Ferris Wheel to Find Me, Ruben Olivares

Everyone claims that the times are a changing as theirs pass them by
And everyones’s right
Filthy and Fried – Drive-By Truckers

IT has been a bit nostalgic wandering through the latest batch of tracks on the A-Z trawl through my i Pod.

Wish that nostalgia had been for something historically or at least culturally significant, like the hip-hop wars which raged throughout the 1980s (at least they did if you spent the decade washing the ink off your fingers from reading the NME).

The warring factions in the weekly music paper’s office drew battle lines between their traditional white  boys with guitars and the upstarts from the streets of some American conurbation with their new-fangled rapping et al.

No, can’t spend too much time reminiscing about all of that as was far too ensconced in my indie guitar ghetto to consider listening to any of that stuff. Was definitely on the jingly jangly guitar side of the argument.

It took a while for the message to get through and make it in to the collection. Public Enemy popped up twice in this section. Although pretty sure Fight The Power was not written to soundtrack a walk to Sainsbury’s.

Some hip-hop did get through back then, mainly because it had some guitars in it (and it didn’t hurt they were going on about porn, parties and parental disapproval of haircuts).

But Fight For Your Right by The Beastie Boys mainly brings back memories of it being on the video jukebox while we were playing pool in the pub at lunchtimes when we should really have been in school, helped by knowing how to get at the button to keep playing for free.

Gilbert

Nope, the main memory from those teenage years of the 1980s was a green, rubber alien puppet with a penchant for slightly subversive comments in celebrity interviews and snot dribbling from his nose (once, infamously, in to a pop star of the day’s cleavage).

Actually had to check with Wikipedia and friends of a similar vintage that it was not a product of too many drinks during those pool session and, no, it was not my imagination.

Gilbert the Alien did exist and is fondly remembered by all those who have any recollection of him.

Gilbert first appeared on our screens on a Saturday morning TV show (Get Fresh, Wikipedia reliably informs me – bar Gilbert, have no other memory of it other than it was co-presented by perma-irritant Gaz Top).

At an age when Saturday mornings were first bearing the effects of the night before, the irreverent green thing on our screens was just what sixth formers lapped up amid the rest of the customary primetime fare for children.

Voiced with pretty much free rein by comedian Phil Cornwell, we didn’t always understand what he was going on about (particularly in the background like when he, allegedly, asked the drummer from Aswad to skin up) but he became must-see TV .

And then he was given his own series.

Gilbert’s Fridge had no right to be on children’s TV (there was, evidently, a later, adult version which nobody seems to remember) and lasted just one series, but we lapped it.

If we’d had water coolers in our school, we’d have gathered around it to discuss the previous evening’s programme.

If featured special guests (for some reason, Gilbert became Kim Wilde’s agent and worked in a typing pool with Wendy James from Transvision Vamp – another reason for teenage boys to watch) and regular sections such as the black and white World War II PoW camp series How Far To Hitchin? and Sunny Jolly Hols.

It is this bit – in which Gilbert heads off to Benidorm on his holidays with Get Fresh co-presenter Charlotte Hindle and a suitcase full of dead fish, who spent the entire time in the bath – which came rushing back as it used Fiesta by The Pogues as its theme tune.

Joyous music for joyous memories.

There has been more nostalgia in the last couple of weeks with a trip to London to meet up with a couple of old friends. Two people from different chunks of my life with little, maybe nothing, in common bar spending many years living in the capital. And knowing me.

Right up until they met in a Walthamstow pub and discovered one of them had spent the week working on an upgrade for the computer system at the company where the other worked (or something  like that, went straight over my head).

Mind you, he knows a few things about techie stuff – he was the man who set up this site on the back of a late-night conversation and it all sits on his work server.

Back when we were at school, however, he was not known for his musical taste. Yes we shared a penchant for Billy Bragg – who we once ambushed round the back of some benefit gig on Hackney Town Hall steps and made another of his regular appearances on the latest section from Kevin Morby to Mark Kozelek with The Few – but he needed some music therapy. Paul Young anyone?

So when he moved to London and got married (providing my first shot at a best man’s speech, totally improvised), the cost of me popping up to stay on a regular basis was a C90 compilation each trip designed to entertain and educate.

What became known as The Bollocks Tapes (the first  one, ever so wittily, was title Never Mind The Sex Pistol’s, Here’s Rob’s Bollocks…) built in to a catalogue of early-90s indie, although visiting too regularly meant they became filled with less than glorious album tracks.

And stirring somewhere in the house were some musical genes.

His eldest son played bass in indie wannabes Let’s Wrestle – still going, although with a new man in the rhythm section – and his youngest is the guitarist/singer/songwriter of the rapidly-emerging Girl Ray.

They are getting a fair amount of deserved attention, regular airplay on 6Music and have released a video which features my mate’s ex-wife. Which was a slightly odd watch.

We’ll get to both Let’s Wrestle and, hopefully, a lot more Girl Ray as the A-Z heads on, but there was more nostalgia from the latest batch – Fields of Athenry by The Dropkick Murphys who have the ability to remind me of any number of Irish, American, even African moments, and Final Day by Young Marble Giants.

Fighting In A Sack by The Shins bridges a fair few years and serves as reminder that their new album sits newly installed on the iPod and in need of a listen.

And, almost, right up to date there’s  Fill In The Blank by Car Seat Headrest (one of the discoveries this whole project was designed to find) and the wonderful Filthy And Fried by The Drive-By Truckers (‘Feeling lucky that 27’s the hardest thing she’ll have to survive’), my most recent obsession – particularly after an awesome two-hour set in Bristol.

And with that we’ll say adios until we see Almeria once again.

 

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Dig For Victory to Do It Again

COMMON belief will tell you that Dirty Water by The Standells was inspired by producer Ed Cobb and his girlfriend getting mugged near what was, back in the sixties, the polluted River Charles in Boston.

The Charles is now, thankfully, much cleaner and – in most places – a spot to be savoured, not avoided. And, having learned from personal experience, you no longer “have to be in by 12 o’clock” in Boston.

But the first, slightly fuzzed up guitar notes of the distinctive intro can still be heard across one part of Boston – and any number of bars – throughout the summer months. The more often the better for those of us who pledge some sort of allegiance to Red Sox Nation.

The rather cleaner water of the River Charles
The rather cleaner water of the River Charles

Each time the Red Sox win a match – sadly not often enough in the last two seasons – Dirty Water soundtracks the celebrations around the wonderful old amphitheatre that is Fenway Park (disproving any theories that bigger and newer is best), those unmistakeable opening notes often ringing out before the winning run has actually reached home plate.

It’s not the only song that has somehow been co-opted by Red Sox fans and ask most people which is the club song and they would go for Sweet Caroline – played in the middle of the eighth inning and aired in a show of solitary by the hated New York Yankees after the marathon bombing of 2013 – but there’s a fair few of the Fenway faithful who see that as too much of a sop to the fairweather fan.

Throw in The Dropkick Murphys’ double header of I’m Shipping Up To Boston – soundtrack to multiple championship celebrations across the city in the last decade or so, as well The Departed, and walk-on music for former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon – and Tessie and they are not short of options for backing music on the highlight reels.

Normally, not a huge fan of too much music and gimmicks being used to create an atmosphere at sports grounds (especially rugby, bar the traditional songs like Fields of Athenry or Calon Lan, but please God not the abomination that is Swing Low…).

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Fenway Park pre-game, looking back towards Downtown Boston. The fact Hurricane Irene may be about to hit may explain the lack of crowds

Generally means the fans are incapable of doing it themselves, especially in the new breed of marketing concepts that seem to be supplanting traditional rugby clubs (mention no names, but anyone playing at football grounds or bigger stadia to create an occasion – or on plastic pitches to match their fans).

That all may have something to do with growing up a Gloucester rugby fan. We make do with one traditional chant of “Glawsterrr, Glawsterrr” and the nearest we have come to a football-esque chant for any of our players was the stirring, imaginative “Terry Fanolua, Terry Fanolua…” and, of course, the odd rendition of La Marseillaise when Philippe Saint-Andre was on the wing or, latterly, our coach.

At American sports grounds, it somehow all seems to work (even the singing of The Star-Spangled Banner before every game, so easy to sneer at from afar, makes sense at the ground). Maybe if is because of the way American sports are more attuned to the entertainment industry, with the inherent pauses for commercial television, are occasions to be enjoyed beyond the actual sporting event or, just maybe, due to the shortage of away fans at many matches due to the sheer distances involved.

But just how did a boy who learned all about sport in The Shed at Kingsholm feel just as big a draw to a seat in the bleachers or down the first base line at Fenway? Or, possibly more pertinently, become willing to stay up most of the night to watch a game against the Yankees that went to extra innings scoreless?

Late-night baseball on Channel 5 had provided a grounding before my first trip to the States – amazingly 10 years ago this September – which started with a week in Boston and several nights spent in bars around the city watching the latest game, a scene repeated throughout our six weeks on the road.

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Fenway under the lights

A move around the corner in the office meant working until the early hours of Sunday morning. Late to bed, later to rise and with no return to work until Wednesday (bar popping in before our weekly Boozeday Tuesday afternoon sessions), Sunday’s bedtime moved well after midnight and the only thing to watch on TV for much of the year was, you guessed it, baseball.

That season of late-night watching just happened to coincide with the Red Sox winning their second World Series crown in four years and they had got their hooks into me – even with the warnings that such success was fleeting and supporting them was far more about frustration and false hope.  As a Gloucester fan, that just seemed natural.

Seeing a game at Fenway appeared and was quickly crossed off the bucket list. As was seeing them against the Yankees. And, finally, came seeing them beat the Yankees – courtesy of a Mike Napoli walk-off home run in the 11th inning, sparking another rendition of Dirty Water at just before 1am on a sweltering July night.

The Red Sox were back in the World Series that same season. The same Red Sox that had collapsed amid acrimony in the closing weeks of the season after my presence at a double header win over the Oakland A’s. The same Red Sox that had finished bottom the AL East the previous year.

And they only went and won it, ensuring everybody who saw it would remember just where they were.

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A press box with a better view that many

Which in my case, about 4am in the morning back home, was desperately trying to tune in my radio to catch the final outs.

Having stayed up to watch the potentially decisive win over the St Louis Cardinals, my Virgin Media box decided it was a pretty safe time to switch itself off and go through a series of updates just as the game entered its final inning.

My frustration, nay anger, was matched only by my surprise that somebody was still manning Virgin’s media Twitter account and responding to some less than complimentary tweets.

When the television came back on, the game was over, the World Series won and even Dirty Water had faded into the night.

It resurfaced – as any of you paying attention will probably have worked out – on the latest batch of songs in the A-Z iPod Challenge that took us from Public Service Broadcasting to Queens of the Stone Age.

And an interesting batch of songs it was, from the old faithfuls (Belle & Sebastien, Echo & The Bunnymen, REM, The Pogues), an excellent rediscovery (Divine Hammer by The Breeders) and some interesting, relatively new discoveries – be they new acts, songs that have just passed me by or just ones that are among the huge backlog that passed me by on the road in Africa.

John Grant’s Disappointing is definitely in that category (the album has yet to catch my attention like the previous two did), Waxahatchee continues to intrigue with Dixie Cups and Jars and The Civil Wars stole my attention with a lovely cover of Disarm (followed swiftly by The Smashing Pumpkins’ original).

May just have to listen to some of them on a plane back to Boston this summer.

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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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Ballad of Helenkeller and Rip Van Winkle to Basic Space

And all the grown-ups will say: “But why are the kids crying?” And the kids will say: “Haven’t you heard? Rik is dead! The People’s Poet is dead!”

JOURNALISTS have a strange relationship to death. Do not believe all you read, we are not all heartless monsters who simply don’t care, but the reaction to news of people dying could often come as a bit of a shock to outsiders.

Timing plays a big part – as does just how desperate we are for a front page splash.

Can’t remember too many cheers when news of a death broke (certainly not to rival the ones which greeted the news of Piers Morgan being sacked at the Mirror, but we were in the pub so there was some liquid amplification), yet there has definitely been  a few clenched fists of triumph and strangled cries of “YES” as the search for a big story comes to an end.

That sounds terrible and in nearly quarter of a century in this job – albeit largely watching on from the safe distance of the sports desk or a step removed on subs – dealing with delicate situations and grieving relatives has (almost) always been handled with the utmost sensitivity.

But when news, as it often does with celebrity deaths, breaks close to deadlines, practicalities take over with the job of presenting the story to the best of our ability in a very short time.

My first experience of this came when news of then Labour leader John Smith collapsing at his home broke perilously close to morning deadline (back in the good old days when evening newspapers were put to bed on the day they hit the news stands).

Hurriedly, as we dug around for scant information, two front pages were created – one of which would never see the light of day and one of which could well be totally out of date before it even reached the printers. Time for reflection or sorrow had to wait until after that edition had gone (the sad final news arriving just before deadline).

News of both the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret broke moments after the South Wales Echo’s Saturday night sports edition – the Pink – had headed off to the printers, although we managed to stop the presses (the only time I have managed to shout that in action down the phone) long enough to at least get them on the front of some copies.

Time was not much of a factor as a young reporter on New Year’s Day 1995.

Nursing a hangover having just wandered in during the afternoon to wrap up the holiday sporting action, there were only a couple of us kicking around the Gloucester Citizen office when a photographer wandered over to the sports desk (the duty reporter was out) and suggested putting Ceefax on (that ages this tale).

The top story was simple: “Fred West Found Dead In His Cell”.

Any hopes of a quiet afternoon were instantly dispelled as the phone burst into life. Over the course of a few hours, my role started as the sole source of contact to chasing down reporters across the country, digging through the archives and, eventually, the one who gets sent out to look for food.

Most celebrity deaths are not that dramatic, but at least a couple of them produced a common newsroom response – silence, followed by journalists working out from their colleagues’ reactions as to who had the recently deceased in the office’s version of a Fantasy Death League.

Once common in newsrooms, Cardiff’s version was known as the Coffin Club and involved picking a 11-strong line-up governed by strict criteria, complete with a mid-year transfer window – whoever picks the most celebrities who die over a year scoops the pool.

The black humour involved fits in well with journalism and you did not want to be in my team in one of two winning years when a record seven of my picks shuffled off this mortal coil – the winnings paying for one of the predecessors of the iPod we are currently working our way through.

In all those years, however, a few deaths have prompted a stunned silence and not prompted much in the way of joking for a while (one eventually sparked a lot of joking, but it took a little while to recover from the news).

The first was John Peel, which rocked a newsroom largely populated by blokes of a certain age, while the other came this week with the news of Rik Mayall’s premature demise.

Mayall was, as much as Marr, Morrissey, McCulloch or any number of jingly-jangly indie guitar bands, a huge part of my teenage years.

Twelve years old when The Young Ones first aired, it was instantly the talk of the school – trouble was, it just wasn’t on in my house. My mum had heard about this show and there was no way we were going to watch it.

Until, several weeks into the run, she was out for the night, my Dad was upstairs working and there was nothing else on my elder sister wanted to watch. The TV choice was mine and what it showed was something which had me wide eyed with astonishment.

Party remains one of the finest episodes and although half of the gags went straight over my head, it was unmissable from that point in. He was ours, something our parents just did not get. Yes, there was a lot of nob and fart gags, but it was performed with such energy and refreshing vitality.

Eventually, worn down by a succession of Rik impressions – complete with snorts – and endless quoting, my mum caved in and eventually sat down to watch an episode. Disgusted as she was – remember her being appalled by Vyvyan eating a dead rat – she was also enamoured by this electric presence and, for years to come , “Hands Up Who Likes Me” could reduce her to giggles.

It now looks bit dated at times, but can still happily sit down and rewatch old episodes of The Young Ones when they pop up, just as the music which soundtracked that time (roughly as mainstream chart stuff was being shunted aside for more alternative fare) still crops up encouragingly often.

The latest run through my iPod – from The Moldy Peaches to The XX  – features a few from roughly that era. Four versions of Bankrobber (one by The Clash, two live from Joe Strummer and a cover by someone called Hawksley Workman), Barbarism Begins At Home by The Smiths and three versions of The Band Played Waltzing Matilda by The Pogues (who also managed to upset my mum).

The journey from Ballads… saw John Murry’s lovely Ballad of The Pajama Kid pop up twice either side of another track due to two different spellings (Pyjama), while we careered through a great little bar crawl – Barefoot by The Cadbury Sisters, Barfruit Blues by The Hold Steady, Barney (…And Me) by The Boo Radleys, Barstow by Jay Farrar (who saw live the night before England won the Rugby World Cup, meaning it is all a bit hazy) and Bartering Lines by Ryan Adams.

It all would have added up to a glorious run of tracks if it was not soundtracking both Mayall’s death and Hereford United being kicked out of the Conference into… well, who knows at what low level they resurface in some shape or form

Not a good few days.

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