I was exhorted by the present Mrs Ives to try and empty the garage. It is undoubtedly full to the rafters including bikes and a car. Under scrutiny was a large oak box (and lid) that I had kept with a plan to transform it from a crate to furniture. Despite her observation of woodworm then I was still wavering about its retention until she hit a nerve – “doesn’t the Morgan have wood in it?” At this point a quick decision was made to take the box to the tip.
As I continue to live with a less than perfect knee then I volunteered to go for an MRI scan. This was done at a unit attached to the University of York. So I spent 20 minutes lying absolutely still whilst I was slid into a tunnel. For my £310 the images now get despatched electronically to somewhere in the world where a musculoskeletal expert looks at it and then sends it back to my physiotherapist. The results were not all that bad and hopefully I can delay ordering a wooden leg for some time to come.
Friday saw me in London meeting up with four old friends. The first, of the party, Neil I met in 1974 when we shared digs as we attended Manchester Polytechnic. The others were added in 1978 (Paul, Tim and Peter) when I worked for Ford Tractor Operations in Basildon. We dined at The Hawksmoor at Seven Dials and ran up a bill of £314 and one of the party had only one course and left early! Needless to say we met in a pub beforehand and some of us adjoined to one afterwards!
(Four friends Tony? The picture shows three? I’d love to report that Crockford was under the table paralytic but less excitingly he was hauled out early to help his wife with her West End coat shopping).
There is frankly nothing but joy about a Royal Wedding. In the scheme of things then they don’t ordinarily work out well but in the first instance you have to be pleased for the happy couple. What Meghan is marrying into seems beyond comprehension. For an independent and wealthy woman her life will now be a tabloid hell until her first child. She must love him. After motherhood then a woman in her forties with a young family will not be of great interest. Hopefully, in the interim, she can keep a naked Harry out of Las Vegas hotel rooms with other nubile women carrying mobile phones.
Like the rest of the nation then I wish them health and happiness… and a day off work for my daughters would be nice whilst we watch the wedding.
So through a cock up we visited Nürnberg a few days before the famous Christmas market. Anna had originally thought that it was being held on the dates we were visiting.
We discovered that it didn’t matter because if you can live without an acre of stalls selling small wooden figurines, glühwein and sausages then you’re not missing much. However, that being said then all I knew about the city was its awful Nazi history and the fact that my Favourite Youngest Daughter seemed to fly in here every month on adidas business. Their HQ is located nearby.Ryanair continue to delight. The flights were ludicrously cheap – £10 each way (which might have been a clue as to the fact the market hadn’t started) but the random seat allocator on the web site put Anna and I 12 rows apart. Of course this could be corrected for £4! The next joy was that Ryanair had the passengers embark through one door, at Manchester, leaving you to queue on the runway and steps whilst it rained. Passengers who had not been seat prioritised (you also pay extra for that) jostled for overhead locker space delaying others getting to their seat or getting out of the rain. Lovely.
Nürnberg greeted us with the famous ivory coloured taxis (not an Uber in sight) and we were whisked into the town centre accompanied by the Everly Bros, The Doobie Brothers and Cliff Richard on the radio. And they ask why we want to leave the EU?
We were staying in the old part of the city and close to all the sights. After checking into the excellent Hotel Five in the centre we encountered the other significant challenge of the trip – vegetarian restaurants. The legal statutes of Franconia (the Northern part of Bavaria) require a German to consume at least a kilogram of pork meat every 24 hours. All very well for me but unfortunately Anna forswore the ‘fleisch’ several decades ago. A lap of the restaurants offering schweinhaxe and quite a quantity of schnitzel but few nut cutlets. However the diner at the hotel came up trumps with a veggie burger. As always the quality of the English spoken by virtually anyone is shaming to the average Brit. Our waiter, of Vietnamese extract, spoke perfect English and this was learned at school.
The German climate, whilst cold is dry in winter (apart from when it is raining, cough) and many burghers can be found at outside tables drinking and, more worryingly, often smoking. This is quite a sight as even in the harder parts of the UK then being outside after dark in the winter isn’t a popular pursuit even for those fortified with alcohol.
Day 2 – The weather was cold but quite sunny and quite pleasant if wrapped up. Generating body heat was not a problem as the next morning I was led up a steep cobbled hill to the Castle (Kaiserburg). Quite a delightful building that very occasionally housed kings and emperors. These chaps rotated around their Bavarian cities collecting money from the well healed to fight their next war. It wasn’t very grand inside and I wouldn’t recommend shelling out to look around. There is continuing refurbishment on the building. It has to said that there is quite a lot of construction in Nürnberg generally and it was worth noting that this included the obligatory blokes in hard hats and hi viz loitering as one or two were actually doing something.
The old city (Altstadt) is very authentic and looks centuries old. Nevertheless this is a reconstruction since the 1940’s. In fact British and American bombing levelled 92% of it. By 1945 it was rubble. After the war the Germans painstakingly rebuilt it all. In fact Nürnberg was the second most bombed and destroyed German city of the war. The Allies targeted it because of its war effort supporting industry and it’s iconic status for the Nazis.
After our mountaineering then we did it again with, Regina, our tour guide. She led the 11 O’clock tour up the hill. She was a Finn but had been a resident for many years. Her talk didn’t skirt the ‘dark times’ but frankly we knew enough about WW2 that it held no real interest apart from some of the practicalities that befell the residents. Nürnberg, following the War, lost its industry, or it never came back, and today it is mainly service led. Tourism is popular and the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal brings cruises all the year round through the town. They disembark for, wait for it, glühwein, sausages and small wooden figurines. They also probably partake of the magnificent cake that you can find at many cafes. We felt it necessary to sample and in fact over the next couple of days did ample research. Delicious.
The town centre with its outdoor Germans was also a hive of joinery as all the stalls were being built for the market. The influx of tourists, mainly German is immense and the market runs all the way up until Christmas. Which brings us onto another interesting fact. The Germans appear to be quite interested in Christianity. In the UK it is in dramatic decline but here the churches appear quite well supported and references to religiosity seem more prolific. Regina advised that if you belonged to a church then tithes were collected at source – 8% of the amount you paid in tax went to the church you nominated. I can imagine active marketing campaigns for new membership!
The population of Nürnberg is 501,000 and whilst most live away from the old town then many do visit the large centre and it’s shops just across the small Pegnitz River, which splits the city centre. This was vibrant and at the weekend it came alive. On the pedestrianised streets were a lot of street vendors selling delicacies, vegetables, cheeses, flowers, sandwiches and the like. It was always buzzing.
Evening dining was later solved at a Vietnamese restaurant, which was delicious, and joy knew bounds when Sky News was found on Channels 1035 on the hotel TV. Only I would trawl through so many Channels! The hope was to learn more about the Ashes, which were not in complete disrepair at this stage of the series.
Day 3 – Anna led yours truly toward the railway station. As she pointed out you could tell we were getting closer to the terminal as we passed a large old hotel, Tourist Information, McDonalds and beggars. We were bound for Bamberg. Forty miles north of Nürnberg. Or were we?Negotiating the ticket machine resulted in obtaining two tickets costing over €38. Further review of the ticket revealed that one would have been sufficient and that we now needed two other adults and four children under the age of sixteen to get the full value of our investment. If that was a disappointment so was getting on the wrong train.
Let’s call her ‘Heidi’. She was quite gentle as Anna presented our tickets and enquired if we were on the correct train? We were not and although the train was going in the correct direction it was a sort of inter city train rather than the smaller affair that ran locally. So we were ejected at Erlangen. Now slightly uncertain about the tickets we decided to visit the ticket office. Yours truly was despairing at German efficiency as two little old ladies took an age at the counter to be served. I imagined judging by the engagement and activity of the assistant that they were exploring the cost and connections involved in travelling with a small farmyard animal from Erlangen to Motherwell via Athens on a long Bank Holiday weekend in 2019 paying with Bitcoins. Eventually a counter became free and in immaculate English the lady confirmed our new travel arrangements… and without prompting reimbursed me for the extra ticket we bought erroneously. “All good in the ‘hood” we both thought.
Bamburg has importance as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For a short time it was the centre of the Holy Roman Empire and had religious importance and still today has a number of important churches and a monastery. My eye was drawn on Wikipedia to the golden years of the 17th century when about one thousand victims were claimed in the witch trials. Those crazy Bavarians.
So we wandered around had more coffee and cake and then ambled down an alley ostensibly heading back toward the barnhof. German architecture is solid and attractive but the level of graffiti is awful. For all their discipline then it appears that many youths take delight in spraying bollocks on beautiful emulsioned walls in a variety of colours. If I were a resident then I could be attracted to joining a vigilante group to coral these morons for some 21st century ‘witch trials’.
However, grumpiness was lifted by finding a second hand record store. The Germans do have some superb shops and other masochists who read my blogs know that I have driven to Stuttgart twice in the last couple of years to visit a brilliant shop there. Here I bought a German compilation album of a British band called East of Eden. It was pure nostalgia because I saw them supporting the Jack Bruce Band at The Queens Hall, Leeds on October 8th 1971.
On the train back to Nürnberg it was rammed with school kids. Anna deduced that they were weekly boarders who were let off early in the afternoon. I remember that I used to read books and listen to music on these journeys but now like the rest of the human race I scroll through rubbish on my mobile phone. If on leaving the EU we lose our free data roaming rights then I may get my life back when on holiday.
As compensation for being accommodating on Anna’s dining limitations I was allowed to select Bratwurst Röslein for dinner. This was a large hall with wenches in bustling red dresses over their white blouses who seated you at long wooden benches and proffered menus with dishes that were probably popular a couple of centuries ago. I had the pork schnitzel that covered the full plate and Anna had a potato goulash that didn’t seem to hit the sides, on the few occasions I looked up from my emptying plate and large wheat beer.
Day 3 – Rain! We had a morning to fill and the heavens truly opened. Anna thought the best way to avoid this was by going on a tour of caves under the city! There is quite a complex under the city that had two main purposes. The first was a place to ferment lager up until the mid 19th Century. The brewing process requires a cool temperature and as the average German drank 500 litres of beer/year back in the day there was a large industry to keep Fritz and Helga blotto. However after brewing didn’t necessitate being stored underground the mainly empty labyrinths were vital as an air raid shelter. Such is the network and its depths that it limited the death count to 6,800 in the war. This is still terrible but in the most bombed city, Dresden, it was nearer 25,000.
In line with our new protocol we proceeded from the sandstone depths to a café for another piece of cake before catching the metro to the airport. All went according to plan and we got back to Manchester on time.
Splendid. Get your tickets booked. We barely scratched the surface of all its delights.
Peach is an album that Blues aficionados will approach with caution. Reworking Robert Johnson and Blind Willie McTell songs is a dangerous business. However, the Lovell sisters do a great job, in fact I’m contrite for even doubting them. The renditions are hard-hitting and memorable.
The album includes five Blues covers and showcases Larkin Poe’s understanding of the genre with their energetic, sympathetic and passionate interpretations. If you add five fire-breathing Indie-flecked originals, you have a fine collection.
Larkin Poe comprises multi-instrumentalists Rebecca and Megan Lovell, Kevin McGowan (drums) and Tarka Layman (bass). Despite performing for some time then Larkin Poe is a relatively recent incarnation (2014). The story goes that after putting a few Blues videos online to a vociferous crowd they responded by recording an album of original compositions and Blues covers. What is clear is that they love the songs and have the authenticity and raw emotion to be convincing in producing Mississippi Delta and Southern standards.
Rebecca’s vocals have depth and presence; Megan sings harmony whilst coaxing mesmerising sounds out of her Rickenbacker Lap Steel. It is the masterful arrangements and high production values, which take this record to the next level. This is demonstrated on their own composition “Freedom”. A simple Rock riff starts proceedings and then the fuzzed-up drum and bass beat joins whilst a vocal chant completes the rhythm. The production separates every sound perfectly with the most important sounds are up front in the mix. “Black Betty” arrives with a North Mississippi Allstars type of arrangement. Instead of Luther we hear Megan tear up a storm. It was always an unstoppable song and certainly no brakes are applied here.
Son House’s “Preachin’ Blues” is played out against a thunderous back beat. The words never fail to have an impact – “I’m going to be a preacher, so that I don’t have to work”. If “re-imagining” is the right description then the original’s message remains intact whilst sounding very 21st Century.
“John The Revelator” would stop traffic it is so good. Rebecca’s slow vocals over an eerie backing nails the standard. It’s here that the quality of her voice shows its interpretative skills as she sits above a multi-handclap rhythm whilst an excoriating guitar clears a path.
The album finishes with an Alan Lomax-sourced 1959 cover of a prisoner gang song – “Tom Devil”. Very much a call and response refrain. There’s no cherry picking the hits by these two.
I’ve felt constrained of late about writing a journal. This was until the future ownership of Moores Furniture Group was sorted. I am a trustee of the pension scheme. The constraint was that I often get asked ‘what’s going on?’ at Moores and with the pension scheme. It felt very disingenuous to even discuss the subject let alone say ‘everything is fine’ whilst the company’s ownership was being changed.
My former employer has changed from being owned by Masco Corporation to Hilco, a Private Equity company. Not a very exciting development but the employees’ pension scheme has got, in effect, a new sponsor. As a trustee this change was subject to some discussions and in five weeks I ended up in London twice, Manchester once and Leeds three times. It involved too many emails to be bothered to count and a few conference calls. To give you a comparison then being a trustee usually involves going to Leeds twice a year and a lot of reading in between. The outcome was acceptable to all the parties involved and we move on. However, it was interesting to engage the grey matter on the types of thing I used to do.
In other serious news then my in-laws relocated to a residential home in Pocklington. This has entailed the selling of their home. Anna has been very busy with all that entails. I am on first name terms with the folk at the tip with the carloads of surplus pieces of timber from the garage and old tins of paint that a lifetime accumulates. (There is a good argument for my family to maintain my health to avoid the house emptying that will be needed when they cart me off.
On Facebook I am back to producing a few more ‘York In 30 Second’ videos, please take a look. I’ve added one on cats and the Solar System so far! Yes, I know – not much of a sales pitch.
Music continues to be a pre-occupation with a trip to London to see Nile Rodgers (he, of Chic) at the present Mrs Ives’ behest. Quite something to get 20,000 people to stand up for two hours dancing to classic 1980’s disco. I was even throwing a few shapes (in the dark you’ll be relieved to hear). This concert was after seeing Brandy Clark in Manchester with the Favourite Youngest Daughter. Brandy is working her way up to large venues as she tours with three albums now under her belt. However it has been a long road for a lady now into her forties to get to this level of celebrity.
This progress brought to mind one of the albums that I recently reviewed for The Americana Music Show. Randomly from a list I picked a group of talented bluegrass musicians from Boulder, Colorado called The Railsplitters. It is a great album (Jump In) with beautiful songs sang by a vocalist with a voice not dissimilar to Lily Allen’s. As they try and grow their audience they have ended up at Selby Town Hall on February 9th. It seems quite unreal that this is on their path to stardom but good luck and I can’t wait.
I have written about the podcasts that I listen to and have been a devotee of Nothing But The Blues for over six years. It was a pleasure to pop across to Market Weighton to meet up with the presenter, Steve Jessney, and to see two studios – his home den where he pre-records the show and then go to the radio station (Vixen 101) to see another show going out live (where they played me a Soul classic on request).
Prince Charles when pressed on who was his favourite ‘pop stars’ volunteered The Three Degrees. They performed at his 30th Birthday Party in 1978. So with this connection I was irresistibly drawn to follow, lead singer, 70 year old Sheila Ferguson on Twitter (cough) She is one of many artists who spend a disproportionate amount of the day seeking and re-Tweeting abuse for Donald Trump on the ‘echo chamber’ of Twitter. For all I know, it may a useful deployment of her time as all that lies ahead, at her age, are jigsaws, Strictly Come Dancing and Werther’s Originals. However, after her umpteenth re-Tweet of something derogatory she then Tweeted that there was such negativity in the world at the moment. I pointed out that she was generating it! Being a wise old bird she noted my advice. As you can see, I am now her mentor.
Kendell Marvel emerges from the shadows with the release of his first album, Lowdown & Lonesome. For a couple of decades he’s been writing hit records for the cream of Country music. Marvel says “I decided to make that record (Lowdown & Lonesome) once credible music started coming out again”. With Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton being promoted by the mainstream then you can see why.
Marvel has writing credits for Gary Allan, Blake Shelton, Lee Ann Womack, Travis Tritt and George Strait (as well as Stapleton). However, the good news is that he’s kept back some gems for his own album.
The selection is pure early millennium Country, which includes sentimental classic tearjerkers and some full-bloodied rockers adorned with pedal steel and fiddle.
“Lowdown & Lonesome” kicks things off with a raw electric guitar riff that quickly finds a groove with Marvel sharing his lover’s lament. There is a strong infusion of Southern Rock and Blues. “Gypsy Woman” takes things down and a Hammond organ, sounding absolutely magnificent, underpins this slow rolling melody. On this and several other songs he sounds somewhat like Chris Stapleton but he is very much his own man. “Watch Your Heart” continues to show his gift for a slow song. Eventually this ramps up into an Allman Brothers style rock out with snatches of twin guitars and harmonica.
“Closer To Hell” betrays his day job for others. A classic Country song about being driven to drinking whilst guitars pick, twang or slide. This is always at a gentle lick with signature sounds bordering on comedy – despite this journey to purgatory.
Honky tonk piano on “Untangle My Mind” embellishes a standard upbeat song. Which was co written with Stapleton. “Hurtin’ Gets Hard” just about clambers over the other tracks to be my stand out. For a man who never chose to sing his own songs he has a rich and deep baritone that is often commanding yet yearning.
Lastly “That Seat’s Saved”: the title tells you alone that this is a barroom tale about a girl ‘that is all that and more’ who he’s hoping arrives to take her place beside him. The voice with pedal steel when combined is exquisite.
This is an exceptional record and for those of you who’ve become fans of Chris Stapleton and also regularly check the Internet for the next Jamey Johnson album then you’ll be thrilled to own this. Thank heavens he eventually concluded it was time to say his piece.
This is a complete tonic for jaded Country music ears. And who knows with his friends in high places and the Country pop sensibilities then this may get some decent radio exposure. Wonderful.
Travis Meadows’ life is frankly overwhelming. He’s suffered parental abandonment, childhood cancer, addictions/rehabs, many years of preaching and, not least, composing and playing some exceptional music. Somehow he seems to have lived every lyric that I have in my record collection.
First Cigarette is his third release and boasts some impressive collaborations starting with Jay Joyce, who literally has a ‘who’s who’ of Nashville talent using his production services – Keith Urban, Little Big Town, Brandy Clark & Eric Church, the list is much longer but you get the picture. After you’ve written hit records for Dierks Bentley and Jake Owens then you have a lot of Country song writing luminaries on speed dial and several appear in the credits.
So this is all bright and shiny Country pop? Well not at all although it does have some of that sensibility as regards a melody, a layered sound and some compelling words. We start gently with “Sideways” as Meadows sings with an acoustic guitar before the backing creeps in. The words set the scene for a trip through a life that has had its battles, defeats and victories – “If I could buy myself a conscience that wasn’t broken, Mend every fence I drove my hard head through, Re-lock all the doors I wish I never opened, Unlearn the things I wish I never knew, And it came through the bottle, It came out through my fists, It came out way to early, I wish it never did.”
Fasten your seat belt we may experience turbulence.
“Pray For Jungleland” obviously references The Boss but the whole album lyrically reminded me of the storytelling skills of the New Jersey deity. It is here that Meadows’ slightly straining but insistent and attractive voice brings a conviction and gravity to the rendition.
The title track “First Cigarette” has a stunning vocal as Meadows against a sparse arrangement tells of his reaching a point where he’s learned a lot of lessons and is able to cope with life and take simple pleasures. In fact he’s said that after kicking various addictions then he’s staying with cigarettes as his last remaining legal indulgence!
“Underdogs” sees the stadium raise their hands above their heads to clap in time with the hypnotic drum beat and roar out the chorus – “We are – we are, we are the underdogs”. After a little while I can envisage a skinny man wearing a denim shirt with long hair stepping forward for a few incendiary guitar licks before the spotlight fades on him and all the band find a microphone to sing out the song in unison. A simple lyric, a simple tune but a major impact.
“Pontiac” is back with Bruce and I reckon I would be trying your patience by quoting another lyric but this is a terrific Rock paean to someone who is finding their way through their emotional and material millennial adventures.
All the compositions really deserve a name check but suffice to say that the voice leads with a great tune, lyrics that make you want to catch every word and arrangements that showcase rather than swamp to compensate for any shortage of creativity or talent.
Much of the record could sit comfortably on a Rock station playlist. It isn’t Country, but there again who cares? The point is that you’re going to like this a lot.