Friday 22 December 2023

Compliments of the Season

Apologies for my prolonged absence round these parts. I've missed you all and will try to be more visible next year. Wishing you health and happiness in 2024. 

Friday 27 October 2023

Friday Photo #54


With Mum's side of the family, I'm fortunate to have a well documented photographic trail to follow back through time, as far as the early years of the 20th century - Dad's much less so. Dad was one of seven children, but there are no photos of any of them in the family archive prior to their respective marriages in the 1950s. In my whole life I've only ever seen one photo of my paternal Grandfather, a man who was born in 1889 and passed away three months after I was born in 1960. From what I can gather he didn't attend the wedding ceremonies of any of his offspring, or if he did, he excused himself from the group photos, most of which I have copies of. There are precious few surviving images of my paternal Grandmother, Alice (1890-1967) and all of those were taken by my Dad in her later years. This is Alice in 1964. I have faint memories of her formidable presence at family gatherings, which was in stark contrast to the frailty of my maternal Grandmother.

Friday 20 October 2023

Friday Photo(s) #53

You may be familiar with Anish Kapoor's 2006 sculpture Cloud Gate, situated in Millennium Park, Chicago. Due to its shape, the huge reflective piece quickly became referred to as The Bean. In February, mere weeks before I touched down in New York, Kapoor's 15 years in-the-making Big Apple version of The Bean was finally unveiled, located just a few hundred yards from my cousin's apartment. Where Cloud Gate stands unencumbered on prominent display, its Tribeca counterpart gives the impression of having been forcibly squished beneath a canopy in the entrance of a large residential building, spilling out across the sidewalk. I was keen to take a good look at the sculpture, but the area was very busy during my initial visit so I only managed to snatch a quick side angle shot from Leonard Street. On the Sunday morning, while on an an extended wander in search of coffee, I found Church Street practically deserted, allowing me to capture The Bean head-on. The imposing structure is 58ft long, 19ft high and cost an estimated $8-10 million dollars to create. 

Spoon - Me and the Bean  

Friday 13 October 2023

Friday Photo(s) #52

While there was a conspicuous lack of interesting gigs during my visit to New York in March, I did have a few cultural bits and bobs set in stone long before I boarded my flight. One of those was a trip over to the Meatpacking District to catch 'Edward Hopper's New York' at The Whitney a couple of days before the show closed. Given that it was so late in the retrospective's five month run, together with the necessity to pre-book not just a ticket, but also a specific timeslot, I more or less assumed that the gallery space would be easy and comfortable to negotiate. How wrong I was. It was absolutely rammed, ridiculously oversold. I'm guessing that The Whitney had decided to ring every last drop out of the popular exhibit before it packed up and shipped out. The Hopper art on display was almost exclusively modest in size, which meant needing to get as close as possible to each piece while continuously jostling with the crowds for a couple of hours. It was like being in an ongoing series of scrums, moving slowly through the gallery. The work itself was of course fantastic. I was particularly interested by the many magazine illustrations on view, an area of his life I knew little about. Then there were the sketchbooks. The creative process in any artform is a thing of mystery and fascination to me and it was riveting to see as he edged, over successive pages, ever closer towards a finished masterpiece we know so well.

Monday 9 October 2023

Move Out of My Way

From slap bang in the middle of the 1970s comes Bunny Clarke, aka Bunny Rugs, soon to become lead vocalist with Third World, but here in a solo stylee with the follow up to his cover of 'To Love Somebody', which, confusingly, he recorded as Bunny Scott.....I hope you're taking notes, there'll be a test later. The tune in question is 'Move Out of My Way', a militant Lee 'Scratch' Perry produced groover that didn't trouble the chart compilers of the day to any great extent. What it did do, however, was spawn a number of dubs and versions, including this oddly disturbing example, released under the title 'Kojak', by Perry himself on the 'Revolution Dub' LP later the same year. With the titular lollypop-sucking cop playing on the TV in the background as he works, Scratch retains just enough of Clarke's vocal to inject disorientating stabs into an eerily stripped back rhythm track, which I've always found a little unsettling, but perhaps that's just me. Who loves ya baby?

Bunny Rugs & the Upsetters - Move Out of My Way

Lee Perry - Kojak

Friday 6 October 2023

Friday Photo #51

There's a weekly feature over on Instagram that's been going on for a very long time, whereby old family photos are dug out and shared every Thursday, using the hashtag #throwbackthursday. It's an interesting way to catch glimpses of a world long gone, via anonymous vintage snapshots and memories. I've contributed to #throwbackthursday most weeks for at least 4 years now and a number of those shots have also graced these pages at one time or another. As a consequence I've plundered dad's boxes of slides and negatives multiple times, yet every now and then I still unearth one I've missed, today's being a prime example. I don't ever remember seeing this photo before a few weeks ago and I have to say that the ancient, over-exposed image caught me emotionally off-guard when I stumbled upon it.

It was taken in 1961. Dad is holding me on the pillar of the wall in the front garden. He's looking up, smiling. And me? I'm clearly loving the thrill of being up there, at just about the height I'd one day reach. These are roughly the respective perspectives Dad and I would have of each other for most of my adult life, after I'd shot past his 5' 10" at around the age of 15 or 16. It's always nice to see a photo of Dad & I together. There aren't that many in the archives, as he was the family photographer, with Mum & I as the frequent subjects. A quick squint on Google Street View shows me that, remarkably, the front garden wall is still standing, albeit in a refurbished state, 62 years later.

Human League - Empire State Human

Monday 2 October 2023

Monday Long Song

'Free', recorded in 1989 and issued on the soundtrack of the awful 1990 film 'Flashback', was the parting shot from the classic line-up of Big Audio Dynamite. Later in 1990 a new recording of the song, rechristened 'Kickin' In', appeared on 'Kool Aid', the first LP by Mick Jones' raw recruits now trading as Big Audio Dynamite II. In 1991 the same song surfaced once again on their live 'Ally Pally Paradiso' album, though by this time, somewhat confusingly, it had reverted to its original moniker, 'Free'.

Here's that 1989 swansong from the original BAD.

Big Audio Dynamite - Free

Monday 4 September 2023

Zéro, Mille, Deux Mille, Ha Ha!

A couple of weeks ago our mutual blogging chum Charity Chic shared a handful of blistering punk tunes taken from a themed Mojo sampler (here), among them was the marvellous 'Paris Maquis' by French four piece Metal Urbain. The band formed in 1976, inspired by the burgeoning punk scene on this side of the English Channel and were gone by 1980, leaving three virtually perfect singles and a compilation LP of sessions, demos and b-sides behind them. They were notable at the time for using a rudimentary drum machine and sundry experimental electronic noises to embellish their gloriously primitive racket. 

Here are those three brilliant singles, all of which I bought back then and still have. 'Panik' on the French indie label Cobra, 'Paris Maquis', RT 001, the first ever release on Rough Trade and 'Hystérie Connective', issued in 1979 on Radar Records, early home to Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Nick Lowe, The Pop Group and, lest it be forgotten, The Soft Boys.


Paris Maquis

Hystérie Connective

Wednesday 30 August 2023

Ten Go-to Albums

There's a thread doing the rounds of the YouTube vinyl community that's been difficult to avoid in recent weeks, concerning the ten albums you go-to most. Not necessarily your all-time favourite albums (though of course some of those might be included), but ten records that you might instinctively reach for as you gaze, otherwise uninspired, at your racks, boxes or digital folders, in search of something to play. Musical comfort blankets if you will. The thread got me thinking and I quickly jotted down a couple of dozen of my own go-to albums off the top of my head. Here, in no particular order, are ten of them. 

(For the purposes of this exercise I've deliberately avoided choosing any records from my personal big hitters - Bob Dylan, Marc Bolan, Robyn Hitchcock, Bowie, The Clash, Miles Davis, Alasdair Roberts et al ('...all the cats..' to quote Marc, ' know who they are...'), as they would quickly come to dominate a list such as this).

The Sundays - Reading Writing and Arithmetic

You'll often find me piping up about this one whenever discussion turns to defining the perfect album. I've always felt a bit sorry for 'Blind' and 'Static & Silence', either one of which would surely have been regarded as a formidable first outing in an alternative universe, but instead they languish in the immense shadow cast by the band's actual, impeccable debut. 

Joe Henry - Trampoline

At the dawn of the 1990s I was deep in the pocket of The Jayhawks and followed them over to Joe Henry's 1992 album 'Short Man's Room', where they functioned as the house band. It was Joe's 4th album and his 5th, 'Kindness of the World', also included sundry Jayhawks within it's cast. Then, following a three year gap, came 'Trampoline', an album unlike those that came before, a huge progression. Fine as those early albums were, for me, this is where Joe truly found his voice. Sometime last year in one of those online polls, I nominated 'Trampoline' as the album I'd most like to see gain a vinyl (re)issue. To my amazement, Joe got wind of my comment and reached out to thank me for it.

Nancy Wallace - Old Stories

Nancy is a serial collaborator who has contributed to the likes of The Memory Band and The Owl Service over the years, with 2008's 'Old Stories' remaining her sole solo full length release. It's a fragile, timeless delight of an album, recommended heartily to one and all, even though it doesn't actually contain my all-time favourite song of hers (this one).

Maria McKee - Life is Sweet

1993's 'You Gotta Sin to Get Saved' is a raucous gospel influenced affair, but it's the follow-up from three years later that is my go to. 'Life is Sweet' is a harrowing, over the top opus that baffled record label, critics and fans alike at the time, though for some reason completely connected with me. I have no idea what was going on in McKee's life back then, but in places on this album she sounds as if she's not far from the very end of her tether. Unhinged and utterly gripping music.

Mikey Dread - African Anthem

A joyful aural snapshot of Mikey's late 1970's JBC radio show, featuring dubs and instrumental backing tracks overlaid with mad jingles and eccentric sound effects. I'm not claiming that African Anthem is the greatest reggae album ever made, nor even my favourite of that genre, but if push comes to shove it's the one I still dig out most often. 

Ed Kuepper - I Was a Mail Order Bridegroom

Ed Kuepper put out great albums at a prolific rate through the 1990s, though it's this 1995 limited mail-order release that I've pulled from the racks most over the years. Recorded during rehearsals for a solo acoustic European tour, it's a career overview reaching back to The Saints' 'Messin' With the Kid' and also featuring a fine cover of The Who's 'The Seeker'.

Emerson Lake & Palmer - Trilogy

'Trilogy' was one of my earliest musical forays away from the hitherto Glam-only diet of T.Rex, Bowie, Sweet, Slade etc. I was 12 years old when I first heard this record that combines classical subtleties, progressive explorations, honky tonk hoedowns, bawdy rockers & tender ballads and I still play it regularly 50 years later. 

Chook Race - Around the House

If you, like me, enjoy guitars that jangle, choruses that chime and have an fondness for the early sound of the Flying Nun label, this one's for you. Effortlessly charming and instantly catchy. The band's second and still most recent LP from 2016. Are you still out there guys? 

Rozi Plain - Friend

'It will be reported to be, a difficult year, a tumultuous year...' So begins Rozi's third LP, a break-up album, yet suffused with optimism as well as regret. It's the aural equivalent of a comforting arm around the shoulder. She hasn't put a foot wrong across her five full length releases, but if you're a newcomer, start here.

Grant McLennan - Horsebreaker Star

It was Grant's 'Cattle and Cane' that originally drew me into the orbit of The Go-Betweens back in 1983. 11 years later, during the band's decade long hiatus, he released his third solo album, the magnificent double CD 'Horsebreaker Star'. I'm on record as professing my extreme admiration for Robert Forster's current run of 'The Evangelist', 'Songs to Play', 'Inferno' and 'The Candle and the Flame', four outstanding albums, but it's Grant's 'Horsebreaker Star' that I return to time and again. For me it's his very best work and yet another of my favourites never to have gained a vinyl release. What chance a 30th anniversary reissue next year?


Rather than overwhelm by posting a selection from each of the ten albums, here's just one from Joe Henry. The slowed to a crawl take on the 'Sympathy For the Devil' riff permeates 'Ohio Air Show Plane Crash', growing steadily in stature and volume throughout, drawing the listener ever deeper into the tale of the unnamed stranger standing at the bridge. The song runs for 6½ minutes, but I'd gladly take another half an hour of it.

Joe Henry - Ohio Air Show Plane Crash   

Friday 4 August 2023

Friday Photo #50

My aunt, who turned 94 yesterday, has lived alone in East London since my uncle died in 1978 and is the last surviving family member to have known me since birth. She's still cooks all her own meals, does her own housework and washing, all the while keeping her mind active by knitting for England and completing endless wordsearch puzzles. In fact I sent her another half a dozen wordsearch books as a birthday gift, which should hopefully keep her ticking along for a few months. As I've mentioned previously, my aunt, uncle and cousin shared our house in Walthamstow for the first dozen or so years of my life, so I've long considered her as an extra parent and I know that my cousin regarded my own mum in the same way.

Today's photo was taken in the back garden in the early summer of 1963, just prior to my cousin's arrival. My aunt at the back, doing her best to hide her baby bump beneath a baggy pinny, mum in the middle knitting something pink for the forthcoming addition to the family and me in my best bib and tucker at the front. I can only imagine that I must've been bribed to look so angelic!


Lieutenant Pigeon were an interesting combo. They had a short run of hit singles in the 1970s that your nan would've happily nodded along to, while at the same time some of their b-sides and album fillers displayed a wacky, low budget sense of experimentalism. Here's the quite odd closing track from Mouldy Old Music, their debut LP, released in 1973.

Friday 21 July 2023

Friday Photo(s) #49

Dad would've loved to have visited New York. He had a life long fascination with the city and would no doubt have spent hours walking its alleys, streets and neighbourhoods, but by the time my cousin relocated to the Big Apple in the 1980s and invited him over, it was already too late. The mobility issues that dogged his later life were beginning to take hold and he knew in his heart that he wouldn't have been physically capable of doing the things he really wanted to do, which would have frustrated him enormously. So he never made it there, but enjoyed hearing about my exploits whenever I returned from a stay with my cousin and I got into the habit of buying him a book about some aspect of New York each time. I got him one on the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and another about the growth of the subway system, but his favourite was the one I picked up about the history of the Staten Island Ferry. If Dad could have been magically transported to New York and allowed to do just one thing, I think it would have been to have taken that iconic orange ferry, gazing back across the harbour as Manhattan disappeared into the distance. He simply couldn't believe that I'd never done it. This year, on a bright, chilly March morning, I put that right.

The Upsetters - Ferry Boat

Friday 14 July 2023

Friday Photo #48

In early 1996, a few weeks before I was due to visit her in New York, my cousin managed to reserve me a ticket for a recording of  Conan O'Brien's Late Night TV show on Thursday April 4th. I believe she had filled a blanket application for all four of Conan's shows that week to ensure I got into at least one of them. If I'd had a ticket for Tuesday 2nd I would've seen O'Brien chatting with William Shatner and on Friday 5th Nathan Lane and Martin Amis were on the sofa. On my night the guests were Mary Tyler Moore and Ahmet & Dweezil Zappa. As luck would have it Conan's April 4th show also included a musical turn, Son Volt. Now I'd been lucky enough to have seen Uncle Tupelo in concert three years earlier in London and also caught a handful of Wilco's early UK shows, but Son Volt's performance of Drown that night remains the one and only song I've ever seen the band play.

These days TV talk show reservations are applied for online, which is exactly what I did prior to my return to New York a couple of months ago. The tickets are still free, but it's also still a complete lottery, so I filled blanket applications for both The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and Late Night with Seth Meyers, hoping I wouldn't get tickets for both shows on the same day. As it transpired I struck lucky with a Colbert recording on the Tuesday and Meyers the following day. There were no musical guests on either show this time around, though Jim Himes, a bee-keeping Democratic House Intelligence Committee member, gave me a glint of optimism for the future of American politics and author Margaret Atwood was a charming and funny interviewee. (I've linked both interviews if you're interested). Meanwhile, back in 1996.....

Friday 30 June 2023

Friday Photo #47

Last Monday, a year on from our first get together in Edinburgh, a handful of bloggers descended on the fine city of York for 48 hours of food, conversation and laughter. And what a complete joy it was. Alyson, C, Charity Chic (+ Mrs CC), John Medd (+ Mrs M) and I were all present and correct once again, while Martin, who was unable to attend this time round, was sorely missed. Recollections to follow, I've no doubt.

Aside from shots of the participants, I took virtually no photos in York, so here's one I submitted to the BlogCon'23 WhatsApp group while en route to our rendezvous, taken while standing on Peterborough railway station, with a ticket for my destination.

Be Bop Deluxe - Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape

Friday 23 June 2023

Friday Photo #46

A few weeks ago (here) I shared a photo taken beneath the Queensboro Bridge on Roosevelt Island. My cousin had bagged that particular day off work and joined me on my travels up and over the  Roosevelt Island Tramway and later for a bracing (read, bloody freezing!) ride on the East River Ferry, under the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn Navy Yard. After a revitalizing coffee and outrageously good doughnut in the Brooklyn Roasting Company on Flushing Avenue, we wandered up to Fort Greene, then back to the river via the iconic Dumbo neighbourhood. The plan was to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and back to the apartment, but when we got to the bridge we found it closed because of a potential jumper in the middle. Multiple choppers hovered directly overhead, police boats patrolled the waters below, ambulances stood ready at each end and the crowd of people waiting to cross quickly became a huge goggling throng. Rather than just standing there, we ambled off through Brooklyn Bridge Park and on to Brooklyn Heights, before looking back some time later to see traffic and people moving across the bridge once again. The potential suicide had thankfully been successfully talked down. Darkness had fallen by the time we eventually walked across the bridge ourselves, the myriad lights of Lower Manhattan's skyscrapers guiding us home.   

Big Audio Dynamite - City Lights 

Friday 16 June 2023

Friday Photo #45

It strikes me that I haven't posted any old family photos in this series for a while. To compensate, here's a real favourite of mine from 1961. There's absolutely nothing that I don't like about this shot. The swan stretching in anticipation, Mum delicately proffering a piece of bread and me craning forward to get a better look at the situation. The whole scene is brilliantly captured by Dad. I'm not certain of the location, but I'd put money on it being somewhere in the vicinity of Wanstead Flats.

Can - Sing Swan Song

Friday 9 June 2023

Friday Photo #44

Almost exactly a year ago, I was the first of our merry band to roll into Edinburgh for BlogCon '22, allowing me almost a full day to explore the city before festivities formally commenced. I spent the time wandering both hither and thither in an enjoyably aimless fashion, climbing endless steps, stumbling over tricky cobbles and generally gawping at the sheer majesty of the place. Following an enjoyable dustcutter (™ John Medd) at The World's End on the corner of St Mary's Street, I veered off the Royal Mile and found myself outside a restaurant called Makars Gourmet Mash Company. I was intrigued enough to suggest it as a lunch destination to my comrades-in-blog the following day, but alas it was fully booked.

Finding myself back in Edinburgh on Springsteen business last week, I resolved to have another bash at getting into Makars for lunch and this time I was successful. The Makars premise is very straightforward. Choose from one of nine varieties of mashed potato (chilli, smoky, cheesy, horseradish etc), then one of ten toppings (wild boar, chicken, haggis, lamb etc) four of which are vegetarian or vegan, throw in the obligatory neeps, douse in lashings of delicious gravy and presto. How can a meal so apparently simple be so bloody tasty? I don't know, but believe me it was. I had the veggie haggis by the way, but my mate had the real thing and concurred completely with my thumbs-up assessment of the sumptuous repast.

A little later, while consulting my friend Mr Google, I was briefly elated to discover that there was a branch of Makars considerably closer to my own neck of the woods, on Shaftsbury Avenue in London. My joy was short-lived however, as further research revealed that in spite of wall to wall outstanding reviews, the London branch closed down earlier this year.  

Cornell Campbell - Mash You Down

Friday 2 June 2023

Friday Photo #43

It's a trip that's been in the books since last September, but a succession of irritating health hiccups in recent weeks had me thinking that perhaps I was destined not to make it back to E Street this time around. In the event, however, I managed to make it to both the Amsterdam and Edinburgh Springsteen shows as planned, largely thanks to a good pal who organised flights, accommodation and concert tickets and got me to the airport on time, in spite of my befuddled head. As I'd been so distracted of late, I wasn't sure if the usual emotional trigger points of a Springsteen concert would effect me in quite the same way, but in the event tears were already rolling down my cheeks at 7.30 as he walked onto the stage to greet the Amsterdam crowd and I remained moist of eye for much of the remainder of the gig. I'm aware that there isn't necessarily a huge Bruce fanbase around these parts, so I won't go into chapter and verse, but it was a show structured around love, loss and the passing of time, universal themes one and all. To paraphrase the great man '...when you're young it's all tomorrows and hellos, but as the years go by there are more yesterdays and goodbyes....' If that makes the concert sound a sombre experience, it wasn't. There were plenty of lighter moments too, not least when Bruce missed his step and face-planted the stage three songs in, before scrambling to his feet, grinning from ear to ear and offering an embarrassed '...goodnight everybody...'. 

I've flown through Amsterdam several times over the years, but this was the first time I'd ever left the airport. What an beautiful, welcoming city it is. I hope I get back there someday.

American Music Club - Hello Amsterdam

Monday 22 May 2023

Monday Long Song

Shout out to our mutual blogging pal Walter at A Few Good Times in My Life for pointing me in the direction of  Australian psych trio Brown Spirits. He featured a tune from the band's new LP 'Solitary Transmissions' a couple of weeks back, that had me scurrying over to their Bandcamp page to find out more. It turns out that 'Solitary Transmissions' is Brown Spirits' 4th album, though the first through a major imprint, the first three evidentially being self released. 

Brown Spirits embellish their cosmic wig-outs with a dash of funk and a soupçon of motorik, serving up the whole dish with a welcome lightness of touch, intricate yet accessible. 'Optokinetic Response', which closes 2017's ingeniously titled 'Vol 1', has taken up more or less permanent lodgings in my brain for the past few days.

Brown Spirits - Optokinetic Response

Friday 19 May 2023

Friday Photo #42

I finished an eight day stretch of shifts on Wednesday and it was such a gloriously sunny afternoon that, even though my weary bones were heavy, I headed down to the common for a pre-dinner wander. The common is a vast open expanse that offers a selection of possible routes of varying lengths, though on this occasion I planned to simply amble out into the middle for a bit of solitude and a breath of fresh air, rather than walk the 5 miles all the way round it. Above is the view I was expecting to welcome me, as seen on a bright, chilly day back in February, but, thanks to the recent copious amounts of rainfall round these parts, much of the route was ankle deep in water when I arrived, as well as being occupied by a particularly inquisitive herd of cows. I took the hint and, after pausing to watch a hobby make several breathtaking passes in its hunt for damselflies, I turned to head back the way I came, coming face to face with a male muntjac walking towards me. He didn't seem at all phased by my presence and simply branched off the footpath, disappearing into the undergrowth.  

The older I get, the more each interaction with nature sustains me, making up for all the wasted years when I didn't appreciate such things. As I type these words a lone greenfinch sits silently in the tree outside my window while a scream of 6 or 7 swifts make patterns in the sky overhead. Earlier, over at the weir, one of the local pair of grey wagtails was shouting the odds for anyone within a hundred yard radius who cared to listen, while a little further along the river, a swan sat on its massive nest, waiting patiently for the next generation to hatch. Last year there were at least six cygnets, though ultimately only two survived predation.

Today's choice of tune, a marvellously funky South African single from 1973, is inspired by the wide open spaces out in the middle of the common, even if I was unable to experience them a couple of days ago. 

Cool Cats - Wilderness

Friday 12 May 2023

Friday Photo #41

According to Ol' Blue Eyes, New York is the city that never sleeps and that's a pretty accurate description, for the most part at least. Sunday morning, however, is when the Big Apple turns over, pulls the cover over its head and has a bit of a lie-in. From my very first trip to New York in 1992, right through to my last in late 2010, I'd be up and out of the apartment early on Sunday mornings in an effort to hit as many flea markets as possible. The fleas popped up ad-hoc on vacant lots, in crumbling garage basements and murky alleys all over the city and were crammed to the gills with the kind of tat I loved to pore through at car-boot sales back in the UK at the time. They were also home to some of the New Yorkiest New York characters I've ever encountered - outrageously loud, breathtakingly brusque and hugely entertaining to this outsider. The streets may have been quiet, but the fleas were always noisy and heaving with bleary eyed, caffeine fuelled punters.

My favourite fleas gradually disappeared on my visits throughout the noughties, with skyscrapers sprouting from the vacant lots, crumbling garages being demolished and murky alleys gentrified beyond recognition. On my return to New York a few weeks ago after a gap of 13 years, I discovered only a couple of neat, tidy, organised fleas in operation, which leaned far more towards being vintage markets, with prices to match. The hustle, the bustle, the tat and the characters all gone. I took a pass.

Instead, while the Apple stretched and yawned, I spent a couple of hours wandering the still Sunday morning streets. Photo opportunities are a lot easier to grab when the sidewalks are empty and the roads are free of gridlocked, honking traffic. Here for example is a Con Edison stack I stumbled across on the corner of Church and Duane in Tribeca, work abandoned for the weekend and steam billowing into the chill morning air.

Monday 8 May 2023

Monday Long Song

Many artists had lockdown projects, though few were as prolific in their endeavours as Bulbils, the musical alter-ego of Richard Dawson and Sally Pilkington, who in March 2020 began recording an album's worth of music in their home studio each day and releasing it on a pay what you like basis via their Bandcamp page the next. I'll let them explain. 'We started Bulbils as a way to deal with coronavirus / lockdown. We aimed to record most days and upload it all here, though we've slowed down the last year or so. It's been a big comfort for us, we hope it can be of some use to you too.' To date there are 74 Bulbils albums over on their Bandcamp page (here), generally containing long instrumental pieces. If that sounds daunting, don't be put off, dive in. Aside from a couple of limited cassette only releases, the duo have largely steered clear of physical product until 'Map', a 33 track 4 CDR compilation, issued a few days ago, featuring colourful handprinted artwork by Jake Blanchard (here). The initial run sold out in a jiffy and I was very chuffed to have been quick enough off the mark to bag a copy. A second, monochrome printed edition, is up for pre-order now. 

'Friends Calling Dust Falling' was recorded on April 2nd 2020 and originally appeared on the tenth Bulbils album, 'Limbo', the very next day.

Bulbils - Friends Calling Dust Falling

Friday 14 April 2023

Friday Photo #40

Well what are the chances? Deep into the second half of a lifetime devoted to music, with a significant amount of those years enjoying the odd beer or two, I wind up in a little Suffolk market town where the local brewery is run by a pair of music obsessed brothers who combine both of those passions with the naming of their products. Step forward Bull of the Woods brewery (itself taken from the title of a 1969 13th Floor Elevators LP), whose front door is just 3 miles from my own. Their range of beers includes Twisted Wheel (named after the famed Northern Soul club), Shine a Light (from the Rolling Stones tune), Vapour Trail (after the 1991 Ride EP), festive ale Season of the Witch (from Donovan's hit of the same name), Woodstock (say no more) and an oatmeal stout called Black Ark, so monikered in tribute to Lee Scratch Perry's legendary recording studio. They're all really really great beers across the board, but, if you pinned me to the wall, demanding that I choose my favourites, I'd have to go for Hacienda, a highly gluggable 4% pale ale and Rocksteady, a malty, caramelly 3.8% session ale, both of which slip down an absolute treat. I'm working up a thirst just typing about them.

Today's photo finds me in the beer garden of my local, nursing a sublime pint of Rocksteady. All being well, that's where you'll also find me the day after tomorrow, for an hour or so at least. Excitingly, Sunday is the day that Bull of the Woods are due to launch a brand new golden ale, brewed exclusively for this very pub. I can think of worse ways to celebrate my 63rd birthday.

Alton Ellis - Rocksteady

Friday 7 April 2023

Friday Photo #39

Today's photo was taken on Roosevelt Island, beneath the Queensboro Bridge (known colloquially as the 59th Street Bridge....if you're feelin' groovy). High alongside the bridge is one of the two cable cars that make up the Roosevelt Island Tramway, a service that runs 115 times per day to and from Manhattan. If you don't have a head for heights the tramway can be a nerve wracking proposition, offering stunning views along 1st and 2nd Avenues as it moves off, before rising 230 feet above the East River, swaying and clunking as it goes. I've only ridden the RIT once before, about 25 years ago. Back then Roosevelt Island was a fairly bleak wasteland, a crumbling work in progress. Now somewhat gentrified, it's home to 12000 people and offers restaurants, parks and a welcome respite from the intensity of the city.

Thankfully I wasn't riding the Roosevelt Island Tramway at 5.22 pm on April 18th 2006, when both cable cars came to a sudden halt mid-crossing, trapping a total of 69 people high above the East River. The last of the passengers was rescued at 4.07 am, nearly 11 hours later.

State River Widening - Cable Car

Friday 31 March 2023

Friday Photo #38

Whenever discussing my longstanding unease with air travel, I inevitably reach for the same (absolutely true) anecdote, one that I shared on these very pages several years ago (here). After a 13 year break from flying, I had no idea how I'd feel about the whole darned business in the cold light of 2023. The answer is....well, it was alright really. The rigmarole surrounding the actual flying bit has changed a tad over the course of time, but when I actually got up there I felt reasonably calm and collected, even taking a moment on the way out to snatch a photo of my view along the wing of the good ship Lady Stardust, 6½ miles above the Atlantic.


Here's a tune from the mighty Keith Hudson, who died of lung cancer in 1984 at the tragically young age of 38. Had he lived, he would've turned 77 a couple of weeks ago.

Keith Hudson - Virgin Rock

Friday 24 March 2023

Friday Photo #37

For a few days before flying out to New York to visit my cousin, I stayed with her mum in London. While there I ticked off a few odd jobs around her house, took her out for a pub lunch or two and dealt with an unexpected breakdown of her freezer. I also went out alone to walk The Greenway, an embankment footpath that runs from Beckton (where my cousin's dad worked for the North Thames Gas Board in the 1960s & 70s), through East Ham (where her mum has lived alone since losing her husband in the late 1970s), Plaistow (where my dad was born), Stratford (where my mum was born) and on to Victoria Park in Hackney. It also passes directly alongside the church where my mum and dad were married in 1955. The disparate strings of my immediate family, all pulled together over the course of one 4½ walk. 

To the untutored eye, The Greenway looks for all the world like a reclaimed railway track, though this is not the case. My mum, dad, aunt and uncle all traversed The Greenway regularly when they were growing up in the area, but they knew it (and my aunt still refers to it) as The Sewerbank, a slightly less salubrious, but accurate moniker for the manmade embankment that hides the Northern Outfall Sewer. It was re-christened in the 1990s.


Here's the frankly magnificent 1980 Tom Jones cover, from Rock n Roll's Greatest Failure.

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?

Greatest Hits