Friday, 17 March 2023

Friday Photo #36

With my week of two Robyn Hitchcock shows fast approaching, a message arrived through the ether from my boss, informing me that I still had a further fortnight of holiday entitlement to squeeze in before the end of March. It was news to me. I'd calculated, incorrectly it transpires, that the Hitchcock week exhausted my annual allocation. Long story short, I was granted permission to tack on the outstanding two weeks to the already booked final week of February and made hasty plans to pay a 10 day visit to my family in New York, my first for 13 years. I'll drop odd titbits here and there in the coming weeks, rather than give you chapter and verse about the trip all in one go, but suffice it to say I had a great time catching up with my cousin, her husband and their three (now very grown up) kids. 

Last Thursday I headed out of the apartment early, bound for the Nick Cave (not that one) 'Forothermore' exhibit at The Guggenheim. Later, with a healthy dose of culture under my belt, I wandered across 5th Avenue and into Central Park for a wonderful four hour amble around the massive green space. It was a literal breath of fresh air after several days pounding the sidewalks of the Big Apple and offered up a wealth of largely unfamiliar (to this Englishman!) birdlife. I saw Grackle, Hairy and Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, Red Tailed Hawks, hundreds of geese, thousands of hilarious American Robins, Mourning Doves, Northern Cardinal, Scarlet Tanager, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-winged Blackbird, something very blue that I've not yet identified and other birds that were just too quick for my eyes. Apparently there are also half a dozen species of owl to be seen, but alas I didn't spot any. Stars of the show though were the delightfully amiable Tufted Titmice, currently plentiful, though apparently completely (and mysteriously) absent from the park two years ago. I had them eating out of my hand.


Here's an appropriately titled song from 'Time Was Away', the enchanting 2022 album by Emily Portman & Rob Harbron. It really is a thing of beauty - check it out here.

Emily Portman & Rob Harbron - The Birds in the Spring

Wednesday, 15 March 2023

And I Was Crying

Robyn at Alexandra Palace

I'd had the last week of February booked off for months and months and months, since Robyn Hitchcock announced a one-off electric show at the Alexandra Palace for the 25th. Some time later, he bracketed the London performance with the announcement of a handful of solo acoustic gigs, including one in Brighton on the 22nd, so I snapped up a ticket for that one as well. Brighton was intimate, the kind of presentation I've become accustomed to over the past couple of years worth of livestreams, while at the Ally Pally, just days short of his 70th birthday, he rocked out with a band comprising the surviving members of The Soft Boys, bolstered by Bedders from Madness on bass.

On both nights, Robyn was joined for a few numbers by his wife and muse Emma Swift, whose spellbinding harmonies have been a highlight of his music in recent years. They've sung 'Glass Hotel' together countless times and I never tire of it. In Brighton I was reaching for my hanky before they'd got out of the first verse. 

Here's an audience recording of 'Glass Hotel' (preceded by a snatch of typically amusing Swiftcock banter) from Chicago in April 2022, the natural echo of the hall only adding to the majesty of the song.

Monday, 6 March 2023

Monday Long Song

The internet isn't exactly overflowing with information about Sex Blender, but their social media pages still appear to be active, so I trust that they're safe and well. The four piece, who hail from Lviv in Ukraine, have put out two full length LPs through Brighton's Drone Rock Records ('Hormonizer' in 2018 and 'The Second Coming' in 2020), as well as a couple of self-released efforts ('Studio Session 1' in 2021 and 'Live' in 2022). Their instrumental tuneage runs the gamut of psych, kosmische and space rock, though this non-album track finds the band in reflective mood - I'm even detecting nods to the Canterbury Scene in the mix. Check 'em out here.

Sex Blender - Hospice Dance Floor

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

The Needle and the Damage Done

I get on particularly well with one of the senior managers in my store. We're roughly the same age, but unlike me who has moved from pillar to post throughout my working life, he's resolutely old school, a one company man, 45 years man and boy. I might never have met him at all, were it not for unfortunate circumstances. He'd intended to retire in his fifties, buoyed by the healthy company pension he'd accumulated, but his wife of 25 years left him just as he was about to hang his hat up, relieving him of their house and a substantial amount of said pension in the process. So he was forced to work on, in order to re-stock the retirement fund. 

Anyway, long story short, he's decided that now is the time to quit. He's not retiring altogether though, there's no way he could stop just like that - retail is in his blood. But he's going to step down from the ridiculous stress of supermarket management and move to another store as a regular general assistant, back to the position he started in 45 years ago. I'll miss him. He's always been on hand with encouraging words during my own intermittent bumps in the road. He's also well into his music, so we often waffle on about that. He's not an obsessive by any means, in fact he's largely oblivious to any post-1990s musical developments, but he knows what he likes and he's got pretty good taste - Reggae, Motown, Northern Soul, The Jam, The Specials etc. 

I've always respected his position and never pushed my luck in spite of our amiable relationship, until one day a few weeks ago at least, when I completely lost my head and let rip at him in front of everybody in the staffroom! It happened when we were discussing turntables and he voiced a concern that his was too old. I countered that my own deck is over 30 years old and that as long as he looked after it and changed the stylus regularly it should be fine for his needs. It was then he let it slip that he's had his deck for over 40 years and (honestly, I can barely bring myself to type these words).....he's NEVER changed the stylus in all that time! Can you imagine? I'm amazed that he gets any sound out of it at all by this stage. Anyway, after I'd calmed down a bit, I got him to bring in the details so that I could source him a replacement stylus post-haste. I've bought him a Lee Perry compilation LP as a leaving present and I can't have him disappearing over the horizon with that on my mind.


Here's the dark, dark tale of a very different kind of needle from one Harry Snyder. The song was originally tucked away on the b-side of a single in 1966, but I have it as the opening track on a 2016 compilation entitled 'Hillbillies in Hell: Country Music's Tormented Testament', which should give you some idea of what you're in for. 

Harry Snyder - The Needle

Monday, 27 February 2023

Monday Long Song

2022 was an uncharacteristically quiet year for the usually uber-prolific Richard Youngs, but on January 1st a fantastic new, name your own price, digital album 'Live at the Creation Room' appeared on his Bandcamp page, followed on February 1st by 'Back to the Creation Room'. I sense a theme developing. I wonder what the day after tomorrow will bring? 

Here's Richard in PIL-era John Lydon jamming with Jaki Liebezeit mode from January's release.

Richard Youngs - High Definition Atmosphere

Monday, 20 February 2023

Monday Long Song

'This Stupid World', Yo La Tengo's 17th album, is a title that I think we can all get fact if anything it's far too mild a descriptor for the present day state of the planet. Work initially commenced on the record back in 2020 before being interrupted by the pandemic. Following further sessions in late 2021 and throughout 2022, the LP was finally released a couple of weeks ago. The band visit these shores in April for three dates as part of their world tour. The London Palladium on the 14th sounds enticing to me if anyone else is up for it.

Yo La Tengo - Sinatra Drive Breakdown

Friday, 10 February 2023

Friday Photo #35

My water-themed photo arrived over at John Medd's gaff too late in the day to be included in his new monthly series last week, so here, rather belatedly, it is. Following a few days of biblical rainfall in mid-January, the local temperatures, to quote the Pythons, didn't so much fall as plummet. The gallons of standing water round these parts, became huge puddles of ice overnight - treacherous, but quite attractive. I ventured out one morning, slipping and sliding all over the place, to fire off a few shots with John's project in mind. This one, taken by the side of the river, though not a particularly large example, is a favourite from the bunch. By this time the sky was blue and the sun piercingly bright, casting shadows of the rushes across the ice. Apologies for my tardiness John, I'll attempt to be more on the ball this month.


Several of my musical heroes took to their laptops during lockdown, to offer livestreamed shows - Christina Alden & Alex Patterson performed a few, Ed Kuepper beamed in a handful from Australia and Robyn Hitchcock never stopped doing them and is now at the 300 mark. Alasdair Roberts played just the one, but it was memorable indeed. He generally very rarely performs any Appendix Out material these days, but his livestreamed show surprised us all by being entirely made up of acoustic interpretations of some of his very earliest recordings. In June 2020 Alasdair consolidated his look in the rear-view mirror with the release of The Songs of My Boyhood, 11 acoustic reworkings of songs from the Appendix Out catalogue, including Ice Age, in its original incarnation the band's 1995 debut single.

Alasdair Roberts - Ice Age

Friday, 27 January 2023

Friday Photo #34

One of the earliest photos I have of Mum & Dad, taken in 1953, two years before they were married

It was an unexpected delight to hear Robyn Hitchcock perform 'On the Street Where You Live' on a recent Live From Tubby's House streamed show and an even greater joy to discover a studio recording had dropped through my digital letterbox a few days later, via his Patreon account. It turns out that the song has held a special place in Robyn's heart since his childhood. Mine too.

My Dad was a noisy man, there's no getting around it. He sang, he whistled and he blew his nose, all at considerable volume. 'The Street Where You Live' was one of the songs I remember him bellowing out around the house when I was but a wee young lad. Actually, I very probably have a recording of him singing it (along with a couple of Gerry & the Pacemakers hits and this by Anthony Newley) on one of the surviving family reel-to-reel tapes. Unfortunately I've had nothing to play those tapes on for thirty years or more, but at least I know that his voice is over there in the cupboard, waiting for the day when I track down a reasonably priced reel-to-reel player, so that I can hear that noisy fella who gave me my love of music singing once again.

I'm not sure which version of 'On the Street Where You Live' was Dad's particular favourite, goodness knows there were plenty to choose from in the 1950s and 60s. I enjoy Bobby Darin's sprightly jaunt through the song and also Nat King Cole's more measured reading. This live performance from Perry Como is rather good too.

Thursday, 26 January 2023

Come Here Little Ghost

Robyn pauses for a mid-show chat with Ringo

Getting on for three years in, Robyn Hitchcock and Emma Swift's life-affirming series of streamed concerts (Live From Tubby's House) continue. Every week they perform new songs, old songs, ridiculously obscure out-takes, covers, all interspersed with laughter and life updates. Robyn usually begins each show with a few minutes of instrumental acoustic noodling and concludes, 90 minutes later, with a slow building raga. Yesterday, a mere four months after the release of the magnificent 'Shufflemania', Robyn announced 'Life After Infinity', a brand new completely instrumental album, which is due out in April. Read all about it here.

Friday, 20 January 2023

Friday Photo #33

I paid a flying visit to the smoke last weekend, to check in on my aunt and catch up with my cousin, whose own, literal, flying visit involved significantly more miles than mine. She flew in from New York to stay with her mum on Friday before heading home again on Tuesday. 

Three highlights of any trip to my aunt's little corner of London are; 

1) Newham Bookshop. A glorious indie on the Barking Road. Enter this place at your own risk. The last things I need at this stage of my life are yet more books to add to the never-ending pile, but once through the door I lose any sense of self control - resistance is absolutely futile. It's a wonderful Aladdin's Cave of a place. 

2) Central Park Café. The park itself is a fabulous local resource, but the café at its heart is a real community hub, welcoming families and their canine pals into its generous space. In addition to a friendly welcome and a decent brew,  they bake a fresh rack of delicious sourdough every morning, seven days a week. I nipped in to pick up a warm loaf before leaving on Monday and demolished half of it at home that very evening. 

3) The Boleyn Tavern. Following a lengthy and much needed refurbishment, The Boleyn welcomed thirsty punters back into the historic pub in June 2021, since when it's been my local whenever I'm in town. The food is great, the beer selection is ever-evolving and the contents of the free jukebox are seemingly purloined from my own record collection. I couldn't ask for anything more.


Dave Bartholomew, who died in 2019 at the ripe old age of 100, was no slouch in the songwriting department, co-penning such r&b staples as 'I'm Walking', 'Ain't That a Shame', 'Walking to New Orleans' and 'I Hear You Knocking'. Here he is in 1952 though, performing a cleverly written Billy Austin song. 

You'd never find these kind of shenanigans going on at The Boleyn.

Dave Bartholomew - Who Drank My Beer While I Was in the Rear?

Friday, 13 January 2023

Friday Photo #32

The closest pub to my gaff had already ceased trading by the time I rolled into town a couple of years ago. It wasn't alone either. Two more former hostelries also stand abandoned and forlorn within a mile of my front door. I quickly became convinced that my would-be local, in spite of its listed building status, was destined to eventually become a residential property. So imagine my delight when, out of the blue, the old place was purchased and reopened as a boozer in the Spring of 2022. Since then the pub has become something of a bolthole for me on a day off, a place to while away an hour at lunchtime with a book, either indoors, or, during the heat of the Summer, out in the yard (it can't really be called a beer garden). The pub was open for a couple of hours on Christmas Day, allowing me the perfect opportunity to stretch my legs, enjoy a pint and have a bit of a chinwag with a group of friendly strangers at the bar, before returning to the solitude of my flat. 

As I mentioned previously, I didn't do too well on the eating front during the busy run-up to Christmas, variations of toast and porridge mainly, so I was determined to enjoy a decent meal on the big day itself. When I got home from the pub I roasted every vegetable I could find in the fridge, threw in a few pieces of Quorn, piled the lot onto a monster Yorkshire pud and doused it all with lashings of gravy. It may not look (or sound) that appetising to most readers, but my goodness it was welcome, delicious and filling. The only problem was that following the long, exhausting festive period at work, the bracing wander to the pub, a midday pint and such a hearty repast, within a very short time I could barely keep my eyes open. Long story short, I was in bed by a little after 6pm and didn't stir for a full eleven hours. What a glorious and much needed lump of sleep that was.

Bill Wells & Aiden Moffat - Dinner Time

Tuesday, 3 January 2023

Beautiful Friend

I kept increasingly erratic hours as December progressed, arriving at work by 4am in a fruitless attempt to get ahead of the game before the doors opened and pausing only for a quick shower before hitting the sack as my eyes began to burn early in the evening. Food wasn't high on the list of priorities, though I did discover the revitalising powers (and convenience) of an instant porridge pot in lieu of lunch and more than once wondered if it'd be possible to have an intravenous drip of coffee surgically attached to my body in some fashion. Anyway, it was while in this slightly altered state that I glanced at my phone in the early hours of December 20th to find that Shirley Watts had passed away at the age of 84. It was sad news, but I allowed myself a brief bittersweet smile to know that she was now reunited with her beloved Charlie. With a mug of steaming black coffee in one hand I scrolled further through my Instagram feed and began to see multiple photos of Terry Hall appear. My semi-conscious mind reasoned that it must've been his birthday, but of course the truth was altogether more tragic. 

I've yet to begin trying to catch up with what's been going on around these parts in the period that I've been otherwise engaged, but I'm sure that blog tributes to Terry will have been fulsome and heartfelt across the board. His passing is one of those, not unlike that of Charlie Watts actually, that has hit unexpectedly hard. Terry Hall's music entered my life when I saw The Coventry Automatics supporting The Clash in 1978 and, well, he's kind of been there or thereabouts ever since. It was only at the end of November that I dug out The Specials' comeback album 'Encore' for a spin and marvelled once again at what a very good record it is. 

Somewhere in this flat there's a box of VHS videos, the remenents of the days when I recorded anything relating to music off the TV. I threw away bin-liners full of those tapes when I got rid of the telly in the early noughties, but somewhat illogically still hold onto a few particularly prized videos, even though all the contents are probably available on YouTube these days. One of the tapes that I kept contains Fun Boy Three's live cover of 'The End', the band's TV swansong, broadcast on the short-lived programme 'Switch'. It's a performance every bit as electrifying now as it was that evening back in 1983. Terry's hair is quite magnificent too.

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