Friday, October 29, 2004

Due to a bit of stupidity on my part it looks as though we may well have 2 spare tickets for the sold out Iron & Wine Gig at St Bonns on Monday November 1st. It’s a long shot I know but if anyone should read this and wants to go the gig leave me a message in the comments section and we could try to sort something out. Remember that I won't see any messages before Sunday evening.The excellent Micah P. Hinson is the support act by the way.

Talking of music, I’ve picked up a few tunes this week, by coincidence there is a pretty heavy Bristolian element to the albums. First off was the excellent Smith & Mighty compilation called Retrospective. It’s great to have those groundbreaking early singles Walk On and Anyone on CD, along with their production work for Carlton and Fresh 4. It’s features lots of great tracks from more recent years and should be an essential purchase for anyone with an interest in music from Bristol.

Next up are a couple of Massive Attack related items, Daddy G’s contribution to the DJ-Kicks series and the Massive Attack soundtrack album for the film Danny The Dog. Daddy G’s album is a great mix old reggae favourites, a couple of old soul gems and few remixes. No major surprises but thoroughly enjoyable, it like having your iPod on shuffle and getting 17 killer tracks in a row. The soundtrack album is full of brooding instrumentals, some of which are really beautiful, as with most soundtrack albums, it’s hardly essential but fans who have to everything will find much to enjoy. Talking of those sort of fans they will be pleased to know that the Massive Attack – Mos Def collaboration “I against I” is included on Grants DJ Kicks album, I think it’s the first time it’s been commercially available.

My final purchase is the final album from the sadly departed Elliot Smith – From a basement on the hill. With the exception of the classic either/or his albums always take a while to really get into my head, I’ve only heard this new album once but it does have a couple of really fine stand out tracks. I’m sure that over the next few months I’ll be playing it a lot, such a shame that we won’t be getting anything else from intense and wonderful man.

We are off to Manchester in a few hours, as well as the Magnetic Fields gig, we are excitedly looking forward to visiting URBIS and CUBE where they have an exhibition on the work of one of our favourite architects Erich Mendelsohn.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Another busy few days in front of us. On Friday evening we head up to Manchester for the weekend. We are going to see the wonderful Magnetic Fields again and this time we get to see The Real Tuesday Weld playing as well should be great.

I gather that Manchester has changed a lot since we were last there. They have benefited from some great new buildings and museum/galleries over the last few years. We certainly aim to take in a few of those during our travels. It’s also a chance to catch up with Orynthia’s cousin who has been studying in Manchester for a couple of years.

Then on Monday evening we get our second chance this year to see the sublime Iron & Wine, should be an interesting gig as it’s the night before the American election, then again Sam Beam is not the most talkative guy in the world, so maybe he will keep his cards pretty close to his chest.

Forgot to say that when were away I read Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem. Earlier in the year I read his latest novel The Fortress of Solitude, which I really enjoyed. He has a great talent for setting you exactly in a location, and you can really feel the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan in his work. Very enjoyable indeed.

So it’s happened again, the death of someone I didn’t know had me on the verge of tears for most of yesterday. The last occasion was the death of Joe Strummer a couple of years ago, yesterday the news of the death of John Peel hit me even harder.

I think that I came to his radio show rather later than some, in the mid 1970’s I was an occasional listener although I was a fan of the sort of progressive rock music which was the staple diet of his show then. I well remember other friends of mine being outraged when he started playing punk and new wave but that anger passed me by. The real turning point for me was Xmas 1978 when for the first time I listened to the whole of the festive 50 and realised that I had been missing out on some amazing music.

As well as the more obvious bands like The Sex Pistols, The Clash and Buzzcocks, I discovered people like Magazine, Scritti Pollitti, Wah Heat, Teardrop Explodes, Ivor Cutler, Big Youth and countless others. Soon like so many people around the country, I was going to bed every night with the radio alongside me so that I could be educated, amazed and amused by this wonderful man.

In the early 1981 a few friends and I drove to Liverpool to see a gig and thought that we would take the chance to watch the then mighty Liverpool FC in action. During the match my car was stolen, never to be seen again. The thing that upset me most at the time was not the loss of the car, but of a mass of tapes of the Peel show which could never be replaced. Luckily I still have a few tapes from that period and how mesmerising they still are.

So many memories, the first time I heard The Smiths and Joy Division, the way he warned us before the first play of Blue Monday by New Order that some of us may not like it. Him breaking the news to us about the death of Ian curtis, then a few weeks later Malcolm Owen of The Ruts. Hearing amazingly moving things like Shipbuilding by Robert Wyatt and Song to the siren by This Mortal Coil, whilst driving along with the show on the car radio. The light hearted joy of the Belle and Sebastian live sessions at his home.

After an emotional afternoon listening to people from all walks of life talking about the great man, we went to The Bell where our friends Ian and Russ turned the regular Tuesday night session into a Peel tribute night. They played masses of records which may well have disappeared without trace, had it not been for the great man. Soon we were all swapping memories of the first time we heard certain records and general John Peel memories.

It’s so strange that on all those occasions when we thought we were alone in our rooms, we were really part of a huge social gathering, which is as sharp and vivid in our collective memories as any physical meeting. I suppose that was one of his great strengths, in his quiet, slightly perplexed and undemonstrative way John Peel made us all part of something. No matter that some of his musical selections were on occasions testing to say the least, his was a totally inclusive brand of broadcasting where everyone and everything with a spark of originality was welcomed.

Of course Ian and Russ had to finish with John’s favourite record, Teenage Kicks by the Undertones. God knows how many times we’ve heard that record over the years, but last night it sounded as fresh and vital as ever. He sure could pick ‘em.

You can read much more about him via the BBC websites.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Well the first thing to say is that we were shocked by the lovely weather in Bilbao. Everyone has been telling us for weeks that we had to make sure we took our umbrellas and waterproofs with us, because aside from The Guggenheim the one thing everyone knows about the place is that it gets a lot of rain.

So it was rather odd to be walking around in very warm sunshine, wondering exactly why we had packed that very warm jumper?

Lots of highlights - The amazing first sight of “that” wonderful museum as the bus from the airport emerges from a long tunnel through one of the many hills, which circle the city. Suddenly there it is right it front of you. In fact if you are sitting on the right hand side of the bus you feel as though you could almost reach out and stroke the mysteriously curved titanium clad exterior of the building.

We spent around 5 hours in the building itself and that was with one of the three floors closed due to the re-hanging of one of the galleries. Exhausting but thrilling, it really is a must see.

The less trumpeted Museo De Bellas Artes was also a real treat (even more so as we visited on Wednesday, when admission is free), featuring an excellent permanent collection of 20th century art and brilliant but slightly unsettling exhibition of the work of British sculptor John Davies.

The tour of the football stadium San Mames, the real heart of the city.

The Magnetic Fields gig in Barakaldo was great. Lovely theatre, nice support band (Astrud) perfect sound and a fine collection of songs made a perfect evening. Even if we missed the last metro train back to town and had to get a taxi.

Meeting up with our old friend Carlos, who showed us the sights of Getxo and took us to the splendid Bilboloop mini music festival featuring 6 bands over 2 nights. It was also great to meet his friends, whose grasp of English put us to shame.

Great and easy travel around the town including a spectacular Funicular ride. Lots of long lunches and tasty tapas, not forgetting the hugest and tastiest croissants I have ever seen.

We are back.
More pictures can be found here.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

A short fiction for you whilst we are away.

James Alexander-Gordon

As soon as I heard the newsreader say Alan Beckers name, I just knew what was coming next. If Alan could have been with me, he would have known as well.

It all started over 30 years earlier; our fathers were workmates who shared a mutual and unfathomable devotion to Bristol City. Luckily for Alan and myself, this meant that every other Saturday the four of us would meet at Alan’s Dad’s house before heading off to the game. Other than Alan, none of my other friends were allowed to go to matches, either their fathers did not like football or they could not afford to go. We were still too young to go on our own but, to be honest, even as the teenage years came screaming over the horizon, I always wanted to go with my Dad. I had no interest in running around with the teenage fools who would rather fight than watch the match.

Alan’s Dad was my Father’s boss and, although their easy camaraderie proved that this was a genuine friendship, there was no easy way to hide the obvious differences in the comparative lifestyles of our two families. Whilst we lived in a pleasant 3-bed semi in an average neighbourhood, the Beckers house a few miles away had not only a drive but also, amazingly, a tennis court (not that it ever appeared to be used).

Alan and I were not school friends; his education was expensively paid for, whilst mine was in the hands of the local primary school. So our friendship grew in fortnightly bursts rather than the more usual hours in the playground. Still, after a short while, a friendship did blossom. Fostered by our common interest in City’s mediocre struggles and, maybe more importantly, in a little after match ritual which we enjoyed on every journey home, the memory of which smacked into the front of my mind, with all the crispness of one of the great John Galley’s headers from the early 1970s, when I heard the newsreader mention his name.

In the days before dedicated sports channels dictated that the football could take place at any time and on any day, keeping up with the latest results was pretty easy. If you were at home on Saturday afternoon, it was a straight choice between the two rival Saturday afternoon TV sports programmes.

Some people would choose to watch ITV’s “World Of Sport”, although I never could understand why. The poor host always looked as though he had been dragged into the studio from some sort of foppish decorating session. What else could explain the clothes and the outrageous white streak in his hair? They even classed the absurd pantomime of wrestling as a sport. It was clear that these people could never be trusted to give you correct information.

The BBC, of course, offered us a programme which treated sport, and particularly football, with the seriousness it deserved. “Grandstand” was fronted by quietly determined men in tweed jackets, who cared as deeply about the goings on at Rochdale as Anfield. It was the only possible choice for any aspiring football supporter.

The real gem of the BBC’s sports coverage was, however, to be found on radio with the marvellous “Sports Report”. Nothing could ever match the excitement of dashing away from the latest Bristol City adventure, flinging open the doors of the car and switching on the radio just in time to catch the Central Band of the RAF launching into “Out of the Blue” at exactly 5pm. After the briefest round up of the day’s highlights, the microphone would be passed to James Alexander-Gordon for his reading of the football results.

This was where the real fun began for Alan and me. In a time long before predictive texting, the venerable Mr Alexander-Gordon mastered the art of predictive announcing. Intonation was everything, a poor performance from the home side meant that their name would be announced in a flat and slightly disappointed tone. If the away teams name fizzed out of the speakers in an upbeat manner, you knew before the score was announced that an away win had been achieved.

Alan and I would sit in the back seat of the car, desperately craning our necks forward into the gap between the driver and passenger seats in order to hear the voice of authority. In the split second gap between the announcement of the team name and their score, we would yell out, “nil”, “one”, “two” or sometimes “three”, based on the subtle clues we had been entrusted with. The away team was always slightly easier as you could tell from the very first syllable whether they had won, drawn or lost. As the condensation of those damp winter afternoons turned the car into a fog bound vessel offering occasional glimmers of Bristolian scenery, we shouted and laughed at our ability to second guess the thoughts of this great man.

Occasionally our guess would be thrown into disarray by an unusual combination. For instance, a slightly disappointed sounding “three” would confuse us - how could a home side score three and not win? All would be revealed with exuberant exclamation of the opposition’s name followed by an exultant “five”, causing the two of us to chuckle in amazement.

When the ritual was over and the action on the radio switched to reports from the ground, Alan and I would excitedly talk through the results and complement each other on our wonderful powers.

As the years passed, the joint visits to matches first slowed, then stopped all together. Both our parents went through divorces, which meant that our fathers moved out, making the travel plans too complicated to achieve. In the same way that Alan’s family had always embraced things like foreign holidays, colour TV, Fondue and Hi-Fi years before we could, his family split was the first to happen.

From that moment, I saw less and less of Alan although, as an aspiring young musician, I became used to hearing of his exploits through the local media. Although The TV and radio presenters could never match the artistry of James Alexander-Gordon, their upbeat tone clearly delighted in the fact that this local boy was destined for great things.

I was happy to wallow in the nostalgia of our brief, slightly forced friendship as my life proceeded in a fairly hum drum way. When his records were played on the radio at work in our small non-descript office, I could tell my colleagues about the excitement of having Alan Becker as a friend. He went on to live the rock star life to the full. Even his occasional brushes with law were greeted with the cheerful acknowledgement that this was someone just having fun and pushing the boundaries as far as he could.

So, it was a shock when I heard Alan’s name spoken with a near audible sigh and depressed tone and I knew that Alan had, for the first time in many years, lost at something. Sadly he’d lost something more important than a game of football.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

We’ve been a bit lacking on updates recently, this has been because of a few computer issues, thankfully all is ok again now.

Last night we went to The Cube to see the really rather splendid James Yorkston in action, as well as James we were entertained by the excellent local three piece Whalebone Polly and the idiosyncratic King Creosote. Top night all round, made all the better for having the chance to hook up with a couple of the old Imperial gang.

We are off to Bilbao for a week tomorrow, so we have been busily loading music onto our recently acquired iPod. Everything has been said before about these amazing little machines I guess, they really are incredible.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

It’s been a pretty busy end to the week! I’ve had a couple of job interviews, we went to an album launch, Orynthia finally got to do her much delayed hot air balloon ride, and we had a great night out, in our favourite local café/bar/restaurant.

For the interviews, I was faced with awkward suit or no suit dilemma, of course I got it wrong on both occasions. For the first one, I went for the suit option and in hindsight feel that the dreaded smart casual option would have been the better. Luckily the people interviewing me were lovely so there was no extended embarrassment. For the second interview, I went for the casual top button undone shirt look, with suit jacket and tidy(ish) jeans. So of course, I step into the office and everyone is dressed to the nines – oops got it wrong again! Once again the people I saw were terrific, interesting and funny which batted away any discomfort on my part.

I really enjoyed both the interviews, the first ones that I’ve had with people I don’t know since the late 1970’s!

Thursday evening saw the launch party for my friend Scott’s album at The River, on the Bristol harbour side. Scott is one half of the Dynamo Productions duo, and does his solo stuff under the name Boca 45. The album is called Pitch Sounds and is out on the very trendy Grand Central label. Loads of good stuff on this album, which features a few local MC’s, Tammy Payne of The Jukes and a brilliant track called Walking with the excellent McKay. Scott is great DJ if he comes to your town and he does travel pretty extensively (Europe, USA and Australia as well as the UK), then make sure you check him out.

We had to leave the bash early as Orynthia needed to be up and out before the sun rose, in order to take part in her long awaited balloon flight. This has been cancelled more times this summer than Bristol City have thrown away promotion, who would have thought that it would finally happen in October? Anyway luckily the sun shone and Orynthia said that the views of Deer running through the misty early morning fields were lovely.

Last night we hooked up with some old friends at The North on Gloucester Road for some good old-fashioned English food. A few of us had the now classic local Pieminister pies with mushy peas, mash and very tasty gravy. The others went for sausage and mash or fish and chips. Great simple food, lovely wine and fantastically friendly and helpful staff make this place a real winner, it was absolutely packed with an really eclectic bunch of people so we can’t be the only ones to think so.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

My brief period of time working in the Oxfam shop has made me realise how narrow the boundaries are between good and bad luck. In the past week or so I’ve seen so many records, which are almost valuable. Most of the time it’s not huge amounts of money were talking about but if the record was in the original sleeve or in better condition then maybe it would be worth £20 rather £1. Indeed we have one record, which could have been worth £45 in the original picture sleeve, if it had been in a certain version of that sleeve (and in perfect condition) that sum could have risen to £400.

Of course it would have been great for Oxfam if that had been the case, but generally speaking I really don’t like the whole rare record syndrome. Surely it’s best that people get excited because they like the “music” not the fact that it could make them a shed load of dosh on e-bay.

I’ve never really had anything of great value until my dad decided to give up on vinyl and go CD only a few years ago. So much of his music had acted as my guide in previous years, so I was delighted to have it passed onto me. Included in the collection were a couple of good jazz albums by a now pretty obscure British sax player from the 1960’s. I’d enjoyed them albums over the years without giving any thought to any value that they may have.

One day someone bought some albums by this musician into Imperial to sell and Mark told me how much they worth!! Sad to say, since then I always been a bit uncomfortable about playing them, I guess I fear damaging something which has a different sort of value attached to it now. In truth I would never sell the records anyway, they are part of me, trouble is all the other records I have are the same.

Sometimes I really envy the MP3 generation, they will never have the storage problems of our generation. I also admire them because they just want the music, not the scarcity value.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Much feverish activity has been taking place on our poor old iMac over recent weeks. Orynthia has been working flat out to complete the reworked website for our friend Jon and his band Modesty Blaise because tomorrow sees the Blaise boys sharing a new CD release with the likes of Primal Scream, Jesus and Mary Chain, Felt, My Bloody Valentine, The Magnetic Fields and many, many more on the latest Rough Trade Shops compilation “Indiepop 1”.

Much of the music is taken from the early eighties, the days when all the best records were 7” singles with hand coloured paper sleeves, wrapped in a clear plastic cover. Ah what simple times they were! We could have endless debates about the nature what constitutes “proper indie”, but following the breakthrough of Oasis the whole nature of the phrase seemed to change, and any guitar band seemed to be tagged as indie. Of course the whole Happy Mondays / Stone Roses Indie-dance crossover thing confused everyone even more and pretty soon the term had become virtually useless – Ocean Colour Scene, I ask you?

Back in the halcyon days of indie I would take the weekly hike to the top of Park Street, and enter the cosy little world of Revolver Records. Like most of the others I had the uniform of the day for Bristol indie boys, rockabilly shoes, hand rolled turn up on the bottom of black jeans and a simple plain jumper (T-shirts were permitted in summer), luckily I had defective version so I could also wear NHS glasses, the mark of every indie wannabe. Here we would gather to get very excited over the latest releases from the likes The June Brides, The Loft, The Wedding Present, The Soup Dragons (before they became successful of course!), indeed virtually anyone from Scotland, which really does have to be the spiritual home of Indiepop. Inevitably the near legendary “Rocker” of The Flatmates (also featured on “Indiepop 1”) would be working through his hand written list of the latest plays from the John Peel show, and Grant later to be Daddy G of Massive Attack fame would be booming out the latest pre release dub 12” from his position behind the counter.

Soon the enormous success of The Smiths started to change the makeup of our cosy, some would elitist, world but we still loved them even though they helped to blow our scene apart. Looking back it was a strangely insular world, hardly any American (they were often just too.... rock) or European bands. A few antipodeans such as The Chills and The Triffids were allowed to play but in the main it was very British affair.

These days things are very different with masses of old style indie bands emerging from North America (San Francisco in particular), Brazil, Scandinavia, Germany and Australia, whilst here in the UK the genre became much derided. The recent success of bands like Franz Ferdinand has started to change that maybe my old record collection has some value after all? One Thousand Violins and Mighty Mighty anyone?

Friday, October 01, 2004

Well my first week as an unemployed person is over, I’ve spent two and a half days working in the Oxfam shop, had a couple of visits to the job centre, spent an hour with a job agency and filled in countless forms, in short it’s been pretty busy.

I did manage to find time over the past couple of days to write a short story; it’s the first time that I have sat down to write a fictional item since my school days, a very long time ago!

I mentioned a while ago that I intended to do more writing, one of the reasons for starting this site, was that I wanted to have a place where I could get used the discipline of writing on a regular basis. I’ve been pretty pleased with that amount of material I’ve been able to produce, although not always so happy with the content. Anyway over the past couple of weeks, I had been formulating a very rough plot outline in my head and over the last couple of days I managed to commit it to paper.

Orynthia was not aware that I was undertaking this little exercise, so when she, received my email containing the piece yesterday, I think she was a little surprised. Luckily and pleasingly for me, she liked it and her words of encouragement have persuaded me to carry on writing fiction. I’m not sure what to do with it yet, I know that I need to get a few pieces together and then maybe I could try to get something published.

In a few weeks time we are off to Bilbao for a week, a chance for to relax together, check out the Guggenheim and see the wonderful Magnetic Fields. The same band has also given us an excuse to take a long overdue weekend trip to Manchester later in the month.

I also need to sort out my next job, I know what I want to do, but whilst I wait for that to happen, other options of varying degrees of interest keep being placed in front of me. Looks like I’ll have to do some serious thinking before we go away.

Should you want to be notified when this site is updated, you could fill in your details in the Notify box underneath the monthly achieves. You will get an email advising of the latest exciting addition! Why you busy people would want to have more emails dropping into your over flowing “In Box” I’m not sure, but the offer is there should you wish to take it.