Wednesday 29 April 2020

New York USA

So my trusty Google calendar reminds me that today I should be returning to work following a two week stay in the Big Apple. The original arrangements were that I would fly into the UK overnight on Sunday, landing in the early hours of Monday morning, spending the rest of the day and Tuesday snoozing and generally catching up with stuff, before heading back into the store this afternoon. The trip would've marked my first visit to New York in exactly ten years, but of course it was not to be. Here are a few snapshots that survive from previous visits in 2008/9/10 to keep me going until next time.

After my initial visits to the city in the early 1990s, I was never too bothered about hitting the tourist traps of Times Square, Fifth Avenue again, instead I'd usually head for lesser visited neighbourhoods, walking for hours fuelled only by endless coffee and bagels. On the rare occasions that my travels did take me to the mid-town area, I'd invariably strut along the sidewalk with Serge Gainsbourg's superb 'New York USA' as my internal soundtrack. The song comes from the 1964 LP 'Gainsbourg Percussions', his last full length outing for 4 years.

Serge Gainsbourg - New York USA

Thursday 23 April 2020

Free to Walk

Over the past few weeks of lockdown, a number of blogging chums have shared glimpses of their daily walks, bike rides or runs. Most recently it was Swiss Adam who detailed his walking routes through the nearby Ees (a word I'd never come across before) and posted a gorgeous sunset photo (along with a fantastic old Dub Syndicate tune). His summation struck a chord - '...this is now life in 2020...taking the time under these restrictions to appreciate what's on your doorstep...'

If the pandemic hadn't happened, I would've hoped that by now I'd be well on my way to selling this house and shipping out, leaving the ghosts and painful memories behind me, but, in these extraordinary circumstances, I count my blessings that I have a roof over my head and a job a mile down the road which allows me to legitimately get out and interact for a few hours on most days of the week - I'm all too aware that many are not so fortunate. And, returning to Swiss Adam's theme, I also truly appreciate what's on my doorstep. Attached are a few snaps, captured on my phone, from recent wanderings.

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan - Free to Walk

Monday 20 April 2020

Monday Long Song

Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe was a Nigerian highlife musician and bandleader, whose career stretched over 40 years until his death in 2007 at the age of 71. From 1985's 'Makojo' LP, 'Egwu Ogolo' is a typically joyful sounding piece that is difficult to sit still to. The tune moves, sways and effortlessly draws the listener in, but it's the horns that make it for me. They rarely materialise when I expect them to, or behave exactly as I think they will, but when they do appear everything lifts still further. Although the melody is exuberant, the lyrical subject matter might be a little darker, as the title translates as 'Threats of the Age'.

Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe - Egwu Ogolo

Thursday 16 April 2020

Years and Years and Years

Today I turn 60. Excuse me for a moment while I double check those numbers.....60. Shit. Yes, I'm definitely 60. If the world wasn't where it is, I would be celebrating with the family in New York right now. But instead of walking over the Brooklyn Bridge to track down a suitable birthday brunch location, instead of rummaging through the dusty bins of my favourite Williamsburg second-hand record store, instead of hitting a dive bar or two with my cousin's husband and instead of watching the sun go down across Lower Manhattan with a huge slice of pizza in my hand, instead of all those things...., I'll start the day by creating the largest veggie fry-up I can muster from the darkest corners of the fridge, wash it down with a pot or two of fabulous coffee (Honduras Pedro Ayala since you ask), take a walk down the lane and around a field or two and then head off to work for a few hours. This evening there are plans afoot to hang out with a couple of close chums on Skype, while quaffing the odd glass or three of red. There'll probably also be tunes and crisps involved.

Just rechecking those numbers again one last time. Yep, I'm definitely 60. Bloody hell, how did that happen?

Fridge - Years and Years and Years

Monday 13 April 2020

Monday Long Song / A Kungens Calendar - April

Back in 2013 the mighty Kungens Män (then only a year old) embarked on a project to release an album of downloadable music per month for a whole year, though for reasons best known to themselves, they actually kicked off the series in October, concluding it in September 2014. Therefore April's entry, 'Ny våg', is technically the 7th volume, but, call me old fashioned, I started this series in the logical place, at the beginning of the year! (For all kinds of reasons, I didn't get around to posting anything from the March release, but I plan to double back and feature it at a later date.)

The title of April's album translates as 'New Wave' and it's crammed with the usual top notch noodly improvised psych that we've come to know and love from the band. Kungens Män released a superb brand new double LP, 'Trappmusik' earlier this year and offshoot projects Automatism and Fanatism were also beavering away in the studio before the current situation put proceedings on hold, so hopefully there's plenty more of the good stuff to come in due course.

All 46 minutes of 'Ny våg' are available here for a 'name your own price' contribution. Today's selection from it translates as 'Fuss Comforter'.

Kungens Män - Tjafsaren

Saturday 11 April 2020

Photographs and Memories

'Time goes, you say? Ah no! 
Alas, Time stays, we go.' 
(Austin Dobson)

In the back yard of a small terraced house in the East End of London on April 11th 1925, a group of people assemble for a wedding photograph. The marriage in question is that of my maternal Nan and Grandfather, who sit arm in arm at the centre of the image. To Nan's left is my Grandfather's sister Maud, who, a little over 35 years later, would be known to me as Aunt Maud. At the other end of the same row, holding what looks like a small dog, is Maud's sister Marie. Towards the right end of the back row, standing alone, is Nan's sister Beatrice and in front of her, wearing a dark top and holding a baby in white is her other sister Carrie. The baby is Henry.

My Grandfather died in 1956, four years before I was born and Nan, Aunt Maud, Marie, Carrie (mother of my recently departed Aunty Emmy), Beatrice (emphysema ravaged Aunt Beat) and Henry were the only people from this photograph that I would get to know, albeit briefly in some cases. I have many photos of family get-togethers from the 1960's and into the beginning of the 1970's and gradually Beat, Carrie, Marie and Henry disappear from them. I don't remember any sadness or funerals at the time, though no doubt I was spared any such upset at my young age. It's a strange thing that, when you're very young, older people simply slip away almost without you noticing - they just don't come around anymore. You only remember that they were ever there at all many years later when you see a faintly familiar face in a photograph.

The sisters - Beatrice, Carrie and Nan, circa 1967

In 1974 Nan and Aunt Maud came to live with me and my parents, an often fraught arrangement in a small family home. By this time they were both in their late 70's, Nan was struggling to walk while Aunt Maud had been virtually blind since the 1950's. They were very loving though, and I have fond memories of much laughter in the house - they were real characters and each had their individual idiosyncrasies and mannerisms. Nan, for instance, would pepper her conversations with peculiar old proverbial phrases of dubious context, often leaving me scratching my head in confusion. One of the most baffling (and most regularly used) of these was, 'If you can't fight, wear a big hat'. Occasionally though, her arcane phrases would verge on the poetic. For example, after getting out of bed earlier than usual in the morning, she would claim that she had been up 'before the streets were aired', a lovely image which stayed with me in later life, popping into my head on many a frosty morning as I scraped the ice from my windscreen at 5.30am.

Additionally, there were also a number of bona fide homegrown 'Nanisms', her own little quirky ways of saying things, some of which affectionately remained in my family's vocabulary long after Nan died in 1976. These included pyjamas, which she always referred to as a 'pyjam suit' and, as a consequence of Nan's failure to get to grips with decimalisation in 1971, a 50p coin is, was, and shall forever be known as '...a silver ten-bob note...'

Marie and Aunt Maud, circa 1969

Aunt Maud died in 1982, still sneaking outside for the odd crafty ciggy until the end. She was a tiny lady and as I soared through the 6ft barrier in the late 1970's, she would look me up and down and declare in her soft cockney tones, 'I reckon I'm growing downwards!' It's remarkable to think back and realise that Nan, Aunt Maud, Marie, Beat and Carrie were all born in the 19th Century and that, at the time of my birth, Nan's wedding photograph was only 35 years old, although it may as well have been 135 years to my young eyes.

One last photo. Remarkably a present has survived from my Nan's wedding and it has become an unusual family heirloom. Times were hard, money was scarce and therefore an unknown guest (I wish I knew which one) offered a functional gift to the happy couple - a handmade coal shovel. As is often the way with wedding presents, it appears to have never been used and probably occupied a place on display in the family hearth, therefore remaining in the same pristine condition as when it was given, 95 years ago today.

Kevin Ayers - All This Crazy Gift of Time

Thursday 9 April 2020

Old Hat


C's brilliant bippity boppity hat musings of a few days ago (here) brought to mind my own long term struggles with.....well, head-wear of any kind really. In the same way that I don't have the correct shaped face to successfully support any kind of facial hair, I also possess a bonce that for some reason just can't carry off a hat, much to my eternal frustration.

Around 15 years ago I bought an old fedora from a vintage store in Brooklyn. It was love at first sight. I wore it constantly all around New York for the rest of that trip, convinced that I looked the bee's knees, regardless of what my reflection in store windows told me to the contrary.

The fedora was made by Fine Wear Hats of 58-14 Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn, which is approximately three miles from the location of the vintage store where I eventually found it all those years later. I wish the hat could talk. I'd love to know about its original owner. Did it ever leave the city, the borough, or even the neighbourhood?

Back in the UK, in the 15 years I've owned this fine titfer, I've probably worn it outside the house maybe twice, tops. I'm now fully conscious of the fact that it looks ridiculous perched on my head, however much I try to convince myself otherwise. Inside the house though, I wear it constantly - it's both extremely comfortable and strangely comforting. Come to think of it though, with no prospect of having a professional haircut in the foreseeable future and the old barnet becoming increasingly unkempt, perhaps the hat might yet serve an outdoor function as the lesser of two evils. 

Mice Parade - Old Hat

Monday 6 April 2020

Monday Long Song

The extraordinary 'Bitches Brew' by Miles Davis was released 50 years ago last week. It's particularly extraordinary because even from a vantage point of 2020, so much of the music contained on the double LP still sounds as if it's beamed in from fifty years in the future. You can call it jazz, you can call it jazz-rock, you can call it fusion, you could describe it as deeply funky, ambient, experimental electronic musique concrète - all those terms might well apply, yet are also simultaneously wide of the mark.

Using a band bolstered by such luminaries as Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul, the basic tracks were recorded across three days in the Summer of 1969, before being subject to a groundbreaking series of edits, splices, effects and loops in post-production by Miles and his producer Teo Macero. There's nothing quite like it.

Miles Davis - Pharaoh's Dance

Wednesday 1 April 2020


Howdy one and all. I hope I find everyone in good health in these strange and uncertain times. My recent (and probably ongoing) low profile round these parts is due to the current unparalleled day to day demands of life in the supermarket aisles. It's been an eye-opening period that's for sure. I won't go into graphic detail, but this situation seems to be simultaneously bringing out the very best and very worst of behaviours in the human race. I've not experienced anything like it in all my years in retail. I can only hope some of our customers take a long hard look at themselves when all this is over.

Other than podcasts, my main aural stimulation over the past few days has been the music of Bulbils, the electronic project of Richard Dawson and Sally Pilkington, who at the time of writing have recorded and released seven albums worth of music since March 22nd. They're all here as name your own price digital downloads and the duo show no signs of slowing down as long as the lockdown continues.

Bulbils - Coddle

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