In The Act to Irene

NOT a regular poster on Facebook – bar the links to these posts which may have brought you here – but do tend to have it running in the background when online.

Among the promoted posts, things its latest algorithm seems to think will interest me (based on what evidence, not sure anyone could explain), ads for items searched for once weeks ago and birthday reminders (happy birthday to one regular reader), there is the odd item of interest.

For the traveller, that includes keep tabs on friends around the world or their ongoing overland trips – thankfully, starting to happen again after an understandable hiatus.

And, courtesy of changing the cover picture on the first anniversary of each day from major travels, it provides a daily reminder of places and experiences from simpler times.

Two years ago today, that was swinging in a hammock on a boat down the Amazon for six days as reality was suspended between Manaus – the epicentre of Brazil’s Covid crisis which bit for the first time within days of our departure – and Colombia where the virus brought us crashing back to reality.

Seven years ago, we were being encouraged to make a ‘donation’ to the police in the Congo before being allowed to make our way to the coast, having spent the previous morning digging a lorry out of a huge pothole, while 12 years ago the clock was ticking on the final few days before my first lengthy overland adventure.

All of those are chronicled on this website, writing about the journeys providing the reason the blog exists in the first place.

And in among them winds the meandering, often faltering, journey through my iPod from A-Z, filling the gaps between travelling – at least that is the plan, the silence of much of the last couple of years suggests otherwise.

Facebook reminded me this week that it was eight years ago that the idea of blogging such a journey would plug those non-travelling times, the first post arriving a couple of weeks later ahead of a sprint through the early tracks which ended with the first of several breaks when combining it with writing about African travels became too distracting from more important things.

Enjoying Africa for one.

Another, planned, break followed while in South America and despite good intentions and a brief flurry of posts in the weeks after returning, it has been sporadic at best since. Non-existent might be more accurate.

But it is time to get writing again, time to get back in the habit.

So to kick off that resumption, time to recap what all this A-Z Challenge is all about for any more recent arrivals, as well as checking out where it has reached in the seemingly never-ending trip through I songs (close to three years and counting).

  • My iPod decides the order

Not as simple as it seems  – A Day In The Life is first in the list, as it was when things kicked off all that time ago. But punctuation, definite and indefinite articles can get a bit confusing.

A-Punk was once the opening track, as was (A Belated) Invite To Eternity by Stornoway which has now been listed under B.

The latest section from The Von Bondies to Beach House (in a move designed to ignore any sensible SEO advice, each post is titled by the two tracks which bookended the latest chunk) was fairly simple for all that.

Billy Bragg’s The Internationale slots in after International Velvet by Catatonia, which is probably a good thing or the  stretch of songs starting The would be as impassable as much of the Congo.

  • No skipping

Each song needs playing in full so that it registers as having been played in my iTunes library.

There is the odd exception – for some reason, a Soundtrack of Our Lives album among a few other songs have appeared on my iPod in poor quality – but have stuck rigidly to my rule.

Long silences stretch the patience – Holden’s Intentionally Left Blank was just annoying while the 14 minutes of silence in the middle of Into The Storm by Lift To Experience was mystifying.

Although it did add up to stretching it out to 28 minutes, 57 seconds and the longest track to date. Fourth longest overall.

  • It’s the tracks that count, not songs

Multiple versions of the same song have to be listened to – covers, live versions, alternative versions or songs appearing on multiple albums or sources.

The most so far is five – one cover and four of the original in various different guises.

This chunk saw three versions of Infected by The The and two apiece for Inside Me by Jesus and Mary Chain, plus the wonderful Into Your Arms by The Lemonheads.

  • No revisionism

There’s some rubbish on there, but nobody put it on there but me (even if the reason is lost in the mists of time), so there’s nobody else to blame.

Except for Bono and his band of merry men who conspired with Apple to deliver tracks into my iTunes – ignored and steadfastly not downloaded to my iPod, although a quick look at what is to come (best avoided, to be honest) suggests a change of iPod has done it automatically.

My mood at the time may depend on whether a new rule is added.

  • New additions count

When this journey started, the A-Z was 11, 235 tracks long. That has grown – despite periods of little or no additions – to 15,636 with more to come when pre-release downloads appear.

At the end of each letter, there is a quick catch-up for any additions since that track’s place in the journey was passed.

Previously, this has been  a pretty quick sprint through a hundred or so tracks, but the current playlist of tracks from A-I waiting to be rattled through runs to 564 songs and will take a day and a half to work through.

That is partly down to the length of the I section, partly down to the amount of music downloaded over the last couple of years and largely down to those lengthy breaks.

May well have to split that into a few posts, once the remaining 150 or so I tracks have  come and gone.

  • Breaks are allowed

This rule was  meant to allow for  a short break to listen to new albums as they arrive, but sheer practicality has seen it stretch much longer at times.

And with good reason, not just because other things were squeezing my time, but it means each fresh start brings a new drive to plough through the next chapter.

This latest chunk has taken its time, the undoubted highlight being Invalid Litter Dept by At The Drive-In, one from the Relationship of Command album which remains one of the prime choices when a bit of noise is needed.

It was, that and The Lemonheads apart, not the most inspiring chunk although there was a couple of tracks from The Joy Formidable who always leave me thinking they need more exploration.

And that is sort of what this whole A-Z journey is all about.

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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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9Bo-kodUm4

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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The Angel and the Fool to Anti-Pioneer

“Used to be the one of the rotten ones, And I liked you for that
Now you’re all gone, got your make-up on, And you’re not coming back”
Anthem For A Seventeen Year Old Girl – Broken Social Scene

THERE is, as you walk to the northern side of the Rainbow Bridge at Niagara, a big sign pointing the way to Canada. Just in case you have trouble spotting the world’s second largest country.

Just in case you missed it
Just in case you missed it

Musically, it has often been a bit more difficult to spot Canada, dwarfed as they are by their neighbours across the 49th parallel.

There have always been the flag bearers – Neil Young springs to mind, while Arcade Fire have carried the flag with distinction in previous years – but they have had a lot to make up for (“The Canadian government has apologised for Bryan Adams on several occasions” runs the joke from the South Park movie. Oh Canada indeed).

And the less said about Celine Dion the better. Have never watched Titanic for fear of exposure to that bloody song.

But as befits such a large, varied and wonderful country, it has produced some, well, varied and wonderful music which, after the American takeover of the previous section of my iPod, annexed the closing stages of this prolonged leg with four of the final eight tracks.

Leading the way were the pretty much unclassifiable Godspeed You! Black Emperor, whose Antennas to Heaven weighs in just two seconds shy of 19 minutes, by some distance the longest track so far (just checked and it is the 16th longest in all with 11 of the top 20 coming from the Montreal oufit).

Inadequately described as ‘post-rock’ on their Wikipedia outfit, they are not a band you are likely to sit down to for a relaxing listen and, followed as they were by fellow Canadian Leonard Cohen (Anthem), it was a drive to work strangely out of sync with the glorious spring morning outside. An interesting one nevertheless.

This section ended with Anti-Pioneer by Feist, another Canadian, but tucked in between was the song which brought us in to this entry – Anthem For A Seventeen Year Old Girl by Broken Social Scene.

Hailing from Toronto, they labour under the moniker “musical collective” with an endlessly changing cast of characters (Feist among them at certain points), which normally suggests self-indulgent experimentalism that musicians aren’t willing to take a risk on under their own names.

But, while hard to pin down to any signature sound, Broken Social Scene have somehow managed to maintain enough coherence to make them a more than viable proposition, producing several top songs – none better than the hypnotic Anthem…

Sung from the perspective of an older woman to her 17-year-old self, it is simple, repetitive and keeps you waiting for it to launch full into something bigger. The fact it never does makes it all the better and by the time you realise it is just not going to happen, the relentless repetition has wriggled into your head and established it as a thing of beauty.

It is rare for me to remember a first hearing of a song – something other writers and bloggers seem able to recall at will – but Anthem… first popped up on the first aborted attempt to travel through my iPod.

More specifically, it came halfway through a walk to the pub to watch football and had to be instantly replayed, both to check what it was and because it had hooked into my brain.

Away from Canada – and there was also, old joke warning, Answering Bell from Ryan Adams, which is close but infinitely better – this leg has been dominated by Angels, Animals, Anthems and Another thing.

We came in with the angels, starting with The Angel and The Fool by Broken Bells and rattling through, among others, three versions of Echo and the Bunnymen’s Angels and Devils and Angels of Deception by The The, from Matt Johnson’s largely overlooked classic album Infected.

Amid the animals, we had Animal Nitrate by the weirdly overrated Suede (quite like this track, which was on Radcliffe and Maconie earlier, but don’t get the awe with which they are widely held) and a first outing from the far too overlooked Cadbury Sisters with Animals.

Stumbled across the three sisters (yes, they are siblings and, yes, they are part of the chocolate family) supporting Turin Brakes last year and was instantly smitten. Have seen them twice more since and it is great to see their close harmonies, perfect vocals blended to a sort of English Americana finally getting some airplay, although nowhere near what they deserve.

We’ve mentioned a few of the anthems, while starring role among the Another.. songs was Another Travelin’ Song by Bright Eyes.

Conor Oberst is one of those artists who has largely passed me by, but the more he crops up on my radar the more he impresses (even if he does seem to possess a Ryan Adamseseque need to release everything he does without that much quality control) and back-to-back versions of that track saw it being sung much of the day in the office.

Along the way, we have passed 350 (Another Invented Disease by Manic Street Preachers – another band which perplexes me as much as anything else) and Anonymous Club, a first entry for my current musical obsession away from this blog, Courtney Barnett.

But we’ve got a long way to go, so we’ll come back to both of them.

 

 

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