Monday, 11 December 2017

On the Beach

Chris Rea is, I read today, on the mend. He collapsed in Oxford at the weekend halfway through his set.

It's not the first time Rea has had to ring 999. He's not enjoyed the best of health for some time and very nearly checked out on a couple of occasions in the early noughties.

Since reinventing himself as a serious blues musician, the Middlesbrough born guitarist has found a new audience while still retaining his faithful following. It's been a while since Rea troubled the charts with infectious hits like Road to Hell, Fool if You Think it's Over and, of course, Driving Home for Christmas*, but the quality of his new material has never dipped.

*Of course I haven't chosen his Yuletide smash from 1988. No, today I'm going with On the Beach. I love what Rea did when he turned it from a diamond in the rough album track to a Top Twenty single. And the thing he did? Listen to the electric piano motif (3:37) - it only appears once, and lasts for just four seconds! When he re-recorded the song he replicated the same lick on the guitar - where it became the hook that runs through the whole record from start to finish. Genius.

For what it's worth I think I prefer the album version, but if I was listening to this on a beach I'm sure I wouldn't give a monkey's chuff. Anyway, sit back in your deckchair and enjoy them both.

Chris Rea - On the Beach (album version)

Chris Rea - On the Beach (single version)

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Audience participation

It's beginning to look a lot like panto season. This year Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast are both in Nottingham competing for your hard earned ticket money and booking fee. It'll be the usual helpings of festive silliness brought to you by washed up celebs and wannabe hopefuls; the last time I shouted 'Behind you!' would have been when Bob Carolgees and Spit the Dog were in town. It was a riot.

As a kid with a birthday between Christmas and New Year I would often be lured out of my seat and onto the stage to receive a sweetie proffered by a strange man dressed as woman. Some things never change.

Talking about audience participation, I found this lovely clip of Johnny Flynn (he of the Detectorists theme song) playing a little club in Toronto. When he announces that his next song is The Water (a duet he normally sings with Laura Marling), a rather brave young woman offers to sing it with  him. 'You don't have to' Johnny tells her, probably dreading a car wreck about to unfold before him; he needn't have worried.

Johnny Flynn - The Water

Friday, 8 December 2017

You tell me your secrets, I tell you my lies

Chiggins1 emailed me yesterday. He sends me an annual year end round-up Best Of compilation CD2 every Christmas; has done since Radio 1 could still be found on the medium wave. 'I see you've moved back to the fair city - give me your address and I'll chuck it in the mailbag. P.S. I hope 2017 has been a vintage year for you(?)'

As I was replying I remembered writing a wistful post3 almost exactly a year ago. (Interestingly, since writing that particular piece, it is still being viewed over fifty times a day.)  
December 2016 was a very interesting month, for all sorts of reasons; even then I had a feeling that the early part of 2017 could shape not only the rest of the year, but also a life far beyond. Maybe I was viewing the future through some sort of prophetic kaleidoscope, but I knew this year would be, maybe not vintage, but pivotal. Even a blind man on a galloping horse can see that the tone of Even Monkeys Fall Out Of Trees is more upbeat since I made the move back down to Nottingham earlier in the year.

Here's a song I first played with James when he was living in Leeds. I have posted it up here before, but as I've started dropping it in my set again, I thought I'd share it one more time.4.

1.  Chris Higgins. His passport says he was born in Ashby-de-la Zouch. And he once auditioned for a part in Byker Grove. He may only admit to one of those statements.
2. He knows I'll never ditch my CD player.
3. Did I say wistful? It was certainly one of the shortest pieces I'd ever written. Around that time I was like a man on a desert island waving frantically at the sky. And out to sea. I was writing RESCUE ME! in large letters in the wet sand. Every day.
4. You're the One: it's from two Decembers ago - Dec. 2015.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Slippery Slope

Caution indeed
A short story I am currently knocking into shape has the working title 'Slippery Slope'. However, following my recent Screenwriting course at Broadway Cinema, I may well write it as a screenplay for a short film.

As I often do when I've got an idea on the go, and especially when I'm giving it a title, I'll look up the word/words/phrase in Urban Dictionary to see if there are other, baser, meanings or definitions accredited to, usually, an innocent/harmless phrase such as, in this case, Slippery Slope. (It's good to cover all bases.)

Ironically, when looking up the definition in the aforementioned alternative online dictionary, my search turned into a slippery slope all of its own. Yes, the first two were as you'd expect, but 3, 4, 6 & 7 were, ahem, new to me.

Whilst we're on the subject of slippery slopes, give this a coat of looking at: it's the new Japanese game show that's sweeping, well, Japan. It's hilarious.

Friday, 1 December 2017

It seemed like such a good idea at the time

It's the early hours of Saturday morning as I write this, so I'll try and keep it brief. I wasn't planning on recording the fact that today (technically yesterday) marks the six month anniversary of moving back to Nottingham; but somebody in the pub tonight said something to me that I can't get out of my head - another reason for wrapping up here and hitting the hay. 

This person, who shall remain nameless, and I were swapping stories and I mentioned the fact that this time last year I was holed up in God's Waiting Room. And so the conversation turned to all the forks in the road, chances, half chances and happenstance that took us where we perhaps never intended to be but ended up all the same. 'So why did you move up there?' I was asked, not for the first time, and probably not the last. 'Well it seemed like such a good idea at the time.'

More beer was drunk, more stories exchanged and then this person said: 'You do know that if we're lucky we've only got 4,000 weeks on this earth. So you best make the most of it.'

Oh, don't worry - I will. Starting tomorrow. Kate and Vaughan are coming back to see us. We're all going to see the Darkness at Rock City; not everyone's cup of tea, I know, but give this a listen. It may just strike a chord.

The Darkness - Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

Tempted though I was to title this post 'One Way Ticket to Hell...and Back' (after the Darkness album from which Good Idea is lifted) I decided to be charitable; after all, if I hadn't moved to the arse end of nowhere I would never have met Kate. Or Vaughan.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017


Sorry, I couldn't help myself: Susan Stranks and a real magpie
It won't have escaped your notice that Detectorists is back. TV archeologists will I'm sure, in years to come, if they're not already, be citing Mackenzie Crook's small screen masterpiece as, probably, the finest comedy drama of the 21st. century; amongst the ringpulls and scaffold clips that lie beneath the surface of the Radio Times, Detectorists is a bona fide treasure. The goldest of gold coins. The buried city. The Holy Grail.

And just when you thought it couldn't get any better, Episode 1 ended with this. I won't set it up for you - you'll get it; please just watch (and listen). And fall in love with it like I did.

That's right, 'Magpie' by the Unthanks. Has a soundtrack ever fitted a television programme so perfectly before? I don't think so.
Here are the fabulous Unthank sisters on Later, playing the full extended version.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Showing off

Getting close
We've all done it; showing off around girls. It's what boys - of all ages - do. We can't help it. What would you do if you were the singer in the band, or the guitarist, and Taylor Swift came up to you to share your microphone? Think about that next time you're playing air guitar by yourself.

Def Leppard [with Taylor Swift] - Hysteria 

Saturday, 25 November 2017

How I Need You

It was great to share the same stage as Peter Lister last Sunday at the Brain Jar in Hull. Peter's songs move me in ways that sometimes catch me unawares, leaving their mark on me indelibly.

Last year, with a little help from this blog (as I later found out), Peter's tour de force This House made the Top 100 Songs of 2016. I've never thought of myself as a discoverer of new talent (in the same way, probably, that Pete doesn't consider himself to be new), but if one good thing came out of my temporary exile in North Yorkshire (2010-2017) then it was meeting Peter at York Songwriters and listening to, and being absolutely mesmerised by, his beautifully crafted songs.

How I Need You has been on constant rotation at Medd Towers (YO18 and NG5) all year, and has featured on many of my playlists. Not least the one I'm currently compiling for Andy and Monika ahead of seeing them both tonight (more on that story later).

Anyway, fill your boots with another Peter Lister masterpiece.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Helplessly Hoping

Staggeringly not Side 1, Track 1
In the same way I wouldn't leave most bands (let alone a covers band) together in the same room as an XTC song, I definitely wouldn't leave a valuable Crosby, Stills & Nash treasure unattended.

But, it seems to me, Foxes and Fossils aren't most bands.

If you've already seen them tackle Senses Working Overtime then you certainly don't need any more blurb from me today. And, as for their interpretation of Helplessly Hoping, I'm sure you'll find - even the toughest cookies amongst you - that a little bit of your heart is left aching by the time they wrap this beautiful song up.

Monday, 20 November 2017


Electric Splatter

My footwear of choice these days is invariably a Chelsea boot; I have several pairs - in leather and suede - and in a range of colours; I quite like my blue ones. I also like to wear a skate shoe. I know - I don't skate. Have never skated. Christ, I can't skate. But Etnies, in true Mr. Kipling style, make exceedingly good skate shoes; I can still remember my first pair.

Phil Collen, on the other hand, is a sneaker freak (his words, not mine) and has recently brought out a Limited Edition range of self painted sneakers in Jackson Pollack splatter style. Collen has form - he also pimped a few Jackson guitars a while back in a similar fashion. This stylish short film ties the two together nicely.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

50 odd gigs - revisited

10cc? That's a lot of spunk
David Whitehall is on my Screenwriting course. The first time I met him he'd just returned from Amsterdam after seeing Lambchop over there; that's the sort of thing I do. I knew he'd be a prime candidate to list 50 memorable gigs - I wasn't wrong. Thanks for taking the time David, I appreciate it.

'Hi John, I've enjoyed doing this 50 Gigs list, though in the next life I'll definitely keep my ticket stubs! These are the ones I remember, but I was surprised to see how few I'd been to in the 90s; must've had something to do with being a parent! So, from the top:'

August 1964, The Jimmy Shand Band, Oban, Scotland. At 7 years old, first experience of live music. Remember joyfully stamping my feet to traditional Scottish music.

December 1972,  Lindisfarne, BBC recording ('Full House'), University Theatre, Newcastle. Taken by my parents, the first time I'd seen a 'rock' band: three (very loud!) songs from their Dingley Dell album.

April 1974,  Strawbs, Newcastle City Hall. First gig with mates - remember they played 'Lay Down' and 'Part Of The Union' - one of my dad's favourites: earlier that year, he'd gone on a one day strike from his job as a bank employee - my dad, the rebel!

More cc on the other side too
September 1974, 10cc, Newcastle City Hall. Re-scheduled gig so City Hall only half full. Rapturous crowd - three encores, the last one a jam : 'We've run out of songs!' Found my way into their dressing room after the gig (relieved not to find them engaged with groupies) and all four signed my ticket.

October 1974, Roxy Music, Newcastle City Hall. Knew that when I grew up, I wanted to be Bryan Ferry.

January 1975, Supertramp, (support Gallagher and Lyle, Chris de Burgh), Newcastle City Hall. Remember being mesmerised by the visuals to 'Rudy' and 'Crime of the Century'.

September 1975, Paul McCartney and Wings, Newcastle City Hall. His first tour since the split doing Beatles songs: gave my all in harmonies to 'Yesterday', until the bloke next to me told me to 'Shurrup!'

August 1976, Eric Clapton, Newcastle City Hall. In his band was young gun guitarist Larry Colyell. Remembering him doing a solo: Clapton watched, languidly put his fag on the machine head of his Strat, then did one of his own, fingers tearing up the fret board - genius.

December 1976, Joan Armatrading, Albert Hall, Nottingham. First gig I saw as a student. 'I am not in love, but I'm open to persuasion', the opening line to 'Love and Affection'. Newly arrived in Nottingham, I shared her hope.

January 1977, Genesis, Leicester de Montfort Hall. The Phil Collins Show - brilliant.

September 1977, Peter Gabriel, Newcastle City Hall. Remember him at one point disappearing off stage, re-appearing at the back of the hall, walking through the crowd and, predictably, being mobbed.

December 1977, Lindisfarne, Newcastle City Hall. 2,000 raucous Geordies welcome local heroes. So many highlights, but Alan Hull playing 'Winter Song' was/is a thing of beauty.

October1978, Mitislav Rostropovich, Nottingham Albert Hall. Dragged there by Olly, a classical music fan, I left knowing I'd witnessed greatness. The sounds he summoned from his cello were sublime.

December 1980, The Kinks, Rock City, Nottingham. Hoped they'd play 'Celluloid Heroes' - they didn't - but compensated with 'You Really Got Me' and 'Waterloo Sunset.

July 1981, Bob Dylan, NEC Birmingham. For some, his voice is an acquired taste, but I was struck that night by how powerful it was. Also remember with amusement the puzzled looks on people's faces, forced into a game of 'Guess The Classic' by his radical re-interpretations; though he did play something that sounded a bit like 'A Simple Twist Of Fate' so I, at least, went home happy.

July 1982, Rolling Stones, Roundhay Park, Leeds. Got a bus with a crowd from Selectadisc (Nottingham's late, lamented record shop). Stones supported by Joe Jackson, on stage sweetly taking photos of the crowd: 'I've never seen a crowd this big !' From our position (on a hill, seemingly several miles away) Jagger's voice drifted on the wind.

December 1982, Dire Straits, NEC Birmingham. 'Love Over Gold Tour' and Mark Knopfler's wonderful guitar playing. At the time, remember him promoting a new fangled invention: the Philips Compact Disc Player. I bought one soon after!

May 1983,: Robert Palmer, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall. Always loved 'Johnny and Mary' and 'I Woke Up Laughing' - remember RP looking very stylish in a black, bolero jacket. I wanted one immediately!

December 1983, The Police, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall. Took my girlfriend (who became 'the wife') - bought as a surprise for her birthday. I was definitely surprised by the parking ticket I got after queuing for tickets at 4 a.m.), and remember being unimpressed by Sting's use of an on-stage trampette.

December 1985, Dire Straits, NEC Birmingham. 'Brothers In Arms' tour. A favourite band in the 80s, and happy to catch them whenever I could.

December 1986, Level 42, NEC Birmingham. Remember a portion of the arena being curtained off, so not a sell-out, but hits got played.

August 1987, U2, NEC Birmingham. The Joshua Tree tour. Allied incredible power with melodic subtlety. A stunning gig and after it, to show solidarity, I even bought a U2 tee shirt - which inevitably shrunk in the wash.

January 1988, Eric Clapton (featuring Mark Knopfler), NEC Birmingham: marvellous duelling on 'Layla' and 'Sultans of Swing'.

October 1990 : Prefab Sprout, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall. Heard 'When Love Breaks Down' on the radio for the first time and remember the DJ saying 'Not if but when love breaks down' - struck by the apparent inevitability of love failing, I've been a fan ever since. And Paddy McAloon? Up there with vintages McCartney for melodies and hooks.

October 1990 : Everything But The Girl, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall. Even Tracey Thorn's voice and Ben Watt's harmonies were over-shadowed by seeing Prefab Sprout the night before.

June 1995, Ry Cooder, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall. He tours so rarely, it's always good to see a legend. Played 'in the round' and remember the atmosphere being reverential - like being at a classical concert.

June 1998, Lightning Seeds, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall. Loved 'Jollification' (still do) and Ian Broudie has written some superb love-lorn songs ('Telling Tales', 'My Best Day').

March 2000, Prefab Sprout, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall and Warwick Arts Theatre. Catch 'em when you can: they didn't tour very often, brilliant when they did, but sadly now, not at all.

April 2001, Neil Finn, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall. So comfortable with the audience, cheerfully encouraging banter and in total control. Great voice, great songs: clearly loves performing.

April 2004, David Cassidy, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall. If forced to express a preference, I would say David Cassidy over Donny, or any of The Osmonds. This was a surprise present for my wife, Therese but I was impressed: he played with an energy and a joy I really hadn't expected.

October 2004, Kings of Convenience, Warwick Arts Theatre. Two Norwegian guys playing guitar, harmonising beautifully, singing songs worthy of Simon and Garfunkel. Perfect.

Mr. Hawley's setlist: got to stay awake
May 2006, Richard Hawley, Rescue Rooms, Nottingham. Performer and stand up comedian. Brilliant. Standout track ? So many, but 'The Ocean' was especially memorable.

August 2006, Paul Buchanan and The Blue Nile, The Sage, Gateshead. Beautiful, melancholic songs, great voice: Buchanan captivated an adoring audience.

August 2007, America, Ogden County Fair, Utah. Assumed America hadd split up years before, so I was thrilled to discover they hadn't, and stunned to discover they were performing in Ogden, Utah at exactly the same time as we (me, Therese and our two daughters) were visiting family close by in Salt Lake City. 'Horse With No Name', 'Ventura Highway' - so many classics, and afterwards they signed my copy of their greatest hits. A definite result!
America in America

November 2007, Arcade Fire, Nottingham Arena. Special for me, because I took our eldest, Lucy -her first gig with her dad! It was memorable too for front man Win Butler - arenas are difficult venues for a band to connect with an audience and the band didn't: the show never recovered after a shoe thrown from the crowd hit Win Butler straight in the face. Not unsurprisingly, he vowed never to return to Nottingham. And he hasn't.

The mighty Glenn Campbell
October 2008, Glen Campbell, Nottingham, Royal Concert Hall. Catch the legends while you can, and make sure you're there for the start of the gig! Ticket said 7.30. No gigs start on time. This one did, so missed a few of his hits but did get to hear 'Witchita Lineman' - stunning. Hadn't known he was such a brilliant guitarist either. And although I hadn't intended to, I waited outside after the showe with a few hard core fans and he signed my ticket. I've been in the presence of greatness.

November 2008,  Fleet Foxes, Nottingham Trent University and Leadmill, Sheffield. Impressed with a band who, at the time, were relatively under the radar. Took our youngest, Rebecca, to the Sheffield gig: her first gig with her dad. J.Tillman, their drummer, was support. Soon after, he left; re-emerging as Father John Misty.

June 2009, Neil Young, Nottingham Arena. Not a big fan, but he's not a legend for nothing. His presence completely dominated a packed arena. A triumph.

October 2009, Kings Of Convenience, Warwick Arts Theatre. The duo returned, plus a piano accordionist and double bass player. As perfect as their 2004 show.

October 2010, Badly Drawn Boy, Nottingham Albert Hall. Sadly, a sparsely attended gig but a tremendous performance from Damon Gough showing no evidence of his apparent grumpiness. Took Lucy and delighted when he played 'The Shining' and 'Magic In The Air,' two of our favourites. Support was from The Candle Thieves - met them at the interval and we've loved them ever since.

October 2011, Bob Dylan, Nottingham Arena. Support from Mark Knopfler who acknowledged his back catalogue with a couple of Dire Straits songs. Then, a 90 minute set from Dylan during which he engaged with the audience - just the once - when he introduced his band at the end.We loved it! I watched through binoculars fascinated by the interplay between his band and the tight focus they had on Dylan's every move. Great band, and though Dylan's voice was shot, still a great gig.

March 2013, Julian Lloyd Weber (with Nottinghamshire Youth Orchestra), Nottingham Royal Concert Hall. He played Elgar's Cello Concerto - I'd had it on CD for ages, so it was a thrill to hear it live.

May 2014 : Halle Orchestra conducted by Sir Mark Elder, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Mahler 6th Symphony : melody and melancholy combined, with an apocalyptic ending. Played nationwide on American radio immediately after 9/11 : easy to see why.

January 2015, First Aid Kit, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall. Just two sisters, a slide guitarist and a drummer, but what a sound : such gorgeous harmonies. Half way through, a full house fell silent as the two girls unplugged, went to the front of the stage and did an entirely acoustic version of 'Ghost Town' to an audience enthralled.

July 2015, Chris Difford, Poppy and Pint, West Bridgford, Nottingham. Not often you get to see a rock star perform in your local! Not really a Squeeze fan, but Chris Difford showed himself to be a wonderful raconteur and performer. Great support from Arcelia and slide guitarist Melvin Duffy - and we only had two streets to walk home.

July 2015, Bert Bacharach, Nottingham, Royal Concert Hall. Sang, played piano, conducted his band - still very much got it at 87!

September 2016, Brian Wilson, Southend Pier. Glorious Beach Boys singalong : another 'oldster' who's still got it.

June 2017, Adele, Wembley Stadium. One woman and a crowd of 95,000: an unbelievable occasion. Great sound, great show 'Set Fire to the Fire' and the fireworks that accompanied it, just awesome.

David, left, and Lambchop
October 2017, Nile Rogers and Chic, Liverpool Echo Arena. Non-stop party time, a packed crowd on their feet dancing from the first note of 'I Want Your Love' to 'Good Times' 90 minutes later: the most joyous gig I've ever been to.

October 2017, Lambchop, Zonnehuis, Amsterdam. Small venue - a lovely Art Deco theatre filled with 150 knowledgeable and appreciative fans. Wonderful interplay between Kurt Wagner's guitar and Tony Crow's piano : a consistently beautiful sound.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Blue Days, Black Nights

Pray silence
Rejoice! The mighty Pugwash are just days away from releasing their seventh album; once again the airwaves will be awash with the majestic, heavenly sounds of Dublin's finest.

Several journals and blogs have got in early and are, already, heralding this brand new piece of plastic as the band's finest hour. Until I get my hands on a copy I can call my very own, and post my scores on the doors, I'll defer judgement. Instead I'm going to leave you with Thomas Walsh's tribute to a songwriting hero of his and, I suspect, many of you who secretly adore the luscious, and often luxurious, sounds of the Electric Light Orchestra.

Pugwash - Telephone Line

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Fall Out

It's been a long time since I fell out of a party at breakfast time - with a floozy on my arm falling out of her frock. Damn, when did I get old? Today's post, believe it or believe it not, had nothing to do with privileged Cambridge students stumbling out of champagne fuelled dens of debauchery, blinking in the early morning light not knowing if it's New York or New Year.

No, today's offering was going to be a eulogy to a well known landmark by the side of the A14 situated between the M11 and the Great North Road: the Trinity Foot pub has been a touchstone for me for more years than I care to remember. Heading either into, or out of, London, the Trinity Foot was a halfway house. A marker post that seemed to whisper 'not far to go now.' Alas, no more; they knocked it down this week.

And the reason for the photo above? I Googled 'Trinity Foot Cambs' (other search engines are available) and that's what came up. Straight up. Is it any wonder productivity has fallen off a cliff since they discovered the Word Wide Web?

Anyway, to balance things up, here's a picture of the aforementioned hostelry in its heyday. Before the wrecking ball smashed her into the ground.

The Police : Fall Out