Sunday, April 25, 2010

It wasn't supposed to be like this, surely?

Today's soundtrack:  Death Cab For Cutie - Studio X Sessions

So - back at work - aren't the weekends then free for rest and relaxation?  Why is it, now I'm working for The Man again, that I ended up working harder round the home today than I have done for ages?

Because the jobs don't go away, I suppose, and maybe also because I'm now back at a proper 'working pitch' that I've more enthusiasm and energy to actually do the things that I would 'eventually get round to' before.

First thing, it was off to the supermarket to do the weekly shop.  My turn this week - Mrs W has suggested that going forwards we alternate - her turn next week.  Big shop this week, we both need 'cutting-up' for worktime lunchtimes and the freezer has been running a bit low.  I did make a schoolboy error at the checkout though - standing in a queue, laden down with a full trolley, and one of the supermarket kids calls me over to a free checkout.  Result! I thought - until I realised he'd set me up on a self-service lane.  Fine (I suppose) if you've one or two items - but not a trolley-full, surely?  Anyway, I got on with it, getting crosser and crosser as I had to weigh (and find the price for) red onions (under 'O' rather than 'R' in the menu) and mini ciabattas (described as 'rolls' in the menu - who would have guessed?) and get the girl to confirm I was eighteen and ok to buy booze.


Mind you,. I still finished quicker than I would have done had I stayed in my queue, so not all bad.

Back home, and after a delightful lunch of BLTs on the small ciabatta rolls I'd struggled to buy in the supermarket, and after the ManYoo-Spurs game, it was out into the garden for more chores.

Firstly, the mower and strimmer made their first appearance of the year, followed by the garden shears as I trimmed back a bush that was encroaching from next door - and then it was the turn of the electric drill, some wood and a raft of wood screws as I finally got round to repairing the fence that had been falling down all year.  Lastly, the rake and the hose came into play as I cleared and re-seeded the bare patch of lawn that had been ravaged by birds and badgers over the course of last year.

You'd think that would be enough, wouldn't you?  Well no, the work continued, this time in the kitchen.  Although this turned out to be a really pleasant surprise.  We'd struggled to fit all today's food shopping into the freezer, so to make room, I'd taken out some bags of soft summer fruits that Mrs W had bought ages ago for reasons that are still unclear to me.  I had half-hearted plans to mush them up and make some smoothies or something, until inspiration struck.


Did a quick search on t'internet, found a recipe, and got on with it.  The fruit I simply drained and placed in the bottom of a dish.  The crumble comprised 150g each of plain flour, porridge oats, demarera sugar and butter, mixed together by hand in a bowl until it got all crumbly and sandy.  Crumble topping on top of fruit, in a hot oven (180 degrees C) for half an hour or so.  It made the kitchen smell delicious and, oh, it tasted good as well!  We had it with some fruit yogurt that was lurking, although I've now got some double cream in for tonight's leftovers.

A pleasant little download ep from American 'intelligent rockers' Death Cab for Cutie this morning.  We saw Death Cab (named after a Bonzo Dogs song) a couple of years ago at Latitude, and enjoyed them immensely.  There's always a place for good, melodic pop sung and played with a bit of wit and style, and the Americans seem to be particularly good at it.

Here's 'The New Year' live on Soundstage from a few years back...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Welcome to the Working Week (again)!

Today's soundtrack:  Nat 'King' Cole - The Unforgettable Nat King Cole

Right, well that's week one out of the way - and I'm knackered!

It's good to be back at it again and - touch wood - everything seems to be going fine so far.

Turned up at the office first thing on Monday morning, to find out that the bloke I'm taking over from was stranded overseas, caught up in the volcanic ash 'incident' that brought the country to a standstill last week.  Still, I was expected, and was rescued from reception, and shown to my office.

My office.  Oh yes.

Everything was there waiting for me - laptop, mobile phone, stapler, calculator, holepunch - you name it!  I found out where the coffee was, then settled down and got on with it.  Over the course of the week, I spent time with the team, met a few of the senior executives (at least those who were in the country) and started getting a feel for things.

And so far, I'm enjoying it - enjoying the challenge, the interaction with people, enjoying the fact I'm not stuck in the house by myself trawling the jobsites on the web.  And also, today, enjoying the fact that Saturday is 'special' again.  Even if I did have to do the weekly shop first thing...

Oh, and the prospect of a paypacket at the end of each month is rather appealing, as well.

That said, it's still been a shock to the system - I'm sleeping like a baby, knackered the minute I pull on to the drive.  Luckily, Mrs W has always been there with a restorative G&T to soften the blow! (Oh, and each morning there's been a fresh cup of coffee waiting for me as I've pulled into the car park as well).

Next week, it's off to the main Head Office, than over to York to meet up with the boss, as my 'induction' meetings kick in.  Bring it on!

What with all the excitement of the new job, and the travel, there's been little time to focus on the important issues of the week - like the fallout from the volcano, some of which seemed to find its way onto my car, despite a week of clear, blue skies (proving beyond doubt that clouds are made by aircraft) and the climax to the football season (ManYoo regaining the initiative, 4th a straight fight between Spurs and Citeh, Everton nowhere).

Oh, apparently there's an election soon, too.  I'm very comfortable with who I'm not voting for - just need to find someone I can in all conscience vote for, now.

I'm still soundtracking the blog, of course - and today it's my mum's favourite, Nat 'King' Cole - he of the honeyed voice, delicate piano and marvellous choice of material.  I'd never have ever listened to this stuff when I was a lad, but with the benefit of age and wisdom, it's possible to appreciate this music for what it is - beautifully crafted, played and sung.  He died ridiculously young - aged 45 - but is still one of the all time greats.

Here he is, performing 'Nature Boy'.  Check out the guitar work as well - simply sublime!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Mistakes & Ladders (T - 3)

Today's soundtrack:  New Order - iTunes Originals

So where did the week go then?  As the new job comes rushing towards me, my final few days of "leisure" are racing by at a rate of knots.  At the same time, my anticipation levels are rising at a similar rate - I can't wait to get stuck in!

At the same time, now my days at home are numbered, Mrs W has realised that there's not much time left for me to knock off the remaining few chores that I've been putting off for the last year.  One of the biggest is getting some paint on the upstairs windows before the wood rots away completely.  Now bear in mind that our 'upstairs' windows are effectively three storeys up, above the garage and the lounge, so getting up there is no mean feat.

Put simply, it involves ladders.

Noting my success at climbing trees last week, Mrs W had obviously come to the conclusion that I'd be just as good at climbing ladders.  So she got hold of the name of a local hire firm who could provide said ladders for a few days.  This week, before I got back to work.

Now I have a confession to make.  Ladders and I do not get on at all well.  Actually, to be fair, the ladders seem pretty relaxed about me, but I am not at all relaxed around ladders.  Especially when I'm thirty foot up the things.  But still, the windows were looking a bit of a mess, and I was actually pretty good up those trees...

Ladders duly arrived, and I was ready to go - paint mixed, shorts on, brushes at the ready.  Next job - get the ladders up into position.  Now the bloke in the hire shop had asked me if I'd anyone to help me, as the ladders (all thirty-five feet of them) might be a bit heavy.  Yeah, I'll be fine (I lied).  A bit heavy was a slight understatement - they weighed a ton!

Somehow, I managed to get them up in place, and started climbing.  And the ladder started swaying.


Still, nothing ventured and all that - and despite a few wobbles and crises of confidence, I managed to vaguely slap a bit of gloss in the general direction of the window frames, covering the bare wood and making things look slightly more presentable than before.

Flushed with success, I then did the same at the back of the house (only two storeys up this time - piece of piss!) and luckily managed to engage the services of the next door neighbour to repair some loose cement around the eaves.

Job done - but at the cost of a mass of bruises where I'd wedged arms and legs into the ladders in a vain attempt to feel secure!

Still, Mrs W was happy, and we celebrated by going out for a slap-up Chinese meal in Frodsham.  It's a nice restaurant and boasts the waiter with the best memory for his customers ever - no matter how long ago we went in (and it's over a year now) he always remembers us (telling us off this time for leaving it so long).  A nice place - the Chinese Delight - well worth a visit if you're in the area.

I also invested in a big external hard drive this week to do a proper backup of all my computery stuff.  Having just upgraded to Windows 7, I thought I'd use the built-in backup utility for the task.  Big mistake.  I set the thing running, and waited.  And waited.  The percentage indicator was crawling along at around 2% per hour. Still, I left the thing running overnight, only to come down in the morning to a 'fail' message.  I set the backup running again, and it crawled along at the same rate as last time.  A quick Google suggested I wasn't the only one having a problem.  So I canned it and downloaded a backup programme I'd used on a different computer and set that running.  Still not quick, but about five times quicker than the Windows option!

So - New Order in the background as I type.  The 'album' is a unique iTunes collection, following a specific format of original tracks combined with some re-recorded tracks and brief interview snippets.  Against all the odds, New Order rose from the wreckage of Joy Division, found their own style and made some cracking albums through the '80s.

Here's True Faith from 1987.  I love this video.  Not a clue what's going on, but what's not to like about bouncy people dressed in funny outfits?

Monday, April 12, 2010

JBT at the MA (T - 7)

Today's soundtrack:  James Brown - Live at the Apollo

A busy few days, what with Son No 2 staying over, cat and tree issues and a host of other stuff going on.

So where to start?

Well, let's start with the football.  No, not the professional stuff, the real grass roots stuff.  Matt and I went along to see my nephew, Ross (11) playing for his team, Vauxhall, against Heswall.  Now Ross has always been a good little footballer, but it's been a while since I've seen him play and I have to say that he and his team have come on in leaps and bounds as they've grown up.  Quite a few of the kids are on the books of some professional clubs as well as playing for Vauxhall, and it shows.  Their ball control is superb, as is their ability to spot (if not always find) a decent pass.  After a cagey first fifteen minutes or so, they gradually got a grip on the game, eventually winning 5-0 with Ross scoring the fourth.

On Saturday, Matt and I went into Manchester for a bit of shopping and eating, and then to the Academy to see the John Butler Trio.  A full review will appear soon on The Really Hip Art Scene (now here), when Matt gets round to it, and I'll add my two pennorth on the Word website later today (also now up and running).  In brief, however, it was a great, lengthy (two and a half hours!) set from a band who are totally in control of their instruments and who have a decent set of tunes to work from.  A lot rockier than last time I saw them, reflecting the style of the new album, they still found time for two (count 'em!) drum solos, a (slightly reluctant) bass solo and a lot of audience singingalonging.

Here's a clip of John performing 'Ocean' - one of the most beautiful - and technically challenging - guitar pieces you are ever likely to hear.

I struggle to work out just what sort of audience John Butler has in the UK.  They are massive in his native Australia, of course, but in the UK is profile - on the face of it - seems quite low.  I don't recall the band getting any measurable coverage in the music press, for example.  And yet - both times I've seen them in concert - they've had a sell-out audience that has been, if not fanatical, very vocal in its appreciation of the band and its music.

As for Saturday's audience, well I suspect Matt will have his own views on this, but I thought they were for the most part, engaged, good-natured and high-spirited.  I did have the misfortune to be stood behind Mister Floppy Head, however - possibly the most ill-coordinated and arrhythmic dancer I have ever come across.  Dancing to whatever he was hearing in his own head, it bore no relationship to the beats being generated on stage at all.  In fact, I would hazard that it was actually harder for him to dance the way he was than to actually follow the beats of the songs.  Sadly, I also think there was no chemical enhancement involved either - perhaps there needed to be.

Still, a great night out.  If you get the chance to see (or hear) the John Butler Trio - you should.  Special mention for support act 'The Boy Who Trapped The Sun' as well - one man, two guitars, a lady cellist and a bottle of red wine.  And some lovely songs (that you can find on iTunes).  Well worthy of your attention.

In other news, we took in a few films over the last few days as well.  Pride of place goes to Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds, which we enjoyed hugely.  I am told that Law Abiding Citizen was also most entertaining, although I wouldn't know as I fell asleep halfway through, victim of my nocturnal adventures trying to rescue the cat.  Finally 2012 was highly enjoyable tosh, mainly through seeing the special effects on the Big Telly rather than through any particular depth in the plot.

James Brown on the soundtrack today.  We've not done 'ten best live albums' on the blog yet, but if and when we do, Live at the Apollo will surely be there or thereabouts.  A great album that catches James at his most vibrant and soulful - the funk would come later.

Please Please Please - with the cape and the histrionics - Yeeeeou!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Of cats and trees (T - 10)

Ok, so I'm writing this at just after eight o'clock in the morning and I've already been awake for five hours.

Picture the scene.  Son No 2 is staying with us for a few days, and the cat has taken exception to this fact.  With no good reason - Matt has barely seen the cat since he's arrived, but it's enough for Pedro that there is another human being in the house.

He's got the hump, basically.

To the extent that he's keeping out of the house as much as possible - including through the night, although he has deigned to cross the doorstep in the early morning if bribed with food and cat milk.

Anyway, this morning I woke up at around three and went to check at the back door.  No sign.  So back to bed, where I tossed and turned until around half four, when I thought I'd give it another go.  Still no sign - but a faint yowling could be heard on the breeze.

So I'm at the bottom of the garden, barefoot in the dew, dressing gown on.  Yes, definitely a plaintive cat cry.

Back upstairs, clothes on, torch.  Mrs W behind me in dressing gown and training shoes.  Down the bank at the bottom of the garden we crawl, around past the neighbour's garden, to the foot of a big bank of leylandii.  A very big, very tall bank of leylandii.

And there he is, right at the top.  Yowling.

So I'm trying to climb this tree, in the pitch dark, Mrs W holding a torch below.  Not a chance.

We leave him there, and wait until daybreak.  Mrs W goes back to bed - work in the morning.

Half past six, I'm there, now armed with our longest stepladder.  All six foot's worth of it.  Clambering up the bank around the back of the trees, I can finally see him, and by climbing up to the toppermost rung on the precariously-balanced ladder, I can actually touch him.

But I can't dislodge him, or pick him up.

Plan B.  Scrambling round to the other side of the tree, I can see a gap in the foliage to the flat top of the trunk, which has obviously been lopped in the past.  The place Pedro had been perched when I last spotted him.  I find that I can balance the end of the ladder on the top of the stump and support the bottom of the ladder myself, thus creating a walkway for Pedro to stroll casually into my waiting arms.

Does he do this?  Does he buggery.  Instead, he backs away and perches precariously onto one of the highest, flimsiest branches left on the tree.

Now bear in mind the tree is actually growing right on the edge of a vertical bank.  On one side of the tree, the drop to ground is probably around ten feet.  On the other side, the drop must be nearer thirty feet.

Guess which side Pedro is on.

Plan C.  Throwing caution to the wind, and the ladder to one side, I realise that by straddling Pedro's tree and the one next to it, I can actually climb up to the top and get to the stump where he had been sitting.  So that's what I do.  You now have to realise that I am therefore up in the air, one foot on one tree, the other foot on another tree, and a clear drop of about thirty feet between my legs.  But at least I'm in a position to grab Pedro if he comes back to the stump.

What I do when I've grabbed him, I'm less sure.

At this stage, I'm wondering if firemen do still get cats down from trees, but in the event, my thoughts and efforts are academic, because eventually the poor pussy - who is of course absolutely terrified at this stage - steps out too far and the branch he's on can't hold his weight.  And so, of course, he falls gracelessly to the ground below.  And gets up and trots off into the house to eat his breakfast.  Apparently, none the worse for his adventure.

Me, I'm still stuck up in mid-air straddling two trees.  At half seven in the morning.  Thinking that at the age of fifty, my tree-climbing days should be well behind me.

Anyway, a couple of restorative coffees later, and having got this out of my system, I now need to shower because I smell like a midden and ache like a bastard.  In the meantime, the cat has eaten, washed and gone to sleep at the back of Mrs W's wardrobe.

I'm too old for this.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Buried Treasure (T - 13)

One of my monthly music magazines - Mojo, I think - has a regular feature which focuses on those albums that failed to achieve commercial success, despite being of the highest quality.  Occasionally it might be an album that did hit the heights, but that was never capitalised upon by the artist.  The overriding feature of the albums is that they have been quietly forgotten, but lie there, waiting to be discovered and appreciated by a new generation.  Hence the title of the feature, "Buried Treasure".

I was reminded of this feature the other day when a long forgotten album came up on shuffle, and I thought I'd treat you to a few examples of buried treasure I've got lurking in the depths of my hard drive.

Follow me, and bring along your metal detector...

Mick Ronson - Slaughter on 10th Avenue

This is the album that kicked off the theme for this blog.  Mick Ronson was, of course, the guitarist in David Bowie's Spiders From Mars, later working with Ian Hunter and producing Morrissey, before dying at a ridiculously young age.  He released (I think) two solo albums in the early '70s, of which this was the first.  Heavily laced with the glam trimmings of the time, it showcased a great guitarist with a surprisingly gentle, wistful voice.  One track, Only After Dark, was picked up by the Human League, who covered it on their second album, Travelogue.  Re-listening after all these years, the quality (and, inevitably, the Bowie influence) shines through.

Red Guitars - Slow To Fade

Red Guitars came from Hull, and came to my attention when they supported The Smiths in Norwich back in the early '80s.  I also got to see them later, headlining their own gig also in Norwich.  Why they got The Smiths gig is bayond me, as they had very little in common with the Charming Men from Manchester.  Guitar-driven and left-leaning (hence their name) they infused their music with African rhythms, decades before Vampire Weekend thought of it.  They released a few singles that tickled the top of the indie charts (Fact, Steeltown, the wonderful Good Technology) and this album, before imploding.  I think there was a second album but with a different lineup.  But as a legacy, Slow To Fade is a gem.

Cath Carroll - England Made Me

Cath Carroll was a music journalist who also played in an early '80s indie band called Miaow.  She also released this solo album whilst signed up to Factory.  Sounding completely unlike anything else released on the label, the album sank without trace but, to these ears, is an absolute classic.  Breathy songs of love, infatuation and oppression, the album had an intelligence that, aligned with its pop sensibilities, could have made  her huge.  But for whatever reason, it didn't happen.

Deaf School - 2nd Honeymoon

A Liverpool band, dabbling in any number of musical forms and a huge influence on many of the bands that came out of Liverpool in the post-punk era.  Ironically, despite their huge local influence, it was probably the rise of punk that ultimately did for the band.  Some band members went on to bigger and better things - Clive ("Cliff") Langer as a major producer, Bette Bright as a solo artist before she married Suggs from Madness - others continued to operate on the fringes of fame.  They released three albums in the mid '70s (2nd Honeymoon was their first), to mass market indifference - but to Merseysiders of a certain age, they were, for a time, our secret band.  And we loved them.

The Farmers' Boys - Get Out and Walk

Baz, Mark, Frog and Stan were Norwich's answer to Hull's Housemartins, before the question had been asked.  Unashamedly catchy, impudently covering Cliff Richard songs (In the Country, from their follow-up album With These Hands) and signally failing to impress anyone outside of a hugely passionate but relatively small local following.  Oh, and I've just found out - Get Out and Walk is available on CD! And it's in stock on Amazon!  Hurrah!

Martin Stephenson and the Daintees - Boat to Bolivia

The Daintees were on the Kitchenware label, along with Prefab Sprout, and the two bands shared a propensity for catchy tunes, delicate arrangements and intelligent lyrics.  Unfortunately whilst Paddy McAloon went on to great critical (and some commercial) success, Martin Stephenson remained very much a cult artist, ploughing a lone, idiosyncratic furrow in a countryish/folksy idiom.  Boat to Bolivia was their first album and contains some majestic songs, not least Crocodile Cryer, written in the aftermath of his grandmother's funeral.

Dalek I - Compass Kum'pas

Back in the day, one of the most graffiti'd bands around Birkenhead were the mysterious Radio Blank.  Their name was painted on loads of public spaces, most notably motorway flyovers.  Who were this mysterious band?  What did they sound like?  Had anyone ever seen them play?  Not me, certainly.  But then Radio Blank disbanded, and out of the remains came the Dalek I Love You group, or Dalek I for short.  Compass Kump'pas shared many similarities with other groups coming out of Birkenhead/Liverpool at the time, most notably early OMD - heavy on the drum machines and synths, cover of a famous oldie (in this case, The Kinks' You Really Got Me).  However unlike the other Eric's-founded bands, Dalek I faded away, with the original members drifting off into other Liverpool bands, including Big In Japan and the Teardrop Explodes.  However Compass Kum'pas remains as a very impressive legacy.

Jess Roden Band - Blowin'

Jess Roden was one of a number of great British blues singers who was active in the late '60s and through the '70s.  However unlike some of his contemporaries - Paul Rogers, Robert Palmer for instance - who went on to great fame, Jess Roden remained a bit of a cult.  That's cult.  Blowin' is a live album that showcases just what a great singer Roden was at his peak, playing bluesy R&B with a soulful tinge.  On my vinyl version of the album, Roden performs a version of Desperado that blows the original miles out of the water.  Sadly this track does not appear on subsequent versions of the album, although it is replaced by another cover, of the Temptations' I Can't Get Next To You that also swings like a bastard.  Jess Roden - one of the great lost British vocalists.

Thomas Lang - Scallywag Jaz

Another Liverpool crooner, Thomas Lang (born Jones - no wonder he changed his name) released a couple of albums in the early 80s showcasing his great voice.  Verging on easy listening, he perfected a style of light jazz (hence jaz) that was picked up by the likes of Black (of Wonderful Life and Sweetest Smile fame) and, on the face of it, was perfect for a world happy to have the likes of Sade and Harry Connick on their coffee tables.  Sadly, it was not to be for Thomas.  If he was around today, he'd be a shoo-in for the X-Factor as well.

Amsterdam - The Journey

Come on, you knew this was coming, didn't you?  Treasure buried so deep only a few select people are aware of the band's existence.  Yet if the world only knew...  The Journey was the band's first 'official' release, gathering the strongest tracks from a series of internet-only albums.  The quality of the album is  sublime, the range of styles broad, the emotion and passion tangible in every note.  If anything, follow-up album Arm in Arm is the better album, but as a debut, an initial statement of intent, The Journey is untouchable.  It deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as The Clash's debut, it is that good.

Oh, there's so many more I could have written about, but this is a decent starter for ten.  Treasure, buried in the depths of my record collection.  What's buried in yours?

Monday, April 05, 2010

Can I just say... (T - 14)

...this is the funniest thing I've seen all weekend...

Sunday Easter Sunday (T - 15)

Today's soundtrack:  U2 - War

Busy day today, motor racing and football to watch, with a family get-together sandwiched in the middle.

It was a bit of a procession at the front of the Malaysian Grand Prix, with the two Red Bulls pulling away in the first two slots and staying there for the rest of the race.  Consequently the action was all towards the back of the field, with the McLarens and Ferraris trying to make amends for their abysmal performance in qualifying.  And for a while it was genuinely exciting, as Lewis Hamilton, in particular, carved his way through the back markers up into a respectable position.  Jenson Button also made progress, albeit less spectacularly, largely due to an early tyre change that gave him acres of free space to drive in for a large part of the race.

Ultimately though, the race fizzled out as a combination of tyre wear and a wall of slightly quicker cars halted the charge.  Oh for a thunderstorm in the last ten laps!

Then it was out for Easter lunch with the family - a carvery at the Village in Bromborough, and very enjoyable it was too, despite me making my usual schoolboy error of eating far too much (did I really need those last three profiteroles?) and feeling decidedly uncomfortable at the back end of the afternoon.  So rather than sit there feeling bloated, we beat an early retreat back home - where the Everton game was being Sky-plussed ready for viewing.

And I wished I hadn't bothered, really.  A lethargic performance against a West Ham team that had more to play for, and who deserved their draw, even though the ever-erratic Howard Webb denied Everton a cast-iron penalty.  Sadly, it looks as though eighth is the best the club can aspire to this season - when a decent European slot was there for the taking.  We are definitely missing the guile and craft that Mikel Arteta brings to the team, and the game against Villa on Wednesday is really our last chance of pushing on for the final European place - a must-win game by any standards.

Sadly let down by Son No 2 today, who gleefully announced that the Pixies were playing Glastonbury this year, only to find he'd been April Fooled (and not for the first time this year!)  Still, with confirmations from The Gaslight Anthem and the likelihood of The Hold Steady and The Courteeners confirming soon, I don't think we'll be struggling for things to do and see.

U2 are, of course, already confirmed, and it is 'War' that has come up on the soundtrack today.  Their third album, released well before The Canonisation Of Saint Bono, it's not their best work by a long stretch.  But it does include New Year's Day and Sunday Bloody Sunday, and generally chunters along quite inoffensively.

Here's a young-looking U2 performing 'Two Hearts Beat as One'.  Nice mullett, Bono!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Sympathy for the Journo (T - 16)

Today's soundtrack:  The Stranglers - The UA Singles 1977 - 1982

Just finished reading Nick Kent's memoirs of the 1970s, 'Apathy for the Devil'.  The name might not mean a great deal to you, but Nick Kent was a music journalist back in the seventies, and along with his colleague at the NME, Charles Shaar Murray, pointed me in the direction of most of the great music I listened to in that decade.

Nick was also - for a few weeks - an early member of the Sex Pistols, as well as being Chrissie Hynde's lover and a fully fledged junkie.  He was also one of the best writers about rock music ever to have put pen to paper.

Apathy for the Devil has come in for some criticism from some quarters, but I enjoyed it.  Whilst Kent doesn't write about himself as well as he does about his musical heroes, reading the book took me right back to my adolescence, and reminded me of the time when the NME formed the centrepiece of my week - I couldn't afford too much of the music it wrote about, but I still devoured every word of every issue, vicariously living the life of its writers, who were, to many of us, stars in their own right.

Today's NME is a pale shadow of the magazine that existed in the '70s and '80s and it's a real shame.  There is still plenty of quality music journalism out there - in the pages of Word, Mojo and Uncut, and in the writings of Peter Guralnick, Mikal Gilmore and others - but you won't find it in the pages of the NME any more, sadly.

A very pleasing thud on the doormat this morning - my contract of employment!  So I've now got written confirmation - I'm back on the gravy train again.  Happy days.  Just got to fill in a few forms and wing them back to Preston, and then I can enjoy my last couple of weeks of leisure.

Confirmation this morning also, that Formula 1 is at its most interesting when it rains.  Ferrari and McLaren's decision to gamble on the length and intensity of a rainstorm in Malaysia found both all four of their cars languishing at the back of the grid, which should lead to some interesting driving tomorrow morning.  The drivers seemed pretty philosophical about it, as well they might - it wasn't really their fault that their teams misread the conditions.

One band who - perhaps surprisingly - don't get much of a mention (if any) in Nick Kent's memoirs are The Stranglers, who were there or thereabouts throughout the period Kent is writing about.  Maybe they were too far removed from the scuzzy drug scene that Kent was involved in at the time, and possibly too inauthentic as well - their punk credentials were indeed decidedly dodgy.  That said, they did release a string of excellent singles in the period from 1977 to 1982, the last part of which I am listening to as I type.  By this time, they'd ditched the casual misogyny that blighted their early years and were playing more melodic, conventional material such as Golden Brown and Strange Little Girl.

Whilst never one of my favourite bands at the time - they came across as too old and too muso for me, with their organ riffs and dodgy facial hair - they did release some canny tunes.

"Have you all got your Crackerjack pencils?"

Friday, April 02, 2010

Word Travels Fast! (T - 17)

Today's soundtrack:  Porcupine Tree - Staircase Infinities

After one of the best night's sleep I've had in ages, woke up ready for a trip into Manchester to meet up with Kevin and some of my old mates from the old job.  But first, off to the Supermarket to stock up for the Easter break.  Big trolley to shove all the chocolate eggs into - right next to the booze and calories, natch.  A relatively straightforward shop, albeit augmented by Mrs W's quick waltz round the clothes section.  Still, don't have to watch the pennies quite so much now!

Then off into Manchester, and to the old firm's offices.  Bumped into a few people outside, who congratulated me on the new job, word obviously having got round quickly!  Nice to be able to answer truthfully when people ask me how it's going - the days of the brave face and the 'it's all ok, really' platitudes are past.  It really is ok now.

Then to Giraffe with Kevin, for a tasty burger and Red Stripe.  We put the world to rights for a good hour or so before going back to the office where I met up with Anne-Marie for congratulations and hugs.  It's good, this going back to work lark.  For some reason I got to kiss lots of women as a result!

So.  I'm in Manchester.  No longer watching the pennies, and Fopp just up the road.  What's a boy to do?

Half an hour later, I emerged with the new Joanna Newsom, Them Crooked Vultures, the new Jimi Hendrix release and a few Traffic albums from the early seventies.  One of which I already own.  Don't you just hate it when you buy something you've already got?  Or is it just me that does it?  It only cost me three quid, at least.

Back home, and a quick text to Matt, who has been spending the week in hospital having his radiotherapy treatment following his throat operation last year.  This has been far less of an ordeal, boredom being the primary concern rather than any specific medical issues.  You can read about his experiences here.

After a big lunch, there was no need for a massive tea so we had the remnants of last night's (home-made) pizza alongside some potato skins and chicken bits.  Watched the end of Supernatural series 3 and - of course - caught up on Masterchef.  The six contestants reduced now to five following the departure of Terry, who may well cause himself serious self-harm as a result.

Simon reminded me yesterday that the guitar playing hasn't had a mention in a while and, if truth be known, it did go a bit quiet for a bit.  Having said that, I have been picking up both the bass and my six-string more often on the past week or two and enjoying every minute of it.  Although my fingers hurt as a result.  Not a virtuoso by any means but still enjoying the tinkering!

One man who probably can lay claim to the title of virtuoso is Steven Wilson, driving force behind the horribly-named Porcupine Tree, who actually produce a very acceptable blend of Proggy hard rock.  Staircase Infinities is a half hour of nicely melodic, guitar-driven rock that is extremely pleasant to have on in the background.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

No Longer Stuck? (T - 18)

Today's soundtrack:  Various Artists - The Burt Bacharach Songbook

Oh my - I got the job!

After a pretty rigorous interview process, I seem to have come out the other side as the Last Man Standing!  So, subject to completion of all the formalities and paperwork, I shall be Head of Business Assurance for a major housing association based in Preston - starting on 19 April.  Hence the 'T - 18' countdown in the title above.

The recruitment process went through three separate interviews, culminating in a double-header down in London on Monday.  On arrival, I was given a topic to present upon for 15 minutes, and given 45 minutes to prepare.  No Powerpoint - just a flipchart.  So, hoping that handwriting wasn't one of the characteristics I was going to be assessed on, I set to scribbling.

Finished just about on time, then it was downstairs to present my scribbles to the four-man panel.  And it seemed to go ok.  My mouth didn't dry up, the presentation seemed to flow, I could see I was getting a few nods, and I stuck to my allotted fifteen minutes.  After a few questions on the presentation, it was on to the meat of the interview for the next hour and a half.  Again, it seemed to go ok.  Unfazed by any of the questions, a few more nods, even a few laughs and smiles.  In the right place, as well.

Still, you never know.  I came out thinking I'd done ok - pretty good, in fact - but the other guy might be even better.  Who knows?  At least I felt I'd done myself justice and set a decent benchmark for the other guy.

Fast forward to the next morning.  An early call from the recruitment agency - always a good sign - no offer yet, but good feedback from the interview...and could I give them the names of some referees they could contact for a reference?  Oh yes, I can do that.  A few quick emails, and the process swung smoothly and quickly into action.  By midday, references had been requested and provided, passed on to the company....

...and the good news came back - you've got it!

Oh my.

So - thanks.  Thanks to the two reference providers - you know who you are - who gave me what I am told were 'glowing' references.  Thanks to everyone who has sent me good wishes and congratulations - and thanks to everyone who has kept in touch either directly or through this blog for the last twelve months.  It's been a long, sometimes stressful year, and your comments and support have helped me get through it all.  Oh, and extra special thanks to Mrs W, who has put up with all the ups and downs and mood swings without complaint.

Well without much complaint, anyway.

Anyway, enough of that, it's beginning to sound like a bloody Oscar acceptance speech.

So - the light at the end of the tunnel probably isn't the oncoming train after all.  It looks like I'm sorted.  Son No 1 is also working and happy in his work, and Son No 2 is successfully completing his treatment this week as well.  Onwards and upwards chaps.

Many of you have asked what is going to happen to this blog.  Well, I don't want to stop - in fact, I'll probably ramp it up for the next 18 days as we count down to D-Day, and then continue on a more occasional basis, just to keep in touch.

This is what I wrote on Day 1 about the title of this blog...380 days ago!

I'm amused by the irony of this blog title. "Stuck Between Stations" was originally a nod to my refusal to grow old gracefully - stuck, if you will, between the kid I was and the 'grown-up' I refuse to be. And, of course, a reference to the wonderful Hold Steady - a group of musicians who act no older than they need to. The song itself refers to being stuck between stations on the radio - when things are not as 'crystal clear' as they might be. Something else I can relate to at the moment.  But now, I'm stuck between two other stations - the job I had and the new job I've yet to find.

No longer stuck between those latter two stations. Thank God.

As for the original reason for the blog title - well, you be the judge!

And so to the soundtrack for today's post. The mighty Burt Bacharach. And from the album, a track whose title reflected the way I felt twelve months ago. Not any more though.

Take it away, Dusty!