UNION playing cards

•January 29, 2016 • Leave a Comment

My favourite deck of playing cards changes from time to time. Generally it happens when I get a new set of decks, or a kickstarter pledge arrives and I remember why I pledged for it in the first place.

The UNION deck from Theory 11 though, is one that turned up before Christmas, and has become my new favourite. It truly is a beautiful deck of cards, simple in design, but with a gorgeous tuck box, and the usual air cushioned finish.

The quality starts with the tuck box itself…

The tuck has a beautiful finish, with foiling and embossing all over. I hope the pictures show quite how nice it is. Once the cards themselves come out, you can see that they have a very stylish number and pip design, along with some stylised and attractive court cards. The back, which is a flat version of the design on the reverse of the tuck box, is also classy; clear, straight lines with gold and red/brown colouring.

It really is a wonderful deck to handle – to shuffle and to spread. I can’t recommend these cards enough. If you have a weekly card game going on, there’s no better way to make it a bit classier than to get yourself a deck of UNIONs to play with.

The UNION deck is made and sold by Theory 11, here. However, as this is quite a popular deck, you can also obtain it from a number of other sources, including JP Playing Cards in the UK, right here. I’m pretty sure you will also be able to find the UNION deck on Amazon, and eBay, as always.


January’s Spotify Discover Weeklies

•January 29, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Rather than posting my Monday Discover Weekly playlist every week, I thought I’d collect them all together and put up some links for the whole month. So January has brought four new Discover Weekly playlists. I can’t honestly say I’ve listened to these – just had a bit of a flick through to see if there was anything that caught my eye. I’m hoping that I’ll get a chance to play them out and have a good listen in the next few weeks.

So here’s your eight hours of Spotify Playlists for January. Enjoy.

4th January 2016

11th January 2016

18th January 2016

25th January 2016


New Music Day

•January 22, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I picked up a couple of new CDs this week (says the old fart who still likes physical media). I know the kids are all buying things via download services these days, but if I like an album, I do still like to have a physical copy. This is mainly because I like to rip all of my digital music to FLAC format these days. Amazon should be dropping them through my door later today.

Two of them came out in the last week: Night Thoughts by Suede is out today, and Not To Disappear by Daughter came out last Friday. Shulamith by Polica came out a while back, but I picked it up cheap as a lead in to the new Polica album coming out soon.

And as if by magic, you can actually listen to all three via the magic of Spotify…

Polica – Shulamith

Not To Disappear – Daughter

Night Thoughts – Suede

The Daughter album is growing on me. I’ve listened to it a couple of times now (mainly in the car on my drive home, so not ideal conditions), and I had my first listen of the Suede album, which sounds pretty good (although it was also a ‘car listen’). I haven’t listened to the Polica album yet, but hoping to listen to them all properly this weekend.


David Bowie RIP

•January 16, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Monday 11th January was a bit of a weird day. After having come down with a cold late on Sunday night and feeling as rough as a badger on Monday morning, I was expecting to spend the morning in bed being grumpy, coughing, spluttering and consuming lemsips (other cold medicines in a cup are available).

My alarm went off at about five minutes to seven (timed so I can catch 6 music’s Shaun Keaveny generally being a bit miserable and sounding unprepared as he takes a handover from Chris Hawkins). Rather than the usual short-tempered banter, all we heard was a handover saying that Shaun would be next.

As we were about to discover, news was just reaching BBC 6 Music that David Bowie had passed away that morning, the Monday after his 69th birthday, and only a few days after his most recent (and now, sadly, final) album Black Star was released.

I can’t claim to be a huge Bowie fan. I’ve never seen him live, and I’ve never bought one of his albums (or listened to one of them all the way through on Spotify). However, I am aware of the huge influence he had on bands and artists around the world, and there’s a surprising number of his tracks that I would always consider throwing on or including in a playlist.

What became clear on Monday morning though, was quite how much he meant to so many people. If ever you wanted an example of when DJs and music fans acted as one, then I would invite you to have a listen back to how Shaun Keaveny and Matt Everitt, followed by Lauren Laverne and Mark Radcliffe handled the news on iPlayer (UK only).

There’s a great article on the Guardian which documents the behind the scenes activity as the news came through. It makes me proud to be a listener of 6 music and Shaun Keaveny’s show in particular. Commercial radio couldn’t have come close.

For those who never appreciated his versatility (like me!), there are some great playlists on Spotify – the “This is: David Bowie” playlist of 50 tracks, as well as a “Best of Bowie” collection which was released in the last few years, but still contains some of his most iconic tracks. This is where services like Spotify, Deezer, et al come into their own. Streaming of Bowie tracks increased by 2000%+ on Spotify. I can now listen to any or all of his back catalogue at the click of a mouse. Brilliant.

Arcana Tarot Playing Cards

•January 16, 2016 • Leave a Comment

As I mentioned in a previous post, a lot of playing card decks come in pairs, with either a light/dark theme, or more commonly a red/blue variation. It’s a relatively simple way of offering multiple variations (and raising twice as much cash!) without too much effort on the part of the artist. If you collect cards as I do, you hate to only have one of a set!

One of the best light/dark deck combos that I’ve picked up in the last year is from another small card designer, the brilliant Dead On Paper. I’ve recently managed to pick up a deck of their previous design – Midnight Calaveras (the standard Calaveras deck seems sold out everywhere, and rapidly going up in value), and I’m sure they’ll feature on the blog at some point in the future. All the cards are designed by Chris Ovdiyenko.

But the deck I want to focus on here is the brilliant Arcana deck. It’s marked as a set of ‘Tarot’ playing cards, which sounds a little odd. There are Tarot Cards, and there are Playing Cards, but upon examining the tuck case and the artwork on the cards themselves it all becomes clear.

The detail on the tuck boxes is truly brilliant, with raised lettering and a raised & detailed Ouroboros (snake eating it’s own tail). It’s hard to show in these photos quite how brilliant the definition is, but hopefully I’ve been able to capture how great the details are before you’ve even taken the cards out of the box. When you open the box, you also see the foil interior, which is a classy touch. Once the cards come out, you’re able to see quite how brilliant the artwork is. There are customised aces and royalty for all four suits, and an exceptional four jokers, which are Tarot cards. Here are some shots of the light deck:

It’s hard to decide whether I prefer the light or dark decks. The red suits really pop on the dark decks, and they have a brilliant ‘scratched’ appearance. Here are some shots from the dark deck:

Here’s a close-up of the some numbered cards from the dark deck, with the brilliant ‘scratched’ appearance:


The cards, as always when printed by the USPCC have the air-cushioned finish, and slide and shuffle brilliantly.

I can’t speak highly enough of these cards. To me, they are one of the finest examples of the reason you can call decks of playing card ‘art’. The close-up detail of the court cards is fantastic – Chris Ovdiyenko is without doubt a brilliant artist/illustrator and his style suits these cards perfectly.

Alongside the decks of cards, I also managed to pick up a couple of brilliant ‘occult’ style coins as part of the kickstarter, which are available direct from the creator. I’d highly recommend you check those out too as a nice addition to the decks.

If you want to pick up a couple of these decks for yourself, they’re available from a variety of sellers, such as JP Playing Cards (in the UK), or directly from the creators on their website, Dead On Paper.

I’m planning on keeping my eye on these guys on Kickstarter. I can’t wait for their next deck!


Last Week’s Spotify Discover

•January 4, 2016 • Leave a Comment

One of the great things about Spotify is that every Monday morning there’s a brand new 2 hours-ish playlist generated for you based on stuff you’ve listened to, and stuff you might like.

It’s often surprisingly accurate. The only thing is that it updates every morning – so if you want to save the playlist you have to copy everything into your own version of the playlist, or it just disappears into the deep dark depths of t’interwebs.

I’m planning to try and save all of my weekly Discover playlists in 2016, but here’s my last one from 2015. I’m not vouching for it’s quality, though!

Rich’s Spotify Discover Weekly  Playlist for 28th December 2015


The cards that started it all…

•January 3, 2016 • Leave a Comment

The very first decks that I saw that turned me on to collecting custom playing cards was a deck from quite a small producer. I hadn’t gone looking for playing card on Kickstarter, but a videogame producer that I follow on Twitter (Brian Fargo of InXile Games) tweeted a link to this set of cards, and when I saw the artwork I was impressed at how great they looked in comparison to the very dull and formulaic playing cards that I had in my cupboard for, y’know actually playing cards with.

As with a lot custom decks that you find out there, the Bicycle Illusionist deck comes in two colour variations (light and dark in this case). A lot of decks come in variations of red/blue or light/dark, if not more. As an example, I now have four different colour variations of Theory 11’s Monarch deck (Gold, red, green and black, with the gold being very limited in number). The colour variation tends to refer to the backs and the tuck cases only, although light/dark variants often have the face cards represented differently too.

If you haven’t handled playing cards much since you were a kid, you may well be surprised by how smooth the cards are – they often seem to float (this is down to the finish applied to the cards as part of the production process).

There a quite a few major card producers around the world, but probably the most famous is the USPCC – the United States Playing Card Company. The USPCC have a long history of producing playing cards (you can read more here), but they are most well known for the Bee and Bicycle card brands. A large proportion of the decks I started picking up have the Bicycle branding, both as a mark of quality and for the way the logo looks on the tuck boxes themselves. More recently though I decided to move away from exclusively picking up decks with Bicycle branding, purely because I didn’t want to miss out on some tremendous decks of cards with great artwork.

So to get to the main point, the very first set of decks I pledged for on Kickstarter were the Bicycle Illusionist deck (I think a couple of other decks arrived just before them, so they don’t count as the very first decks I picked up). It was a combination of both the quality of the artwork on the card backs, as well as the design on the court cards (the Jacks, Queens and Kings, and sometimes the Aces) that drove me to backing them on the crowdfunding site. The artwork for the Illusionist deck was by the American artist Megan Wyreweden.

Here are a few shots of the cards to explain what I mean…

If anyone is interested in picking up a couple of the decks, they are still available from a number of sources:

From the original designer at Lux Playing Cards

or from Amazon or eBay

They’re definitely amongst my favourite decks, and will always be special as the decks that first got me started.