Iris to Ivy

HAVE been on a few lengthy  journeys in the last decade or so. That’s actual journeys, not the ones people go through during a few weeks on reality TV.

While chasing a lifelong dream to succeed in a show which did not exist for much of their lifetime.

In my reality, there has been London to New York without flying. Ten months from the north to south of Africa and back again. An uncompleted circle of South America. And being a Gloucester rugby fan.

But one journey has lasted longer than all of those combined (bar the Gloucester bit, that’s been going on for decades, currently on a largely upward curve) – the one through the I songs on my iPod.

A lot has changed since the start of that journey though songs beginning with I, towards the end of a (possibly ill-conceived) drive to write a blog post a day for a month with the only live blogging entry of listening to my iPod.

One is more likely to be repeated than the other (although, with the assistance of time, both have their merits).

Back then (May 2019), Gloucester had just lost in their first play-off semi-final for far too long and are still in with a chance of their first since, having changed coaching staff, lost a lot of big-name players, flirted with the wrong end of the table, blooded a lot of young players, returned to the play-off flight and still have Billy Twelvetrees in the midfield when necessary.

And, oh yeah, they scored more than 130 points in two home games against Bath. Just thought that needed mentioning.

More important stuff has happened in the wider world – the dog years of Trump and its ridiculous aftermath, the equally ridiculous ongoing Johnson Government, Covid, the fallout from Brexit, the war in U…. oh, just trust me on this, a lot has happened. it is all getting downbeat.

The UK even managed to go from zero points to second in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Seriously, it happened.

Personally, went from working out my notice at the start to journeying overland most of the way around South America, meeting someone along the way (she reckons she is the star of this blog so apparently has to be mentioned somewhere), being forced home from Colombia by Covid, working predominantly as a reporter for the first time in many, many years, keeping up a long-distance relationship, heading back to the newspaper production and getting engaged.

And listened to a lot of songs beginning with I (with several long breaks along the way).

The last blast took us through about 160 tracks from The Goo Goo Dolls (one of those songs which always seems to have been there and have no memory of downloading) to Taylor Swift.

There were plenty of frequent visitors, topped by four versions – two of them live – of It’s The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) by REM, which is a lot back to back even for such a great song.

Is This It by The Strokes popped up twice while there multiple entries by Half Man Half Biscuit (Irk The Purists and It’s Easy To Be Cynical at Christmas), Belle and Sebastian (Is It Wicked Not To Care? and It Could Have Been A Brilliant Career) and early career Billy Bragg (It Says Here and Island of No Return).

And it would appear Evan Dando has a penchant for writing songs beginning with It’s as there were appearances for It’s A Shame About Ray (title track of one of those albums which revisiting always brings happy feelings), It’s All True and It’s About Time.

The latter has one my favourite moments in any song- when Juliana Hatfield echoes ‘Sunshine’ to herald the band kicking back in and manages to spread a little bit of exactly that – which is always worth anticipating as it approaches and then savour as if drifts off into a tune which deserves more than being remembered for a single moment.

Other old favourites popping up to wave farewell to I included Echo and The Bunnymen (It Was A Pleasure), The Undertones (It’s Going To Happen), Jason Isbell (It Gets Easier), The Pogues (in tandem with The Dubliners on The Irish Rover) and John Grant (It Doesn’t Matter To Him).

There were less frequent, but nonetheless welcome, visitors The Streets (It Was Supposed To Be So Easy) and Let’s Eat Grandma (It’s Not Just Me), who will pop up with their latest album on the catch-up before we start cracking on with K.

There was also It’s All You from Sebadoh, which takes me back to a summer when the album it came from seemed to live in my car stereo (1999 apparently).

And we had two first-time appearances – one welcome, one not so much amid a debate over my self-imposed rules.

The welcome one was the first track from the Hamilton soundtrack – It’s Quiet Uptown – after a very enjoyable night out on a post-engagement few days in  London.

Less so was a second song called Iris – this one, complete with the brackets (Hold Me Close) from Apple’s less than appreciated dumping of U2 tracks in my collection a few years back.

Have ignored them by not downloading them, but a change of iPod – not sure how many more times can do that – brought it in automatically and after much debate with myself, opted to follow the rules and listen to it on a walk along the canal to Sainsbury’s

Which is pretty much all that sticks in the mind.

So that, after all that time and the largest number of tracks for one letter, is that and on to J… well, almost.

Over the three years it has taken through I,  a lot of new stuff has dropped in that needs mopping up from A-I – a late burst of new releases in recent weeks taking that diversion up towards 600 tracks.

Better get started…

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Under A Long-Haul Flight Path

THERE is a, potentially British, test of etiquette at the start of each year – how long after January 1 is it expected and then acceptable to wish people a happy new year?

Some begrudge it anywhere beyond the first dawn of the new year while others – looking at you marketing emails – will keep going until at least the middle of the month.

Personally, think the first morning back in the office – or first team video meeting – is about the limit.

Think we have all got the idea by then.

Which is why this blog is posting its traditional new year post (and reduced look at the best of 2021’s music) in the final days of February.

St Ives in the January sun

There is a good excuse – as there has been most years since the first of these posts was written in a dark Ghanaian beach bar seven years ago – and it is my normal  life was sort of put on hold for the first six weeks of the year.

Could not blame being busy at work as was off for the bulk of that time, but those six weeks were a step away from normal life after a wait of almost two years – 649 days apparently.

We will get to that, but let’s break a habit and get to the point of this post early by looking back at the last 12 months.

There were more longer than hoped for waits, at least between blog posts – not through any plan or intended reason.

It just sort of happened, most probably courtesy of spending so much time each day tapping away in front of a screen and wanting to do anything else in my spare time.

Consider this the first step in a drive to remedy that as form of belated resolution, along with losing the lockdown weight and regaining pre-pandemic fitness levels.

Not that there was much else to get in the way, especially with largely working from home, as life continued to remain largely wedged between the four walls of my flat.

Horizons were expanded by a change of job which has had me, at least occasionally, making the trip to Worcester although far more often rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, grabbing a shower and breakfast en route to logging on at home.

A year ago, work was writing about business, but when the offer came in to look after production for various newspapers – ask your parents kids – churning out pages and fighting a string of deadlines, it was not too difficult to accept.

Feel much more at home doing that. Especially at home.

Blending in with the locals

And then there was the other expanded horizon – the one over which the main distraction over the last couple of months emerged far too early one post-Christmas morning.

Anyone paying attention to the new year’s post two years ago – from the considerably warmer and sandier surroundings of a Rio hotel room – will remember a public declaration of no longer being single.

And it was Lisa – responsible for much of that sand, however much she denies it – who emerged into that grey Heathrow morning, a wrong turn through the departure gate delaying our reunion a few brief seconds.

But after 649 days (courtesy of PCR tests and security, she had a lot of time at Sydney airport to work it out), what does that matter?

Not that we haven’t see each other during that long time between bidding farewell in Bogota as the pandemic descended and her arrival from an Australian summer to an English winter.

Pretty much every evening in that time – or early morning, once her cat alarm system kicks in on the other side of the world – has been spent chatting via video until eventually restrictions lifted, borders opened and we could actually plan something definite.

So for those six weeks – much of my holiday time used up either side of being back at work – we were reunited, testing out the restaurants by my flat which normally just walk past, meeting up with friends and introducing her to the delights of Cornwall, a series of day trips from Gloucester and a final week chalking up the miles on foot around London.

She also developed a love for The Detectorists and The Repair Shop.

And on one of those day trips we got engaged.

Extra baggage to take home

No, did not kneel down (chances of getting up again not good with my knees), did not have a ring (that was the next day’s trip) or have any romantic words prepared.

But sat on a bench at Symonds Yat Rock – not the classic viewpoint, it is closed – came up with something which managed to take her by surprise and get the desired yes.

It opens up a lot of other questions for a long-distance relationship, but we will get there.

And need something to write about in all those upcoming posts.

• There is traditionally a second part of the new year post which has grown into its own accompanying article – the Travel Marmot nods to the best of the previous 12 months music.

A year ago, my music-listening habits provided enough candidates for long lists of album and track of the year.

But those habits appear to have changed in the past 12 months – less time in the gym with headphones, more time working, more podcasts – and we are back to a briefer affair on the end of this post.

That’s another thing that needs to change in the coming months…

Album of the Year
Dry Cleaning – New Long Leg

Not a clear-cut winner in a year with plenty of good albums, but few standouts. Dry Cleaning was an early contender nobody quite managed to overhaul, starting a trend for spoke-sung lyrics and in Scratchcard Lanyard they almost produced the track of the year.

Surprisingly Close to Album of the Year
Self Esteem – Prioritise Pleasure

Topped several end-of-year lists but on paper it is hardly my cup of tea. On vinyl (or whatever the download equivalent is), it most definitely is and soundtracked several train journeys to Worcester and back. To nobody’s surprise more than mine – some fucking wizardry.

Track of the Year
Wet Leg – Chaise Longue

“What?”

If you are going to release a debut single, make it this catchy, funny, Mean Girl referencing and did we mention catchy? All while remaining charmingly odd, making buttering muffins and chaises longue part of the zeigeist, Wet Leg produced an instant indie classic and their debut album is the most anticipated of the coming months (even with Fontaines DC on the horizon).

Obligatory Phoebe Bridgers Entry of the Year
Muna – Silk Chiffon

Having released last year’s album of the year, this is a fifth successive appearance in various guises for Bridgers – this time as guest vocalist for a band on a her own label. Slice of bubblegum indie guitar pop runs Chaise Longue a close second for catchiness.

Verging on Edge of Genius and Irritating Discovery of the Year
Yard Act – The Overload

The Leeds band were not too far behind Wet Leg for media excitement about new bands, enlivened by this witty slice of modern life.  Not sure if or for how long it falls on the right of the engrossing/irritating line, but for the moment it is very much in the to be embraced category.

Welcome Old Friend of the Year
Billy Bragg – The Million Things That Never Happened

Could have been The Wedding Present’s category as they found a lockdown niche of online shows and reimagined oldies, but Bragg’s latest musings on modern life at a certain age show you can grow older with charm, humour and valuable insight. Have to give it a try.

As ever, there is a long list of contenders well worth a listen or in need of greater exploration but chances are we will cover much of that as the A-Z iPod challenge kicks back into gear.

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I’m So Bored With The USA to If War Should Come

“Some people don’t know how to walk on the pavement these days
Well it’s not that difficult, there’s hardly a whole host of ways”
L’Enfer C’Est Les Autres – Half Man Half Biscuit

IT may not look like it much of the time, but a lot of these posts start with a vague attempt to find a link with the tracks which have popped up on my iPod.

After all, the journey through the songs from A-Z is the supposed theme of the blog in lieu of any actual travelling.

Links can be tenuous, utterly missing (resulting the music being shoehorned in somewhere), a memory triggered by a song or any themes which pop up in the song title.

Which is where we were headed with this entry from The Clash to Public Service Broadcasting.

After all, if you cannot find a subject from song titles involving the USA to the threat of conflict via the ICU, changing someone’s mind, falling from grace with God, Ideology, ideas and, possibly most fittingly, idiots amid recent events, well you are not really trying.

But after feeding a CNN obsession and replanning the post amid unfurling events (long ago retreated into old West Wing episodes as a form of balm), we will go on about a real issue which has been driving me to distraction.

People’s inability to walk properly on a pavement or path.

There is a link to the music – this is the annoyance that crops up while listening to my iPod on my Government-sanctioned daily walks.

Designed to build some semblance of a return to pre-South America fitness (and waistline) and avoid spending my entire waking hours in the front room of my flat, the walks are part of an attempt to cover 1,000 miles on foot during 2021.

Slowly closing an early fall behind schedule, the daily distance will increase in length in line with the days and the walks provide the perfect chance to escape the four walls, get some fresh air and crank up the music in my headphones.

All socially distanced, of course.

At least until other people sharing the path decide the rules or general courtesy do not apply to them.

“Here they come, love’s young dream, arm in arm, approaching me
Now, I’m not looking for your smile, I’m just asking for some single file”
L’Enfer C’Est Les Autres – Half Man Half Biscuit

This is not a new annoyance.

People’s inability to spot and adapt to what is around them while walking never ceases to amaze at the best of times.

Throw in the restrictions of social distancing and it takes on whole new levels of frustration.

And that is before we start on supermarkets.

So in a bid to tackle the big issues of the day, here is the Travel Marmot guide to walking on the pavements – after all, there’s hardly a whole host of ways.

  • You do not have to fill the whole width of the path

Quite happy to stick to the edge of the path – which on icy days around here, risks sliding along the banks of a canal or river – leaving plenty of room for people coming the other way to hug the far side.

If only.

Walked two miles back along a canal towpath on Sunday with a stream of couples and groups coming the other way – just two moved from side by side to single file and one of them did that down the middle of the path, which rather negates the point.

They are the pedestrian version of middle-lane hogs, seemingly worried they might fall off the edge if they move from the centre.

  • Pay attention to what is ahead

One thing about walking is most of us do not go that fast. You do have time to move out of the way rather than plough on regardless or block the path.

  • Stop looking at your phone

This is not just a social distancing measure, my old walk to work – about 200 yards – rarely failed to feature at least one collision or near miss.

Remarkably, it can be even worse at weekends – and was again between lockdowns – as Gloucester Docks appears a hot spot for groups of men (almost exclusively), dressed in black (even more exclusively), staring at screens (often more than one) in search of Pokemon.

Thankfully, Pokemon appear to be obeying lockdown rules.

  • Walking in the road/mud/canal is fine, thank you

After all, you would not want to get those best shoes or white trainers dirty by veering away from the path to give somebody some room.

Your dog can walk in the mud. It is probably happier there than me.

  • That two-metre gap is not for you to fill

Not a walk issue, this one’s from the list of supermarket gripes (seriously, don’t get me started – my frustration in the aisles generally rises with my need to travel. Which is high).

That two-metre gap in the checkout is for social distancing (you might have heard of it) and to let people pass through.

It is not for you to take your place at the front of the queue.

And no, not all of us are polite enough to let you go keep loading your shopping onto the belt.

  • Filming yourself breaking into a government building and posting it on social media is not a good idea

Oops, sorry, wrong list. Probably the same sort of people.

Soundtracking all this mumbling at passing walkers (and it is not always  as quiet as mumbling) has been a fair few highlights in the latest section.

We had one of last year’s best tracks with ICU from Phoebe Bridgers, rewound a few years for some ideas – three versions of Ideas as Opiates by Tears for Fears, courtesy of a bit of lockdown nostalgia downloading, and Idea Track by Idlewild – a regular visitor in Billy Bragg (Ideology) and Idioteque, one of Radiohead’s better outings once they went a bit… well, let’s just say post-OK Computer.

And then we hit the Ifs, which has been a pretty rich seam,

The magnificent If I Can’t Change Your Mind obeyed this blog’s rule of Copper Blue which says anything from Sugar’s debut album has to feature, while The Lemonheads (If I Could Talk I’d Tell You) and Jason Isbell (If It Takes A Lifetime) come close to similar outcomes.

We had some Pogues (If I Should Fall From Grace With God), Wilco (If I Ever Was A Child), Leonard Cohen (If It Be Your Will), Belle & Sebastian (If She Wants Me) and If I Had A Hammer from American Music Club, who also popped up with I’ve Been A Mess.

Which you could say about a lot of people in the last few weeks.

It has taken us round the world, the close on 40 US states, almost round Africa, even closer to a full circuit of South America (although that was supposed to be a complete circle), A to If on my iPod and any number of detours along the way.

Let’s see where it takes us next – once the world expands a bit further beyond my flat.

 

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Honey and Smoke to Hope We Make It

Day nine of the post a day in May and the schedule has gone out of the window. To such an extent this is the topic that was planned for today before being shuffled around and back again. Just not in this format.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIK03eNu7gs

IT is the shortest section of the A-Z iPod Challenge to date.

But within the 28 songs it took to travel from Case/Lang/Veirs to Turin Brakes, we hit a major landmark.

It was not marked in any great fashion, merely the fact that it had just stopped raining and was able to take my jacket hood down but the first strains of Hook, Line, Sinker by Stornoway ushered in the 5,000th track on the journey through my iPod.

Only another 8,703 to go. And rising.

And while drying off on the regular weekly walk to check on the latest weight loss progress, the original idea to write about travel was replaced by one to mark the occasion with a blog post.

So let’s rewind right back to the beginning and explain for any newcomers what this musical odyssey is all about, a few facts and figures and the self-imposed rules which govern it.

Are you sitting comfortably? Well you are one up on me, but let’s start anyway.

What?

Pretty simple, listen to every track on my iPod from A-Z.

Why?

Will ‘it seemed a good idea at the time’ suffice as an answer?

Tried it once before (with a much smaller musical collection) but it sort of ran out of steam having reached midway through C.

Think was struggling to find anything to grab my attention and, having planned several times to dig deep into my collection and listen to some stuff that had passed me by or been forgotten, it seemed a way of doing it.

Raised the idea again around the same time this website was created in March 2014 to house blog posts for past trips and the then looming Trans Africa trip.

Looking for something else to write about, some bright spark suggested combining the two and writing about the iPod. That’s the Cornish for you.

The rules

  • My iPod decides the order – It’s in-built alphabetising system is the one which will determine the running order.
    Somehow it has changed, Vampire Weekend’s A-Punk relegated from the opening track on the initial attempt to somewhere in the pack of A songs, letting The Beatles kick things off with A Day in the Life – although a quick check reveals the first song on the list is now (A Belated) Invite To Eternity by Stornoway which had been listed under B.
    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 push my patience on this one, especially in the gym.
  • 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.
    Do this at the end of each letter via a playlist which any new songs from earlier in the journey get dropped into.
  • Breaks are allowed – Let’s be honest, all this time 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. There have been some very long breaks, getting on for a year in a couple of places.

The landmarks

At the time these were the songs sat in the most notable figures:

And the songs sitting in those positions at the moment:

  • 1,000 Birch Tree – Foals
  • 2,000 Coaxed – Avi Buffalo
  • 3,000 Drinking At The Dam – Smog
  • 4,000 The Gator – Will Oldham

The stats

  • Longest track to date: 27.37 Driftin’ Back – Neil Young & Crazy Horse
  • Shortest track to date: 6 seconds Hive Mind – They Might Be Giants (the shortest track in my collection)
  • Longest section: Songs beginning with All which have held the title since occupying tracks 160-267. About to be totally blown out of the water.

The latest section

Apart from Stornoway grabbing the limelight, inevitably at the moment, we had The Beatles – twice in just 28 songs with Honey Don’t and Honey Pie.

There were also two appearances for Billy Bragg, both solo (Honey, I’m A Big Boy Now) and with Wilco (Hoodoo Voodoo) and two versions, one live, of Hope The High Road from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. Not his best but still good enough to get on here twice.

More old favourites came in the shape of Leonard Cohen-inspired REM (Hope), The Wedding Present (Hopak, one of their Ukrainian tracks) and Sugar with Hoover Dam – one of the unwritten laws which have evolved says it has to be mentioned as it is from Copper Blue. And still brilliant.

For once, Sugar were not the loudest in this chunk. That goes to Deafheaven, all 11-plus minutes of it – an acquired taste which am starting to come round to.

But that was not the longest track of this section, followed immediately by 13 minutes of Honeymoon’s Great! Wish You Were Her by Josh T Pearson.

It all added up to something a bit different in the gym with those two back to back. Pretty sure was the only one in there listening to that.

But reckon that’s the case most of the time.

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Holda You (I’m Psycho) to Honey

Day six of the blog post a day in May challenge

NEITHER is the toughest challenge in the world.

Certainly when you compare them to the world record Jamie McDonald has spent the last week breaking across the Docks from here – 524 miles on a treadmill in aid of his Superhero Foundation (check out adventureman.org for details or to donate, believe me he’s earned it).

But combining two different challenges has thrown up a few slightly different (slightly less exhausting) tests.

Listening to my iPod from A-Z is merely an excuse to listen to music and provides the simple answer if cannot decide on what to pick from the 13,713 tracks (sure it was more than that at one point).

And been able to do it at my own pace – very slowly at times.

But combine it with the attempt to write a blog post a day throughout May and it starts getting problematic.

Not the writing – although finding the time to get something down on screen without finishing it and posting some time around midnight is proving easier some days than others – but getting enough music under my belt.

Put simply, three A-Z posts in six days means catching myself up, even with a bit of a head start.

Recent form suggests three such posts would cover at least three months – far longer than planned but have had to stop listening to avoid too big a gap between listening and writing.

But with this challenge and a schedule mapped out for the first 20 days (including a novel solution for this problem which will be revealed when we get there), A-Z is down for today so let’s see what gems have popped up in the latest batch of listening.

Not a lot to be honest.

Partly because the need to write more regularly means we have only covered 53 tracks from White Denim to Torres.

Have fallen in holes, gone on holiday to Hollywood and home again, probably the most notable moment was the growing frustration while on the bike in the gym, waiting for the hidden track after several minutes of silence at the end of Holy Roller Novocaine.

And not just because it was Kings of Leon.

That’s slightly unfair. The first album from where it came was worth a listen, certainly at the time. Even went to see them live when the second album came out – at pretty much the exact moment their true worth was revealed.

The bearded, backswoodmen had transformed into slick, rock pin-ups on their way to omnipresent anthems and the attraction of anything after that debut album is a complete mystery.

Probably the musical highlight of this section was Holes by Mercury Rev, which popped up in album form and a live version (albeit with the ever-present threat of boogie-woogie piano after a Jools Holland intro).

Can remember my first hearing of Holes, mainly because it was (and still is) so different from anything else around.

Was sat in the car at a drive-through McDonalds in Newport one Sunday lunchtime (next to a supermarket which came with the chance of bumping into Nicky Wire in the aisles) en route to putting together the paper’s Monday sport supplement.

It must have been near Christmas because Danny Baker was asking Danny Kelly for his song of the year and he chose Holes. Spent the next few weeks listening to Deserter’s Songs, including a few nights lying on a sofa in a French ski resort while suffering from food poisoning.

Remarkably, Kelly choosing a song of the year for Baker on the radio was also my first exposure to Creep. Before it was a hit on re-release.

No idea when first heard Honey by Moby, not sure too many people are. Believe me, you know it – the one from that advert or background music that’s not Sigur Ros.

Billy Bragg popped up twice (nothing unusual there) with Home and The Home Front, while we grabbed a couple of punk holidays – In Cambodia with The Dead Kennedys and In The Sun with The Sex Pistols.

We stopped off at Hollywood 4-5-97 from American Music Club, from an album listened to on pretty much constant repeat for a few months but not for years. More from them in the near future.

And a couple of classic bits of Paul Simon – one born out of turbulent southern Africa, the other written on Widnes station.

Can’t be sure but almost certainly first heard Homeward Bound being played by my parents, certainly became aware of it (and much of Simon & Garfunkel’s catalogue) sat in the harbour in St Ives listening to a couple of buskers.

Always wanted to do the same – just a lack of talent getting in the way.

Homeless, not surprisingly, was a fairly regular part of the soundtrack of my African adventure and transports me back not just to under African skies but also to seeing Simon on the Graceland tour.

Not my usual live music experience but certainly one worth having.

Hey, maybe don’t have to listen to so many songs for each of these posts after all.

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