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Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Heat of Regeneration

A welcome visit from John Sargent brightened up the day a touch. It was hard to believe as we sat munching on some rolls I’d made and drinking tea, that a few weeks ago he was nearly dead following blot clots in his lungs.

As The Ideas Mine, John is currently engaged in preparing a report to the great and good on the effects and measurement of culture and the part it plays in the regeneration of an area. One amazing statistic to emerge from market research; prior to the regeneration of Gateshead, residents believed it was colder than Newcastle. We are talking cold, as in temperature rather than anything in the pysche.

Now, following the Angel of the North, The Baltic and Sage and numerous town centre refurbishments and Gateshead’s growing profile and stature as a cultural landmark, the same residents believe the climate is a few degrees warmer.

I couldn’t quite believe my ears, thinking John was playing some kind of early April Fool’s Day prank. Global warming aside, the sense of growing self-esteem has led some respondents to believe that where they live is somehow a warmer, pleasant place to be. Fascinating stuff. John promised to send me the report when he’s finished it.

Dude and Bob, our houseguests for the last week, left this afternoon for Wellingborough. During their visit Debbie and her sister often harked back to their days at school. For Debbie, who harboured childhood ambitions to be a marine biologist the school’s gamut of trendy teachers and their distinctly laissez-faire approach to the curriculum failed her dismally. Dude disagreed; it was the laid back quality of the regime that appealed to her and made her school days feel very liberated.

For someone like me, academically not the brightest button in the box, school was something to simply get through as quickly as possible.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Big Foot

This infernal external monitor is a real pain but as Tom correctly pointed out to me this morning, it’s better than nothing. The slapdash impact of its arrival has been exacerbated by having to prop it up on an upturned washing-up bowl.

The recent tidy phase the desk had been going to (with a subsequent increase in productivity I might add) has been rent asunder. The footprint required by the manky-gantic thing resembles Bigfoot in size tens!

So, as my eyes squint and blink at the weird far-away flickering pin cushion of a screen, my ears find solace with the Double Trio flattening ear hairs during their stay in September 1994 at the Prix D'Ami in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Funky Jam picks up from the Vrooom rehearsals in May 1994.

Honed and sharpened compared to its studio counterpart, it thumps along combining the feel of an instrumental Elephant Talk with the cyclical turn-over of Discipline. Bright, even airy, this crowd pleaser of a track was subsequently dropped from further performances and not taken any further in repertoire development.

I played a couple of games of chess with Tom today. First game, I had him checkmated in just a couple of moves. Then on the second, he screwed me into the ground but took his time. I tried a couple of desperate gambits but to no avail. I was shafted, fair and square. He looked pleased with himself, the way thirteen year old lads are prone to do. Worse still, he declined my competitive-dad best-of-three offer.

On the menu tonight for the houseguests; oven cooked pork steaks cubed and marinated in a Sambal Oelek, honey and soy served with mashed potato mixed with caramelised shallots, topped by steamed broccoli. Freshly baked ciabatta rolls, made with Rocket pesto, are served to mop up the sauce. Yum, if I so myself.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Unleashing Chaos

Chaos. Absolute chaos. The tubes in the screen of my laptop have blown. I took it to the local PC repair shop, which for once is really local (i.e. walkable) It turns out that the chap behind the counter and I know each other. He used to help run a venue in Whitley Bay called The Dome and recalls the time I promoted a Bill Bruford gig there another lifetime ago.

Anyway, the bad news is that the parts might cost anything up to £300 to replace. This isn’t anything I can afford anytime soon, so we opted for an external monitor for a tenner. So I’m back online and up and running but it feels a bit lashed together, a bit like the technology in Terry Gilliam’s dystopic Brazil; modern but bordering on medieval. None of the above was in anyway chaotic. In fact it was all rather pleasant and easy to sort out.

It was finding an extra socket for the external monitor that unleashed the chaos. Waves of displacement and dust resulted in changing over the four socket extension under the desk to a six socket extension. That meant unplugging everything in sight and moving a whole stack of canvasses. One canvas bumped against a picture on the wall which in turn fell down and knocked a glass candle holder which tumbled to the floor and shattered.

Cleaning, dusting, hovering, lifting, lugging, putting back, scratching heads because it wont fit where it used to be and on and on. And by the time that was all done it was time for me to produce a cordon bleu meal for our houseguests (chicken in a lemon and ginger sauce served with Vichy carrots on a bed Ebly).

So, having started the simple task of adding an external monitor to the desk at around 2.00 o’ clock in the afternoon, I got sat down at my desk to do some work at around 8.45 p.m. I doubt I would have even got sat down as early as that had it not been for the sterling help of Tom and Joe, who did the bulk of the bending, fetching and carrying.

And the yellow room’s bohemian ambience is still disrupted by all sorts of things being where they shouldn’t.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Misty-Eyed In Seaton Sluice.

An amazing amount of mist coming in off the sea today dominates the mood and atmosphere today. It feels like we’ve been cut off. Even the Bank Holiday traffic appears light. It was the same yesterday.

My sister and her gang picked me up and we drove to Seaton Sluice which is a mile or so past the lighthouse in Whitley Bay. The mist was so bad we could hardly see in front of our faces.

The King’s Head pub loomed up at us like some ghost tavern designed to lure the cursed and shipwrecked to their doom. I’m not sure which category we might fall into but we steered past it and headed along the crumbling cliffs.

Issac, my sister’s son, of course headed off over the safety fence looking for adventure. He was reeled back in by fun-spoiling parents. “I’ll never fall off” he says, convinced like all kids, that he’s indestructible. The impressive stretch of sand dunes that are such a striking feature of the coast round here are invisible to us. Swept away and buried under the damp fog, we know they are there because memory tells us so.

Yet were you to be stranger to these parts, there was no way of knowing, nothing to tell you, that a few yards beyond that thick white veil they existed at all.

We’d been insulated against the biting cold by some tasty mushroom soup and even tastier apple spice cake. Errin, my sister’s youngest daughter, told me she was heading off to India as part of an exchange programme. She has to fund-raise a substantial part of her fare but did not complain about this aspect. Her mother spent many years hitch-hiking around Europe, picking up the language, getting work, cheap booze, selling her blood when the times were hard. I think this must be where Lesley’s children get their sense of adventure from. Her oldest daughter, Verity, has only recently returned from a spot of globe-trotting herself before settling in Nottingham studying art.

We pottered about, in the mist, stories and accounts drifting in and out of earshot. Trying to get a shot of people, my camera failed. The batteries were sapped. After a while we all marched back up to their car. After being dropped off, I hit the sofa and fell asleep, completely exhausted. Somehow our very small excursion had me banjaxed.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Message Not The Medium

Last night, BBC television screened the first episode of the newly revived Doctor Who with the charismatic Christopher Eccleston in the lead role.

Being a fan of the show from the William Hartnell (that's the late, great Billy on the left here) days, I had a sense of dread about it coming back. The cancellation of the series back in the 80s was probably the best thing to happen to the show in ages and after watching the first episode last night, I’m not sure if that still isn’t the case.


On the guestbook this morning Scorched Earth makes some excellent points about the value of message boards and chastises me for implicitly criticising them in my comments regarding a certain slice of fan reaction to the new DGM site when it comes on line. It wasn’t my intention to criticise message boards per se but merely to draw attention to the paucity of information and access to it available back then compared to the situation we have now.

I’m more often impressed than not by the amount of insightful commentary contained on most if not all of the message boards I visit in both personal and professional capacities. I agree entirely with Scorched Earth about being exposed to different perspectives. Sometimes they shake me out of complacency. Sometimes they fire me up and propel me through the day and sometimes they don’t.

If I gave the impression that somehow I think blogs are somehow inherently superior as a means of expression to message boards, then let me say that I hold both in equally high esteem. Just as I’ve learned a lot from many individual voices through their blogs, the same is true regarding message boards.

Scorched Earth is absolutely right when he says fans have a right to carp, criticize or praise as much as they want to and I would not seek to change that at all. This seems to me to be the lifeblood of the message board phenomenon. They are places that crackle with diversity and at their best they illuminate and educate.

The only caveat I would add is that to this reader at least, this is something best done in the spirit of civility and constructive engagement rather than bile, oneupmanship and confusing being rude with being funny.

I’m attracted to message boards where opinions and views are politely and respectfully expressed, debated, disentangled, clarified, argued and disagreed about with full force. And yes, once in a while you’ll have people who make their mouths go before their brain gets into gear, but for the most part these are stimulating and invigorating places to be. The more the better, I say.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Power Napping & Sociability

The day began with beautiful sunshine though I hardly noticed. I’d not made it to bed until three a.m. and then despite my very best efforts was awake by 7.30 a.m. As robust as I like to think I am, this is not nearly enough sleep for me to function properly through the day. Having said that, I did manage to do some work through the morning though by lunchtime I was flagging. In my dopey state I'd forgotten that today was a bank holiday.

All our houseguests (five people in total) arrived today and whilst they visited Doris, who is much improved and responding to her drugs, I blagged a power nap on the yellow room sofa. Sometime later, I hauled my tired ass down into the kitchen to cook some red gunk that somehow fed ten people in total.

Thereafter, we sat round the table in the green room and put the world to rights, the way you do after a few bottles of red wine. Deb remarked that I had managed to be very sociable throughout the evening. This isn’t always the case.

1974 Crimson has been filling my ears. The version of Easy Money at Pforzheim is an unrelenting brute.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

You Can't Please All Of The Fans All Of The Time

Listening to King Crimson from March 1974 in Italy; a riotous version of LTIA part 1, lumpy, bumpy and played at a ridiculously fast tempo. The mid-section with David’s violin solo is taken off in an interesting direction by Wetton who adds a Trio type run lending the piece a winsome tone and colour. In Germany, same month, same year; wild, furious, on, off, up and at ‘em. This is Crimson on take-no-prisoners mode. There’s another chunk of 1974 waiting for me to listen to tomorrow.

When Crimson were off touring Europe in 1974 and then the States, those of us who were around and following the band back then, entered into purdah; an information drought that left us parched. If we were very lucky there would be a gig reviewed in the pages of the Melody Maker or NME. Most likely there’d be nothing at all. Think about that. Zilch. Zip. Nada. No diaries, no message boards, no web sites, no rumours, no speculation, no flame wars, no nothing.
Outside your immediate mates, the only contact you might have about the band was a pen-pal who you tried to persuade to go to a gig so you could get a report on it (true story). Trouble was said pen-pal only liked Suzi Quatro. “Do they sound like Suzi Quatro?” asks Kurt of Pforzhiem. Of course they do! Go and see them, you’ll have a great time Kurt.

No more letters from Kurt. 1974 as far as KC was concerned went something like this.

Starless and Bible Black is mentioned in an advert, we buy the Nightwatch single, the album comes out, there’s a couple of interviews in the papers, something about the band in the States, no UK gigs, RF on the radio plays the title track from the new Crimson album and then “KC has ceased to exist” closely followed by the release of Red. Posthumously. Some more interviews and that’s it. Happy New Year! Little more than a few blips on the horizon throughout the course of twelve months.

I would have given my right arm to have heard these gigs back then; to be able to compare the movement and nuances of one performance to another on the same tour would have set my anorak ablaze with delight. Prediction: People will moan at this stuff being made available on the new web site. It’s all too samey. They were over-rated anyway. It costs too much. Fripp’s ripping us off. These sound-board mixes are all well and good but you’d think they’d give you the full version of Fracture rather than cutting the tape off like that, I mean why did they do that? Couldn’t they be bothered? Shoddy. Terrible. I wish it was like it was back in the old days. Yeah, it was great back then.

Debbie stretches out with assistance from her personal trainer. . .

Doris seems to be on the mend which we’re all pleased about and Debbie’s asthma has receded somewhat, although there’s still a slightly worrying cough and wheeze rattling around her.

Following recommendations from Ginger Bob, Baby Wilson has decided to get in on the act. The act in this case, being Debbie straightening out after a hard slog of a day.

It was good to see Chris T call over today. An old friend going back to the early seventies, we’ve seen a canny few pots of tea in our time. Making a pot is just about the first thing I normally do when he calls round but today I clean forgot. After an hour or so of me unloading all my grief and shit on Chris, he eventually dropped a hint that he wouldn’t mind a drink. Now that’s what I call a polite guest.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Mother And Daughter Not Doing So Well

Last night the doctor had to be called out to look in on Debbie’s mother who has been under the weather for a few days now. Initially diagnosed with bronchial trouble, they’ve had her in for ECGs and the like but have yet to come to any firm conclusions as to the cause of her current problems.

Doris felt that the drugs she’d been prescribed were making her worse not better. Sometimes it’s good to trust one’s instincts. Her medication was subsequently changed but now, following the visit by the doc, increased. Suitably drugged up we hope she’ll be able to make a recovery by the weekend as the bulk of her family arrive.

Debbie herself has been in the wars this week and was at the doctors last night; she needs an increase in her medication to fight a particularly dogged bout of asthma. She’s not good at spotting when she’s ill and given how seriously low she was last time, she accepted my advice to get to the surgery without any prevarication at all.

Last night as she lay on the floor of the yellow room undertaking a spot of supine therapy, Ginger Bob seized the opportunity to join in.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

I Blog Therefore I Am

More Battleaxe, more DGM guestbook, more Wake Up Call during which I attempted to invoke the smell of Soho during a hot summer’s day. Rancid, to be sure, but what else? Cheap cologne, Chinese cooking, cigar smoke…

In a somewhat sniffy article entitled The inner world of Joe Blogs by Sunday Times writer Allan Brown, more than a soupçon of scorn is poured on those who blog. I’ve never really considered this diary as being part of the blogging phenomenon but of course that’s exactly what it is.

Pointing to the banality of people spouting on about their drab lives, Brown reminds us of Martin Amis’ assertion that whereas once people were thought to have at least one book in them, it’s is now more likely to be an autobiography than anything else, and if Brown’s tone is anything to go by, a very dull one at that.

Speaking as someone who has unflinchingly reported on subjects such as what’s on the menu tonight, moaning about the fact that it takes me longer to dry my beard than the hair on my head as well as endlessly recounting the hilarious/ poignant/ spooky comments made by my children and the whole tawdry list of “what I’m feeling / listening to/ watching/ making/ painting/ etc., since 1999, I’m probably being a bit too defensive in my reaction to the piece.

But whilst there’s some truth in what Brown says about the quantities of monotony and its kissing cousin, mediocrity, found online (I readily cop to being guilty of both), it does strike me that blogging is also one of the most exciting things to come from the internet.

At the very least, it demonstrates that the very human urge to tell tales about any conceivable topic under the sun remains undimmed in the age of spoon-fed, off-the-shelf culture. The ability to commentate on the body politic or culture and society as we experience them is no longer corralled and reigned in by gate-keepers in the pay of the usual vested interests.

Yet there remains a strong in-built, tradition of doffing one’s cap to the big boys in print, still seen as the repository of the gold standard when it comes to ‘legitimate’ communication and presentation. But as a trawl through any of the dailys will tell you the extent to which the currency of celebrity has devalued the medium is undeniable.

There are concerns expressed in other quarters about the reliability and accuracy of what is published on the net and whilst it’s true that facts are a malleable commodity in an opinionated online environment, the same can be said of much of the print medium especially at the traditional tabloid end of the market. And who says the leader writers of the Daily Telegraph or The Guardian should carry more weight than the attitudes and beliefs of any number of bloggers.

The democratising impulse that fuels the internet ensures that just about anyone with a pc and an ISP can share their thoughts with the world in a flash. On the one hand this might be viewed as the masses having finally seized the means of expression (generally a good thing I would argue) whilst Brown and others view this state of affairs as being more akin to the lunatics taking over the asylum.

Brown likens blogs to “electronic megaphones”, the sheer range, subtly and countless examples of extraordinarily sharp, witty and often moving accounts of the world, more than compensates for the animated smileys, rants and “Hey Duuude” numb-skullery that undoubtedly constitutes the other side of the coin.

The bottom line is that I’d rather see people expressing themselves as creatively as possible regardless of whether or not they are ‘qualified’ to or not. I get the sense that deep down what Allan Brown was really complaining about was that the great unwashed had gate-crashed a party that he thought was just for the exclusive few. For better or for worse, I blog therefore I am.

Listening to…
Ballet Music by Khachaturian.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Comfortably Sulk

Following the departure of Beige Peter and Kevin, the David Bowie CD (today it was Earthling) burst into life and the washing and cleaning began. Not because Peter or Kevin are in anyway flaky but because as one set of houseguests, another lot are headed our way.

At the end of this week, Debbie’s sister, Dude and her partner Bob arrive for a few days. They will be accompanied by Dude’s children Amy (with her partner, Yogi) and Carly. Add to which, my sister, her partner and their three children will also be in the neighbourhood at the same time. Talk about busy.

Later today I cracked on with the Battleaxe transcriptions and later played for a short while with the DGM guestbook.

Elsewhere, I notice my apparent inability to break free of habitual activity. Several times over the weekend I knew it was in my grasp to set in train a conversation that would remove some bad feeling that’s been allowed to develop over something relatively petty. Yet I backed away from it, preferring instead to brood and sulk. There’s something almost comforting about sulking; you can nuzzle and nestle in a bed of self-righteousness that effectively sends you to sleep. I think I need to wake up.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

AvP aka Dumb & Dumber

A large portion of my day was derailed by my feeling angry and generally out of sorts with myself. I couldn’t quite put my finger on the cause of this feeling but I was way too snappy with Debbie and the kids whenever they crossed my path. Mostly they didn’t as I’d effectively isolated myself in the yellow room. I was working on the Battleaxe transcription on headphones – another layer of insulation from the world around me.

Debbie has houseguests here at the moment; Beige Peter and Kevin. Chums from Brum, the pair arrived on Friday night and have known Debbie since prehistoric times. Whilst they caroused the night away at a nearby pub I stayed in the house and watched television with Joe and Tom.

Being somewhat tuckered out, I extended the eye candy by watching Alien versus Predator. Sometimes films are so bad that they’re good and sometimes, they’re just bad. AvP definitely fits into the latter category. Whereas the original Alien and even the first Predator movie achieved a degree of suspense that drew one in, I confess I’ve experienced a greater sense of dread trying to open a tin of corned beef.

I’m coming round to the fact that I don’t think I like comic book adaptations for movies or even that I’m that keen on Sci-Fi themes in general.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Banding Together

More Battleaxe today over at Steve Harris’s place. They say you can tell a man by the company he keeps. Well yesterday at his apartment I met Angel; Long dark hair and strikingly beautiful. Anticipating that she would be there again today, I was somewhat foxed by the appearance of an equally beautiful but blonde Amazonian called Anna. We swapped some stories about the grim world of cold calling and Anna told me something of her life to date.

She wants to write it down but isn’t sure where to begin. Based on what she told me I’m pretty sure that the sordid confessions of a marketeer that took in round the world trips, the extremes of romance, NFL politics and the fleshpots of Gosforth would make a good read. And I forgot to mention the three-legged elephant!

Dave arrived and we got back to the story. As he responded to my various questions, I got a sense that this is a everyman story in the music business. The dreams that four young men had of being the best good-time rock band ultimately came to nothing. Despite the help of Tommy Vance, selling several thousand albums and interest from the likes of Atlantic Records, Battleaxe was ultimately sabotaged from within.

Young men (generally) are cocky enough to think they know it all and have done it all. Consequently they are not well suited to the pressures that bear down on a rock band.

There’s no pastoral care, no counselling available to help them through rough patches. Had there been then who knows what might have happened to not just this band, but all the groups that attempt to climb the greasy pole but split up in a flurry of misunderstanding and resentment.

Yet for all this, as well as some personal set-backs, he still believes in the music he made all those years ago. As he watched some archive footage of the band performing in 1985 I can see it still holds a charge for him, still fires him up. Dave is one of the most optimistic and dedicated people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Fred, Ginger & Queen Victoria

Today was spent interviewing Dave King about his Battleaxe days. We were doing this in the sumptuous surroundings of Steve Harris’s art deco penthouse.

Built sometime in the twenties or thirties this is a great place for anyone who appreciates this style of architecture.

The foyer reminded me of one of those old fashioned,luxurious cinemas; I kept expecting to bump into Fred and Ginger such was the 1930s glitz and glamour feel about the place. Even the elevator is better than some of the places I’ve lived in.

Dave and I began working through the questions I’d spent preparing the day before about mid-day. We were aided and abetted by Steve, who kept us fired up with a seemingly endless supply of tea, biscuits and at one point a cheese sandwich or two.

We’d taken a half hour break during which time I was able to take in the view from the balcony of Steve’s well-appointed apartment overlooking Newcastle’s Town Moor. Far below, just in front of the grounds, Steve pointed out to me a little summer house. Somewhat dilapidated it reminded me of a cross between a beach hut and a pigeon cree.

That, Steve told me as he pointed down at the tiny building, was built especially for Queen Victoria when she came to see the Newcastle races. I confess it seemed unlikely that this matchbox of thing would be erected to house the Empress of India and Queen of all she surveyed even for an afternoon. It looked too parochial a pavilion to be used by a monarch.

Yet it stands in its own grounds, cut off from the world around it, facing what is now called Grandstand Road. It would have given Her Majesty a splendid view of the field of what would have then been the north end of Newcastle’s racecourse. Whether Steve was pulling a fast or not, I quite liked the idea of this run down reliquary left to just get on with the business of getting old and generally being ignored and unsung.

As I left at around five in the afternoon, I could tell Dave was drained from hours of talking. I think people often under estimate how difficult and exhausting the process can be. When you interview somebody it can be like lifting them up, turning them over and emptying them out. Well, I hope he’s up to it because we’ve got more of the same tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

A Vote For The Past

Preparing for the interview tomorrow with Dave King from 80s NWOBHM band, Battleaxe. Though the genre isn’t strictly speaking my cup of tea I nevertheless immerse myself in the world of fast guitars, thundering drums, cavernous production and more big hair than I’ve seen in many a long year.

I listen to the four CDs I have of the band in action and do so repeatedly throughout the day. This is done whilst working slowly through clippings, cuttings and archive memorabilia. I try to remember what the region was like back. The 1980s seems so distant, so removed. The 70s looms larger in my mind that the following decade.

What I recall wasn’t so much the culture of the times but rather the politics; Thatcherism, de-industrialisation, The Falklands war, the miners strike. The process of my political education had begun just before 1979 and quickly accelerated as the Tories got stuck into tearing up the fabric of society. In the rush, music somehow got pushed aside as I fell out of love with Crimson in particular and rock music in general.

Photograph taken by Richard Grassick. It shows the vote against taking strike action at the Darlington Memorial Hospital.

At the time I was a member of the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) becoming involvolved in union activism and recruitment.

The Side Gallery have a number of excellent photographs from that period which are well worth a visit.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

We Live In A Strange Land Called Contradiction

And here is the news. . .

These days we live in a strange land called Contradiction. The news tells us that death from alcohol-related illness is on the increase. The number of people being admitted to hospital in England with alcoholic liver disease has more than doubled in the last thirteen years. At the same time, the government proposes to relax the licensing laws allowing pubs to stay open for 24 hours should they want to. The figures presented by London's St George's Hospital and Imperial College show a rise in the numbers of young adults with liver diseases.

In this land of contradictions, young people are told to “just say no” when it comes to taking drugs such as cannabis, pills and heroin. One of the traditional barriers to underage consumption used to be that beer and spirits tasted bloody awful. Yet this government tolerates a drinks industry aggressively marketing its alcohol-laced fruit juice to the youth market.

Ministers flap about in fits of moral panic getting all worked up about the alarming rise in public disorder and the effects of binge drinking on the surrounding population. They wring their hands and worry about the demands placed upon an over-stretched police force. Deep concern is expressed on the cost to the country in terms of working days lost through alcohol.

However because we live in this strange land called Contradiction, the ministers vote for legislation to enable 24 hour drinking because it will be good for the economy. The capital city of Contradiction is Shortsighted.


Following our recent trip up to Borders, I’m the proud owner of The Art of Hunger, a collection of essays, prefaces and interviews with the author. This expanded volume also includes The Red Notebook, whose first page tells how a legal firm called Argue and Phibbs came to his attention. This spectacularly named firm based in Sligo in Ireland really does exist as demonstrated by this link here.

I’m listening to a compilation prepared for me some time ago by Chris W. The group is called Dead Can Dance. I’ve noticed their name bandied about on various message boards of my acquaintance but had forgotten this neglected CD. Whilst rifling through the rows and rejecting most of everything on offer, the name leapt out at me like a long-lost friend. So far this echo-laden creation is rumbling along in a terrible serious but quite nice way here in the yellow room.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Brothers At Arms

The view at the end of Victoria Avenue at around 6.15 a.m. today

Tom and Joe in good spirits began a round of fun-fighting. Things were definitely going to get out of hand I thought. I knew that one of them would overstep the mark and what was for the moment a playful scene would become a battleground.

Politely I tell the boys to calm things down, aware how lame my comments about not hurting each sounds. Joe calls Tom a treehugger. For some reason Tom takes offence.

I tell Tom that hugging trees is a good thing to be. Tom regards it as an attack on his manliness and proceeds to whack Joe about a bit more.

Still playful but going wrong. Joe hits back. Tom feels it and hits back harder. The fun has drained away and the next couple of blows are crucial tests of will. In between all this, I’m trying to work.

Again I intervene, telling them that enough is enough. Well, you know how the rest of this goes don’t you. And so it did. Joe copped internal exile to his room whilst Tom was detained at Deb’s table in the yellow room and denied access to the computer.

All kids fight. Sam and Alys who are 20 and 18 respectively still manage the odd skirmish. The trouble is I worry that by not intervening decisively either by parking my tank on their lawn or by weapons of mass distraction, that serious hurt will ensue.

In my mind always in these moments is the terrible tale a few years ago where two brothers were fun-fighting. Eventually, push came to shove, and one brother sent the other flying off the top bunk where the fun fight was taking place. Though not a particularly high fall, it was awkward enough to have snapped his spine.

I tell my kids this true story and they think I’m being corny. I used to feel the same way when my mother warned me about wrestling and other laddish shenanigans. You never think it will happen to you. Mostly of course it doesn’t. Mostly it’s someone else, a friend of a friend or someone somebody told you about or that you heard it on the news. Somewhere between being over-sensitive and common sense there’s a world of trouble just waiting to break through if you take your eye off the ball.

Gratuitous TardisCam shot No.2

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Review: Coffee & Cigarettes

Jim Jarmusch and an empty cinema. . .

As Debbie and I took our seats just as the lights were going down in Screen 2 at the ICA multiplex, I couldn’t help but notice that we were the only people in the entire 200 hundred seater to see Jim Jarmusch’s movie, Coffee and Cigarettes.

We nearly didn’t get there, having lost track of time in the nearby Borders book store, beguiled as we were by the numerous tempting goodies on offer. Realising we were late, we had to jump the queue at the till and leg it across the parking bays of this vast out-of-town retail park.

We were only able to run straight through to the screening because we’d had the presence of mind to buy our tickets in advance, anticipating that the cultish cache of the director of Down By Law, Night On Earth and the wonderful, Stranger Than Paradise, would bring out a glut of Jarmuschniks out of the woodwork.

It didn’t, and after watching this collection of short stand-alone sketches filmed over several years, I began to understand why.

The procession of oddball, dysfunctional characters arriving at different coffee tables is formidable. Iggy Pop, Cate Blanchet, Tom Waites, Roberto Benigni, Steve Coogan, Bill Murray, Alfred Molina, Jack and Meg White, Steve Buscemi to name but a few, improvise and riff their way through a series of ill-timed, ill-fated meetings.

The characters, with names such as Iggy, or Alfred, or Tom, etc, function as ambiguous facsimiles of themselves, simmering with querulous resentment as they stir their coffee or nervously light up, hiding their angst and unease with life behind a haze of smoke. Their conversations hinge upon misunderstanding and eye-darting covetousness all rolled into a form of competitive celebrity brinkmanship.

No doubt this was intended to lampoon fame and the dumb side-effects that this condition produces and on paper with this much talent to draw upon, it should work.

Yet the absence of an incisive script for the most part renders such quirky cameos as little more than indulgent home movies; funny if you were there at the time but coming across as way too self-absorbed and supercilious for general consumption.

This is not to say it’s without its fair share of smirks; Bill Murray waiting tables populated by members of the Wu-tung Clan who are busily dispensing advice on alternative medicine, definitely gets a flicker on the mirthometer.

Similarly, viewing the cold edifice of Steve Coogan’s disdain collapse into an avalanche of envy and regret, as he realises that Alfred Molina knows somebody really important in Hollywood (Spike Jonze) is cringingly funny. It works because it depends on, and skilfully utilises a reversal of fortune, a solidly traditional dramatic device. This suggests that Jarmusch’s talents are better served when they are made to work a little harder. Simply pointing a camera at your mates and telling them to act it up a bit just isn’t enough - even if they are as stellar a bunch as this lot.

Perhaps the very best and certainly most poignant sketch is where a couple of old-timers take a coffee break from their duties as janitors. The befuddled Taylor Meade regrets living in a world that’s moving too fast, they both know they are running out of time in all senses of the word. He and his knife-sharp colleague, Bill Rice, agree that coffee these days tastes like shit. They pretend its champagne and drink a toast to better times.

In only a few minutes, Jarmusch gives us something substantial, beautifully acted; subtly commenting upon issues such pensioner poverty, displacement and alienation with real directorial polish.

Sadly the bulk of this film, like the cinema we saw it in, was empty with very little going on over the course of an hour and a half.

If only all of Coffee and Cigarettes had benefited from the kind of thought and care demonstrated in the Champagne segment, we could have had a unified collection of short stories that actually said something rather than the addled, tongue-tied java jive we ended up with. Empty indeed.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Inscribed On My Heart

Whitley Bay looked resplendent in the wintry sunshine this morning. The stall outside greengrocer Tom Owen’s shop on Whitley Road was a dazzling riot of colour and culinary possibility.

Right now though, I ignored all the bright, smart looking veg in favour of the humble potato. I’ve got a thing for mash flecked through with caramelised shallots and so I’m paying attention to different varieties and assessing the varying nuances of texture and flavour. Jeffrey Steingarten’s chapter on mashed potatoes in his excellent book, The Man Who Ate Everything, is guiding my general thinking and approach on this matter.

Debbie bought me the book a few years ago as a birthday / Christmas gift but as it’s not inscribed, I can’t recall the year I received it. I heard a review of it on the radio when it was just published in the UK in 1998. The hardback copy Debbie got for me must have been near publication. Some people regard the practice of inscriptions as nothing short of vandalism, objecting to the practice on aesthetics grounds whilst others might not want a hand-written message adorning the book on the basis that it might prejudice its sell-on potential.

As a kid, I used to write my name inside the cover or on the title page. My tiny pocket-sized Collins Gem dictionary, given to me in 1969 by my Gran Smith has my name and address added to the inside cover in my very best handwriting. Looking at it now, the careful slow curls and faltering slopes of the letters with their contingent of precise commas and dots has the look of a child pretending to be older, kind of like dressing up in adults clothing. It was written with a fountain pen bought for me at the same time as the dictionary but by Gran Rountree. The effect of looking at it now is both endearing and embarrassing; I thought myself terribly grown up with that pen and that book.

Around the same time, I acquired the autograph of Newcastle United skipper Bobby Moncur. It was given to me by my dad even though I showed no interest in football at all. Newcastle was riding high at the time with Moncur being the hero of the hour having just scored three goals the 1969 Fairs Cup Final against Ujpesti Dosza.

Where ever Bobby went so did folks wanting his signature on whatever came to hand. This one was on the back of a three-inch strip of cardboard torn from a cigarette packet. The biro used hadn’t quite met the surface evenly, rendering it half an autograph.

Though completely unrecognisable as any kind of name, let alone Bobby Moncur’s, somehow that squiggle of ink looked impossibly sophisticated. Inspired by its easy, on the hoof glamour, I abandoned my practice of neatly scripting my name and took to signing all my books with the fleeting flourish of a passing celebrity - a quick one-two scribbled into the back of the net.

Somewhat morbidly that summer I recall I took to etching bequests into their pages. “In the event of my death, I leave this book to my freind, Alan Pearson.” If it was meant as a declaration of loyalty and kinship, it also acted as backhanded gift, a present you give to someone but without the inconvenience of actually giving it away. Alan, of course, merely noted that in my grand gesture, I’d spelt “friend” wrong.

During the early 80s I was splitting up with a girlfriend called Anne. She handed me a book I’d bought her as we were packing up the flat, deconstructing the tiny world we’d built together in a cramped four-roomed attic at the top of a three storey house in Heaton. Being over six foot tall, I was forever bumping my head on the low beams and awnings in that place. Our collections of books were kept on yards of planks and old floorboards lifted from building sites, stacked on top of household bricks. They ran the entire length of every wall. I was ridiculously proud of these self-built, not to say make-shift shelves.

Although our time together wasn’t ending badly, it was ending and of course, things were rather tense between us. We were sorting out the albums and the books into our respective piles. Here, she said, you might as well have this. It was a well-used copy of Cult Movies by Danny Peary.

I’d bought her this collection of essays on her birthday in the first few months of our three years together. We’d planned to try and see every picture mentioned in it. Although I really liked the book I told her to keep it. She tossed it in my direction, adding that she’d never read it anyway. True enough, during our time together I couldn’t recall a single instance of her reading the book. It had always been me. It still is. It sits on my shelf here in the yellow room now.

Whenever I consult it – once or twice every other year, the inscription from me to her offers a subtext of all the movies we never saw; the different people we were and had become, playing at being grown-ups in an ill-fitting partnership.

Listening to. . .
Teatro by Willie Nelson
Red Dirt Girl by Emmylou Harris
Piano Music Vol.2 by Elie Siegmeister

Friday, March 11, 2005

Austerless

It’s been a day of high drama and extreme excitement here in Whitley Bay. The Water Bed shop actually had some people in it, talking to the owner in a manner that would suggest they were interested in buying something from the Poseidon range. Of course they could be members of the owner’s extended family bussed in to create the impression of interest, but without the benefit of DNA testing, I’m prepared to suspend my disbelieve and accept that this couple were punters in pursuit of a product that undulates.

Eric O called across last night. Our chat revolved around some ideas he has for making a short movie. He’s on the verge of doing it. In the meantime, Eric is nursing a sense of disappointment following his loss of confidence in a science fiction story he’s been working on for a while. Nothing if not methodical, Eric has been mapping out themes, action, character details and story arc. Yet when the energy in a project dissipates it can be very hard to pull things back.

He bought me a copy of a science fiction magazine called Interzone. Filled with numerous short stories that apparently represent the current zeitgeist in SF, I’m convinced that anything Eric might have put on the back-burner would be miles better than the half-baked tosh being served up courtesy of Interzone.

Agonies abound…I have two different versions of Durufle’s wonderful Requiem. My favourite, as performed by Dame Janet Baker with choir and organ, has somehow acquired a couple of great howks that make it skip and jump.

The other version I have is orchestrated and manages to be over-blown and stodgy. As I play the first version I’m cruelly cast down from the clouds when it trips and stutters. Playing the second version, I find I never quite get to heaven in the first place.

I’ve tried cleaning it although I’ve not quite gone as far as a woman I met a few years ago, who insisted that once sprayed with the household polish called Mr. Sheen, her party-scratched CDs played perfect.

Elsewhere, my resolve to ration Auster's Moon Palace came to nothing. I finished it in one all too brief orgy of reading pleasure. I am now Austerless. I don't like it one bit!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Revamped

I had a call from Jakko yesterday bringing me up to speed on some of the new extra footage being considered for release on a revamped edition of 21st Century Band’s excellent Live In Japan dvd. He also sent me a rough mix of a track he’s been working on.

Combining his love of Indian music (and the cuisine) and Crimso, he’s produced a tabla-driven turbo-charged rendition of Pictures of a City. This is like no version I’ve ever heard before. Complete with furious flurries of sitar-guitar it’s a highly entertaining take on this old warhorse of a track.

The middle section had me grinning like a fool; lots of Mellotron and some beautifully soaring Indian singing drenched in echo. Jakko tells me that Peter Sinfield is working on some new lyrics for the piece though there’s no fixed date for release yet.

On a different though not unrelated note, Chris Wilson sent me a Bavarian oopah-band version of Schizoid Man that he’d nabbed a while back. Mind you, he also sent me a copy of an album of Kraftwerk songs done by Senor Coconut in a Latin American style. I still carry the scars from hearing that one.

Also in the post the latest dvd from Isildurs Bane: MIND Vol.5 The Observatory. This will form part of this weekends viewing.

My listening this morning (aside from JJ) has been the Battleaxe back catalogue – two albums and a whole load of demo recordings and their Radio One session for Tommy Vance. This was followed by Messian’s Quartet for the End of Time and the even more ethereal though equally mysterious Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jesus.

Joseph is reading Jan Needle’s re-edited version of Dracula by Bram Stoker. Lavishly presented with red-trimmed pages printed on heavy glossy paper, it contains some very good pencil illustrations. I read the full version when I was about Tom’s age (13) but couldn’t quite get away with it, finding it slow and somewhat dull. By the time I’d passed sixteen, I was really into it.

From what I can tell by glancing through Joe’s version, Jan Needle seems to have thinned out some of the Stoker stodge and gone for a spot of reordering. I’m not sure if I approve of this practice but if gets Joe ploughing enthusiastically through the book then it gets my vote.

Elsewhere on literary matters, I’m trying to limit myself to reading only one or two pages a day from Paul Auster’s Moon Palace. That way it’ll last a whole lot longer.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Rushing To Judgement

The offer by the IRA to shoot the killers of Robert McCartney, who was stabbed in Belfast bar recently, provides a fascinating though chilling glimpse into the alternative universe of IRA moral fibre. The biblical symmetry of that old axiom, “an eye for eye”, provides an exacting solution to serious crime and is frequently called for on the front pages of our tabloid media and those benches on the right in the Palace of Westminster whenever the debate on capital punishment is disinterred.

There is however, a macabre appeal to the blunt, lumpen simplicity of the IRA offer. One wonders how political debate in this country might be invigorated if mainstream parties adopted this approach. I can imagine the Leader of the Opposition offering to have the Prime Minister shot on behalf of the grieving families who lost loved ones as a direct result of Blair’s dubious misadventure in Iraq. However, as agreeable as such a thought may be to the politically malicious amongst us, it is of course the slippery slope and as such should be avoided at all costs.

The McCartney family necessarily rejected the fatuous offer preferring that those members of the IRA who killed their brother be brought to book through traditional and more civilized means. A fair and impartial justice system provides a moral context for resolving our issues with those who would sin against us. Though less than perfect and subject to distortions and miscarriage, it remains infinitely preferable to gun law and empty gestures.

Elsewhere in the news, the government is engaged in weakening one of the central tenants of the judicial system that the McCartney family are seeking to place their faith in; bringing suspects to trail.

We are told that new powers of detention are needed to combat the threat posed posed by “hundreds” of terrorists currently at large within the UK. The argument goes that these people – a mixture of foreigners and British nationals - may be planning to inflict gross acts of carnage upon the population at any time. We should therefore lock them up.

If this is true then I doubt any reasonable person would have any trouble in the full weight of our police and security services acting in order to apprehend such people. Evidence would be collected through surveillance and other intelligence gathering channels and then presented to judge and jury. The trouble is, the government argues, they don’t have the kind of evidence that would survive this kind of legal scrutiny.

So the government are seeking new powers of house arrest sanctioned in the first instance by a Home Secretary, and lowering the evidential bar. They are also doing this in double quick time, curtailing the parliamentary debate that might be reasonably expected to take place given the fundamental impact that their new law would have upon every single person in the country.

So far these attempts have been defeated in a series of votes by the House of Lords.

Though my grasp of legal and constitutional matters may be scant, I’m afraid then when politicians start detaining people without evidence that can be tested and examined in court for fear of it not standing up, when we lock people up because they might commit a crime, when individuals are swept up from the street on the say so of a secret policeman and without the potential inconvenience of a trail, then we are moving into very dark and dangerously murky waters indeed.

Bad laws and rushed legislation don’t stop bad things happening. They merely make things worse. Terrorism won’t be defeated by abandoning key principals such as habeas corpus, or lowering the legal standards by which society operates because it’s politically expedient. It has to be addressed through democratic rather than draconian means.

Parliamentary democracy may have its limitations but it should in theory protect us from the kind of authoritarian and repressive regime that we rightly criticise for embracing things such as house arrest and detention without trail.

If that biblical edict mentioned earlier isn’t particularly helpful in a civilised culture, then let us look to another equally venerable proverb for guidance: two wrongs don’t make a right. Shooting people is wrong and so is locking people up on hearsay and legally unproven evidence. What people need is justice not revenge.

Last night was spent tending to e-correspondence and listening to Debbie telling me tales of managerial incompetence and indifference. Profoundly unhappy with decisions in her workplace she has to make a choice; put up or shut up. The consequences of either choice don’t look particularly appealing or career enhancing.

In an attempt to slow down the devouring of Paul Auster, I deliberately didn’t pick Moon Palace up. Instead I watched a movie that Alys had rented from Blockbusters called Saw. This was truly dreadful movie-making of the worst kind; characters that we don’t care about, script devices that would make even the most low-grade hack think twice about including, and schlock clichĂ© in extremis.

I wondered how movies like this ever get financed. Later I talked to Eric O on the blower. He said they get financed because they appeal to the lowest common denominator, the worst in us, the slack-brained and the slackers who can’t be arsed to lift themselves up from the mire where once their imaginations resided. He might have a point.

My morning so far has been spent listening to Bartok String Quartets and Bach’s Cello suites, though earlier (circa 7.30 a.m.) it was spent shouting at the radio and in particular the news.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Occupied

The contents of the two plastic carrier bags Chris gave me yesterday are being scrutinised today. Then, later on, the artwork for the impending KCCC release from Heidelberg courtesy of Hugh. The notes were mostly written in October and November but not finally completed until December last year and I’d largely forgotten what was in them. They seem to hold up well offering as they do a slightly different perspective and eye-witness account of the band at that time.

On a Crim-related note; listening to Soundscapes from the World Financial Centre, November 30 2000. This is impressive music by anyone’s standards. Listening to it demands attention and so I have to stop what I’m doing and let what the music is doing occupy me instead.

Elsewhere. . .

Rumours of the new, soon-to-be-screened-and-leaked-onto-the-net Doctor Who programme spread to Whitley Bay….

Monday, March 07, 2005

Regenrhetoric

In Newcastle today I met up with Chris Wilson to pick up some material on a band who has asked me to write some notes for some forthcoming reissues. Formed in 1983, Battleaxe was one of the many bands who emerged from the north-east region forming a part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal genre or NWOBHM, as it was quickly coined. Taking the raunchy guitar of hard rock and the grit of heavy metal mixed in with the spicy energy and frenetic speed of punk and you have a frighteningly powerful blend of leather, studs and big hair rushing at you.

Chris passed me over two plastic carrier bags full of press clippings, promo pics, fanzines, videos, CDs, demo’s, tour schedules, fanmail, royalty statements, a letter of complaint from the local council’s environmental health officer and the Virgin encyclopaedia of Heavy Rock.

Selling hundreds of thousands of albums in the 80s, the band stalled and split up, becoming a footnote in Metal history. Chris W however has been working on the soon to be reissued albums, providing artwork and that wacky Wilson eye for design detail. A fan-run website has been getting substantial hits that would suggest that there’s still a market for Battleaxe’s brand of in-yer-face metal. There should be enough in the two carrier bags for me to be getting on before their ex-lead singer, Dave King, gets back from his all-expenses paid holiday in Portugal.

After seeing Chris, I legged it down to Live Theatre which is situated just off the Quayside in Newcastle. I barely recognised the place as I came down past All Saints Church, there were so many new buildings going up with plenty more close behind.

Live Theatre was playing host to the launch of the region’s revised cultural strategy and a panel of speakers on cultural matters debated and discussed the question of distinctiveness. Around thirty or so people sat for four hours, listening to points about history and ecology as a determinant factor in the development of culture; the sense that the connection between people and place is out a favour and how the recent rejection of the regional assembly represented a crisis not in our cultural sense of identity but in the political system that was presenting the yes vote.

A lot of time was devoted to the issues of culture as a regenerative force. Gateshead Council has won many plaudits for the Baltic and more recently The Sage, which has played host to the Labour Party conference and the Radio Three’s World Music Awards in the few months since it opened. Yet beyond the shiny buildings, prestige events and shiny regen-rhetoric, the north is still largely comprised of hugely disadvantaged communities that have yet to feel that getting a cappuccino to go is better than an old-fashioned job that has long gone.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Mothering Sunday

Today was mothering Sunday. Doreen and Doris came over to share a meal and have a few glasses of wine. The food was lovely even if I say so myself. Strips of sweet potato, courgette, aubergine, red and yellow peppers, interspersed with cubes of honey-glazed chicken, served on a bed of Ebly and topped with a creamy tarragon sauce with wild rocket served as a garnish.

As the Raikes gang of three went through some old family photographs, Doris told the story about how her grandfather’s life was blighted and ruined the day he insisted that his son start in the family business on the factory floor. They were a firm of pattern makers and as he demonstrated how to use the sharp awl against the material, his son got too close behind his father and lost an eye for his trouble.

The father never got over it apparently and took to drink, losing the business and his self-respect. Two lives blighted for the price of one.

The son, having failed to get into the army (which almost certainly saved his life) moved around until he finally set up a series of tobacconists. They did quite well. Then he discovered that several of the managers he had installed to run the strategically placed shops were skimming off the top. The news destroyed his faith in human nature and he closed them down overnight.

As we swapped stories it seems all families have in common a tale that at some point in their history they were swindled or robbed out of a family business or fortune – at least if our two families are anything to go by.


The Gang of Three - Alys, Doris and Debra

Saturday, March 05, 2005

A Christmas Tale In March

A friend who came calling later in the day told me that he had to dig a path from his door to his front gate in order to come and see me today. He lives five miles away. As we sat and chatted about the state of the government at the moment and why, as life long Labour voters we were both unlikely to be voting Blair at the next election, Gordon Haskell rang. I’d not talked to Gordon for quite a while and it was good to hear his dark deep Dorset burr with a hint of Gauloise.

Apologies to long-term readers for repeating this tale but I don’t think you can ever tell a story with a positive outcome too many times. One always hopes the upbeat resolution has a way of reverberating around those who hear it and hopefully pass it on. A couple of years ago Gordon had rung me, highly excited having just completed the recording session for a new album. “It’s my best ever” he said “This one is really going to do it.”

In my experience, most artists say this kind of thing when they’ve just completed a project. It’s the place where their creative energies have coalesced into something tangible, something that exists outside of themselves now. Gordon sounded so sure and so certain that the world was going to love the album. I told Gordon that I hoped it would be well received but in my heart of hearts wondered if he wasn’t kidding himself. Over the years, he’d released several records that had been well received by a fairly small, dedicated band of listeners.

There were those who saw him in concert and appreciated the gravel-voiced troubadour singing straightforward songs about love and everything that it entails and there were those fans who saw Gordon as something of a relic of a bygone age; a semi-tragic / mythic figure who’d fallen foul of politics, powerplay and ego. He was someone who felt cheated by the hand that had been given to him. When I interviewed Gordon a few years ago for the book, I could hear the resentment and anger in that dark smoky voice. I could sense the frustration and regret at having made some bad decisions in his career.

And there was also a great deal of honesty and truth in what he had to say. And that’s what I heard when he was telling me about his (then) new album. He said he’d send me a CDR and a couple of days later it popped through the letterbox. Listening to it, I compared it to the only other Haskell albums I have. I would love to be able to claim that my hit-sensing antennae were twitching like mad as the tracks of smoothly crafted blues-tinged pop played to me, but the truth is they didn’t budge an inch. Alligator Man (as the album was called) was certainly his most unified album in recent times, and was probably a touch more commercial than any of its predecessors.

I kept thinking how convinced Gordon had sounded on the telephone, how certain he was that this album was going to change his life, was going to redress the balance and garner him the wider recognition he felt his songwriting deserved.

A couple of weeks later, we talked again on the phone. The album had been picked up by a small label. They were going to get behind the record, they believed in it, they wanted the public to hear it, and Gordon was riding high. A promo copy arrived – the running order had been altered and it was now called Look Out. In hindsight, that change of title was highly significant. Well, we all know how this story ends. A single release of Harry’s Bar managed to create sparks with the audience of Radio 2 and Gordon ends up tipped as the man most likely to grab the much coveted No.1 spot over Christmas. I bought the single on CD as a show of solidarity, stupidly excited at the prospect of man whose voice I’d loved all those years ago singing about night’s sable dome, training baboons to sing and being taut with fear, just might top the UK charts; the winter of 2001 suddenly seemed a lot summery.

The song was a little too smoochy for my liking but it did the business admirably. I hadn’t spotted it at all on the album preferring the knockabout fun of Look Out and the prophetically titled Self Made Man. In the end it was Somethin’ Stupid (literally and metaphorically) by Robbie Williams and Nicole Kiddman that grabbed the slot but it was enough to ensure that Gordon’s album, now re-titled Harry’s Bar, sold by the bucket load.

His face was all over the papers, the story of how he’d written this best-selling song whilst doing his shopping in his local supermarket was the stuff of legend; from the bare bones of his arse to Top of the Pops via the deli counter in Sainsburys. Gordon was absolutely on the button when it came to believing that this album was the biggy. I’d tried ringing him prior to the head to head with Robbie Williams but his answering service was no longer taking messages.

We eventually met up when he appeared at Newcastle’s Opera House. There were a small clutch of fans waiting to grab his autograph when he got out of the van to do the soundcheck. Since then we talked occasionally. Today he was telling me about his autobiography that was going to be published later this year and that although he would be “opening the wound” as he called it (referring to his time in Crimson), he was at great pains to point out that he had made his peace with Robert.

He sounded like someone who had resolved certain things in his life and just as important as his relationship with his old school friend, he’d finally made peace with himself; the umbrage and bile that had leavened his thoughts when we first talked a few years ago had disappeared. I came off the phone with a big grin on my face. See I told you. Happy endings all round.

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Black Wine Dream

...It was a strange mad family meal. Extreme violence kept breaking out for no apparent reason. In my dream I knew that these weird flyblown people that populated this dread dark room weren’t my family but that somehow I’d become adopted by them. I had the protection of the matriarch who ruled the table. She kept me close to her causing resentment around the grimy room. The smell of her sweat was overpowering but I knew that were I to stray too far that I’d be subjected to a terrible, vicious attack from which I might not emerge. The food we ate was a black gruel. It didn’t particularly taste of anything; seasoning it merely made it hotter or slightly more bitter. This black sludge sustained us all. There were goblets of black wine that looked like rancid blood. I had a sense I’d been eating and drinking this stuff for a very long time.

The conversation was moronic and excessive, interspersed with impromptu trails of strength that always ended with the loser being beaten within an inch of their lives. I could barely remember what the outside world looked like. If I tried to recall how I came to be in this charnel house, a sharp pain at the side of my head fenced me in, curtailing such enquires with dramatic efficiency. The mother would be telling me to pay no attention to her riotous and dangerous children. She laughed off their terrible acts of violence against a variety of newcomers who appeared now and then. I could see their eyes darting around the room, hardly believing where they were still less how they might escape. They would be subjected to cajoling and teasing, the kind that could snap from what passed as fun around that table to savage explosions of unprovoked terror and pain. They would make impossible demands on these poor souls, telling them to sing songs they didn’t know or to balance on the back of a chair. The worst part was when they would look across at me. They knew not to say anything until they were spoken to but their eyes screamed at me, pleading, asking for some kind of explanation. Once or twice I attempted to intercede, asking the matriarch to call off her dread offspring. She never would, claiming the children were merely enjoying their sport.

On one occasion I found myself at the end of a long corridor. How I got there I had no idea. I could here the appalling party in full swing, the high pitched squeal of another freshly found victim vying against their ecstatic roaring. I was next to a door. I wasn’t sure what was on the other side. I was trembling, knowing that it might be my way out of this awful place yet I was rooted to the spot with fear. I knew this might be my only chance to get away from these dreadful monsters. I pulled at the door. I heard my name being called. They’d realised I wasn’t back in the room. I could hear the scraping of furniture, the clatter of knives, hammers, saws. I pulled furiously at the door. It was stiff and slow to move. Their deranged howls drew closer. It seemed impossible that the door would budge. Then it opened – a fraction. I tugged and pulled with all of my strength. The black gruel had somehow made me weak; I didn’t possess the immunity or tolerance that the family had developed. My fingernails clawed frantically at the door, prizing it forward inch by inch.

Dreams rarely move in strict sequence. The next thing I knew we were all asleep around the table. I wasn’t sure if I’d been dreaming or not. The open fire was low, throwing off a pale reddish light. The matriarch’s paw of a hand had slipped off my shoulders. I carefully looked around, feeling the tension rising within me. Everyone was asleep, sated after another orgy of violence, drunk into oblivion. I understood that if I was very careful I might make my way to the door that I now knew to be beyond this room. I was wet with sweat, shaking with fright, sick with apprehension at the thought of tiptoeing my way out of this place. I even tried closing my eyes, trying to force myself back into the world of sleep. I was lost in a Russian doll of dreams; one inside another, losing my sense of direction, unsure what was backwards or forwards anymore. And then that strange realisation that the real version of me, the one in the real world, still asleep but safe from this parallel existence was somewhere at hand. I could feel a sense of myself somewhere removed from all this danger and anxiety. If only I could locate the space my presence occupied, I might wake and be safe; I might pull free of this net of nightmare murderers.

I woke up…

Thursday, March 03, 2005

A NIce Day In Smallville

I went shopping in Whitley Bay today. Shopping in this context is really just a metaphor when it comes to taking exercise for my back.
It’s very rare I get anything other than a couple of onions or a few other staples on these journeys. Of course these could be purchased in one fell swoop at the start of the week but that would defeat the point.

There are sometimes when living in a small town is kind of reassuring in some way. The tiny offertory of weak winter sunshine would be lost in a big city, it would be swallowed and wouldn’t even touch the sides.

Here in Smallville, the rays have an almost swaggering languor to them. They get to punch above their weight; revered and hailed by the residents. “It’s a nice day” becomes an appreciative affirming statement and state of mind rather than a mindless customer-orientated nicety.

There was little evidence of the snowfall – a few flecks dotted the more remote and inaccessible corners of roofs and back lanes, whilst some puddles remained iced over.

Crossing My Heart

Debbie and I were able to sit out in our tiny backyard for the first time in over a year today. The yard had been filled with the bulk of a car that belonged to Debbie’s son, Sam. Bought by Debbie for £100, it came complete with green moss growing along the window frames. I think the moss came free – I mean we didn’t have to pay extra for it.

For a while it looked as though we might have to fill it with compost and use it as an unusual planter – a talking point at dinner parties perhaps – as Sam dutifully applied himself to driving lessons. Happily, he passed his test with flying colours and the car, still with its green moss flashing, was liberated from the back yard thus restoring the space to aficionados of the alfresco.
Debbie had been pottering around re-planting and stocking and other green-finger activities. I was in the kitchen preparing the main meal of the day. Alys was off on a bike ride somewhere, Tom and Joe were taking a walk along the sea-front and Sam was in his attic room saving the universe. There was a sense of balance, somehow things felt innately right.

I poured two glasses of wine from the bottle my mother had brought over on Friday and the pair of us sat down in the back yard. Our conversation dealt with the news that a couple we’ve known since we were both teenagers are in the process of splitting up. Sometimes an ending can be amicable, a mutual acceptance that things have run their course. However, this isn’t what’s happening to the people we know; it’s an addled, rancorous disintegration laced with a poisonous fall-out.

In light of the pain and hurt that we know this couple are going through, our sense of contentment and happiness seemed almost indulgent, vindictive even; as though our happiness and feelings of rightness at being together was inversely proportionate to the degree of misery and angst that they each are having to shoulder.

Looking up into the cavernous blue sky of this lovely spring day, we followed the white vapour trails of the planes; one jet bisecting the trail left by another. X marks the spot. X the unknown. X my heart.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Blues For People Who Don't Like The Blues

Started reading Moon Palace by Paul Auster. I didn’t mean to. I just thought I’d look at the first couple of pages. Of course that was fatal. After a few more, it became hard to put it down and now I’m hooked for the duration.

Joe is much improved after his recent chest infection and made everyone laugh with a sustained improvised comedy routine that seemed to come out of nowhere. Even Tom, the older one of the two, declared he was well impressed by Joe’s shenanigans. I would hate to make a prediction (given that I’m nearly always wrong) but I think if Joe wanted a career on the stage it would be easily within his grasp.

Tom’s mother recently bought him an MP3 player. He’s listening to Linkin Park, The White Stripes, The Hives, Alkaline Trio, Slipknot, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, System of a Down and the splendidly named 36 Fists. We listened to it through the computer as Tom did his homework. Elsewhere in the house there were the sounds of Keane, Ski Patrol and other indeterminate jangly angsty bands pouring their hearts and souls out for all to hear.

Even more elsewhere - on the bedroom television whilst waiting for the highly entertaining yet simultaneously worrying Jamie’s School Dinners, there was an advert for an album by Joss Stone; a seventeen year old girl with the voice of a … seventeen year old girl pretending to sing the blues of a woman much old and experienced in a) waking up in the morning and b) wang dang doodle. It’s the Blues for people who don’t like the Blues and more to the point, not only is she pretty but she’s white as well.

Throughout all of this I realise I have no connection with any of this music whatsoever. Ersatz beyond redemption it makes the Brotherhood of Man look like the very pinnacle of artistic integrity.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Mars Volta

A brief conversation with Sean Hewitt about the new Mars Volta CD. As Sean called we were right in the middle of Alys’ 18th birthday feast – she wanted new potatoes cut into thin slices and deep fried accompanied by Bernard Mathews’ Turkey Dinosaurs. Thankfully Debbie cooked all of this and even more thankfully, I cooked my own evening meal.

Sean had been telling me that he’d been able to leave work, walk around the supermarket and get home all in the space of one track off Francis The Mute. The length of the material indicates a certain progtastic elastic to be sure. Though I’ve not heard this one, their Comatorium album was something I enjoyed the first thirty minutes of. It’s fast and furious with lots of references that fleetingly sound like a bunch of cape-wearing types with a pronounced penchant for the crushed velvet loon pant.

Dick Heath also wrote regarding MV and offered this review he'd seen on Amazon written by Kevin Maidment.

Given that Mars Volta's Omar Rodriquez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler Zavala are ideologues; Afro-haired chin scratchers who believe that Seventies progressive-rock music was alright really but too 'white' and quite possibly a little bit too sheepish for its own good, Frances The Mute--the band's second album--is possibly the absolute wired-to-the-mains apex of indulgent immodesty. Of course, this diamond-encrusted symphonic psych extravaganza of time-signature changes, wild post-Miles Davis electric jazz, writhing punk passion and re-heated Rush has a concept (albeit one best approached with a knowledge of social science, Latin and a medical dictionary) and a sleeve designed by Pink Floyd associate Storm Thorgerson. However, while there are obvious ancestral salutes to Relayer-era Yes and all tinctures of Pink Floyd, Frances The Mute is restlessly forward-thinking, a thrilling continuation of Mars Volta's multi-cultural prog modernism where a track like "L'Via L'Viaquez" (with guest appearances from the Chili Pepper's Flea and John Frusciante) comes across like something resembling nothing less than a Cuban King Crimson

Often the music feels as though they’ve cherry picked a whole load of references, tossed them in a blender and pressed GO. As the stuff whizzes around you can just make out a bit of this or that influence before its all mulched down. In this respect, they remind me of Gentle Giant.

They were never a band I liked at the time, but once the Kenty Kimber had strapped me down in chair back in leafy Highgate for a spot of reverse Ludovico Treatment, I began to see the errors of my way, oh my brothers. As I listen to various GG albums I can hear smatterings of Yes, VDDG, Tull and so on but somehow its all whizzed together and ends up sounding like nothing else you’ve ever heard. I know that’s contradictory and doesn’t make sense but it’s the best I can do at the moment.

Elsewhere, I noticed I was totally wrong about the Oscars. In the end Clint knocked Marty for six. Appropriately enough, a letter from Eric O arrived containing an excellent one minute movie screenplay. I read it. Tom read it. Joe read it. Debbie read it. We all read it and liked it. I only we can persuade Eric to actually make it.

I finished reading Oracle Night by Paul Auster the other day but was reluctant to move onto the pile of books that awaits my attention. I didn’t want the tone and feel that Auster evokes to be broken by beginning something else. Fortunately Debbie came back from a trip in town baring The Music of Chance AND Moon Palace. I couldn’t help but devour The Music of Chance in two sittings. Very satisfying. Today I’ve been trying not to pick up Moon Palace as I know if I read it now then that’ll be it as far as any new books go for quite a while.

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