Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Punk Rock and Streetlights; a Marriage Made on the Road to Nowhere

I somehow mistakenly fell into a job revolving around streetlights a few years ago. It is never a job I would have chosen for myself, and like prostitution and drug dealing it was never mentioned as a possible career path by guidance councillors at school but the modern world needs their streets to be brightly lit so they can see where they're going and feel safe. Or something. It means there's a job for people who never knew (and still don't) what they want to do with their lives. But it all sounds very un-rock 'n' roll, in fact it sounds boring as hell.

I used to try to not talk about it too much but since Jeremy Vine ousted me on national televison I thought maybe I should be more open about it; I do spend at least eight hours of every working day doing some kind of job revolving around them, so why not write a blog about them too? Possibly the most boring blog in the world.

When people listen to music there's certain words or terms in lyrics which will be instantly forgettable. Words that are in there to possibly portray a meaning in something, maybe to give the listener some kind of context, possibly just as filler. The kind of word that isn't really part of the main theme of the song but is there to add weight to the song as a whole or used as a comparision to something. A word/ thing that most people wouldn't pick up on, but then what if you work in the sector and you keep hearing an inordinate amount of streetlights being heard in lyrics? Fucking streetlights. You'd probably think you were going mad. That work was taking you over. You'd probably think that, that... well that you were a bit sick and should think of getting a job involving something that actually matters. Like people or terrepins.

Anyway, this had been creeping up on me for a few months, I'd found myself listening to songs and thinking 'did s/he just shout/sing streetlights in the middle of that lyric!?' I tried to forget about it and put it down to misheard lyrics and my mind playing tricks on me but when I went a gig at the Birds Nest and saw this amazing newish band called Waco (somewhere between Propagandhi and The Smith Street Band with bits of Black Sabbath, The Replacements, Kid Dynamite, Joyce Manor and Minor Threat chucked in too. Perhaps. Check them out for yourself here and tell me who they actually sound like.) play I could have sworn they were singing about streetlights in one of their songs. It was a bit much that work seemed to be impeding on my solo drinking sessions watching punk bands, if anywhere I would have thought that would always be my safe haven, my escape. But the band kind of blew me away and made me smile so I decided to get their EP and take it home for further investigation.

I hadn't been mistaken; on The Devil they sing "Lost in the middle of the night in the middle of the city/ There's a streetlight that never goes out when you're living here like me" Of course they weren't actually singing about streetlights; i'm not sure if anyone's written a song as an ode to street lights, I hope not or I'll buy their stuff and burn it. Anyway, I skipped through my iPod and stuck on some records and found other offenders that I'd suspected like Bangers ("I said my favouite colour now is the colour of streetlights/ she said she never could distinguish between my bad jokes and stupid lines" from the song Bad Jokes on Crazy Fucking Dreams), Hot Club De Paris ("In the shadows of a Friday night/ I walked into a brand new street light" from Everyeveryeverything on Drop It Till It Pops), The Hold Steady ("When he's holding then the streetlights/ seem an awful lot like spotlights" from Charlemagne in Sweatpants from Seperation Sunday) the truly awful Route 215 (it was a review copy from back in the waterintobeer days; some song about being "dimly lit", "licking clit" and being "well aroused" when "undoing a blouse" called Underneath A Streetlight from the album Shock 'Em Dead) or Zatopeks whose song Mechanised from new album About Bloody Time is kind of based on a Gogol quote about streetlights (or streetlamps anyhow). Get that album by the way if you like intelligent, catchy as hell, thought provoking pop punk. It's bloody beauty.

And then Against All Authority sing "What do you do when there's nowhere to go? Empty pools and punk rock shows/ anger that nobody knows and the sun goes down and the streetlights glow' on Silence is Golden But Duct Tape is Silver and The Lawrence Arms sing "A temple corroded, eviction pending/ embrace me, cold nights, grey sky, streetlight" on the First Eviction Notice and nomeansno sing "The day everything became nothing/ I was standing underneath a streetlight, wishing I'd had a cigarette" from The Day Everything Became Nothing or Samiam sing "See that sky flying by/ see the streetlights spin and blend/ proving it's not a fastest scar" from Sky Flying.

Where was all this coming from? Had anyone stood underneath a streetlight I had anything to do with and started writing a song? Maybe my job wasn't as boring as I thought, maybe streetlights are actually an inspiration to artists and poets the world over. Maybe I was actually helping to provide a public service rather than just sitting in a job that was created to create a job so that money could keep on circulating around the country and the government could point to reduced unemployment figures. Maybe it does matter.

The Velvet Underground (Venus in Furs), Buffalo Tom (Sunday Night), Belle and Sebastien (Waiting for the Moon to Rise), Van Morrison (In the Midnight), Arcade Fire (Une Annee Sans Lumiere), Hefner (Half a Life), Billy Bragg (Northern Industrial Town), Joni Mitchell (Underneath the Streetlight), MC5 (Shakin Street), Blondie (Out in the Streets) and Ice-T (Peel their Caps Back) are just some other musicians to have included streetlights as a (perhaps not so) vital element of their songs. A revelation I'm sure you'll agree. Even Journey talk of 'Streetlight people' on Don't Stop Beleivin' and Coolio sang "I'm the kinda G the little homies wanna be like/ On my knees in the night, sayin' prayers in the streetlight" on Gangstas Paradise and where would the nineties have been without that song?

And that makes streetlights cool, surely? Some validation for those eight hours a day would be kind of nice. But then, as much time as I spend there it's not that important... As always, thanks to all the bands above for the music, thanks for making life that bit more fun.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

I've got a new favourite French band. I've never had a favourite French band before.

The title of this blog was a text I sent to my girlfriend after a gig at Urban Bar in Whitechapel last Thursday. It was drenched in too much mid week drinking and that feeling you get when you see a band for the first time who make you smile so much it almost hurts. That feeling that keeps you going back to shitty punk shows on week nights when you're really getting too old as you have to get up at five the next morning to continue the banality of your working life. That feeling that adds a bit more colour to your life. Aye, that feeling.

Photo by Daz Griswald

The band were Maladroit, a pop punk band from Paris, France who've been around since 2009 but I'd only become aware of last year. After I posted this blog Daz from Griswalds got in touch to say thanks and gave me a heads up on a label from Europe who had put out some of his favourite releases over the last few years. The label was Monster Zero, run by some of the guys from The Apers and one of the many great bands who had released records through the label were Maladroit.

Photo by Daz Griswald

Maladroit are a bit stupid, a little clever, a tad melancholic and a lot of fun. They've got an album out and a handful of 7 inches and the songs are typical pop punk fair which aren't to be taken too seriously but are played with passion and a huge sense of enjoyment. File them somewhere between Cletus, Nerf Herder and The Connie Dungs.

Photo by Daz Griswald

Anyway, when I realised I'd never got close to having a favourite French band before (I think I may once have pretended to enjoy Saian Supa Crew to impress a girl or something years and years ago) it got me thinking how often the rest of Europe is overlooked. Britain only looks to America and America only looks at itself. But what about just over the water? It seems there are great bands over on the mainland and that they're a little bit stuck in the 90's. The Lookout! Records version of the 90's. It's a pop punk haven. I'm not sure why this might be. Maybe over there they have less pretensions about what is cool at the moment; about what our American cousins are doing. Maybe they found something they loved and just kept doing it. Maybe they just want to have a bit of fun and add that bit of colour. Maybe, just maybe, they're the trend-setters. So I thought I'd have a sort of Eurovision* song contest of bands I've heard over the last few months that should be checked out and encouraged to come over to Britain as from what I can tell that doesn't happen as much as it should.

* It's nothing like the Eurovision song contest; more just a few bands (and semi reviews) I like who have released records on the aforementioned Monster Zero Records. A EuroTimon** contest. With no winners. Or rather they're all winners. They're all my new (or existing) favourite bands from their respective countries. What an honour.
** My spell checker tried to change this to Neurotic. Hmmmm.

TheMugwumps- Banana Brain
Everything goes back to The Ramones for these guys; you can see it in the leather jackets they wear, the lyrics they write and the melodies they sing. It's simple, it's catchy, it's fun. There's a Queers vibe going on too (who go back to the Ramones anyway) and a tinge of Teenage Bottlerocket (who go back to the Ramones via the Queers anyway) and blah, blah, blah. Good pop punk songs okay!

This band are a bit different. And a lot good. This album is one of the best things I've heard in a while and sounds somewhere between The Weakerthans, Swingin' Utters and The Cut Ups. Songs about drinking and playing records and drinking whilst playing records. When they sing "While I'm sure there's many better stories to be told/ ones of broken men and alcohol are never getting old" you just have to agree; not when they're played and told like this. The whole album is catchy as hell, it's poppy, it's punky but it'd probably be a bit amiss of me to just lump it into the pop punk bucket. It's so much more than that. Not exactly original but pretty damn unique.

I've already written enough about these guys but you should check this out, okay? It has songs called 'I Hate Your Hello Kitty Underwear' and 'There's No "I" in DIY'. There's a couple of songs in French too which is nice, glad to see the whole continent hasn't been totally Americanised/ Anglicised to the tune of the 'language of pop'.

Like Bis on speed. They sell t-shirts that proudly state 'Love Songs Only', they have a lovely Valentines Day split with Maladroit, sprayed with perfume and a heart shaped lyric card that's just come out. This album has ten songs on it which speed along in no time at all. Sing-a-long love anthems that should have you bopping around your room till you can't any more. If you have a heart anyway.

The Netherlands
The Apers- S/T
This record is actually The Apers debut album from way back in 2001 re-released on Asian Man Records. The Apers have been going since 1996 and this album is a classic of the genre. Love songs for the demented and the unlucky. Fast, short, great songs. If these guys were American I've no doubt they'd have been held in the same esteem as The Queers, Chixdiggit and Mr T Experience. It's almost a perfect example of a pop punk record. Do yourself a favour and give it a go.

You can get all these records through Monster Zero.
Or Brassneck Records in the UK stock most of their catalogue.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

My Top 13 Albums of 2013

I quite like lists. The internet seems made for them, but I can't imagine many people care what my favourite albums were of 2013. That doesn't really matter though as I'm putting exactly that list up. There will be some glaring omissions that I haven't got round to buying or listening to yet, educate me. What I can say is that from the music I did listen to in 2013 is that British punk rock is as healthy as I've ever known it; obviously I get more chance to see British bands live which is why this list is heavily weighted towards bands from these fair isles. As it should be really, we often don't appreciate the great musicians and bands that tour relentlessly around the country and bring joy to us; we take them for the granted, but I for one would like to thank them all for inspiring me and making me happy.

Instead of Facebook telling me what my 2013 was about I thought I'd let the bands and releases who meant something to me do that so I'll take a lyric from each record to make into a new song/poem to hopefully sum up 2013, a bit like that stupid game you played at school when one person started a story and then the next person carried it on, and on, and on and you ended up with a load of nonsense...

(Reading these back it reads like I may have written them when I was a bit tiddly, and I probably was, so sorry about that.)

The band with the worst/ best band name and worst/best album name of 2013 were WSPC and the album continues the absurdity. I love much that is absurd, I even put one of my interests as Camus' philosophy of the absurd on a dating site I went on at the start of the year. How I got any dates I'm not sure. Anyway, this band remind me a bit of the first time I heard Guttermouth; if they are joking then they're amazing and just having a good time and taking the piss out of things they want to take the piss out of (which seems to be mostly straight edge bands). If they're serious like Guttermouth ended up being it's terrible. The music is kind of old school hardcore, with song titles/ lyrics taking the piss out of/paying homage to bands like Good Clean Fun/ Gorilla Biscuits. There's far too many forward slashes in this review. But anyway, yeah, they're a mix of Green Jelly, Gorilla Biscuits and Guttermouth. I'm still not sure about them but that's why they're absurd, and fun, and worth a listen.
Lyric taken: "You always have something to say/ you never notice we all turn away"

12. Great Cynics- Like I Belong (Bomber Music)
For some reason I wanted to hate this band before I'd listened to them or seen them. The minor hype? The name which I wasn't sure was amazing or shite? The fact the lead singer shares the same name as the ECB chairman? (was this a ridiculous thought of punk being for the working class when I was at least one generation removed from 'the working class' anyway. Has punk become/ was it always a posh boys plaything? What the fuck has it got to do with me?). Then I listened to the album and I couldn't get the songs out of my head, the album is very good, extremely catchy and just nice. But then I'm not sure I want my punk music to be nice, and I'm not sure if the band very much fits into 'punk' music as I know it but I know the British scene is better off for having intelligent and thoughtful songwriters and bands like these in it.
Lyric taken: "I can't figure out a better way than to ignore you when you act this way/ I'm trying not to give you sympathy, I know it's what you want and I give in so easy"

One of the good things of finally finding a girl who can put up with me has been discovering an almost parallel music scene in indiepop which has the same ideals and political views as punk but is much more twee, catchy and nice, and probably has much less arguments about who can be in their scene as the punk scene does (see above). CMW kind of sound like Lily Allen mixed with Lemuria and sing songs about veganism, people being ignorant and 'purging your inner Tory'. The album is lovely and you should check it out, it's what you would be listening to if you managed to make friends with the slightly cooler, better looking people in your school.
Lyric taken: "You say it's human nature to fuck up anything good/ The only thing wrong with human nature is we listen to people like you"

This album is superb, RVIVR play pop punk but a pop punk that sounds like its been fed on amphetamines and jangly guitars. This record is 42 minutes long but feels shorter than that due to the feeling of urgency in their songs; I'm not sure where they're trying to get to but it sounds like they're trying to get there fucking fast. There's also the almost 10 minute three part 'The Hunger Suite' which shows the bands intelligence and daring to try something to different which sets them apart from most bands out there at the moment.
Lyric taken: "But someone's always trying to tell me who I am, who to love and how to fuck/ And it's time to pay the rent, kick down the door and come outside."

Last Christmas I was at a house party where I got talking to a girl when Diesel Boy came on the stereo, I was surprised she'd heard of them and started telling her a story about a gig in Bradford where Southport were supporting them. I only knew one Southport song at the time; 'Pilot' from the Killed By Crackle! compilation, when they played this I started doing forward rolls and other stupid stuff on the otherwise empty dance floor. That wasn't the story though; the story was that we'd missed our last train back to Leeds and didn't have anywhere to stay, as the gig wasn't very well attended we managed to latch onto a group of people and go back to their house. With us was Diesel Dave, lead singer of Diesel Boy who had pulled one the girls who lived in the house... I hadn't thought about this for many a year until this party but it turns out that the girl who was with Diesel Dave and whose house we stayed at was the sister of the girl I'd been talking to, who had just been playing and singing in my mates living room at the party. Small world.
Anyway, This album doesn't have any of the immediate impact or urgency of the pop punk sounds that Southport created back in their Crackle! era but it's very good mid tempo punk rock, kind of like Armchair Martian with bits of Senseless Things and some soul and reggae thrown in. Good stuff.
Lyric taken:"This might be the last time, let's hope it's worthwhile"

This is a beautiful release which almost fully captures the pure brilliance of seeing Bangers live. I say almost as though the production is spot on and it allows the song writing to stand out and lets the songs to have space to breathe, listening to the band on record just isn't as amazing as seeing them live. That's not to say this is a bad record, far from it; there's not a duff song on it. It's mostly Hot Water Music type gruff pop punk but you also get the brilliant Hold Steady-ish slower number of 'Bad Jokes' and the more metallic hardcore 'A Quite Different Coastline'. It's all good stuff and you'll be singing along to it after a few listens.
Lyric taken:"I said my favourite colour now is the colour of streetlights/ she said she could never distinguish between my bad jokes and stupid lines"

This is Down and Outs' fourth album and it continues in much the same sing along street pop punk vein as their previous output but this album seems a tad more melodic and mature. The twelve songs speed along and it's the kind of record you'll just want to play over and over again. The band have been going for ten years now and keep on creating brilliant, catchy punk songs. Far too underrated.
Lyric taken: "And I'll cling to what they say about a silver lining/ but it doesn't make the days of silence any less tiring"

6. Snuff- 5-4-3-2-1...Perhaps! (Fat Wreck)
First Snuff album in about a a decade, that's all you really need to know but it does help that it's absolutely excellent. Everything’s in here that you'd want from a Snuff album; Duncan Redmond’s distinctive, Cockney singing voice, Hammond organ, trombone, the unique Snuff guitar sound, catchy as fuck songs and great lyrics. It sounds like the band had a great time making the album and every time I play it it brings a huge smile to my face, let's hope it's not another ten years till the next album.
Lyric taken: "One look in the mirror tells you nothing stays the same/ You can wallow in your loss or accept the change."

One must have a bit of variation in their diet and I like a bit of country music now and again, mainly because the lyrical content of broken hearts, fucking up and getting fucked up mirror my favourite punk song topics. Lindi Ortega is a singer songwriter from Canada, this is her third album and I can't recommend checking her out enough. This album is a mix of country, rockabilly and good old rock 'n' roll. She is brilliant, the album is brilliant, it will break your heart and then mend it again and then make you want to dance in the street. She's the best country artist around at the moment in my opinion and doesn't get half the recognition she deserves as she doesn't have a massive major label pushing her; she just relies on non stop touring to get out there and do what she loves doing as she sings "No Billboard hits, no sold out nights. We got bills to pay, trying to make a way. Some of us wait on luck; well, some just pray"
Lyric taken:"Haunting every portrait of your saddest face/ your muse is a painting that cannot be erased."

4. ONSIND- Anaesthesiology (Discount Horse)
Acoustic pop punk which acts as the UK punk scenes political conscience (or at least the part of the 'UK punk scene' they inhabit). They may be a tad twee and seem a bit smug but I'd be a bit smug if I could write catchy as hell, thought provoking sing a long pop songs with more than convincing storytelling at a rate they manage to be doing. The ten tracks on this album sound kind of connected to each other but it's not really a concept album (even though some characters pop up in the same songs), it more takes the ONSIND blueprint and just makes it the best it's ever been. The Guardian often runs articles about there not being any modern protest singers/ bands about but if they ever took their heads out of their arses they'd realise ONSIND are just that; this album is amazing and needs to be listened to.
Lyric taken:"How we struggle to find meaning in the 'facts'/ A dialogue so porous that the language drips and trickles through the gaps"

Caves are one of, if not the best live band in Britain right now but that energy and the feeling the crowd gets whenever they're seen live hasn't been transferred to their recorded output in the past. Betterment puts that right and shows the band on top form and the production of the record means the song writing, the energy and the sheer catchiness of the tunes is finally caught on record. This eleven track album is a little over 26 minutes long and powers along in no time at all; you'll be hitting the repeat button before you realise what's hit you, and then doing it again. I used to describe them as a British RVIVR but they seem so much better to be stuck in another bands shadow just now. They're just Caves, and they're fucking mint.
Lyric taken:"Never believed/ never believed in anything."

2. The Murderburgers- These Are Only Problems (Asian Man/ Monster Zero)
This is an almost perfect Ramones/Screeching Weasel style pop punk album from this Scottish band which is out on Asian Man Records in the US which seems like a pretty big deal to me. On a pop record you don't expect a band to be original but you do expect them to be unique; it's about using the same old building blocks and creating something new that expresses the individuals in the band; Fraser and co do just that and they've made my favourite pop punk record of at least the last five years. If you ever had any affinity to that genre you need to check this out. All the songs are catchy as hell, three chord, three minute blasts of pop punk joy and of course what sets them properly apart is Fraser's thoughtful, brilliant, miserabilistic, nihilistic lyrics.
Lyric taken:"Although I'm still not sure what I'm doing or where I'll be at the end of the day/ If I can simplify things then I think that I might be okay."

1. V/A- The Songs Of Tony Sly: A Tribute
When Tony’s death was announced to the world it was the first time that someone's death who I didn't personally know effected me in any way; his songs were part of my growing up, part of my youth, part of me. I was actually more of a LagWagon Fan (it felt that you were either one or the other back in the day) and I think I only saw No Use For A Name once and that was when Suicide Machines supported them at the Duchess back in nineteen ninety something and everyone who was at that gig will tell you both NUFAN and Swingin' Utters were totally overshadowed by Suicide Machines but I still liked NUFAN, caught Tony Slys solo shows and loved his song writing and lyrics especially and his songs were and are a part of the soundtrack to my life. So when I heard the news I was shaken up and spent a week or so listening to his songs and celebrating what he did in my own personal way. This album is a perfect tribute to the man and will hold a extra special place in my collection forever more. Rest in peace, but may your songs continue to bring joy to the people you touched. Cheers.
Lyric taken: "But without you my life is incomplete/ My days are absolutely gray/ and so I'll try let your heart know for sure/ that I have so much more to tell you every single day."

So here's my final song of 2013:
You always have something to say, You never notice we all turn away
I can't figure out a better way than to ignore you when you act this way
I'm trying not to give you sympathy, I know it's what you want and I give in so easy
You say it's human nature to fuck up anything good
The only thing wrong with human nature is we listen to people like you
But someone's always trying to tell me who I am, who to love and how to fuck
And it's time to pay the rent, kick down the door and come outside
This might be the last time, let's hope it's worthwhile
I said my favourite colour now is the colour of streetlights
She said she could never distinguish between my bad jokes and stupid lines
And I'll cling to what they say about a silver lining
But it doesn't make the days of silence any less tiring
One look in the mirror tells you nothing stays the same
You can wallow in your loss or accept the change
Haunting every portrait of your saddest face
Your muse is a painting that cannot be erased
How we struggle to find meaning in the 'facts'
A dialogue so porous that the language drips and trickles through the gaps
Never believed, never believed in anything
Although I'm still not sure what I'm doing or where I'll be at the end of the day
If I can simplify things then I think that I might be okay
But without you my life is incomplete, my days are absolutely gray
And so I'll try let your heart know for sure
That I have so much more to tell you every single day

That actually makes my 2013 sound pretty horrible; it wasn't, it was one of the happiest of my life; so thanks to the bands for sound tracking it, the friends I've shared it with and especially Helen for just making life more fun. And if you've read this blog or any of my previous ones (and commented or liked them on Facebook), thanks to you too, it's kind of nice to be doing something semi creative again. Have a great new year.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Old Nonsense Found Down The Back Of The Computer #3: Eggheads

I went on Eggheads with some friends a few years back now, this is an article I wrote before the programme was actually aired. This first appeared in Lukes ace 'zine Ont' Road, issue number 16, you can now check out the web version of the 'zine here. When the episode was finally aired we were abused on twitter and then my office manager aired the episode in my office to my amused co-workers, I live in hope my parents have accidentally wiped it from their TV.
On a side note I went to Highgate cemetery on Saturday and when I saw Marx's (newer) grave one of my immediate thoughts was that his massive head looks like a losing contestant on the Eggheads, having to sit behind his friends watching down on their feeble attempts to beat a team of quiz champions. I felt bad.

Some of the stupidest ideas are often thought of in a pub, when six pints deep most things seem possible and amusing. Every idea is an amazing one which can be discussed with real fervour and then forgotten about in two or three beers time when ones mind turns to less salubrious thoughts. Any lingering thoughts of the "greatest idea ever" are almost always wiped out in the morning when one realises it was a rather silly idea that in the cold light of a hungover day is definitely the last thing you'll ever consider doing. Sometimes though a few of these ideas slip through the net and manifest themselves in real events. Take for example 'The Straw Race' which takes place in the village of Oxenhope, West Yorkshire every summer which originated from an argument between two friends in a pub where one bet that the other couldn't carry a bale of straw from one pub to the next faster than him. It's now a massive annual event where teams of two dress in fancy dress and carry a bale of straw on their backs and stop for a pint in every pub in the village. I've done this race; it's a bloody stupid idea.

Or take another example of a worm charming event that takes place annually in Blackawton, Devon. Some guy was in a pub in the village and was wondering what would happen if he relieved the alcohol he'd been consuming onto it. As he was happily pissing on the grass a load of worms rose to the surface so he came up with the idea to stage an annual contest; now hundreds of people descend on the village in fancy dress and piss on the grass or some other shit to charm the worms to the surface. I've not taken part in this but it sounds bloody stupid and something that could only be dreamed up by a half cut person in a public house.

Britain is built on pubs, eccentricity and now seemingly fancy dress. Something that doesn't involve fancy dress but has a foot in both the other camps is quiz nights. I proposed one night in a pub we should go on the ultimate television quiz show Eggheads. It seemed like a brilliant idea at the time; a chance to win thousands of pounds against a team of professional quizzers on national TV. National TV? Why the hell would I want to appear on national TV? But the idea had legs; I sent out a few texts and posted a request for team members on Facebook. People replied they'd be up for it probably thinking it was just another stupid drunk idea I had which wouldn't go anywhere. A couple of months later we were in the BBC studios in Glasgow, in make up, getting ready to take on the Eggheads. What a bloody stupid idea.

It turns out Eggheads has an average of two million viewers per episode and even though most of these are likely to be OAP's or students they're still real people. That's two million people watching me and my friends make fools out ourselves. Two million real people. What was the point? With a lot of things in life there wasn't a point, I was just drunk and thought it would be funny and followed through with it for once. I've never had any inclination to appear on national television but with a team put together we were flown up to Glasgow from London and put up in a hotel for the night ready to do a quiz in front of some cameras at eight in the morning. That's no time to be taking part in a quiz. That's no time to be doing anything.

It turns out I'm so pasty the make up artists had to put blusher or something on my arms as well as my face so I didn't appear too ghostly on TV, I'd hate to think what they'd have had to do to me if I'd had more than four pints the night before but after an extensive sessions in make up the team were ready to go. It turns out being on TV is pretty easy, and quite exciting. Our team broke an Eggheads record for being able to talk into a camera. Apparently in almost 900 episodes no team has been able to say their names, age and occupation into the camera without messing up. All of us did it perfectly first time, the Eggheads and the production staff were very impressed, our reserve James said that CJ was going a bit crazy back stage. We were naturals, we could do this.

Then the questions started and we realised that actually we couldn't do it, or rather we couldn't win it. We didn't get any of the categories we wanted but we all managed to get at least one question correct but limply proceeded into the final round with no-one winning their individual round. it was left to Vinny to take on the five Eggheads on his own. At this point Nay, Roshni, Tim and I were escorted into the other filming room where our heads will appear massive on HD TV behind Vinny when the episode is finally aired. Tim (this is another Tim, it's not a case of my friend Tim..." and it actually being me, it was Tim) decided at this point he had to go to the toilet or he'd shit his pants. In his race to get to the bowl in time Tim forgot he was wearing a microphone that was hooked up to all the production team and Jeremy Vine, the presenter. Tim said afterwards it was the loudest, most explosive shit he could ever wish to unload, a number seven on the Bristol stool chart scale. Nay, Roshni and I heard Jeremy Vine say that "there must be something in the water" but thought nothing of it; we were too worried about our heads appearing five times their normal size on national television. Then afterwards Tim told us what he'd done; he'd shat in Jeremy Vines ear.

Vinny lost the final round. We came and lost as a team, we got to see a bit of Glasgow, we met and got our pictures taken with the Eggheads, we shat in Jeremy Vines ear. It may have been a bloody stupid idea but it ended up being a lot of fun. I'm just glad it won't be made into an annual event in some little village where I'd have to wear fancy dress and piss on a worm whilst carrying a bale of straw on my back around some pubs.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

My Name is Tim and I Was a Huge Fan of 46 Itchy

I woke up from a dream a month or so ago thinking I wanted to release a 7" vinyl. I told my girlfriend this a couple of days later on a weekend away in Newcastle (she didn't find it too weird as I'm prone to waking up in the middle of the night and shouting weird things at her like "download codes" or "life is like a bus journey" (I think she's still waiting for the end of that analogy, as am I come to think of it)) and she told me that I should wait until I knew if I actually wanted to release anything. But I already had something in the back of my mind that I didn't share with her that day; mostly because I thought it would be an impossible task to bring together and partly because I thought it might be some kind of nostalgia thing with me being back in the North East where I lived for four or so years when I stuttered through university.

There was a ska punk band from Sunderland called 46 Itchy who I absolutely adored. I interviewed Dan, the bass player for the first issue of my fanzine, waterintobeer and went to see them whenever I could. Most of the band have gone onto form or be members of some great punk bands since then; the 46 Itchy family tree includes The Mercury League, Offshore Radio, Former Cell Mates, Broken Few, Leatherface, Pure Graft, Bear Trade and Rivals to name a few.

waterintobeer fanzine issue number 1 as displayed in my toilet

Ska seems a dirty word nowadays however and it's true that it seemed to suit the stupidity, care freeness and general tomfoolery of ones teenage years and I'm not sure that the former members of the band want that particular part of their past bringing up too often, especially not in the form of something you could hold and try to sell. So in the face of not being able to release a split 7" of current bands inhabited by ex-46 Itchy members using the title of this blog (but with the name left blank so that the purchaser could fill their names in themselves with a free gift letter sticker sheet) I thought I'd make a stupid ex-46 Itchy bands box set thing and review some of their records, because, really, you should check them all out. And I guess, it's okay on the internet as anything's that written is as disposable as ska music itself, which, let's face it on the whole was absolutely shite.

I still loved 46 Itchy though and don't (always) skip their songs when they shuffle onto my iPod now and I'd like to celebrate them in some way; and this is that way. A band that brought so much happiness and fun to a (albeit quite small) group of people shouldn't be forgotten just because ska music seems a bit naff now; at the time they did what they did very well and enjoyed themselves when they did it. They're much better at what they do now but as the Bear Trade song says 'Age is a High Price to Pay for Maturity'. And, yeah, I still hold out for a one off reunion.

Anyway, here's a guide to make your own 7" box set; you can change 46 Itchy to any band that you loved in your youth that you know have gone onto form other bands or do what ever you like. It'll make a lovely Christmas present for yourself...

Some tools that you'll need

1. Find yourself a good quality cardboard box. I suggest using a Young'sBrewBuddy box; then you can use the contents to brew your own beer afterwards.

2. Find another, smaller manufactured box so that you can work out your dimensions. I used an Ibuprofen box and copied how that was made and multiplied the dimensions to meet my needs, for a 7" box set the main bit should be around 20cm vertically and horizontally.

3. Draw out where your flaps and stuff are going to go and then cut out the bits you aren't going to need.

4. Cut out the flaps and shape them so that they are easier to fold and will fit together to form your box.

5. Realise you've basically made an empty 7 inch pizza box, but still feel quite proud of it because, y'know, you're Doing It Yourself.

6. Now fold your flaps into place and get ready for the gluing bit.

7. Do the gluing bit. And there you should have it; a box.

8. Now it's time to create your cover, start by plastering old fanzines you didn't know what to do with but didn't really want to throw away as you know how much effort and love go into making them.

9. Realise you have no artistic talent and other than the title you have no idea what should be the central focus point so photocopy the 46 Itchy EP cover and stick that on. Tell yourself off as you really should have printed off the title too.

It looks better in real life

10. Stick the inside back cover on the back and the bands name on the spine of the box just in case you decide to make multiple box sets for other bands' family trees.

And as promised here's some reviews of some of their records as that was really the original point of this blog when it was was first mooted by Mr TomTom, who then didn't do anything. I still hope he'll be getting involved in the near future though.

Bear Trade- Belief is a Graveyard (4 track 7", Everything Sucks Music)
Featuring members of Blocko, The Mingers and 46 Itchy, Bear Trade play gruff melodic hardcore punk somewhere in the vain of The Lawrence Arms. I've somehow managed to miss them every time they've played anywhere near me despite trying to see them, up until they played a matinee gig with Caves in Leeds when I was back home for the weekend. Anyway, I was suitably impressed; they create a huge wall of sound live but you can still hear the melodies and quality song writing. On record their pop sensibilities and intricate guitar work is even greater so you get some lovely tuneful, well produced punk songs to have a little dance to.

PureGraft/ Little League- Split (4 track 7", Specialist Subject Records)
Two songs here from the Graft who play technical fast melodic Propagandhi worshiping punk rock with a bit of Frankie Stubbs inspired lyric writing going on. Maybe. It's good stuff on record but ten times better live; when this band are on form they're impossible not to enjoy, mainly because they look like they're enjoying playing so much themselves.

Rivals- I'm Not An Animal (2 track 7", Tiny Lights Recordings)
Rivals contain a Futurehead and an Itchy; somewhere far away my teenage/ early twenties self is very jealous of me, and probably slightly perturbed. And drunk. Rivals play rock music, at times they sound like a less abrasive, poppier New Bomb Turks, at other times they don't. They always sound good though, and when I say that I mean fucking good. I mean great. Really fucking goodly great.

I think it's obvious I haven't tried reviewing anything properly since waterintobeer disbanded (and I only tried a couple of times then) but you should do yourself a favour and check out these releases. And then maybe you can make a box to put them in.  

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Old Nonsense Found Down The Back Of The Computer #2: A welcome to Hangover Square and an awakening of the lost feeling of finding your own way through (you're like an old friend).

This article first appeared in Chris Dixons one off 'zine "Well, I Guess This Is Growing Up." I wrote it a few months after moving to London permanently so probably some time in summer 2011.

Last summer I received a phone call from an ex work colleague asking if I was in work at the moment, I had to concede that no, I wasn't. Since being made redundant a couple of months before  I'd decided to take a break and was pottering about Leeds, tending to my allotment, reading books and wasting my time and redundancy money drinking early morning pints in a Wetherspoons pub just because I could. But my ex work colleague was about to make me an offer that would change my life pretty significantly. Like most things in life the significance would take a while to take hold and the prettiness was not overtly apparent but the wheels were set in motion.
“Do you want a job for three months working for our old company in Enfield?”
“Yeah, they'll pay for a hotel,  your travel to and from Leeds for the weekends, and all evening meals”
“Erm, I'll come back to you. I've got to think about it.”
I didn't have to think about it, I just thought I could get a pay rise on my previous pay if I made him sweat a bit, I got a bit too excited though after posting the question on Facebook whether I should take a job in Enfield and received replies from some of my London friends outlining the apparent ease of commuting between Camden, where most of them resided and Enfield and phoned back in five minutes telling him I'd take it. And I still got a bit of a pay rise.
And so started the Alan Partridge period of my life. By the week I lived in a hotel in Chalk Farm that most people thought was a haven for prostitutes and ne'er do wells and on most weekends I'd get the train or a lift back to my flat in Leeds. I spent all my redundancy money exploring London, in which I mean I took in the various public houses that I found in a book called 'The Rough Pub Guide to Britain', pubs I knew from novels by Patrick Hamilton  and partook in various Nicholsons' pub chain pub trails where you get a free t-shirt for drinking five pints in five different pubs (I still maintain this is the best way of seeing most of central London’s historical landmarks in a fun and informative way). My wardrobe got heftier, my belly bigger, my work worse; there wasn't a day I worked in Enfield that I wasn't hungover to some degree.
Three months became six but then my company didn't win a contract they were expecting to and I was out of a job again. Before leaving I decided I'd go for an interview with the company for another job that would be on offer in a few months time based in Croydon. I could always turn it down when it came to it, it would mean moving down to London; no free hotel (with or without big plates), no free food, no free travel, no Leeds, but I had to admit my head was already being turned by my capital city. I was still an outsider, I only stayed one weekend a month at most. Though I'd experienced bits of London there was still much more to see, there was a different life to live. I'd have to sleep on it for a couple of months so I went back to Leeds and spent my time tending my allotment, reading books and wasting my time and dole money on early morning pints in a Wetherspoons pub just because I could.
Then I got the phone call.
Then I made the decision.
Two months later I was moving my possessions into a studio flat in New Cross which cost almost twice as much as the one bed flat I rented in one of Leeds' more affluent suburbs. I'm still not sure if the decision was made because I was running away from something or someone or if I was running toward something or someone. I do know I was struggling to find work in Leeds and a decision had to be made one way or the other, the little big things that certainly tipped the balance were factored in but I left my home city with a heavy heart. I love Leeds, I always will, and I hope to return one day soon but my life was stagnating, a change was needed. The confusion in my head of running away from something or someone certainly abated and turned into a former clarity which lasted all but a few weeks when I realised the someone or something I was running towards would confuse me even more. There's so many people in London and that at times, makes it seem the loneliest place I've ever been, even when surrounded by friends in the pub or at a gig.
how the garden was

It turned out when I went to start work that my company hadn't yet built the new offices that I would be working from so I would be getting paid for 'working' from home, fully paid, for the first month or so of my contract. Working consisted of staying out of the way and letting the managers get on with whatever it was they were trying to do so I had the best part of two months to myself. One of the main things I knew I'd miss about leaving Leeds was leaving my allotment; a place where I could be by myself, grow vast quantities of fruit and vegetables and think about everything life outside the confines of that silly wooden fence that surrounded the Roundhay allotment grounds would throw at me next. With an amazing stroke of luck that I put down to karma for being a generally okay person (at least when sober) when I was viewing flats in New Cross I came across a flat which overlooked a back yard that could easily be described as waste land. Tangled in the sea of five foot high weeds were various discarded garments and litter strewn from god knows where. There was a double bed deposited by the next door neighbours and an old washing machine stuck into one corner of the 'garden'. Most people would have thought 'shit-hole', I thought 'heaven'. I even offered to pay extra. So I spent the next month or so turning the shit-hole into something that may represent heaven (at least to me) if such a place existed.

and what I did with it

I won't bore you with the details but now, three months on I have a small herb garden flourishing, flowers doing what they do, carrots, peas, beetroot, radishes, spring onions, purple sprouting broccoli and various lettuces all in the ground or on my plate and some white roses planted to remind me of home. It's my own little bit of my kind of Yorkshire in a back yard in New Cross.

the white roses of Yorkshire and some other crap

As I spent most of my Alan Partridge days in London in and out of various public houses and only seeing central and a bit of north London when I first moved down permanently I wanted to understand exactly how big London was and needed to know there was a beauty akin to what you'd find in the Yorkshire countryside so I hatched a plan to walk the whole of the Thames within the London boundary; from Hampton Court Palace to Erith Marshes. I walked around 70 miles on four Saturdays and found exactly what I'd hoped to find; a place so diverse in its various stages of prettiness and ugliness that I could hardly get bored of the place. I know I'll get sick of it, but at least I'll never be bored.

a bit of London on one of my walks

I'm quite settled now; work's started properly and is keeping me out of too much alcohol related trouble, I'm weeding the garden constantly and enjoying some of the fruits of my labour, I plan on starting the 80 mile capital ring walk soon, I’ve found a local non league football team to support (it warms me that I’ll always be able to find the banality of going to the football enjoyable and inclusive wherever I go, except if I go to a Premiership ground) and though I do still wish that Rancid's Tim Armstrong would be the voice heard on London buses instead of that electronic woman's voice (why I always imagine an American with a faux London accent whilst strumming a guitar and singing out London street names on London buses will always make me smile and make little sense to me(especially as it doesn't seem to fit on tubes)) I can't really complain about that much. The solitude of London living has enamoured me to her, I won't be staying forever but I'm certainly going to enjoy it whilst I do.

super Dulwich Hamlet