Monthly Archives: December 2018

Flat Tyres, Christian Louboutin & Jazz Hands- Week 51 : 2018

December 22, 2018

Firstly a correction: In the last blog I said that I listened to 10 hours of music per week. What a load of rubbish! If it is 40 hours then I may still be shy of the true figure. Sat at my desk, driving my car, riding my bike, writing the blog and most other places, if I am by myself. See my ‘Records Of The Year 2018’ for the fruits of this labour.

It was a week of learning. I started with the surprising fact that due to Health & Safety rules a postman now cannot change a flat tyre on his van. Our local postie, Andy, was stranded for an hour whilst a ‘man’ was called to carry out this deed. If you wonder why a Second Class stamp costs £0.58 then it is to cover this type of requirement. (Andy was similarly unimpressed with hanging around for an hour!). 

Other education involved the loss of 30,000 men in a bloody battle about 10 miles west from our house. Anna and I went for a walk and look.

The Battle of Towton was fought in 1461. A reputed 50,000 soldiers converged on this small settlement outside Tadcaster. On one side was the English King, Henry VI and on the other side the other English King, Edward of York (to become Edward IV). One was a Lancastrian and the other was a Yorkist. These two Houses disputed the throne and a battle in The War Of The Roses took place here. The weather for March was harsh with snow and high winds. The superior Lancastrian armies were down wind from the onslaught of the lesser number of Yorkists who slaughtered many Lancastrians in a hail of arrows whilst the Lancastrian bowmen fell short with their missiles. The Lancastrians did briefly gain the upper hand but when reinforced by the Duke of Norfolk’s army the Yorkists won the hand to hand conflict and put the Lancastrians to flight. The Lancastrians were slaughtered. Their critical obstacle was a river at the bottom of a steep hill called the Cock Beck.

They couldn’t cross it and became easy quarry. The legend has it that the Beck ran red with Lancastrian blood and that one form of bridge that existed was the corpses in the Beck that others used to cross over.

Written history in the 15th Century was thin on the ground and seldom accurate. Accounts of the duration of the fighting and the casualties varies but historians believe the total numbers who fought are correct but that the death toll ranges between 3 to 30,000. The remains that are still being dug up today provide skeletons with horrific injuries as fierce and brutal weapons made holes in their skulls.

Today there is a walk at the battlefield with graphics that tell you about the War and the Battle. It’s tranquil and dog owners shout at their pouches to stay on the path and greet other walkers with friendly greetings. To think that the population in England was only 2,000,000 in the 15thCentury and that today’s UK armed forces only amount to 80,000 you can appreciate the scale of this conflict.

Whilst this, in effect, deposed Henry VI and the Yorkists took the crown it was only temporary as the Lancastrians eventually prevailed in 1485 with Henry VI reassuming the throne and merging both Houses by marriage.

In other observations then ‘camping’ students were evident in York. Not in tents or in wintery fields but in coffee shops down Fishergate. Here your average young millennial will buy a coffee and then open their laptop up and hog a table for two hours. I was not impressed when unable to sit in a favourite café. Neither can the proprietors be impressed as they expect these ‘tables’ to turn a decent revenue during the day. Again on York’s burgeoning student populations such now are a number of students of Chinese descent that means we have a number of shops catering to their grocery requirements. Quite a shock really but their money is no doubt welcome in the local economy.

Lastly I think we should end on a Christmas note. I was sleighed (see what I did there?) with a visit to Harvey Nichols with the Favourite Youngest Daughter. She was seriously evaluating a £500 pair of shoes. This worked out at about £50/square inch. I was amazed that a girl who once wore a sparkly top to a school fancy dress day where the pupils were encouraged to dress as farmers was now thinking of spending her hard earned salary on such footwear. Things, as they say, change.

 As any fool know then the brand is denoted by the red sole…

I’ve been to two Christmas concerts this year. One was a serious, thoughtfully compiled and complicated affair at The National Centre for Early Music in the centre of York. The other was a group of septuagenarians in Santa hats (and jazz hands) singing beautifully and having a ball at a shopping centre in Leeds. Guess which one worked for me!

Merry Christmas

Records Of The Year 2018

December 21, 2018

It seems remarkable to me that I have listened to 287 new albums this year. A total of 195 were released in 2018 and another 92 releases were from earlier years. Nearly all the new releases were digital files given to me by three outlets. Two of them gave them to me as a pool of stuff to review. The 92 earlier releases can be various purchases of vinyl or CD’s that I’ve picked up in charity shops. I have an unquenchable desire for a complete understanding of many genres and at £0.50 a time then the world is your oyster. The big question is when do I listen to it all? In my study, in my car, washing my car, gardening, listening to Anna (!) and always on my bike. I erroneously put in one blog that I listened to 10 hours of music a week. Crap, frankly I may even be north of 40 hours!

I know several of you will scan the list below for artists you know. Sorry! Please trust me that I listen to all this alongside Earth, Wind & Fire, Bryan Ferry, Bob Dylan, The Isley Brothers, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell, The Rolling Stones, The National, Van Morrison, B B King, Eric Clapton etc. I always retain my bearings.

So below is a list of the stuff that stuck in my head or appealed to my taste. Where I don’t put a date then assume it is 2018. Enjoy:

  1. Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain                    Singer Songwriter
  2. The Curse Of Lono – As I Fell                                                                          Rock
  3. Rich Krueger – NOWthen                                                                                 Singer Songwriter
  4. Sunny Sweeney – Heartbreaker’s Hall Of Fame                                      Country (2006)
  5. Bindley Hardware – Ever Satisfactory                                                         Americana
  6. Elkie Brooks – Live & Learn                                                                               Rock (1978)
  7. Kayla Ray – Yesterday & Me                                                                              Country
  8. Victor Wainwright & The Train                                                                        Blues
  9. Dusty Ross – Stolen Horse                                                                                 Country
  10. Ross Cooper – I Ride The Wild Horses                                                          Country
  11. Erin Enderlin – Whiskeytown Crier                                                                 Country
  12. Ashley McBryde – Girl Goin’ Nowhere                                                           Country
  13. Dave Kelly – Solo Performances : Live In Germany 1986 – 89              Blues (2016)
  14. James Scott Bullard – Full Tilt Boogie                                                           Blues Rock
  15. Tom Hambridge – The NOLA Sessions                                                           Blues Rock
  16. Two Door Cinema Club – Tourist History                                                     Indie Rock (2010)
  17. Brandi Carlile – By The Way, I Forgive You                                                   Americana
  18. Meghan Patrick – Grace & Grit                                                                       Country (2016)
  19. Candi Staton – Unstoppable                                                                             Soul
  20. Old Crow Medicine Show – Volunteer                                                           Country/Bluegrass

Courtney Marie Andrews – Pocklington Arts Centre – Dec 7th 2018

December 18, 2018

A kind of silent reverence greeted the diminutive Courtney Marie Andrews as she took the stage in front of a sold out crowd in North Yorkshire. Pocklington appears to be the home of Americana in these parts and a good audience is always guaranteed. Andrews’ has been touring for several months now in the USA and Australasia; this was the second date on her UK tour that even takes her to the Shetland Isles. It should have been her third gig but wear and tear on the voice meant missing a night in Birmingham. Resting up in London with friends downing the magic elixir of ginger tea appeared restorative!

Declared fit, she gave us 14 songs mainly from her Honest Life and May Your Kindness Remain releases but, as she said, playing an overseas audience meant she could play some other songs and we were treated to two new songs and a couple of singles that never made an album.

Of course the voice is the draw with that Joni Mitchell sound and a range characterised by raw, at times lonely, emotion and bathos. The lonely comes from the nature of her observational lyrics in which she reflects on people and situations around her. In fact you’d worry that having known her for the last few years that you’d end up in a lyric. Boyfriends beware.

 With this in mind she tells the story of a touring musician who declared on their first meeting that she was gay, adding that Andrews wouldn’t therefore want to tour with her. Nothing could be further from the truth as Andrews tells of her own upbringing with a gay parent. “Irene” sets out to fortify her new companion to stride forward and shrug off her doubts and guilt. Similarly we visit the On My Page album with “Pictures From Michael”. The unlikely subject is her incarcerated uncle who sent paintings from his prison up until the privilege was withdrawn (because of his continuing disruptive behaviour). Who could make this up? However, it is an insight into her openness about her life and family with a no holds barred approach.

It seems most American touring artists are unhappy about Trump and inevitably at some point we have the disclaimer. However she handled this thoughtfully by singing about the other side of the immigration argument. “Border” seemed a timely and thought through perspective on those arriving and striving in the USA without a partisan rant.

What became clear was that she is an accomplished musician. On guitar rhythms were strummed, melodies were picked and this accompaniment added to the voice. Switching to keyboards she introduced the unlikely topic of a song about a dog -Tucker. This was a home run in dog loving Britain! “This House” talks of a home albeit not the most organised of abodes but for a travelling musician it is her sanctuary. Sadly Tucker is now buried in the yard.

Toward the end she said that she would not be playing an encore but would take three requests. To my relief she accepted the shout to play “May Your Kindness Remain”, a song about a female free spirit who despite her frailties has a kindness that makes you forgive her excesses. On this song she really let her voice soar and maybe we got a sound that she’d be holding back for fear of undoing her recent rest.

As a person she comes across as serious, independent, hard working and wise for her years. As an artist she comes across as an alchemist with an ability to create melodies and lyrics that beguile. A truly beautiful night and let’s hope she’s back soon.

Books Read in 2018

December 17, 2018

I thought I’d list the books that I’ve read during the year. I am anything but a voracious, or a quick reader, but I do select my books with quite a bit of thought. There are some time gaps when I was cycling and not reading:

January – ‘The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock n’ Roll’ / Preston Lauterbach

         The Chitlin’ Circuit was the name given to venues in the South of the USA where black artists would play to black artists                  up until the 1960s. Often fire hazards with shady proprietors would be the scene. Early blues acts cut their teeth                                and later stars such as Little Richard.

                  ‘Fats Waller’/ Maurice Waller & Anthony Calabrese

                An innovative American jazz pianist with a unique stride style. A talented musician who played The Cotton Club and was                          often  happy playing Classical. Iconic with an immense legacy.

February – ‘The McMillan Diaries Volume 2’ / Peter Catterall

                  Harold McMillan came to be PM after Anthony Eden’s turbulent premiership crashed at Suez. He kept diaries up until the                          time he resigned the leadership in the early 1960s.Observant and engaging if not always frank!

                    ‘Fats Waller – His Life and Times / Joel Vance

                      Another biography of the great man. Another book from my late father’s library.

March – ‘The Terri Clark Journals’ / Terri Clark

                 Terri Clark is a Canadian Country Music artist. She is, or was, a major star in mainstream US Country music at the turn of the                      millennium. A lightweight read I picked up in Canada the year before.

April – ‘Going To Sea In A Sieve’/ Danny Baker

                The ubiquitous cheeky chappy has been found on TV and radio over the last 30 years. A fabulous raconteur who writes about                   his early years. Seldom have I had such an engaging read.

May – ‘David Bowie A Life’ / Dylan Jones

               There is little that I didn’t think I knew about Bowie and more pertinently wanted to learn. However I heard the author                                interviewed on ’The Word’ podcast. His methodology of putting interviews together sequentially on Bowie’s timeline with little                added information made for an honest and revealing story through the words of those who knew him.

            ‘Finding My Voice’ / Elkie Brooks

           I had the records and had seen Vinegar Joe live in 1973 but my fascination came about through having heard her calamitous                   interview with Michael Parkinson some decades ago on radio. There was a complicated story in there? There was certainly a life               with considerable highs, lows and impressive striving. Also there were some stories about a couple of fabulous solo albums I                   needed to know.

July – ‘Going Off Alarming’ / Danny Baker

           The sequel to his first book. This took us further into his career. Still a great read if not as compelling as the first book. 

August – ‘Why I’ve Stopped Talking to White People About Race’ / Reni Eddo-Lodge

                  This book still sits in the best seller lists. My Favourite Eldest Daughter suggested I should read it. (I think we might guess                          why!) Part informative, part indisputable and part self serving for a certain political stance. Frankly if someone has a                                    characteristic that you cannot experience e.g. colour or sexuality I think it’s correct to hear it and quietly think about it. I think                    we can agree the way ‘forward’ is complex.

October – ‘Éamon de Valera : A Will To Power’ / Ronan Fanning

                    After attending a course at York University of Ireland between 1823 and 1923 I was interested to pick up the history from                           there. de Valera was a player in the struggle for Irish Independence before the creation of the Free State and remained in                        power until the 1950s as it’s President. A life of austerity, controversy, conservatism, an iron will and astute political                                     manoeuvring was the picture I gained.

               – ‘A View From The Foothills – The diaries of Chris Mullin / Chris Mullin

               Mullin was a Labour MP for Sunderland South and was Left Wing and a known novelist. His early career was as a journalist                        and his pursuit of getting justice for the convicted Irish who were incarcerated for the Birmingham bombings. The diaries are                    a great read. He is tempted into Government as a very junior minister (which muzzles him) and we hear about the boring                          jobs  and ultra controlled ways of New Labour. Humorous, self deprecating and permanently conflicted between his own                          politics and that of his Party.

November – ‘Decline & Fall’ / Chris Mullin

                         In effect sacked from Blair’s Government and never likely to join Brown’s he writes from the back benches as Labour                                  implodes. He left Parliament at the end of Brown’s Government.

                    – ‘Reporting The Troubles’ / Compiled by Deric Henderson and Ivan Little

                   Decades after the end of the Northern Irish Troubles this book contains short essays from journalists who reported them                           about people, usually ordinary, they met who were caught up in the death, hate and destruction.

December – ‘Untold Stories’ / Alan Bennett

                         I’d been meaning to read one of this great playwright and actor’s books and this appeared in a charity shop and was                                suddenly mine. Over 600 pages of a diary of his life and events. A man of a certain era with clear thoughts and immense                            powers of observation and recollection. A right riveting read….

Christmas Trees, Snowflakes & Brexit – Week 49 : 2018

December 7, 2018

Despite listening to probably about 10 hours worth of music per week I seldom listen to it on the radio, I listen to speech. I try and listen to intelligent stuff like the news or podcasts but occasionally I can’t get to turn the dial quick enough to avoid some tosh. Listening to BBC Radio 5 Live there was some *snowflake* slot about parenting. They were bemoaning that we all turn into our parents. This rueful reflection was coming out of old timers who were having anxiety attacks about turning 35.

Out of all the illustrations such as getting great pleasure at irritating your kids with banal and unfunny jokes at their expense came the observation that like their father one of them now had a dedicated stick that they kept for stirring paint. I’m guilty, as charged.

On a trip to London I was taken with some headphones Matt has that are wireless, that is, they don’t plug into a device, and pick up a bluetooth signal instead. I bought a pair and they can be a bit temperamental but there is no looking back now! On a bike there are challenges of where to put the device so that you can cycle and listen through headphones. This overcomes all this.

 (Yes, I know one school of thought is very anti wearing headphones when riding a bike. Frankly I can provide a long list of things more dangerous. I don’t listen during traffic congested urban areas.

So how do you get to sleep? Frankly amongst the many challenges we all face then this is not one for me. I become comatose very shortly after shutting my eyes. This is a considerable bonus when camping. However I always do something that I once read in a book. I start to think back during the day and think of the 10 positive/pleasing things that happened. This can be a telephone call, something complicated that you sorted out, the surprising delight of a breathtaking view in the countryside, finding that elusive item in a shop or, often, a superb bike ride where I rode well. Try it.

Brexit? Weirdly I’m enjoying the latter stages of the debate, it’s like a boxset with no end in sight. Every day a new position or information becomes evident and so each side either attempts to suggest it means nothing or the other side suggests it does. In the meanwhile it is a feeding frenzy for TV News Channels, newspapers and social media on a 24/7 cycle. 

I enjoy the tactics of the Government whether harnessing Cabinet ministers, the EU or the Bank of England, on separate days, to keep hammering home their point of view whilst pretending to be ‘honest johns’ just telling you the way it is. The Opposition who really don’t seem as a Shadow Government to mind Brexit but want to press and harry the Government into an Election or jettisoning the Prime Minister and just take every opportunity, irrespective of the merits of the argument. After this you get the implacable Brexiteers or the Remainers MP’s who I suspect mainly speak for themselves rather than the public. We as the spectators have a sketchy grasp on whether it is all doom and gloom. Whichever way it still has some way to go. I’ll pull up a chair.

 In attempting to save the planet we have moved from real Christmas trees to an artificial one. We haul this out of the loft every December. Not that I wish to be grumpy but assembling it takes as long as the 18 mile round trip to B & Q to buy and then stick into a base and push into the corner of the lounge. The artificial tree comes with every branch separate and needing to be hooked into the central shaft/trunk. Anyway we can all agree it looks very pretty.

Lastly on Christmas, Anna and I went to the local pub on Saturday night with other neighbours for our annual Christmas dinner. It was very convivial and the conversation and drink flowed. One neighbour recounted a less than happy Christmas Day lunch at his house last year. His new partner’s children attended. 

One daughter was very dismissive of his considerable efforts to produce a splendid meal. This didn’t bode well for an easy afternoon. The daughter, who by all accounts is carrying way too much timber, bemoaned her weight problem. The neighbour appearing sympathetic volunteered he knew what her problem was. All faces turned toward him to listen to his considered opinion. “Well you’ve got an over active knife and fork!” I’m not sure if she’s coming around for Christmas lunch this year.

Record Of The Week # 54

December 4, 2018

Kayla Ray – Yesterday & Me

I doubt you’ll care but there is a battle raging amongst Country music fans and professionals about the state of the industry. Whilst, in my opinion, it has always been a broad church of a genre with novelty records as well as more serious songs then there is fury that something known as Country Pop has eaten it.

Country Pop is formulaic and what US radio stations want to play. The formula? Exclusively male artists, limited lyrical topics – drinking beer, driving a pick up, tight black dresses and quite a lot of Jesus. Layered into this confection is a predictable Rock sound with a dance rhythm, similarly placed electric guitar solos, repeatable choruses and any other tedium that the same session players can take to their next studio date. Even more infuriating to the supposed ‘Keepers of the Flame’ is that these automatons are infusing Country with Rap. I agree this is deplorable and Florida Georgia Line should be imprisoned for a long time or at least until they show some remorse.

Me? Frankly there is enough Country music that is wearily called ‘authentic’ to still go around. Yes, there is every chance that Sara Evans, Alan Jackson and Lee Ann Womack’s revenue stream is being hit. The kids just want to dance and luxuriate in a lightweight tuneful chorus rather than explore the dark recesses of 9/11 or divorce.

Amongst all this ire then if you just look at releases from many artists on small record labels there is enough magic to go around. And so it is with the above gem. This album came by an email from a PR company and I’ve loved it ever since. Lyrical themes are family rifts, infidelity, substance misuse and the proverbial lessons of life.

Ray has been playing for some years despite still being a millennial and graduating to being in front of a microphone by band management (Jason Eady). This diminutive tour de force has a Texan drawl you could cut with a knife made more special by that achy breaky fragility that heaps on the emotion. “Camel Blues” refers to the cigarettes rather than the quadruped. She ruefully sets the scene as regards a moody and independent man:

He smokes his Camel’s blue,

Drinks his Label Black

Three fingers whiskey,

The man ain’t coming back.

We discover that she’s apparently to blame for the schism despite “it taking two hard working fools to build a wall, but it takes two fools still in love to make it fall”. In the meanwhile the pedal steel produces magic complemented by some other deft electric guitar over a shuffling rhythm. What a start!

“Once A Week Cheaters” is a Keith Whitley composition she duets on with Colton Hawkins. The pedal steel provides the colour whilst the acoustic rhythm section plays a slow waltz. A familiar Country theme of two illicit lovers making a rendezvous to dance. Drenched with sadness, frustration and loss weigh this down with raw emotion you can barely guess at.

So that’s the serious bit. “Pills” she says is about the advance of “big pharma, vulture capitalism and the perpetuation of addiction”. With a lively fiddle playing the dance melody she talks of the proliferation of these tablets available from all sorts of credible medical practitioners including more unusual sources including “my very favorite electrician buddy from the east side of the river back home in Waco who we call Sparky!”

Above I distanced myself from the debate about authentic Country music, however, I love it. Texas seems to be the epicentre of all that’s traditional Country at the moment. Ray has released an album that might have been accumulating accolades in the 1960s. This was when Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn were playing the victim with such lasting profundity. “I’m Still A Woman” is a slower ballad that dares to talk about her sexuality and needs despite her  secondary role in a man’s world. Again Joshua Barnard’s guitar picks the correct note every time as Ray’s voice captivates at the front of the mix.

Every track is a true joy and Jason Eady’s production could not be more sympathetic or understanding of this talent. My favourite Country album of 2018.

Derailleurs, Flawed Legislation & All That Jazz – Week 47 : 2018

December 1, 2018

The siting of an enormous broadband mast close to our garden boundary has interested our local MP, Julian Sturdy. As a consequence he’s written asking them to move it. Quite a splendid and supportive letter given our anger. I’d written to the Managing Director (MD) of the network operator and the Chief Executive Officer of the parent company; I’ve not had the courtesy of a reply. I also rang the MD’s office to no avail. Cowboys come to mind. In addition I attempted to get the local residents interested and circulated widely any correspondence I received or generated. I also kept contacting the Council asking ‘supplementary’ questions following their initial advice that there was nothing they or I could do. Eventually the Council’s patience was tested and in the end I got a terse email advising the ‘matter is closed’!

I’m convinced we’re stuck with this monstrosity but if there is any comfort in knowing that I pushed it as far as I could then I know I have. The change in recent legislation that allowed network operators to put up 15 metre high masts without seeking Planning Permission is the problem. The argument for doing this was that delays were being experienced by involving planning permission. I can’t believe that the relaxation of this part of the Town and Communities Act was to upset residents and for network operators to stick up these things where they pleased.

I don’t think I’ve really complained about all the heat that I’ve cycled through this year? Last summer saw me cycle every day in France in temperatures of 35°C (95°F). There are challenges of avoiding getting sun burnt, sun stroke, running out of water and forever seeking shade when on the road. However there is no comparison to riding in the cold. 

I went out this week for a 50 mile spin and the forecast said it was around 5°C (40°F) but it turned out to be 1C (34°F) falling beneath freezing on several occasions. Not only does this become very slippy on the road but being the UK I set off in soaking drizzle. 

I was well ‘sealed’ apart from my leggings/tights and gloves. Both these got sodden and I got progressively colder despite cycling continuously and regular climbing. About an hour from home I was losing the feeling in my hands which made changing gear and braking difficult. Blissfully I got home and whipped off the gloves. The pain was excruciating as blood returned to the hands. Even after this interlude there wasn’t sufficient feeling or strength to undo my overshoes or shoes. I suppose the upside was eating like a pig to replace the carbs and to warm up before a soaking hot bath. Roll on warmer weather.

On the grey matter front I bowled up to the University Of York for a Saturday course: “The History Of Jazz”. I know a lot about jazz but how all the different styles and eras fit together was an interesting thing to discover. So for over around six hours with the help of Spotify we went through 70 years of jazz. All the way from The Original Dixieland Jazz Band to Glenn Miller and on to Miles Davis. Fabulous and yet another long list of stuff to hear or buy. 

This time using my hands more than brains I took a bicycle to the outskirts of York for another Saturday course to be taught how to expertly adjust or fit various gears, bottom brackets and headsets. This time it was a Council run course. The guy running the course spent some time as a professional bike rider, running a bike shop and now has an IT business. Apparently he still turns his hand to being a bike mechanic on some of the professional tours. This year he’s been in the Gulf working at the Tour of Abu Dhabi. These races are used by the professional teams to get fit and limber up for the European season. 

Truth to be told I think a couple of people on the course were hoping to get some free maintenance on their own bikes. He illustrated the techniques by taking your bike and dismantling it before re-assembly. On one bike he simply couldn’t remove the pedals such was the corrosion. As regards the gears he did a demonstration on my bike before de-tuning it all so that I could practise my skills putting it right. Frankly I’d prefer if he’d left mine alone as it was working well before I went!