Monday, September 29, 2003

Had a great time at Four Corners on Friday evening. Loads of friends were about and it turned into one of those great, unplanned social events. Often the best times are had when things just happen under their own steam and this was one of those occasions. It was topped of when we bumped into Darren, an acquaintance of ours who is a photographer. He had been doing the photos for the opening of some dodgy sounding new bar/restaurant in town. Funnily enough, one of the people at Four Corners had escaped from the same opening bash and gleefully told me how appalling it was. Darren confirmed this as he entertained us with stories of the Minor celebrities, TV soap stars and “glamour” girls on display. Anyway it helped our tipsy walk along Stokes Croft pass very quickly. Before we knew it we home, without picking up the customary Kebab roll on the way!

Maybe as a result of Friday night’s fun Saturday was a very quiet day. This was a good thing for me, as on Sunday morning our Monday night football gang had another of our occasional “challenge” games. Pleased to say that we came out on top again, with a 4-3 victory. We probably should have won by more, it’s good to keep the run going, and we are yet to lose one of these Sunday games.

On Friday we heard that one the great indie stalwarts, The Pastels are going to be playing at The Cube in October. Never been a huge fan of the band, but this time they will joined by Gerry Love from Teenage Fanclub, so it’s a must see.

October is starting to look very busy indeed, a few gigs and lots of social stuff, culminating in my leaving work on October 31st. Trying to think of decent place to having a leaving bash is giving a bit of a headache. Apparently a new ‘80s theme bar has opened in town. It could be a good “ironic” choice; after all I did start my illustrious career back in that strange decade.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Back in August we went down to Devon for the wedding of Ric and Louise. Orynthia has started to put a website together with some of the pictures of that lovely day. You can find it here.

I was given another advance copy of an album on Monday night. It’s in a slightly different vein to Belle and Sebastian though! This one is by young local heavy rockers Gonga. My friend Geoff is involved with their record label and mixed a few of the tracks on the album as well. It’s like the great lost Black Sabbath album, to my ears it’s hard work to listen to the whole thing, but taken a couple of tracks at time it’s good fun. I have to point out though that Orynthia absolutely hates it!

Sunday, September 21, 2003

So what is going on with gigs in Bristol? First of all next Monday’s gig by The Rapture gets cancelled. Then The Pernice Brothers also pull their upcoming November show. We are starting to take it personally now!

In more positive news, we were delighted to get hold of a promo copy of “Dear Catastrophe Waitress” the new album by Belle and Sebastian, which is due out in a couple of weeks. It has to be said that it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The good news is that Trevor Horn has not turned then into one of his super lush pop bands. The sound is actually quite stark for much of the record, with the vocals very much at the forefront.

I have to say that I love the opening track – Step Into My Office Baby, mainly for it’s wonderfully quirky musical arrangement. I think that the experience of working on the soundtrack to Storytelling must have had a big impact on the band, as this the opening of the song sounds like TV music from some 60’s carton, something like The Pink Panther. Next up is the title track, which on the first few hearings is not particularly strong. Luckily the next track – If She Wants Me, is one of the best ones on the album, a lovely arrangement with super little guitar solo, quickly followed by a gem of an organ solo.

Piazza, New York Catcher has the feel of a folk song. At first I thought the tempo was all wrong, but it’s growing me now. Asleep On A Sunbeam has lead vocals from Sarah Martin initially before Stuart Mudoch joins in. It’s another grower. I’m A Cuckoo does share a melody with a certain Bob Dylan to my ears and has a very 70’s vibe to it. Northern soul is a big passion for several members of the band, and You Don’t Send me, bears witness to that, very nice it is too.

If I’m A Cuckoo showed signs of someone else’s work then, Wrapped Up In Books, owes a heavy debt to the Farmers Boys version of Out In The country. Lord Anthony and If You Find Yourself Caught In Love are plaintive ballads, with the later featuring a rousing workout for the string section. The song Roy Walker has been around for a while and has a bit of a 6th form am-dram feel to it, but its gonna fill the floor at those indie disco’s. The album closer Stay Loose is a strange one, staccato guitar and a bit of a 1979 new wave chorus don’t seem to fit too well on the Belle and Sebastian shoulders, so to my ears it’s a disappointing end to the album. Still further plays will no doubt bring further changes in my opinion.

Fans of Belle And Sebastian should pick up a copy of Under Achievers Please try Harder by fellow Scots Camera Obscura. It’s a bit of a gem, when it comes to 60's infuencend indie pop.

Another disappointing performance from City on Saturday resulted in a 1-0 home defeat, and a mediocre 12th place in the division is not what we were looking for.

Managed to a bit more cycling this morning when Orynthia and I went up to The Downs. I was fine as long nothing came within 50 feet of me. As soon as that happened I started wobbling like a drunkard. Still have to keep trying.

I’ve had confirmation that I’m leaving work at the end of October. I’m very excited!

Thursday, September 18, 2003

On a lighter note than the entry below, I should mention the amazing Vodka drink which we had in one of the local restaurants in Vilnius. It was a bottle of Vodka, which came to the table completely encased in a square block of ice, which was 1/2” thick! A great way to keep your Vodka cold as you worked your through the mountain of food which was presented to you.

As part of the festival a large free “pop” concert was held by the river. We arrived as a smiling young Lithuanian lad was just about to launch himself into a cover version of “Song 2” by Blur. To hear it sung in Lithuanian was just the funniest thing in the world to us at the time.

One our favourite parts of town was Uzupis take a look at this link for more info on one of the quirkier parts of town!

Whilst we were in Vilnius, I was lucky enough to read a brilliant book called Café Europa – Life After Communism by Slavenka Drakulic". Jane read it whilst John and her were in Hungary and thought I would enjoy it. It’s a brilliant collection of essays, in which she discusses her and her family’s life in Tito’s Yugoslavia and the effect that the fall of communism had on her and indeed many parts of the former Soviet Union. It talks about all manner of things from the big issues to the very small.

We have been lucky enough to travel to the Russia, Hungary and on a couple of occasions the Czech Republic. Consequently we have got used to the fact that Eastern Europe is very different to the west. It was however Petunia’s first trip to this part of the world and I think that she was quite surprised at the fact that some of the people (mainly the older ones) could be extremely taciturn and stone faced, even when encountering her naturally bouncy good nature. Drakulic’s book has an excellent chapter on why people behave in that way. Also on why people who escaped the civil war in Serbia, could still dream of returning to a war ravaged land, when given the option of comparative luxury in Sweden. The whole question of race and nationality and what it means to be European is also explored in fascinating but very human detail.

I must admit that it made me ashamed of my lack of knowledge of the recent troubles in the former Yugoslavia. I never really understood what caused the real divisions, in that part of the world and if I’m honest I still don’t. All I know is that the rampant nationalism, which came to the surface after years of being held in check by another form of oppression, is just as terrifying.

So credit to the people of Lithuania and indeed Latvia and Estonia, they look as though they have managed to undertake some huge changes in recent years without falling pray to the violence that has bedevilled so much of the region. The obvious problem is the power vacuum that is left when a puppet regime is toppled and it’s not hard to see why several former communist officials are once again in positions of power, although with very different agendas. How do people learn to govern and lead themselves after years or decades of being told what to do? The parallels with the chaos in Iraq at the moment are all too obvious.

Further thoughts on our Lithuanian adventure.

First of all, I’d like to give a plug to the people who arranged the trip for us. Take a look at Lithuanian holidays for all the details on the sort of trips that they can arrange. This was a bit a bit of a step into the unknown for us, and the company were very helpful and flexible, when it came to meeting our requirements.

The place itself is lovely, loads of quiet lines and cobbled streets provide a mass of happy wandering time, and the fact that the old town area is really quite small means that it’s pretty tough to get lost. Masses of little bars and restaurants are able to offer very affordable refreshments, giving you time to catch up that all important people watching.

The memories of the old Soviet years are still fresh and I would really recommend a trip out the huge TV tower on the western fringes of the town, where you can see a very moving collection of photo’s and articles relating to standoff between Russian troops and the local people back in 1991. 14 people lost their life in one of the key points of conflict, which helped to move the country back to freedom. After that you zoom up to the revolving restaurant to enjoy sweeping views over the city.

Before our trip I knew that Basketball was the most popular sport in the country, however I didn’t know that the European Basketball championships were being held in Sweden during our stay. Amazingly the Lithuanian TV coverage was being hosted in the bar attached to our hotel. Even more amazingly Lithuania went on to win the competition, beating France in the semi finals, then Spain in the final. That game finished at around 11pm on the Sunday evening, then the whole town just went mad. Every pilled onto the streets and pretty soon the place was full of wildly exuberant cheering flag waving people. It was high five’s all round for the next couple of hours, great fun and watch USA they gunning for you in the Olympics next year. I understand that that last time round they lost to you by a couple of points. It’s quite amazing that such a small country can produce a team like that.

We ate all manner of foods whilst we were there, including beaver stew. All very hale hearty, resulting in a few additional pounds for all of us!

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Well we are back home. Lot's to write about but not tonight. Once again having updated when abroad, the page looks really odd (all links gone!), so I'll try to sort that our first.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

Having a bit of a lazy day today. Only managed to get out of our place at about 2:30 this afternoon, after an long sleep and a slow brunch. I forgot to mention how fab our apartment is. It's huge and fitted in a very sleek and stylish way. Looks like it could be in Wallpaper magazine or elle decoration.

The old town here has lots of great little bars, it's fair to say that we have been enjoing the local produce. Luckily no major hangovers so far. Last night we went to the opening night of a huge new exhibition in the contemporary art centre. Loads of people, were out aall smoking like mad and enjoying the free beer. It's strange but the old town area seems to be full of young people, whilst the larger new town is full of old people. Most of the people we have spoken to have been really nice, friendly and helpful, although we have run into a couple of older ladies with the more traditional Eastern Block idea of service.

For us English everything is really good value for money. Food is very cheap and filling, travel is amazingly good value. The other day we went to Europos Parkas which is about 20km outside Vilnius, although we had somewhat different cost on the outbound and homecoming trip it cost us about about fifteen pounds for the three of us to make the whole trip by taxi. The park itself was a great experience, we were there for about 5 hours, saw some very interesting things. Well worth a visit if you are in this part of the world.

On a less happy note we went to former KGB prision. A very bleak and depressing place, but an essential part of the recent history of this country. It's amazing to see the way people were treated. It was a pretty sombre way to spend our morning but fascinating all the same.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Well here we are in glorious Vilnius. What a fantastic place. I won't write much as the keyboard is a bit strange and we have been drinking a lot of Vodka over the past few days! Everything is amazingly cheap here. A 3 day festival starts on Friday lunch time, so that should be fun.

One new thing for me. After 41 years, I have, for the very first time been able to ride a bike! Very strange indeed. Nobody warned me about the sore bottom part of the deal though!!

Off for more food and drink.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Way too much rushing around going on this week. Enjoyed The Stands on Wednesday night, then last night Orynthia’s company held a 7th birthday party. Nice people, strange food!

Tonight it’s another birthday party, this time for Bo. It’s going to be a 50’s themed party, so Orynthia has a chance to wear one of her great 2nd hand dresses. As I’ve completely failed to get a hair cut over recent weeks, I think a large quiff will be the order of the day for me.

Then somehow we have to be packed and ready to leave for Lithuania at 9am on Saturday morning. I may be able to update this site from our apartment, if not I’ll be back here around September 17th.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

On Friday evening we managed to catch up with our friend Bob Jones for a couple of hours, sadly his wife Karen could not make it, but we had great chat for a couple of hours. Back in the mid to late 80's Bob was working in Bristol best record shop, and was involved in putting on gigs in Bristol with various friends. We laughed as he told about the negotiations that went on, as they tried to tempt bands down to Bristol. It was around the time that the Creation Records, C-86 sound was taking off in the indie music world.

They put on a whole series of gigs under the name EEC Punk Rock Mountain in the George & Railway pub. I now work about 50 yards from this sadly derelict pub, it came to light recently that The Vaseline's (so influential for Nirvana) played their first ever gig at one of those nights. Bob was saying that bands only cost around £20 to £30 pounds to book and they would often bring a support band with them. As a member of the audience, we were always entertained and the memory of the free sugar mice has lasted longer than the memory of some of the bands!

I think one of the last straws for Bob was when he promoted a Primal Scream gig in Bristol, when the band in true rock & roll style proved to be very awkward. It was a mid week gig, yet the gentlemen of the band were in no rush at all to play to the expectant crowd. Poor old Bob was virtually begging them to come on stage, and of course we were all asking Bob "When are they coming on". The poor chap was being driven mad by it all. Eventually they deigned to join us at around midnight, consequently most people gave the band around 15 minutes before heading tiredly for the exit door.

I don't think that Bob bothered too much about putting bands on after that. Too much hassle and not enough fun was the problem. Bob and his friends were never bothered about making money, they just wanted to bring bands to Bristol, that they wanted to see. It was really part of the whole indie ethic. Then suddenly and unexpectedly Oasis became the biggest band in the country and the people behind Creation records were being invited to a cocktail party with Tony Blair. Inevitably it all went wrong, good bands got dropped unless they sold thousands and thousands of records straight away, bands weren't really nurtured anymore and the charts went back to being appalling collections of manufactured, over choreographed, stylist driven bands. The good news is that behind the scenes, lots of people are involved in music because they love the thrill of a band connecting with an audience in a small sweaty room. There are still lots of great bands out there and thanks to things like digital radio and BBC radio 6 in particular we probably have more chance of hearing some of these bands than we have before.

Tomorrow night we are off to one of those small sweaty rooms, The Louisiana, to see The Stands. They are a band who are obviously routed in the school of Dylan and The Byrds, but who also have enough individuality to create some special moments of their own. We have also just found out that 2 of Orynthia's favourite bands, The Lucksmiths (Australia) and the Aisler Set (USA) are playing some very rare UK gigs together in Glasgow and Edinburgh in October. Looks like a perfect excuse to take advantage of the cheap Easyjet flights from Bristol to Scotland!