GOD. to Good Man

WE have touched before on this journey about how certain songs can transport you to places and times far away.

In a sense, that’s what this A-Z journey through my iPod is all about (apart from catching all the bits that have somehow hidden undiscovered), stumbling across tracks that spark something in my head vivid enough to jump out onto the page.

Many tracks have taken me back in time, to places from my travels or people encountered along the way. Ryan Adams  even summoned memories of a bank holiday kitchen clean and ongoing battles with an errant flatmate.

Goddess On A Hiway takes me back to two days on a sofa in a French ski resort.

Not just Goddess On A Hiway, the whole of Deserter’s Songs brings back a long 48 hours or so when venturing too far from the sofa, doubling as my bed in the small apartment for a week’s skiing on a budget, would have been far more of a challenge than any black run.

It had all been going pretty well for the first few days, exploring the pistes (limited, but enough for us) and the evening delights (seriously limited) of Val Cenis, not a resort as much as two strung-out villages on the valley floor lumped together under one marketing umbrella.

We’d investigated pretty much every bar (think we’d covered that on the first night), becoming regular enough visitors to have our favourite spot at the bar in the one nearest the apartment. Next to the bloke who operated one of the lifts having his late-night pastis.

Food options were not that much more plentiful and we had revisited the one main option – small, rustic, nice tartiflette – before heading to the quiz night arranged by the various reps in the resort to bring their various clients together.

And just as we were waiting for the questions to start, it became obvious that maybe the tartiflette was not quite so agreeable to my system and it was a quick sprint – very quick, considering my health, state of fitness and the icy roads – back to the apartment.

Will spare you the details, suffice to say it was a double-edged impact through a long night (and no doubt very unpleasant one for the person sharing the facilities with me) and many ski trips later have still not managed to face another tartiflette.

But it did leave me on a sofa listening to Mercury Rev for a couple of days.

There was another album on the flip side. Pretty sure it was The Bends. The years don’t quite add up, but my cassette version did play slow so pretty good chance it got taped onto a C90 – part of the routine ahead of each new year ski trip.

Along with my back giving way and a trip to osteopath.

Had thought it might be Grandaddy’s Sophtware Slump, but too early. That must have been the soundtrack for another ski trip, Livigno if my chronology is right.

It was definitely Deserter’s Songs in Val Cenis. And it provided the soundtrack to reading Douglas Coupland’s Girlfriend In A Coma.

The Smiths may have provided the title – as briefly glimpsed in the previous post – but rarely can a book and an album have been created to work so well together. At least for a bloke feeling rather sorry for himself on a French sofa.

There is a theme running through the album of leaving (walking away according to front man Jonathan Donahue), but more of a mood which fits in with Coupland’s eco tale  of unexpected second chances and sacrifice – both personal and global.

If somebody ever makes a film of the book and does not use Deserter’s Songs – NME’s album of the year in 1988, when it is was still relevant and worth consuming, but we’ll get to that in the next post – is missing a trick.

It is not the only album or C90 that brings back memories of a holiday, a rather different one to the Greek island of Zakynthos soundtracked by the wondrous Doolittle by the Pixies and the eponymous debut from The Violent Femmes.

There’s tales to tell – just not here – about moussaka, suppositories, darts and girls from Blackpool to the sound of Black Francis and Gordon Gano, who popped up twice on this latest stretch of my iPod from Kendrick Lamar (see, it’s not all “white boys with guitars” to quote John Peel) to Eileen Rose with Gone Daddy Gone and Good Feeling.

There’s also been contributions from a couple of acts installed on this summer’s gig list, actually on the same night in (bizarrely) an arboretum – God’s Footballer by Billy Bragg and Good As Gold by The Beautiful South (actually just two of the band at the gig, but you get my drift).

And there’s been plenty of stuff from people who crop up in my live history.

Echo &The Bunnymen were my first proper gig and are also on the list for the next few months (with full orchestra evidently) and we went right back to the early days with Going Up.

Seen Carter USM (Good Grief Charlie Brown) multiple times early in their career, courtesy of their habit of playing the Banana Club at Gloucester Guildhall, while saw Sugar twice inside a week.

Surprised my hearing had come back in time for the second gig, both of which were opened with the triple-headed assault from the start of the still great Copper Blue album of which A Good Idea sits in the middle (by which point was hopping around after standing on a pint glass in the mosh pit first time round).

Also saw REM twice in a week – a contender for best gig in Newport, not so much in the bigger surroundings of the NEC – and they popped up with Good Advice (not one of their best). Ryan Adams would also be high on the best gig list and he popped up with Gonna Make You Love Me.

The Wonder Stuff (supported by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin) would not be so high on the list, not just because of the effect on my ribs of being wedged against the barriers before spending a night shift pressure testing fuel injection systems. Not to be advised with sore ribs. They popped up with Golden Green.

Never got to see The Jam (not that old) who cropped up with Going Underground. but did see Buffalo Tom (who provided a cover) and judging by early hearings of their new album it may be time to end a long wait to repeat the experience.

Sadly, never got round to seeing Pavement (Gold Soundz, twice) or Super Furry Animals (Golden Retriever), but have sat across a Cardiff pub from various members of one of them on a few occasions.

Might even have been sat on a sofa.

photo by: eldh
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Embassy Row to Enemy

He had the makings of a leader, of a certain kind of men
Who need to feel the world’s against him, out to get ’em if it can
Men whose trigger pull their fingers, of men who’d rather fight than win
United in a revolution, like in mind and like in skin
Ramon Casiano, Drive-By Truckers

I AM not a political person. I’ve got my views but would like to think they are based on right and wrong rather than left or right, liberal or conservative, red, blue, orange or green.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always had an interest – wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) last 25-plus years as a journalist without it or a healthy degree of cynicism – and picked up bits from all sides and anyone else with something worth listening to.

All that melded together to form a belief in cradle to the grave provisions for all, but mixed with a capitalist streak that always felt the best way to pay for all of that was not by the state owning the means of production, but by private enterprise reaping the rewards and allowing the masses to share in that prosperity (which would be nice). But as my favourite political argument goes, each belief and political system falls apart as soon as humans and their weaknesses get involved.

And if that hugely-simplified paragraph made no sense and is full of holes, that’s why I generally stay well away from political discussions. Much happier sat in the corner of the pub arguing which is the best Smiths album.

I’ve certainly never felt the drive or the need to go on a political demonstration or march. Until now.

Like many people, I took to the streets in reaction to President Donald Trump and (among other things) his travel ban on people from a range of mainly Islamic countries who have not had the good grace to do business with him.

Protesting Cheltenham journalist style

When I say took to the streets, it was more a gathering on the pavement in sedate Cheltenham than a million man march on Washington or a student blockade of Tiananmen Square, but we’ve all got to start somewhere.

And having got the bug, I’m up for anything you’ve got for me to rebel against – Brexit, the state of the NHS, idiots who stand outside football grounds on transfer deadlines day. You name it.

Being Cheltenham it was all very polite (the major heckle for speakers to deal with was ‘speak up’), well behaved and good humoured – they even had the decency to hold the protest on the opposite side of the road from the bus stop for my journey home from work.

There were several hundred there, rather more than a few sceptics had predicted, and there were some fine impromptu speakers in the middle of the gathered crowd, even if the chanting was slightly self conscious and none of it was likely to have the new occupant of the White House quaking.

So why did I turn up at the protest? And what difference will a few hundred people in Cheltenham make?

Not a lot, I’m more than happy to accept that. And the same can be said for those who turned out in London, Cardiff, Norwich, Boston, Washington… the list goes on.

But put them together and keep going, one day it might make a difference. It just might be what starts some momentum building that becomes unstoppable. Or simply influences somebody in a position to be heard to take the plunge and speak out. And who knows what can happen then?

The National Mall in Washington DC looking towards Lincoln Monument. Non-protest day

Standing alongside me in a picture at the protest is my colleague Aled Thomas who summed up well just why it is important for one person to speak out in his regular column – and like him, this blog will soon be back to the silly jokes and ramblings it normally specialises in

I am not overly comfortable in getting too embroiled in political arguments, so will let better-qualified people dissect the minutiae of this new US administration – besides, by the time you read this, there’ll probably be some ridiculous tweet, declaration, appointment or downright lie that has taken it all to a new level.

Check out Hannah Dunleavy’s take on the first week of the new administration and, if you fancy it, she then tackled the second week. By the third, think it was all too much.

But she’s American I hear at least somebody shout. What’s the American president got to do with a boy from Gloucester, England?

Directly, not a lot. But that doesn’t mean I can’t care and can’t get angry.

Over the past few years, my travels have taken me to a few places that have left me feeling angry, bemused, bereft and struggling to understand my own race.

But time and again, the people who had nothing to give gave it anyway, the places we were warned against turned out to be full of wonderful people and the ones who had nobody to talk for them deserved somebody to shout on their behalf.

In South Africa,  if people hadn’t stood up and made their voices heard (however hopeless it seemed at the time), would apartheid have been swept away?

In Zimbabwe, despite warnings not to engage in political debate as you never know who is listening, several locals were desperate to share their situation as a proud nation continues its slide into even further chaos under Mugabe’s rule.

Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre

And at some point on trips around Auschwitz and the Genocide Museum in Kigali, Rwanda, there are inevitable questions. How did anyone allow this to happen? What would I have done?

Not likening President Trump to any of those regimes. Not yet anyway. But if nothing else, standing out on a cold street in Cheltenham is worthwhile to keep his self-serving lies and bullying tactics front and centre until somebody is in a position to stand up and make a difference.

Starting with some ‘so-called judge’.

It’s been a busy few days away from protesting, which partly explains the delay in finishing this post and also why it was a relatively brief sprint through the A-Z iPod Challenge.

It took us just 50 tracks from Embassy Row by Pavement to, perhaps fittingly, Enemy by Buffalo Tom (via, possibly even more fittingly, a track from Frank Ocean’s album Channel Orange).

It also took in several songs which always take me back to my travels.

Sunset over Lome

Endless Art by A House was on the playlist which was a trusted companion on the Trans Africa trip, while First Aid Kit’s gorgeous Emmylou takes me back to early evenings watching the ships go by as the sun set from the beach in Lome, Togo and Emergency 72 by Turin Brakes joined the select group of songs which have provided titles for blog entries (thankfully, I think, without people realising why in this case).

Even Endlessly by Mercury Rev reminds me of travel, although as the soundtrack for spending 48 hours sprawled on a French ski resort sofa near to the bathroom with food poisoning.

And, perhaps most pertinently, Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind which was pretty much everywhere during six months on the road in the USA and brings back great memories of the country and why it is worth us caring about.

  • Sorry, still no playlist. I’ll launch a protest about why that’s not working, see where it gets us. Until then, relying on videos. Some of which are a bit odd.

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