Iris to Ivy

HAVE been on a few lengthy  journeys in the last decade or so. That’s actual journeys, not the ones people go through during a few weeks on reality TV.

While chasing a lifelong dream to succeed in a show which did not exist for much of their lifetime.

In my reality, there has been London to New York without flying. Ten months from the north to south of Africa and back again. An uncompleted circle of South America. And being a Gloucester rugby fan.

But one journey has lasted longer than all of those combined (bar the Gloucester bit, that’s been going on for decades, currently on a largely upward curve) – the one through the I songs on my iPod.

A lot has changed since the start of that journey though songs beginning with I, towards the end of a (possibly ill-conceived) drive to write a blog post a day for a month with the only live blogging entry of listening to my iPod.

One is more likely to be repeated than the other (although, with the assistance of time, both have their merits).

Back then (May 2019), Gloucester had just lost in their first play-off semi-final for far too long and are still in with a chance of their first since, having changed coaching staff, lost a lot of big-name players, flirted with the wrong end of the table, blooded a lot of young players, returned to the play-off flight and still have Billy Twelvetrees in the midfield when necessary.

And, oh yeah, they scored more than 130 points in two home games against Bath. Just thought that needed mentioning.

More important stuff has happened in the wider world – the dog years of Trump and its ridiculous aftermath, the equally ridiculous ongoing Johnson Government, Covid, the fallout from Brexit, the war in U…. oh, just trust me on this, a lot has happened. it is all getting downbeat.

The UK even managed to go from zero points to second in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Seriously, it happened.

Personally, went from working out my notice at the start to journeying overland most of the way around South America, meeting someone along the way (she reckons she is the star of this blog so apparently has to be mentioned somewhere), being forced home from Colombia by Covid, working predominantly as a reporter for the first time in many, many years, keeping up a long-distance relationship, heading back to the newspaper production and getting engaged.

And listened to a lot of songs beginning with I (with several long breaks along the way).

The last blast took us through about 160 tracks from The Goo Goo Dolls (one of those songs which always seems to have been there and have no memory of downloading) to Taylor Swift.

There were plenty of frequent visitors, topped by four versions – two of them live – of It’s The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) by REM, which is a lot back to back even for such a great song.

Is This It by The Strokes popped up twice while there multiple entries by Half Man Half Biscuit (Irk The Purists and It’s Easy To Be Cynical at Christmas), Belle and Sebastian (Is It Wicked Not To Care? and It Could Have Been A Brilliant Career) and early career Billy Bragg (It Says Here and Island of No Return).

And it would appear Evan Dando has a penchant for writing songs beginning with It’s as there were appearances for It’s A Shame About Ray (title track of one of those albums which revisiting always brings happy feelings), It’s All True and It’s About Time.

The latter has one my favourite moments in any song- when Juliana Hatfield echoes ‘Sunshine’ to herald the band kicking back in and manages to spread a little bit of exactly that – which is always worth anticipating as it approaches and then savour as if drifts off into a tune which deserves more than being remembered for a single moment.

Other old favourites popping up to wave farewell to I included Echo and The Bunnymen (It Was A Pleasure), The Undertones (It’s Going To Happen), Jason Isbell (It Gets Easier), The Pogues (in tandem with The Dubliners on The Irish Rover) and John Grant (It Doesn’t Matter To Him).

There were less frequent, but nonetheless welcome, visitors The Streets (It Was Supposed To Be So Easy) and Let’s Eat Grandma (It’s Not Just Me), who will pop up with their latest album on the catch-up before we start cracking on with K.

There was also It’s All You from Sebadoh, which takes me back to a summer when the album it came from seemed to live in my car stereo (1999 apparently).

And we had two first-time appearances – one welcome, one not so much amid a debate over my self-imposed rules.

The welcome one was the first track from the Hamilton soundtrack – It’s Quiet Uptown – after a very enjoyable night out on a post-engagement few days in  London.

Less so was a second song called Iris – this one, complete with the brackets (Hold Me Close) from Apple’s less than appreciated dumping of U2 tracks in my collection a few years back.

Have ignored them by not downloading them, but a change of iPod – not sure how many more times can do that – brought it in automatically and after much debate with myself, opted to follow the rules and listen to it on a walk along the canal to Sainsbury’s

Which is pretty much all that sticks in the mind.

So that, after all that time and the largest number of tracks for one letter, is that and on to J… well, almost.

Over the three years it has taken through I,  a lot of new stuff has dropped in that needs mopping up from A-I – a late burst of new releases in recent weeks taking that diversion up towards 600 tracks.

Better get started…

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I Am The Resurrection to I Found A Way

A FORMER colleague took a risk this week with an article on signs with grammatical errors.

Focusing mainly on missing apostrophes – and ignoring the erroneous A in the name of my home village in a sign opposite the office – it really is poking the bear.

Readers do not need much excuse to point out errors or call an article’s news worthiness into question, so putting your head above your parapet and highlighting any grammatical faux pas is asking for criticism of any mistake, imagined or not.

Once received a letter listing 10 errors in an article (among many others, the writer explained). Had to resist the temptation to write back and explain he was wrong on all but one of them and could easily have made a longer list of errors from his letter.

Was not as slow pointing out errors – grammatical or factual – in my years as a sub, but then that was my job. Until a couple of weeks ago.

That job included stewardship of the office style guide – we did not have a physical one like the ones waved at me by subs as a young reporter, but a series of weekly emails running through common errors (how to refer to a councillor tops the list), spelling issues and settling debates.

Often two options are both right but the house style is to stick to one for the sake of consistency.

It may come as a surprise, but this blog has its own style guide, tucked away in a corner of my mind. Which has the advantage of being endlessly flexible so when the need arrives, the rules can be bent to suit the needs of the blog.

Which it really needs to be for this stretch of the A-Z journey through my iPod.

One of the simple rules is to avoid the first person wherever possible. It will come as a shock to a couple of ex-colleagues whose (lengthy) pieces were littered with I this, I that. Gave up counting in one opening paragraph when it reached double figures, all of which were subbed out.

Have broken that rule a couple of times in posts but they were personal tributes. It would have been odd to write them any other way.

And for the next few paragraphs, will have to break that rule again or this post will become impossible as it takes in the very long run of songs beginning with I (by far the most common opening word of this entire, expanding journey).

This section takes us from a second outing for The Stone Roses’ debut album finale to First Aid Kit.

There has been, seemingly inevitable at the moment, a fair amount of The Beatles with I Am The Walrus (twice) and I Feel Fine (three times) as well as, less inevitably, a blast of The Stones, although this was a rather different version of (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – bereft of chorus – by Cat Power.

The Clash popped up once with I Fought The Law, but with two different versions by Joe Strummer, while there were welcome visits from the Arctic Monkeys ( I Bet You… can probably work that one out), Sun Kil Moon (I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love), Idlewild (I Don’t Have The Map), The House of Love (I Don’t Know Why I Love You) and Altered Images (I Could Be Happy).

There was (probably, it was a while ago, been a bit busy) screaming along to I Bleed by Pixies, who provided a very welcome soundtrack in session on the radio while cleaning my flat ahead of moving out. Very jealous of anyone seeing them in-store at Spillers in Cardiff.

As a believer in coyotes and time as an abstract, always great to hear I Believe by REM from Life’s Rich Pageant – probably edging ahead of long-time favourite Reckoning as my favourite REM album.

They have featured quite heavily as my musical intake has embraced the ability to raid the whole of Apple’s library since the decision was finally made about whether to upgrade my iPod for travelling.

The trusted Classic will add overlanding around South America to Africa on its list of places visited but this time merely as a back-up to a new Touch with instant access to a huge selection of music new and old (been adding a load of vintage stuff ahead of departure).

It is not perfect. Much prefer the wheel control than everything having to be touchscreen digital, the battery life seems shorter and it does not give updates on tracks in the collection – or exactly how many hundreds of I songs we have to wade through – but getting used to it.

And have plenty of time to do just that over the next 31 weeks as the A-Z journey goes into hibernation while travelling.

It became clear very quickly in Africa that keeping the A-Z going alongside blogging from on the road was too much to ask – I blog because I am travelling, not the other way round (to break the rules one more time).

The travel pieces (starting tomorrow from Heathrow. Probably) may well take a diversion into what is soundtracking the trip, but the A-Z is taking a few months off.

This time by design, not just because I have put it off. Again.

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How Cruel to Hysterical Strength

Day 21 as the blog post a day in May gets back to plan with a return to its roots and reaching another landmark.

TRACK 5,160 on the journey through my iPod from A-Z is not one that jumps out as significant.

No disrespect to St Vincent who rounded out the latest section (which started with The Kingsbury Manx – bought, if memory serves, after they appeared on an Uncut magazine CD and failed to live up to the billing) with Hysterical Strength, it would not normally be a track worthy of note.

But as the 679th and final track beginning with H, it represents a notable point in the trip.

Have mentioned before that, like any long journey, the final stretch of each letter can become a bit of a slog. The musical equivalent of ‘are we nearly there yet?’.

Not that there’s necessarily anything more exciting on the horizon, but there is something fresh, a new impetus to the journey lurking just over that horizon.

Having taken a peek, there is a pretty big expanse laid out in front of us as the start of I offers up something to rewrite the records of this journey and will need one of my personal rules to be set aside for a while or it will get very confusing.

Also plan to do something a bit different with one of the upcoming posts which may well be more of a test – for writer and reader – than the blog post a day for a month idea. Which is saying something.

More of that nearer the time – it will be trailed in advance – but before then we need to do a quick catch-up on the songs from A-H which have been added. A while since done that so some of them are a bit of a shock as being supposedly new tracks. Others had forgotten about totally.

But before all that, we’ve got that final stretch of H songs to work our way through.

It might just be the nearing the end of the journey feeling, but the standard final stretch of tracks for each letter tends to throw up little in the way of excitement. A sense of wanting to eat up the miles rather than savouring the scenery.

This has not been the case with the final 80-odd H tracks throwing up enough gems to keep things bouncing along (actually listening to the last dozen or so while writing this to get totally caught up and REM’s Hyena was a welcome distraction – their second in this block after How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us).

Amid all that was a track that just sneaked in rather than being shunted into the catch-up playlist from a young Irish band that has me about as excited as any for a long time.

Knowing it was coming, been trying to come up with an accurate description of Fontaines DC – best advice is click on the video up top there of Hurricane Laughter and crank up the volume. And repeat.

Most common point of reference is Fugazi or Killing Joke, but personally hear a collision between the joint winners of last year’s Travel Marmot Album of the Year, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever and Idles. Fronted by a cross between Ian Curtis and Shane Macgowan.

Maybe that’s just me.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vt1Pwfnh5pc

Whatever their influences, they are bloody good. Suggest Dogrel may be in the running for album of the year this time round.

Not that everything in this section was so worth a listen, scratching my head as to how any Muse (Hyper Music, which is currently playing) has made it into my collection.

Always totally baffled by their popularity. Akin to fingers on a blackboard and, thankfully, over.

Still fighting with the listening to Ryan Adams issue and he cropped up a few times, most notably (courtesy of some weird downloading issue) four times with a live version of How Much Light.

But there were plenty of great moments to savour, starting in Manchester with How I Wrote ‘Elastic Man’ by The Fall and two outings for How Soon Is Now (one with, one without the question mark) which is from the top echelon of Smiths tracks.

Jason Isbell’s two offerings (How To Forget and Hudson Commodore) were not from his top echelon, but still worth a listen, while there were familiar faces in The Wedding Present (Hude Dnipro Hude, twice) and Mercury Rev (Hudson Lines) while The Be Good Tanyas popped up with the free track which first brought them to my attention, Human Thing.

And from two ends of the the career scale, we had some Johnny Cash (it comes towards the end of H, work it out) and Camp Cope.

Something is happening in Melbourne. After Courtney Barnett and Rolling Blackouts CF, this lot complete a pretty good hat-trick. Album has a way to go, but ones to watch.

And so on to I…

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Honey and Smoke to Hope We Make It

Day nine of the post a day in May and the schedule has gone out of the window. To such an extent this is the topic that was planned for today before being shuffled around and back again. Just not in this format.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIK03eNu7gs

IT is the shortest section of the A-Z iPod Challenge to date.

But within the 28 songs it took to travel from Case/Lang/Veirs to Turin Brakes, we hit a major landmark.

It was not marked in any great fashion, merely the fact that it had just stopped raining and was able to take my jacket hood down but the first strains of Hook, Line, Sinker by Stornoway ushered in the 5,000th track on the journey through my iPod.

Only another 8,703 to go. And rising.

And while drying off on the regular weekly walk to check on the latest weight loss progress, the original idea to write about travel was replaced by one to mark the occasion with a blog post.

So let’s rewind right back to the beginning and explain for any newcomers what this musical odyssey is all about, a few facts and figures and the self-imposed rules which govern it.

Are you sitting comfortably? Well you are one up on me, but let’s start anyway.

What?

Pretty simple, listen to every track on my iPod from A-Z.

Why?

Will ‘it seemed a good idea at the time’ suffice as an answer?

Tried it once before (with a much smaller musical collection) but it sort of ran out of steam having reached midway through C.

Think was struggling to find anything to grab my attention and, having planned several times to dig deep into my collection and listen to some stuff that had passed me by or been forgotten, it seemed a way of doing it.

Raised the idea again around the same time this website was created in March 2014 to house blog posts for past trips and the then looming Trans Africa trip.

Looking for something else to write about, some bright spark suggested combining the two and writing about the iPod. That’s the Cornish for you.

The rules

  • My iPod decides the order – It’s in-built alphabetising system is the one which will determine the running order.
    Somehow it has changed, Vampire Weekend’s A-Punk relegated from the opening track on the initial attempt to somewhere in the pack of A songs, letting The Beatles kick things off with A Day in the Life – although a quick check reveals the first song on the list is now (A Belated) Invite To Eternity by Stornoway which had been listed under B.
    Some of the alphabetising is a bit weird, especially with definite and indefinite articles.
  • No skipping – To count, the song must register as having been played in my iTunes library, which means playing it until the end. Long silences at the end of songs push my patience on this one, especially in the gym.
  • It’s the tracks that count, not songs – Multiple versions of the same song all have to be listened to. The most found so far is five – one cover and four of the original in various different guises. That’s five tracks to be listened to all the way through.
  • No revisionism – There’s some rubbish on there, no hiding away from the fact. But nobody put it on there but me (even if the reason is lost in the mists of time), so there’s nobody to blame. It has to be listened to before moving on.
  • New additions count – This remains an evolving collection, so when something is added and drops into the list before the current point, at some point there will be a catch-up session.
    Do this at the end of each letter via a playlist which any new songs from earlier in the journey get dropped into.
  • Breaks are allowed – Let’s be honest, all this time without any new music or being able to choose exactly what to listen to is not really an option.
    This is a challenge to be paused and picked up again from where it was left off. There have been some very long breaks, getting on for a year in a couple of places.

The landmarks

At the time these were the songs sat in the most notable figures:

And the songs sitting in those positions at the moment:

  • 1,000 Birch Tree – Foals
  • 2,000 Coaxed – Avi Buffalo
  • 3,000 Drinking At The Dam – Smog
  • 4,000 The Gator – Will Oldham

The stats

  • Longest track to date: 27.37 Driftin’ Back – Neil Young & Crazy Horse
  • Shortest track to date: 6 seconds Hive Mind – They Might Be Giants (the shortest track in my collection)
  • Longest section: Songs beginning with All which have held the title since occupying tracks 160-267. About to be totally blown out of the water.

The latest section

Apart from Stornoway grabbing the limelight, inevitably at the moment, we had The Beatles – twice in just 28 songs with Honey Don’t and Honey Pie.

There were also two appearances for Billy Bragg, both solo (Honey, I’m A Big Boy Now) and with Wilco (Hoodoo Voodoo) and two versions, one live, of Hope The High Road from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. Not his best but still good enough to get on here twice.

More old favourites came in the shape of Leonard Cohen-inspired REM (Hope), The Wedding Present (Hopak, one of their Ukrainian tracks) and Sugar with Hoover Dam – one of the unwritten laws which have evolved says it has to be mentioned as it is from Copper Blue. And still brilliant.

For once, Sugar were not the loudest in this chunk. That goes to Deafheaven, all 11-plus minutes of it – an acquired taste which am starting to come round to.

But that was not the longest track of this section, followed immediately by 13 minutes of Honeymoon’s Great! Wish You Were Her by Josh T Pearson.

It all added up to something a bit different in the gym with those two back to back. Pretty sure was the only one in there listening to that.

But reckon that’s the case most of the time.

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Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah) to Happiness

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2YjbJTS5C_I

ANYONE listening carefully during the closing scene of the first episode of the BBC drama Press would have heard anguished screams from newspaper sub editors all over the country.

You will need to have listened carefully – we are an endangered species after all – but the screen shot of an intro written by a deputy news editor had us (and journalists of all types) shouting at the TV.

One glance at Twitter was enough to confirm what we were all thinking after the opening episode of the tale of two competing, contrasting and neighbouring newspapers.

Let’s not go in to too much detail of what is wrong with that (basically, all of it – too long, dull, don’t throw all the facts in the first par, local is on the banned words list on a regional paper let alone a national whose readers could be anywhere in the country, last Friday dates it, start with the news angle…)

It needs a complete rewrite.

On a former paper the production staff had a running joke with one ‘award-winning’ reporter in particular that copy needed so much work their byline should read ‘From an original idea by…’. Or unoriginal if we were feeling less charitable.

And who let a reporter (deputy news editor in this case) write her own headline?

There were other complaints from journalists all over Twitter – absolutely no mention of the internet, the appalling design of The Herald, a reporter carrying out an interview without notes or recording, the lack of empty desks and swearing in the office, no feeding frenzy when free food arrives and unrealistic shortage of tea being made and consumed plus a few more niche complaints.

Smelly food seems to be a widespread complaint – one reporter’s name was mentioned in our office when that tweet was spotted.

In fairness, Press was pretty enjoyable. One review described it as more accurate of a newspaper world from 20 years ago – the lack of internet taking precedence confirms that – and from experience in regional newsrooms, there was certainly enough there that rang true (amid a lot that didn’t).

Certainly not as bad as feared after years of watching reporters and newspapers portrayed inaccurately in dramas which have helped to colour public perceptions of our profession.

It’s not a documentary, we get that. But getting most of the basics right is generally a good place to start and, on the whole, Press got enough right to pass muster – and enough wrong for journalists to do what they love most. Moan.

It’s not always the case. Regardless of what most people think, the press  in this country is governed by laws and every trainee journalist has to learn the basics (yes, there is a well-thumbed – albeit out of date – copy of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists in my desk).

The 10 points of what you can report from the first hearing – as dictated by The Magistrates’ Court Act 1980 – is pretty much the first thing generations of reporters learned. Before knowing where Oxdown is.

A sighting of a newspaper page in any drama normally has me squirming and  watching through my fingers as they blast a headline, designed to explain as simply possible to viewers, which would break any number of legal reporting restrictions. To say nothing of the quite awful design.

Occasionally a film crew will ask the professionals to mock up a page for them – not sure what one production team didn’t like about a design we provided, the look, fact it was not simple enough or that the back page had the two people behind it promoted into the British & Irish Lions squad.

The Lions featured on a genuine back page of mine in a South Wales Echo read by Larry Lamb on the beach at Barry Island during an episode of Gavin & Stacey.

But as much as those of us who nudge pictures around pages and spend ages coming up with headlines (or until a relevant song title or lyric takes to pop into our minds – very proud of last week’s niche top cats provided with dignity effort), it is the stories which really matter.

And words matter.

Each week, send out an email to our reporters and news desk detailing things we have picked up in their copy or have cropped up in the office – be it factual errors, house style or the correct distribution of sauces in a sausage sandwich order (the important stuff).

Some of it may seem trivial, some of it is useful information, some of it drives subs nuts (misspelling the village where one of them grew up is never a good idea). There may be lots of ways to refer to councillors, but only one of them is correct in house style and it looks stupid if it varies from story to story – or paragraph to paragraph in many cases.

Yes, words matter.

One example came to my attention this week and, must admit, had not given it much thought.

Committed suicide is a recognisable phrase, very easy to slip the words together without thinking.

But committed comes from when suicide was a crime so should we really be churning it out without thinking at a time when so much effort is being put in to tackle mental health and its public perception? That’s one for the next style guide email.

And then there’s one which has had a deal of personal resonance over the years, particularly in recent weeks and months – cancer battle.

Remarkably, Rachael Hodges was criticised by a small section of Twitter lowlife for not battling this despicable disease hard enough, regardless of her remarkable work in changing perceptions and putting people with cancer in the spotlight. Not hidden away with people unsure how to deal with them.

Describing it as a battle gives this horrible condition some form of dignity, a foe worthy of meeting on equal terms when all too often the odds have long been stacked far too heavily.

And just the whole thought of winners and losers in this situation is ridiculous.

Understand why people use the phrase and have yet to come up with much better, but suggest we try. Words matter.

Which all adds up to make it slightly ironic the last section of the A-Z trip through my iPod – you know, what this whole blog section is supposed to be about – ends with Happiness.

Was not the main feeling over the past month or so, but recent events have had the side effect of a lot of looking back at happier times and so amid the sadness there’s been a lot of smiles. And laughter.

The latest leg of the journey took us from White Denim to Teenage Fanclub and was dominated by Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Prefab Sprout and Juliana Richer Daily all chipping in with originals, covers and altogether different songs.

There was some terrific stuff along the way but rather than another ridiculously long paragraph listing it all, here’s some of it…

  • A big thank you for the reaction and kind words following my last, untitled piece on the loss of the much-missed Nick Machin. It meant a lot. The number of hits that post has received has been ridiculous – something I’m sure says a lot more about Nick than my writing.
photo by:


comedy_nose

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