Have It All to Heavenfaced

THIS post was supposed to be about something else. But every time writing got delayed or interrupted, events conspired to render the proposed subject out of date.

Lost somewhere in the mists of time is a post about trolls and Twitter intolerance, be it related to Brexit, journalists, Six Nations rugby… anything which somebody was not a big fan of or knew nothing about so opted to criticise and attack rather than simply ignoring and moving on with their own life.

But then something came along which, given the subject and history of this blog, could not really be ignored.

We need to talk about Ryan.

If everything had gone to plan, the highlight of this weekend was not supposed to be Gloucester winning at Northampton (no matter how thrilling that was, especially with the enforced tactic of playing much of the game with no specialists in the back three).

No, the main event inked in for this weekend was a trip to Birmingham to watch Ryan Adams.

Anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to this A-Z blog will have noticed Adams crops up as much as anyone, partly due to my love of his music and partly because of his ability to churn out stuff – certainly in his younger years when he needed a touch of quality control.

He rates among the top three gigs on my list (all by acts beginning with R and all, bizarrely, in South Wales), so news of a first new album for a while – well, three throughout the course of the year – and a few live dates had me at a keyboard the moment they went on sale and paying rather more than my normal gig budget.

And then the New York Times published an in-depth report containing allegations of sexual misconduct against Adams, their sources including his ex-wife, actress and singer Mandy Moore, and singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers, who had hinted at her relationship with Adams in the wonderful Motion Sickness.

Moore claimed Adams had stifled her own musical career, saying she was not a proper musician because she did not play an instrument, while there were a string of allegations that he “dangled career opportunities while simultaneously pursuing female artists for sex”.

The report also contained allegations Adams had exchanged sexually inappropriate messages with a teenage girl with the FBI confirming they were launching an investigation.

Strangely, neither the rapidly-delayed album nor the gig looked as inviting – the clamour for refunds adding to the pressure before the tour was also cancelled.

Even if it was not, doubt there would have been too many in the audience – certainly not me.

Plenty has been said and written about the articles, not going to dwell on them. If true (they remain allegations), they are despicable and Adams deserves everything that comes his way. It’s not just a male-female thing, it’s simply right and wrong.

If you want a female fan’s perspective, check out this blog post outlining anger and disappointment which was tweeted into my timeline and rang a fair few bells.

The writer shares a few mutual friends with me, one in particular who regular readers will have heard a lot about in recent posts given that we lost him last year.

Adams soundtracked plenty of memories for me as the soundtrack to one break-up in particular, plus several other personal moments and, most recently, a key memory of a friend lost far too young.

Not sure Nick knew too much about Ryan Adams – the overlap in our musical tastes were certainly elsewhere – but his wife was a fan and Oh My Sweet Carolina has always been a great, bittersweet reminder of a sweltering week in Charleston for their wedding. And it’s a great song.

Which raises the question – is it still acceptable to listen to his music?

Think it is going to be a long time before scrolling through the iPod or reaching for a CD sees me hover in the Adams section, but what happens if one pops up – as it is very likely to do in the near future heading through my iPod from A-Z?

A few have – none in this particular section from Foo Fighters to The National – and it is hard to listen to songs, many of which are so familiar, when the first thing that springs to mind is what you have just found out about the artist.

The fact he could be a bit of a dick came as no surprise – numerous reports of pre-Madonna behaviour (as one reporter once wrote) long circulated around Adams. But if you are going to stop listening or watching people because they are dicks, your choice of entertainment is going to diminish a fair amount.

While not listening to Ryan Adams will affect many people not one iota, the case of Michael Jackson is a bit different – and he was cleared of any allegations that got as far as court.

And do you avoid all Kevin Spacey films? The Usual Suspects (which has other connotations) and the excellent Baby Driver were both on TV not that long ago. Is it OK to watch them? After all, Spacey was just one part (albeit significant) of both.

Suggest there is no right answer to this one. There will be those who feel it is impossible to listen to Adams at all. Personally, will not be picking him out by choice but when he pops up along the way from A-Z, not going to turn away.

Would place doing something to tackle the sort of behaviour of which he stands accused as a far more important response.

As I said, there was no sign of Ryan Adams in the latest, pretty short, chunk which took us to the 4,700 track mark on the journey through my iPod (which looked to have surrendered as it refused to turn on for a few days – right up to the point when given one last chance to behave on the way to the Apple shop to be checked out).

We had a couple of classics from Echo and the Bunnymen – two versions of Heads Will Roll and Heaven Up Here – and a pair from The Smiths (The Headmaster Ritual and Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now).

And sticking with the selection of ’80s classic, we stopped off in Heartland from the oft-overlooked classic Infected album by The The.

  • The observant may have noticed there is no playlist on this post, courtesy of a rather nifty update from WordPress which somehow makes it impossible. Will have a play with that, until then, enjoy the videos.
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Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah) to Happiness

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.
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A Good Man Is Easy To Kill to Great

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

Anything that depends largely on what you grew up with.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sure the NME would have approved.

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Girl From The North Country to God Save The Queen

Production journalist, endangered species, traveller, blogger, Gloucester rugby & Red Sox fan, indie kid turned melancholic Americano. Views partially obscured
@robglaws – Twitter profile

THE endangered species reference in my Twitter profile was partly a joke, partly a response to the latest round* of journalism redundancies and partly because… well, it’s true.

Anyone who spends their working life dealing with print rather than digital news these days can be excused for feeling like a dinosaur.

And if there was any doubt, somebody told me just that.

It was supposed to be a few drinks with old mates, back in Cardiff. It just happened to coincide with a leaving do at my old paper, so the old mates were supplemented with a fair few of a newer generation of journalists.

And many of them have known little else than a digital first approach to reporting the news (or at least whatever gets the requisite hits), so perhaps should have expected explaining my role in producing a physical product would provoke a question along the lines of ‘what’s it like to be a dinosaur?’.

The person involved was escorted to the bar for even more refreshment and those of us who have worked through the digital revolution from print deadlines to web hits were left shaking our heads and muttering something along the lines of forgetting more about journalism than he had learned.

But his words stuck with me. Is that the way the new breed look at those of us left in print only? Is that the way the powers that be see us when any future cuts are made? And are we really little but a relic of an era long gone?

Would certainly hope my skills do not consign me to extinction. Those skills learned over the years and views on journalism hewn through battles to hit deadlines and many an evening over a few beers when we all would have made top-class editors. Not even averse to producing something on a website…

There’s certainly a place for those skills, be it reporting or subbing whatever the platform they appear on. Best practice is just that, whether you are trying to tell an accurate, well-written tale on paper or on screen.

It is not for nothing we send out a weekly style guide to our reporters.

Or that reports are appearing of one newspaper operation that has come up with the novel idea of employing people to check copy before it goes on the website.

Employing subs, imagine that.

There is one aspect of my life where the dinosaur tag does sit pretty comfortably. Watching television.

It may seem odd to many people, but my viewing habits are largely based on the TV schedules.

Programmes sit unwatched for weeks, often months, on my recorded list (still refer to it as videoed or taped), even series that have had me gripped for a few episodes before missing one for some reason.

And the same is true of my Netflix subscription. There’s a lengthy list of (reasonably) carefully chosen films and programmes. Just rarely get round to watching them.

Call me old-fashioned, but there’s something right about the pace and routine of watching a series in weekly instalments rather than in one or two binges (usually late at night).

Even when there’s nothing on – Tottenham v Rochdale and the inane witterings of Robbie Savage (the personification of the trend to celebrate the inept) in the background is as good a reason to tap away here rather than delve into the delights of Netflix.

And if there’s one thing guaranteed to stop me from choosing that glittering box set, it is being told by any number of people that ‘you just have to watch it’.

Which is why that present of the first few series (that’s series, not season – one for the style guide) of Breaking Bad remains unwatched on DVD and Netflix.

And the box sets which will get me rambling in evangelical fashion (The West Wing and The Wire) were first watched, usually late at night in both cases, on TV and repeatedly on DVD. Not long completed a trawl through both terms of President Bartlet and the streets of Baltimore provided refuge on the journey around Africa.

But maybe times are changing. The dinosaur may just about be catching up with, well, catch up.

Long way to go on Game of Thrones (still in series two as keeps vanishing off Now TV, picked up on a free offer that seemed a good idea) and could well wrap up the first two series of the excellent Detectorists in the next few days – somehow only caught excerpts on initial showing.

And finally got round to watching Stranger Things. It took a while – the first episode watched before the second series had even started before watching every episode over the course of several weekend evenings.

Very good it was too and suggest the third series will be watched as it happens. Or somewhere close.

While much has been written about the music of Stranger Things as a bit of a nostalgia fest, not sure many of the 1980s offerings on the latest stroll through the A-Z journey on my iPod were to be heard on our visits to Hawkins (although an awful lot of my ’80s nostalgia does involve Winona Ryder).

Don’t remember too much by The Smiths (Girlfriend in a Coma), Half Man Half Biscuit (God Gave Us Life and Give Us Bubble Wrap) or The Wedding Present (four versions – live, Peel session, acoustic and original – of the still wonderful Give My Love To Kevin) soundtracking things the right way up nor upside down.

The latest section took us from Neil Young and Crazy Horse to… well, more Neil Young and Crazy Horse (well, the Sex Pistols’ song of the same name to be totally honest but the neatness appeals). and spanned the decades beyond the 1980s – from The Beach Boys (God Only Knows), the Pistols through Blur (Girls & Boys) and Black Box Recorder (Girl Singing In The Wreckage) to last year’s Travel Marmot album of the year by Public Service Broadcasting (Go To The Road).

But the two highlights came from the mighty John Grant. Impossible to pick which of Glacier and GMF to include on the playlist, so they are both there.

Enjoy. Just be aware, GMF does stand for what you think it might.

Been called worse.

  • *Not the last

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The Enemy to Everybody Knows

THE last entry’s diversion from the direct A-Z route through my iPod, travel and the standard ramblings of this blog into politics and the point of protests elicited a range of responses.

It was largely positive and addressed some of the key points raised from the opening weeks of President Trump’s stay in the White House (and wherever he has popped off for a long weekend playing golf) .

So let’s address those key issues one by one.

  • The Queen Is Dead is the best Smiths album. This one has been argued at length over  more than a few pints and, whatever the merits of their eponymous debut album – its most common competitor – as a complete work from start the finish (the mark of a truly great album), The Queen Is Dead cannot be beaten.

Hatful of Hollow does have its supporters (including one very welcome regular reader who stated its case again) and it is a selection of excellent songs.

But that’s what it is rather than a coherent body of work or a studio album meant to be treated as such.

Let’s not get started on The Bends v OK Computer.

  • President Trump’s dismissal of somebody who dared to disagree with him over his travel ban as a ‘so-called judge’ brought to mind a certain type of person equally as keen on sharing their opinion while trying to silence any contrary ones – the local newspaper letter writer.

Nowhere else do you see the phrase so-called used quite so often – so-called councillors (regardless of any election result), so-called expert (well, yes… that’s probably why they were quoted, it’s a way of avoiding fake news), so-called doctor (yep, seriously had that one a lot) and so-called journalist, especially in the midst of complaints about something not included due to legal reasons (what with all that so-called legal training people don’t seem to accept journalists go through to distinguish them from the keen amateur).

My favourite of all the letters placed on pages (or consigned to the trash) over the years was the one which escalated through a list of so-calleds until it hit pay dirt by describing someone as a so-called person…

Fake news indeed

  • This blog will not fall into the same lack of respect with somebody’s title, it is not Trump it is President Trump. Fascist, loofa-faced, shitgibbon yes (to quote Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach), but always President. President Fascist, loofa-faced, shitgibbon.

He did, after all, win an election. Which brings us to…

  • The response which has become common place to anyone expressing a contrary opinion to the one which won any vote since last July – you lost, get over it.

Since the Brexit referendum (and if we are going to have another referendum, can it be to vote against the word Brexit?), it has become the standard response to anyone less than pleased by the outcome and unwilling to just shrug their shoulders and disappear.

To which the standard answer is no.

Elections, referendums, any vote are a snapshot in time. Yes one side usually wins on that day and we should work to smooth over any differences and work together to make that electoral decision work.

But it does not mean voicing opposition is ruled out by the result – UK elections come with the bonus of appointing an official opposition (of varying degrees of usefulness). One of the great things about living in a democratic nation and lands of the free is that it is positively encouraged, as opposed to stamped on in so many places.

A fan of President Trump

Refer you back to the last post and how voicing a contrary view is stamped upon in so many parts of the world (as witnessed by those looking over their shoulders and talking in hushed tones while sharing details of everyday life in Zimbabwe) while standing up and making your voice heard has proved far more effective a weapon of lasting change than violence over much of the last century.

And just because we don’t like the result does not mean we are necessarily trying to overturn it – yes, you won, most of us accept that, but who says we can’t have a say on what happens next? Especially when nobody can agree what winning actually means.

  • One final question which came from the last post: Will I be visiting America while President Trumpgibbon is in office?

The answer was swift and simple – yes. Why not? Especially now Sweden seems to be off the travel list.

Having given it more thought, however, it is not quite that simple and why it was asked makes sense.

But whatever the thought processes and reasons for not going under President Trump, they are outweighed by a couple of simple facts – it is, despite so much of what we are seeing on the news (fake or otherwise), a wonderful country crammed full of friendly, welcoming people.

It has lured me back time and again over the last decade or so on a series of holidays and journeys that have taken in 39 states (some more comprehensively than others) and there is so much unseen in the quest to complete the set – more on that to come in the next few weeks.

There are two weeks booked off work this summer and the long-awaited planning for my next trip is starting to look Stateside – where and how depends on what remains in the bank account when the final damage of my run-in with the taxman (thankfully, given this morning’s final form filling, almost over) is assessed.

Fenway Park, Boston

New ground into some of those 11 remaining states? Revisit some of the places which deserve more time? Or let the Red Sox schedule decide (basically, back to New York or Boston)? Possibly, given the early flight prices, a combination of a couple of those.

Whatever the choice, there’s no intention of boycotting President Trump’s USA. That’s if they let me in.

And if you need any greater argument of why it is a country worth visiting, just try some of the music from that part of the world which punctuated the last section of the A-Z on my iPod from Roy Harper to Ryan Adams, who sneaked in behind Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows (from just over the unwalled border) having previously dropped in with two versions of English Girls Approximately.

We had some REM, albeit with Everybody Hurts – one of the handful of their songs which is really well known but which is nowhere near their best, although it is another which gave its name to a blog post – Ernest Borgnine by John Grant (no video as they all come with a very long and very rude intro) and Enfilade from At The Drive-In’s career highlight Relationship of Command (I’ll be the hyena, you’ll see…).

And, mixed in with quintessentially English moments from Harper,  The Jam (Eton Rifles) and Half Man Half Biscuit’s Evening of Swing (Has Been Cancelled), we had my current obsession Drive-By Truckers’ tale of immigrants making a new life for themselves in America.

Which seems fitting.

  • One last point… that’s it for the politics, at least for now. Hopefully for a while, but that may be in the not so large hands of others.

Back to the normal bobbins next time.

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