Dig For Victory to Do It Again

COMMON belief will tell you that Dirty Water by The Standells was inspired by producer Ed Cobb and his girlfriend getting mugged near what was, back in the sixties, the polluted River Charles in Boston.

The Charles is now, thankfully, much cleaner and – in most places – a spot to be savoured, not avoided. And, having learned from personal experience, you no longer “have to be in by 12 o’clock” in Boston.

But the first, slightly fuzzed up guitar notes of the distinctive intro can still be heard across one part of Boston – and any number of bars – throughout the summer months. The more often the better for those of us who pledge some sort of allegiance to Red Sox Nation.

The rather cleaner water of the River Charles
The rather cleaner water of the River Charles

Each time the Red Sox win a match – sadly not often enough in the last two seasons – Dirty Water soundtracks the celebrations around the wonderful old amphitheatre that is Fenway Park (disproving any theories that bigger and newer is best), those unmistakeable opening notes often ringing out before the winning run has actually reached home plate.

It’s not the only song that has somehow been co-opted by Red Sox fans and ask most people which is the club song and they would go for Sweet Caroline – played in the middle of the eighth inning and aired in a show of solitary by the hated New York Yankees after the marathon bombing of 2013 – but there’s a fair few of the Fenway faithful who see that as too much of a sop to the fairweather fan.

Throw in The Dropkick Murphys’ double header of I’m Shipping Up To Boston – soundtrack to multiple championship celebrations across the city in the last decade or so, as well The Departed, and walk-on music for former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon – and Tessie and they are not short of options for backing music on the highlight reels.

Normally, not a huge fan of too much music and gimmicks being used to create an atmosphere at sports grounds (especially rugby, bar the traditional songs like Fields of Athenry or Calon Lan, but please God not the abomination that is Swing Low…).

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Fenway Park pre-game, looking back towards Downtown Boston. The fact Hurricane Irene may be about to hit may explain the lack of crowds

Generally means the fans are incapable of doing it themselves, especially in the new breed of marketing concepts that seem to be supplanting traditional rugby clubs (mention no names, but anyone playing at football grounds or bigger stadia to create an occasion – or on plastic pitches to match their fans).

That all may have something to do with growing up a Gloucester rugby fan. We make do with one traditional chant of “Glawsterrr, Glawsterrr” and the nearest we have come to a football-esque chant for any of our players was the stirring, imaginative “Terry Fanolua, Terry Fanolua…” and, of course, the odd rendition of La Marseillaise when Philippe Saint-Andre was on the wing or, latterly, our coach.

At American sports grounds, it somehow all seems to work (even the singing of The Star-Spangled Banner before every game, so easy to sneer at from afar, makes sense at the ground). Maybe if is because of the way American sports are more attuned to the entertainment industry, with the inherent pauses for commercial television, are occasions to be enjoyed beyond the actual sporting event or, just maybe, due to the shortage of away fans at many matches due to the sheer distances involved.

But just how did a boy who learned all about sport in The Shed at Kingsholm feel just as big a draw to a seat in the bleachers or down the first base line at Fenway? Or, possibly more pertinently, become willing to stay up most of the night to watch a game against the Yankees that went to extra innings scoreless?

Late-night baseball on Channel 5 had provided a grounding before my first trip to the States – amazingly 10 years ago this September – which started with a week in Boston and several nights spent in bars around the city watching the latest game, a scene repeated throughout our six weeks on the road.

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Fenway under the lights

A move around the corner in the office meant working until the early hours of Sunday morning. Late to bed, later to rise and with no return to work until Wednesday (bar popping in before our weekly Boozeday Tuesday afternoon sessions), Sunday’s bedtime moved well after midnight and the only thing to watch on TV for much of the year was, you guessed it, baseball.

That season of late-night watching just happened to coincide with the Red Sox winning their second World Series crown in four years and they had got their hooks into me – even with the warnings that such success was fleeting and supporting them was far more about frustration and false hope.  As a Gloucester fan, that just seemed natural.

Seeing a game at Fenway appeared and was quickly crossed off the bucket list. As was seeing them against the Yankees. And, finally, came seeing them beat the Yankees – courtesy of a Mike Napoli walk-off home run in the 11th inning, sparking another rendition of Dirty Water at just before 1am on a sweltering July night.

The Red Sox were back in the World Series that same season. The same Red Sox that had collapsed amid acrimony in the closing weeks of the season after my presence at a double header win over the Oakland A’s. The same Red Sox that had finished bottom the AL East the previous year.

And they only went and won it, ensuring everybody who saw it would remember just where they were.

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A press box with a better view that many

Which in my case, about 4am in the morning back home, was desperately trying to tune in my radio to catch the final outs.

Having stayed up to watch the potentially decisive win over the St Louis Cardinals, my Virgin Media box decided it was a pretty safe time to switch itself off and go through a series of updates just as the game entered its final inning.

My frustration, nay anger, was matched only by my surprise that somebody was still manning Virgin’s media Twitter account and responding to some less than complimentary tweets.

When the television came back on, the game was over, the World Series won and even Dirty Water had faded into the night.

It resurfaced – as any of you paying attention will probably have worked out – on the latest batch of songs in the A-Z iPod Challenge that took us from Public Service Broadcasting to Queens of the Stone Age.

And an interesting batch of songs it was, from the old faithfuls (Belle & Sebastien, Echo & The Bunnymen, REM, The Pogues), an excellent rediscovery (Divine Hammer by The Breeders) and some interesting, relatively new discoveries – be they new acts, songs that have just passed me by or just ones that are among the huge backlog that passed me by on the road in Africa.

John Grant’s Disappointing is definitely in that category (the album has yet to catch my attention like the previous two did), Waxahatchee continues to intrigue with Dixie Cups and Jars and The Civil Wars stole my attention with a lovely cover of Disarm (followed swiftly by The Smashing Pumpkins’ original).

May just have to listen to some of them on a plane back to Boston this summer.

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The Boy Done Wrong Again to Broken Household Appliance National Forest

A LATE change of travel plans put me in a sweltering New York for July 4, 2010, having opted to leave the dwindling number of my overland travel companions still in Boston.

Back in Boston, my former colleague, housemate and fellow traveller Nick was heading out on an Independence Day pub crawl in the company of a Birmingham City fan he had bumped into at our hostel sporting a vintage Whitesnake T-shirt.

My night ended looking after an emotional Aussie somewhere in Brooklyn in the early hours, way too late considering the time a hire car was due to be collected.

Nick’s night ended with him getting married.

Not immediately. This is not the tale of an Englishman abroad waking up to find he had stumbled drunkenly into an all-night wedding chapel with a girl he had just met.

But four years on, Nick and Sufia – the girl who had serenaded ‘Whitesnake’ the night before, recognised the same T-shirt 24 hours on and struck up a conversation with the English bloke at the bar – tied the knot this month.

The Big Moment
The Big Moment

After plenty of transatlantic comings and goings, red tape and a crash course in visa requirements, they became a married couple in Charleston, South Carolina, which turned up the heat, humidity and enjoyment to the maximum.

Charleston is one of those American cities built on its past with a well-preserved historic region.

Some of those cities seem to seal off such areas hermetically and appear to feel just being old (by US standards) makes them historic without worrying too much about whether anything happened to put them in the history books. Almost like staying in a US history theme park.

But Charleston genuinely does offer history and a striking downtown area, which also manages to come across as a living city – helped by a healthy student population – and provides plenty to see and do before and after dark, without constantly feeling ye olde touriste guide is going to pop up to tell you about somebody born on this spot that nobody outside the state has heard about.

It is also an ideal spot for a select group of transatlantic guests who gradually congregated as the wedding week went on, reaching peak numbers for the ceremony itself.

Headline News
Headline News

And so, for any locals paying attention, a growing number of Brits could be seen sweating their way around town under the blistering sun, making full use of the hotel lobby’s soothing air con and bottomless supply of fruit-infused water, puzzling over a mysterious quacking noise, leaving their bag in a taxi (safely returned), losing their wallet while shopping (not returned), falling asleep in a bar (two of those last three may have been the same person), testing out the best way to eat eggs in a range of breakfast spots (don’t ask for them dippy), convincing barmen to plug their phone’s music into the PA, confirming that all the bars closed at 2am and, for more than one of us, sleeping off the after effects of the rehearsal dinner as the main build-up to the wedding.

There may even have been some salsa dancing at some point, but that’s as blurry as many of the selfies which were taken.

Which all paved the way for the wedding itself, an early evening, outdoor affair in the grounds of the 19th Century William Aiken House, home to the ceremony and the initial celebrations as US and British cultures came together (one seems more comfortable in front of a camera and audience).

The evening moved on – until that seemingly magical 2am Charleston cut-off – at the adjoining American Theater, an old-style converted cinema which hosted a live band which provided the soundtrack to a memorable evening and the backing for the would-be singers to climb on stage, including the bride’s version of Don’t Stop Believing backed by her new husband on drums.

A lovely way to round off a wonderful week before, over the space of the next few days, goodbyes were said and we headed off, either home or to a brief bout of further travelling.

My second week took me down the coast (of which more in a later post) to Savannah, Georgia and, via a figure of eight, up to Wilmington, North Carolina before heading back to a flight home from Charleston via Newark and a rather fortuitous upgrade to business class (again, more to come).

The soundtrack to that second week contained the customary frustrations of US FM radio – no sooner have you found a station worth listening to than it fades out and you have to go searching for something else.

My iPod supplied a welcome break from all that but not with the A-Z challenge, which took a break for the fortnight after reaching 1,200 with Broken Household Appliance National Forest by Grandaddy.

SophtwareIt’s a great track, but it is one of those which somehow sounds so much better when listened to as part of the album which gave birth to it, in this case the excellent Sophtware Slump.

One of the tracks which popped up just before heading up was The Boy With The Thorn In His Side by The Smiths, which also appeared late one night amid a slightly indie 80s playlist which mixed with those mysterious quacking noises on a rooftop bar in Downtown Charleston. Great company, great music, great setting.

The Cure popped up multiple times (both on the rooftop and out on the road), as did Echo and the Bunnymen (rooftop only) and they both appeared on the A-Z with, respectively, Boys Don’t Cry and two airings of Bring On The Dancing Horses.

Belle & Sebastian kicked off this section and reappeared with their classic The Boy With The Arab Strap (now safely reclaimed from ubiquity from its spell as the theme for Teachers), while Paul Simon popped up both solo (The Boy In The Bubble) and alongside Art Garfunkel with Bridge Over Troubled Water also covered by Johnny Cash.

An excellent little run also included three versions of Bring The Noise by Public Enemy, two of Brimful of Asha by Cornershop, Breed by Nirvana, the guilty pleasure which is Brilliant Mind by Furniture and three outings for Brassneck by The Wedding Present.

Which seems fitting.

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