either Cody Canada and the Departed, nor of American Aquarium. I think most of Sacramento must have been in the same position--and maybe even less adventurous than I, because there were very few people who ventured to the show last night. And that's a real shame.

Cody Canada and The Departed at the Ace of Spades, Sacramento
The night started with American Aquarium, who come from Raleigh, North Carolina, but who--if websites and review sites are to be trusted--spend most of their days on the road, dodgy bar to dodgy bar, hotel room to hotel room, playing one venue after another... and while doing so, building up the material to write their latest album, Burn.Flicker.Die.  Hard talk about a hard life.

Whit Wright, American Aquarium

BJ Barham, American Aquarium

Think Springsteen's Nebraska with the plaintive, beautiful pedal/lap steel guitar of Whit Wright weaving its way through the night. BJ Barham is a strong frontman with a voice that is perfect for these songs. I really did enjoy American Aquarium's set; while they are not the most visually-active live show, the music is entrancing.

American Aquarium
Headline act was Cody Canada and The Departed. More rock than American Aquarium, with lively, old-school guitar solos and a frontman not afraid to make eye contact with his rapt audience, the show really rocked.

Cody Canada and The Departed

This is my kind of country. This is my kind of rock-and-roll. It's crossover and it's easy and it's fun. It's the sort of music a tourist expects to find playing in an American roadhouse in the middle of nowhere, where Patryk Swayze and Sam Elliot might be hanging out with Jeff Healey playing inside a cage because of the beer bottles being thrown.

Cody Canada
If you weren't there last night--I know you weren't, I would have seen you, but I only saw the guy-in-the-overcoat one-hand-dancing near the stage and a few other "interesting" Sacramento characters, not you--check out Cody Canada and The Departed's website, and also back catalog from Cross Canadian Ragweed.

(Can't explain it but Cody Canada reminded me of Steve Vai. Not the guitar style; more his presence and looks. That's not a bad thing, now is it.)

Cody Canada
I enjoyed the show, and yes, I'd very much like to see both bands again. Preferably with the bigger audience that they both deserve. But without BJ Barham's comments about wanting meth and/or cocaine or something to "make my eyes pop". I don't know if it was supposed to be amusing, or if he was soliciting speed. It didn't come across as funny. There were kids in the audience. While thoughts of addiction and getting high apparently fuel some of the band's lyrics, the only place where meth is funny is in Breaking Bad, and even there, sometimes it's a stretch. But heck, that's just my opinion. Oh but while I'm on a rant, can we up the light level next time please, and forget the pink??? Why does there seem to be a direct relationship between the number of people in the audience, and the amount and quality of light directed at the stage? Forgive me, the pictures are really grainy because there was little-to-zero light and most of it was PINK. If you want to know why pink's bad, ask me. It's got nothing to do with ribbons and bows.

For full sets of photos from both bands, follow these links to Cody Canada and The Departed photo gallery on and American Aquarium's photo gallery. The drummer pics are a little different. Yeah... ask me about the light again.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Zardonic, EDM and it's all about the dance

I rarely go out of my way to listen to EDM, electronic dance music. It's something that happens in nightclubs, right? DJ's reusing someone-else's music?

But just last week I was introduced to Zardonic. Part of me was whisked off to the nightclubs in Grenoble, France, where we'd go on a Friday or Saturday night to dance and dance and dance. Part of me was wanting to research more of Zardonic's incredibly-inventive and almost-hypnotic music. The other part? It was already dancing.

Billed as "South America's favourite Extreme Dance Music artist", Zardonic recently remixed Figure's "Are you Afraid of the Dark?". He calls his style "bass metal", and it's compelling in the extreme. He's been touring Europe and that makes total sense to me.

Check this out: the "aftermovie" of the Europa Beyond Bass tour.

Hear and discover more on the website: 

I'm off to dance. Again.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Of 'flu, and firecats, a wild world and a hard-headed woman

While desperately fighting sleep-inducing 'flu-and-bronchitis this week, trying to stay awake after 7 pm and not mentally-able to focus on anything requiring an ounce of concentration, I remembered the DVD I'd picked up at a recent vinyl-hunting trip to Dimple Records.  One of my favourite records of all time--Cat Stevens' "Tea for the Tillerman", live in concert, and I'd never seen it before--there's very little available in the way of live video recordings. Recorded at the KCET Studios in Loc Angeles on 8th June 1971, it's simple, warm and gently beautiful.

Just Cat and his guitar, guitarist Alun Davies, and Larry Steele playing bass and congas, it's a reminder that music doesn't have to be complicated to be beautiful. It doesn't have to be angry to be meaningful. And it doesn't need to be violent to be thought-provoking.

Still stunning after all these years. "Wild World" and "Hard Headed Woman". "Where Do The Children Play?" asks questions that we should be asking now, today, every day, until we get the answers right. "Father and Son", the timeless quest of generation after generation--both to find our own truth, and to protect our offspring from the mistakes we know are out there.

And "Hard Headed Woman", a song that so many of us tried to live up to.

Cat Stevens still makes thought-provoking music, but since 1978 he has been called Yusuf Islam. You can hear more on his website:  His later music is still beautiful, but for me there's something really special about Tea For The Tillerman and Teaser and the Firecat. They are woven into so much of my life in so many ways.

The DVD "A Classic Concert CAT STEVENS Tea For The Tillerman Live", was released in 2008 and is available from Amazon if you can't find it in a local store. It also includes an animated movie of Teaser and The Firecat, also made by Cat.

Track listing:

- Moonshadow
- On the Road to Find Out
- Where do the Children Play?
- Wild World
- Miles from Nowhere
- Longer Boats
- Father and Son
- Hard Headed Woman.