In lazy praise of bright young things
Sunday 19th May
As you may have noticed, the wintry weather that was hanging around at the end of January didn't really bugger off until the start of May. One of the results of the prolonged cold spell was the cancellation of a number of Crewe Alexandra matches. Mostly, this was a source of frustration but there was the occasional bright spot to make up for it. One of which was definitely taking up the chance to see Ian McNabb playing a solo gig at Telfords Warehouse in Chester. At twelve pounds and fifty of your English pence, he wasn't cheap, but he was certainly good value. Strolling on at about 9.35pm, after the earnest support act, he gave us a good 80 minutes of stuff before packing up and shuffling off at 5 minutes to 11. Whilst we were debating whether to have another beer and various people around us were grumbling about his lack of an encore, the man himself popped up by the bar, with acoustic guitar and gave us another half hour or so from there, aided and abetted by his roadie-cum-drinking-pal, Ian Prowse (former frontman for Pele and Amsterdam (the bands) fact fans). Top entertainment.
And talking of top entertainment, I went to see British Sea Power in that there Birmingham back in April. They were out touring their excellent new album, 'Machineries Of Joy'. I chose Brum because their Manchester date sold out before I could get a ticket. They did put a second date on in Manchester but I'd already got my Brum ticket by then. Oh well. The Birmingham gig actually worked out quite well, as it had an early finish so I was able to get an earlier train home without worrying about missing the last one. The drawback of the early finish was that we missed out on the BSP acoustic set due to time constraints. Instead it was straight on to support act, Totem, who were fairly unmemorable except for the fact their bass player looked like a cross between Kieran Richardson (the footballer) and Joel Fry (the actor). British Sea Power followed that with a set that was heavy on the new album (shocker!) but with a fair smattering of older stuff (although nothing from 'Open Season' which is my favourite album of theirs). They were, to nick one of their own lyrics, magnificent machineries of joy. And then some. I was particularly delighted to see that they closed their set with an appreance of the same giant bear that had caused chaos on-stage when I first saw them at the Leeds festival a few years back. Epic. The only downs of the evening were that I didn't stop to get hold of some merchandise (I particularly liked the British Tea Power mugs...) and the whiny bloke behind me complaining loudly about the "middle-aged gig-goers who claim a spot and stand in it on matter what." Clearly he meant me, as I'd returned from the toilet to the exact spot I'd been in five minutes earlier. Hey, it was still empty and had a clear view of the stage. I think I was probably blocking his view, but he should have just grown up a bit and changed his vantage point. Like I used to when I went to gigs when I was his age. Cock.
I did, a couple of weeks later, go to Manchester to catch a band. This time it was legendary cults Pere Ubu, who were touring their new album, Lady From Shanghai, at Band on The Wall. There were, it has to be said, some minor capers involved. Firstly, I set off later than I had originally planned, so was in a rush to get there. As a result, I neglected to check the route from the station and got a little bit lost on the way to the venue, due to mis-remembering the directions. Luckily, the old smartphone came to the rescue. Then, When I arrived at the venue, it appeared to be shut, which was worrying, but it turned out that the entrance was cunningly disguised as a separate cafe-bar next door. Once in the venue, I only had time for one pint before Pere Ubu were on-stage on the stroke of 9pm. Frontman David Thomas immediately drew us into his world with an opening monologue on how we were all dreaming and out in the real world, where only he was awake, Pere Ubu had become megastars, while Bon Jovi were playing truck stops and Madonna still dancing in small clubs. As per BSP, they were heavy on the new album with a fair helping of oldies and really-oldies chucked in. Have to admit there were one or two I didn't recognise, but that in no way detracted from the experience. After all you don't get a theremin and a man apparently triggering his keyboards using a toy raygun at your average gig. And I did have a little chuckle to myself when, as the band played 'Modern Dance', the woman in front of me broke into the Mumsy Two-Step. Definitely not a modern dance! Afterwards I purchased a couple of t-shirts from the drummer - he was manning the merchandising stall, I hasten to add, I didn't just randomly offer to buy his t-shirts - before getting slightly lost (again) on my way back to the train station... Top night, even so.
That's been the extent of my gig going so far this year. I have got a ticket to see Elvis Costello later in the year and there's Crewe Live coming up next weekend but in the meantime I'll have to make do listening to some of these albums that I have bought:
- British Sea Power - Machineries of Joy
- Pere Ubu - Lady From Shanghai
- Johnny Marr - The Messenger
- Suede - Bloodsports
- Low - The Invisible Way
- I Am Kloot - Let It All In
- The Fall - Re-Mit
- Robyn Hitchcock - Love From London
- Robyn Hitchcock - Storefront Hitchcock
Yeah, I was going to review them and add a bit of info, but frankly, these updates take me long enough as it is. Google them if you're interested. I'm off to spend the week going to bed early to make sure I have enough sleep for the aforementioned Crewe Live festival...
Roundheads and Cavaliers
Saturday 4th May 2013
A little late but here's a bit of history for you...
Ye olde Battle of Nantwch. Celebrated, as it has been every year since about 1972, by a massed gathering of uniform fetishists and geography teachers, who stage a small-scale re-enactment of the battle on an island in the middle of town. That's a bit harsh, really. Holly Holy Day has been on the Nantwich calendar for almost 360 years, in fact, ever since the Parliamentarian forces of General Thomas Fairfax broke the siege of Nantwich by the Royalist army during the first English Civil War. Nantwich (or Namptwyche, as it was known back then) had been one of the few Cheshire towns to side with Oliver Cromwell. Back then it was no sleepy market town but an important trade centre and a strategic point on the route to Chester. Parliamentarian forces first occupied the town in January 1643 to protect it and by December 1643, Royalist forces had arrived and laid seige to the town. With reinforcements from Ireland on their way, the Royalist forces increased their pressure on the beseiged town. The Parliamnetarian response was to send Sir Thomas Fairfax and about 3,300 troops across from Lincolnshire. They engaged the Royalists just outside Nantwich, in the fields around Acton, on 25th January 1644 and won the day, thanks in no small part to atrocious weather conditions which had cut off part of the Royalist reinforcements. Grateful Nantwich residents declared the 25th to be 'Holly Holy Day' in celebration of the Parliamentarians win and took to wearing a sprig of holly (apparently) to mark the day.
Fast-forward 326 years and the Holly Holy Day Society coalesces around some civic-minded person's suggestion that the town should re-start the tradition and mark the day of the Battle. In 1971 the first modern Holly Holy Day was marked with a simple wreath-laying ceremony on the town square. From then on, the Sealed Knot and other organisations got involved and the whole thing has spun into a tourist-grabbing spectacular, with the battle re-enactment yards from the town centre, as well as a muster of forces on the town square, a mock trial outside the church, and various other events around the town. (This year we even had Morris dancers!) The only bad thing about this whole venture is usually the weather. There have been occasions when the battle has been cancelled due to a waterlogged pitch, but usually it's just blinking cold. Oh, and some pubs (usually the best ones) are always heavingly full with Sealed Knotters, quaffing foaming ale, smelling undesirable and in much need of a shave. And that's just the women... (Actually, I remember one year, back in the mid-80s, a couple had sex in front of the fire in the Red Cow, surrounded by a horde of other Sealed Knotters who were either politely pretending to ignore them or too drunk to notice. There was however, a small parade of us regulars, nipping to the loo and back and trying to catch a glimpse of the action...)
Anyway, this year, me old mate Kev, came over for a visit on Holly Holy Day weekend. So we went out, avoided the march down Welsh Row and the mustering on the Town square and instead watched a hundred or so men push each other about on a snowy field. The action was occasionally punctuated by bursts of musket and cannon fire. They were only firing blanks in both cases, which was slightly disappointing as the accidental killing and wounding of both participants and spectators would have livened up proceedings considerably... It's Health & Safety gone mad! I took a few photos of the action, which you can see in my Flickr Battle of Nantwich set, and after about twenty minutes of freezing our bits off, we retired to the pub. More ale please, stout yeoman of the bar!
98% True. Possibly.
Wednesday 23rd January 2013
After going through all my CSS, re-factoring it and re-testing it on my PC at home, I checked my website at work and realised that the black text on the grey background that looked OK at home, was almost illegible on my Work PC, so have had a little tinker to make the contrast better. Hopefully it won't look horrendous. I did also, very briefly, consider upgrading to HTML5 but decided that, in the absence of consistent browser support (or a final recommended specification), it was likely to be a bit of a pain so I've given it a miss for now. I may well have a play round with it tho, to see if I can migrate the whole site to it at some point. I have a more pressing issue to deal with - how should I handle the archive posts (which go back ten years or more) and the stuff that is no longer relevant? I have started pruning out the external links that are either dead or irrelevant, but not sure whether I should leave my own stuff up, or build some sort of virtual crypt it can all rest in. We'll see how that develops as the time goes along...
In my previous post I summed up most of the gigs I'd been to and albums I'd bought over the last year or so. I'm reluctant to fall back on the list format again to cover the DVDs I've bought, mainly because lists are a bit boring to read. However a list is a lot easier to write... To liven things up though, and make my update slightly less-long-winded, I've not listed all the shite that I've bought. (Mainly because I'm not sure I can remember them all, but also because I've not watched all of them.) And, instead of the usual tedious plot summaries that I write, I've tried to sum them up in a few words as possible, poster-style.
- The Amazing Spider-Man - The Irritating Spider-Man. Contains no J Jonah Jameson.
- Apollo 18 - Found footage nonsense about secret missions and alien rock monsters.
- Bloodstorm - Nazis! Under the South Pole! Plotting their revenge!
- The Collector - Preposterous Saw rip-off.
- Devil - Elevator horror, featuring an obvious twist.
- Dream On - Telly-obsessed, adult US comedy series. Occasional female nudity.
- Going Straight - Norman Stanley Fletcher, outside of Porridge and struggling to cope.
- Hobo With A Shotgun - Tramp meets tart, becomes vigilante, saves the town.
- Human Remains - A mockumentary looking at couples who put the fun into dysfunctional.
- Iron Sky - Nazis! On the moon! Plotting their revenge!
- Mega Python vs Gatoroid - Forgotten '80s pop starlets square off in steroid-enhanced reptile caper.
- People Under The Stairs - Cult classic from Wes Craven. Boy meets girl meets mutants.
- Red State - Teen horror takes left turn into Waco-style confrontation. It all ends badly.
- Rock Follies - Comedy drama skewering the machinations of the music biz.
- Rock Follies of '77 - Comedy drama skewering the machinations of the music biz. Again.
- The Thing (1980) - Shape-shifting homicidal alien induces paranoia in remote Arctic base.
- The Thing (2012) - Norwegians get bumped off by shape-shifting alien that they accidentally defrost.
- Troll Hunter - More Norwegians. Student film-makers get more than they bargained for.
- Tucker & Dale vs Evil - Teens vs Hillbillies in comedy horror.
More capers to come. Possibly involving the Battle of Nantwich. Or possibly not. Stand by for further updates.
Another green musical update
Sunday 13th January 2013
The sharper-eyed amongst you may have noticed that I've made a few changes to the site. Well, to this page, mostly, to be honest. The most obvious one being the replacing of the red-on-black colour scheme for the updates. I didn't really want to let it go, but decided that readability ought to triumph over my design preferences, hence the black text on the cream-y backckground. I've also re-instated the underlines on hyperlinks to make them a bit more obvious and adjusted the positioning of the page elements. And put in some horizontal lines to break up the posts. I've tested it on IE8, Chrome and Firefox and it looks OK, so if you've got some other browser and it looks shonky, please let me know. Haven't tested it on a mobile browser but I reckons that's a whole world of pain that I probably want to avoid...
I was going to give you a bit of a run-down of my musical highlights and low lights of last year but, to be honest, most of it seems so far in the past and out-of-date, that it hardly seems relevant. For example, one of my favourite bands, REM finally called it a day more than a year ago... So instead here are just some potted highlights, starting with the gigs and then the music what I have bought. It is by no means a comprehensive list and, in order to save me time in writing this update, I've decided against providing hyperlinks to the artists mentioned. I have put them in bold, so if you're interested, Google them.
- Swim Into Scarlet - Went to see these guys a few times this year and still think they are excellent, despite the rather botched attempt to land them some exposure to London-based labels. (Things that were out of my control meant that the band got bumped off the bill and I was left looking like a chump.) With exams and lead singer Aidan nicking off to Uni, they've been a bit quieter than usual, however I did see them just the other night (about a week ago) and they said they were off back into the studio the very next day to record some stuff, so hopefully they'll be around and about a bit more.
- Crewe Live 2012 festival - As per previous festivals, this involved a few days of trekking round Crewe, drinking too much, not eating enough and bemoaning the scheduling clashes that meant I didn't get to see as many bands as I would have liked. In fact this year, with someone's birthday celebrations and other capers, I didn't actually get to see many bands at all. At this remove, it's hard to remember if I did see a band, or just had them on my list and never got round to them. From what I CAN remember the highlights of the festival included falling asleep watching Ash due to too many beers, Benjamin Bloom's wonky pop, walking in to the The Duke just in time to hear Fragrant Vagrants do their last song, Proud Proud People giving us a chilled acoustic set, the promised "ambient electro folk rock" of The Reads turning out to be two girls with acoustic guitars, (still decent though) and the bonus decent act in Dirty Green Vinyl. I also had to endure Mutha Humbucker too. They're good at what they do - rock covers - I just don't like what they do. The only other downside of the festival this year was the lack of "melodic post-hardcore". Seems the youngsters haved moved on... Still, I'm already looking forward to this year's fest.
- The Crookes - seen them twice this year, both times at the Sugar Mill in Hanley. First time was early in the year as they toured their newly-released second album. The second time was on my birthday, courtesy of my mate Ian. First time was a mid-week night and the turn-out was pretty disappointing. Not as disappointing as the pub next-door to the venue though, where Ian and I had ventured for a pre-gig livener. We didn't make that same mistake the second time, which was good as we would have missed the excellent Hey Sholay! who were supporting. The Crookes were enjoyable both times, although i have to admit I'm a bit less keen on the second album. Highlight of the second gig was frontman George breaking a bass string (which doesn't happen often) and then treating us to an acoustic number in the middle of the crowd while said bass was re-strung.
- The Levellers - a bonus jig, again courtesy of Ian, who rang me up at about 7.15 on a Saturday night and asked if I fancied going as he had a spare ticket. About 20 minutes later we were heading off to Manchester Academy for some "pirate music." I'm not a fan of their brand of crustie-folk music particularly, but they do put on a good show and I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the set I recognised.
- Radcliffe and Maconie Summer Roadshow - Not technically a gig, but it did feature some live performances from The Cribs (sans Johnny Marr), James Mercer from The Shins, Django Django and The Go! Team. This being a Radio 6 Music roadshow, they had a separate stage for the bands to set up on and they were genuinely live rather than miming to backing tracks like on a Radio One Roadshow. It also featured some of the worst August Bank Holiday weather I can remember. Luckily the tickets did warn that it was an outdoor event, so I was in full wet-weather gear. The jolly banter of Radcliffe and Maconie was no distraction from the rain and cold wind, though, however much they tried. Anyway, in order of appearance, The Cribs were rocky and alright, if a bit shouty, Shins bloke was tedious, Django Django sounded like early Pink Floyd and The Go! Team were entertainingly funky, To be fair, the Go! Team also had the best of the weather, as the rain had stopped and the sun was trying to break through by the time they came on.
- Mark Radcliffe and Foes - Playing upstairs at The Crown as part of Nantwich's annual Words & Music festival, Mr Radcliffe took us through his Irish-flecked, folk-pop repertoire (mostly songs from his Family Mahone days), filling the gaps between songs with much witty banter, apparently. I couldn't hear much of the banter as we turned up a little late and were stuck at the back of the room, by the bar. Oh well, at least I could get beers in without interrupting proceedings...
- NZCA/Lines - Not the sort of outfit I would normally go and see, but this was the gig that Swim Into Scarlet were meant to be at (see earlier) and, having already booked the time off and a hotel for the night I wasn't about to waste it. I skipped first support act, The Diamond Noise, and arrived in time to catch the high-pitched weedy yelping of Polarsets. Not impressed. NZCA/Lines were musically good, but not visually impressive. Perhaps that wasn't surprising given that they consisted of one man with a bunch of synths and stuff and a drummer, who appeared to have set up offstage...
- Morrissey - I didn't actually go and see La Moz, but there was certain amount of irony calling me when I bought tickets for his Manchester gig last summer. Having cocked a snook at paying 35 quid the year before, I shelled out a heap more for the July gig. I soon came to regret that when I watched Morrissey and his band give a fairly uninspiring performance on Later... with Jools Holland. and then I found I couldn't go to the gig anyway due to a scheduling clash, so I'd paid a substantial sum for nowt. Luckily, the friend I was going to take with me found someone else to take the ticket off my hands so I didn't lose any money on the deal. Well, I lost a little on the booking fee, but I can cope with that.
I haven't actually bought a lot of music so far this year, as far as I can remember. Mostly, I think, because I've been spending more money on doing other things - following Crewe Alexandra and daft stuff like that. I have though, bought some stuff which you ought to know about:
- Dexys - One Day I'm Going To Soar Initial hearings made me think that finally, after 27 years, Kevin Rowland had delivered a worthy successor to Dexys Midnight Runners' epic 'Don't Stand Me Down'. Not that Kev hasn't had a couple of cracks at it in the meantime of course, but this genuinely felt like a return to form.
- The Woodentops - Hypnobeat (Live) Furiously-strummed guitars, strummed even more furiously in this live outing from the '80s indie contenders. Storms through their recorded output (such as it was at that point) in about 25 minutes. Somehow slightly less satisfying than the albums the songs were xculled from.
- Simple Minds - X5 The first five albums by Simple Minds, released as a 6-CD box set. Six CDs, of course, because the 4th album originally came with a limited edition bonus album, which is included in this collection. To be honest, I'm no fan of their later-era-stadium-filling bluster, but enjoyed some of their early singles. Unfortunately those singles were spread across two or three albums and this, bizarrely, was cheaper than buying the albums. Yes, I could have just downloaded the songs I did want for a couple of quid or so but this was such a bargain that it seemed daft not to spend the extra and get everything.
- Sir John Betjeman - Banana Blush/Late Flowering Love/Varsity Rag/Britain Poet Laureate Sir John reads his poems backing by the light classical/jazz pop stylings of Jim Parker and his orchestra. Of the four albums, Banana Blush is undoubtedly the best of the bunch (no pun intended) with the quality diminishing slowly through Late Flowering Love, Varsity Rag and Britain. Not that the last is terrible, by any means, but it fails to hit the high points of the previous records, possibly because of the subject matter of the poems therein.
- Rock Follies - Rock Follies/Rock Follies of '77 Back in the 1970s, there was a ground-breaking musical comedy-drama about three girls trying to make it in the music industry. Launching the careers of Julie Covington, Rula Lenska and er, Charlotte Cornwell, it was cult viewing. That is, not a lot of people watched it the first time round. These albums contain the songs from the two series.
- Brian Eno - Another Green World/Lux Having bought a friend a copy of Eno's collaboration my David Byrne ('My Life In The Bush of Ghosts'), I decided I ought to get round to investing in some Eno. So I bought 'Another Green World', which is lovely. I then bought 'Lux', his latest release, intending to give it to the same friend who'd received the Eno/Byrne album, after he expressed a passing interest in it. As it turned out, he had more than a passing interest and had already bought it by the time Christmas arrived...
- Propaganda -A Secret Wish The classic album by the German meisters of smooth electronic pop, recently re-issued in a deluxe version by label ZTT. Actually disappointing to find how few decent songs they had. Duel, p-machinery, Dr Mabuse, er, that's about it. (Still three more great tunes than I've ever written of course.)
- Tom Waits - Night On Earth The soundtrack to the Jim Jarmusch film of the same name and one of the few original pieces by Tom that I hadn't owned. I'm no completist - I've baulked at buying all them compilations (Early Years, Used Songs, Beautiful Maladies, etc) that have got stuff on that I already own, for example - but I did want to get my hands on this.
- Snuff - Flibbiddydibbiddydob Classic early release from the Snuffsters. Only about 20 minutes long but contains all their hallmarks - punked-up versions of other people's songs, comedy hi-speed advert jingle covers and their own slightly off-kilter punk tunes.
- David Bowie - The Man Who Sold the World/Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) Upping the metrosexual content of my record collection ever further by bookending the five Bowie albums I already own with one earlier one and one later one. The Man... etc, is actually a bit disappointing, apart from the title track, obviously. Bowie not quite pushing the rock envelope musically, despite doing it visually by wearing a dress on the cover. Scary Monsters is early '80s Bowie with a take on the Blitz/New Romantic scene.
- Monochrome Set - Compendium A Best Of from obscure indie '80s guitar band. Absolutely fizzing with neat riffs and cunning wordplay and destined to appeal to about three hundred-or-so sensitive souls. Much under-rated by the general public, sadly.
- Felt - Ignite The Seven Cannons - More fey indie from the '80s, I'm afraid. another band who were influential but mainly worked on the fringes of success. This album includes the heavenly Primitive Painter, which has backing vocals by Liz Fraser from the Cocteau Twins.
- The Go-Betweens - Best Of The first of two compilations my mate MUzz bought back from Australia as birthday presents. (Not that he went to Australia specifically to get them - he was out there anyway, visiting his sister.) Indie pop, in the old skool meaning of the word, tat is. (Definitely not in the current meaning of the word 'indie' which seems to mean shouty, Artic Monkey-cum-Kasabian wannabes...) All very enjoyable.
- The Triffids - Best Of - The Second of the Australian gifts and another Australian band. This time sounding more like a meeting of The Doors, Echo and the Bunnymen and the Easybeats. Top quality fare from the 1980s. Check them out.
And that's it, I'm spent... More to come soon, honest.