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

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