Category: thoughts and musings


vinyls1There have been a few things happening lately that have caused me to reflect on old records and the songs of my formative days. I guess one of the advantages of getting to such a veritable age is that there is more to look back on, more memories to juggle and probably a bigger record collection to jog that memory. And as you get older the more sensory stimuli for joggin’ the noggin,’ the better.

A few weeks before the lockdown came into effect I had decided to weed through my vinyl collection and see if any of it was of any value and pop it onto Discogs and e-bay and perhaps make a bit of extra cash on the side. I’m glad I did as my main income is from writing promotional material for the music scene…so that sort of went south quickly…and picking up a few quid here and there whilst I scrabble around for alternative scribbling work has made all the difference between buying the sort of cheddar which could be used as pungent, industrial building material and the sort of comestible which at a push might be okay for temporary grouting.

And so sorting through these records, many of which I have carried with me from house to house for almost 40 years, has been a wonderful experience. There are some bands which I know I will never part with, The Waterboys, Blyth Power, Thin Lizzy, Sisters of Mercy, music which has been around me for so long it has sort of become part of my DNA. And some I forgot you even had, The Boys Next Door, who later coalesced into The Birthday Party who in turn became Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, and I even found a few long forgotten Lilac Time albums which I have been playing incessantly.

And since the lockdown, in an effort to keep each others spirits up, there has been a rash of music sharing, top 10s and influential artist type posts, and, under the orders of David Rose, serial gig go-er, blogger, unashamed dad dancer and all round good egg, I have dived into that too with my first two influential albums being Ghost of Cain by New Model Army and Alnwick and Tyne by (“the mighty”) Blyth Power.

And I guess all of this proves one important thing. Music isn’t really about what other people think about your tastes, it’s about what works for you. I can be the most elitist person going when it comes to judging others music tastes but then just because I favour listening to The Alarm’s anthemic, windswept wail and unnecessarily big hair (which you can sometimes hear on record due to it being so tall it was picking up Radio Wales) whilst you prefer Nicki Minaj singing about …well, god knows what…doesn’t mean I should judge you unfairly. I mean, I will because I am an imperfect being and totally set in my ways, but the point is I shouldn’t.

As L. P. Hartley famously said in The Go-Between …oh, another cool band reference…The past is a foreign country…but my own particular past is littered by some great music and no-one can take that music nor the memories of people, places, gigs and parties that goes along with it, away.

84941272_2854537271261086_2376828974551531520_nI like to make little stands against automation and the erosion of once simple concepts by unnecessary marketing, the slow Americanisation of once simple things and the perpetual desire by companies to make things cooler. I know things are all headed a certain way but I don’t use automated check-outs as a sort of stand against job losses to automation…it aint the people with funny coloured skin that will take your jobs it’ll be those pesky robots. I also tend not to use the fancy names that a simple thing like a cup of coffee has now, especially as I drink it straight up and black. Cup – beans – hot water! Simple. The stupidity of it hit home when I found myself not in my usual cool, liberal, hippieish, arty, musicy cafe, where they indulge my whims, but in one of those production line, chain coffee shops that have these days…the ones which serve children sized drinks and don’t pay any tax.

“Just a black coffee please.”

“Would that be an Americano?”

“If that equates to a straight-forward black coffee?”

“Yes, it does.”

“I’ll have one of those then, thank you.”

“One Americano. Do you want room for milk in it?”

“@&*!!£$@”

(Thanks to Only Connect I now know that the above sentence is known as a grawlix..well, it would be if it were in a cartoon speech bubble.

Writers Write…right!

I find myself neglecting this site. I guess the problem is that primarily I set it up to talk about and promote local, original music and between my new found hermity ways and the fact that there isn’t a lot of original music going on any more, there isn’t a lot to report. So if the music won’t come to Muhammad, then change the nature of the mountain…blog…whatever….I’m not great with analogies.

Anyway, Writers Write as they say and despite spending most of my working week writing, it is usually all about paying the bills rather than writing creatively. So the answer is obvious. Post this site regularly as a form of writers discipline and try to make the perceived ordinariness of the world around me seem interesting. Or at least let off a bit of steam. So now consider this a place where I write about more than the music scene, though I don’t know what that might look like yet. Stay tuned….

80049445_2753975768001450_2790020960323895296_nOver the last year or so I have found myself musing on the thought that surely in such a dark age, in the face of widening social divides and entrenched, broken political debate that there would be more music being made echoing the thoughts of those looking to kick back. I often point out that rock ‘n’ roll, punk, hip-hop and the like were all born out of frustration and social change, disaffection and rage. I would have written something on the matter for this site bit I have just read an elegant and eloquent post by that splendid chap Scott Rowley and so thought I’d post his words in full instead. Thank you for putting into language what is confusing my small brain these days.

“It’s impossible to imagine the world of December 14th, 1979, when London Calling was released but let’s give it our best shot.

Imagine if you will a Britain where right wing politics is on the rise. Where the rock revolution you were a part of has become insular, hell-bent on repeating itself and recycling the past. Where the charts are full of novelty pop and the TV full of Yankee detectives.

A world where the working class are under attack: the victim of right wing policies designed to take from the poor and give to the rich. Where they’re either denounced as knuckle-headed thugs or romanticised as noble savages living in squalor, and the political choice offered them is between England-for-the-English nationalism or up-the-workers socialism. A world in which immigration is blamed for all our ills and families who’ve lived here for decades – whose culture (language, music, cuisine) has totally influenced, informed and improved “British culture” – are under attack.

Their sons and daughters represent our country in sports – they are our greatest football players, but still there is racism on the terraces. The Labour Party is split – low in the opinion polls after their last time in government and riven by internal conflicts. Anew controversial figure has become Prime Minister. Scotland wants independence. There is civil unrest.

That was 1979. It’s a world so radically different to our country today you can scarcely imagine it, right? But c’mon, give it yer best shot.

London Calling is the sound of The Party At The End of the World. The title track itself looked at a forthcoming environmental apocalypse (“the ice age is coming”) – and said, “Fuckin bring it on.” (‘London is drowning and I live by the river…’). Joe Strummer later said that he was most proud of the fact that The Clash weren’t “Little Englanders”. The dirty punks wanted Oi! The Clash gave them soul, reggae, rock’n’roll, R&B.

Encouraged by producer Guy Stevens (as head of Sue records, he’d introduced the likes of Ike and Tina Turner, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Inez and Charlie Foxx to the UK. He’d produced Free, named Procol Harum and formed Mott and he produced like Jurgen Klopp manages – the boys just wanted to play for him.

He generated team spirit. They literally played football every day. Stevens would play war films in the background while they recorded and smash chairs jubilantly.

Train In Vain grooves like classic soul. Guns Of Brixton conjures up genuine London reggae. Rudie Can’t Fail was ska-punk in excelsis. The Right Profile, Revolution Rock, I’m Not Down – the songs on London Calling are a righteous, raucous rave-up.

We need music like that more than ever.”

With great thanks to Scott Rowley.

Stopping and watching the world go by, as I have said before, is a fascinating pasttime. To this end I am back in one of my favourite haunts, the one where you get served coffee by effortless cool twenty-somethings with fantastic accents. Being match day and the coffee house in question located on the thorough-fare between the train station and the football ground there is a heavy police presence outside. I make my coffee last to watch the antics. There is always antics. Sometimes even shenanigans! Let’ hope that we don’t get any chicanery.

I don’t really do sport. Not any more. There was a time in my formative years when I did. In fact I represented my hometown in two sports and had county trials for a third. But that was a few years BBE. Before the Beer Era. I get playing sport, I don’t really get watching sport. But of course the ones here for the antics, and possibly even the shenanigans, are not really here for the sport either. That’s why there is a heavy police presence.

I have probably missed the main pack’s arrival, they are already in the pubs, judging by the sirens ricochetting down the streets, but I do get to witness the rearguard’s arrival and the sight of, mainly, 50-something, bellied, balding men having to be escorted between station and stadium but 30 year old police in riot gear (in case of chicanery) is amusing to say the least. “I appreciate the overtime but I didn’t really get into policing for this,” is, I surmise, going through many of the officer’s minds.

It’s at this point I like to play a game. Obviously I can’t hear any of the conversations and exchanges taking place outside. I can only hear the coffee shop soundtrack, one comprised of inoffensive, middle of the road music, the choral chaos of 24 separate conversations taking place and the staccato beeps of cash tills and timers. But you can put your own script to the moronic melodrama as it passes by.

Today’s cameo featured a baldy, belly-bloke (BBB) and a playground duty policeman (PDP) and an encounter that seems to be about the BBB’s right to wander off the beaten track as he is being herded towards his destination.

Perhaps…

PDP: Excuse me sir, can you keep heading down the designated route.

BBB: (shouting, pointing, making sure his friends are watching) How dare you victimise me, you almost touched my arm. If I want to head off down a side street and smash a window then that is my right. I’ve seen many documentaries about people who died for my right to be an arsehole.

SUBTEXT

PDP: (Can you stop acting like a 8 year old, hopped up on an orange squash sugar rush and act like the grandfather you are. I bet the kids are so proud.)

BBB: (I am a legend. My tea better be ready when I get in this evening or there will be trouble.)

Maybe not…
Still, I am home now. But I do live a stone’s throw from the ground, and let’s hope that remains just a metaphor, so at least I get to sit and work with the dulcet tones of “hoooarrgeunnnrendooooon” and other such anthemic gibberish, probably involved mass questioning of the identity of the opposing fans, floating through my window. Who are they indeed?

Sport, it isn’t really for me.

PS: No gross generalisations or hyperbole were harmed in the writing of this rant.

70352532_10156836773674412_6272372326432505856_nI used to write a weekly music column. I used to be someone. I could have been a contender. Look at me, Ma! I’m on top of the world! Ahh well, fuckem! I hope that the Swindon Advertiser’s policy of appealing to a “younger crowd” via a more “online platform” is working out.

Still, I thought in the interest of drumming up a bit of excitement for some really cool bands I have had the pleasure to work with over the years, I would drop a few names about as, in all likelihood, they won’t get much of a mention anywhere else, not being grunge tribute bands or husband and wife acoustic pop cover duos.

There is a connective point for all of this and that point comes in the shape of a splendid chap called Tim Emery, a man of high sartorial taste and low-slung basses (as pictured) and who I first got to know as the four-stringer with the most excellent Case Hardin.’ Though right from our first conversation it was clear that our respective musical histories were intertwined through various odd musical acquaintances, strange sleazy bands and even sleazier venues. Case Hardin’ have, sadly, called it a day but front man Pete Gow brings his solo show to Christ Church, yes, an actual flippin’ church, aided and abetted by a Clubhouse Records assembled band plus the Siren Strings, for a night of dulcet alt-country crooning and gorgeous classical sweeps on 28th September. If you need a dose of the charming Tamsin Quin (and who never needed that) then that is also the place to be.

The aforementioned Mr E is, as far as I know, not part of that set up but you can find him at The Beehive on Friday 20th with CCRR…or Creedence Clearwater Revival Revival. No guesses who they pay tribute to but fans of The Snakes should note that there are a lot of familiar faces to be found lurking within this wonderful gang.

Emery-watchers will also be able to get a double helping of our crepe-shoed hero striking some poses and throwing some shapes with Last Great Dreamers. Back up to full strength after a recent three-piece excursion, this bunch of Dickensian clad, power-popping, trash-rockers open Fatboy’s Cancer Charity at Level 3 on Friday 4th October as well as popping up again on the Saturday for an acoustic set in The Rolleston. And just look at the company they will be keeping….

So the question is do we call this EmFest or Timapolloza? Or maybe not bother. The votes are in….it’s a resounding not bother.

Some logistics and links…

FRIDAY 4th OCTOBER 2019

DOORS OPEN 6.45pm

LAST GREAT DREAMERS 7.30 – 8.15
Tax The Heat 8.30 -9.30
Rock Goddess 10.00 – 11.15pm

SATURDAY 5TH OCTOBER 2019

ROLLESTON STAGE DURING AFTERNOON
Alicia Griffin 1.45pm – 2.15pm
The Lawless 2.30 pm – 3.00pm
Dangerous Kitchen 3.15pm – 3.45pm
Wolfpeake 4.00pm -4.45pm
Last Great Dreamers 5.00pm – 5.45pm
DOORS OPEN 6.00pm

MAIN STAGE
SPACE ELEVATOR – 7.00pm to 7.40pm
HOLLOWSTAR – 7.55pm to 8.40pm
Bad Touch – 9.00 to 9.45 pm
The Quireboys – This Is Rock And Roll – 10.00 pm to 11.15 pm

And finally, and just to mess up the chronology of this article even further…hey, rock and roll isn’t about following the rules, Level III is also the place to be this Saturday (21st) for Steve Tilling’s much talked about proggy/alt-rock/stripy trewed Circu5. They are joined by I Am The Manic Whale and another band with a Swindon connection, Let’s Swim, Get Swimming. Bands do have some strange names these days…he says eyeing his Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band album in the corner of the office.

Well, there you are, hopefully I’ll see some of you around for a pint and possibly an intense discussion about which is actually the best Waterboys’ album.

Nothing ever happens in this town yaknow?

 

532525_10151752635811804_1749102226_nIt’s funny how the different strands of past musical activity, the bands, the people, the places and of course the songs themselves, seem to weave in and out of your life, like a maypole lacing together ever tighter so that ever more tapes are running cheek by jowl with their neighbours. I noticed it today when two scheduled posts over on Dancing About Architecture popped up side by side and reminded me of how history follows you around.

Completely out of the blue, a new Black Hat‘s record came my way for reviewing. They were a band who I used to help get Railway Town gigs for, with my erstwhile colleague Gimli the tallest dwarf in Old Town, under our Songs of Praise promotional umbrella. And what a fine band they were too, a wonderful blend of Jam-esque punk edge, reggae back beats and indie chops all coming together to forge incendiary and most memorable anthems. But before the Black Hats, there was Chamfer, and that was where I first saw frontman Nick leading a band making beguiling orient meets occident sounds.

I first saw them at Level III supporting Space Hopper, a band who would shortly evolve into Belarus, produce one near perfect indie-pop album and fade out, though I would get to know some of them through subsequent bands, namely Dave Corrigan’s raggle-taggle roots outfit Good Things Happen in Bad Towns, whose music would later be the starting point for the brilliant Astral Ponies…also featuring Belarus’ mainman Lee Alder.

But I mention this because also crucial to the Space Hopper/Belarus story is Rich Millin, someone who was the tub-thumping better half to my bass lines in a couple of later bands, particularly for the red wine fuelled, folk frolics of Sweet Plums and for a couple of gigs, pig-town, country-punks, Black Sheep Apprentice. And this is where the other review comes in to play. Siamese Youth are a new outfit, based in Berlin and heavy on the 80’s synth=pop groove and they are being helped along their way by none other than my good friend Rich, who has made his home there for many a year now. Hence the review and the serendipitous timing of which prompted this nostalgic wander.

It’s a small world and every now and then something comes along to remind you just how closely knit and global village-like it truly is.

People watching is also a great inspiration for writing. In his formative years as a writer, Jack Kerouac would sit in a bar or cafe and at speed write detailed sketches about his surroundings, the fixtures and fittings, the history and imagined backstory of the place in question. Again, The Railway Town offers a low grade version of such iconic ideas. And just like the bubble of my vision of sharing a coffee with Tom Waits busts into a slightly right wing, English cafe, my Kerouacian ideals are replaced by a chain coffee shop on the lower reaches of the main drag.

And whilst there are cooler, independent places more worth of my time and money, Baila in Old Town, Darkroom Espresso and Barristacats in the less salubrious parts of the town’s rough and ready heart, it is to Cafe Nero I am continuously drawn. 

For a start it is named after a mad emperor, one who famously and probably quite apocryphally, played the fiddle whilst The Eternal City burned, but mainly because its large glass frontage means that I have a glorious window on a not so glorious world. The coffee is good, the snack options fair and the staff all seem picked to match a few certain criteria.  They are generally female, attractive, slightly alternative looking and with that glorious, slightly unpinpointable (hey, Cervantes and Shakespeare made up words too) accent of someone who speaks fluent English as a second language, that evocative, mid-European burr. All of which works for me and also makes me miss Berlin.

But outside is where the action is, a bustle of people to-ing and fro-ing for work, lunch-grabbers and shoppers,  mixed in with The Greys, those people who seem to just be hanging around looking for opportunity or relieving boredom through hijinks, hustle and hassle, dressed in the drab sports gear that is their uniform. I’m sure that they too had ambition once but I guess at some point had it surgically removed by an unlicensed doctor operating above a kebab shop in Gorse Hill because they needed the cash for speed.

The pleasant surroundings of this establishment are put into sharp contrast by the fast food joint opposite whose use of primary colours on the facade seem to create an audible noise whilst below a line of mobility scooters are parked up like a scene from The Wild One as their supersized Marlon Brando’s tuck into another full English still unable to make the connection between fried food and weight related issues. “Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against? “The answer is quite possibly salad.

All fodder for a book I may never write but all thoughts that I feel the need to get out of my head to make room for other, more bill-paying, assignments.

Banksy-Nighthawks-810x399Writing is a very solitary process that’s for sure. And as much as I like being the master of my own work space, that breaks come as and when I chose, that the coffee pot is three feet away from me and I don’t have to deal with any awkward encounters whilst waiting for the toaster to ping, it can start to send you a bit stir crazy. There has been more than one occasion when I am sat at my desk perhaps scribbling another short review of an American alt-country band who may not be quite reinventing the wheel but are reinventing Ryan Adams, and I realise that I feel off-kilter, ebbing and that it probably stems from the fact that I haven’t left the house for three days. Not good. It is at these times when I head into The Railway Town and find a place to be sociable (at a distance), get some air, a change of scenery and watch the world go by for a while.

It is usually an excuse for a fried breakfast and whilst there are some nice places to chose from I usually aim a little down market and head for Pappas. (You will have worked out by now that I’m using the Kerouacian system of changing the names of people and places, local readers will work things out, non-locals won’t care.) In my head, I’m a writer of note slumped over a plate of chilli, getting buzzed on black coffee trading quips and cigarettes* with Tom Waits (hence the title) in a late night Denny’s, in the early 80’s …and for some reason it is all happening in black and white. The reality is very different.

The reality is I’m surrounded by bald men in big shorts and Bench t-shirts having burgers whilst their wives bang on about the shopping, the housework, the holiday, the kids and every niggle in-between. At least two of the tables will be spouting Brexit rhetoric, deriding anyone who looks different from them, despite being in an eatery run by a Turkish family. There’s a table of white street gangsters, their whole speech pattern seeming somewhere between Hounslow and South Central…fa real, blud!…and between it all the botched and the bungled, the lost and disenfranchised all go about their unadventurous existence.

Still, they do a great bacon and eggs and that’s what really matters.

*I’d take up smoking just to compete the picture **

** I’d forgotten just how much fun footnotes are ***

*** I’ll stop now. 

They say “Writers write” a statement to the fact that you can only really consider yourself a writer if you are actually producing work. And write I do, music reviews and promotion, travel articles, local news, even content for games designers is part of my working day. But where as that is how I earn my living there are so many other things going on in my head, mainly inspired by my walks into town to get lunch that I thought, as a form of exorcism, I should use this blog as a receptacle for such wittering. It’s not important, I doubt if anyone really cares to read it but sometimes I just need to empty my brain of the niggles and nags of life so that in its uncluttered state it can world more freely.

Writers write…and so shall I.