Art, Film Review, life, lists, Live music review, Music, Uncategorized

My Cultural 2017

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After a pretty dull and devastating 2016 I became determined to make 2017 more interesting and engage myself with human life.  So far so good

I have been fortunate to meet a new and good friend this year via my yoga class; a woman, 12 years younger than me, just out of a 12 year same-sex relationship.  We’ve been great for each other and I’ve even found myself, recently, sitting in pubs on a Friday night with a group of men talking drunken nonsense and frankly enjoying it.  I’ve always been quite shy and introverted sitting in groups of other men, finding myself becoming detached and uninterested but now I think, what the hell, and join in, contributing my own slant and opinion on completely unimportant matters.

I’ve been on 2 dates; one in a new town to me; Hebden Bridge and the other in a beautiful old pub in Manchester called The Marble Arch Inn.  Nothing came of either but I’m feeling better for getting out there again.

At the start of 2017 I made a resolution to myself to visit the cinema at least once a month and read at least one book per month.  Progress is encouraging.  Not only have I made six visits to the cinema already this year I’ve been watching more films on the TV; here is my list to date:

Julieta (Cinema)

Whiplash (TV)

Deadpool (TV)

The Survivalist (TV)

La La Land (Cinema)

Venus In Fur (TV)

A Serious Man (TV)

T2 Trainspotting (Cinema)

Hail, Caesar (TV)

Fargo (TV)

Toni Erdmann (Cinema)

Raging Bull (TV)

Jackie (Cinema)

Moonlight (Cinema)

I’m on course with my books too, with 3 completed so far and a fourth on the go.  The first book read in 2017 (or rather finished after staring it in 2016) was Peter Ackroyd’s Rebellion, a book I was inspired to read after visiting The Houses Of Parliament in London last year.  After watching Paulo Almodovar’s excellent film Julieta, I then embarked on the series of short stories which inspired the film; Runaway by Alice Munro.  That was followed by John Hopper’s The Italians and now I’m reading The Lonely City by Olivia Laing.  The Italians satisfied my taste for all things Italian and Olivia Laing’s part autobiography, part biography helps me come to terms with the loneliness and feelings of being alone I have sporadically felt since I separated in 2014.

BBC Radio 6 Music and BBC Radio 4 are my constant companions; the former for great music the latter for excellent political commentary; ‘that talking shit‘, as my ex used to describe it.  6Music continues to be a great source for discovering new music and this year I saw the outrageous Cabbage in Liverpool and Josefin Ohrn and The Liberation at The Soup Kitchen, Manchester.  Honeyblood, Blue Oyster Cult and Radiohead already booked for this year and mustn’t forget Austra later this month.

When I’m at one of my yoga classes I often get asked what I’m up to and we talk about places visited, gigs attended, films watched.  People say I should write a blog about my ‘interesting’ lifestyle.  Funny, I don’t consider my lifestyle interesting.  Like social media, for every photograph we post of ourselves in smiling posture for the camera there are umpteen moments of boredom, ennui, trivia and outright dullness.  That’s pretty much how I would describe my life currently.  I envy those in relationships talking about their holidays and trips they’ve made with partners or friends. It makes me realise my life is not complete because I don’t have the intimate contact of a partner or lover.

I separated from my 2nd wife in April 2014 and last year discovered the guy she was having an affair with was my next door neighbour’s son.  It was a seriously devastating discovery which had a profound effect on my mental and physical health.  The next door neighbour thankfully moved house in January so that perpetual reminder is no longer in proximity and my pursuits in 2017 are have helped put that distraction behind me (again).  But what I have learned is that no relationship is better than a bad relationship.  I deeply regret ending my all too brief relationship with MFM in April 2015 but there is no mileage in believing half-hearted physical intimacy is a substitute for a mutually loving relationship; for me anyway.

Art, Live music review, Media, Music, Uncategorized

Cabbage – The Shimmer Band – April. Live at EBGBs, Liverpool. February 10th 2017

img_0728The first time I heard of Cabbage was during an interview on BBC Radio Five Live between Christmas and New Year.  They sounded young and bored and decried the lack of royalties they receive from Spotify.  As reward, no doubt for their appearance on the ‘serious’ talk radio station, one of their songs was played; Terrorist Sympathiser.  I liked it.  Sing-a-long lyrics sung by a bawdy lad drawing out his vowels with little regard for standing erect at a microphone stand. I thought of Johnny Rotten with his sleeves pulled over his clenched fists.

Forays into the music press revealed Cabbage as a bit of an upcoming band earning affection from music critics writing in broadsheet and music papers alike.  After looking them up and finding their scant website I discovered they were on tour and playing at both Manchester and Liverpool in the North West.  Manchester was sold out so I bought a dirt cheap ticket for the Liverpool gig at EBGBs.  The gig was last night.

EBGBs is the basement bar to it’s more grown up looking sibling Heebie Jeebies on Seel Street.  The cheerful door crew waived me through, I’d shaven my hair completely for the occasion, thinking the lack of grey stubble might help me blend in more with the kids. EBGBs is tiny with a bar in one section adjacent to the auditorium separated by a low arch carved out of the bowels of the pub and what once was, clearly, the cellar to the pub above.

After paying £4.50 for a bottle of Estrella Damm I ducked under the arch to see first support band April in full swing.  April are aptly named as the callowness of the band members matches the month which heralds the first days of Spring.  I imagine the band I played in at school looked a lot like April without the stresses and strains of being on a national tour.  They looked like a bunch of kids whose soap their mums had packed for them had long since worn out and they couldn’t work out how to recharge the batteries in their bum-fluff razors.  I was reminded of Ant & Decs attempt to re-create an episode of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads with their appallingly applied 5 o’clock shadows fresh from make-up, in an attempt to make them look older and wearier.  These kids had it in spades.  They could play and their next single, Time, had a bass line worthy of a sample or two.  The bass player was probably the kid who took A level music and scored a grade 5 piano; there’s always one.

April dismantled and removed their equipment, The Shimmer Band moved  in and assembled theirs on stage.  Sound and light guys walked back and forth with tablets fiddling with the son et lumiere.  After much testing of microphones the Shimmer Band shimmied back off stage and the house sounds came on for another 10 minutes.  It was apparent the band couldn’t play their set without the benefit of sunglasses and they re-emerged donning cheap looking shades which suggested they’d spent the 10 minute hiatus in search of a 24 hour petrol station where they could buy emergency sunglasses.  A swirling opening worthy of the finest Dervish musicians began with the flabby arms of the  lardy singer emerging from a gold velvet t-shirt prodding towards the ceiling.   A stomp of his foot heralded the band joining in with the backing tape as it became suddenly apparent the boy could sing.  The white plastic sunglasses clashed strikingly with his velveteen t-shirt but the voice inside caused the audience to stop and register what sounded like an English Ronnie James Dio.  No sword and sorcery was this as punk energy met middle eastern rhythms during a noisy set of of well constructed songs.  I think they’re from Nuneaton…or was that April.  My listening and viewing pleasure was curtailed when a lady about 5′ 8″ tall stood on the step I was on at the back of the hall, smack bang in front of me with her 2 friends and they began to chatter and laugh loudly.  It was rude it was ignorant and I told them; selfish idiots.

Cabbage followed The Simmer Band.  I read a few live reviews of the band from their 2016 tour and to be honest they weren’t that positive.  The band’s antics were largely thought of as contrived and set them aside as rebels without much of a cause.  Another delay caused by the sound system and they arrived onstage at 10.10pm just after the chattering lady who’s rear neck I had become rather too familiar with had fucked off.   Cabbage continued the trend of the bands playing in ascending age order with their teenage years seemingly just behind them.  T shirts were quickly dispensed with by the two main protagonists of the band who between them shared lead vocal and guitar duties.  It was difficult to tell most of the time as the stage at EBGBs is only about a foot higher than the hall floor and even from my slightly elevated position, I could only see them from the neck up.

The moshpit was in full swing and I enjoyed the gig vicariously sharing the mayhem going on down the front which felt sticky and sweaty.  After two songs the road crew emerged to implore the audience to take a step back  as their momentum had caused something of a stage invasion.  The band said they were ‘fucking skint’ and couldn’t afford to replace any damaged pedals;  “There’s plenty of fuckin’ shit to go and smash up out there, but don’t smash up Cabbage’s equipment” the singer implored.  “Who thought this would be a good idea?” he rhetorically asked before bigging up the audience.  They were great; swigging beer and crowd surfing on an audience who provided backing vocals when the singer found himself po-going in the third row.  He amused me when he announced the next song was about dead people and ‘why we like shagging them’; I couldn’t restrain a reflective chortle.

The crowd, mostly made up of students (I think I was the 2nd oldest there), got their moneys worth with a set of blistering energy and well crafted punk-pop songs.  Cabbage 2017 are kids on fire who, if they took any notice of their critics in 2016, have learned to have a fucking good time on stage and let their music do their talking for them. If they don’t implode they have a chance to replicate fellow Mancs, The Happy Mondays as stardom awaits.  After it all finished the band came out and mingled with the departing audience.  I shook one of the singer’s hands and he seemed genuinely pleased when I told him I enjoyed the performance and what a great gig it was.  There was enough humility which made him likeable which, along with his talent should see them through.

Well done cabbage, you fulfilled my 5 a day.

Music

Daily Prompt: We Got The Beat

I cannot confess to being the most prolific of bloggers; ever since my employer blocked logging into WordPress my output has practically dried up.  However, I have a day off today with not much organised and I was intrigued by the Daily Prompt post entitled ‘We Got The Beat’ (I’m sure there will be a way of putting a link to that blog here but I have yet to discover how to include it). The post invites bloggers to share their experiences of being in a band, amongst other suggestions, but it was the being in a band aspect which caught my attention and offered me something to do post gym. I was in a band…

As a kid, I could never play a musical instrument although I did fancy myself as a drummer should the opportunity ever present itself to me to actually sit behind a kit and give it a whack. My music taste in my teens rarely ventured further than Rock and the first band I ever went to see was British Rock band UFO at the Nottingham Playhouse in 1978.  in the years to come I would see a multitude of live bands but while most of my peers would handle air guitars I had the knack of being able to switch effortlessly from air guitar to air drum kit whenever a particular fill was required. It was about this time that some fiends and I got together with the intention of forming a band. A couple of mates had acoustic guitars, another had an electric base with an amplifier and I had a dream of playing the drums. The others hooked up primitive pick-ups to their guitars and I began with an up turned wicker basket, a biscuit tin and a couple of wooden spoons as we convened in Rick Gaskell’s bedroom and wrote our first song; Dead Dog – about Tim Farrel’s greyhound. While still at school, another guy in our year suddenly decided he was a fan of Elvis Presley and did as much as he could to look like a 1950s version of him and sing like him. He had got a gig at the annual school Rugby Show and needed a backing band and we were the only potential ‘musicians’ he could call on. At this point it was all systems go as the guitarists went out and bought the best electric guitars they could afford (Gibson Les Paul and Fender Stratocaster copies) and I borrowed the school drum kit as the music teacher allowed us to rehearse in the school music room room (in exchange for me attending his weekly Christian Union meetings!) This offered me my first chance to sit behind a drum kit and as you can imagine I beat the living Daylights out of it. Rehearsals continued and we practised 4 Elvis classics for our 10 minute slot which were: Blue Suede Shoes, Love Me Tender, Teddy Bear and Hound Dog. The Rugby Show was a 3 night show of performances by each school year predominantly by members of the school rugby teams, although none of us by this time played any rugby. I can vividly remember these 3 ‘gigs’ and just how well they were received. Teaching staff stood at the side of the stage to watch us and people in the audience actually got up out of their chairs and danced. It was quite amazing and our singer, Gary Slack, was a great showman. For the next couple of years we increased our repertoire of songs, mostly 50s rock n roll as we added songs by the likes of Bill Haley, Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry amongst others as well as writing a few of our own songs and I had bought my first drum kit for £30 off a guy I met working for a local rose grower and horticulturalist. By now we had a name as we became Gary Slack And The Wild Turtles, or if Gary was feeling particularly empowered he would become Garfield Tremayne. Playing music was a lot of fun and I loved it and we began to develop a bit of a name for ourselves until one day we were invited to a local recording studio in Nottingham called Sin City to cut a demo tape. This whole experience would turn out to be the end of the band as our cheap equipment was shown up for what it was in the sound-proofed environs of the recording studio and although Gary was kept on by the studio the rest of us were unceremoniously dumped.

So we were left with the nucleus of a band but no singer and we all still wanted to carry on. Tim, who had been kicked out of the Wild Turtles in a power struggle with Gary rejoined Phil, Richard and me and we recruited Dave ‘Feathertouch’ Stocker to play drums and I took over the vocals. I could sing a bit and I still do a bit of Karaoke to this day but I wouldn’t get past the first stage of auditions on X Factor even in those days!  We decided to go ‘Rock’ and picked the name Abattoir (seriously) as we learned a number of standard rock songs. We did a couple of school gigs with a set list that included songs such as Smoke on The Water (of course), Status Quo’s Big Fat Mamma (now that was a struggle to sing!), and a few songs mostly written by me and Tim with titles like Suicide, Come On And Get a Down On Me (blush) and Over The Top 1916.  Well, we were naive teenagers at the time!  In some quarters we went down quite well but we were invited to play a couple of gigs, one on an exchange visit to a small French town called Feignies where we blew the electricity as soon as we turned the equipment on and for a charity gig at The Nottingham Royal Concert Hall where I still have memories of the first 3 rows of old age pensioners with their fingers in their ears as we belted out Smoke On The water…oh well.  They were good times and for a  few happy years music dominated my life…more so even than football and I still say now looking back that I would have been quite content to be a drummer in a band living out the back of a van eking out a living.  But I didn’t follow my dream and due largely to parental pressure I settled for a life of what has been for the most part, taken up by dull office jobs, alas. 

I don’t really see any of the guys in the band any more.  Richard, sadly, died in a skiing accident – he was the real musician amongst us, Phil Wright went off to university with his electric guitar and still no doubt knocks out Status Quo riffs from time to time.  Tim, or Tom as I nick-named him, quit university and grew a beard and was last thought to be gutting fish in Holland and I never really know what happened to Dave.  Gary became front of house manager of the The Nottingham Playhouse Theatre and was last known to be making books for deaf people – or something similarly worthwhile.  He never did quite make it to Vegas but although not actually an Elvis impersonator, as they go he was a good one.  Good times and when I think the last time I sat behind a drum kit was 1983 it just shows how long ago it all was – unless you count playing Rock Band on the PS3!

Food And Drink, Music, travel

Grillstock…Meat/Music/Mayhem

I’d never heard of Grillstock before I read an article in the June edition of Lonely Planet magazine advertising it as one of the ‘must attend’ events during the month. Having never knowingly attended a ‘must attend’ event I entered it onto our radar and C duly bought tickets for us to attend the Manchester event on Saturday June 8th. The weather had been set fair all week and this weekend was no exception so it was lightly garbed that we set off on a walk to St Annes-On-The-Sea station to catch the train to Manchester Oxford Road via Preston. The train was running about 20 minutes late but we arrived in a very sunny Manchester at around 1.45pm before walking in the direction of Albert Square for the BBQ event of the year. C looked great in her new Italian silk frock from T K Maxx, I was in a Ralph Lauren shirt, Armani 3/4 length shorts and Keen sandals (for those who care about such things!).

We could smell Grillstock before we could see it as the aroma of barbecued meat wafted breezily towards us to herald the pleasures which awaited us. C had bought E tickets for the event which worked fairly efficiently but within a minute of queuing we were in amongst what was clearly a well attended local event.

We both experienced an immediate sensation of information overload as our visual, hearing and smelling senses were bombarded by a smoregasbord of sound, smells and sights with people milling around, drinking booze, chomping on meat and the aroma of succulent meats tantalizing our senses. After a walk round we both queued up at a tent run by a group of friendly South Africans and we definitely chose the right line to join as they kept us tempted by feeding us pieces of just cooked rib and chicken as well as engaging us in friendly chat about what they were doing and how they were cooking. Just as we reached to head of the queue, I gave C my order for pulled pork and barbecued corn while I went off to a little wine outlet selling New Zealand winf from Marlborough and bought us a glass each (£4 per glass). We sat on the steps under the statue of one of Manchester’s founding fathers as I tucked into my pulled pork, corn and slaw. It was a reminder to me how superior overseas coleslaw is the tasteless creamed vegetable stuff we tolerate when you taste a slaw made up of subtle flavours and the tang of red wine vinegar. The pulled pork was amazing; tender and full of the flavours it had been marinated in and C’s ribs were tender and sweet. Great food, great wine and blazing sunshine with the soundtrack of sweet soul music playing live in the background; what could be better?

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After the wine and food it was off to the beer tent for a pint of
Brooklyn lager and a glass of Chardonnay for C as we lay back against the plinth if the statue and drank in the atmosphere. After another drink we decided to go for a bit of a wander around Manchester City centre; the city was abuzz with people many in attendance for the Rod Stewart and Bon Jovi concerts also taking place in the city tonight and the ParkLife event at Heaton Park just outside the centre. We had a pee in House of Fraser and a mosey around Harvey Nics and Selfridges – C tried on some blue lipstick much to our amusement and another drink at The Mitre. We then had a walk down to Canal Street in Manchester’s Gay Village which always has a great vibe about it and we had a couple more drinks, sitting outside, manoeuvering ourselves to catch the last glimpses of the sun peering between the buildings.

We walked back to Albert Square, stopping on the way at a Tesco Express to purchase a bottle of Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc which I stuffed into my deepest pocket before flashing our ‘pass out’ stamps to the stewards and returning to Grillstock. We found a position under our statue again, the barbeques and stalls were still going strong and the music had changed to reggae. C found some plastic glasses and we slowly drank our bottle of sav blanc. There is nothing quite like being with the person you love, totally relaxed, drinking good wine with music, food and happy people all around. Perhaps it could only have been bettered had we been on a beach instead!? The next question was what food to try next as we wandered round the stalls some tempting us with their cooking smells, others with the site of their food. I chose a spicy sausage sandwich which I smothered in the spiciest chilli sauce I could which probably wasn’t a great idea and C had one herself. We had another drink each before fatigue and satiation got the better of us and with the last band still playing we made our way back to Piccadilly station. We still have time for another glass of Peroni before catching the train back to St Annes via Preston at the end of a quite fantastic day.

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Magaines, Media, Music

I’ve got your music

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Where I live and work in the St Annes-On-The-Sea part of Lytham St Annes, when this supposed summer’s day is beset by strong winds and drizzle, there isn’t really much to do during the lunch break other than have a browse around the local branch of WH Smith. It’s not one of their bigger branches but they sell a selection of books, magazines, cards and stationery, much as you would expect from any branch of the ubiquitous newsagent. I must visit 3 or 4 times a week just to kill a few minutes by browsing a book, flicking through a magazine or scanning a newspaper. It’s repetetive, certainly, and a long stretch from the days when I worked in cities such as Leiceter, Nottingham and Manchester with a myriad of shops and walks to make the lunch hour a worthwhile escape from the goings-on in the office. But if there is one thing that strikes me, even in the modest surroundings of our local ‘Smiths’ is the abundance of music magazines on sale these days. I remember when I was an avid music fan in the 1970’s you were pretty much limited to a choice between the New Musical Express (or NME as it became popularly known), Melody Maker and Sounds. Sounds used to be my paper of choice, delivered by the local newsagent on a Wednesday morning because of its coverage of rock and heavy metal which I was particulalry ‘in to’ at the time. Melody Maker continued to hang on to it’s pre-punk hippy roots and the NME, which by its own admission was late onto the punk scene made over-zealous amends for its past musical lethargy by becoming the paper for punks, post-punks and anything which chimed with two thirds of its abbreviated title, new and musical. There was also The Record Mirror but that didn’t seem to linger for long and if I remember correctly got swallowed up by Melody Maker. With the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, or NWOBHM, in full swing by the late 70’s and early 80’s, Sounds’s champion of all things heavy, Geoff Barton (or Def Barton to his mates) was the must-read music journo for all things metal back in the day; apart from his habit of awarding any Kiss output, no matter what the quality (Unmasked, anyone?) a fabulous 5 stars out of 5 including two awards of 6 out of 5 (seriously) for 2 of the 4 solo albums the Kiss members produced at the time (Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons if I again remember correctly).

By the mid-80s both the Melody Maker and Sounds appeared to have lost their way by hanging on to old trends whilst the NME which managed to keep abreast of the fast pace of youth culture of the period (The Smiths!) and as Melody Maker and Sounds disappeared from our Newsagents’s shelves, The NME had a near monopoly on quality music journalist publication. For the pop afficionados, Smash Hits ruled the shelves but it was the NME which spawned a host of fine writers that achieved the longevity which still sees it appear on our newsagent shelves, albeit in glossy magazine format today. Some of those old NME journalists went on to form new magazines such as Q which now captures that BBC 6 Music audience which crosses the divide between the best music of yesteryear while having the confidence to promote the best and worst of new artists amongst their output. A decade or so ago came magazines like Mojo which seemed to be aimed at the old Melody Maker crowd while readers of Sounds emigrated to its then sister magazine Kerrrang, aimed at the old metal heads. All 3 sit crowdedly vying for space on the shelves of a CTN (concectioner, tobacconist and newsagent) near you! I mean, just look at the photo…there are magazines for every genre of music, new and old, classical and pop with specialist publications for musicians and collectors. God knows what the circulation figures are for Acoustic, but there it sits alongside 4 other specialist guitar magazines…and good luck to it to, it’s good to see a wide range of magazines for sale in a sleepy seaside town catering for all tastes in readership in this digital age.

I don’t buy magazines as often as I’d like but there are some great choices out there amongst the music, fashion, food and lifestyle. I tend to go for Q magazine when I choose a music mag but I’m not an avid reader. The NME is still there even though I last bought it in Christmas 2011 but long may they sit there and be read, championing live and new music because it would be a lot gloomier world without them!

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