On Joy Division’s Closer & Kraftwerk

It was my birthday yesterday.

Happily, I got to spend it with my mum and my sisters, the first time I have seen these three ladies – as well as my stepdad and my sister Ria’s partner Al – since February. We spent the day in Beckenham Place Park and I can legitimately say to you that it was one of the best birthdays I can remember. Jo, who was also there, of course she was, with her dad had gone out of her way to make the day as special as she possibly could.

Mission accomplished. I really am very, very lucky to have someone like Jo in my life. Which is why, with words broiling in my brain, I have left her to sleep and get some rest rest after a long weekend, whilst I come to talk to you about some of the records I got yesterday.

As is becoming habitual, my birthday list (yes, even at the age of 43, I still have one – it seems a sensible way to avoid people wasting money on things I don’t want) was dominated by vinyl. One of the good things about the vinyl explosion, I think, is that pretty much anything can now be obtained (even PJ Harvey is releasing her back catalogue on vinyl now – more of which to follow, no doubt, at some point in the future..) and at increasingly reasonable prices. So I don’t have to feel too guilty about stuffing my list with records.

I am also trying to expand my horizons, so my vinyl collection doesn’t simply mirror my CD collection because that would be a total waste of money, although, obviously there are going to be some records – better, sacred texts – which I must have. I know that sounds greedy, I don’t care. Some records are just too important. More of which, anon.

Jo’s dad has actively encouraged this habit, so it seems fitting that the first record which found its way onto the turntable yesterday is the one he bought me, Kraftwerk’s Computer World. It took me a long time to fall for Kraftwerk, a lot longer than it should have someone who has been worshipping at the twin altars of Depeche Mode & New Order since the mid 90’s; I guess I always found Autobahn a little…. well, let’s just say I never quite “got” it and leave it there.

However, when I did fall for them, I fell hard.

To sit here and list the reasons why Kraftwerk are so important would be a blog post in itself, so I’m not going to do that. I will say that I had already picked up the records I considered to be “canon” a few years back and was happy. And then, on the day Jo and I were supposed to have seen them perform at Victoria Park in May, we watched a Kraftwerk 3-D performance on Youtube instead. And I realised that Computer World was very much also “canon”. As we’ve already covered, I can be slow on the uptake.

Kraftwek – Computer World

The record itself was released in 1981 and is a gentler experience than perhaps the live versions of its songs would indicate. But you can still listen to it and hear how it anticipates house music and lyrically, it makes a mockery of those music critics who, perhaps taken in by The Robots, derided Kraftwerk as musical sourpusses. There’s a deftness of touch in Computer Love that perhaps you wouldn’t expect from a band whose name literally translates to “Power Plant”. I love the futuristic heads on the album cover and then the four blokes (der robots?) on the back creating that future.

I can’t wait to go back in.

But next to a band who I was really big on around the time I began this blog nearly ten years ago, Metronomy and Nights Out. Nights Out was originally released in 2008 and is the second album Joe Mount released under the Metronomy name. It was recently reissued on vinyl and, having missed it the first time round, I had to have it, particularly having had the chance to watch again their excellent set from Glastonbury 2017. Luckily for me, my Jo was happy to oblige.

Night Outs _ Metronomy

I will always have fond memories of the songs like Heartbreaker, Thing For Me & Holiday because Metronomy were still playing these the first time we saw them live at the Albert Hall. It’s good to be reminded how much fun Metronomy were live, but their squeaky electronica transcends nostalgia and so I found myself hollering along to Radio Ladio‘s holleralong friendly chorus at the top of my voice. I hope, when all this staying at home hoping to avoid a pandemic is over, we can be reunited once more.

And speaking of live reunions, last April I bought tickets to see Peter Hook perform both Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures & Closer on the 40th anniversary of the latter’s May 18, 1980 release. This gig has now been postponed to the 25th Jan 2021, so by the time we get to it, the tickets will have been in my possession for around 21 months. Which seems absolutely crackers.

Happily, the pandemic (can you use the words “happily” & “pandemic” in the same sentence? I’m going with it) hasn’t prevented a rather spectacular looking reissue of Closer on clear vinyl.

Can you use “happily” and “Closer” together? Hmmmm….

Anyway, remember when I said about sacred texts? Well, as I opened this package, the feeling that I was holding something almost too delicate to touch was overwhelming. I know, I know, it’s a reissue, that’s totally irrelevant to me. I have a theory about Closer that, whilst Joy Division fans can love Unknown Pleasures as a dark, but otherwise straight up rock record, Closer is inextricably linked to Ian Curtis suicide and, as such, can not ever really be “enjoyed” in the truest sense of the word.

Even so, or maybe because of this, the music committed to these two sides of clear vinyl wield a phenomenal power and to hold this record, for me, is like touching an original copy of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti.

Closer – Side Two

Talking to some friends about it yesterday, I said A Means To An End, Heart And Soul (if ever a track invented the term “Goth Disco”, it must have been this one with its soft, shuffling grooves?) and Twenty Four Hours are the greatest three tracks sequenced together of all time. Then I went further and said that in my opinion, side two of Closer is the most perfect side of music ever committed to tape. I mean, seriously.

You can’t talk about Heart And Soul and Twenty Four Hours and then leave out the desperately resigned, yet strangely beautiful The Eternal and as for Decades… Jesus. I remember writing in a breathless review of New Order’s 2018 Ally Pally show that I hadn’t been able to get the song out of my head. Is it any wonder?

If Closer is the sound of a man giving up on life then, with the eerie foresight of Decades, Ian Curtis predicts the, ultimately fruitless, struggle his bandmates would (in my opinion) have in laying his ghost to rest throughout the journey of New Order.

I have just replayed side 2 as I type this, the silence following Decades seems to fill the room. I remember one night, many years ago, playing Unknown Pleasures over and over again. It’s difficult to do that with Closer, its like the album means too much to just play on repeat, you have to let it settle, let yourself recover.

I realise that I have somewhat glossed over side 1. Make no mistake that I also hold that side of the record in the highest esteem, it’s just that the emotional heft on the flip side, for me, dominates the record. As a whole, Closer is, not to appear flippant about it, a towering achievement given that it was recorded by 4 young lads from Manchester (& surrounding areas) who appeared to not to have a clue what they were doing.

Luckily for them, and us, their producer, Martin Hannett (RIP) did.

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Ants To The National: Restart

Hello friend, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Yes, perhaps you can tell that Jo and I have watched Sam Esmail’s brilliant, genuinely unlike any TV show I’ve ever seen, Mr Robot. We’ve even caught up with his follow up, Homecoming, which featured two incredible performances; one from the one of the few genuine movie stars of my lifetime in Julia Roberts and one from the very charismatic Stephan James.

If you haven’t seen it, check it out. If you’re already giving Jeff Bezos your hard earned cash for Amazon Prime, you might as well get some joy out of it.

But this isn’t about that. Of course not.

Months into lockdown and even as things are beginning to ease, the only person Jo and I have had any contact with since March is her dad. Other friends and family are too far away for us to risk public transport on. Everyone apart from my sister Ria, that is – but we haven’t seen her. Days before my birthday, it has become apparent that we might be able to see my mum, who has been shielding and it is only over the last couple of conversations we have had, with the possibility of – finally, finally – seeing her again, that the enormity of the sacrifice we, in line with everyone else in this country not called Dominic Cummings, have made has become truly apparent.

It’s been hard, right? We can all agree on that. I haven’t played football or been to to the gym since February. As I get deeper into my 40s, the truth that my knees feel like they are constructed from balsa wood has massively impacted on one of life’s true joys, being able to get out and pound the streets as long as possible. Had I not taken the decision to give up eating meat in March, I feel certain I would look even more… malleable than I currently do – but that may just be my way of making myself feel better.

It has occurred to me on more than one occasion that, if I can’t exercise my body, perhaps it would be a good idea to exercise my brain and try and get some joy that way. So, here I am. You will be relieved to hear, I think, that this is not going to be a party political broadcast on behalf of the Labour Party. What it is instead is the start of an effort on my part to try and get some head space back.

Okay, okay, come back, come back….

I have always been a collector. I’ve got tons of CDs, DVDs, a few Blu Rays and the very start of a 4K collection. I am, in short, a marketing man’s dream. But vinyl has been part of my life since childhood, I still remember going through my parents collection, fascinated by the covers of the inevitable Rumours and Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. You’ve spotted, I think, that I am in my 40s? I had my own records; admittedly all produced by one man, one band, Adam and his Ants.

Yep, Kings of the Wild Frontier was, and remains, a favourite; Prince Charming has its moments, even now. You maybe had to be alive in the early 80s to know how massive that record was at the time and also how famous Adam Ant was. He was so famous, in fact, that he had to put a stop to the Ants and strike out on his own – albeit, with assistance from erstwhile Ant, Marco Pirroni. So we got the different, but still good Friend Or Foe, which spawned the absolutely massive, and pointed, Goody Two Shoes and then, a couple of years later, Strip. And that was the end of me and Adam Ant.

So that was the start of it all, as evidenced in the title of this blog. But the journey of this blog, admittedly stalled some time ago, really began (again, it’s in the title) with Jo and I travelling to Berlin early in 2011 to see The National at the Columbiahalle. Coincidentally, the last gig Jo and I went to, nearly nine years later,was at the very same Columbiahalle, watching – you’ve guessed it – The National.

So, it’s with The National I pick up this blog again, not to tell you about the Columbiahalle gig; 8 months later, that would be pointless. But because Jo and I celebrated 16 years together earlier this week and, fittingly, Jo chose to mark this occasion by presenting me with with the 10 year anniversary expanded edition of The National’s masterpiece, High Violet. I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet, but obviously the songs held within this record speak for themselves.

High Violet Expanded Edition triple vinyl

The relationship that I have with Jo has been founded on a mutual love of Radiohead – Where I End And You Begin remains the most important song in our relationship – and Massive Attack. However, these bands inactivity over the last decade, at least relatively speaking, has seen the 5 piece from Cincinnati, Ohio (and all their friends) grow into their place – even if we weren’t overjoyed with their last, overly long, album.

Our own eyes, ears and hearts told us last November, whatever misgivings we had about I Am Easy To Find, the band remain a wonderful proposition live. And, having not seen them on their Sleep Well Beast tour, I finally got to hear my favourite National song of the last 5 years, Day I Die, live in Berlin.

So, this weekend, my birthday weekend, I can look forward to listening to all six sides of this expanded edition. If I hadn’t already used up circa 1,000 words here, I’d also be telling you about the awesome box set Depeche Mode have put together celebrating the singles from 1990’s Violator album. But I have, so I’ll leave you in the very capable, obsessive, hands of David McElroy.

Violator 12″ Singles Box Set

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Haelos @EartH: Live Review

Jo and I have been waiting to reacquaint ourselves with London’s Hælos for over three years now. We first came across them by accident, arriving early for a TV On The Radio gig at the Roundhouse in August 2015. I found them a more enchanting proposition than the evening’s main act – they hadn’t even put an album out at that point. In 2016, an impressive if slightly one paced album, ‘Full Circle’ followed and, to be fair to the band, several gigs came with them. But we couldn’t get to any of them.

I sort of forgot about them for a bit then and then, a few months ago, some activity on their Insta feed and a new track, ‘Buried In The Sand’ arrived. This song seemed, if not a step up, then a definite change of gear. Just when I thought I was out… Anyway, tickets went on sale for last night’s hometown show at EartH to celebrate the release of album #2, ‘Any Random Kindness’. Despite Thursday being a football night for me, and therefore sacred, I told Jo I’d give up football if she got the tickets (that’s only half a heresy, right?).

Obviously, she got the tickets.

So, what of this band and how far have they travelled in the last three and a half years? They opened with ‘Kyoto’, the second song (I think) to emerge from ‘Any Random Kindness’ and a song I had initially not been too keen on. Having lived it for a while now, the chorus, sung by both Lotti Benardout and Arthur Delaney has dug a trench into my brain and, guys, it won’t leave,

“Cherry blossom cherry blossom
It’s the air that we breathe
How have we forgotten what it means to be
Cherry blossom cherry blossom
It’s the world that we leave
Here for what we want but do we know what we need”

Faced with an army of sedentary head nodders, we were all sat on the banked seating of the auditorium, Delaney drily noted that we could stand up if we wanted to, it wasn’t “against the rules”. As one, everyone rose to their feet and, pretty much, remained there for the rest of the gig. Which must have looked a lot better if you were looking out from the stage.

As the gig progressed, it was the ‘Full Circle’ tracks which really seemed to land, the newer tracks – with the exception of the excellent ‘End Of World Party’, getting lost in a soup of unfamiliarity, disinterested chatter and, at times, indistinct vocals. It’s becoming more and more apparent that, as the world’s attention span grows ever shorter, bands like Hælos will suffer love from treated as background music to someone’s evening rather than the actual focus of the evening. A point hammered home when Lotti Benardout dedicated the aching, beautiful, ‘Dust’ to her late father as people around us chatted away, oblivious.

Hearing Benardout speak in such a normal voice, I was struck by the contrast with the emotion, soul and, at times, hurt she is able to inject into her vocals. One of the draws of this band, for me, is the XXish interplay of that emotion with the more hushed tones of Delaney. I’d never considered it until I saw it written recently, but there is perhaps that, highest praise possible (from me anyway), comparison to be made with Massive Attack. They’re certainly in good company when it comes to people chatting throughout a gig anyway.

‘Full Circle’ saw the band take flight, almost verging into wig out territory as Delaney repeatedly exclaimed “these colours in my head!”, before everyone was commanded to dance, dance as if we were at a party listening to our favourite, most banging tune. I felt this was a dangerous instruction, but then I didn’t know ‘Buried In The Sand’ was about to drop. A subtly nagging groove, butterflies falling, wiped hard drives and crowns of wires all combine to create an uneasy euphoria augmented by a very New Order bassline and, to my ears, Depeche Mode keys. Naturally, I think this song is brilliant and it closed out the main set.

Our heroes returned to stage pretty quickly with ‘Oracle’, carried again by that beautiful voice. The conclusion of this song saw the band greeted with rapturous applause. It quickly became obvious that they were going to milk the applause for a bit, so the applause continued and the Hælos continued to milk it in a way that seemed to say “We know that you know what we’re doing; great isn’t it?” Yes, yes it was.

After that, things came full circle. Yes, the whole point of writing this review was to get that pun in there, with the first track on their debut album (the intro, I think, doesn’t count), ‘Pray’. By now, even the chatters around us had been caught up and were dancing, arms aloft as Lotti repeatedly implored us to “Pray, don’t fall down”. Okay, Lotti, we’ll try not to… The euphoric wave that builds through this song and that repetition felt absolutely the right note to end what had been a very successful evening on.

Pausing only to get a photo of themselves, with us, their adoring audience behind them, again, arms aloft in acclamation, they disappeared backstage. We shuffled off towards the London Overground, thinking that it won’t be too long before this band will be headlining much bigger arenas than EartH, perhaps even a return to the Roundhouse?

In fact, Hælos can be found at the Brixton Electric in October, it goes without saying, but they are well worth checking out.

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Mezzanine XXI: Massive Attack at the O2

On Friday night, Massive Attack took to the stage at London’s O2 arena to revisit their 1998 masterpiece, Mezzanine. One of my favourite bands of all time, performing perhaps my favourite album ever? I had to be there. So did Jo, her dad John and four of my mates, Ads, Baxi, Chris and Ray.

I was very much looking forward to what, in publicising the show before tickets went on sale, Robert Del Naja had called “… a one off piece of work; our own personalised nostalgia nightmare head trip”.  It was going to be a great night, one which would see Mezzanine laid bare via “custom audio reconstructed from the original samples and influences.”

That, dear reader, is exactly what we got and I  was delighted.

Massive Attack being the band they are, I was never expecting them to perform a straight run through of the Mezzanine album, nor would I have wanted them to do that. I saw Leftfield do that with Leftism a couple of years back and found the whole experience, frankly, a little dull. In other words, to quote the late, great Joe Strummer on stage with the Clash, “Who wants it to sound like the record? Me neither…”

In any case, a cursory check of Instagram in the weeks since the Mezzanine XXI tour began would have clued anyone in. This was going to be a Massive Attack show featuring – shock, horror – non Massive Attack tracks; those aforementioned “influences”.

For those who wanted to hear the Mezzanine album, every single one of the tracks featured on the album was performed, but we got the added bonus of hearing Massive Attack cover the tracks which had informed the album. So, in addition to the spritely, reggae skank of Horace Andy’s ‘See A Man’s Face’,  obviously voiced by the man himself, you also got the lullabyesque cover of the Velvet Underground’s ‘I Found A Reason’ (sampled on ‘Risingson’) with which the band opened their show and The Cure’s ’10:15 Saturday Night’, sampled on the mighty ‘Man Next Door’.

Personally speaking, I thought it was a great way to lay an album bare and a much more interesting way of doing it than Tricky interrupting his Maxinquaye show by kicking off a stage invasion a few years ago. For the record, I wrote that I loved it, but as the years have passed, I’ve realised that I didn’t. This is why I’ve taken a couple of days to let Friday’s gig settle, before committing my thoughts here.

It would be fair to say, I think, that the gig wasn’t a total success, mainly because, although the sound in the O2 was clear as a bell, it was also distinctly underpowered. I’ve seen enough Massive Attack gigs to know how loud they can be (even outdoors), I’ve also been to the O2 enough to know that the sound in there is generally not an issue. Depeche Mode, for example have played there on more than one occasion with no issue whatsoever. Wherever the fault lay on Friday night, the oppressive atmosphere of tracks like ‘Risingson’ and ‘Inertia Creeps’ were diluted somewhat. Particularly as it felt like a large portion of the crowd were happy to have paid their £50 to stand and chat whilst they waited for ‘Teardrop’, the penultimate track as it turned out, to light up the arena.

After 16 years of Massive Attack gigs, I’ve come to the conclusion that whilst ‘Teardrop’ is undoubtedly a lovely song, and Liz Fraser sang it beautifully on Friday night, it’s a Massive Attack song for people who don’t really like Massive Attack. The rapturous acclaim with which it was greeted, compared to the audience’s almost total indifference to what felt like the rest of the album, serving only to prove to my point. WHAT WERE THESE PEOPLE DOING AT A MEZZANINE SHOW?

Much more to my liking was Fraser’s appearance, along with Winston Blissett strumming a double bass, on the oh, so dreamy ‘Black Milk’. After a slightly stop start beginning to the gig, with cover versions causing a general lack of interest in the Friday night crowd and so quite a lot of loud chat, it was this song that gave me a little moment, but really set the mood for what was to come. As it does on the album, it gave way to the prowling, nagging, ‘Mezzanine’. No words can ever do justice to how much I love this song and its reading here had me swaying my hips, almost in time to the music.

And then, oh my God, a sinister bass note dropped followed by some clattering percussion, “they aren’t, are they?” Oh yes, they are – Massive Attack are dropping a cover of Bauhaus ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. REPEAT, THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

Pretty much note perfect, too. Exceptional. I was amazed when, about two minutes into it and just before the giveaway line, Ray grabbed me and exclaimed, “This is Bauhaus, isn’t it?” Ray and Chris, being a few years older than me, have a little history with the goth rockers… We were definitely on a “half floor” somewhere now. I could almost hear the ghostly voice of Mushroom, plaintively asking, “Are we a fucking punk band now?” He’d have found some sympathy in the audience (some of whom appear to have missed the fact that Massive Attack have not been the ‘Safe From Harm’ band for 25 years now), but not with me.

‘Dissolved Girl’, cannily featuring visuals with a girl lip synching to the song – there was no vocalist on stage standing in for the original singer, Sarah J – made me forget where I was for a few minutes. The eastern tinged wall of guitar that builds and builds also made me forget how rubbish I was feeling (yes, dear reader, I was fucking ill).

I haven’t really mentioned visuals, by Adam Curtis, despite the audience being forced to focus on them with the band hidden away under extremely minimal lighting. All about the music, me.

However, I know that some people have had trouble with them, the politics of the visuals, the crowd baiting Trump/Putin face off, seen to be a bit 6th form and, in the case of two dead bodies, unnecessarily distressing. It isn’t for me to tell people what they should or shouldn’t be distressed by, but having been to several of their shows, the nature of these visuals were not overly surprising to me. Massive Attack like to educate as well as entertain. Perhaps, in the absence of a soul affirming ‘Unfinished Sympathy’, some felt a lack of entertainment- but then, this wasn’t a FUCKING BLUE LINES SHOW NOW, WAS IT?

It’s not like the visuals were without their humour either, the sound being turned up as chairs flew in a nightclub was a nice touch, I thought.

Before the closing track, the boys dropped a cover of ‘Levels’ by Avicii. The flashing disco lights seemed quite ironic, given what had preceded them.

The very first time I saw Massive Attack live was, as you’ll know if you’ve been paying attention and are any cop at maths, was in 2003. The 100th Window tour came to Brixton Academy for four or five nights – I forget exactly how many now. Anyway, I went to night two, on my own – no Jo back then, not quite yet – and was left a stuttering, gibbering wreck by the closing number that night. The closing number was ‘Group Four’. Since that night, I have heard the Fraser/Del Naja duet in many different versions, including one (or, maybe, two) that felt like it was never going to end andIdon’twantittoendbutifitdoesn’tendsoonmyheadmaybeabouttoexplodeohmigod

We didn’t quite get that version on Friday, the reading here was quite leisurely, chilled out even, but powerful enough to send us all home happy and reaching for our respective Spotify apps to go and check out the tracks Massive Attack had introduced us to, if we didn’t already know them. Sound issues aside, it had been a brilliant night.

 

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Saturday is Bax-ter Day

Now, if you’ve already read my article about New Order at Ally Pally on Friday night, you’re probably thinking that was as good as my weekend got.

You’d pretty much be right, but I gave my Saturday a bloody good go anyway.

I’d booked tickets for Jo and I to go and see Baxter Dury months ago, in April in fact. However, as I’ve already addressed here, chances to see New Order live don’t come around very often, so I was prepared to put my well being on the line for a weekend of banging tunes and sweaty men.

I’d been up for a couple of hours on Saturday, no Parkrun for me this weekend, when my mate Baxi offered me the opportunity to join him at QPR’s match against Brentford that afternoon. Like New Order, these opportunities don’t come around very often and the atmosphere at Rangers is always fun; more so, perhaps, when local rivals are in town.

Two thirty five, I leave White City tube station, complementing myself on my right on time arrival, and then I get a call from Baxi. He’s stuck in traffic. In Brentford. Even as someone who doesn’t drive, I know enough about West London geography (I should do, after all I grew up there) to know this is not good.

I say I’ll wait, but reasoning that he won’t make it till half time, Baxi tells me to go to the box office and tell them I’m him and that my friend has my season ticket but is stuck in traffic. A half truth I’m not entirely comfortable with, especially as I wasn’t born in 1962.

The onset of rain makes my decision for me, I head to the box office and tell them the truth. I am rewarded for my honesty with a freshly printed ticket, make my way through the turnstiles and head upstairs to Baxi’s seats just as the game kicks off. And, of course, all his mates want to know where he is, “He hasn’t fallen over again, has he?” asks the guy behind me.

Within minutes, Brentford’s former Gunner, Nico Yennaris is declaimed as he wanders over for a Brentford corner, “Wanker! Wanker! Wanker!” by the massed ranks of the P&Q blocks. I smile to myself, I’d forgotten how loud it could be here.

Rangers start brightly, but a well worked Brentford move sees the Bees take the lead midway through the first half. Brentford see out the half in reasonable comfort, the highlight comes when Baxi arrives about a minute into injury time.

“We’ll be alright now I’m here!” he tells everyone.

And within minutes, he is proved absolutely right. By the time the game has hit the hour mark, Rangers are 3-1 up and the game is on its head. Pigbag blaring out, Loftus Road is rocking and Baxi has some guy in the front row on his feet making “We’re not worthy” gestures at him.  The third goal by Nakhi Wells even sees me punching the sky.

“3-1 on your big day out!” sing the ecstatic Rangers fans. Bearing in mind the fact that the Bees have visited the mighty Arsenal’s Emirates stadium this season, I thought that one was a bit harsh.

Even a late Brentford goal can’t spoil the party and, knowing what Baxi has been through to get to this point, I’m delighted for him.

We head down the Uxbridge Road, being soaked by heavy rain but in good spirits, with his mate Irish – and then Baxi narrowly avoids being run over by a Dominos pizza guy. We manage to make it to the Defector’s Weld intact, dry off a little, and await Jo’s arrival for part two of our gig double header.


It’s just me and Jo now. We’ve waved Baxi home (only took him an hour), refueled in Wagamama’s and await Baxter Dury’s arrival on stage at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. In our position stage left, we were quite comfortable but we’re now being surrounded by lots of men who aren’t just taller than Jo, they’re taller than me and they don’t really care, as men tend not to at gigs, that they’re invading your space and blocking your view. You’ve made the decision not to buy a seat, so it’s your own fault – you don’t own that space!

And, usually, I wouldn’t be that irritated, but I’m tired and the arsehole quota seems higher than usual, lots of men in hats. Hmmm, how can this have happened?

Of course! Baxter supported Noel Gallagher on a recent tour. Yes, it all makes sense now.

I should say at this point, I am very, very tired too and, perhaps spoiled by the overwhelmingly positive atmosphere at last night’s New Order gig.

Baxter takes the stage resplendent in white suit coat, flanked by two, similarly attired, backing singers/ keyboardists – one of whom is Madelaine Hart. The guitarist, bassman and drummer are in contrasting blacks and set slightly further back from the stage.

Opening with Isabel, from Happy Soup (my entry level Baxter Dury), Baxter’s vocals are much louder & harsher than I was expecting. It takes a while to adjust to, perhaps until the track Happy Soup, where I realise that Baxter has recast these tracks, formerly midnight confessionals, into the ravings of a seriously damaged, deranged man. It’s a performance and he makes this clear between songs by blowing repeated kisses down his microphone.

Trellic, with its jaunty, “All I know is we’re together now/ together now” refrain is welcome and then the arrival of Rose Elinor Dougall for a great rendition of Porcelain, all crawling bass, staccato guitar riffs and deadpan vocals, sees all the laaaaaads get their phones out to capture the singer moment.

At some point, Baxter pauses proceedings to reveal that his drummer ,”Always wait for me”, has just come out of prison, “No… don’t cheer” and that he was born “In a puddle of shit, just over there. True”, but also, “unnecessary”

Letter Bomb increases the shouty nature of the gig exponentially, but it’s all good fun. Then Oi and, the Madelaine Hart led, Wanna lend the whole evening a more reflective air. Even if, as on Oi, Baxter reflects on an old mate, hoping he didn’t turn into a “total cunt”. Meanwhile, Wanna sees Hart sighing, “I wanna say something nice to you/ but I don’t think I know how”. I know she feels (about all these people around me).

White Coats (see what they did there?), from his new collaboration with Etienne De Crecy and Delilah Holliday, and Pleasure up the tempo again. I haven’t listened to Pleasure that much, nor, come to think of it, White Coats, but the rising keys were pleasing enough to my ears.

Really, by then, though we were just holding on for Miami, Baxter Dury’s magnus opus and would be soundtrack to Nick Cave’s book The Death Of Bunny Munro. I say “would be” because, obviously, Nick’s already done a soundtrack for the audiobook. As it happened, by the time Miami arrived, both Jo and I were more than a little done in and the rolling bassline just seemed a fraction slower than on the record. Though it was great to watch Baxter scream “I’M MORGAN FUCKIN FREEMAN!” as the song approached climax, we’d seen enough.

The band left the stage to deserved applause and we headed towards the back of the Empire and waited for Baxter’s return.

He did, but by the time he did, Jo had made a decision, “Do you want to go?”

I looked at her, “Do you?”

One look from her is enough and, to be honest, I know I’ve had enough for one night. We head out, tell the doorman, no, we’re not smoking, we’re leaving and head out into a very damp west London night to do battle with a very argumentative London transport system.

Once we finally made it home, we slept well.

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New Order Live at Ally Pally 091118

I saw New Order at Alexandra Palace on Friday night.

I saw New Order at Alexandra Palace on Friday night and, thrillingly, unexpectedly, they played one of my all time favourite New Order songs. More of which, later.

It’s difficult to know where to start with this gig. Despite the band not really being mentioned within this blog, I have, at times in my life, been absolutely obsessed with them. However, until relatively recently, they’ve not really been a constant. Indeed there have been times when they’ve almost been an afterthought when faced with the sheer majesty of Joy Division. I’m not going to explain that link, if you’re reading, you already know.

My latest New Order phase began with the release of 2015’s Music Complete. It’s obvious to me now that whilst it contains some “absolute bangers” – ©Ads, more of whom later, the album as whole is a little baggy. Nonetheless, it reignited a love affair which had begun just over two Decades previously with the ’94 release of the mysterious, melancholic, True Faith. What was the deal with everyone slapping each other silly? Anyone?

Three years later, having missed out at Brixton and then at Albert Hall, I still hadn’t found my way out of this phase – can a phase last three years? I don’t know – and what felt like one, final, chance to see the band before the Music Complete era was packed up into a box and put in the attic presented itself.

Despite it being Ally Pally, Jo was in – never one to pass up the chance to me cry, this one. And, so after a little, “Imagine me telling you how great Bizarre Love Triangle live was”, arm twisting, was Ads.

I’d made the mistake of listening to Peter Hook & The Light’s powerful performance of Power, Corruption & Lies (I’m not explaining this either – you know) on Spotify a couple of weeks back. How could New Order sound like New Order in the absence of the man who, for most people, defined their sound? It seemed impossible. I’d also seen the Chemical Brothers at Ally Pally last month, it seemed equally impossible that New Order could top that. No pressure then.


On arrival in the Great Hall on Friday night, we found ourselves a nice little spot just stage left and close enough to the stage without feeling too close. The DJ dropped Donna Summer’s I Feel Love and Ads decided to take one last loo break. Neatly, the Chemical Brothers Ally Pally opener, Go followed, but was then cut, the strains of Das Rheingold – Vorspiel by Richard Wagner filling the hall along with anticipation. Now this was my first New Order gig, but I’ve got their Brixton live album, NOMC15 so I knew they were imminent. The film on the screens would have clued anyone else who hadn’t already figured it out.

Then my phone rang. It was Ads, obviously lost. Shit. Luckily, no sooner had I answered, then we spotted each other. He was back with us in time to ask what I thought the first track would be, “Singularity!” I confidently answered. Singularity it was. A fitting opening, prowling bassline turns dance floor monster, opening track.

I take no credit for that guess, by the way. Like I said, I’ve got the live album.
What I definitely didn’t expect was Regret and, by the sound of the crowd reaction, nobody else expected it either, it seemed like the whole place was straight up into the “I would like a place I could call my own/ have a conversation on the telephone!” refrain. A confident opening, reinforced the crack of drums which opens Love Vigilantes, the irony of thousands of people bellowing the lines “I was a brave man but I was dead” in sheer abandonment and joy was lost on me till a little later on- like, yesterday.*

The word Ultraviolence moved across the screen behind the band and instantly changed the atmosphere. A sweat song which sort of reminds me of Violator era Depeche Mode with its electronic pulse; it teed up the first of a few “What the fuck?” moments as the bassline of Disorder then slammed into the crowd, “What’s happening Paul?” Ads implored me in happy disbelief.

One thing which had worried me about this gig was my long held belief, based on several viewings of New Order live on TV, was that Barney couldn’t really sing live. This sounds ridiculous, bearing in mind how long New Order have been around. It was ridiculous and Disorder proved it, Barney Sumner is a fine live vocalist. Sorry for doubting.

As we recovered from that one, I cried out, “Cryyyyystal!”, were the band listening? Maybe! The opening keyboard line, is, to me, one of the more recognisable, iconic, moments in a catalogue full of them and then it gives way to those drums, that guitar and, yes, a great bassline. In the absence of female backing singers, Ads and I were happy to fill in the “Oooohhh! Yeahhhh!” vocals for the band. I’m sure they were grateful.
Some opening salvo from our heroes, then, time for a little breather, but one which included possibly the loveliest song ever, all keyboard washes and gentle vocals, to tell someone to “Piss off” – Your Silent Face.

“Sub-culture!” exclaimed the friendly fella stood next to me in a Joy Division. I’m still not sure if he was telling me (I knew), or just happy to hear it, but things were revving up again and then… then the moment Ads had been waiting for, Bizarre Love Triangle. I have to say it passed by in a bit of a blur because, even as a question for Ads formed in my mind, the moment I had been waiting for, without realising it, came. The band segued out of Bizarre Love Triangle and straight into Vanishing Point.

Now, I have loved Vanishing Point ever since discovering it on 1994’s (the best of) New Order, but I hadn’t even considered that it might get an airing here. I had a little moment, I sang along, “Life is short, but love is strong”. Is that almost the perfect New Order lyric? Possibly. It’s certainly the perfect distillation of the melancholic euphoria that pervades this song.

“Price of Love?!” Ads implored the band, but they weren’t listening to him.

The soothing techno burble of Waiting For The Siren’s Call next preceded Music Complete’s “absolute banger” par excellence, Plastic – dropped to a confusingly muted crowd reaction. New Order, now, were going for the throat; The Perfect Kiss kicking off a dance for home which saw the perfect True Faith come closest so far to taking the roof off, then Blue Monday and finally, Temptation, “Ooooh you’ve got green eyes, oooh you’ve got grey eyes”, ooooh, this is turning into the best night of my life.

On that note of pure pop perfection, the band took their leave and I turned to Ads to ask him the question I had thought of earlier,

“Would you have forgiven me if they hadn’t played Bizarre Love Triangle?”

The grin on his face told me all I need to know.

The band returned, pretty quickly to be fair and as Barney took to the front of stage, he spoke to us for what felt like the first time, “Any Joy Division fans in?”

“Price of Love?”

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Atmosphere.

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A wonderful Atmosphere followed, with Anton Corbijn’s video paying tribute to Ian Curtis filling the giant screen and then the song which has been stuck in my head in the days following the gig, Decades. New Order rediscovered this song in the process of building a setlist for their recent wall of synthesisers project and it felt more than welcome here. Its lyrics taking on ever more poignancy bearing in mind Hooky’s estrangement from the band.

“Here are the young men, well where have they been?”

Me, Ads and Jo all have our own different relationships with the music of Joy Division and New Order, but we all agreed that that was a moment. How could you not?

Forever Joy Division, indeed.

There was only way, of course, to follow Decades and the hall erupted to the song which will continue to echo through the years, Love Will Tear Us Apart. Just typing this gives me a little moment. It’s funny that this song, about the death of a relationship, has turned into a celebration – for both New Order, Hooky and the fans – of the life and work of the man who wrote it.

But I don’t want to get into that here.

All I want you to know really is that, finally, I saw New Order on Friday night and it was the night of my life.

*Jo told me after I wrote this that, actually, it was just me singing along to this, but I’m not sure I believe her, so I’m leaving it in.

 

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Some thoughts on Halloween

I think I vaguely recall Jamie Lee Curtis tweeting a picture, around a year ago – on the 31st October most likely – telling the world that a new Halloween movie was on the way. If this blog post was a movie, there’d now be a sequence of dates being ripped from a calendar by an anonymous hand. As it is, you’ll just have to cope with me making the observation that a year flies by pretty fast these days and that on Friday night, me, Jo and her dad took our seats in the Brixton Ritzy in a state of high excitement.

You see, there’s something about John Carpenter’s original 1978 movie that gets the juices flowing, even after repeated viewings, in a way that no other film, except maybe – maybe – Jaws can touch. Despite the numerous, mostly bad, sequels. You see, I still remember watching Halloween twenty years ago, not for the first time, with my mum and stepdad and being left on my own downstairs. Within ten minutes of being left, I had convinced myself that Michael Myers – “the boogeyman” was stood outside our front door. Paralysed by fear, it took me some minutes to work out that The Shape at the front door had been created by a combination of papers hanging from the noticeboard and the way the kitchen light was shining on them.

I was 21 at the time.

My very first exposure to Halloween had come some years before that, getting back to a friend’s house from somewhere and turning on the TV, literally (spoiler alert) as Donald Pleasance’s Sam Loomis shot Michael from the balcony, only to then discover that Myers had survived the gunshots (and the fall) and made it off into the night, but still somehow – Carpenter’s closing shots seemed to suggest – in the house. Cue John Carpenter’s iconic score. “OH MY GOD! WHAT WAS THAT?”

Suffice to say, when I did get around to seeing it, it more than lived up to expectations. It still does.

So what, then, of David Gordon Green’s Halloween in 2018?

Well, it had me at the opening title sequence, the familiar pumpkin inflating, rising from the ashes, as an updated version of that music played.

Opening with two, annoying, true crime podcasters travelling to Smith’s Grove Sanitorium in an attempt to interview Michael Myers as the 40th anniversary of the “babysitter murders” (nice nod to the original film’s planned title there) approaches. Failing in their attempt to get a response to their entreaties, podcaster Aaron, reminiscent of Die Hard’s awful TV reporter, tries to goad Michael into a response by brandishing the famous mask. Whilst the mask sends everyone in the sanitorium courtyard a bit mad, Michael is apparently unmoved. The podcaster’s don’t get too much more out of a subsequent visit to Laurie Strode although they do leave her house $3k lighter.

But, it won’t be giving much away to say that an attempt to transfer the prisoner goes wrong in a sequence that is a creepy callback, one of several, to the original film. Naturally, it’s not long before Michael is reunited with his mask and on his way back to Haddonfield just in time for Halloween.

The boogeyman is coming!

And what of Laurie? Well, she is isolated from her family. So traumatised by the events of 1978 that she has spent her life preparing for the final confrontation she knows is coming – to the point where her daughter, Karen, was taken by social services as a kid. Their relationship isn’t so good, not to say almost non existent, although Laurie IS trying to build bridges with her granddaughter, Allyson.

Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode as Sarah Connor

Clear nods to Terminator 2 here, with the traumatised mother, taken for a paranoid whack job by those around her even donning Sarah Connoresque green vest at one point in the film. I didn’t mind these as I’ve always felt that the purposeful stalk of The Terminator owed more than a little to Halloween anyway.

Of course, Laurie – like Sarah Connor – is correct to be worries, just a little, and as Halloween night begins, things start to get nasty, particularly for Allyson and her friends, all leading up to a final, the hunter becomes the hunted, confrontation (but is it really final?) chez Strode.

Let’s be clear, here. John Carpenter’s original film, – still! – has the feeling of a noose being inexorably tightened around the neck of both the film’s protagonists and its audience. It also, in several sequences sets up its serial killer as, well, a bit of a tease; a practical joker. jamie lee curtis horror GIFThere’s not much of that here, despite nods to the ghost train gone terribly, terribly wrong vibe of the original’s climax. Although the John Carpenter’s panaglide tracking shots following Myers are recreated beautifully here, Myers becomes the blunt instrument he chooses to destroy one poor victim.

I also felt that the film’s teenagers, though they are given some pretty sharp dialogue, weren’t quite as fleshed out as Annie, Linda and, well, Laurie were in the original film. It’s the way you got to know these girls during the course of a day and night in Haddonfield which made their fates sting all the more.

But these are minor quibbles. There have been times during the Halloween franchise when the film makers have been content to trade off the mask and John Carpenter’s music and not bother with much else (though I do think the H20 movie was excellent). This is so much more than that, it’s funny, it’s knowing, it’s made by a group of people who clearly love the original – if you’re reading this, you’ll probably know that John Carpenter has returned as an executive producer alongside Jamie Lee Curtis. And, boy, does Jamie Lee bring it, first simmering with indignation, before engaging her own stalking mode. For his part, alongside his son Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, Carpenter senior has created a wonderful, slightly scuzzy, industrial update to his original score.

The result of which is a blood pumping climax, and film, which I totally engaged with. Halloween in 2018 may lack the visceral thrills of its garlanded predecessor, or even a film like Jordan Peele’s Get Out, but I left the cinema, eventually, having had a great time. And what more could anyone ask than that?

*Just a note to anyone reading this who went to the 7pm showing in Brixton on Friday night, I’m sorry about the mask, really, but it had to be done. It’s what Michael would have wanted.

Brixton madman

 

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All My Friends

This is an attempt to try and get back into a more regular rhythm of writing..

It occurred to me, as I ripped through a 1,000 words in an attempt not to describe the Chemical Brothers Ally Pally show so much as how it felt, that I’d missed sharing these experiences. Selfishly, I guess, I missed committing them to memory. Yeah, I don’t write for you, I write for me and, if you’re reading, hopefully you get some pleasure out of what is essentially a brain dump.

A year on, then, the memories of LCD Soundsystem at Ally Pally and Depeche Mode at the O2 have faded, the strobing lights of both evenings have taken on a sepia tone. My main memory of the Depeche Mode gig is wondering how the excellent Spirit album Depeche Mode were ostensibly promoting was reduced to just three of the twenty odd tracks played that night (and Depeche were still brilliant, perhaps the best I’ve ever seen). The LCD Soundsystem gig? Bopping away, for various reasons, on my own as James Murphy spat out the wonderful, and ever more appropriate (for me and him), Losing My Edge.

My other memory from that night is how Jo, my lovely Jo had done two things for me. First, she’d purchased the tickets as a 40th birthday present- yeah, I’m a big boy now. She also did something that I will remember for the rest of my life, unless I end up old, senile, dribbling piss down my trousers and unable to remember my own name. She had arranged for three very good friends, brothers in music you might call them, to join us as a surprise.

You’ll think I’m making this up, but I would never tell lies, not here in my space. I was literally just saying to another friend, Sam the Aussie from Adelaide, how friends can just walk into your life when Jo asked me to turn around. And some friends had just walked into my life. Absolutely literally. Baxi I’ve known since I was 4 and he was at university with my mum, his mate Ray (with whom I share a real love for electronica) and Ads.

To tell the truth, Ray aside, I’d always felt a little like I was inflicting LCD Soundsystem on the rest of the boys at the music nights we hold on a sort of regular basis. So to be greeted by them in the pub just adjacent to Ally Pally was a hell of a shock. Jo tells me my face was an absolute picture and, just writing about it now, I can feel the face I was making and I sort of wish I could have seen it myself.

I recovered from the shock and we went off to join the queue, ending up halfway back round the other side of the building. Over a year later, it would be pointless to tell you about the gig and this isn’t really about that anyway. This is about the sort of friends, and life partner, I have and the pleasure they took in giving me a proper surprise, this is about how music can bond people of all ages. As I mentioned, Baxi was at uni with my mum, so both him and Ray are in a slightly different demographic to me, and Ads is in yet another demographic to me. It doesn’t matter when you have a night like this one, when you have the music.

One thing about that night, whilst we’re here. The gig finished and I remember Baxi being very taken with Losing My Edge, obviously. I also remember him telling us all about Yeah. Yeah, if you don’t know it, basically consists of James Murphy screaming “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!” over and over again. I had played it (the live at Madison Square Garden version) at one of our music nights and… well, it cleared the room.

 

Now, I was listening to Baxi telling me how great this song was. Indignant, I was, but as my friend Luke always says, “Music comes to when it comes to you”. I suppose I should just be glad that, belatedly, it did.

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The Chemical Brothers live at Ally Pally 051018

I very nearly wasn’t there, you know.

Wayne, one of my Leeds mates, had offered me a ticket about six months ago, or whenever they went on sale. I demurred initially, I had listened to a Chemical Brothers record in earnest since We Are The Night, whenever that came out. On its release, I’d given Born in the Echoes a couple of goes, but nothing had really stuck. The Chemicals, to me, seemed a long way away from the duo that had so thrilled with 1995’s Exit Planet Dust and then followed that with what some may regard as their defining album, Dig Your Own Hole.

Wayne gave it a few months and then asked again. I was still dubious and then common sense took hold, it was a night out with a good mate, what was the worst that could happen? “I’m in, thanks for waiting for me!”

So, we met in Finsbury Park’s magnificent Twelve Pins after work on Friday. A few beers there, then up on the train to Ally Pally. A while since I’ve done that walk up the hill, it hasn’t become any less tedious. A queue, a laugh at the drugs amnesty box parked at the entrance. Chicken and chips, another beer, the toilets and then in, stage left (or right, depending on your perspective).

The warm up DJ was on, he spun for another ten minutes or so before disappearing. Fair play to the Chemical boys (as a work colleague had called them earlier in the day), they didn’t keep their expectant crowd waiting too long.

As the predatory synth line of Q-Tip collaboration, Go, filled the great hall, a colossal animated man, not the last incredible projection animated or otherwise of the evening, reached floor to ceiling behind the Brothers. This London crowd needed no invitation to, um, go and there was no turning back. Not for me and Wayne anyway, as we pushed away from the musclebound and immobile breezeblocks we had been standing next to, further in and further forward into the crowd,.

I found myself grateful to, well, myself but also Spotify. I’d been listening to a Chemical Brothers playlist whilst at work, so had managed to update myself on a lot of what I had missed over the last two decades of music. So, when the new song Free Yourself dropped, all bleeps, sirens and exhortations to “Free yourself/ Free me/ Dance”, I was ready to lose myself in the shattering rhythms of this megatune.  The motorik of EML Ritual would have found me wondering how I’d missed it when listening to Born In The Echoes a couple of years back – had I not been bouncing around north London like a beach ball, losing my mind.

Of which, more later…

As it was, EML Ritual gave way to my first real “OHHHHH!” moment. I say “OHHHHH!”, it was more “OH!” “OH!” “OH!”. Or was it more “UH!” “UH!” “UH!”? Yes, Chemical Beats, from Exit Panet Dust went off like a firecracker. As did Star Guitar, helped along by being introduced by a sample of New Order’s Temptation, “Oh you’ve got green eyes” etc… Obviously, there were no complaints from me, although I did find myself thinking about how Star Guitar’s release, with its diet Balearic vibe, was the point at which I began to part ways from the Chemicals all those years ago.

There wasn’t much time to dwell on that, because soon enough, the throbbing Hey Boy Hey Girl saw arms aloft all over the joint and at some point glitter had cascaded from the ceiling as we danced and jumped and this was pure and utter exhiliration, The Chemicals were killing us all. And they were doing it without, for me, a large bedrock of familiarity to lay back on.

It all got a bit blurry after a bit. Elektrobank kicked off a helter skelter through various Chemical classics, kaleidoscoping past at lightspeed, I caught Music Response and Under The Influence amongst other less familiar tracks and all I could think was “This is so much fun fun fun!” But that thought process might have been helped by the huge beach balls which appeared from nowhere, ping ponged around the hall and then disappeared almost as swiftly as they had arrived.

There was a brief pause at some point. Wayne thought they might have technical problems, I thought I was having, the best gig ever, night of my life.

The pace couldn’t quite be sustained thereafter. in particular, I could have done without Galvanize, but the towering, timeless, Block Rocking Beats brought the main set to a rather emphatic close- and the crowd to near delirium.

The encore seemed quite low key, in comparison to what had gone before at least. However, the final track was one guaranteed to send this London crowd home happy, The Private Psychedelic Reel. I didn’t know that the gig would end on this note, but instinctively I think I did know it. I mean, what else could such a wonderful night have finished on? A soothing, psychedelic blast to end two hours of pure euphoria. Yes, yes and, furthermore, yes.

As we left the main hall, feeling slightly changed somehow- well, I did anyway- I felt a tap on the shoulder. Someone else I used to work with (nearly as long ago as Wayne and I used to work together) was at the gig and had recognised me. We exchanged brief pleasantries before splitting up into small groups. Wayne and I had a train to catch.

Before we made it back down the hill, though, Wayne observed the tradition we instituted at our last gig together (Leftfield, Leeds T&C, April 2000) and bought himself a t-shirt to replace his sodden Fred Perry shirt. I would have bought one, but, well, your man wasn’t selling any XLs.

Two men looking in the wrong direction. Alexandra Palace, October 5, 2018

As the train rolled south back to Finsbury Park, we talked of the joy we had experienced during the evening and we made plans to get to another gig soon. I don’t think we’ll be waiting another eighteen years, that’s for sure..

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In memory of my Granddad

As some of you may know, my granddad Ronnie died earlier this year after a short illness. On what would have been his 97th birthday, the text below forms my half of the eulogy read by my Mum and myself. I wanted to share this with you, exactly as it was written.


 

grandad 96

Thanks Mum.

It’s a little ironic that I’m standing up here on behalf of my sisters and cousins today, talking to you about our, granddad. After all, I first stood up here as a 7 seven year old, to deliver a reading at my auntie Susan’s wedding 30 years ago. And this was something that granddad never tired in reminding people of- particularly me.

At St Mary’s Avenue, there is a photo of Susan and I together at the wedding reception. Granddad would ask me whenever I visited, “Do you remember performing the reading at your aunt’s wedding?”

The truth is that I don’t, not really. Though I remain dimly aware of not being all that nervous on the day, I think the occasion went over my head a bit.

To be so lucky today.

How to sum up, for me, nearly 40 years of my granddad? I ask that question and know that my sisters, Helen and Maria; my cousins, James, Anya and Josh will have different experiences and memories of our granddad. For example, it may only be myself and James who were repeatedly exhorted to “Kick with your left!” as we bashed footballs around in nan and Granddad’s back garden. I’ll leave it to you to work out who listened.

It may be that it was only Maria and myself who were repeatedly told to stand in the corner as we struggled with the idea that we had to go to sleep whilst it was still daylight on those Saturday nights nan and granddad would provide us care whilst mum was out partying.

In fact, I understand that Ria spent a night with nan and granddad whilst Helen was at university and ended up texting Helen from a daylit bedroom having been sent up by granddad.

I remember watching the first Rocky film with granddad until such a point that he felt it was my bedtime- granddad always placed such store in a good night’s sleep. I never understood why, but as I get older I think I understand more. Anyway, on this night, the Rocky night, imagine my surprise when granddad – a huge boxing enthusiast- but also a massive disciplinarian, came upstairs to bring me down to watch the climactic tussle.

I think that if you asked Maria and I to sum up our early experience of granddad, we would probably tell you about tea in bed, lots of prayers, early morning exercise and three games of golf a week. That granddad was still playing golf in the week leading up to his 91st birthday, the oldest playing member over at West Mid, tells you everything about him.

Speaking of golf, I’ve never managed to engage with the game on anything other than a basic level. However, I still remember the day I carried his golf clubs around the West Middlesex golf club as he he played a round with Steven and Jo. I only did this once. Granddad marked this once in a lifetime event with one of his own- a hole in one.

Sport was such a massive part of granddad’s life, his passion for it has run down through his children to us and grandchildren. It is how I bonded with granddad.
Not for nothing has my partner Jo frequently commented with varying degrees of exasperation that, given a chance, I’d watch anything involving a ball. Particularly football; especially the Arsenal.

The last game we all watched together was the 2014 FA Cup Final.

Having grown up watching football with both Stevie and granddad, distance and the general misery involved had limited these gatherings. But with Arsenal facing a final they couldn’t possibly lose, against Hull City, we made arrangements to watch the game together and..

By the time granddad took his seat, Arsenal were 1-0 down. Then, in the blink of an eye, it was two. “Here we go again, why did we bother?” We all wondered. And we blamed Granddad because he was always a bit of a Jonah.

Luckily, Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey made sure that our story that day had a happy ending, the cup was won. We’d had a proper family, proper Arsenal experience.

My sisters and cousins have all done, and are doing, amazing things with their lives. In their careers and education, I know how proud Granddad was of my sisters, how proud he was of James who is now studying at Cambridge. He only ever wanted us all to believe in ourselves and be the best we could be. I think that, at times, my relaxed attitude to life frustrated a man who believed nothing was ever worth doing if you didn’t do it 100%, whether it was the gardening, exercise, your job, or polishing the silverware.

So, it seems particularly apposite that the day after we lost Granddad, I finally stuck my head above the parapet and, for once, absolutely nailed a job interview, securing a long sought after promotion. I will never be able to have a conversation with Granddad about this, but I know he’d have been so proud of me. Mum suspects I might have been channeling him. If I was, then, Granddad, I thank you.


What this doesn’t tell you is that the following things happened at Granddad’s burial service:

My Mum’s graveside sobbing prompted a hissed admonishment from my Nan, “For God’s sake, Desirée, get a hold of yourself!”, to the general amusement of those of us close enough to hear it.

Roses were bought for the family to throw onto the casket. As they descended, my Auntie Susan wryly, and loudly, observed that, perhaps, golf balls would have been more appropriate.

As the service ended and we prepared to head to the golf club one last time, Great Uncle Tony, asked everyone to join him in a song. He then launched into a chorus of “Oh My Darling Clementine”, one of Granddad’s favourite songs. We all joined in on this most perfect of endings to a bittersweet morning.

IMG-20160710-WA0024.jpg

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