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.

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.

Share

Heaven, Sittin Down to Heroin

Have set myself the challenge to write a blog post a day throughout May. Probably going to regret it, but here we go.

THERE are a few habits which have developed when it comes to writing blog posts on this A-Z journey through my iPod. It adds up to the following routine.

  • Listen to a load of songs on my iPod.
  • List the tracks worth mentioning in the next post.
  • Try to find some theme for the next post among those tracks or work out how to shoehorn them into the subject matter already worked out.
  • Find loads of other things to do rather than actually write.
  • Decide it is time to stop putting it off.
  • Spend too much time looking through YouTube videos to drop into the post.
  • Watch TV.
  • Finally get round to writing – largely ignore what you worked out, head out on some tangent, realise you have overwritten and then cram in mention of the music at the end.

Managed to follow the first two of these through the latest section from track 4,701 past 4,800 (at least at the time, there’s been a few additions) and the second threw up a longer than normal list of tracks.

So rather than try to knit them together into some form of coherent narrative (or squeeze a few of them on the end of something else), let’s try something new and rattle through that list. Not every song, just the ones which somehow seemed worthy of note when drawing up that list.

Heaven, Sittin Down – Phosphorescent
We are doing some catching up here, the lack of posts in recent weeks means there has been a bit of a backlog. To the point that this was track 4,701 when listened to but has dropped to 4,724, courtesy of new arrivals on the iPod.

Phosphorescent fall firmly in the ranks of Americana acquired when staying at a friend’s with no TV, no WiFi and only his music collection to keep me entertained when getting a job after my first bout of prolonged travelling had just ended.

This is their take on an old blues standard.

Heavy Metal Drummer – Wilco
Two outings for this one from a band which took me a while, all while they were being eulogised by one major influence on this journey.

Their more muso moments still pass me by a little bit, but when they are good, they are very good. And this is one of their best.

Hell Is Around The Corner – Portishead & Tricky
This loop was pretty much everywhere for a while as Portishead started to mean more than a place where we somehow got taken for an unlikely day out near the seaside on the edge of my Dad’s patch as a rep for a builders’ merchant. Great song.

Hell Is Chrome – Wilco
Wilco sort of took over one trip to the gym with two versions of this as well. There’s a lot of bad drumming on the weight machines.

Hello, Goodbye – The Beatles
This whole journey started with A Day In The Life and opened with a wall of The Beatles in the first 100 or so songs. It would appear they wrote an awful lot of songs beginning with H as well. Three versions of this while on the treadmill in the gym.

Help Save The Youth Of America – Billy Bragg
Frequent visitor on this journey and always a very welcome one. Bragg has been a constant in my music collection for more than 30 years and this is not that far below the rarefied air of his very best.

Two versions, one from the first Bragg album in my collection and one live recording from Russia. Which is up there on that video.

Help! – The Beatles
Told you they were popping up a lot. Three times again, plus a version by The Damned which is preferable purely for ditching the exclamation mark.

Helpless – Ryan Adams with Gillian Welch
Think (can’t be sure, went through a stage of getting pretty much anything by him) this was in Adams’ post-Whiskeytown days when he was fighting a difficult reputation.

As opposed to… oh.

Helpless – Sugar
To go with those rules on the process of posts for this blog, a few others have emerged over the last 4,700+ songs.

One of them is pretty simple – anything off Sugar’s Copper Blue album gets a mention.

At The Drive-In come close with Relationship of Command, but it remains the choice when you want to blast away the cobwebs with some loud guitar and you don’t carry the metal gene. Not sure how a spoonful of Sugar did not damage my hearing.

Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes
Something a bit quieter. Twice. Another in the category of bands which are always welcome visitors, but rarely leave a major impression.

Helter Skelter – The Beatles
It’s not just The Beatles, there are also the cover versions which somehow have worked their way into my collection. Siouxsie and the Banshees and, surprise surprise, Oasis this time.

Her Majesty – The Beatles
This is getting silly.

Here Comes A City – The Go-Betweens
It’s a bit slicker, a touch more polished in the production than some of their early stuff, which perhaps explains why The Go-Betweens’ second coming got sort of shunted aside in my mind towards Radio 2 territory.

Right up to the point when another listen reveals something missed along the way. It’s not in the same league as the wonderful Cattle & Cane, but better than first thought.

And Robert Forster’s new solo stuff well worth a listen.

Here Comes A Regular – The Replacements
A bit of research (or timewasting) on YouTube reveals this was used to soundtrack the death of a character on One Tree Hill played by Sheryl Lee. So maybe The Replacements killed Laura Palmer.

Mixing the cultural references, the school in the film Heathers (Westerberg High) was named after Replacements singer/songwriter Paul Westerberg as they were star Winona Ryder’s favourite band.

One of those great songs this A-Z journey has rediscovered.

Here Comes The Blackout – Stornoway
Pretty sure agreed to see Stornoway live without hearing anything by them – not the first and one of the great advantages of review tickets. And well worth the visit it was.

Shared fondness with a fellow traveller soundtracked a couple of mellow evenings sat on the beach in Togo watching the sun go down over the incoming oil tankers on the horizon.

Here Comes The Summer – The Undertones
Yeah, yeah… Peel loved them, Derry boys and all that. But for nine-year-old me still largely unexposed to anything beyond my parents’ music (even then was fairly sure The Band of the Royal Marines and Glenn Miller was not the way forward) and whatever was on the radio (Junior Choice?), The Undertones were just fun.

Remember loving this and then they released My Perfect Cousin – the first song I knew all the words to, still remembered in my first attempt at karaoke. Many years and quite a few pints later.

Here Comes The Sun – Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel
Oh yeah, The Beatles as well. Again. Twice.

Here Comes Your Man – Pixies
Two things popped up in recent weeks about the Pixies (one fewer than appearances by pretty much their poppiest track).

First a Facebook music group was discussing a gig at Gloucester Leisure Centre which has cropped up on YouTube and a live bootleg. Was tagged in it as someone who was there and if there is anything to promote some form of cool among younger people with any concept of good music, having seen the Pixies live is pretty much there.

Remember it being very loud. Or rather quiet, loud, quiet, very loud. Leisure centre closed as a live venue due to structural issues not long after. Wonder why.

Secondly, Doolittle came out 30 years ago last month. Was still in my teens for Christ’s sake. It’s still brilliant.

Here Today – The Chameleons
In studio was track 4,800, accompanied by a live version. Beyond that, not much too add. Think this got loaded onto my iPod in a bout of, ahem, borrowing ahead of travelling.

Here, There And Everywhere – The Beatles
Look, this is really silly now.

Here’s Where The Story Ends – The Sundays
For about five minutes, they were the future of slightly introspective, jingly indie guitar music. Best viewed through a fringe. Can’t Be Sure still on several playlists.

Heroes – David Bowie
Confession time. Was never a massive Bowie fan when younger. Certainly not compared to many.

But have sort of revisited and re-evaluated over the last few years, especially a bout of downloading focused on filling in the gaps in my knowledge most serious music fans are not supposed to have.

And you can’t really knock this, can you?

Heroin – Velvet Underground
Think this is on my iPod from the same bout of musical education. Bowie had more of an impact than his old mate Lou Reed and co.

Heroin (Live) – Echo and the Bunnymen
Somehow fitting the Bunnymen, albeit with someone else’s song, round off the first blog since the loss of Steve Tucker – a shared musical passion.

He’d have been appalled at my less than glowing reviews of Bowie and Velvet Underground though, pointing out the error of my ways over a few pints in The City Arms.

Share

For Everyfield There’s Mole to Freed Pig

I’m never gonna be the handyman around the house my father was
So don’t be asking me to hang a curtain rail for you, because
Screwdriver business just gets me confused
It takes me half an hour to change a fuse
And when I flicked the switch the lights all blew
Billy Bragg – Handyman’s Blues

AS so often, Billy’s got a point. My Dad could mend a fuse, hang a curtain rail, heck he even built an extension on our house and converted the attic into my teenage bedroom.

Me? Not so much.

He tried to teach me. We built a picnic table together which stood for years in the back garden, much to the amusement of the neighbours when they drove up the road to see a Labrador looking over the fence having used the bench as a step to climb on top.

But my main role was labourer, digging the footings for the extension on the back of the house  or cutting down, removing the roots and shifting the extremely heavy trunk of flowering cherry tree which was getting a bit close to the front of house for comfort.

The trunk stayed in the garage for years because “one day I’ll do something with it” and it was still heavy every time he cleared out the garage (one full Sunday about every three months) and when we did it one final time before selling.

Maybe rugby wasn’t to blame for the bad back.

Dad was not the perfect handyman. There was normally one final job on each scheme which was never finished, usually involving a door knob.

For years we had to open a couple of doors with a screwdriver, which was a bit awkward whenever visitors wanted to use the bathroom and resulted in my sister getting stuck in a dark, cramped downstairs cupboard.

If any of my efforts were actually passable with the help of a screwdriver, that would be a major success.

No, that was one thing he never passed on.

What he did pass on in the genes was life as a Gloucester rugby fan.

In Gloucester, that’s not so much in the genes as in the water. Or the cider.

Home

There’s a sort of path to manhood well trodden over the years – a first trip to Gloucester’s other cathedral (more commonly known as Kingsholm) as a child, a spot of mini rugby, more trips to Castle Grim, school rugby, first forays into the heart of The Shed (home of the one-eyed – don’t look too closely, it might not be a figure of speech – passionate Cherry and White fan), Saturday afternoons not watching but playing at one of the selection of local clubs and, gradually, adjusting back to life among the faithful, roaring Glawsterrr with a distinct accent (and a growing number of rs) and passing on all the knowledge gained during that time on to a referee who surely must be ever so grateful.

The tale varies a bit. Some skip the playing – increasingly these days – and, whisper it quietly, some have made the switch from the round ball to the egg. They are the ones who call the touch judge lino.

Sure fans of every team will say the same, but it’s not been easy. Far from it.

Google the record defeat in finals of rugby’s major domestic competitions (please don’t) and Gloucester’s name appears. More than once. One of them after we had finished top of the league by 15 points in the regular season and had not played a meaningful game in weeks.

Last season we beat the reigning English and domestic champions. Again. Twice. We hammered the side that finished top of the league. Again. We won away at the side leading the French league who had not lost at home all season to book a place in the European Challenge Cup final. Again.

We were also the only side in the Aviva Premiership not to win consecutive league games all season. We lost a 31-7 lead to lose our opening game. We lost from 12 points up with seven minutes to go later in the season.

That last one was followed by our coach pretty much quitting on Twitter. All part of a season which saw a proposed takeover blocked by rival clubs who, perish the thought, did not want one of their rivals being better funded.

We’ll get to the music. Eventually

And our star signing decided he did not want to come home from France to press his England claims, but preferred to stay in France. Where they pay really well.

This season? Well, so far so familiar. We beat the champions at home under our new coach on the opening day of the season and promptly lost the next two games on the road – the second courtesy of conceding 21 points in pretty much as many minutes to start the game.

Spotting a trend here?

Amid all this, some of our supporters seem to think the most important thing to worry about is that the club has been handed some much-needed money in exchange for putting a sponsor’s name in front of The Shed. Which we all call The Shed regardless.

And there’s the one-woman crusade to ensure the players properly acknowledge the fans after away games.

Would we have it any other way?

Yes, winning is nice. In fact, it’s great fun. Winning without biting your nails until the last moment is terrific. Or so we have been told.

But what cost would we put on the type of success, say, that Saracens’ fans have got used to in recent years?

Have nothing but admiration for the Saracens’ playing set-up. They have some fabulous players, superbly coached and playing to a system that they all buy into and commit to 100 per cent.

But…

Walked out of Kingsholm after we had played Saracens in the Anglo-Welsh Cup last season alongside some away fans.

Against all the odds, a team of fresh-faced kids and fringe players had come from nowhere at half-time to snatch a dramatic late victory against a side shorn of their international stars, but still expected to win. They always are.

It was, as the realisation of what could happen dawned on the inhabitants of The Shed, one of my favourite moments of the season. Not just the victory, but the delight and realisation of what they had just achieved on the faces of the young players.

And walking away from the ground with the Saracens fans, the older two asked the younger – probably late teens, presumably the son – what he had made of his first visit to Kingsholm. It was, they assured him, one of the best places to watch rugby.

That’s not the way he saw it. Where was the entertainment? Where was the music? Wasn’t it unfair on Saracens that the home crowd made that much noise? And shouted at the referee? And it was unfair that they had lost (he seriously said that).

Do we want that? An expectation that winning is the only thing. That we are there to be royally entertained (rugby aside), before, during and after the match. And that victory is his right as part of the admission price.

Or does all that frustration, heartache and slightly shambolic nature somewhere at the heart of the club make every little victory that much sweeter?

Probably. Especially if we could win something a bit  more regularly.

Dinosaur Jr

Whatever the answer, the faithful will be back there tomorrow when we face Worcester for that dreaded event – a game we are expected to win.

It’s in the genes, you see. Not just me, my sister has – however much she tried to fight it – become infected and will be sat in the main stand. One or both of her daughters – both of whom have or do work for the club – may join her, while her son will be working in the press box as part of the club’s media team (where did he get the idea to work in the world of rugby press?).

And her husband will be stood alongside or more likely, for some reason, just behind me as part of our little gang in The Shed. Trying not to call the touch judge lino.

He would certainly approve of the latest section of tracks on the A-Z journey through my iPod (remember, what this blog is actually about before certain diversions) from Bonnie Prince Billy to The Breeders as we get nearer to the end of another letter.

We have stood next to each other at gigs by Sugar (Fortune Teller) and Half Man Half Biscuit (For What Is Chatteris) and would have done at Art Brut (Formed A Band, twice) who both of us came to late as homework after snagging review tickets for a Gloucester gig which was cancelled.

There were other highlights in a short section – A Forest by The Cure,  Four Flights Up by Lloyd Cole & The Commotions, Frank Mills by The Lemonheads (a throwaway album track which is always the one that ends up stuck in your brain), Freak Scene by Dinosaur Jr and Freakin Out by Graham Coxon.

Although at least one friend has a similar view of Coxon that a young Saracens fan has to life in The Shed.

Share

A Day In The Life to Adagio For Strings

“If you ever have to go to Shoeburyness, Take the A road, the okay road that’s the best, Go motorin’ on the A13”
A13 Trunk Road To The Sea – Billy Bragg

IT is somehow apt this trip through my iPod starts, well, almost, with Billy Bragg’s anglicising of Route 66.

It popped up at song number six at the start of a road trip of my own, albeit heading west over the Severn into Wales rather than east through Essex, as the journey got off to a flying start through the first 50 tracks.

Accident Waiting...It’s not the last we will see of the Big Nose Bard of Barking – indeed, he popped up later in the opening 50 with Accident Waiting To Happen – as he has been a constant in my music collection from the days of tape decks and Walkmen, through CDs and onto digital.

One of the most consistently brilliant live performers, Tank Park Salute is able to reduce me and many other grown men to quivering wrecks.

We’ll come back to why Billy is a musical and national treasure in later entries, as well as other acts who will become regular comforts throughout this musical journey – The Smiths (Accept Yourself) and Echo and The Bunnymen (a live version of Action Woman) both popped up as the first of many entries.

There was also a first appearance for Nirvana with the MTV Unplugged version of About A Girl – part of the seemingly apt soundtrack which ushered in my 40th birthday stretched out at the back of a converted bus in Seattle – and two from Bob Mould.

His Husker Dü days produced Actual Condition, while The Act We Act by Sugar provoked memories of a couple of incredibly loud, remarkably hot and fairly painful gigs.

It forms part of the unrelenting opening salvo from the wonderful Copper Blue album – followed by A Good Idea and Changes – with which they opened their set upstairs at a gig above a pub in Birmingham.

If the sweat rolling off the ceiling, the unstinting roar from a three-piece band on full throttle and the crowded moshpit was not uncomfortable enough, the twisted ankle from standing on a discarded pint glass in the middle of the moshpit provoked a tactical retreat to the rear.

Wonderful night from which my ankle soon recovered. Not sure the same can be said about my ears.

Multiple entries also come from The National, a band who have largely passed me by despite rave reviews from friends, and three from Americana legends Lambchop, whose quite beautiful Up With People is currently being played by Mark Radcliffe on 6Music. Never have so many musicians combined so well, so quietly.

There was also some songs which came out of the blue, somehow downloaded or burned into my collection but not or rarely listened to. Stumbling across them and heading off to investigate more by the bands involved is one of the key reasons for taking on this challenge – and why it could take a very long time.

Falling into this category is About Time by Art Brut, with its opening couplet “There was a time when I couldn’t stomach Morrissey, I thought ‘He can’t have had a hard a life as me’”, and Acoustic Guitar, part love letter to the instrument and part plea for it to bring back the singer’s lost love.

One of the tracks from The Magnetic Fields 69 Love Songs – sorry, never managed to plough through all 69 – it also features some great lines, most notably “She always loved the sound of your strum, You made her think maybe I wasn’t so dumb” and “Acoustic guitar, if you think I play hard, Well you could have belonged to Steve Earle”.

But one band took over the first section of the list with multiple entries, including the first five tracks – A Day In The Life (twice), A Hard Day’s Night (twice) and A Taste of Honey. They also popped up more than once later on, including three versions of Across The Universe (plus a cover of it by 10cc, who are unlikely to feature again).

Which is all a bit strange, not being the biggest Beatles fan. Any music fan needs a working knowledge of their work, hence their presence in my collection, and growing up their songs were fairly constant background music, even when too young to know who they were (had no real idea, aged 10, who John Lennon was when he was shot, but was old enough to know Imagine was, and still is, an awful song).

And yes, when they were good they were very good – A Day In The Life, Eleanor Rigby, Paperback Writer and many others – but too many of their songs come perilously close to novelty (Yellow Submarine, When I’m 64 or Lovely Rita Meter Maid for starters). And don’t get me started on Hey Jude.

But there’s still a lot of Beatles in my collection, which cannot be said of classical music. In fact, there is just one piece – Samuel Barber’s Adagio For Strings.

It wraps up the first 50 tracks on the list and brings back great memories stood on a headland on an island in the middle of the frozen Lake Baikal as the sun set, the perfect soundtrack for a magical moment.

Share