One day like this a year’d see me right! Elbow, Manchester Apollo

14 11 2008

I loved Elbow’s first album; Asleep in the Back… But then for reasons which have disappeared into the mists of building a home and becoming a father, I didn’t particularly like the second, and sadly, completely missed their third. I personally, blame it all on their Manchester based peers; Lamb, I am Kloot and Doves, who all released sublime first albums, but then failed to deliver on the abundant promise of riches that their first releases had made.

Along rolled 2008,  the unintended combination of Guy Garvey’s Radio 6 programme on a Sunday evening and hearing their new album; the seldom seen kid, made me revise my fickle abandonment of their talent.

I cherish Guy’s Sunday evening radio show on BBC 6music. It is not pretentious (unlike a fair bit of 6music’s programming). It is eclectic, inspiring, refreshing, and he has that rare John Peel like quality of not sounding like a DJ, of being able to talk directly to his audience.  I also found to my surprise, and after a few plays on the way into work, that i really, really liked the seldom seen kid.

A phone call came out of the blue from Jools, my brother and a few days later, Jools and Leesa had bought me tickets for Elbow’s final concert of their UK tour, at the Apollo in Manchester on November 3rd. I was not aware at this point that Leesa has a big crush on Guy!

Time flew by, and a mercury prize later (not me, Elbow) i found myself driving along the A55 with the sun setting dramatically into my non-existent rear view mirror en route to Chorlton, Manchester, with Ernie the fastest milkman in the passenger seat. We had another middle aged fart, wozoz to pick up, and then off we went in a cab to the Apollo  (BTW ta Steve and Jo for the tickets for Ernie and Woz).

The Apollo was one of the reasons that i wanted to go! I haven’t been there in a long, long time, and still suffer flashbacks from eating an appallingly strong curry somewhere in its vicinity.

Once that we had arrived and set ourselves up in a sensible position – not right at the front, a bit to the side, not that we were being pedantic or anything – and had a pint, Warren (wozoz), attentive to detail as ever, pointed out the balloons (collective noun – a festival of balloons eh? eh?) netted up in the ceiling; “OOOooooh look at the balloons!“. Ernie appeared to be still in a “What am i doing here?” dazed phase, or it could just have been an Islington resident’s overwhelming fear of Northerners.

The support act came and went she reminded me a lot of Kirstin Hersh. Guitars were tuned a number of times on stage and Ernie and i compared iPhones in order to get some reaction from Wozoz. Then in a literal flash Elbow started expectantly and theatrically. I have never been to a gig where the lead singer appeared to be dressed as a mid-1980’s chemistry teacher but Guy had it down to a tee. Roy Castle trumpeting, Chemistry teacher outfit, all appeared to be going swimmingly until….

“Raggety” Richard Hawley, ex-guitarist from The Longpigs, and now darling of the people who only get to hear new music whilst buying futons or eating lentil brioches was welcomed onto the stage. Elbow’s stage, not raggety Hawley’s stage, this was wrong, wrong, wrong (for me at least).

For deeply personal, pathetic and long standing reasons I really, really do not like Richard Hawley.  So, the impromptu arrival of “raggety” richard hawley nearly ruined this evening for me. Ernie, knowing that i would rather spend a week in front of QVC than listen to Cole’s f****g Corner took great delight, and Warren offered to get his autograph for me.

What was he and his priapic perpetual whang bar doing at an Elbow gig? It would have been bad enough spotting him in the audience.. mercifully though he and his whang-bar, tremolous elbow (whatevah) left after one song.

And the music played on. In between songs, Guy’s banter with the audience and band throughout the concert could be only dimly heard in our part of the auditorium over Leesa’s plaintive shouts of “i Luv u Guy”. Guy introduced his dad to the audience (and i presume aunties or cousins, sisters) who were up in the circle above us.

The atmosphere just kept on getting better, this could just have been the fact that Richard Raggety Hawley had gone. You can watch a whole Elbow gig from this tour filmed at the Paradiso in Amsterdam.

And then, the balloons came down..

Elbow and balloons @ the manchester Apollo

Elbow’s encore was one of the best I have been privileged to see. From a corner of the Apollo (not ours of course as this still echoed to “I luv u Guy” from an increasingly hoarse Leesa) came the chorus “One day like this a year’d see me right” within a couple of bars it felt like the whole Apollo was singing the chorus, no foot stamping or clapping, just singing.

Elbow came back on and played the song with us. By the end of the encore I literally couldn’t take any more. I just wanted to get into the car and drive home to Wales. A beautiful and inspiring band, full of melody, balls and humility. Thank you.

Elbow and balloons @ the Apollo, Manchester

If you ever get an opportunity to see this band, take it.

Note: Just in case, Raggety was a foul, terrifying creepy stick/twig based character from Rupert the Bear. I really, really remember finding the TV series incarnation particularly repugnant.  A bit like………





Hey Hey Neighbour – Nine Horses – Snow borne sorrow

17 09 2008

In 1986 when my life was simpler, and bizarrely more difficult than it is now. Long before a CD had ever made it into my creationist system, one of

David Sylvian's 1986 masterpiece

my favourite bits of music was David Sylvian’s “Taking the veil” on 12″.

It was played regularly along Mad Professor and Yello, “Taking the veil” was a piece of music that was best appreciated in an “enhanced frame of mind”. Since then, although i have occasionally bought something by Mr Sylvian, nothing that has made has ever really captured my attention like “Taking the veil” had.

Then about a month ago, courtesy of Last.fm and a very tedious call at work. I chanced across an album he released a couple of years ago. It had the dreadful and pretentious title of Snow Borne Sorrow and the band was called Nine Horses, it did not auger well! It was of course the fact that there was a copy going cheap on Amazon marketplace that clinched it.

When the digipack arrived it then transpired that Nine Horses comprised of David. his brother Steve Jansen, Teutonic machine and rhythm scientist, Burnt Friedman (who is the owner of the Nonplace label, home of The embassadeurs, Flanger and lots of Burnt Friedman releases!} In addition to this backbone of fartiness.. Stina Nordenstam, Ana Ternehim, Ryuichi Sakamoto and others that i have never heard of contributed. It looked like it was going to be right royal supergroup of pretentiousness.

Nine Horses album

Nine Horses Snow borne sorrow

If anything felt and echoed 1986’s “Taking the veil” it was this album. From the very first bars of Wonderful world, the sublime jazzy backbeat, double bass, orchestra and hypnotic backing vocals i was drawn in.  The production, melodies and the surreal Sylvanian lyrics are intoxicating.

It’s a wonderful world
And you take and you give
And the sun fills the sky
In the space where you live

It’s a day full of dreams
It’s a dream of a day
And the joy that it brings
Nearly sweeps her away

It’s a wonderful world
As the buildings fall down
And you quicken your step
’til your feet leave the ground
And you’re soaring above
All the sorrow below
And you’re falling in love
With those you don’t know

And your heart feels so wide
And your heart fills so strong
It was never a place
That you felt you belonged

It’s a wonderful world
Full of wonderful things
And the people fall down
And abandon their dreams

The first three tracks in particular are in my ever humble and intensely subjective opinion his best work ever. Track 3 The “Banality of evil” felt like heaven on earth? It had Steely Dan horns and wacca guitar bits and ooooh pace. It made me want to get enhanced and be a teenager with an Ariston RD 80 record deck.

Within hours it was on iTunes and was being inflicted on the family and visitors in an oppresively regular manner;)! In the kitchen, in the car, in the office, in the living room.. only the shed and garden were sanctuary for those who did not believe.

Unfortunately, a neighbour from a couple of fields away made a rare evening visit and promptly left with the digipak to burn onto his erm Sinclair ZX-81 .. The neighbour in question, who seems to think that working on the eastern seaboard of the States for the last month, is some kind of excuse for the non-return of this beautiful item, is sorely mistaken. I have taken his family hostage and until it has been returned in the condition it was stolen (sorry borrowed).. I shall not release them from their shackles and fairly regular diet of Lidl pop tarts, Fleisch Salat and Netto instant gravy granules. hmmm now how did i get there?

As David sings on track 3 – the suitably titled “Banality of evil”.

Hey, hey neighbour
King of the castle
Room at the top
Off with their heads
Chop ‘em off

Next post.. possibly this year? will include a life enriching recipe for fleisch salat and the happy hostage release pics…





The beauty of Mark Hollis – the album

25 06 2008

Set the Scene – it is a Wednesday afternoon, Itunes/headphones/office/Nokia manual to write.. bliss hmm

mark hollis solo album

All was proceding well, there was a bit of glen hansard and marketa irglova playing away, then there was the joyful bing of an e-mail to tell me that i had a fax at reception. I wondered whether to not reply, as this would have entailed them calling me about the e-mail about the fax, but decided that the exercise would be beneficial… I came back and on ITunes Mark Hollis was playing the track “Inside looking out”from his one and only album, Mark Hollis.

I am not a Mark Hollis expert, but here goes. He used to be in Talk Talk, his brother is the Eddie of Eddie and the hot rods! erm thats about as far as i go… Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden, Colour of Spring and Laughing Stock contain some of my favourite pieces of music. He released his solo album a couple of years after the demise of talk talk.  I bought it and immediately the sparse stretched melodies and instrumentation just caught something magical and unique.

I and iTunes shuffle had forgotten about this for some time and then this afternoon it came on… It is such a stunning vivid piece of work.. It shouldn’t lift your spirits the way it does…Sadly i just checked up on Amazon and it is going new for £2.98!!! methinks an early christmas shop might need to be done, this album needs inflicting on others.

Anyway back to the Nokia manual ho hum.

Next week i shall talk about John Martyn’s Inside out.





The death of rural communities in North Wales

13 12 2007

I went to my first mass demonstration since the 80s today! I am lucky enough to have been brought up and to live in Gwynedd, an incredibly beautiful corner of Wales on the west coast of the British Isles. Apart from a few notable towns, it is mostly mountainous and sparsely populated. Over 2/3rds of the rural population speak Welsh as their first Language.

The Council under duress from the Welsh Assembly and through a complete lack of vision and leadership has decided that it cannot afford to run 29 of its rural schools and will shut them down. In addition to this it will castrate many other rural schools by federalising them “Newspeak” for; their future is limited, or you are next.

I am not politically active, nor do i want to be.. politics in the UK be it local or national is unfortunately made up of people whose lack of humility, blinkered self interest and love of their own is overwhelming,and distasteful, to the detriment of the genuine few. The continuing fall in the number of people who can be arsed to vote in any election is evidence enough of the fact that these people are not genuine, capable or interested in our future, only their own.

So once that I heard that there was to be a rally to protest against this I re-arranged the dates of my meetings in London, took an extended lunch and went off to Caernarfon to the County Council Headquarters to join other villagers and to express my contempt for the individuals who are responsible for the final nails in the coffin of our “inconvenient rural communities”.

Cymuned iach ysgol fach - Mass demonstration outside Cyngor Gwynedd Council 13/12/07

To read a recent interview with the officers and politicians that are responsible for this travesty it is clear that they are in denial of the fact that they are responsible for running a rural county. True, they are under pressure from equally contemptuous, faceless bureaucrats from the Welsh assembly. But the tone of the interview in the daily post gives lie to their complete lack of imagination, lack of respect for the people that pay their wages and their inability to think or plan strategically at a departmental, organisational and most crucially at a political level.

This vacumn has had to be filled by the people who live and work in the communities that are under threat. People who are clearly happy with the standard of their children’s education (God forbid, an education that apparently costs £300 more per pupil per annum than the Welsh average) . People who understand that sometimes unpopular decisions have to be made by the Council or its officers. People who do not make a habit of political protest.

DIM YSGOL, DIM PENTREF

It is clear to me that the officers and politicians that are responsible for this “plan” (at both Local and Welsh assembly levels of government) are determined to go through with it. They have said there is no “Plan B”.

It is also sadly apparent that Dafydd Iwan the leader of Plaid Cymru and his peers do not have the vision or determination to save the very communities and culture that they hold so dear. The only answer to this betrayal is to make it absolutely clear that they will be voted out of office at the earliest possible opportunity and that the Council officers who are so determined to close our villages down are also made answerable for their failings.

To be employed in a job that has the word strategic in its job title and to draft and recommend this short sighted “Easy option” is a joke. A joke that is not funny.

How much do these people HOPE to save in ten years time? £1.5 million per annum. Other Senior Council sources have told me that the real figure is closer to £500,000. Meanwhile hundreds of kilometres of empty rural lanes are lit needlessly all through the night, Gwynedd Councillors take in excess of £1 million a year in expenses and a number of other non-statutory obligations are funded by the Council from adult training to funding the National Eisteddfodau. No matter how important and contentious these events/organisations are – taking the heart out of the communities and their future generations of Welsh speakers, poets and musicians is sign of a complete failure of responsibility on the part of the Council.

Fuel is forecast to be in the region of £3.10 to £6 per litre in 2010 – 2012. Notwithstanding the complete conflict between the aims of this and Agenda 21 – How sustainable, how cost-effective will it be for the taxpayer to fund the daily transport bill for bussing thousands of children for hundreds of miles every day?

PLEASE VOTE THE POLITICIANS WHO SUPPORT THIS PROPOSAL OUT OF OFFICE AT BOTH LOCAL AND NATIONAL LEVEL. IF YOU LIVE IN CONWY, CEREDIGION, POWYS, DENBIGHSHIRE, PEMBROKESHIRE OR CARMARTHENSHIRE YOUR COUNCILS ARE IN THE PROCESS OF PLANNING SIMILAR CUTBACKS. THIS IS A NATIONAL PROBLEM.

The Solution?

It is clear that there is no single solution that will fit all schools that are currently under threat. However this does not mean that practicable, contingent and cost-effective solutions cannot be drafted and implemented. A friend who works at a senior level in the regeneration of urban areas in the North of England has already made the following point to me:

“There is an obvious route here..and that is not to look at the schools just as schools. They are a community resource that offers the opportunity for the creation of jobs and wealth within these communities.

The Welsh Assembly is promoting social enterprise as a route for wealth creation and some of the most successful social enterprises are nurseries. Co-location with a school offers the possibility of extended and wraparound care including breakfast and after school clubs. A little bit of vision is required here. If you’re going to spend £30m then don’t waste it on building bigger schools and closing existing resources, plough it into wealth creation.

wales.gov.uk/news/archivepress/socialpress/socialpress2005/709700/?lang=en





The Blue Nile – Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 14th July 2007

16 07 2007

In spite of internal protest and inner turmoil, I have now been to see two bands from the 80’s this year, and no band from “now”… Both bands have been sublime and both bands were led by Scots.

Brother and I arrived in time for the support act, but the fleshpots of the (any) city centre meant that just before the support act’s third song commenced, we were out of the hall and on our way to a pub/bar. The bar was a slightly refurbished public toilet off Oxford Road – called the temple bar, Great Bridgewater Street. unsurprisingly there was a solid, background aroma of piss that any enclosed windowless space that has been a toilet for many years would have. A couple of bottles of beer later and we were on our way back to the hall (via Macdonalds – brother is a chef and as elder brother, all opportunities for wind up are to be grasped:)) for our date with the blue nile.

the temple bar

the temple bar (Temple picture from Flickr photoman hugovk.)

I have always thought of the blue nile as a studio band, and was not really expecting miracles from this rare venture of the performing members of the band out of Scotland, and in such a formal setting as the bridgewater hall.

The gig was fantastic from the outset, Paul Buchanan’s voice is haunting and more emotive live than any album has managed to capture. Some of the songs that they played were transformed in a concert hall environment. The finale of “tinseltown in the rain” was magical, “do i love you, yes i love you” being sung by an audience that had been lifted upwards by a dreamlike sequence of songs that spanned four albums and three decades. If only I had brought a lighter with me, I would have lit it and waved it embarrassingly above my head in direct contravention of Health and Safety legislation.

The encore though was a bit **** though… The euphoric rush of the last couple of songs, the standing ovation, the expectation – to be followed by unrehearsed songs – Stay – was a disaster – I wish I hadn’t, and wondered about another beer in a refurbished toilet. The final song of the encore, although my brother liked it – i didn’t get it at all, a cover of “Strangers in the night” hmmmmm

It can’t have been that **** , as I am now ruminating over their next concert in Dublin at the end of October. If i do go, I will take a lighter with me this time

And as for the other “Scottish Band/Singer” that I saw this year, they were even better than the blue nile! My god, I am retro… I need to go out and see something new, something that isn’t rehashed, regrouped or generally dormant. Any suggestions?








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