Okay, this is a weird one but bear with me.
Do you ever feel lucky that you've discovered particular organisations or certain people? Organisations that do a good job? People that seem to have an integrity, that seem to go that extra mile? Organisations that you don't actually mind paying for the work that they do?
Well I think I've been lucky in a few such instances. Without being too pompous, what I want to try and do on this page is give them my personal recommendation and perhaps help them along a fraction (and also, in turn, potentially help you the reader). This isn't a question of helping friends and indeed friends or anyone else shouldn't ask to be put on this page: if your not on here, it's because it didn't occur to me and that's the criteria, simple.
Barry Framp has been my optician for more years than probably either of us care to mention. He introduced me to contact lenses when I was at Sixth Form College and I still believe they were one of the best things I ever bought. The aftercare after all this time has never been less than excellent. He now has his own opticians Bliinx.
The fact that when my car needs attention, I'm prepared to drive for an hour, leave it with Chris or one of his mechanics, and then cycle home for two and half hours must surely say something? A garage you can trust!
I found Robert's website quite informative and useful when constructing www.andrewshearer.com particularly with a view to keeping an eye on how search engines will see individual pages. I think he's also saved me spending money with third parties when I didn't necessarily need to.
I haven't found a better explanation of how the different music agencies interrelate in the UK. Lots of other great information on this site too.
I first discovered Brian when I was investigating setting up the shop on this site. I was seriously considering some software but had some concerns about a few things. Brian had written a very helpful piece which justified my concerns and confirmed that I shouldn't actually go through with the purchase. He also spoke favourably of BandCamp whom I'm now using.
I also discovered Brian had good advice on mixing and is actually a mastering engineer. It was him that I turned to when it didn't work out with the first mastering engineer I was using and thus far I have to say I've been vey pleased. Having worked with him, I think there are some key points that I would make: a) his communication is excellent (in spite of the time-difference); b) mixes that require attention aren't mastered and are returned for improvement; c) masters are made available via FTP for checking before the master cd is compiled; d) he has the patience of a saint (and you need it when working with me!).
Pete is a performer that I used to see quite regularly in the 90s. I was pleased recently to discover that he's still playing, in fact I would say better than ever. The "Human Jukebox" (as he is known due to the vast quantity of popular rock and pop songs he knows) is an excellent singer and guitarist with a great rapport with the audience. As I said in my blog, I've travelled far and wide seeing my musical heroes but rarely after a concert have I had a smile on my face as I did when I saw Pete play recently. If you see him advertised near you and are a fan of contempory music from the last 40 years, do yourself a favour and go and see him.
Okay, so I'm a bit reluctant to mention bands etc on this page because it runs the risk of putting the noses out of those that aren't included. However, I'm prepared to take some flak in order to mention this band. They played three songs at an open-mic night which Iwas playing at and I thought they were really great. I think they now have a regular spot at Deja Vu in Reading.
If you're looking for an enjoyable musical night out I'd like to recommend that you go to one of Vic Cracknell's gigs. I haven't been able to attend a dedicated evening of his yet (as of Nov '11) but he often finishes his open-mic "Vic's Buskers" sessions with a few songs and is excellent. With a repertoire of over 200 songs I'm pretty sure you're going to hear some of your favourites played live (usually with everyone singing along). His gig schedule can be found here.
Okay, another artist I'm willing to stick my neck out for fear of upsetting other artists that aren't mentioned here. Any description I give I don't think will do her justice (though if you want a "ball-park figure" I recently saw an act covering a Kirsty MacColl song and it reminded me of Paula) but there's a rawness and honesty about her lyrics which I find deeply affecting and they're all set to catchy melodies. Very rarely do I see or listen to an artist that frequently brings a lump to my throat but she is one. Actually, just listening to her music has made me realise what I like about Leonard Cohen's music (though they are very different) - actually possibly all my favourite artists: there's a "centering" / "grounding" quality to it. I realise people use music for different things but I suspect I listen to my favourite artists because it puts me back in "touch with myself". As I write this, I think Paula has just joined that gang of artists that I use for that purpose. It's high praise indeed but it doesn't feel like hyperbole.
Reading's very own comedy cowpunk. The comedy of Damien's work masks his great musicianship, songwriting and stagecraft both as a solo performer and fronting his band The Lovable Fraudsters. (He is also an integral member of the renowned Reading band Dolly And The Clothespegs). If you go and see Damien you're guaranteed an engaging and very amusing time with potentially songs amongst others about mail order brides, a road kill chef and (my favourite) diarrhoea in Mexico. (Damien also gave me some quite profound advice when I first started doing open-mics: "Just amplify who you are", which of course I tried, and everybody left...).
Okay in the spirit of full disclosure I should say that I've been doing some work with Rob. However he is one of the best live singers and performers that I know, both of his own work and covers. I've seen him entertain a hanger full of afternoon drinkers at Reading Beer Festival, locals in a pub, and hip university crowds. All of this is hardly surprising when you consider his experience fronting the prog rock band Arena and his own bands (currently Solar). He has in my experience also the best ears for a setting up a live sound and has been running the Bohemian Night open-mics in the Reading area for nearly twenty years. In addition to all of this I've seen him bring a great deal of joy to those that are mentally or physically impaired through his musical daycare sessions. A very talented guy.