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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Wrong Handshake

Research: Today I had tea with two people. One is a connoisseur of fine art – the old gilded framed variety. The paintings of which they are so fond often belong to other people.

In between commentary on technique, pigment and style, the finer points of relieving someone of their Old Master is carefully and skilfully drawn out for me.

Understand the market and be decisive. Be ready to act when opportunity presents itself. This isn’t opportunism; this is a state of constant readiness. The aphorisms keep coming. I wonder if I’ve somehow drifted into a motivational meeting for time-share dealers.

It continues; keep an ear to the ground; understanding what’s going on and understanding that what’s going on isn’t really what’s going on.

"Do you understand?" I nod. I notice that during our one and a half hour conversation, I seem to have developed what the books in the genre would call a nervous laugh.

My interviewees decide not to notice it and proceed apace.

This business is just like reading a painting; direction, intention, allegory, context, signs and symbols. Get to grip with that and you can unlock any door. Any door? Yes. Any door.

I wonder aloud on the whereabouts of Edward Munch’s The Scream. “Search me” says the connoisseur with a smirk. I do that laughing thing again, cringing inside at another unwanted appearance. They then proceed to tell me how the job was done and where the painting may well be.

I had assumed that some unscrupulous art collector / business person was admiring that potent image of existential angst on the plush walls of their well-upholstered apartment.

Not a bit of it; hints and suggestions; putting two and two together to make. . .something. Making something up? They give me that smirk again; the smoke and mirrors of the professional game; leaving a line dangling in the wind, stopping short of the punchline.

I thought of a different kind of punchline when I shook hands with the connoisseur’s friend at the start of our interview; another Mr. Big from a different branch of this clandestine world. That grip belonged to somebody half his age, someone used to resolving “personnel issues” in the most direct manner imaginable. He’s retired now. Mostly.

Sometimes he has to deal with a problem here and there. He tells me of a recent issue that needed sorting. I wince. When he shakes my hand, I can feel the potential power that still pounds inside.

A second cup of tea takes us through a metropolitan city some thirty five years ago. Name a pub or a club and understand this; every glass you lifted in those city centre bars would be raised to his good health or that of his partner in crime – his brother. Stories to tell – beat boom, long-hairs, poofs, whatever. The rampant racism goes unchecked by me throughout the showman’s monologue. Sometimes discretion really is the better part of valour.

The showman sees my digital camera, carefully inspecting it, weighing it as he talks. Somewhere off in my mind I hear Tony Levin intoning “No photos pleeeease.” I don’t even think about asking for a snap.

Then it’s time gentlemen please. Places to go, people to see. I receive an invitation to join them for a drink in their hotel. I’m non-committal. They understand the diffidence of civilians and take no offence.

And it ends as it begun with a firm handshake, a handshake you wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Friday, August 27, 2004

A Sense Of Dread Expectation

I had a terrible night’s sleep – dreadful dreams and nightmares. I had been feeling out of sorts and unsettled by a nagging unease. I hate it when dreams follow you around like a bad smell. It’s the sense of dread expectation that rattles me so much.

The glorious sunshine this morning has made some of that iciness evaporate and the process of warming things through is further aided following the arrival in the post of Tim Bowness’s solo album My Hotel Years. I shall look forward to sitting down and giving this one a thorough listen.
This morning however belongs to Roxy Music. I started reading David Buckely’s account of Ferry et al over a pot of tea downstairs in the Green Room – it being too hot for sitting on the lawn.

I was lucky enough to see Roxy Music with Eno on two occasions and apart from the odd track here and there, the numerous albums that followed For Your Pleasure left me a little cold.

Needless to say, reading about the albums will no doubt make me revisit them in some detail.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Horror Movies

The transfer of the Pure video from Eric Oliver’s little doo-hickey to my little doo-hickey happened without incident. With neither of us being technical bods, we expected the process to be painful and frustrating. As it happened the transfer took a little over five minutes – exactly the length of the video itself.

Today, I emailed the finished result to Ian and Markus directly. It should be available for viewing on the DiN website sometime in the near future.

Getting finished so quickly last night left us plenty of time to discuss movie making. Eric is a fan of horror movies and we mulled over some of his ideas for his next big venture. I realised in the course of our chat how little I know about horror movies. We decide that this might be because they scare me too much!

This is confirmed when I recall how shook up I was when I first saw The Exorcist on its first cinema release way back when. There are passages and images in that movie which still shake me even now. I haven’t seen Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street or Hell Raiser (in any of their episodes) or The Ring or any of the big shakers and movers in the blood and gore stuff.

I did go through a phase of bumping into Dario Argento movies a few years ago but found them risible on just about every level. They’re just a touch to…”loud” for my delicate sensitivities.

Movies which have chilled me would include The Tenant by Roman Polanski, The Shining by Stanley Kubrick, John Carpenter’s The Thing and possibly the last five minutes of The Blair Witch Project.

So, it seems, the horror genre and I are to remain strangers and come to think about it, I quite like it that way. As I speak, Alys and three of her chums are downstairs at the start of their sleepover night. They’re watching an evening of …horror movies. Eeek!

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

A Busy Sid Smith Is A Happy Sid Smith

A day spent...
listening to a 2CD compilation of The Rolling Stones whilst painting the hallway (yellow, since you ask), baking pizza dough for Tom and Joe’s five-chum sleep-over, cogitating on the flurry of DGM-related traffic, a helpful correspondence with John Potter from York University (probably best known as a member of the Hilliard Ensemble and now of the seriously wonderful Dowland Project), conversation with EMI’s archive and legal department, another helpful and promising exchange with Voiceprint’s Rob Ayling and the return of old amigo, John Sargent with some fabbo ideas concerning the advancement and promotion of culture in the north east region.

And now...
I’m off to have a bath before Eric Oliver arrives to supervise the digitisation of the Pure video I shot and which he directed. It stars those gods of the electronica music scene Ian Boddy and Markus Reuter no less.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Whatever Happened To Graham Simpson?

The arrival of a promo copy of David Buckley’s Roxy / Ferry biog, The Thrill Of It All, prompts me to listen to Roxy Music’s first album.

Always one of my favourites (and certainly the best in the Roxy cannon) I was happy to be reacquainted with the talent of bass player Graham Simpson.

Whether it’s the lyrical break on the bridging section of If There Is Something or the constantly simmering motifs on 2HB, Simpson is never confined to the root notes; every part of the fretboard is fair game for him.

I don’t really think that any other bass player in Roxy Music came close to breathing life into Ferry’s writing the way those inventive and often unorthodox lines of Simpson's did. Often the principal melodic information and momentum of those tunes is driven along by his propulsive work.

Credit for this must in part go to Peter Sinfield’s production which brings Simpson right up in the mix. Though Sinfield’s work is often criticised by Roxy fans, I think it captures the rough feel of the band in general and Simpson, in particular.

I don’t really know what happened to Simpson. I recall at the time hearing a story that he developed terrible stage fright which took him out of the band. I expect Buckley’s handsome looking book will put me straight on that and quite a few other points.

In the meantime, having just finished Orwell’s Homage To Catalonia, and Anthony Beevor’s account of The Spanish Civil War, I’m currently ploughing through the surprisingly gripping true-crime Bloggs 19 – The Story of the Essex Range Rover Triple Murders by Tony Thompson.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Centipede Septober Energy




















Here Comes Everybody

Septober Energy
Centipede
BGO

If you were looking for an example of the kind of vaulting ambition that existed in the UK music scene around the late 60s and early 70s then Keith Tippett’s composition, Septober Energy for his 50 piece group, Centipede, would have to be one of the prime exhibits.

Although Tippett was only 24 years old at the time the work is remarkably audacious.

Exploring the synergy between rock, jazz, free-form improvisation and contemporary classic music, the group brought drafted in some of the best young jazz and classical players of the day including members of Nucleus, Soft Machine and King Crimson.

Despite being well over 30 years old, Septober Energy remains a formidable edifice whose strident, often stirring themes gradually emerge from primeval oozing drones, the knotty chaos of screeching strings or a deluge roaring horns.

The listing of featured soloists make this a compendium of the London jazz scene: Gary Windo, Mark Charig, Elton Dean, Karl Jenkins, Nick Evans, Ian Carr, etc all make distinctive contributions although Tippett allows himself one or two moments in the spotlight as well.

Part-spectacle and part musical manifesto, there are sections which almost sound like the soundtrack to an agit-prop play, full of chanting and theatrical declamation. This aspect is partially reflected in Julie Tippetts lyrics which address themes of liberation and freedom, capturing a sense of the desire for personal and political change that was in the counter-culture air at the time.

Whilst it’s true that much of Septober Energy has many rough edges, it’s rawness remains an essential part of its vitality, making it an unquestionably exciting listening experience today.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Strawman

We who have so much to you who have so little
to you who don't have anything at all
We who have so much more than any one man does need
and you who don't have anything at all, ah
Does anybody need another million dollar movie
does anybody need another million dollar star
Does anybody need to be told over and over
spitting in the wind comes back at you twice as hard

Strawman, going straight to the devil
strawman, going straight to hell
Strawman, going straight to the devil

Strawman
strawman
Strawman
strawman, yes

Does anyone really need a billion dollar rocket
does anyone need a 60,000 dollars car
Does anyone need another president
or the sins of Swaggart parts 6, 7, 8 and 9, ah
Does anyone need yet another politician
caught with his pants down and money sticking in his hole
Does anyone need another racist preacher
spittin' in the wind can only do you harm, ooohhh

Strawman, going straight to the devil
strawman, going straight to hell
Strawman, going straight to the devil

Strawman
strawman
Strawman
strawman

Does anyone need another faulty shuttle
blasting off to the moon, Venus or Mars
Does anybody need another self-righteous rock singer
whose nose he says has led him straight to God
Does anyone need yet another blank skyscraper
if you're like me I'm sure a minor miracle will do
A flaming sword or maybe a gold ark floating up the Hudson
when you spit in the wind it comes right back at you

Strawman, going straight to the devil
Strawman, going straight to hell
Strawman, going to the devil

Strawman, strawman
strawman, ...., ah
Strawman
strawman

I'm sure we all agree with that. Thank you Lou Reed.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Angel Inn Corbridge

The view from the Angel Inn, Corbridge. . .




Another view from the Angel Inn, Corbridge but this time with Dude (Debbie's sister) and her partner, Bob.


Monday, August 16, 2004

A Low Ebb

A beautiful morning; bright warm sunshine. Down by the promenade a light breeze comes in off the cobalt-blue sea. It’s a very good place to consider the various bits and pieces going on at the moment. Creatively, things are at something of a low ebb; I’m slowly re-energising though and less despondent about things than I was a few weeks ago.

Debbie has been busy seeing to the various branches and twigs of her family tree that are with us at the moment. The meal we did on Saturday fed ten people in one sitting.

Quite severe water damage on the front of the house has presented something of a DIY detour. However, we’ve agreed not to get in a panic about it. It’ll get fixed when we can either a) afford it or b) a jobbing builder becomes available. I wouldn’t like to speculate which will come first.

Lateralus by Tool. Curiously, there’s less to this now than met the ear a year ago or whenever I last played it. It’s a sign that my attention span is still curtailed when after about 35 minutes I started thinking about lunch and whether or not the surveyors who are due to value the house this afternoon require access to the Sam and Alys’s bedrooms. God help them if they do.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Sparks Are Gonna Fly

Today it didn’t rain. The bowl in the back yard is full to the brim with over six inches of rain water.

Tensions in the household ripple and tear in unexpected places.

My mother visits; she’s low with pain from her recent fall and, I think, generally depressed at the moment.

Tonight; several phone calls from people I’ve not talked to in a while. Something dark and malevolent is in the air at the moment; most of the calls relate to people coping with job loss, financial difficulty and personal collapse.

Right now, we are bracing ourselves for the arrival of Debbie’s sister, Dude and her partner, Bob. They are accompanied by Amy (Debbie’s niece from Loughborough) and her partner, Yogi.
As they step across the door, Tom and Joe leave to spend some of the summer holidays with their mother. I know they need to see their mother but I miss them dreadfully when they leave.
And yes, I know they’ll be fine, and they'll have a great time, and won’t think twice about it but…

Crucial Listening…
Wishville by The Catherine Wheel. Whatever you do today you MUST listen to Sparks Are Gonna Fly. Fucking incendiary!

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

No Job Too Small - Apart From Ours

Incredibly, it’s still raining. I think there’s only been a couple of hours where it’s been dry and even then the sea fret that we get round these parts is so thick, it coats everything in a whispy dampness.

Obviously with all this rainfall, it can only be a matter of weeks that there will be a hosepipe ban brought in or drought crisis announced. As daft as this might sound, this is what happens on an all too regular basis.

Another daft but true item is the scarcity of the “no job too small” builder. You know the ones who advertise in the local papers and yellow pages; know them for they are legion.

However, such is the appetite for building work in this wet country of ours, getting one of them to come out and look at a potential job is an uphill task.

As part of her recent decoration work to the front of the house, Debbie has discovered that the bay window is basically falling apart at one end. This is something that is beyond a bit of filler hence the search for the “no job too small” builder. Sandstone + bodge jobs + north sea = big time entropy.

Of course the situation seems worsened by the near-continual downpour which will surely be exacerbating the water damage.

Despite numerous calls we haven’t been able to find a builder who is willing to come out and have a look at the job. One even suggested he could come out and see what was needed in early October.

Another apologetic business who declined my invitation to come and make money pointed out that the recent bad weather was causing delays the current jobs and that the already massive backlog is getting worse; now is not a good time to be trying to find a builder.

A quick discussion with a couple of neighbours confirms the current builder’s drought.

Oh and we don’t like the yellow paint we’ve chosen for the hall.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

An Average Day

More painting in the hall and more rain. A lot more rain. Lots and lots. Debbie put a bowl out in the back yard that she had used to mix filler in. It went out of the house mid-day Monday.

By mid-afternoon today there were over two inches of rainwater sloshing about inside it. Two inches in 24 hours seems like a fair bit to me.

Of course it could just be the average for a summer day in Whitley Bay.

My back was hurting in lots of places from yesterday’s efforts, so it was agreed that I should take it easy today.

Effectively this means playing old albums I haven’t heard in an age. . .

Talking Heads - 77
Still packing a zappy, original punch after all these years.
Stand out track: Pulled Up.

Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin 2
As good as it surely is, maybe one’s lemon can be squeezed a little too hard?
Stand out track: Thank You.

Weather Report - 8.30
Showbiz triumphs over content on a crowd-pleasing sell-out tour.
Stand out track: the metaphorical run-out groove sadly.

Crowded House - Woodface
Blessed with scrupulous care and craft; sublime pop perfectly presented.
Stand out track: Fall At Your Feet.

Van Morrison - Veedon Fleece
Haunted and haunting; batty in places but never bettered.
Stand out track: You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push The River.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Tilt by Scott Walker

He's right out there and banging-on about God knows what.

In another life, Scott Walker presciently sang “The Sun Aint Gonna Shine Any More.” If you need any proof of that earlier assertion, then this is the record to listen to. Angular, obtuse, ear-splitting and heart wrenching in equal measure this is a record about total committment.

The ominous glacial string arrangement that forms a sombre spine to the dramatic opening number, Farmer In The City. Ascending remorselessly from the sparse darkness of their beginning, the string section slowly builds with melancholic intensity, creating the perfect setting for Walker’s impassioned chronicle of a man haunted and lost in a maze of dread memory.

There’s no denying the authenticity and command of Walker’s remarkable vocal performance on this album in general and this track in particular. When he sings “It was a journey of life” it’s the voice of someone who has been all the way and only just made it back; a remarkable document and an exceptional piece of music.

Elsewhere. . .
Some serious hard-core rain is coming down today resulting in the entire house being confined to quarters. This is good news for Debbie as she has us all press-ganged into painting the hallway. The boys see this as pleasure rather than penury. How could I have failed so badly in my moral instruction to them? All household decoration is the work of the devil himself! Yet they persist in actually enjoying the undercoating process and declare they can’t wait to start the real thing!

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Neil Sadler's Theory Of Forms

The policy today is to listen only to albums that I haven’t played for quite a while. There are all sorts of treasure in those shelves waiting to be rediscovered.

First up is Neil Sadler’s Theory of Forms. This is edgy stuff – raucous, spiky and unexpected. When it hits the groove though, you can dance like there’s no tomorrow.

The ornery cussedness of Jazz Bastards used to ring my bell baby but today the best track today was wFb; the rushing conclusion certainly blows the cobwebs out.

And there was me thinking I might start the day with some Satie!

An e mail from Richard Parry asks me to clarify what happens to Easy Money on USA after the fade out. The last time I heard the full version of this piece of music was on the road somewhere between Portland, Oregon and San Francisco on the ProjeKct 4 tour. R. Chris Murphy was driving and he played me some of the mixing work he’d been doing on various items of the King Crimson archive. Amongst them was the full version of Easy Money.

With no listening copy for reference, my recollection may be dodgy but it goes something like this:

Bruford and Wetton start opening up the pace, building the intensity, gradually piling up pressure; Fripp follows their lead and we get to that frenetic point where Wetton signals the imminent arrival of the final verse with his scat vocal line.

In this respect the resolution which comes after the fade out point on the record adheres to Crimson’s regular practice for closing the song. Mind you, I only heard it once and that was a long time ago, so I could be wrong about all this.

I received some low-ebb revival material from Dan Chinn last night, and this morning Jakko Jakszyk. Jakko tells me that the Schizoid Band is looking for a replacement drummer for their gig in Florence in September. I wish them luck; that drum stool is a tough one to fill.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Any Given Sunday by Oliver Stone

Pacino gives it some inches


When it comes to sport, I’m afraid I’m one of those folks who tend not to get hot under the collar about whether England is losing or winning Euro 2004, the latest test against the West Indies or the intrigues and politics of our national tiddlywinks game. The same goes for the local team Newcastle United – virtually a hanging offence round these parts to be sure.

For whatever reason, sport has always passed me by. Don’t get me wrong, I wish it well and hope it’s happy but I feel no motivation or connection to it whatsoever.

Nice folks they may be but the likes of England’s Sven Gorran Erickson (the Swedish coach) or Newcastle's manager, Sir Bobby Robson, fail to spark my passion for what is bafflingly described (to me at least) as the beautiful game.

I say all this because I watched Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday(1999) – a sports-driven movie starring Al Pacino last night and found myself gripped by it from the kick-off to the dying seconds as it were.

Die-cast with cliché and a predictable storyline, it strikes me that the story arc of Any Given Sunday merely mirrors most real-life sporting cliches themselves. In that sense, it comes across as being fairly authentic, at least to this non-believer anyway.

Giving it your best shot, never quitting and triumphing against the odds may be well-worn Hollywood ingredients but here they are poured into Oliver Stone’s blender to great effect.

His distinctive process of layering and crash-cutting can sometimes be overwhelming (perhaps the best example of which is to be found in the genuinely disturbing Natural Born Killers) but it does grab the attention.

Dialogue, backstory, media footage, time, tide and just about anything he can get his hands on are churned over and woven together with such brio that the text becomes texture; compacted and meshed together in a dense, grainy, gritty abstraction of sound and vision that is genuinely wondrous and oddly poetic.

Of course I’m a sucker for macho Al and his performance as coach Tony D’Amato. Given the recent crop of lacklustre performances in the lamentable S1mOne(2002) and perfunctory sleepwalking through The Recruit(2003) and People I Know (2002), Pacino could do with raising his own game at the moment.

Although Insomnia(2002) seemed to promise a return to form, Any Given Sunday, might yet be his valediction as a truly great cinematic performance. The role gives Pacino ample opportunity to do what he does best; shout. But unlike some of his recent movies, at least he has a decent script to bawl out.

American football is surely a big man’s game yet despite his diminutive stature Pacino easily dwarfs those around him; be they big-ass quarterbacks or even Cameron Diaz as the calculating team owner. What he lacks in inches height-wise, he more than makes up for with that formidable presence and chutzpah.

Following the Miami Sharks through a worryingly prolonged rough patch, the game both on and off the field is slipping away from them. Corporate manoeuvring and match politics clash and slam, affecting everyone from the boardroom all the way down to the sideline. For all the preparation and planning or the investors’ schemes and deals, ultimately it’s down to Pacino to make the difference, to pull it all together.

The key moment in the movie is just before the start of a make or break play-off. The team are demoralised; dogged with internal splits and doubt. Pacino’s "inch by inch" soliloquy is a virtuoso exhibition of strength and control that counts as one of his best cinematic performances.

From the slow reflective introduction, he quickly gathers momentum; the older we get the more things get taken away from us and we realise that the inches we need in life are all around us.

Going in hard and deep, raising his voice to fever pitch, he exhorts his athletes to claw and fight their way out of the pit and grab those vital inches. Success or failure depends on whether they come together as a team or die as individuals.

It sounds corny (and it no doubt is) but it’s Pacino at his electrifying best. Overworked, overwrought and definitely over the top for sure, but done with balls of steel and the cast iron commitment to the role that gives Pacino the winning edge when it comes to the rest of the field.
Of course, the Coach has delivered and the boys go out to play the game of their lives; everyone lives (almost) happily ever after. It’s a fairytale to be sure, but one that I was happy to believe. There I was sitting on the edge of the sofa, rooting for the Miami Sharks big time on all those heroic passes and crunching touchdowns.

It seems that when it comes to acting, it’s also about making every inch count – something that Pacino manages to do with rousing charisma and meticulous precision. Now If only Al Pacino could be persuaded to come over and give Sven or Sir Bobby a few tips, I might well leap off the sofa and out on the terraces singing “Howay The Lads!” with the best of them.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Freedie & The Dreamers - This Time Its Personal


Lately my attention has turned to the garden and the things that fly high in the sky (round here that’s the nice but melancholy drone of Easyjet and their ilk),and for some bizarre reason, the recorded output of cheeky chappy entertainers, Gerry Marsden, Peter Noone and Freddie Garrity

Quite why these troublesome troubadours from the sixties should be stumbling out of retirement and into my field of listening I don’t really know. But now and then, as I pad about the place and scratch my lardy arse, the winning chimes of “You Were Made For Me” or “I Like It” or “There’s a Kind of Hush” aren’t far behind.

Gerry Marsden (and lets not forget his Pacemakers) radiated a lippy scouse dependability. He might give you a knowing seaside-end-of-the-pier wink but the grannies loved him then and probably still do now. Gerry was beat combo trouper, a safe pair of hands who could be expected to keep bringing the hits home of an evening.

Despite their brief chart-bothering and appropriately meteoric career of two or three years, Marsden’s immortality in the pop pantheon is assured with Ferry Cross The Mersey and a dirge-like cover of Rogers and Hammerstein’s You’ll Never Walk Alone. Walk into any working man’s club on a Saturday night anywhere in the North and you’ll hear the spirit of Gerry invoked with all the wobbly reverence a few pints down the neck can muster.

Clean cut to the point of sterility, Herman’s Hermits, fronted by Peter Noone, didn’t really rock and roll so much as sway from side to side in an affably innocuous way – the very epitome of pre-packaged pop which Norrie Paramour, Brian Epstein, Jack Good and all the other pop svengali’s were keen to foist upon the nation and beyond.

Herman’s Hermits all had the air of nice lads who’d taken a break from their apprenticeship at the nearby funeral director or accountancy firm. Noone was blessed with the kind of voice and good looks your sister might swoon for when The Beatles were out of the charts. For all the rictus-inducing cheer of their sound, “No Milk Today” just manages to pull the heartstrings without too much sugar.

As for Freddie (Garrity) and the Dreamers, well, truth be told, it’s difficult to find any redeeming features with this one. Freddie looked and acted the fool; japing around, pulling faces and milking the laugh with the remorseless grip of an abattoir operative. I recall reading somewhere a review that went something along the lines of “Freddie is the only man I know who can sing, dance and remove his trousers all at the same time.” In short the type of git you’d want to thump if he ever got too close to you in the pub.

Why me? Why these three? It’s as though my critical faculties have been packed off to the Costa Del Sol of Mind; a package-tour palace of purgatory where the hotel is half-finished and you’re forever bumping into those neighbours you’d rather avoid if at all possible.

“Crikey, quick hide! Here’s that bloke Freddie from No. 47 again.”

Sometime in 1966 my parents hatched a plan to go Spain. This was at a time when a fortnight in Whitley Bay was considered a premium destination for those Brits seeking sun, sea and sand. Well, sea and sand at least. The package holiday in the UK was only just gaining mass momentum and my folks wanted a slice of the action.

Looking back, I realise this was the only holiday where my parents and my two sisters and I ever went away as one family unit. Working every minute of overtime available to the pair of them for over a year, my mother and father eventually took us to Hotel Bahia del Este in the summer of 1967 to the emergent holiday resort of Cala Millor, not too far from Palma on the island of Majorca.

These are some of the things I recall from that time (in no particular order);
Lobsters, posters for Bull fighting, the head of General Franco on the stamps for the postcards, poached egg with olive oil swimming on the top, the chilly gloom of the vast interior of Palma Cathedral, the Caves of Drac, warm rain with individual drops as big as golf balls, an impressively large black insect scrabbling up onto a kerb, gonks (everywhere), mineral water, plush carpets in the long hotel corridors, flying over the Pyrenees in the vicinity of a passing hurricane, a waiter called Jesus, the hum of the hotel’s power plant next to the pool, the beat combo racket of the hotel house band, Los 5 Del Este, who I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, played a jaunty mix of cover versions that included the terrible trio of artists previously mentioned.

Looking back on the trip now, the strangest thing about that time was the fact that legions of UK holiday makers (many of whom had fought fascism during WW2) never gave a second thought about spending a fortnight in the company of a fascist dictatorship. I guess this would have something to do with Spain’s paper thin neutrality between 1939 and 1945 and traditional UK political myopia.

In more recent years I discovered that during the Spanish civil war, Majorca was the staging point where Mussolini’s “Legionary Air Force” would attack shipping and on a clear day, terrorise the streets of Valencia and Barcelona on Franco’s behalf.

Anyway, such thoughts lead me to wonder where they are now? Peter Noone is touring the states playing to sell-out concerts of Noonatics (as they are called); Gerry Marsden, recovering from a heart by-pass, continues to act as a thumbs-aloft icon for the City of Culture 2008; both the Caudillo and his right-wing pernicious regime are happily no more.

Not so though the Hotel Bahia del Este. Now brandishing a 4 star rating the hotel is still packing them in, though I imagine the Los 5 are long gone as Freddie and The Dreamers.

Freddie, I gather, suffered a heart attack a couple of years ago that forced him into retirement but not, it must be said, from my consciousness.

Monday, August 02, 2004

There Should Be A Law Against It




Debbie was back with Lil and Cowgill on path-building duties; they worked amazingly quickly, cutting the slabs, laying and cementing. In the meantime, I was on food detail. The only problem being there wasn’t any food in the house so a trip to the supermarket was required.

The only problem is that the nearest one to us isn’t all that near and requires a taxi ride back home with the goods. Now I don’t wish to indulge in stereotypes but…

The shopping trip had gone well and without incident; the granary flour was where it should be, the two for one deals were plentiful and the greens were, well, green.

The checkout people were having a loud conversation about how bad things were going to be (the Morrison’s chain has recently taken over the Safeway brand) and how they wouldn’t dream of shopping in this store now but nevertheless continued to help me pack the bags and the trolley.

Moments later I was packing them into the back of a cab. The journey back to Victoria Avenue takes about five minutes if the traffic gets heavy in the centre of Whitley Bay. The traffic was indeed fairly heavy.

The driver started off by remarking that the entire gene pool originates from about seven individuals; ultimately we are all related and have been essentially in-breeding since the beginning. Therefore, he argued, it was madness that incest was currently outlawed and that legislation against incest was really in violation of the natural way of doing things.

Now I confess I am fairly used to cabbies venting on the supposed evils of the world. These usually include any or, if you’re really unlucky, all of the following; social do-gooders, road tax, speed cameras, environmentalists, hippies, Labour controlled local authorities and any law that attempts to proscribe taxi drivers from doing what they want, when they want to do it. But this was a new one on me.

I also confess to being speechless when he left the traditional gap for me to grunt in agreement with him (aka pausing for breath). He then looked at me in a way that suggested I might not be part of the brethren after all.

I paid my fair and hot-footed it out as quickly as I could. What really worried me afterwards was that I must have looked like the kind of guy who might agree with him. Scary stuff

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Jazzing With Time

After the confines and constraints of cramped living quarters, the clan happily veer off to the spacious corners of the house. Debbie spent most of the day in the garden; Al in front of the television, Sam in front of his computer in his bedroom whilst Tom and Joe’s mother came to take them out for the day. Me?

I sat in the yellow room, reading and listening to some straight ahead jazz circa mid to late 1950s; Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef, Thelonious Monk but strange to say, no Miles Davis.

The day slipped quietly away. Before I knew it the clock told me it was 8.30 at night. How did it get so late without me noticing? Where was I all day?

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