Monday, 31 December 2012
I was pleased to be asked recently to write a piece for the excellent Stupefaction blog. A big thank you to Head Honcho, Tim Brown, for posting my Appreciation of Stephane Grappelli.
Saturday, 29 December 2012
We live in an age where we can say and broadcast almost anything. If the footage had existed the BBC would have reveled in showing us Andrew Mitchell cycling up to Plod and calling him a fucking pl*b. But it wasn't always thus. From George Formby to Frankie Goes To Hollywood, the Beeb have banned numerous recordings. This collection brings together 75 of them.
Friday, 28 December 2012
After the ups and downs of the last two years (a roller-coaster ride doesn't even come close), it was with a positive spring in my step that I came down the stairs in our new home this morning. Yes, a year older than yesterday morning but, with a sense, finally, of being in the right place (and, it feels to me, as near to the right time as powers higher than me have probably preordained*).
But, hey, it's just another birthday. Although not significant - but I would argue that any birthday is significant - I shall probably do all the usual things I've done on previous birthdays, shoehorned as it is between Christmas and New Year.
Before that I'll go around the house straightening all the pictures to this soundtrack. Well, I would if we'd got round to hanging them. But it is a stunning piece of music.
Igor Stravinsky: Pulcinella Overture
* Apologies if this comes across as pompous, it's just how I felt at 8 o'clock this morning.
Thursday, 27 December 2012
Writing and performing your own songs is great fun - you can fluff the words and/or tune and nobody's any the wiser. It's only when they take on a life of their own and people start singing them back to you that I'll start worrying. I'll get back to you on that one.
Therefore I'm a bit picky when it comes to covering other people's stuff: I avoid popular songs like the plague: the one cover on my Pickering Place EP is a very obscure Slade B-Side which even the writer Jim Lea would struggle to recognise as one of his.
But when I play Tom Petty's Walls, I don't change it at all. And the last time I saw Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby they played it with a straight bat too. It's just such a good song. Who couldn't be moved by the last verse:
Wednesday, 26 December 2012
Time was, you either had to be dead or the Monarch (or married into the Monarchy) to appear on a British postage stamp. Now you don't have to die at all; you just have to be able to regenerate. Either that or be a race of extraterrestrial science fiction mutants.
Monday, 24 December 2012
If you never received a Christmas card from us this year, please don't get bent out of shape. We've only just got straight after moving house and writing cards wasn't exactly our number one priority.
But if you did, I'd like to think that we would have at least put your name(s) in the card and, maybe, even a little note personal to you.
Anyway, normal service will, I hope (if the fates allow) be resumed come Christmas 2013. And, anyway, I might surprise you by sending you a postcard before then. I may even ring you.
Tuesday, 18 December 2012
For one very brief moment, in the absence of James Bolam, I was a Likely Lad. Rodney Bewes was Bob and I was Terry; a surrogate Terry, anyway.
Saturday, 15 December 2012
The delightful Holly Taymar headlined the main stage at Pickering Acoustic Music on Wednesday night; those who stuck two fingers up to the freezing temperatures outside were rewarded with one of the finest singers ever to appear at North Yorkshire's most revered music venue.
Joined by the obscenely talented Christopher Bilton she played some tasty covers, not least a stripped down version of Sheffield anthem Common People, as well as some of her own sensuous tunes - many from the new CD Never Winter Mind (Part Two). From which she sang the best song I've heard all year. And I've heard a few. It's called The French One; Holly says it's because it sounds French. (Naming songs may not be her forte: the first song on the album is titled Song One).
Holly Taymar & Christopher Bilton: The French One
Wednesday, 12 December 2012
A couple of weeks back, on a social networking site no less, I all but accused one of the people in the above photograph of stealing a guitar. A very expensive guitar at that. And, I thought, he'd done it in a very Robin Hood sort of way. Some thirty years later he now informs me that he'd got an alibi for the night in question.*
This non-story together with, I hope, some real stories may well. one day, form the backbone of the tale of a very loud band who resided in a very quiet town. This is a story that will, If I can get my facts straight, chart the rise and fall (and rise again) of three likely lads who, back in the day, from the moment they turned on their Orange amps, made this young man's pulse positively race.
My research will be meticulous and my questions will be probing. I will leave no stone unturned. I may even have to buy two of the protagonists strong liquor to loosen their tongues. I say two, as nobody knows where the third one lives.
It's a tale that's been left untold for too long.
* Sorry Rocky!
Thursday, 6 December 2012
They say that getting a BT engineer appointment is like pushing a wet mattress up a spiral staircase. And they're not wrong: we moved house last Friday and still we have no phone or internet. Broken promises and faceless voices on the sub continent mean that we'll soon be entering week two without a service we were assured would be in place last week. Anyone who reads the Twitter feed on the sidebar to the left of this blog can get a flavour of how BT are handling this.
Monday, 19 November 2012
Not for the first time in my life, events appear to be moving a tad faster than I would like. Not only is there a house move to fit in before Chr*stm*s, but there's also the small matter of releasing my first EP.
Pickering Place will, all things being equal, be on sale from the second week in December (I signed off the artwork today - hence the cutting guides seen here). Comprising four JM originals & a Slade cover, and priced at a mere Lady, it will make the perfect stocking filler and/or shaving mirror.
If I was a major Hip Hop recording star I would now be thanking everyone from The Lord God Almighty down to the shoe shine guy on the corner of 32nd and Lafayette. However, I would just like to thank James Medd. His guitar playing was so sublime I nearly gave him a co-write. Nearly.
Watch this space in the coming weeks for release details, downloads, tour dates, TV tie-ins, record shop signings, kissing of babies, supermarket openings, etc. I will also be thanking, properly, my producer, Carl, and the other fine musicians who can be heard on this small but perfectly formed Extended Play.
John Medd: When The Sun Comes Up
Sunday, 11 November 2012
In the 60s & 70s Hull City Hall, as is borne out by the above photo, played host to anyone who was anyone. In 1970 The Who tore the roof off the place - the very night after recording what would become Live At Leeds. Roger Daltrey has always said that Hull was the better night of the two. But, fearing they'd lost John Entwhistle's bass part, the band ditched the recording - leaving The Who Live At Hull languishing forty years before it saw the light of day. Damn you Leeds.
Tuesday, 6 November 2012
Sunday, 28 October 2012
Rachael FoxEvans has a brand new album out. It's her first; Playground Of Dreams has been a long time in the making: I've heard each and everyone of these songs germinate - from the drawing board to the beautifully performed and produced finished product. Ten self penned acoustic vignettes are laid out before us; drenched in harmonies and some augmented with mandolin, Rachael's voice and guitar bring these delightful songs alive in a way I'm sure even she couldn't have dreamed possible if you'd asked her twelve months ago.
This is my favourite. And a timely reminder too.
Rachael FoxEvans: Don't Play With Fireworks
Monday, 22 October 2012
Reading John Harris' piece in Mojo, about the final days of The Jam, brought back memories of the two occasions I saw one of the new wave's most blistering bands up close and personal. At Derby King's Hall in late '77, still in their matching black suits, they were promoting their rather disappointing second album 'This Is The Modern World'. Still, they played everything off the first platter so nobody got bent out of shape when Bruce Foxton took centre stage and rattled off his turgid 'London Traffic'. And as for rumours that one of our party almost missed the bus home, the 53-seater we'd hired for the night, while allegedly being serviced by Mr Weller, must remain just that - a scurrilous rumour.
Eighteen months later at Leicester De Montfort Hall they were plugging the far superior Setting Sons; the suits were long gone and the songs far better. However, something was missing; they needed to fill their sound out - a problem that three pieces, no matter how powerful, invariably encounter. It was no surprise that not long afterwards they went out on the road with a horn section. And Weller was talking between songs now; in Derby I don't think the awkward eighteen year old muttered anything other than the odd 'Alright?'
I never saw them after that. But there's time yet. John Harris doesn't think they'll ever get back together. Paul Weller is adamant they'll never get back together. I'm not so sure.
Sunday, 21 October 2012
Poring over The Times yesterday, I found The Rodfather adorning the front cover of their glossy Saturday magazine; not looking too dissimilar from the above Radio Times shoot, I guess both snaps must have been taken at the height of his mid 70s pomp; i.e. when Rod looked every inch the sultry babe magnet who'd found himself a rock and roll band.
Despite not being musically relevant for sometime, his 1993 Unplugged set was a masterclass in how to deliver a back catalogue; a feather cut swan song, if you will. The wilderness years were only escaped by his foray into the classic American crooner songbook - an insult to any self respecting Faces fan and can only be seen for the money grubbing exercise his accountant no doubt told him it would be. I'm guessing that Rod, in his newly published memoirs, probably doesn't see it that way; leggy leggy blondes and train sets will probably feature more heavily than Steampacket or those early John Peel sessions.
But I'm not bitter. We'll always have Python Lee Jackson:
Friday, 19 October 2012
Chuck Berry celebrated his 86th. birthday yesterday. The man who all but invented rock and roll has lived. I mean really lived. When you've seen life from both sides of the prison bars it can't not have had an impact on you. Be it for having sex with a minor or just plain old tax evasion, Berry's spells of incarceration have never dulled his lust for life.
We were lucky enough to catch him live a few years back. His lateness was both two-fold and predictable: waiting to be weighed in (in cash - obviously) by the promoter before he's even plugged his cherry red Gibson in, and talking his backing band for the night (he'd never met them before the gig) through his illustrious back catalogue, meant that a 9.00 p.m. start was never on the cards.
But, when he finally did take to the stage, it soon became apparent why he was the first inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Happy Birthday Chuck.
Chuck Berry: Night Beat
Tuesday, 9 October 2012
When members of a pop group are prefixed by the word Messrs. you know right from the get go that the combo in question are most probably rockers. And if said combo had a definitive lineup then, like the humble Ford Cortina, they will have a Mark. So whenever Messrs. Gillan, Blackmore, Paice, Lord and Glover are mentioned in rock circles, everyone's on the same page: we're talking Deep Purple Mark 2.
But I'm not here to reignite the debate that probably still rages in rock clubs around the world about who was the best vocalist or banjo player; I haven't got time for all that nonsense. No, I'm here to set the record straight on something else entirely.
You see, for years I've been under the misapprehension that Machine Head - the 1972 long player brought to you by the above mentioned Messrs. (and an album I was spoon fed from an early age) - was but a three card trick. Namely, (the ubiquitous) Smoke On The Water, Highway Star and Jon Lord's Hammond heavy Lazy.
But I was wrong. So very wrong. Listening to it now, forty years after its release, the scales have fallen from my eyes. The stand out track is blindingly obvious. Isn't it?
Any fool knows that Maybe I'm A Leo knocks the rest of the album's oeuvre into a cocked hat.
Friday, 5 October 2012
We're going to see Field Music at The Cockpit in Leeds tonight. They remind me of XTC; especially on this year's Plumb. Andy Partridge writes songs at the bottom of his garden in Swindon. I don't know if brothers David and Peter Brewis write their material in their own sheds in Sunderland; they may well share a shed. Probably on an allotment.
Friday, 28 September 2012
The story of Peter Knowles is unique in football. At the age of just 22, Knowles, one of the finest inside forwards ever to grace a pitch, walked away from the game he loved and never came back.
Born on 30 September 1945 in North Yorkshire, his father was a card carrying egg chaser on the books at Wakefield Trinity. But as with a lot of kids, not least his older brother, future Spurs legend Cyril, Knowles played football in the Winter, cricket in the Summer. He was spotted by amateur side Wath Wanderers who were something of a feeder club for Wolves.
In 1963, at the tender age of 17, Knowles made his debut for the Black Country side. Wolves won 1-0 away at Leicester City and in his next game, a 2-2 draw with Bolton Wanderers, he scored his first senior goal for the club. By the end of the 1966-67 season Knowles was scoring for fun, including two hat tricks against Carlisle and Derby County. Wolves were Second Division runners up and were duly promoted to the First Division. Despite being injured in that first season he still managed 21 appearances, bagging eight goals. It was at this time he got called up for England Under 23 duty: despite rubbing shoulders with Peter Osgood, Martin Chivers, Joe Royle and Brian Kidd he wasn't phased by these players from high profile clubs.
In the close season Knowles was part of the British invasion to break soccer in America. Plying his trade in Los Angeles in a FIFA recognised mini league, Knowles once agian featured heavily on the score sheet. On his return to the UK, Wolves strengthened their forward line for the 1967-68 season with the legendary Derek 'The Doog' Dougan. But despite scoring 12 times they only narrowly avoided relegation; Knowles, with one eye on the upcoming Mexico World Cup, put in a transfer request. It was rejected.
Once again Knowles spent the Summer in America, this time playing for Kansas City - where inevitably he scored a clutch of goals. But this time when he landed back in Britain things were different. Very different. While he'd been in Kansas, Knowles had joined the Jehovah's Witnesses. 'I shall continue playing football for the time being' he announced, 'but I have lost my ambition. Though I will still do my best on the field, I need more time to learn about the Bible and may gave up football.'
Notwithstanding this bombshell Wolves got off to a flying start, winning seven of their first eight games; but the eighth match in that 1969-70 season, a 3-3 draw against Nottingham Forest, was the last game Peter Knowles ever played. All dreams of ever winning medals, silverware and playing for England were extinguished there and then.
Incredibly, Wolves kept him on their books for twelve more seasons: a succession of managers still secretly hoped that Knowles would go up into the attic and fish out his boots one last time. He never did.
Billy Bragg wrote a song about him:
Friday, 21 September 2012
Situated next to York Racecourse this year's York Beer & Cider Festival, showcasing beers from all over the UK (and a none too shabby 'Beers of the World' section), and the fourth festival to be held on the Knavesmire, is shaping up to be the best yet.
I shuffled along on Wednesday (Press Day) and witnessed brewers (major, micro and macro) together with sponsors, outlets (aka publicans) and end users (that's me and you) all raising a glass or two and discovering, quite literally, what makes ale real.
It was hardly surprising that Yorkshire brewers (pictured right) took centre stage; Wold Top, Saltaire, Leeds, Brass Castle, Roosters and Great Heck once again showed why many pubs in Yorkshire concentrate purely on indigenous beers. That said, it's always good to see southern brewers giving the northerners a run for their money - Brodies from east London and Itchen Valley in Hampshire were certainly holding their own.
Highlights? I can honestly say I didn't have a bad beer all day; and our programme certainly had plenty of scuffing up notes complete with footnotes and Enigma type legends. Anyway, here's my Top Of The Hops (sorry):
No.1 Knaresborough - American Style Milk Stout (7.0%). This stunning beer cleaned up on the awards front and rightly so.
No.2 Revolutions/Brass Castle - Cool for Cats (4.5%). They say sumptuous coffee porter. I concur. Probably because it's made with elements of:
York Beer Festival runs 'til Sunday 22 September.
Follow them on Twitter @beerfestyork
Saturday, 15 September 2012
In the summer of 1967 when Paul McCartney and the boys were off discovering India, acid and all things psychadelic, his old mucker from Liverpool, Gerry Marsden, wasn't having such a swinging time of it.
Despite The Pacemakers making history when their first three 45s went straight to Number One, the glory days were behind them. In '66 Marsden disbanded the combo and instead concentrated on the light entertainment end of the business. But when he stumbled across this little ditty penned by the Gibb brothers, Marsden got as near to putting flowers in his hair as he would ever get: it's Penny Lane and Fool On The Hill all rolled up together. And it's a belter.
Wednesday, 12 September 2012
The Wanktones (featuring Ersel Wank on lead vocals and guitar) have barely recorded (they released just one single and album); they dislike the studio because they have to pay for their own beer there and think that playing the same song over and over is time wasted that could be spent back on the farm.
Over the years there have been a few changes in the lineup. Floyd Glen Burnie (The Wanderer) replaced Elmer on bass after he died trying to drive his convertible through the liquor store window one Sunday (the plate glass severed his head a la Jane Mansfield). Later on Floyd Glen Burnie disappeared after a show with a redhead driving a car with Georgia plates - he was eventually replaced by the handsome local mailman, Hooter McFeeley. The Wanktones' biggest loss, however, was that of their boyhood chum, Bo Link. Bo's tragic death on the farm upset them so much that they quit playing music for three years. Ersel felt reponsible for Bo's death, for it was he who had souped up the electric milking machine to increase the daily output from the cows.
The Wanktones still occasionally play club dates in the Washington DC area but in the past these trips have always coincided with the purchase of tractor parts. A few years ago Del Marva (lead guitar and backing vocals) bought one of those Japanese tractors and the boys haven't been to town since.
The Wanktones: Intro
The Wanktones: Down The Line
Thursday, 30 August 2012
We gave our friend David a lovely send off yesterday. Readings and music in The Meeting House: Spanish Boots Of Spanish Leather and Walking With Glaswegians (David finally got to rub shoulders with Bob Dylan), to name but two selections. And then at the graveside - a Taize chant (All Of Us) and a Celtic blessing. When he was lowered into the ground we all threw a plectrum on to David's wicker coffin (my Ringo Starr one joined scores of others). The sun shone all afternoon, ensuring that when he knocked on Heaven's door David wasn't getting soaked in the, by now all too familiar, rain.
David E. Quinn: b. 6 March 1961 d. 19 August 2012
Thursday, 23 August 2012
At what point do you go from being a Best Kept Secret to a National Treasure? Bernard Wrigley is, you would like to think, currently transmogrifying from the former into the latter.
It's not often you get to see a really outstanding performer three times in two days. But that's precisely what happened at this year's Folk Festival at Saltburn-By-The Sea. Wrigley - musician, actor, raconteur, Bolton Bullfrog, played a totally different set each time, including an intimate 'meet the songwriter session' with Colum Sands and Marie Little.
His CV makes for interesting reading: from folk clubs in the north of England, straight acting including Beckett's Waiting for Godot and numerous Alan Bennett plays, through to lighter telly parts in Dinner Ladies, Emmerdale, Coogans Run and Phoenix Nights and his radio output with Mark and Lard, here is a man who doesn't let the grass grow.
We met after one of his gigs and I asked him if he'd mind doing a quick Q & A for the blog, so here we go:
On your passport, what does it say under 'occupation'?
Who's the better writer – Samuel Beckett or Peter Kay?
A bit like comparing Tchaikovsky with Burt Bacharach. You can't say one is better than the other, you can only say whom you like better.
Your act combines songs (self-penned and covers) and monologues (again, some of yours and some by other writers) – how do you choose a set list/running order before you play? Or do you just wing it?
I decide between what I fancy doing and what I think would be appreciated most by this particular audience. Then it's a matter of pacing the items. Serious ones are best sandwiched between lighter pieces etc.
Describe the folk scene in the 60s and 70s; was it thriving in the North West?
I came to it in the mid 60s. A large town, such as Bolton, could have a different folk club every night. Lots of folk based singers appeared on radio & tv alongside pop performers. Everything was more open then and different genres of music didn't have rigid boundaries. Today, everything's in its own cupboard. Despite the vast amounts of information available to us all through a click or a tap the media is more restricted than ever. Broadcasters are frightened of their own shadow.
Does your TV work help put a few more bums on seats when your tickets go on sale?
It seems to, especially with younger people who could have turned up because they'd seen me on Phoenix Nights, or older people who are great fans of Dinner Ladies.
What is it about the Bolton accent that lends itself to comedy?
It's blunt and rounded at the same time. Blunt in delivery since it doesn't mess about, each comment hitting the nail on the head. It's round because it rolls off the tongue in a friendly way.
Do you go down better in theatres or working men's clubs?
I never do working men's clubs. It's a completely different parallel world to folk music. When Dave and Bernard were 17 and starting to perform, it never occurred to us to perform in that world. We liked the intensity and the walled garden that is the folk club movement. Doing covers of pop songs never appealed.
Do they 'get' you in the south?
It's not the geographics, it's the reason why people have turned out. If they come to see you and listen at a village hall or a folk club then it doesn't matter where it is in the country. All you have to do as a performer is not to speak in your local dialect. It's standard english with a northern delivery.
Which CD and/or book of yours would you recommend as a jumping off point for a Bernard Wrigley virgin?
The 2 books of one verse poems are similar but different. As to CDs, some people go for the early Topic ones which contain more folk songs, and others want a live performance with the audience and a sillier content. I did "Ten Ton Special" & "Albert, Arthur & the Car Park" with both live & studio tacks for people who can't decide.
Apart from your goodself, I was bowled over by The Wilsons, Vin Garbutt, Marie Little, Colum Sands, Chris Sherburn and Denny Bartley. Who did it for you at this year's Saltburn?
As a performer you don't get to see everybody there. I was pleased to meet Colum Sands - lovely performer. Lady Maisrey have a beautiful sound. Missed the great Tom McConville this time. I'm a great fan of Jez Lowe. He's the greatest singer/songwriter we have in Britain. He's always keen to perform, as well, travelling the world. It's all a refreshing change compared to what's shown on mainstream TV. Cowell and that band of money grubbing tasteless pillocks could do to realise there's a world of stuff beyond the shallow shite they turn out.
Thank you for taking the time.
It's a pleasure!
PS. I've just told Jenny, my wife, about this Q&A and she asks if you ever got the gravy in Dinner Ladies?
No - turned out there wasn't any. At least that one line was a week in London!
Bernard Wrigley: The car park we parked at's too far
Wednesday, 15 August 2012
George Harrison was shot almost exclusively in monochrome in 1964; this snap from a Mike and Bernie Winters TV rehearsal in July was taken the week after A Hard Day's Night was released. It was the same week he pranged his new E-Type; I don't know, colour photography, E-Type Jags and Mike and Bernie Winters - it's enough to make any man loosen his tie.
Monday, 13 August 2012
Moving swiftly on, it was good to see The Rooms boutique B & B in Lytham St Annes get a great write up in yesterday's Sunday Times magazine. In its feature on the evolution of the full English breakfast, Andy and Jackie Baker's gaff is praised to the max. We stopped there last year and can honestly say that their breakfast lives up to its reputation as the finest in the country. Andy hits the nail on the head when talking about one of his local suppliers: "Janet comes down here with a tray of eggs that are still covered in shit, straight out of the chicken's arse. You don't get fresher than that." Quite.
Sunday, 5 August 2012
I've just read A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen. It tells of how a stray ginger Tom cat, quite literally, saved the life of recovering heroin addict living in sheltered accommodation in north London.
James Bowen's story charts when he first encountered Bob (at a bad time in both their lives) to busking together in Covent Garden, travelling on London buses together and sharing a flat together and is told in such a way that it's never mawkish - the redemptive qualities of their relationship comes off the pages very subtly. The book never shies away from the utter desperation and helplessness of a recovering drug addict but demonstrates that by putting purpose, and something to live for, back in your life can be the lifeline you need; you've just got to reach out for it when someone throws it at you.
Saturday, 4 August 2012
It's getting warm; time to go to the seaside. That means hopping on the (steam) train, a walk in the sand, a couple of pints and fish and chips sitting on the harbour wall. Train home.
Gotta go, the train leaves in half an hour.
Wednesday, 1 August 2012
I really wish I could raise enough strength to rail against the BBC for having every single TV channel, radio station and website tuned to '2012'. Propaganda doesn't even come close. And, please, don't get me started on what you can and can't take into the stadiums (stadia?), breathtaking opening ceremonies, ticket prices, empty seats, Seb Coe, badminton cheats, Olympic legacies, doping, medal tables, the greatest Olympian of all time, yadah, yadah, yadah.
I don't care. No, really, I don't.
The rest of the population can sit in front of their 52" surround sound entertainment centres and bite their nails to the quick while one man runs a little bit faster than the next or jumps a tad higher than him. I, meanwhile, will be seeking solace in any pub, cafe or drop-in centre that does not have a television. On the other hand, I'll probably just stay at home and thank the Lord that it will all be over in about the same time it takes some drug fuelled flossy to swim two lengths of the baths.
* We do appear to be good at sports that involve sitting down, don't we?
Friday, 20 July 2012
Veteran freeform jazzer Lol Coxhill sadly died this week. Outside of the jazz world he collaborated with many, many musicians including Kevin Ayres, Mike Oldfield and, even, The Damned; back in '77, with the notable exception of X-Ray Spex, the punks didn't know what to make of sax players - but on Music For Pleasure (their difficult second album) we found Coxhill and Captain Sensible getting along just fine, thank you very much. And of course, in this part of the world, everyone knows Lol from his appearances at The Shed, sometimes in a skip.
Sunday, 15 July 2012
Hurdy-gurdy, hugger-mugger, higgledy-piggledy, hocus-pocus, tit-for-tat, topsy-turvy, harum-scarum, roly-poly, nirvana, pyjamas, bungalow and juggernaut are proof indeed (no need to watch Goodness Gracious Me re-runs) that if these words didn't exist we'd have to invent them. It's still up on the iplayer if you missed it.
Sunday, 1 July 2012
After a family feud, not of my own making I must add, we've recently reestablished contact with my father's lovely younger sister, Margaret, and her husband; Brian has a significant birthday coming up, so we took over a card & and present and had a pub lunch with them both. Reaching eighty is no mean achievement and I told him as much. 'I guess it is' he said, 'I'll tell you next year if and when I get there. I'll only be seventy nine.' D'oh!
Many years ago, Brian was in The Parachute Regiment. If you look hard enough you'll see him (and loads more Paras) in 1953's Red Beret starring Alan Ladd. One of the many stories Brian tells is of his first package holiday to Spain in the early 70s - when the trolley dolly was serving him a beer he told her: 'This is the first plane I've ever been on that I've not had to jump out of.'
Happy Birthday Uncle Brian. And, anyway, every birthday is significant.
Sunday, 24 June 2012
Armed with little more than a rail ticket, some beer tokens, a pair of falling over trousers and my Oyster Card, I was making a whistle stop foray to the Thames Delta; you could say I was on a mission.
Travelling south on a Friday is easy; everyone's coming the other way. And the East Coast Iron Horse, sixteen coaches long, makes light work of the 200 miles that divide York and London.
Arriving at King's X a good ten minutes ahead of schedule I hot footed it to the place I always hot foot it to whenever I land in the capital; hidden away in a maze of streets between Euston Road and Grays Inn Road, I've seen The Harrison transmogrify from humble backstreet boozer to what is now a terrific bar/diner with fabulous beers, a simple menu and always great sounds. Steve and I have been coming here since we set up our company of the same name (we're both huge fans of The Dark Horse). In April of this year they opened a basement bar with music, cabaret and comedy turns - regularly selling out.
A couple of very pleasant hours passed before I look at my timepiece and realise we have an appointment with a very important dignitary: The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town. Let me explain.
I'd been told that there is, situated not a stones throw from Liverpool Street station, an establishment called The Breakfast Club. 'But I'll have already had breakfast' I told my friend on the inside earlier in the week. Not to mention the handsome lunch I'd put away at The Harrison. 'Listen' he said. 'Walk in, find a table and the waiter will ask for your order.' Nothing out of the ordinary here I hear you say. But here's the twist: when the waiter came I did as I was told: 'I'd like to see The Mayor, please' I said. 'Follow me' he replied. And this is where it gets spooky: he told us to follow him and walked up to the Smeg fridge on the back wall. He opened the door and we were lead, in true Narnia, style into a dimly lit nether world. Down two flights of stairs we found ourselves in a secret bar - an upmarket Winchester Club - very nice,very Speakeasy. Four Moscow Mules later and it was time to continue on our quest.
Going to Southend means catching the Fenchurch Flyer where, in a little over half an hour, east London gives way to Essex complete with Oil City backdrop before we disgorge at Southend Central. And the reason for our smash and grab visit to the seaside? My good friends Mondo and Piley are spinning a few discs at their local hostelry, warming up the crowd ahead of an appearance by the original one chord wonder, T V Smith.
We dump our bags in The Palace (who once played home to Laurel and Hardy in 1952) and slide down to The Railway Hotel. Mondo introduces us to all and sundry - from TV Smith and the delightful Gaye Black (formerly Gaye Advert) to characters with handles like Marmite Boy and Retro Man; we're treated like long lost friends in an almost Cheers sort of way. I've stumbled upon a distant planet where the atmosphere, the decor, the music, the vibe is irreproachable.
Piley and Mondo devour their crates and turn every 45, every album trackn into a floor filler - they even played a few of my requests, bless'em. TV Smith came on at about ten and turned the clock back 35 years. He's got new material, of course, but Gary Gilmore's Eyes, Bored Teenagers and One Chord Wonders are the Holy Trinity that men of a certain age had come to hear him play.
With TV signing merch at the back of the room it's time to restart the Podrophenia engine - and she fires up first time. Top tunes abound and with arms and legs flailing (I'm not a pretty sight when left to my own devices on a dance floor) I drink my last drink, say my goodbyes and disappear into the night. It's been a long day.
Sunday, 10 June 2012
Johnny: Seen who's behind me?
Sid: The waiter. So what?
Johnny: Not the bleedin' waiter, you tart. It's that geezer from the films.
Sid: What geezer's that then?
Johnny: My name is Michael Caine.
Sid: No it ain't.
Johnny: Give me f**king strength.
Saturday, 2 June 2012
We've been invited to a street party on Monday; not living on the street in question we shall probably feel like interlopers. I hope that by taking along a bottle of something nice and a loaf of Medd's Bread, the natives will give us their blessing.
Thirty five years ago the residents of Rushcliffe Road closed off their street and laid out the pasting tables and bunting. Living at number 17, my credentials were not in question; they even put me on the wheels of steel - in charge of the decks all afternoon.
Working out of a horsebox and swigging Top Deck, I proceeded to inflict my record collection on an unsuspecting street full of flag waving Royalists. I don't remember too much (though we were all given a shiny commemorative coin) but I can recall, vividly, that, despite it being the summer of punk, this class of '77 weren't digging The Sex Pistols (it was late in the day, I couldn't resist): any accusations that she ain't no human being were denied vigorously by the locals.
So, I quickly flipped it over and banged on the B-side.
I was relieved of my duties shortly thereafter.
Thursday, 31 May 2012
What's wrong with this picture? Looks perfectly normal to me, I hear you say. And from a distance, it does. One city centre office block photographed from, seemingly, another city centre office block. But if you look at what's going on in the bottom left hand window, you may be surprised; unless you're one of the two performers that is, in which case you'll probably be packing your things and looking at the property pages in today's paper. The paper, more than likely, whose Newsdesk received said photograph. And, before you ask, I'm not betraying any confidences here - this 'what the butler saw' snap was posted on Facebook (of course it was) within minutes of the act taking place; probably while yer man was still zipping up his flies. Which begs the question - so what happened to good old fashioned blackmail?
Monday, 21 May 2012
Six months ago I set up a Book Club. We're known as The Sun Readers; meeting monthly in The Sun Inn, what else could we have called ourselves? We're a merry band of readers who between us have an eclectic taste in all things literary. Everyone gets to have a say (we never stand on ceremony) and it's always fun to pull the pin on an idea, lob it into the group and watch the sparks fly. Does the beer stimulate the conversation? Maybe. Do we take ourselves too seriously? Definitely not. Are we brutally honest about our reading experience(s)? Always.
So who have we read? Magnus Mills, Edward Rutherfurd, Julian Barnes, A D Wilson, Henning Mankell and George Orwell thus far. After a rigorous discussion we always close the evening with the scores on the doors - Barnes' Sense Of An Ending is shading it at the moment closely followed by Wilson's Snowdrops and The Scheme For Full Employment by Magnus Mills. Paramedics had to be called to The Sun Inn last week, such was the ferocity of the kicking Henning Mankell received for his non-Wallander dirge - Kennedy's Brain. He'll survive.
We also have a sub-branch: when friends from Nottingham came over a couple of months ago they took the idea back with them and now, complete with a couple of new recruits, read along with us and email their pithy reviews and all important marks out of 10. If anyone would like to be one of our 'distance readers' we're currently reading The Road To Wigan Pier, followed by Fannie Flagg's Can't Wait To Get to Heaven.
Any excuse to shoehorn Ringo (or a Ringo lookakikey) into my Blog
Saturday, 12 May 2012
The Great North Road; just the mere mention of its name is enough to make the screen in my head go all wavy. Time was (when glove compartments were actually used to keep your gloves in), if you were travelling from London to Edinburgh, calling at all staging posts inbetween, the A1, as it later became known, was the only viable artery running through the country. If you don't count chuffers.
Long before all the roundabouts were ironed out and it became just another eight-lane stretch of blacktop, The Great North Road was one of the reasons driving used to be enjoyable. The joy of motoring was not just some mythological time dreamed up by the History Channel: getting in the car and hitting the open road really was something to be savoured. Ten mile tail backs on the M25 was a nightmare that wouldn't be unleashed on the unsuspecting British motorist for at least another 30 years. From the top of the North Circular, where signs to Hatfield and the north promised so much more than a Galleria housing a second division shopping mall built over a tunnel, to Scotch Corner and beyond - The Great North Road allowed your right foot to be just that little bit heavier than normal; except when slowing down for the traffic lights at Sandy, that is. And winding your way through market towns like Grantham and Newark.
Speaking of Newark, it was announced earlier this week that the iconic service station at Markham Moor has been granted Grade 2 Listed status. This concrete structure built in 1961 with its hyperbolic paraboloid shell roof (not unlike a smaller version of Sydney Opera House) was a gas station you didn't mind pulling in at. Any Doctor Whoevians will know it was once used as a backdrop for a John Pertwee episode. Or was it Tom Baker? Anyway, it's now a Little Chef. It could be worse, it could be a Subway.
Sunday, 29 April 2012
The novel tells the story of the run up to London 2012 and poses many what if scenarios: what if a dodgy sports agent was able to get at rival competitors? What if a terrorist cell based in the UK did the unthinkable and penetrated the tight security cordon that rings the Games venues, even as we speak?
It's a cracking read.
Monday, 23 April 2012
Like the puppy given as a present on Christmas Day, your record store needs you to be there for it the other 364 days in the year; just because the lines started forming in the early hours of Saturday morning and resembled war time ration queuing by opening time, I'm guessing that, once inside, you could swing a few cats around today.
For the record, I pitched up at Jumbo Records in downtown Leeds. Dodgy, everyone's favourite comeback kids, played an exquisite 40 minute sent on the top deck of an identikit shopping centre; a perfect warm up for next week's gig at The Lexington in London's swinging Islington.
They were well received, even though the slack-jaws on the escalators wired to their i-Pods couldn't work out why anyone would want to take an hour out of their day and watch (free) live music.
I shelled out for a copy of Stand Upright In A Cool Place on which Matthew, Andy and Nigel were good enough to scrawl their monikers. An enjoyable afternoon was had by all.
Monday, 16 April 2012
North is one of the four cardinal points on the compass. It is the opposite of south. We've just spent a few days in The Highlands - Inverness to be precise. And it is very north. While we were there we pulled in The Bandstand Beer Festival in Nairn; without doubt the most northerly beer festival I've ever been to. But it was only when we went to see Ross County and Dundee kicking a pigs bladder around on Saturday afternoon that we realised just how far north we'd come (Ross ply their trade in Dingwall) - The Osvald Pub in Stord, Norway have an advertising hoarding on the main stand. If only I'd taken my passport.
Congratulations to Ross who have won the league by a country mile. They'll be toughing it out in the SPL next season; I'll be looking out for their results. And I really must praise the food in the tea bar at half time - their Haggis Pies were sublime.