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.

Film Review, Uncategorized

The Assassin – A Review

IMG_0328I have wanted to see this film ever since I read a review in Sight & Sound magazine and also because my forays into the Wuxia genre – House OF Flying Daggers, Hidden Dragon Crouching Tiger – left me hugely satisfied.

Last week I directed a Tweet to my nearby independent cinema and Odeon  asking why this picture wasn’t being shown at their cinemas local to me in the Fylde Coast area.  Odeon replied it is on limited release, something to do with print availability and distribution causing me to travel 50 miles to watch it in a tiny 60 seat cinema in the HomeMcr (Home Manchester) complex.

I confess I had no knowledge of Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien prior to engaging my interest with this film but I read about his incredible attention to historic and material detail, meticulous research as well as his disclosure that in historical terms we have little knowledge about the lives and times of the inhabitants of 10th Century China under the Tang dynasty other than its rich written and artistic culture.  Therefore it may be no coincidence that Hou declines to offer little in terms of character backstories but finds sufficient in the beauty of the country, art, furniture and costume to keep us spellbound by his sumptuous and vivid spectacle.

There is a story of a troubled girl, born to a noble family but exiled on grounds of political expediency to be raised by her aunt, a Taoist nun, who trains her in the martial arts to become an efficient and effective killer.  What we see about this assassin, similar to Uma Thurman’s Black Mambo in Kill Bill, she has a conscience, which tends to be pricked when children are involved.  Her failure to complete 2 of her assignments incurs the wrath of her mentor but in between lies all the political intrigue prevalent in a dying dynastic empire of the characters who’s decisions may determine the future of the dynasty and the lives of the many people we encounter. Farmers, nobles and servants are all stakeholders but you get the impression that life, in all its beauty will go on come what may.

We all like a fight scene and on screen death is entertaining.  People die and fight in The Assassin but the combat scenes are fast, short and sporadic.  In fact, the violence is incidental to the film with few gravity defying feats of swordplay at all even though there are occasional nods to the parallel Wuxia universe of jianghu where the constraints of earthly physics are relaxed.  But don’t worry about that.

What makes this film so spectacular and worth the entrance fee is the spectacle and the soundtrack.  There is very little music in the film but instead, vast open vistas of Chinese country are accompanied by the plaintive noises produced by nature.  The chirp of unseen insects or the breeze blowing through the grass; chuckling children at family gatherings, watched at a distance amongst lowing cattle.  It almost has a soporific drawing the viewer into it’s dreamlike landscape – you could almost be in a dream or a spiritual, unseen watcher of preceding behind gently cascading lace curtains, hidden behind a wooden pillar or amongst nature in a forest, perhaps behind a waterfall.

The gentle pace of this film will draw you into its beauty and wrap around you with the warmth of a duvet.  Watch it more than once, it’s intoxicating.

Uncategorized

Two Thousand And Fifteen

I suspect that at this time of year, many will be reflecting on the past 12 months and looking forward to a new year and whatever it will bring.  To do this would seem on face value a very irrational thing to do.  One day flows into the next, night follows day, season after season, etc.  But somehow the norms of time seem not to apply.  For me, I’ve had an extended period of time off work and above all have to get through the month of December.  December was until recently a month that I loved but for the past two years, living through it has been a chore.  Why?  Because my wife’s birthday is in December and she used to make Christmas extra special.  Then we would do something exciting together for new year.  Readers of this blog will know that my wife #2 and I separated in April 2014 and that’s why December is shitty.  That’s why a year ends and a new one begins.

The clue above gives me the opportunity to state again that for me, 2014 was a bloody awful year.  I ended that year very optimistic about 2015 and was determined to put my life with wife #2 behind me and forge ahead in the new year.  So how have I got on?

The one thing I missed was being in a relationship so this became a focus for me.  I was determined to shed the baggage of our separation which had become an intrusion into the relationships I had attempted to nurture, mostly through internet dating, but had petered out pretty quickly had they got even remotely off the ground.

So I began the year meeting a lady in person who I  met on a dating site.  Things started off  promisingly, we had stuff in common, we made each other laugh but…it lasted less than a month.  The baggage was still there, it influenced my thinking, I still wanted a clone of wife #2.  I still yearned after her and I wanted her back.  This, in spite of knowing she was living about 4 miles away with another man.

I planned that on St Valentine’s Day I would send her one more missive asking her to meet me and come back.  It was at this moment I discovered she was off work on maternity leave.  Yes, she was having a baby.  Within 24 hours (we all know someone who knows someone who knows…) I learned she had the baby in January, 9 months after she left me.  I was…surprised, surprised more than shocked because I had suspected it but it brought down a curtain, the final curtain.  Without it being a thunderbolt from Zeus it quietly and calmly made me realise, that was it.  There would be no reconciliation, it was over.  It was already over but now I knew it was over.

And as luck would have it a lady who I met briefly (via an internet dating website – thanks Guardian Soulmates) in September 2014 got in contact with me and we met up in Manchester.  Manchester is roughly 50 miles away from me and about 90 minutes on a train.  I went.  And I went again.  And again after that to the point where I would catch a train to Manchester every Saturday lunchtime, we would meet up, drink, walk round, often end up in a gay bar and then…then I would catch the last train home at 8.45pm.  She has 3 daughters, I have 1 son.  But it was great.  I adored her, we had a meeting of minds, she was kind, compassionate, emotionally intelligent, attractive, politically aware, interesting, diverse, sexy.  I took a day off, my son went on an overnight school trip…we had our moments, occasionally; and if we could persevere for 3 years, our kids would be old enough, possibly be at university by 2018 all would be fine.  In theory.

I was distracted.  Distracted by a lady at work, a senior lady and a local lady.  I cut Manchester off.  Completely and abruptly.   It was a risk but I took it.  Big mistake.  This lady was leaving a disastrous relationship, was needy, boozy, desperate.  I called it off.  Manchester was gone.  I tried again with local, same result.  Back to internet dating…met a larger than life lady, twice, then over.  I tried local again who had by now moved away from the abuse.  Hello, changed person, in control, settled, content, happy.  It’s working, it’s going well, it could work, it will work!  What could possibly go wrong?! This:

My boss at work left for another job.  A vacancy arose, I applied for it.  So did a few others, I got the job!  Jealousy, bitterness, pettiness, call it what you will, the local lady who had no influence in the recruitment process became the focus of people’s bile.  Comments were made, rumours started, she called the whole thing off.  I’m single again.  The job is temporary until March 31st 2016, I may get it but she cannot afford to be seen to be in a relationship with me and be accused of any bias.  It’s over.

2015 teased me.  It was good. Manchester was beautiful, my lady, my kind of woman but circumstances were against us.  Local may not have worked but it might work.  Post March 2016 who knows?  Career, relationship, surely 2 things can’t go right for me at once?  My life doesn’t tend to work like that.  It’s time for me to take control.  To work hard, to get the job and then do what is appropriate romantically.  What I want and get it.  Roll on 2016.IMG_0122

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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lists, travel

List, at last!

The feeling! The freedom! The…the…the sheer joy! I’ve done it, I’ve made a list! OK, it may not be up there with Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’ list but I bet he didn’t feel so blissfully empowered as I do having completed mine. You see, I am, after all, Lazy Bill. I don’t usually do things such as lists, I am, generally speaking, disorganised; I just do things when I have to with a minimum of preparation or pre-oganisation. But with my list in hand, I can say “I’m Prepared”, I have a plan and I’m going to make it work!

Right, I’ve calmed down a bit now, the euphoria is wearing off. So what is this list, I suspect you’re all wondering, that is causing such elation? Well, I’ll tell you. Next week, my wife is taking me to Berlin for a few days as part of the celebrations for my impending 50th birthday. We fly from Liverpool to Schonefeld Airport on Wednesday, spend a couple of nights at the Grand Hotel Esplanade and return on Friday. Now, normally when I go on a trip, I just get a large bag out the cupboard, scan my wardrobe, put a few clothing essentialls inthe bag, a shirt or two, t-shirts, toiletries and before I know it I’ve got enough clothing and accessories to last a month long cuise through the freezing Norwegian Fjords and crossing the Atlnatic for a sojourn across the Caribbean. But that’s not how it is this time…Oh no. this time I’m travelling light and I’m planning ahead!

Last Saturday we went to Manchester and I bought myself a 40 litre bag, just the right size to take into the cabin and this will carry my ‘stuff’ in its entirety.

My new North Face 'hand luggage' bag
My new North Face ‘hand luggage’ bag

The bag cost £120 and it has all the right dimensions get in an Easyjet cabin for free, so for a return journey that’s a saving of £50 so it’s already saved me about 40% of its value! And the list? Well, about 5 days ago during a quiet period at work I got a piece of paper out and made a list of all the clothing and toiletries I’m going to take. I’ve transferred it all onto useful little app called Wunderlist and I’m good to go! I’m even tempted to pack my bag now, a full 5 days before we set off just so I can feel doubly organised (and probably doubly smug).

It’s a little thing but in some ways means much to me that I’ve discovered, on the eve of my 50th birthday, that a little bit of forward planning and preparation has taken the stress out of a process I’ve always considered a dull and stressful chore which is one of those requirements that cause stress and anxiety which is at the root of my laziness and underachievement. Yes, it’s true, I avoid stress and anxiety like the plague so if its not worth doing I don’t do it and if it has to be done I do it at the last minute in a rush of stress fuelled adrenaline.

So, it’s goodbye stress and its goodbye anxiety. Lists are the future. If only I’d known 35 years ago.

food, Food And Drink

Turkish Coffee

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We all love Italian coffee, right? Well, certainly the versions of latte, cappuccino served up by the giant conglomerates such as Starbucks, Costa, Nero etc and copied by copious independent cafes, merely to keep pace. But what about Turkish coffee?

My first perception of Turkish coffee was when I would travel to Tottenham Hotspur home matches in North London and after alighting at Seven Sisters tube station I would walk past a myriad of Turkish coffee bars and see young Turks through the windows sitting in groups with a small cup of coffee in front of them and generally smoking a cigarette (no doubt Turkish tobacco). I always wondered where the pleasure was to be found in quaffing what looked nothing more than a mouthful of black coffee but I assumed there was something in it. And of course, in the James Bond movie From Russia With Love, Ali Kerim Bey offers Bond a Turkish coffee which he requests medium sweet.

My first taste of Turkish coffee came soon after the outstanding Turkish Anatolia restaurant opened in my local Lytham St Annes and we paid a visit for Mother’s Day. We ordered Turkish coffee and I initially declined to take it with sugar. However, I was advised by the Turkish restaurateur to take it with sugar so in true 007 style, I ordered it ‘medium sweet’. I watched him make the beverage in a traditional cezve pot and pour it into cups narrower and slightly taller than the traditional espresso cup. I was initially surprised at how thick the coffee was and because I usually take espresso without sugar I also noticed the sweetness which helped reduce the bitterness. After you drink your way to the bottom of the cup you find a thick layer of coffee grounds which are not to be drunk and a bit of research tells me there is various superstition attached to the grounds which can reveal your fortune!

Yesterday I was enjoying Turkish coffee again with C in Manchester’s Topkapi Palace restaurant where we enjoyed a meal from the lunchtime menu, two courses for £7.35 with a bottle of Turkish wine followed by the coffee ordered, as usual, medium sweet.

If you have the chance I would recommend searching out the opportunity to try a Turkish coffee which makes a pleasant change from the usual espresso and gives you a similar hit of caffeine. It also takes your taste buds all the way to The Bosphorous where east meets wets…etc zzzz