Antistar to Ashes of American Flags

THE past week has been dominated by departures – one expected but with a string of problems, the other unexpected but with a hint of better times ahead (well, hopefully).

Both have taken up the bulk of my time, thoughts and conversations, over the last few days, meaning this entry has been delayed and taken us a fair bit further along my A-Z journey through my iPod.

Departure number one saw the tenants leave my house in Cardiff.

Installed four years ago while the house stood empty on my overland journey from London to New York (helped by a string of calls and e-mails between Cardiff and China which had the agents trying endlessly to calculate time differences), they remained as my return to the Welsh capital was shortlived.

April_Skies_(single) Even as their latest contract ran out, that was one issue ahead of heading to Africa which looked simple – they sign another one and worries about paying my mortgage were sorted. That was until they announced out of the blue they weren’t signing and were moving out.

And move out they did, seemingly by grabbing a few bits and pieces, walking out the door and heading to pastures new.

At least, that’s how it appears, judging by what they have left strewn across the uncleaned house and unkempt garden, sadly bereft of a few pieces of my furniture which seem to have walked out of the door with them.

The constant amending of to-do lists for Africa, this blog and life in general has been replaced by a to-do list for sorting out the house, but only after a few very deep breaths to calm down.

As well as anger, their actions and attitude in leaving the house in such a state totally amazes me – how can anybody not be consumed by embarrassment to leave somebody else’s house in that condition?

When the time comes later this year, my flat will be attacked from all angles by an array of cleaning products and, bar a few dusty bits and one or two difficult to access places in the bathroom, it is already in a pretty presentable state.

Having just about calmed down from a trip to confirm what the agents had told me – via a journey that included an almost hour-long traffic jam in Chepstow, of all places, which helped scoot the A-Z journey along at a healthy pace and past the 400 mark (Apple Blossom by The White Stripes) – the second departure crept up on us on Monday morning.

The sacking of Nigel Davies as Gloucester’s director of rugby was not totally out of the blue – after all, the season has disappointed from start to finish and Saturday’s closing defeat at relegated Worcester was, frankly, laughable as the Cherry and Whites mixed touches of genius with splashes of ineptitude.

While the loud-mouthed bloke behind me at Worcester will not be alone in celebrating Davies’ departure (his main reason being that the outgoing boss is Welsh), his reading of the situation was remarkably misplaced and badly informed.

This, after all, was a man who only realised in the second half when he could see the names and numbers on the players’ backs that he had been slagging off the wrong player for 40 minutes while claiming that flanker Matt Kvesic had only made about three tackles all season and should be sold. His tackle numbers actually put Kvesic fourth in the entire league.

Personally, with reinforcements arriving, my opinion was that Davies deserved time next season to shape what is finally his squad – not short on talent this term, but lacking in depth and, at crucial times, leadership and direction – probably until the Six Nations at least.

But, having made the decision, the board were right to act quickly – stay or go, this could not drag on all summer.

And they now need not only to find the right man, but the right structure. Davies spent a lot of time during the season working on bringing in those signings and, from a distance, that was time Gloucester needed him sorting out the problems on the pitch – two jobs, one man just didn’t add up.

Of course, this poor season (and when we have had bad seasons before it was, unlike this one, largely expected) coincided with my first season ticket in four decades of watching rugby at Kingsholm, the first time when playing, working, travelling or living away did not keep me away from Castle Grim for long periods.

Fellow fans will be delighted that being in Africa for most of the season will mean no renewal.

So, that’s the background to the last few days, what has been the soundtrack?

wilco-ashes-of-american-flags-dvd-338-300Starting with the new longest so far (Antistar at Massive Attack comes in at 19.41, but more than half of that is largely silence bar a few background beats), we have seen classic first  entries by The Housemartins (Anxious), The Jesus and Mary Chain (April Skies, which a friend once tried to teach me the bassline to, without success) and Lloyd Cole and the Commotions (Are Your Ready To Be Heartbroken?).

Also popping up for the first time – and blowing away a few emotions on the drive back from Cardiff – were At The Drive-In with Arc Arsenal while Prefab Sprout’s Appetite gave a more gentle first touch from their Steve McQueen masterpiece (the first side of which is almost flawless) and A-Punk by Vampire Weekend slipped from the opening track of the whole countdown on a previous attempt to somewhere near 400.

Arseholes, The Shirehorse’s much preferable version of Robbie Williams’ Angels, provided a rather different direction while The Clash and Joe Strummer have different readings of Armagideon Time.

To wrap it all up on a high note, Wilco provided two versions (live and original) of probably my favourite song of theirs, Ashes of American Flags.

And blasting that out on the drive home from work was enough to provide a great end to a testing few days.

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A to Z – How to Get There

SOUNDS simple, doesn’t it? Plug the headphones into my iPod, turn it on and listen to all the songs in alphabetical order. All 11,235 of them… and rising.

As far as challenges go, it is not the toughest. It’s hardly walking to the South Pole, scaling Everest or even a marathon.

This is just me and two constant companions – my ipod and laptop – heading off on a journey which, at an average of an hour a day, will take just over two years, but is likely to last considerably longer.

There must be rules and after much debate (well, staring at a screen and working out how it is going to work), they are:

  • My iPod decides the order – It’s in-built alphabetising system is the one which will determine the running order. Strangely, it has changed with Vampire Weekend’s A-Punk relegated from the opening track to somewhere in the pack of A songs. Some of the alphabetising is a bit weird, especially with definite and indefinite articles.
  • No skipping – To count, the song must register as having been played in my iTunes library, which means playing it until the end. Long silences at the end of songs are likely to push my patience on this one.
  • It’s the tracks that count, not songs – Multiple versions of the same song all have to be listened to. The most found so far is five – one cover and four of the original in various different guises. That’s five tracks to be listened to all the way through.
  • No revisionism – There’s some rubbish on there, no hiding away from the fact. But nobody put it on there but me (even if the reason is lost in the mists of time), so there’s nobody to blame. It has to be listened to before moving on.
  • New additions count – This remains an evolving collection, so when something is added and drops into the list before the current point, at some point there will be a catch-up session. Plan is to do this at the end of each letter by running through the last played details on iTunes and find out what is missing or out of sync.
  • Breaks are allowed – Let’s be honest, two years or more without any new music or being able to choose exactly what to listen to is not really an option. This is a challenge to be paused and picked up again from where it was left off.

So that’s what and how, but why?

Must admit, did try this a few years ago – albeit on a much smaller iPod – and was very dutiful until hitting the Cs and somehow never quite managed to pluck up courage to tackle the whole five-part Cassandra Gemini suite by The Mars Volta and it somehow never picked up again.

It was fun while it lasted though, with some forgotten treasures and previously unheard tracks – downloaded and never listened to – popping up as great surprises. Anthem For A 17-Year-Old Girl by Broken Social Scene certainly falls into that category and became a constant on playlists for some time afterwards.

There’ll be plenty more forgotten gems, unheard tracks and ones which prompt head scratching as to what they are doing on the iPod in the first place.

And it is these discoveries, plus the tales and memories they evoke and the background to the challenge which will form the basis of this blog.

So let’s see exactly where it takes us…

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