BEEN blessed through my career to work with some top-class journalists and writers, the ones whose copy you looked forward to popping up on your screen.

The very best are a rare breed. Over the years have seen the English language fight a losing battle with some reporters whose copy has barely escaped intact (in more than one award-winning case, having largely been replaced by agency copy).

But when the top-notch ones arrive, you cherish them. The pressure is on a sub, not to make it readable and coherent, but to do it justice with a quick polish and suitable headline and design.

Steve Tucker was one of those. Above that, he was a good friend.

Which makes his sudden loss this week at the age of 52 hard to take.

Tucker – it was always Tucker, he always called me Freeman – was one of a group of journalists and assorted others who became a fixture of my Cardiff years in the office, the pub and… well, that covers an awful lot of it.

This blog has mentioned several times nights spent in The City Arms and endless repeated musical arguments. That was Tucker. And still reckon he was wrong.

Inevitably, the last couple of days since the news broke of his death has seen plenty of words written about the man, his work and his passions – he could get very passionate about Cardiff City, his family or whatever had caught his attention.

A former colleague penned a tribute for Wales Online, sharing some of Tucks’ best-known pieces on the Bluebirds and Tucker’s Travels.

A former editor can take the credit – or blame – for the Travels. Sure he had to take a fair bit of flak over it, the news desk and People’s Champion Nick Machin (appointed to address readers’ needs and, probably most commonly, complaints) certainly did.

The Travels saw Steve and his companion Gustav the Squirrel journey to a different part of Cardiff, his home city, each week and provide an individual view on what he saw.

It was not meant to be taken too seriously, it certainly was not assiduously researched or to be considered a factual portrayal of its subject.

The man himself can explain:

 “The Travels has been criticised recently for giving the impression we merely arrive at our destination, write down a few facts and figures and then proceed to get very, very drunk.

“I would like to put these hateful rumours and slurs to rest once and for all: we do not write down any facts and figures and I’m deeply hurt by the allegation.

“All this fine work is done with the assistance of a photographic memory, White Lightning cider and an impeccably-trained squirrel who sits on my shoulder and says things like: ‘These Cardiff people, Mr Steve, they crazy like the nuts.'”

Not the standard stuff in an evening newspaper

Play some Happy Mondays’ man

The weekly missive was always keenly awaited (and you could wait for Tucker’s copy) throughout the office. Well, maybe not so keenly by those who might take the flak from Pissed Off of Penylan, Furious of Fairwater or whichever part of the city was annoyed by that week’s comments.

Some of us did not always have to wait as long – he would often run it by me before sending it over to news desk, just to check it was not too over the top. Not sure he listened to suggested changes, the most common of which is to have more Gustav.

We could then sit back and watch gleefully as Nick attempted to desk it with his head in his hands, working out how he was going to explain away some of the comments when the phone started ringing.

Nick got his own back – on me at least – by volunteering our services to help Tucker and his family move house. Not sure whether he wanted us there to carry stuff or as an excuse to be allowed out in the evening to take us on a tour of his new local pubs as a reward for our efforts.

Tucker volunteered to help me move out of Nick’s spare room to my own place, but sure he was more interested in claiming his reward that evening.

And chances are, he would spin some tales over some liquid refreshment. Or we would embark on one of those endless musical debates, argue about the merits of egg-chasing against football (you didn’t want to start him on former Cardiff manager Dave Jones, especially when we were banned from his press conferences) or work out more details of our great sitcom that never was, Gorilla In The House.

While the sitcom never did get written, the former drama student in Tucker was happy to embrace stand-up for a while. It was irreverent, genuinely funny and certainly not for a family audience.

There were very good gags about a bloke with a mop and adult movies (don’t be crude) and enjoying yourself while at work (you can be crude on that one). Just not sure a crowd at an arts centre was the right one for a set which opened with the question: “Anyone here like porn?”

As the plant at the back, was certainly not expecting to be the only one to respond.

Even, as just been reminded, his internal emails were humorous and mischievous – one involving the parking spaces the paper used to have at the nearby rugby ground reducing almost the entire office to hysterics and almost ended with us convincing him he had been summoned to HR.

There are endless other memories to savour from my time in Cardiff, far too many to mention here (at least one former colleague will be complaining this has rattled on too long to which the only response is: Keep taking the tablets).

And while there was an evolving group of us, Tucker and Nick were among those at the core of those memories.

We were roped in to wet the baby’s head the evening Tucker became a father for the first time. Perhaps on a school night we should not have been quite so keen on more than the baby’s head getting quite so wet.

That they are both no longer with us is incomprehensible.

Wherever you are guys, grab a Stella and a cooking lager. Stick The Smiths on the jukebox and settle in for a good night.


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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