Monthly Archives: March 2019

The Boys Are Back In Town (a weekend in Whitby, N Yorkshire) – Week 11 : 2019

March 18, 2019

So with a little trepidation I traversed the North Yorkshire Moors to join Peter, Mike and William for a heavy weekend in Whitby. They were driving down from Edinburgh on their annual cultural exchange. I say heavy because two days are spent drinking and eating things that anyone hoping to reach a normal retirement age would assiduously control. To accelerate the reduction in lifespan all was consumed in excess. 

A weekend including 45mph winds and a Saturday with a 96% chance of rain were anticipated. Last year it was the ‘Beast from the East’ and so plans for outdoor exercise remained flexible. However after ‘checking in’ to the apartment it was off to ‘The Moon and Sixpence’ for a bite to eat. The party had already consumed some bottled beer imported from north of the border. Starting as we meant to go on we adjourned to ‘The Ship’ for our 2019 inaugural pub pint. Now slightly lubricated dinner was eaten and Mike reaffirmed his friendship by commenting that “a Yorshireman is like a Scotsman but with all the goodness squeezed out of him”. The meal was excellent although there was considerable muttering, from the Scots, about paying £5 for an ice cream dessert. My muttering was about why, with flowing beer, a bottle of red wine was ordered?

                                   Left to right – me, Peter, Mike and William

Surprising was that the threesome, in five years, have never had the fourth invited person return the next year until I showed up. Brief summaries were given on the previous cast members and Mike was especially disparaging about Alan who’d observed “you all eat and drink too much”. Another, Jim, crossed a red line by having oatmeal or similar for one of his breakfasts; clearly only carnivores with a death wish are welcome. I made a mental note to step up.

 So with some cycling planned for the next day, in possibly torrential rain and gales, we resolved to take it easy on the night with alcohol. Naturally with all the beer and wine consumed with the meal we couldn’t walk past ‘The Jolly Sailors’. As usual William was appointed bursar. Given the considerable responsibility of managing the repeatedly emptying kitty he was like a small child on Christmas morning as he returned from the bar with four pints: it had only cost him £8. It wouldn’t have surprised me if he planned on returning to Edinburgh to change his name by deed poll to Sam Smith. These were downed and the long walk to the apartment was planned but a fatal attraction to ‘The Buck Inn’, next door, was too hard to overcome and we became acquainted with another dead Yorkshiremen, Timothy Taylor. 

This was a karaoke bar and much bellowing ensued to Queen, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Kool & The Gang, Oasis and The Spice Girls. 

We now did return to the apartment and as I had rejected Peter’s advances to sleep with him, due to a shortage of beds, I evicted William and Mike from the living room and set up camp by blowing up my airbed and unpacking my sleeping bag.

On Saturday I was a little ragged after a mediocre night’s sleep and earlier indulgences but I was considerably lifted by all three reporting similar fragility. Maybe anno domini was catching up with them? When dressed we walked into town to feast at ‘The Singing Kettle’, a ‘greasy spoon’ par excellence. With all our cholesterol levels restored we returned to the apartment and found our bikes. The plan was to ride south on the cinder track that connected Whitby and Scarborough. By being an old rail route up until 1965 it would be rolling but never have any serious hills.

I think the last time I rode a mountain bike I had a full head of hair. As a consequence as we set off I was trying to find where all the gears were and realising that I was riding on muddy tracks replete with puddles in rain with no mudguards. I think we were only about a mile down the track before I was splattered and sodden beyond belief.

The ride was terrific and we soon arrived at Robin Hood’s Bay. Not content with an intended 32 mile round trip we went off the route and descended to the sea. This was the easy bit. Girding our loins we returned up the hill, the gradient was monstrous and near to the top approached 30%. I could turn the pedals but I felt at one point that the bike would tip over backwards. Truth be told that had I not faced the prospect of remorseless ridiculing I would have got off! 

 So on we went down the track, in the rain, and enjoyed the coastal views. 

Eventually ‘The Hayburn Wyke Inn’ came into view and a much needed sign indicated ‘pub’. I needed a drink as my water bottle was covered in grit and I had used most of its contents to sluice my spectacles and computer to assist visibility. At this point William got a puncture and I was de-gritted by a helpful Mike who couldn’t believe his luck at pouring cold water onto me. 

We spelched into the pub and enjoyed a sandwich and some soup. Judging by the amount of mud I left in the Gents, after cleaning my cycling kit, I would expect to be banned. A roaring fire enabled some drying or at least making things that were sodden warm. Alcohol was eschewed except for Peter having a half to humiliate the Braveheart twins.

Michael enjoying being photographed… 

The ride back to Whitby was splendid but I got caked again and on the outskirts of Whitby managed to get a puncture. A very cold walk through town followed looking a real mess to the flat where I bagged the shower first. Some clothing was too muddy to bring in the flat but other items were lobbed into the washing machine.

So if my own sport was a challenge then my other sports teams were having even less success. Leeds United lost a ‘must win’ game and England rugby union played two matches over 80 minutes — the first they won and the second they lost. This wouldn’t have mattered had it not been against Scotland! Mike and William went from morose resigned torpor to animated shouting delight in 10 minutes. If I do get invited for 2020 I shall check the Six Nations fixture list prior to accepting (as I can’t bear seeing such happy men).

The boys had despatched a few bottles prior to visiting the ‘Black Horse Inn’ and then it was onto ‘The Endeavour”. Here my newly confirmed status was confirmed as I was trusted with part of the kitty and directed toward ‘Mr Chippy’ to buy four portions of fish and chips. I bustled out of the pub feeling that I had been promoted to something as lofty as ‘Form Monitor’ and discharged my procurement responsibilities with much pride. William, who’d been struggling with some bodily emissions, was eyed with apprehension as he forked his mushy peas. With our meal complete we progressed to the quiz. I compile and circulate a general knowledge competition. I think it’d be fair to say that I enjoy this more than the competitors but they grin and bear it. 

Mike wasn’t aware that our future King and his wife had beget a daughter let alone what they called any of the three children. He came third. I had thought that the other William would walk it but Peter won. (Not the result I was aiming for). I expect my exclusion of sport, contemporary culture, politics and reality TV helped him. Being gracious in accepting his title of ‘Quiz Meister’ he derided Mike for actually thoroughly reading all the questions and considering all the multiple choice answers (not that, in fairness, it appeared to help him much).

With this part of the schedule completed it was off to ‘The Elsinore’ for the main event. The place was heaving; a blues band was belting out everything between B B King, Memphis Slim and Thin Lizzy. Looking around this busy place I found some seats whilst William went to the bar. I asked the woman already sat at a table if the places were free and she said they were. In retrospect it was probably a mistake on her behalf.

Peter followed me to the seat and I said “Peter, this is Miriam and Donald”, “Hello Miriam, I’m Peter”. Now her real name was Julie! (school boy error falling for that one Pete!) Julie was from near Doncaster, probably about 60 years old and in Whitby for the weekend, staying at a hotel with her husband. I fell foul of Julie quite quickly when I asked if the 12 year age difference between her children was due to a second marriage: it wasn’t! 

Peter, asked where they specifically lived and then as you would, on your first date, went onto Wikipedia to discover all you could about the Isle of Axholme. It had an interesting land drainage history and Peter was now interrogating the poor woman about a 17th Century Dutch engineer who initiated changes to the watercourse. In fairness to Julie the fightback started from here. 

As an obviously great judge of character, she observed that Peter was ‘a reet gobby shite’ and, with a perspicacity that was also impressive, continued “you remind me of the most boring fucking person in class”. Attempting to retrieve his fragile relationship Peter now switched to vegetables. Obviously. With his forensic research of the Isle of Axholme he opined that she came from somewhere important as it was the capital of broccoli production in the UK. “I don’t give a shit”.

Knocking back the rest of her chardonnay she announced their departure to ‘The Station’ pub. I did ask whether when we followed she’d be in the lounge or saloon bar? She ignored my question. However, at this point some chemistry was found: with our resident babe magnet – William. A kiss was placed on the lucky youngster and then this vision of loveliness exited our lives forever.

 Mike, ‘Miriam’, William and me

William whilst obviously lucky in love, on occasion, had less success with the (completely bald) landlady. On returning two ‘off’ pints was asked if he ‘liked sex and travel’ and as the proprietor was happily drinking said slops at the end of the bar the fault lay with Mike and William. Dipping back into the continuingly dwindling kitty they migrated to the elixir that is Camerons.

So how much had I consumed? I’d ducked a couple of rounds by having ‘halves’ rather than pints. William had broadly kept pace but Peter and Mike’s consumption kept them at the head of the peloton. The band finished and a return to the apartment couldn’t be postponed. Here Mike leapt into action and made cheese on toast on his remarkable home made bread. Despite this kindness Peter was not overly grateful or constructive; when Mike sought guidance on how to turn on the grill – “There’s only two knobs to choose Mike and as you’re used to playing with one knob what’s your problem?” 

Our excitement was truly pathetic when Mike found a jar of Branston Pickle lurking in the cabinets. A bottle of wine was opened. Obviously. I didn’t imbibe and as you can observe neither did Peter who contributed little to the discussion on flour, various seeds, yeast, salt, brown sugar and warm water that Mike lovingly mixed for his bread.

Well past midnight (again) Master Chef finished and the boys departed. I set up camp. The next morning involved our usual heart attack on a plate. 

The day was glorious and the Famous Three strode off for a cliff top walk. A little jaded from my adventures, and a little lame when it came to hiking, I bade them a fond farewell and shuffled up the hill to the car where I pointed it in the direction of York.

Regular WhatsApp posts advised that their walk went well and involved a ride on a bus! Their drive back north had traffic challenges but Edinburgh was eventually reached.

Yet another memorable weekend and I must record that the band at ‘The Elsinore’ finished with ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’. They certainly were. Epic

Record Of The Week # 61

March 15, 2019

Daniel Norgren – Wooh Dang

Sweden’s Daniel Norgren has released a really interesting record. No newcomer, he released his first record in 2006. You could call his sound stripped down but analogies with Scandi Noir are more satisfying – simple, precise, initially bleak, uncluttered and on occasion conveying a complex emotion.

“Blue Sky Moon” conjures the opening sequence of a detective drama with a single bold female stumbling around an abandoned holiday cottage in the waning light of dusk. A single note accompanied by bird song and other electronica may be more Steve Wilson than Steve Earle but this brief instrumental introduction had me hooked. Apparently Norgren decamped to a farmhouse in South West Sweden to lay all this down with three other musicians. Maybe a rustic unpolished vibe was the one he was after.

The single “The Flow” reminded me of a rough hewn Kurt Vile meets Neil Young. Kurt Vile for the hypnotic rhythm created by bass and cymbals; old Shakey for the plaintive vocal, back in the mix, and the After The Gold Rush piano. Beguiling.

After the melancholy of the opening songs “Dandelion Time” changes the vibe and delivers a Dr John groove. A skinny guitar maintains a riff pattern with sax and drums driving this along. Just need to add broiled shrimps and a PBR and we’re in NOLA. “Rolling Rolling Rolling” has a soulful groove. Norgren’s voice has an attractive yet slightly frayed timbre. It truly is an instrument of beauty. The ballad “So Glad” is sung over an organ which plays one or two chords with a sparse piano delivering the melody. This simple arrangement needs a wistful tune and a compelling voice to make it work. It does.

“Let Love Run The Game” is rock n’ roll. John Lennon might have recorded something like this in his latter years – raw, great melody and drenched with a soulful blues feel. The variety of sounds make this Americana; “When I Hold You In My Arms” takes us south of the border. An acoustic latin lilt (and soppy lyrics) encourages you to take her in your arms. If this had played out with a Mariachi band it would have been sublime.

“Wooh Dang” is a rough instrumental recording with a slightly distorted piano, which plays us out quietly. Now imagine the camera panning out as the aforementioned heroine leaves the bleak island and we watch as the seagulls fly around the stern of the ferry as she becomes a smaller fragile figure.

Throughout Norgren harnesses his talents to that vital ingredient: a tune. New to me; this and his last album Alabursy are an undoubted find. Catch up: this is important.

Record Of The Week # 60

March 5, 2019

Greta Van Fleet – From The Fires

One downer of moving into your seventh decade is that you get circulars from your GP or the NHS exhorting you to have precautionary tests for various afflictions. This is a part of a plan to prevent something worse befalling you. If it were me then I’d insist that every male over 55 gets a copy of this album. It would add years to their life.

What a wondrous joy this is from start to finish. I’m late in getting to tell you about this triumph. It first saw the light of day in November 2017 and it’s just taken me a while to get to it. Better late than never. There has been much speculation about the origins of the sound. In fairness not all of it unkind. Plagiarising your heroes and giving the people what they want to hear is hardly a crime.

This Michigan four piece comprises three brothers – vocals, guitar and bass. The brothers were 19 years (twins) and 16 years old when they recorded. If that’s a surprise then their absorption of their dad’s record collection is no less impressive. Much has been written about being derivative of Led Zeppelin. It is; I don’t care. They’ve taken all that music and wrung out the very best of it in terms of attack, tune, dynamism and pure electric fizz.

On “Safari Song” you will have an involuntary raising of your arm when Josh Kiszka goes into a Robert Plant howl. (Otherwise it may suggest you’re clinically dead). This album opener starts with a delicious riff and booming drums (Daniel Wagner) that are so John Bonham. Some lift off. Next on “Edge of Darkness” a jagged solo electric guitar strikes a pose with some crashing percussion before the vocals arrive: this time more Geddy Lee (Rush) than Zep. It’s here that the boys, on a self penned song, show that they can write a tune and deliver 70s rock pastiches extraordinaire.

To demonstrate that the team has grown up with some amazing influences the first of two shocks arrive. Sam Cooke’s Civil Rights ballad “A Change Is Gonna Come” comes into view. The band find some lower gears and step backwards while Josh’s muscular tones compel with a heartfelt performance. “Highway Tune’ couldn’t be more corny with a reference to a ‘mama’. Did these boys have tie-dyed baby growers with flares? The next album may move onto ‘chicks’… However driving along to this tour de force could help you lose five miles through heavy traffic as you get caught up beating the hell out of your steering wheel.

The second shock arrives with a Fairport Convention cover. Yes I did write that. “Meet On The Ledge”. Not much of the folk vibe of the original survives but the chorus comes at you in a way that makes it unavoidably repeatable at the top of your voice, even in polite company. This also allows axe man supremo – Jacob Kiszka to bend a few strings in splendid fashion.

So great playing, clear and sympathetic production, wondrous hooks, great electric guitar and vocals that repeatedly astonish. 

Live longer and buy this album.

Sri Lanka – February 2019

March 4, 2019

Sri Lanka Day 1 – Prince Philip, Rucksacks & Sleep Deprivation

So this is the start of a trip to the Indian sub continent. I haven’t visited before and I have some preconceived ideas as to what to expect but little else. Before you ask then I’m not taking a bicycle but something a lot more troublesome: I am taking a wife.

On the day of departure I’m not proud to say that I was as truculent and fractious as a hormonal teenager on Saturday afternoon. Leeds United were losing 0-1 at Rotherham United. Like a captive emerging from a dungeon I started to lighten up when we knocked in the equaliser and when Klich slotted home the winner I couldn’t have been a more agreeable companion seeing the bright side of all inconveniences and bordering on intolerably cheery. I can’t explain why this matters so much but it does. As the leader of the Free World would say – ‘Sad’.

However as I started this draft on our flight to Sri Lanka, via Dubai. A man in the opposite aisle fell asleep quickly after take off and was snoring. The sound that the Emirates’ A380’s engines makes was as attractive as a gentle breeze catching the palm leaves on a desert island in comparison. I’d hoped for some respite even if it meant he died in his sleep.

Continue reading Sri Lanka – February 2019

Luther Vandross Tribute Concert – Bridlington

March 2, 2019

So abandoning my pre-occupation with banjos, fiddles and stetsons. My current wife and I departed to the Yorkshire coast to see a Luther Vandross tribute concert. For a man who should agonise about authenticity, accomplished musicianship from men with beards and discovering the true meaning of life through profound lyrics then you may ask what came over you?

Back in the day we used to worship the man. We saw him in Sheffield and London; inevitably I’ve got loads of his CD’s and vinyl. We couldn’t get enough. Despite poor Luther shuffling off this mortal coil in 2005 he still has a considerable UK following. A good friend posted a video of one of these shows and it looked so good we thought why not go?

We rolled into Bridlington, which in all honesty is on the edge of the world. A town of just over 35,000, which clings onto life in the face of the ravages of industrial decline typical of many Northern towns. Sustenance is maintained through fishing and tourism. It seems on ‘life support’. The photo below is of one of the gardens we passed on the way to the venue.

Such is the town’s isolation that Harry Cambridge, Luther for the night, made some observations about wandering around the town in the afternoon surprising the locals telling them that Vandross was dead and his is a tribute show. In fairness Vandross is unlikely to have made it to East Yorkshire. 

We parked up near the venue, close to the start time, and expected that a sparsely populated auditorium would mean that the ushers would be waiting for us before starting the show. Not a bit of it. We lurched towards our seats with a G&T for Mrs Ives and a pint for me.  Around us appeared to be a near sold out show of around 500 hardy souls braving a mid week February night.

My amazement was further increased when I noted nine performers on stage. A band of five with three backing singers. Straight into “Give Me The Reason” and any doubts were dispelled that this would be anything other than superb. The hits and album tracks flowed. Harry replicated all Luther’s vocal idiosyncrasies with his slightly deeper baritone compared to Vandross’ tenor. His backing singers were well drilled with perfect harmonies and dance moves.

The audience, many of whom I suspect were seeing the show for a second time, loved it. Several fuelled by alcohol and high spirits created some distractions as thirty something nurses and call centre operatives chatted to their mates about little or nothing. This was in stark contrast to a recent Americana concert I attended. It was here that a member of the audience complained to my wife that I was distracting him by him being able to see my mobile phone screen occasionally as I made notes about the songs. With this audience he’d have needed police protection if he complained.

 We grooved in our seats to “So Amazing’, “Any Love”, “Stop To Love” and Stephen Still’s completely baffling “Love The One Your With”. When the pace slowed he knocked “Superstar” out of the park (and into the sea about 40 metres away). I had chills during my favourite “Dance With My Father”. 

More delight came when Harry introduced one of the backing singers – ‘Happy Holly’. She stepped into the spotlight and duetted on “The Best Things In Life Are Free”. Whilst she was fantastic it has to be said that anyone can sing better than Janet Jackson. Another chanteuse – ‘Gorgeous Gemma’ made herself available to become Mariah Carey on “Endless Love”. These girls could really sing.

Harry had a lot of banter with the audience. On one song he invited a sing-a-long and as the carousing females butchered the melody he pithily observed: “this is called music and you can at least try and sing the same song!” He had stage craft. A quick Google notes his West End stage career and other tribute impersonations. He was well aware that some of the audience would only know three Vandross’ songs and maybe the rest would know the whole catalogue.

I’ve previously written about how hard the vast majority of musicians find it to make a living. At the end of the day pursuing your muse must be satisfying, not least, if you can sell concert tickets and produce volume selling albums that dwell on your personal suffering over politicians you don’t like. However at £22.50 a ticket and a nearly full house there may be a way of getting larger audiences, more satisfaction and a bigger bank balance.

Toward the end we had lift off as we peaked with “Never Too Much” and “Searchin’”; there was dancing in the aisles. One might say that there was a lot of flesh out of control and it wasn’t pretty. For my part I well remember a quote from a member of AOR band, Kansas, when asked what would get him up and dancing at a wedding he volunteered ‘a shotgun’. I wasn’t as difficult to please but my dancing resembled a man shuffling barefoot over Lego. It was a brilliant night. Viva Vandross! 

Oh well back to being serious…

Post Script…

I posted the above link onto Facebook. ‘Luther’ saw the review and posted the following. Many artists read my reviews but somehow this was completely unexpected and delightful.

Andrew Preview, Finance & A Job Well Done – Week 9 : 2019

March 1, 2019

Seems about time for a journal after all my writing in Sri Lanka. Which reminds me, if you didn’t follow my blog where I wrote the holiday up. I can confirm I will transfer it to this site soon. It was a completely splendid holiday with great weather, lots to see, kind and interesting people and the odd wild animal or two.

However, I have transferred my ‘Bike ride across the USA’ blog to this site. It was a giant job with in effect 53 posts to upload. I’ve added an epilogue as well. Revisiting the trip was wonderful and I can genuinely remember much of the detail as if it were yesterday.

The broadband mast complaint has predictably gone nowhere. I escalated my complaint to the PLC which owns Quickline (the bastards in Hull who put up this 15 metre stick). I also wrote separately to the principal shareholder and non-exec chairman (who has an OBE no less). Of course they were all going to do nothing but having sat on the odd Board with non execs then my flurry of correspondence, my Twitter posts and the letter below in the local press (York Press) is not welcomed and there will be questions asked as to how the whole project was managed. If I was ever going to be effective then I needed neighbour support. Four did write to the local MP and I can well imagine that for one of these correspondents that the mast was not an issue, one was engaged and enraged but too busy to campaign and the most affected just shrugged their shoulders and accepted it. On this basis you are up against it.

Saw a Political Party broadcast on TV the other night. It was the regular ‘weaponising’ of the NHS’ financial state to garner votes. I so loathe this. I worked in the NHS as a management consultant and there is much to go at with the inefficiencies and not least the quality of the administrative staff. However, I fail to see how it can keep pace with all the demands on it. An ageing population and the increase in cures or improvements are difficult to cope with or fund. My 87 year old father-in-law found himself in York District Hospital again last night. When I got there to collect him the staff could not be kinder or more professional. The Senior Occupational Therapist who helped me get him into the car signed off by saying to him “Eric, it was nice to meet you”. A society that is continually outraged, offended and whinging need to spend some time occasionally in the real world. There is a lot to be very happy about.

We looked at Anna’s car and the fact that the finance was shortly to end. We decided to trade the car in and get a nearly new Fiesta. This isn’t a difficult project given that the UK is full of Fiestas, even Active X’s. So we were schmoozed by one dealer who found a car in West Yorkshire on the internet at another dealership in the group. The part ex on our old car was good enough and so what was the finance to cost? We started at an interest rate of 12.3%, which was ludicrous and after some hand wringing it fell to 10.9%. We walked.

Applying for finance  by using a money comparison website came up with a few bargains but we went for Marks & Spencers at 2.8%. With the dosh sorted we went to another dealership and they had a suitable car in Scotland. It was considerably cheaper than the other dealer and a lower mileage. All good? Well the catch came in the part ex. It was poor. Clearly one dealer sold at higher prices with higher part ex prices and then vice versa. Anyway we haggled the part ex price up and declined their special finance offer of 7.9%! We collected the car on Friday.

This whole negotiation requires sitting through a lot of tedious small offers – dent and scratch protection, ‘gap’ insurance, asset protection, car care packages etc etc. Next to us a couple with less credit (and will power) capitulated for all of these extra costs and probably are stuck with double digit percentage finance. I reckon a lot of folk don’t fully appreciate what the deal really is. They just see if they can cope with the monthly outlay. Somehow this all seems disreputable to me.

 Anyway I’m glad we’ve waded through this treacle and can now enjoy the new car.

Lastly, I noted with bemusement that Andre Previn’s passing included cursory references to the London Symphony Orchestra, being an accomplished jazz pianist or writing Oscar nominated songs. However prominent reference was made to his appearance on the Morecambe & Wise Show. I suspect he’s laughing wherever he’s gone.