The Great Big No to Gypsy Death & You

THERE is an odd phenomenon which happens some time before the clocks go forward each spring.

Quite when depends on how bleak the previous few months have been but around the point at which it becomes pretty easy to remember the rest of Gloucester’s fixture list, the end of the rugby season cannot come soon enough.

It has not always been like this, but when egg chasing on and off the pitch infiltrated the bulk of my working life, the end of the season increasingly became  a moment to savour.

It did not last long. Within weeks – often within days – we had replaced spending Saturday afternoons covering matches or producing pages based around that coverage with going to the pub to watch the summer Test matches over a few beers.

Home

And before you knew it, that gap on a Saturday afternoon needed filling (to say nothing of the sports page which don’t just vanish all summer) and the countdown was on until the first match.

Rugby – and sport in general – forms only part of the day job now. More of a watching brief than the heart of the role. Writing about it and designing pages about it has been replaced by watching it. As a fan.

The same still applies. By around March, the end of the season cannot come soon enough – not that you would have heard any complaints if Gloucester had managed to extend their season into the play-offs (two heavy defeats to end the league campaign made sure that didn’t happen, but we were seriously in the running until then which made a refreshing change).

It’s not the rugby. You wouldn’t find me anywhere else than in The Shed for any home game or in front of the TV for any televised away match. It’s just that you start to crave a weekend that doesn’t have to be planned around the game (and the getting there early to save a place in The Shed).

Was certainly desperate for the season to end as Gloucester, down to 14 men, were hanging on into the final couple of minutes of the European Challenge Cup final (our third in four years) against a Cardiff Blues team that really should have been buried before the break.

Season’s end came little more than 60 seconds too late, a last-ditch penalty bringing the kind of finale Gloucester fans have seen all too often in recent seasons. It’s got to the point where it is hard to accept we have hung on for the win until you’ve seen it on the TV highlights.

By the end of that night in Bilbao (the venue needs an explanation nearly as long as some of the journeys it took to get there), rugby could just go vanish.

For three days. Right up to the point when Gloucester signed Danny Cipriani.

Unlike the influx of South Africans (more may have arrived by the time you read this*) and Matt Banahan from Bath – akin to Liverpool signing Gary Neville in his playing days – this was not rumoured for weeks, debated and ranted about by the keyboard warriors who would find something to complain about if Gloucester went the whole season undefeated. There had been the odd whisper which over the course of a weekend became a roar.

Popular rantings on forums and social media over the past season included opposition to the renaming of The Shed (it is officially, shock horror, The Greene King Shed although you will not hear anyone call it that), one woman’s crusade against players not spending enough time thanking fans at away games, the selection of beers (much of it supplied by the same sponsors), unsuitable headwear and the club not announcing any new signings.

Whether there was any to announce or not and regardless of whether the player had signed or any agreement between his old and new club over a big reveal. Never mind any of that, somebody had mentioned it on the forum, why had the club not announced it?

Cipriani’s signing – by my reckoning, the biggest name since at least the capture of All Black lock Ian Jones the best part of 20 years ago – was met with almost universal support. Almost.

There were those fretting about his wages and those about what was going to happen to our existing outside-halves. Because clearly we are going to play the same 15 players in every game next season. And one of our No 10s didn’t really play inside centre for Wales in the autumn.

But the keyboard complainers did not have too long to wait. Little more than 24 hours later and they hit the mother load.

Word got out of an announcement – people were invited, people talk, however much the club try to keep it quiet – and the amount of times two plus two came to totals other than four was astonishing.

More signings (complete with mixed reviews, despite not knowing who they were) and a rebranding as Gloucester Lions were presented pretty much as fact. Opinion on Twitter, after all, is confirmation of the truth these days.

And that opinion, particularly about the rebrand, was not a welcoming one – no matter how many times the club denied it. Even after the event. You fear for the king of the jungle around these parts if we ever have a referendum to take back control from cats.

The truth barely caused the complainers to draw breath.

Yes there was a lion. In a new badge. On a new shirt. But no, we remain Gloucester Rugby. We Are Gloucester Rugby as the branding repeats.

Personally, like the shirt (first current one bought since about the time Ian Jones was playing for us) while really cannot get excited one way or another about the badge. Far more concerned about things that actually matter, like what’s happening on the pitch.

And the number of bobble hats in The Shed (probably the favourite issue all season which has become something of a running joke).

But the complaints rolled in. They hated the shirt, declaring it was destined to sit unloved in the club shop (early evidence suggests otherwise) if it was even in the shop before the season started (it was later that day), the lion on the logo had no connection with the club (bar the lions on the old crest and that of the city) and it looked just like Leicester Tigers.

Which, as more than one wag pointed out, suggests they would be easily confused at West Midlands Safari Park.

The shirt’s fine. Some are better than others, if you don’t like it wear an old one and we’ll have a new one soon enough. At least it’s not dayglo, highlighter pen yellow. Or blue, black and white.

The logo is OK, if you really care, and with my page designer head on is certainly more user-friendly than the old one. And no, however many forum gurus claim otherwise, we are not changing the name to Gloucester Lions. They are not going to spend all this money on a rebrand and then change the name.

All this means the need for a summer break is desperately needed. Not from the rugby (already looking forward to next season with more than the usual optimism), but from the serial complainers.

My favourite was the unknown guy who, walking home after a draw with Wasps, blamed the defeat on Ben Morgan – partly for missing tackle for one of their tries. After he had gone off.

He then criticised Ruan Ackermann for being granted a short mid-season rest.

How could a pro sportsman earning decent wages need a rest, he argued? Akin to the utterly ridiculous argument – seen countless times in the last few days – that Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius can take the mental anguish and quite shocking online abuse following his errors in the Champions League final, just because he earns a lot of money.

Having opted not to run into him repeatedly (there is, even mid weight loss, quite a lot of me) and arrange to do the same on a weekly basis to see at what point he needed a rest, pointed out the still young back-row forward had not missed a game up to that point and had not had a break after reaching the Super 14 final with the Lions in South Africa, my unhappy companion thought for a second and dismissed my observation.

“He didn’t play for the Lions,” he argued. “He couldn’t, he’s South African.”

As he stormed off ahead before my explanation there was more than one Lions, the woman with him turned to me, shrugged, considered an explanation but simply shrugged again, smiled and sloped off in his wake, resigned to a long night.

Gloucester’s season was not the only thing coming to an end. The G section of the A-Z of the iPod reached its conclusion, all 498 tracks from The Lemonheads to The Kills.

It was a relatively short sprint with some old favourites in The Lemonheads, The Clash (Guns of Brixton – twice – and Groovy Times),  REM (Green Grow The Rushes) and Half Man Half Biscuit (Gubba-Look-A-Likes) plus less frequent, but very welcome, visitors in I Am Kloot (Great Escape), Stornoway (The Great Procrastinator), Charlotte Hatherley (Grey Will Fade) and Drive-By Truckers (Guns of Umpqua).

And there was some classic country, two versions of Dwight Yoakam’s Guitars, Cadillacs… which always takes me back to a US road trip and a cover version in a bar during a memorable night in Austin, Texas.

You’ve got to do something when there’s no rugby.

* Two more have been announced between writing this and posting it.

photo by:
Share

Bastard Son of Dean Friedman to The Bell

AS well as a meander through my musical tastes over the past three decades or so, this journey through my iPod is demonstrating how much the way we listen to and collect music has changed.

Now it is almost exclusively digital, although off to my left are two tall CD towers packed with what we were told at the time was the unbreakable future of listening to music.

The CDs now largely sit gathering dust, all but a discarded few sitting in the iPod we are wandering through that sits neatly in my pocket, while under the desk is a much smaller collection of vinyl.

Records are much more desirable than a digital file or a CD, complete with sleeve designs, liner notes and an inherent coolness. Shopping for vinyl was so much more fun, flicking through rack after rack and emerging with your chosen offering in a proper bag, as opposed to soulless CDs on glistening display stands – once you have found your way past the discounted DVD box sets.

But that was only a short stint in my music-buying past, having not had a record player until well into my teens – the only access being to my Dad’s (strictly off limits) and my sister’s (who was never keen on me using it).

Without any records to call my own, there was also very little to play as neither collection which went with them is likely to be replicated on my iPod.

So for most of my teenage years, the music came in the form of tapes, either on one of the “portable music systems” my Dad managed to win by selling enough of the maker’s power tools (we also had a huge collection of plastic sponsored pint glasses) or, latterly, a string of Walkman R.I.P.Walkmans.

Look at them now and they look antique and positively huge next to an iPod, but the arrival of my first Walkman was an amazing moment – although maybe not for my parents, who didn’t realise my insistence on cranking the volume up making sure the stereo is far from personal on cheaper headphones in the back of the car.

Still have no idea if it actually did anything, but my first Walkman came complete with graphic equaliser, while a later one had a radio. It fell apart and was huge, but it had a radio.

Totally Bitchin' Recording 1987The dawn of the Walkman also heralded the pre-holiday selection of what music to take, the chosen few – supplemented by a couple of compilation C90s – tucked into my hand luggage in an old washbag.

And the cassette collection also saw the dawn of my compulsion to store my music in alphabetical order (the DVDs to my left are exactly the same while the bookcase is broken down, in the main, into categories. Then A-Z).

But the need to alphabetise – in stark contrast to the way everything else is arranged, or not, in my life – at least stems from a practical reason.

The cassettes were stored in a growing number of briefcase-style boxes by the side of my bed, each with its own spot so they could be found while lying on the bed with my headphones on in the dark.

Back in the early days, there were not that many so remembering the order was easy, but it was well into the third box before the plan started to fall apart – even with new arrivals changing the positions – but by then there was a record player and a new source of music.

Which cassette was first is not quite so clear. The first two, bought with my own money, were The Hurting by Tears for Fears and The Jam’s Snap, just not sure in what order – back in the days when buying an album involved saving up pocket money.

Tears for Fears haven’t made it to the digital age, but The Jam are dotted through my collection with their parting shot Beat Surrender cropping up in this latest section, which takes us from (more) Half Man Half Biscuit to a new arrival from First Aid Kit.

We also had Begin The Begin by REM, from the first album of theirs to sit in those cassette boxes. Life’s Rich Pageant was bought, on special offer, one Saturday from the basement at Boots, back in the days when they sold music, and sparked a journey through their back catalogue which provided a huge part of the soundtrack to my life for the next decade and beyond.

R.E.M. MurmurIt was not a total leap of faith. Closing track Superman had filled the same role on a C90 provided by my brother-in-law – back in the days when he was just my sister’s boyfriend – which provided introductions or widened my knowledge of the likes of Sonic Youth, Husker Du, The Replacements and a whole generation of guitar bands which will pop up with varying regularity before we get to Z.

Not on that tape, but another key part of that teenage soundtrack (possibly the key part before slightly edged aside by REM) were Echo and the Bunnymen, who popped up with Bedbugs and Ballyhoo. Possibly their last great song, there were two versions by the whole band and one live rendition from Ian McCulloch.

There were other vintage classics with Behind The Wall of Sleep by The Smithereens and Being Around from The Lemonheads, some Bees and Beetles (one of each from Warpaint) and a couple of new discoveries.

Behind A Wall from Blood Red Shoes was a discovery worth revisiting (acquired amid a recent downloading binge) and took the 750th spot on the list, courtesy of being shunted back a few places by another bout of downloads which included the new album by First Aid Kit. The Bell suggests that too is worth a longer listen.

Share

Al Sharp to All Mixed Up

And after only five minutes, you’d be down to 10 men
As he’d sent off your right back for taking the base from under his left winger
All I Want Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit – Half Man Half Biscuit

BEFORE we go any further down this journey, which has edged past the 150 mark with Half Man Half Biscuit’s homage to childhood, Subbuteo, Scalextric and former eastern European football giants, you really need to be introduced to my brother-in-law.

He is likely to pop up more than once on this journey, courtesy of the impact he has had on a lot of the scenery along the way.

His input in terms of recommendations, passing on whatever musical obsessions he has picked lately and a couple of decades or more of Christmas presents has helped to shape the make-up of the iPod collection we are meandering through.

He’s also managed to cash in on my complete loss of faith and interest in the money-soaked, overhyped Premier League and dragged me along – albeit not for a while – to the Meadow End at the distinctly untouched by money Hereford Utd (which brought with it my debut on Sky Sports, eating a pie and drinking a pint in two fleeting appearances).

In return, my contribution has been to accompany him to a string of gigs, blag us a few free review tickets, raid his music collection, eat his food, wind up his Labrador and, after many years of trying, drag him from the round ball to the oval one and a regular spot in The Shed at Kingsholm.

For this entry, his main impact is that the two entries from four lads who shook The Wirral are not mere echoes from my teenage years, but very much current entities in my collection.

Trumpton RiotsHalf Man Half Biscuit released their first album, Back In The DHSS, in 1985 and, a year later, the classic Trumpton Riots EP, which included their first two songs in this countdown, Albert Hammond Bootleg and – at 150 – All I Want For Christmas Is a Dukla Prague Away Kit (both of which pop up in original and live versions).

They appeared just as my musical life was descending into the mid-1980s jingly-jangly indie ghetto and the C90 which contained that first album saw plenty of action.

But when the band reunited after splitting, briefly, at the end of the decade, it was without me, consigned to the drawer marked novelty, popping up increasingly sparingly amid my musical choices over the intervening years.

Then, a couple of years or so ago, the brother in law belatedly stumbled across them and immersed himself in the back catalogue of Nigel Blackwell’s tales of everyday life and its annoyances, obscure TV references, football and all-night garages – dragging me back in with him to the point they now populate my iPod as often as all bar a select few.

We have also become regulars at their occasional gigs, although far from the near obsessives who never miss a show and catalogue their nights out in great details, many of them clad in the Dukla Prague away kit (although, on my one trip to Prague, it was easier to find a set of Russian dolls in Hereford kit than one of the real thing). Think it might be time to give their gigs a rest for a while.

The latest section of this journey has taken us from track 103 – Al Sharp by The Beta Band – to number 159, All Mixed Up by Red House Painters.

Mark Kozelek’s former band entered my collection on the return home from my first major batch of travelling and a brief spell sharing a house with a friend which had no TV and no internet connection.

Days were spent in Cardiff central library, using their wi-fi to write, sort out photos from six months on the road and look for a job or more travelling opportunities, the evenings in the pub or working my way through my friend’s music collection and, having discovered Sun Kil Moon, that sent me into Kozelek’s back catalogue.

This section also saw us through a litany of names – Al, Albert, Alec and various versions of Alex – that took us to the wonderful Alison’s Starting to Happen by The Lemonheads, a song still guaranteed to put a smile on my face and spark some really poor air drumming.

And that carries us to the mass of All… songs, which will see keep things rolling for a while.

Kicking off with All About Eve by The Wedding Present at both track 127 and 128 and an acoustic All Apologies, we are 30-odd songs in and not halfway through them all.

Share