Hopefulness to How Come You Never Go There?

Day 15 of the blog post a day in May and it is back to some sort of normality – with a touch of righteous indignation.

FOR much of the last few months, a large chunk of the journey from A-Z on my iPod has taken place in the gym which looms large on the opposite corner of the square from my flat.

And probably the biggest chunk of that took place building up my running from scratch on a treadmill, right until my right calf decided that was not such a good idea.

The osteopath agreed with my calf and eventually put a ban on me going near a treadmill, even to walk. Never mind the rather scary looking step machine next to it which was part of the plan to get my legs used to going up endless stairs before tackling the Inca Trail.

Not wanting to lose the groundwork put in to my fitness levels, we agreed on a compromise of hitting the exercise bike which provides just as good a workout (if not more, given the now customary stagger out of the saddle) while taxing a few different leg muscles to protect the calf.

The back is not quite so protected, judging by how difficult it is to get comfortable, while other parts of the body have also had their complaints about proximity with a saddle.

All this work in the gym is part of building that fitness, an added push to the weight loss and that added target of building up to the assault on the Inca Trail.

And having made the decision to forego the easy ride via train and bus to Machu Picchu in favour of the four-day Classic trek, it was slightly disconcerting to read an article about which could have huge repercussions for anyone looking to follow in the same footsteps.

Machu Picchu: Fury over plans for new multi-billion pound airport next to ancient Inca citadel

The Independent article jumped out of my Twitter feed, outlining plans to build an airport in the nearest major settlement to Machu Picchu and the fears of the damage it could cause to the great attraction, the Inca Trail and the whole civilisation around the surrounding Sacred Valley.

In 2017, Unesco warned it could add Machu Picchu to its list of endangered world heritage sites such was the strain 1.5 million visitors a year – double Unesco’s recommended figure – was having on the citadel and associated sites.

Peru has responded with limited daily permits on the trail, time slots and controls on visitors at the ruins, but an airport has the potential to go well beyond Unesco’s initial concerns.

Justin Francis, chief executive of Responsible Travel, told The Telegraph: “When we look back at what went wrong with tourism, this will be the story that sums it all up.”

Strong words but it is difficult to disagree with him and the thought that an airport appears some way on the wrong side of the very narrow line between the benefits and drawbacks of tourism.

It is easy to get angry at such an idea, pointing the finger at the Peruvian government and anyone who will benefit financially from the airport.

But they have a valuable resource and how many governments and economies are far-sighted and secure enough to avoid exploiting such a lucrative opportunity? No matter the long-term impact.

And what about those of us who are helping to swell those tourism numbers? Are we not equally to blame for helping to create the need for the airport, no matter how much we can claim to be doing it properly?

This is an issue, rather like all environmental concerns, that we all have a stake in.

It falls on us travellers to look careful about where we are leaving our footsteps and how much of a lasting print they will have, just as it falls on the Peruvian government and surrounding communities to look beyond the short term and not milk the cash cow irreversibly dry.

And the global community has its share of the responsibility.

It may be over another border, but Machu Picchu is a global treasure – like so many, physically and culturally, threatened by rampant tourism – and we need to be working with whatever country is affected to help keep them as such.

Not just with aid, but providing help, understanding and an ability to build economic strength to look after itself and its people to avoid the need to take such steps.

We need these places, these cultures, this enrichment of life beyond what we know – far better than pulling down the shutters and trying to block the flow of ideas and influences across borders.

To quote Rudyard Kipling (well, Billy Bragg who used it in The Few): “What do they know of England, who only England know?”

And hey, if I can walk to Machu Picchu, do people really need to fly right to its front door?

Which is all rather more serious than was intended on a post designed to steer us through the 60 tracks from Courtney Barnett to Feist.

One of the annoyances of listening to the A-Z on the bike is a long song making it difficult to break down a session into bite-size tracks, as happened again with seven-plus minutes of The House Song by The Beta Band.

This stretch had two outings for Horsin’ Around from Prefab Sprout’s masterful Steve Macqueen album, a couple of versions of Hounds of Love (Kate Bush and The Futureheads’ cover) and two visits from The Be Good Tanyas (Horses and a House of the Rising Sun cover which had me drumming on the bike console).

Initially stumbled across The Be Good Tanyas via an iTunes freebie and investigated further to the point hearing them takes me back to a mosquito-infected early evening chilling with a few beers under the midnight sun on the banks of the Yukon at Dawson City, Canada.

The Hold Steady also popped up twice with Hostile, Mass and Hot Soft Light, which also brings back travel memories after making it on to the African playlist (largely due to seeing them in Bristol the week before the off).

There were also appearances for a couple of Hotel tracks – Hotel Yorba by The White Stripes and, controversially for some, Hotel Yorba by The White Stripes – while Let’s Eat Grandma still sound fresh as they popped up with Hot Pink.

But best song title of this section – and many others – goes to American Music Club with The Hopes and Dreams of Heaven’s 10,000 Whores.

Doubt if those hopes and dreams include a gym bike or an airport at Machu Picchu.

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A Good Man Is Easy To Kill to Great

THERE are certain key questions in life you can use to age most people. Favourite Bond, favourite Doctor Who, favourite children’s programmes.

Anything that depends largely on what you grew up with.

And for those of us with a music obsession, particularly anything involving vaguely miserable young men peering through their fringes and teasing jingly-jangly or feedback-ridden noise out of guitars, you can add favourite era of the NME.

Anyone who suggests anything from this century is downright wrong as it increasingly veered towards glossy Smash Hits territory. Nope, you definitely have to go back to the days when the ink from that week’s Morrissey cover came off on your fingers.

Will listen to arguments that the hip young gunslingers of the late ’70s was some form of golden age – it did give us Danny Baker after all – but you have to go about a decade later for my era of choice.

Had started to dabble in getting my fingers inky every Wednesday – will argue journalism has never been the same since the days of picking a copy fresh off a press on the premises and half of it coating your hand – in the early to mid-’80s as my NME-reading formative years.

But my weekly habit took hold in the second half of the decade, a golden age reading the musings of Stuart Maconie (who still colours my musical education on 6Music, given the chance off work), Andrew Collins, and Steve Lamacq among others, under the editorship of Danny Kelly.

Those golden years lasted into the 1990s until Steve Sutherland took over the editor’s chair and there was a large turnover of writers.

Stuck with it for a good few years – there weren’t many other options to read or find out about this sort of music – but it was not the same.

If memory serves, gave up buying it (Christmas issues and its best of the year lists apart) when working in Newport, opting to it on the health reporter’s desk and read his copy every Wednesday.

Bizarrely, the person on the next desk would end up working on the NME news desk. Around the time they were pushing Starsailor as the future of guitar music. Not sure we can blame him for that.

The golden age was well and truly over. By the time they had bestowed almost God-like status on The Libertines, it was time to sever all ties.

Have picked up a couple of the free editions it became, but quickly worked out why it was normally left on the piles outside HMV.

But it was still a sad – if inevitable – day when news came through that it would no longer exist in print. Both for music fans and anyone with any sort of affection for the printed word that cannot just be scrolled up and down.

Apart from the writing, arrived at the NME at a good time musically. They were still in thrall to The Smiths (largely understandable, frequently overkill), but it was also in the wake of the C86 collection and the heyday of the indie guitar music which has soundtracked much of my last three decades and coloured large chunks of this A-Z journey through my iPod.

Could be wrong – it was so long ago, remember it largely in black and white – but pretty sure The Wedding Present’s classic George Best album was bought on the back of reading all about them on a train to and from a university open day.

Maybe less time reading the NME and listening to the music, more time reading and writing stuff for my school work and one of those open days might have turned into an actual place at university.

Although suggest most of my time would have been spent  doing exactly the stuff which stopped me going in the first place – Cardiff was my first choice, largely because it had the best line-up of gigs on a visit.

The fortunes of print journalism and indie guitar music have suffered in the intervening years, bludgeoned by the dual rise of the internet and any number of interchangeable landfill guitar bands who… there really is no way of finishing this thought without drifting off completely into things were better when I was a lad territory.

Inevitably there were various generations of indie guitar bands as we careered closer to the end of G in the alphabetical journey through my iPod from Beulah to They Might Be Giants.

There was, equally inevitably, Wedding Present (Granadaland, live and studio) from the golden age to Starsailor (the passable Good Souls), who have possibly unfairly become slightly the poster boys of the indie decline.

And we had some possibly surprising frequent visitors with four tracks from Thee Oh Sees, three from Iron & Wine and two apiece for The Beatles (remember them?), The Mark Lanegan Band, Speedy Ortiz and The National (so nearly, and unfairly, lost among the pile of The… bands showing the lack of originality which dogged guitar bands for a while).

Ryan Adams, as inevitable as The Wedding Present, joined the frequent visitors with Goodnight Rose, Goodnight Hollywood Boulevard and, with The Cardinals, Gracie, representing the drift towards Americana that replaced the reliance on NME-approved guitar fare.

Rival Schools barely fitted that mould, off somewhere to the flanks with Good Things, while Paul Simon is a classification of his own. By rights, he has always been probably a bit Radio 2 friendly to fit in with the standard NME reader, but some people rise above such prejudices and Graceland was a very welcome visitor.

Pixies hardly fit the four white boys with guitar template for an indie band, but hark back to that golden age with Gouge Away, as do Prefab Sprout.

Steve McQueen remains one of the era’s great albums, Goodbye Lucille #1 (or Johnny Johnny if you prefer) the sole survivor of Paddy McAloon’s supposed attempt to write an entire album of songs with the same title.

Sure the NME would have approved.

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F*** the Police to Father’s Child

 

ONE of our department’s wide-ranging daily discussions as we prepared to leave an almost empty office the other day revealed pretty much none of us wear a watch.

There were a variety of reasons, but mainly it came down to them being an irritant banging on the desk – an argument rather ruined by the bangles which live on my right wrist, albeit considerably thinned out from the full off-duty array – and the fact there is just no need.

If you want the time, you don’t need a watch. There’s some electronic device not too far away with the right time on it.

In my case that’s usually my phone , although bizarrely when freed from the constraints of work and a 9 to 5 routine while travelling, a watch did appear on the wrist that was not getting all cluttered up by bracelets.

And that’s generally what my phone gets used for, telling the time, an alarm and when really bored, checking Facebook, Twitter and e-mails. There’s some largely-forgotten apps on there but the one thing it rarely gets used as is a phone.

Sadly, the same can not be said about a surprisingly large number of the people who use the same bus as me in the mornings.

Anyone who has been paying attention for a while on this blog will know my long-serving car fell victim to the decluttering my life before heading off to Africa – it would have cost more to get through an MoT than it would make when sold, so off to the scrapyard it went. A sad farewell to an old friend.

Which has meant the vast majority of my journeys are by bus – at least to work, a couple of colleagues have somehow volunteered their services as a taxi service for the journey home. At very reasonable rates.*

That all adds up to plenty of time to listen to music and people watch. Or, increasingly in recent weeks, people listen.

If my phone rang on the bus, my reaction would be traditionally British – sheepishly answer it and get the whole thing over as quickly and quietly as possible, just in case anyone might overhear.

Even if it rings in the office, the process of answering it involves scurrying away to a quiet corner, not so much to avoid being overheard but more to avoid disturbing people (something that does not normally affect my behaviour in the office).

Would that were the case for some of my fellow passengers.

It had been an occasional irritant, particularly the guy who always seems to sit one row in front of me in the morning and does not so much talk on the phone as grunt or make some equally non-committal noise before launching in to some lengthy, shrill rant and cutting the conversation short.

And then there was the bloke who phones his office halfway through his journey to explain how he is stood waiting for a bus that has not arrived and that he will be a bit late.

Those are occasional examples which are as entertaining as they are irritating, but then came the girl who sat directly behind me on a journey home after a Sunday shift.

No idea what she was saying. Was listening to music and none of it was in any form of coherent sentences, just loud exclamations and laughter, all while eating her way through at least four packets of some unidentified food.

And then there’s the regular. The girl who parks herself in the front window seat upstairs and simultaneously goes through the three main tasks of her journey to work – eating breakfast, doing her make-up and conducting a lengthy, loud phone call, apparently to the same person each morning or to a variety of friends who all have babies.

The breakfast is normally something pastry-related, although she admitted to having a bag full of Kiwis to keep her going through the day. Presuming she means fruit as her bag is not big enough for a flock of birds or collection of small New Zealanders.

The make-up routine has progressed to doing her hair, no matter what impact it has on the rest of us – particularly the poor woman sat directly in the firing line of that hairspray.

But she still seems surprised when the bus hits a speed bump, despite having a clear view down a long, straight road through that large front window at the speed bumps which have a tendency not to move overnight.

But nothing can quite match the sheer inane nature of the conversation, filled as it is with such wonderful insights delivered with the conviction of someone confident nobody has delivered such information so insightfully before.

All delivered at a great volume, particularly when moaning about the noise being made by a crowded bus crammed with early racegoers heading for The National Hunt Festival in Cheltenham.

Can vouch for the volume as through all of this, my headphones are in but can still hear it. The volume is generally turned down a touch to avoid being overheard, but there is little choice (other than live tweeting the phone call) than to crank up the volume to become one of those irritating people who subject fellow passengers to their musical tastes.

And what they have been subjected to most recently has been the first dent in the F section of the A-Z journey through my iPod – from the expletives of NWA to Michael Kiwanuka.

We’ve had Fairytales (notably festive ones of the New York variety from The Pogues), Fakes (Plastic Trees from Radiohead – twice – and a version  from Juliana Richer Daily, plus Tales of San Fransisco from Arctic Monkeys), taken a few Falls (On Me from REM, Falling Out by Veronica Falls who have been one of the discoveries of this journey and Falling, the Twin Peaks theme re-imagined by The Wedding Present), gone Far (Gone and Out by Jesus and Mary Chain), Fast (Car, Tracy Chapman) and bid Farewell Appalachia with Stornoway. Who we are about to bid farewell to.

And we had Faron Young.

Have already held forth in this blog about how the first side of Prefab Sprout’s Steve McQueen is damn near perfect (near perfect – perfection is reserved for side two of Echo and the Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain) and its opener still sounds magnificent almost 30 years on.

A classic, hugely overlooked pop tune, four in the morning or any time. Certainly beats listening to someone else’s phone calls..

*Free

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Blue Eyes to Bonny

THE first job anyone paid me for was in the newspaper industry, several years before somehow impressing enough rewriting press releases during a couple of weeks’ work experience to be taken on as a trainee reporter.

Well, someone’s got to deliver newspapers – or at least they did, back in the days when they were the only way to sit down and digest news.

Several years before starting to write for them, my newspaper round was inherited by someone else in the village about the age of 14 or 15.

Newspapers B&W (5)It couldn’t have been any older, spells at a DIY store/garden centre (briefly) and in the produce department at Sainsbury’s followed before A Levels, but it was old enough that getting up for a Sunday morning paper round was given the extra handicap of the twin effects of playing rugby and nights out on Saturdays.

Those Sunday mornings could be grim, starting at the bottom of the hill towards Gloucester Docks and heading steadily uphill – complete with a heavy bag bulging with papers and Sunday supplements – to our village.

They were made more manageable by one of my early personal stereos. The one mentioned in an earlier post that had a built-in radio. It was falling apart, had no cover and ate tapes at any given opportunity, but it had a radio. That was quite something back then.

The radio sticks in my mind as, for some reason, habit necessitated a switch from tape to radio about halfway through the round. Probably because a tape had been chewed or low batteries ruled out rewinding and no pencil was available.

For some time before and, increasingly with a hangover, for years to come, the soundtrack to a Sunday morning was the Archers’ omnibus, wafting up the stairs with the smells of cooking the roast as my mother not so subtly got the message across that it was time to shake off the effects of the night before, get up and take the dog for a walk.

But for those months out delivering papers in all weathers, the sound of Sunday mornings was Radio 1 and Peter Powell. Look, I was young, OK.

One of the features which developed on his show, which seemingly veered away (if ever so slightly) from the normal playlist chart fodder, was the Slipped Discs section. Focusing on singles which failed to crack the Top 40 but garnered a fair amount of affection (back in the days when you had to sell a fair number of singles to make the charts and when my knowledge of numbers 1-40 was pretty impressive), it took off and culminated in an end-of-year chart voted by listeners.

Very few of those songs, stick in the memory but The Pogues certainly had a couple of entries in the upper echelon – and they popped up, twice, in the latest section of my iPod with The Body Of An American, largely overlooked until its use in The Wire.

But beating all comers with two tracks at the top of the list was Prefab Sprout.

Steve McQueenThose songs – Faron Young and When Love Breaks Down – are still some way off on this journey, but this section included two other tracks from their simply wonderful Steve McQueen album, Blueberry Pies and Bonny.

Steve McQueen – or Two Wheels Good as it is known on the other side of the Atlantic due to a legal dispute – was another of the key albums of my teenage years and still gets wheeled out on a reasonably regular basis.

Rather like stumbling on old photographs or bumping in to old friends, it brings back a lot of good – and not so good – memories and has even been known to make me emotional.

And, above all, it is still a bloody great album stuffed with excellent songs – When Love Breaks Down still sounds as good now as it did 30 years – and is one of that elite selection that needs to be listened to from start to finish in order. No shuffling or skipping here.

One of my longest-standing musical arguments is that the second side of Ocean Rain is about as perfect a run of 20-odd minutes ever produced. The first side of Steve McQueen comes close and while it may wander off the quest for perfection midway through the second side, it is undoubted proof that Paddy McAloon is one of the great songwriting talents of his generation.

One of the most overlooked ones – partly, it seems, due to personal choice – but a unique voice that needs cherishing.

Bonny wrapped up this section, kicked off with Blue Eyes by Destroyer that had the distinction of being the 1000th track. Just another 10,507 to go – and growing.

The monster which is Blue Monday popped up three times – twice by New Order and once with a dodgy cover by some lot called Biosphere. Remember hearing it for the first time when performed live on Top of the Pops and wondering who this bloke was mumbling about “shallow bays” and struggling to keep a straight face.

Pixies also popped up three times with Bone Machine, while some bizarre alphabetising put The Jam’s A Bomb In Wardour Street into the heart of the Bs.

And there was also one of the more bizarre entries on my iPod – which came as a bit of a surprise – was Blue Moon by Robert De Niro and Liza Minnelli. Very odd and proof the method does not transfer to singing.

Bodies by Pale Seas came courtesy one of those pleasant surprises you get rarely when getting to a gig early enough to catch the support band, while there was a lovely little run of less heralded tracks with Blue.Pt ii by Waxahatchee and two tracks called Blue Ridge Mountain by Fleet Foxes and Hurray For The Riff Raff, who also popped up with The Body Electric.

A recent addition well worth exploring further…

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