Gagarin to Ghetto Thang

MOST of my journeys in recent years have started by turning right.

Not just boarding flights, when even my one incursion into life behind the posh curtain came via a lucky escape from what was shaping up to be a long, frustrating night crossing the Atlantic in cattle class.

Any pretence at appearing to belong in the posh seats was rather ruined by attempting to get off the plane by turning right and heading towards the cockpit, rather than left and back towards the exit.

Let’s blame it on being disoriented after sleeping through a flight (well, almost, was paranoid of keeping the first class cabin awake by snoring).

Even jumping on the back of a big yellow truck on the way round Africa, my standard position was off to the right at the back – extra room staked against the increased chance of getting sent airborne if the truck hit any serious bumps or potholes.*

And for the last couple of years, my everyday commute has started by turning right out the front door and making my way to the office through a combination of walking and bus. An hour at least.

Until now…

A recent post outlined the big change in my working life with the switch from daily to weekly newspapers and posed the question of what to do with my weekends cleared from work (not entirely, managed to find stuff that is best got out of the way then, but can be slotted in around everything else).

Now there is more time back – that commute is down to, at rough estimate, all of two minutes.

All from turning left and wandering the couple of hundred yards to our new office.

The postman can’t find it, the milkman delivers to the office over the corridor and nobody can agree on whether it is too hot or too cold in the office, but from considering home early if The One Show was still on, a late return now is if Pointless has finished.

One impact of this is the knock-on effect on the A-Z trip through my iPod – the cornerstone journey of this blog.

Instead of that hour of travelling every morning (got a lift home most nights) to rattle through the tracks, a journey to work now would cover only the shortest entries on the A-Z.

So whatever the answer is to do with the new-found spare time – more regular posts would be one idea, once that time has stopped being filled with an awful lot of… well, nothing constructive really – it needs to involve more listening to the iPod.

And with everything else going on, the simple answer is finally (seriously, it’s been far, far too long) to get back to the gym.

The view from my flat over the ice rink to the gym with the blue lights. The little light bottom right stays on all night and is really annoying.

The gym sits across the square from my flat, the lights shining out through the large windows around the clock – the other side of the ice rink and the Ferris wheel at the moment – every night reminding me just how long it has been.

There is an excuse. For some time, that would have involved a gag about my back/shoulder/knee (delete as applicable).

But it seriously has been stopped in recent months by a hip. A hip which could yet spark more telling changes to my life than those at work.

Diagnosed by my osteopath as bursitis – technically, inflammation of a fluid-filled sac which acts as a cushion between tendons and bones; in practice, bloody painful area which, in my case, moved down through my thigh and into the knee with any form of exertion, even that short walk to work would have been a strain at its worst – he pointed me in the way of my GP for a further check.

Being a bloke, going to the doctor is usually put off as long as possible, but this instruction seemed worth following.

As was the final verdict that there was little wrong that could not be solved by the one thing both of us knew long before the subject was broached – it was time to lose some weight.

And for once, it was not put on the to-do list and ignored.

If it was not for that hip – not perfect but much better and at a point where that initial return to the gym is on the agenda in the next few days out of the office – it would not be walking me to a Slimming World class once a week.

Not actual weight. Or my socks

And it seems to be working, 11 and a half pounds lost in the opening two weeks. Not quite so confident ahead of this week’s weigh-in, particularly after rather exceeding the allowed amount of beer (and cheese) at the office Christmas do, and there’s a long way to go but already feeling much better on it.

Add the creaking joints to too much weight and pre-diet me rarely felt comfortable. There was always some pressure pushing somewhere.

But even this early in the diet – and need to expand my recipe horizons and start cooking properly after keeping it really simple so far – it feels like someone has opened the bottle on a large bottle of Coke (a habit kicked cold turkey) and released some of that pressure.

Time to return to the gym while the initial eagerness is there to tackle three birds with one stone – lose weight, fill those extra hours with something meaningful and listen to the iPod at the same time.

When the return to the iPod journey does pick up again, it will be in the relatively early stages of G – the stuttering recent weeks taking us from Public Service Broadcasting (apt after the last entry) to De La Soul.

Along the way we saw plenty of old favourites – Echo and the Bunnymen (The Game), The Clash (Garageland), REM (Get Up, twice) and The Wedding Present who chipped in with a pair of cover version which both came in their original form – Getting Nowhere Fast by Girls At Our Best and Getting Better by The Beatles, who also contributed four versions of Get Back.

There were also multiple versions of Get Off by The Dandy Warhols, plus multiple songs from Gomez – Get Miles and Get Myself Arrested back to back – and we even got unusually Radio 1 friendly with Daft Punk’s Get Lucky.

Not sure exactly what Radio 1 would make of Georgia, Georgia or anything by Elliott Smith for that matter. But that’s the type of forgotten pleasure or discovery which is the whole driving force behind this blog.

Same goes for Belly’s Gepetto. And Get Free by The Vines. Both long overlooked but which had me singing in the office for much of the day.

More good reasons (beyond getting fit and losing weight) to get back on the gym and plugged in to the iPod.

*Oasis Overland recommend all passengers wear their seatbelts at all time. Another rule we largely ignored.

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Faust Arp to Feral

ENOUGH messing about, time to switch the emphasis a bit. This A-Z Challenge is, after all, supposed to be a blog largely about music.

So rather than rattle on about whatever has been grinding my gears in the days before and sticking a few paragraphs on the end about what soundtracked it, about time you joined the journey through the latest section as we meander our way through F from Radiohead to, well, some more Radiohead.

This, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with a quiet few days that has not thrown too much ammunition for a good old rant (although pretty sure could make something from the overhead bus conversations which involved the phrases “I tried to stab him, yeah, but I had a reason… I don’t like him” and “She’s from the Forest. She’s incest”).

So here, with accompanying notes, are the 51 tracks it took to get from one Radiohead song to another.

  • Faust Arp – Radiohead
    Have a mixed relationship with Radiohead. Can argue they are wonderful and have disappeared up their own behinds in the same conversation and will always put them among the best live bands around.
    Very rarely, if ever, revisit any of the albums after OK Computer, they are just a little bit too much like hard work unless you are in the right mood.
    But this, like so many of the tracks of those albums, are always welcome when they pop up on the A-Z journey through my iPod.
  • Favorite Star – Rival Schools
  • Favourite Son – Drenge
  • Fazon – Jonathan Wilson
  • The Fear – Ben Howard
  • Fear City – Elliott Smith
  • Fear No Pain – Willy Mason
  • Fear Of A Black Planet – Public Enemy
  • Fear Of Flying – Teenage Fanclub
  • Fear Of The Knife – Skaters
  • Feasting – Young Fathers
  • Feather Man – Woods
  • Feed Me WIth Your Kiss – My Bloody Valentine
  • Feed Of Man – Billy Bragg & Wilco
  • Feed The Light – Joan As Police Woman
    This list of songs was the soundtrack for a bus journey to work – the one with that waterproof defence for an attempted stabbing. All very nice and enjoyable, but a lot of songs which have failed to grab my attention (although turning My Bloody Valentine up to full volume will do that).
    Much better to come, starting with…

  • Feed The Tree – Belly
    One of the reporters in the office celebrated his birthday today, having been born the month one of his colleagues retired from playing rugby, partly through injury and partly because that same newspaper (which would employ him again years later) wanted their new rugby writer to work on a Saturday – although did manage to sit on the bench for several games with a notebook in hand.
    Just before that, my previous employers shipped me off to Yate (the sort of place where referees come from) and after spending many lunchtimes in the local record shop, managed to convince them to lend me albums for reviews.
    Belly’s debut Star was the first of those and remember describing it as “the year’s first essential purchase”. Stand by that. Still listen to it and this track sounds as good as it always did.
    And one of the few songs to mention squirrels.
  • Feel – Bombay Bicycle Club
  • Feel – House of Love
  • Feel – Teenage Fanclub
  • Feel Better (FRANK) – The Family Rain
    A brief respite – never got a friend’s obsession with House of Love, not one of Teenage Fanclub’s finest and the other two largely unmemorable.
    But just when you started to drift off…

  • Feel Good Hit Of The Summer – Queens Of The Stone Age
  • Feel Good Hit Of The Summer – Queens Of The Stone Age
  • Feel Good Hit Of The Summer (Reprise) – Queens Of The Stone Age
    ‘Nicotine, valium, vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol…’
    It’s pretty simple. Repetitive lyrics, driving basslines, a touch of menace and highly likely to leave you singing it to yourself all day. Maybe not always in the most suitable situations.
    First heard it on a BBC early evening music show. Not sure they quite knew what they were getting.
    ‘Co-co-co-co-co-cocaine’
  • Feel Good Inc – Gorillaz
    Band which seems to improve with each listen and, bizarrely given their cartoon heritage, rather more dimensional than you initially think.
    And one of those tracks which provided a title – possibly a tad obvious – for a blog post.
  • Feel The Pain – Dinosaur Jr
    Always loved this song (great video too) and it brings back some wonderful memories, although not perhaps ones which go with the song.
    We had spent the day in the beautiful Badlands of South Dakota and scrambled up to a rocky viewing point to watch a spectacular sunset before heading back to our bus which, with a few tweaks, doubled up as our bed for the night.
    Before crawling in to my customary cubby hole to sleep, sat up front to catch the last of the views and bonded with our newly-arrived driver Charlie over his choice of Dinosaur Jr to guide him through our long overnight journey to a strange encounter with some cheese,
  • Feel To Believe – Beth Orton
  • Feel To Follow – The Maccabees
  • Feel You – Julia Holter
    The next album is likely to take my iPod over the 13,000 track mark. Part of the idea of this A-Z journey through them was to unearth a few hidden gems.
    Nothing to see here.
  • Feelgood By Numbers – The Go! Team
    One of those bands who burst from nowhere and largely vanished just as quickly. They deserve to be remembered, if only due to one tale from office days gone by.
    A former colleague (then a reporter, now a senior figure in a large local newspaper group, editor and Dave Gorman lookalike) declined the customary drink after work because he was off to watch The Go! Team.
    Talk the next day, however, was not about the gig but the night in casualty caused by a stagediving bass player landing on top of him.
    And the fact his friend and erstwhile colleague was more concerned about chatting to the female paramedic.
  • Feeling A Moment – Feeder
  • Feeling Alright – Warpaint
  • Feeling Better – Sugar
  • Feeling Called Love – Wire
    Good little run this from some fine bands, although none of them at their best.
    Not sure what it says about me that my main reaction looking at that list is that Warpaint need a sub for their song titles.

  • Feeling Gravitys Pull – REM
    There’s some fantastic songs in this little section and this just about tops the lot.
    From a time when they seemed incapable of writing a bad song, this is one of their best and another that gave its name to a blog post title from a lengthy journey it played a key part in soundtracking.
    Those opening guitar notes take me back to arriving at Newport Centre to discover they had gone on stage rather earlier than expected and running (it was a long time ago) to catch a contender for my favourite gig just before they got too big to play places that small.
  • Feeling Oblivion – Turin Brakes
    Largely ignored Turin Brakes for too long, dismissing their fine debut LP as little more than part of the short-lived, largely forgotten quiet is the new loud movement.
    Almost stumbled in to seeing them live by accident and remembered how good they can be. Don’t discount them so easily.
  • Feeling So Strange Again – The Wolfhounds
  • Feeling The Strain – Lee Griffiths
    No, have no idea either. Unearthed some real gems on free CDs from magazines, Uncut in particular. But there’s an awful lot on my iPod that have me scratching my head about how it got there.
  • Feeling This – Blink 182
    Not a guilty pleasure, no reason to feel guilty. But like a fair few of their songs and this one brings back memories of  bouncing around in the back of a big yellow truck around Africa.
  • Feeling Yourself Disintegrate – The Flaming Lips
    Another of those bands which never quite made my mind up about. When they are good, they are well worth a listen. But don’t quite get the awe in which some people hold them.
  • Feels Like Fire – Ryan Adams
    Chances are on this journey through my iPod, you are never too far away from a Ryan Adams track. Without wading through the whole of my collection, pretty confident he appears more than any other artist – certainly tops the 300 track mark.
    There’s an argument that he (and we) would be better off being a bit more selective and this comes from one of those albums which never quite lived up to the early promise. Still good mind.
    Good odds on a Wedding Present track being not that far away…
  • Feels Like We Only Go Backwards – Tame Impala
  • (Feels Like) Heaven – Fiction Factory
  • Feet For Hands – Everything Everything
    It’s all getting a bit eclectic isn’t it? Fun though.
  • Feet Of Clay – Vashti Bunyan
    All very nice and there courtesy of a raid on a former housemate’s CD collection but, to quote the great philosopher Nigel Blackwell, I want a sun tan, not Vashti Bunyan

  • Felicity – The Wedding Present
  • Felicity – The Wedding Present
    Told you… two versions of an early track that had completely forgotten was a cover of an Orange Juice track. Quite surprising as have the original somewhere.
    In a musical dictionary somewhere, there’s a picture of Dave Gedge as the definition of jingly-jangly indie guitar music. Which was basically my life for many years.
  • Fell In Love With A Girl – The White Stripes
    Another one of those bands that pop up pretty often on this trip, but haven’t always convinced me. This is a pretty good place to start.
  • Felt Good To Burn – The Flaming Lips
  • Feltham Is Singing Out – Hard-Fi
    What was that about? Have an excuse with stuff from free sampler CDS, but actually spent money on this.
  • Femme Fatale – The Velvet Underground
  • Feral – Radiohead
    And so, as the headphones come out on the door through the office, we reach our destination. For now at least.
    Sure we’ll be back to the usual ramblings pretty soon.

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America to Angel

Hey Chel you know it’s kinda funny, Texas always seems so big
But you know you’re in the largest state in the Union
When you’re anchored down in Anchorage
Anchorage – Michelle Shocked

MICHELLE Shocked’s retelling of a letter received from a friend at the heart of ‘the largest state of the union’ is one of those lovely musical rediscoveries which pops up from time to time.

It earned a place in my collection and regular rotation back in the days of tapes and Walkmen, only to vanish as, briefly, vinyl and then the shimmering new invention of CDs took over.

AnchorageBut Anchorage resurfaced to provide the most obvious of titles for a post on my London to New York blog four years ago and wormed its way onto a number of playlists which have helped it into the top 20 of the most played tracks in my iTunes collection (currently ensconced at number 17 which, must admit, came as a bit of a surprise).

And boy did she – or, to be more accurate, her letter-writing friend – get it right. Alaska is big. Over the course of a little more than two weeks, we clocked up mile after mile (more than a thousand at one point without hitting a single traffic light) into the heart of the 50th state and a brief detour over the border into Canada and it is huge. And stunningly beautiful.

Chilkoot Lake, Haines, Alaska
Chilkoot Lake, Haines, Alaska

Locals will proudly tell you that you can cut Alaska in half and it would still be the two biggest states (“Pissing off Texans for 50 years” was a popular slogan as they celebrated half a century as part of the union) and such were the natural wonders on display around every corner, you can (almost) forgive them for giving the world Sarah Palin.

Anchorage itself is functional. Surrounded by some magnificent countryside (but that’s pretty much a given up in that part of the world), the state’s largest city is designed to withstand the harsh winters and supply those working all around it.

It also contains one of the most remarkable bars, Chilkoot Charlies. Not too much to look at from outside or even when you first go in, it unravels itself as you head through the various different parts as the night wears on – as it seems to do endlessly under the midnight sun.

There was lots of people, there was a band playing for hours on end, there was a bloke selling pizzas in the middle of the bar at 2am and there was a bloke from Philadelphia in the beer garden who was distinctly hostile until we got into a prolonged, passionate debate about baseball. Beyond that, it was all a bit hazy.

But it left an impression, as did much of Alaska and large chunks of America as a whole – which is where this section of the iPod journey came in.

Three very different songs simply titled America kicked things off – by Howler, Laura Veirs and Simon and Garfunkel’s finest moment, which is saying something, and provider of another blog post title on that trip from sea to shining sea.

To say nothing of America Snoring by Grant Lee Buffalo (lead singer Grant-Lee Phillips used to pop up as the town troubadour in The Gilmore Girls, fact fans), American English by Idlewild, American Idiot by Green Day, American Music by The Blasters and two versions of American Slang by The Gaslight Anthem (although apparently with the same vocal delivery on the acoustic version as on the fully plugged original).

That’s all somehow apt as travelling in America and music go hand in hand. There’s something about the wide open spaces which has infused so much of the sound produced there and a string of road trips to – to date – 39 of the 50 States have always involved plenty of live music.

And any road trip has to have a soundtrack to help eat up mile after mile.

Americana has become the hip phrase for some of that music – “Country music for people who like The Smiths” according to Billy Bragg – and it is a style that is increasing across my collection, none more so than that produced by Ryan Adams, who popped up again with Amy, one of the centrepieces from his classic break-up debut album Heartbreaker.

Throw in …And Carrot Rope by Pavement and this chunk of songs was dominated by our friends over the pond.

To go with all this Americanisation, this side of the Atlantic responded in this group of tracks with three versions of the quintessentially English Anarchy in the UK from the Sex Pistols.

And it rounded off in Bristol with Massive Attack’s Angel, but only after two tracks from Boston, Massachusetts with the same title from Belly and the Drop Nineteens, gazing through their fringes at their shoes in a run through of the early Madonna track.

Along the way, we have gone past the 300 mark – all 30 seconds of And You Will Know Them… by …Trail of Dead – reached 11,000 to go and got halfway through the As.

And we thought Alaska was big.

 

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