B+A to Ballad of Climie Fisher

FOUR years ago, this day was spent journeying through three US states.

It kicked off going to bed on a big green bus in Seattle, Washington (while listening to Nirvana) in the early hours, breakfast was on the road somewhere in Oregon and much of the day was spent in the Redwood State Park, California.

Golden Gate Bridge - Somewhere in there
Golden Gate Bridge – Somewhere in there

The evening was spent celebrating my 40th birthday in fairly riotous fashion in the town of Arcata while the mist that swathed the Golden Gate Bridge as we arrived in San Francisco the following morning was somehow in keeping with the state of my head.

Four years on, 44 has arrived with my head in a better state, bar being a bit bunged up from hayfever which meant it started far too early, albeit in my own bed (listening to Radio Five Live). Breakfast was in Cheltenham, while much of the afternoon has been spent sat tapping away at this laptop and my shiny new present to myself, which comes complete with an Apple logo on it. The evening promises much of the same.

Things have changed a bit over the past four years.

And they promise to change again – next year’s birthday will be in… well, not sure, but somewhere in east Africa. Possibly Tanzania or Kenya as a 10-month trek around the dark continent enters its last couple of months.

Wherever completing another year happens, this leisurely saunter (or long trek – opinion dependent on the quality of songs which pop up on my iPod) from A to Z will still be going strong. At the current rate, we will be somewhere on songs beginning with G…

It’s all making 10 months around Africa look like a bit of a sprint.

It also means we are very much still in the foothills, having just began the road through B, which started with B+A by The Beta Band and has been dominated by songs beginning with four words.

Baby… took up all of a journey to Cardiff and a couple of trips to the tip, Back… a very loud journey back to Gloucester with Bad… taking over the daily commute to and from Cheltenham (which goes to show when and where most of the required listening goes on) before this section ends with the beginning of a run of Ballads.

The Baby… section – which managed to include Babylon’s Burning by The Ruts blaring out on one trip to the tip to dispose of the detritus left lying around my house by the departing tenants – was, to be honest, not the most thrilling run of tracks.

It had its moments – Baby from Warpaint or Baby Missiles by War on Drugs, although not sure that was really worth three versions back to back – but was largely forgettable.

Thankfully, it got back on track as we moved into Back…, which all kicked off with Back At The Farm by White Denim, who also sent me off on a major detour from the direct route from B to C.

White_Denim_-_Corsicana_LemonadeTheir Corsicana Lemonade album popped up towards the tail end of last year and convinced me to stump up for a couple of tickets to see them in Bristol and wave one of them under my brother-in-law’s nose as his Christmas present (mine in return was one to see Half Man Half Biscuit).

But it rather dropped off my radar in the intervening months and so the A to Z trip had to be abandoned for a rapid reacquaintance. Not that rapid – we got an extra nine day’s grace as the delights, commercial and otherwise, of an appearance on Later… forced a postponement.

And was it worth the wait? Well, yes. Probably.

They pack some good songs – particularly the wonderful At Night In Dreams, which appeared in the last post – and are all fantastic musicians, particularly the bewildering drummer. The lead singer comes across as the love child of Marcus Brigstocke and Richard Ayoade while the guitarist and bassist, stood resolutely on the opposite side of the stage, appear to have come straight out of central casting for two diverse, stereotype figures you might find in a southern bar.

They are good, but they really need to realise not every song has to be drawn out beyond its natural boundaries – for almost the last hour, you are convinced this just has to be the final song as they cannot keep drawing bigger and bigger climaxes and jams out of each track. Oh yes they can.

Back to the Backs and classics from two of the keys bands which soundtracked my teenage years (and much of the last three decades, to be honest) – Back of Love by Echo and the Bunnymen, sung very loudly (twice) on the journey back across the Severn, and the beautiful Back To The Old House, the finest entry by The Smiths yet.

Bad… was, well, better than the name implies. Courtesy of an influx of new songs to my iTunes, Bad Habit by The Foals (a band which have yet to really grasp my attention) took the honour as number 600, just ahead of Bad Losers On Yahoo Chess by Half Man Half Biscuit.

And then we got Bad Romance. Yep, the song by Lady Gaga, which sits a bit incrongruously here. Especially next to Half Man Half Biscuit, although perhaps that’s her next wacky costume.

It’s just not by her, it’s an acoustic cover version by a young unsigned American called Juliana Richer Daily who first popped up on my laptop during a search for a version of Wake Up by Arcade Fire to use above a promotional video in my previous life working for a travel firm.

Not only does she do a fantastic version – one of several great covers on her YouTube channel – she has moved from Upstate New York to Nashville and is about to release her first album.

And people have accused me of being obscure.

Which all brings us to the end of this section with the start of the surprisingly long Ballad of… run which took us as far as more Half Man Half Biscuit and Ballad of Climie Fisher.

Just remember, “Fisher hates gravel, Fisher hates shale”…

 

 

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There Are No Stupid Questions… Oh Wait

RATHER unfairly – at least in some cases – Americans have been saddled with a reputation for being less than familiar with the world outside their country. Or even their own state.

“God created war so that Americans would learn geography,” wrote Mark Twain.

Having spent a night in a bar in the border town of Niagara, chatting to two barmaids who had never left their home state, let alone country, despite living their whole lives a few miles from Canada and access to one of the world’s great natural wonders, he perhaps has a point.

NiagaraBut in other places, similar conversations – particularly in Boston, for some reason – have left me feeling inadequate as a local or two was far more informed about Europe, Britain and, weirdly, Tony Blair than my knowledge of their home.

It is also unfair to slap this criticism on Americans alone. Just watch a geography round on Pointless to see how little the average Britain knows about the world around them – even ones who reckon themselves intelligent enough to appear on a TV quiz show.

Whatever our national traits, one weakness so many of us seem to share is the ability to check in our brains along with our luggage (or even earlier in some cases), which can make airports both hilarious and frustrating places to spend any time.

Don’t believe me? Then check out these two links.

The first is entitled Why Americans Should Never Be Allowed To Travel – genuine questions asked to travel agents.

And, just to stop anyone on the other side of the pond getting too cocky, try this from 101holidays.co.uk – Are These The Most Stupid Trip Advisor Reviews?

 

 

photo by: Lima Pix
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Ask to Ayla

“The paramedic thinks I’m clever cos I play guitar
I think she’s clever cos she stops people dying”
Avant Gardener – Courtney Barnett

A LOT of border crossings are littered throughout this blog and, with a trip around Africa heading up, there are plenty more to come, complete with plenty of hanging around, filling in forms and no apparent activity from anyone involved.

But this is the first border for this journey through my iPod, arriving at the end of A section – all 537 of them.

We’ve gone from A to B and are about to embark on the trip to the C, via 755 tracks (to be honest, the journey’s already started but just haven’t had a chance to catch up on the blog over the past few days).

After last week’s detour on the subjects of my tenants and Gloucester’s sacking of Nigel Davies, it’s back to the main business of the music.

There’s been no real movement on a new director of rugby (although a big-name signing looks imminent), while the cleaners and decorators have been in to my house and, most importantly, the tenants have opted not to contest losing all their deposit – not that they had much of an argument.

So it is back to the music and another trip to Cardiff tomorrow to clear out the stuff they left – with a few therapeutic bank holiday weekend trips to the tip – to help make real inroads into the Bs.

The final stretch before the alphabetical border was, like many actual frontiers, a weird sort of no-man’s land just waiting to reach that final track – Ayla by The Maccabees – with a surprisingly high number of songs beginning Au, Av or Aw.

The aural equivalent of “are we nearly there yet?” Courtney Barnett

Highlighting that final drag was Avant Gardener by Courtney Barnett – my current musical obsession away from this journey.

It has emerged as my favourite track from her combined EPs, A Sea of Split Peas, as she somehow manages to shoehorn Uma Thurman, pseudoephedrine, asthma puffers, radishes and a chorus about having trouble breathing into a tale of suffering anaphylactic shock while gardening and makes it sound like another mundane Monday.

While agreeing with her view that paramedics are deserving of more credit, as a confirmed non-musician it is hard not to empathise with the view that “the paramedic thinks I’m clever cos I play guitar”.

Anyone who does anything well – particularly those who make it look easy – attracts my admiration, particularly musicians.

Despite a few stabs at tackling even the most basic things, it always proved beyond me – largely due to a lack of patience when younger and the guitar teacher who had seen my sister through a variety of grades insisting on constant repetition on basic classical techniques when all that was in my mind was imitating the guys with guitars on Top of the Pops.

It didn’t help that my childhood fingers barely reached the positions he was seemingly trying to force them into.

“Anyone can play guitar”, Thom Yorke once sang (a song sadly missing from this journey as Pablo Honey only exists in my collection on cassette), but my efforts proved just how wrong he was.

And we are the better for it as a lack of any noticeable musical talent has meant the option has been to listen to it and that’s fine my me.

This section started with listening to Ask – Sharon Van Etten before the better known song of the same name by The Smiths, who have been surprisingly quiet through the opening stretches of this journey.

Ask is not towards the top end of my favourite Smiths songs, although something has to be pretty special to work its way into those higher echelons.

Asleep, which followed a handful of songs later, is creeping towards that level which we will explore in depth at a later date.

Belle and Sebastian have also been noticeable by their absence (without checking, complete up to this point) which was rectified by Asleep On A Sunbeam – again, not in the pantheon of their great tracks but they have a fairly distinguished list of those.

REM have managed to pop up more regularly so far, but have continued the trend of doing so with some of their lesser tracks – generally the ones after Bill Berry left and… that’s a long rant we will save for another entry.

But the boys from Athens, Georgia (which is looking increasingly likely to receive a return, slightly longer, visit on a post-wedding* road trip later in the summer) appeared with one of their better later efforts, At My Most Beautiful, and hints of their early splendour with Auctioneer (Another Engine).

There was more Americana from Bright Eyes (one of the slightly overlooked acts which has piqued my interest so far during this trip) with At The Bottom Of Everything and White Denim, who chipped in with At Night In Dreams.

That song popped up a day before they performed it on Later… Live. Interesting to watch it on the small screen instead of live in Bristol, which would have been the case but for the clash of dates. That’s one for this week instead.

We had two trips to Australia, first with the Manic Street Preachers (whose song of that name was once used to advertise Wales ahead of the Rugby World Cup) and then The Shins, while we reached 500 with The Attack, one of two songs in this stint from Les Miserables. Happily with no sign of Russell Crowe.

And to wrap up the As, we retracked through the three A tracks added to the list since this journey started (been a bit quiet adding music in the last few weeks) – Advance Upon The Real by Perfect Pussy (a mix of noise and ambient background, but be careful Googling them), Algiers from the welcome return of The Afghan Whigs and Amber Veins by Eagulls.

So to B…

*Not mine, think that might have cropped up before now.

 

photo by: kingArthur_aus
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Antistar to Ashes of American Flags

THE past week has been dominated by departures – one expected but with a string of problems, the other unexpected but with a hint of better times ahead (well, hopefully).

Both have taken up the bulk of my time, thoughts and conversations, over the last few days, meaning this entry has been delayed and taken us a fair bit further along my A-Z journey through my iPod.

Departure number one saw the tenants leave my house in Cardiff.

Installed four years ago while the house stood empty on my overland journey from London to New York (helped by a string of calls and e-mails between Cardiff and China which had the agents trying endlessly to calculate time differences), they remained as my return to the Welsh capital was shortlived.

April_Skies_(single) Even as their latest contract ran out, that was one issue ahead of heading to Africa which looked simple – they sign another one and worries about paying my mortgage were sorted. That was until they announced out of the blue they weren’t signing and were moving out.

And move out they did, seemingly by grabbing a few bits and pieces, walking out the door and heading to pastures new.

At least, that’s how it appears, judging by what they have left strewn across the uncleaned house and unkempt garden, sadly bereft of a few pieces of my furniture which seem to have walked out of the door with them.

The constant amending of to-do lists for Africa, this blog and life in general has been replaced by a to-do list for sorting out the house, but only after a few very deep breaths to calm down.

As well as anger, their actions and attitude in leaving the house in such a state totally amazes me – how can anybody not be consumed by embarrassment to leave somebody else’s house in that condition?

When the time comes later this year, my flat will be attacked from all angles by an array of cleaning products and, bar a few dusty bits and one or two difficult to access places in the bathroom, it is already in a pretty presentable state.

Having just about calmed down from a trip to confirm what the agents had told me – via a journey that included an almost hour-long traffic jam in Chepstow, of all places, which helped scoot the A-Z journey along at a healthy pace and past the 400 mark (Apple Blossom by The White Stripes) – the second departure crept up on us on Monday morning.

The sacking of Nigel Davies as Gloucester’s director of rugby was not totally out of the blue – after all, the season has disappointed from start to finish and Saturday’s closing defeat at relegated Worcester was, frankly, laughable as the Cherry and Whites mixed touches of genius with splashes of ineptitude.

While the loud-mouthed bloke behind me at Worcester will not be alone in celebrating Davies’ departure (his main reason being that the outgoing boss is Welsh), his reading of the situation was remarkably misplaced and badly informed.

This, after all, was a man who only realised in the second half when he could see the names and numbers on the players’ backs that he had been slagging off the wrong player for 40 minutes while claiming that flanker Matt Kvesic had only made about three tackles all season and should be sold. His tackle numbers actually put Kvesic fourth in the entire league.

Personally, with reinforcements arriving, my opinion was that Davies deserved time next season to shape what is finally his squad – not short on talent this term, but lacking in depth and, at crucial times, leadership and direction – probably until the Six Nations at least.

But, having made the decision, the board were right to act quickly – stay or go, this could not drag on all summer.

And they now need not only to find the right man, but the right structure. Davies spent a lot of time during the season working on bringing in those signings and, from a distance, that was time Gloucester needed him sorting out the problems on the pitch – two jobs, one man just didn’t add up.

Of course, this poor season (and when we have had bad seasons before it was, unlike this one, largely expected) coincided with my first season ticket in four decades of watching rugby at Kingsholm, the first time when playing, working, travelling or living away did not keep me away from Castle Grim for long periods.

Fellow fans will be delighted that being in Africa for most of the season will mean no renewal.

So, that’s the background to the last few days, what has been the soundtrack?

wilco-ashes-of-american-flags-dvd-338-300Starting with the new longest so far (Antistar at Massive Attack comes in at 19.41, but more than half of that is largely silence bar a few background beats), we have seen classic first  entries by The Housemartins (Anxious), The Jesus and Mary Chain (April Skies, which a friend once tried to teach me the bassline to, without success) and Lloyd Cole and the Commotions (Are Your Ready To Be Heartbroken?).

Also popping up for the first time – and blowing away a few emotions on the drive back from Cardiff – were At The Drive-In with Arc Arsenal while Prefab Sprout’s Appetite gave a more gentle first touch from their Steve McQueen masterpiece (the first side of which is almost flawless) and A-Punk by Vampire Weekend slipped from the opening track of the whole countdown on a previous attempt to somewhere near 400.

Arseholes, The Shirehorse’s much preferable version of Robbie Williams’ Angels, provided a rather different direction while The Clash and Joe Strummer have different readings of Armagideon Time.

To wrap it all up on a high note, Wilco provided two versions (live and original) of probably my favourite song of theirs, Ashes of American Flags.

And blasting that out on the drive home from work was enough to provide a great end to a testing few days.

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This World Rocks

SIX months out from heading out on a trip around Africa and there is a difficult balance to maintain between trying not to get too excited too early and wanting to find out more about what lies ahead.

You don’t want to get too obsessed or it can become like having 179 Christmas Eves (or so the countdown on my phone tells me) and you don’t want to bore people by going on about it. Well, not too much.

But people do ask, there are passengers on the current trip writing blogs and there’s a lot to be learned from reading a variety of different outlooks on the same trip.

For the best view of the trip and to answer a lot of questions about the trip, the places and even the trucks, check out this video from the people behind the This World Rocks website.

An American couple enjoying life on the road, they completed the 56-day Nairobi to Cape Town trip with Oasis, which we will do in reverse to kick off the second half of the journey, and highlights some of the amazing things which lie in wait.

Even manage to deal with African Coldplay…

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