Friday, 30 October 2015

The Jeremy Broun Compact Toolbox

       I've got a little behind with the blog thing and partly because I have been very busy re-designing my website and separating out my furniture design activities from my woodworking publications as they are obviously aimed at two different markets. The latter now sit on an online store using a Wix website and it is called Woodomain. That is where I sell my books, DVDs, E-books and my more recent online video documentaries.  

       What spurred me to update my blog was the uplifting experience and renewal of 'faith in human nature' feeling that a design for a toolbox I gave for free on my YouTube channel I made just one request in return - that I was credited as the person behind the design concept. Not only have a few variations of my design appeared on the internet but their creators have mostly acknowledged me as requested and in an age of open source file sharing and 'everything is free on YouTube' it is an appreciated courtesy. 

The JKB Compact Toolbox

        I say this because back in 1984 I gave permission for readers of The Woodworker magazine to make my Caterpillar Rocking Chair. A year or so later my original design appeared in Design magazine under the name of a sixteen year old woodworker who claimed it was his design! In today's complex world to protect an original idea or get a manufacturer to produce it is expensive and stressful and leads to sleepless nights. There are times in life when you surrender to the universe and simply give something and amazingly the universe rewards you.

The Caterpillar Rocking Chair Copyright Jeremy Broun 1984

      Well actually a surprising reward is in seeing how a few woodworkers have interpreted my toolbox design and in some ways improved it. I have picked out a few here and put names to them as best I can:

This one is by a woodworker called Alan Price who contacted me and sent some photos of his version as well as posting it on YouTube. A nice detail is the comb or finger joint along the edge.

This version was sent to me and I have mislaid the source but again it is a net variation with a multitude of uses.

A YouTube video by Dave Wirth using the JKB Compact Tooolbox idea

  Not everybody has acknowledged the toolbox is my design so a gentle reminder request was sent to Dave Wirth who has created this chipboard version!

I intend to produce an E-manual giving dimensions and constructional details of this toolbox for those who would like to build the original version.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

The freedom to busk in Bath

    The very same buskers who try to gag a fellow busker from talking to the broadcast media, claim their human right to freedom of expression on the streets! Busking is on the political agenda!

    What is fascinating listening to John Cleese reminiscing with Eric Idle (2015) is that the bizarre Terry Gilliam animations glued together the totally detached and meaningless Monty Python sketches into one brilliant seamless storyline. Ironically the Room (or was it ministry)for silly walks and the one for Arguments depicts the way our county councils and indeed many other organizations tend to work - disconnected thinking and a failure (or refusal) to deal with the bigger picture! The bigger picture about busking has not been considered. 

     I have for some time lingered in posting a blog about busking in Bath, but since it all went viral last summer about the rector of Bath Abbey having to stop a Sunday service because of a busker and the current pledge by officials to ban amplifiers, I'm going to say my piece. Suffice to say buskers wouldn't be heard above the frenzy of tourists outside the Abbey without a degree of amplification which is the lifeblood of many creative acts. 

   Here is a short video of a radio interview I was asked to do during that media frenzy. It is lighthearted (as the main political story had suddenly run its course) and I guess the slot for me to talk had already been set up so instead I gave a personal view about the freedom of playing guitar in a wide open space such as outside Bath Abbey: 

Addition November 2015: At 2 mins 29 secs in the video above I commented on the 'huge freedom we (in Britain) enjoy' in public spaces with terrorism in my mind as an inevitable occurrence and it happened in Paris where I have also enjoyed the freedom to busk.

    The second thing I'd like to say is that I was asked to speak on behalf of Bath buskers by various media because I look after The Bath Buskers website which its unwell owner asked me to take over a few years ago. The lesson I quickly learned was no good deed goes unpunished. I had previously been voted as a buskers rep and went on to design and formulate The Bath Buskers Guide. Part of my discussions with city officials was persuading them NOT to ban the selling of music CDs by buskers and I pledged my fellow buskers would sell CDs discreetly by putting two or three in a guitar case. Of course the exact opposite happened - most buskers completely negated the new guide (designed by me and 1,000 copies paid for by officials) and buskers blatantly put big signs up - CDs for sale £10, contravening street trading laws. Unbelievable stupidity based on greed 

    The point to this particular anecdote is that a year or so later, out of the blue a couple of buskers invited me to breakfast at a local hotel, handed me a bottle of wine and told me it was time for me to move on as I had been voted out of office (behind my back) as a buskers rep at a meeting. I later (in fact very recently) learned it was the same busker at the centre of the media story who had spread a rumour on the street that I had tried to get CD selling banned. No, I persuaded officials to allow buskers to carry on selling CDs and the deal was to sell them discreetly! Well, the same guy who ousted me, a few months earlier I did a favour for by fixing his guitar! In this next video (inspired by him) the lyrics for the song I composed around the very issue of freedom and noise that now three years later threatens the freedom and diversity busking in my home city!  

 I suppose it is somewhat contradictory that a guy like me - an innovator of furniture design, a person who lightheartedly mocks tradition as a British national treasure holding us back in the world and yet I defend passionately the traditional essence of busking - the travelling minstrel. I quickly realised with the dirty politics on the street that buskers are just like the super rich, it is just a more primitive form of protectionisn. And what we see today is a microcosm of society - a polarity between those who do it as artistic expression and if people give a few coins its a bonus and those professional slick buskers with glossy CDs making a business out of it. Of course they want to hog the pitches and exclude others from just turning up and playing - university students wanting to gain public performance confidence, outsiders and the homeless.

  Well, one Saturday my busking friend Gary phoned me up and asked me if I had heard of a gypsy jazz band called the Jonny Hepbir Trio who were sitting on benches with their guitars. I most certainly had and I told Gary that Jonny Hepbir is top of the British crop of world class gypsy jazz players and get him a pitch as his band were on their way to Bristol to play at a wedding. Well this next video speaks for itself about impromtu street performance which is what I think busking is all about:

    Crumbs, I got to play guitar with a guy who had played with Jimmy Rosenberg and Birelli Lagrene, arguably the two foremost players in the world. What a thrill and unreal because I managed to hold it together!!

    So the spirit of busking is a real treasure and curious how these same guys who tried to gag me from talking to the media (the guy in the Rules to be free video) were claiming their human right to freedom of expression. What is evident is how a minority group can get a voice (in the media) and mess it up for the reasonable majority.  

   Music is a wonderful gift - to be able to play by ear allows you to concentrate on expression. I learned so much as a busker after earning 20p the first time I tried it because I was so bad. I developed a survival technique when I forgot my chords by doing a Les Dawson, smiling and then finding my way back into the song.

   Over the years I have played on the streets of Bath with some real virtuoso musicians, backing them with my guitar such as my young Slovak friends who came back to stay with me one summer as this video shows:

    And yet the past two or three years I have not been able to turn up and play on the streets because all these local buskers stole all the pitches each and every day. I am not alone, others have been excluded but the good news is the gang has largely broken up and moved on from Bath, the bad news is the problems they caused that has upset the harmony of bath busking through their greed. Strangely I am the guy invited to speak by officials on behalf of Bath buskers (because they can't get any other buskers to attend!)  later this month at a public consultation workshop. I will propose a structured permit system I have spent a few months devising (it can be viewed at I don't represent Bath buskers, I represent what the website I am the custodian of states - 'Busking in Bath'. We don't own the streets, but we know them and set the example.

   So, when the local council holds a public consultation to ban amplifiers in three prime tourist areas and the rector of Bath Abbey understandably is fed up with it on his own doorstep, the problem is then shifted to other streets where shopkeepers are already pretty fed up and the council licencing department who are now issuing a daily indeed yearly CD selling licence that will actually encouraging a small number of commercial buskers to hog the streets with more repeat repertoires. Amplification will be dealt with in the room of silly walks.

  The challenge (for me almost as a lone voice) is to persuade linear thinkers 
who (with the media) refer to the 'busking community' in conventional terms when no such thing actually exists, that all the issues are actually connected and that the Room of silly walks is part of a building locked in Argument in a street called Chaos! How can a sledgehammer reactionary policy that actually compounds existing problems be argued when the deaf are leading the blind! There has to be a workable solution that brings harmony back on the streets and yet a 'them and us' attitude prevails when a few buskers including myself tried a few years ago to break down those barriers. Call me traitor to buskers but the stupidity of a few buskers has put the boot in for all.  

     Well I came up with a possible solution a few months ago for a structured permit system that accounts for amplification, the selling of CDs and addresses other issues to make busking fairer for everyone and respecting the church and shopkeepers' need for peace. And it hinges around the way the pitches are booked. Would it be fair if somebody wishing to shop in Bath in the afternoon to have to book a parking place at a set time early in the morning?  The problem is it is immediately rejected by council officials.

    Busking has become a political issue, when the fundamental issue is common sense, co-existence, thinking beyond the self and respect for others. I am no church goer but I am ashamed that a fellow busker who draws his audience from a grand church on whose land he plays does not have the respect that Sunday is a day of worship and rest for some. He is too pre-occupied with his false belief system that everything is about individual rights. Interestingly there is also a human right to peaceful enjoyment. Ah the lawyers are never short of work! 

     Some say nothing will happen, that enforcing laws are not that easy and and others say the protectionism will continue and the chaos comes to a head every hot summer with buskers fighting over pitches like pigeons swooping on food. I cannot understand why the sheer performing talent on the street and generosity of spirit of the music given out does not commute with the current mindset amongst many buskers. So what is this freedom? 

Thanks for reading. 

Sunday, 4 January 2015

The myth about antiques

     I have always joked about the phenomenon of "tradition" in Britain and that some kind of writ must have been included in the Magna Carta that thou shalt bow down and unquestionably succumb to the great furniture making practice fixed in time, being like Stradivarius violins - superior in ever way to anything that could possibly be made today! Oh, by the way, we fly rockets to planet Mars and perform micro surgery and implant 4D components into the human body! I'm just saying.  

     So I have my own theory about "tradition" - a haphazard random system of practice handed down through the ages by semi-skilled, half blind craftsmen often in remote rural areas and so poorly designed they have been subsequently bodged up by farmhands using angle iron and steel pins! This is not to mention the huge trade in fake antiques "distressed" with bicycle chains, shotgun pellets, induced woodworm and then dipped in sheep's urine to get the right patina!

     In essence the rich tradition of English period furniture was largely headed by royal courtiers who were despatched to the continent for new ideas to return to impress the monarch of the time, resulting in a mishmash of design styles throughout the ages! The discipline of one craft was imposed on another such as the linenfold panel found in church stonework but transferred to the craft of furniture. Stone and wood have entirely different working properties.

The claw and ball foot is an animal form and has nothing to do with wood or furniture and makes some pieces look as though they are confused which direction to turn whilst others look as though they are about to pounce on their owner.

    In contrast Scandinavian classic modern furniture such as Alvar Aalto's timeless laminated chairs echo the bending trees in the wind. Such furniture is based on human need rather than indulgence and inspired my Nature itself! 'Less is more' or as we in Britain say 'more is more'!

    Of course I am being hugely irreverent and making sweeping generalisations about antiques but I can honestly only pick out a handful of English designs that have any real structural integrity. One is the Windsor chair, paradoxically made by the High Wycombe forest "bodgers" but it is honest in construction.

   At the turn of the last century I was commissioned to design and make a piece of furniture for one of the great halls in England (owned by a member of the royalty) and looking around I saw pieces of furniture dating back to the 13th century. My modern piece was to sit alongside furniture conceived of centuries apart - I saw 16th century pieces there. We (the proletariat!) tend to lump all antiques together as 'old' and respectable and yet making a living as a furniture maker in my youth, I was up against the prejudice that old and new cannot mix when the furniture in question was within the same century, not centuries apart! 

   More recently, and this is what inspired this blog, is that a friend asked me to repair a Chippendale chair she owns that a rather overweight guest had broken in leaning back. I'm not sure the chair is an original but immediately I am faced with the conflict that on the one hand I can repair it because I can make/do anything with wood, but will my repair (that will put back the strength in the chair that never was there in the first place!), detract from its value?!! Fortunately my friend is more concerned with getting a rather pleasing looking antique chair back into service rather than about its value. This is refreshing as England is obsessed with this 'what's it worth culture'.

   On studying the chair I could see it would be very difficult to take it apart
without the risk of breaking it further. I could see old splits and repairs where the grain is short and dowels intruded to already weak mortice and tenon joints that further destroy the wood fibres. The essential principal for a strong joint is fibre overlap - demonstrated in my late twentieth century rocking chair with its massive halving joints.

   I know that with the router I can carefully do some wood surgery by replacing inserts with the grain following the original member but like the dowels they will be detectable as long elongated inserts made smooth to follow the contours and stained etc to match the original colour. I shall likely be making a YouTube video of my repair in due course as I did with this recent chair repair.

   The problem with many of the designs of yesteryear is there was little respect for the character (strength) of wood and its behaviour (timber movement) and whereas mahogany was favoured by the great designers of the past such as Chippendale and Hepplewhite for its readiness to take ornate carving, it is actually quite a brittle wood and not ideal for chairs.

  Few will take the trouble to understand a fundamental principle in woodworking that short grain should be avoided because it is weak as can be seen in the diagrams below:

   Of course antique furniture has a huge charm and I am seduced as well! One of my favourite pieces is the classic tripod table (below) and of course it would not be authentic if it did not invariably have a split across the solid wood circular top! Why? because the top is not fixed to the under rail by slot screwing which allows the timber to shrink and expand but has screws in round holes hence the wood has nowhere to go and splits! Equally there is short grain on the S bend legs because the grain has to run diagonally to achieve any kind of strength. There is often a steel re-inforcing bracket added below the legs. But it is inferior workmanship by the standards of today.

    I believe these prejudices still exist today despite the fact that I have lived through what future historians will probably refer to as a Golden Age of Furniture. My series of DVDs "Furniture Today" place the superb modern work being made today in a historical context, but unlike wines, architecture (eg Grand Designs TV programme) there is still huge public ignorance about wood and modern furniture culture. Why upset the status quo 'they don't make it like they used to'?!

We are yet to live in the Age of enlightenment!

I'm just saying.