All posts by tonyives

About tonyives

A Yorkshireman of a certain age who likes most genres of music and most makes of old car. Travel is a joy, not least to escape the British winter. Travel by bicycle is bliss and if I’m not lost in music then I’m lost in a daydream about a hot day, tens of miles to cover and the promise of a great campsite and a beer. I like to think I’m always learning and becoming wiser. On the latter point then evidence is in short supply.

The Last Couple of Weeks (as an Alphabet) – Week 8 : 2021

You’ll maybe not be surprised to learn that life hasn’t taken a dramatic turn from Boredom Boulevard to Liberation Lane, however, we are getting there I think. So stirring through the ashes of the last couple of weeks I thought I’d report as an alphabet..

Africa

For those who’ve stayed awake through my blogs you’ll remember I’ve been typing up the story of Eric Blackburn. His unique life started as a farmer’s boy in war ravaged Hull at the age of thirteen. We progressed from him becoming an orphan, through to firing steam trains, completing National Service and then back into the depressing clutches of post war British Railways. After 126,000 words I’m now writing up the adventure of his going to work for East African Railways in Tanganyika in 1954. There are some wonderful stories contained within. I shall be sorry when we get to the end of this remarkable journey

Birthday looms

I’m a long time past celebrating but being surrounded by females means that cards and felicitations will abound. If there is anything of interest in this decrepitude then I am officially about to become and Old Age Pensioner. Rishi Sunak hwill cough up my State Pension at the age of 66. I promise not to spend it at the first shop (as they’re still all shut.)

Car washing

The weather has been desperate, which has undoubtedly helped the R rate to fall but it has stopped me washing the cars, not least the Morgan. However after a long spell of zero degrees I was able to get out there and wash them. I even noted a woman on the street washing a car as Anna and I were walking past. I did remark to her that it was unusual to see a woman car washing to which I was quickly reminded that “you said that to her last time.” (Repetition holds no fear for me.)

Daytime TV

It would be disloyal to point out that the present Mrs Ives is quite a fan of iPlayer and Netflix during daylight hours but I couldn’t possibly incriminate her. However, it is a sad option for lots of folk given the lack of alternatives. Instead I slip upstairs to compose this type of brilliant missive (cough).

Esther Rose

This New Orleans resident’s latest album turned up in my inbox from Country Music People and it’s a a super record. You can check out my considered thoughts on this American Country confection by clicking the link.

Flat refurbishment

After the departure of the last tenants our inspection revealed they had irretrievably damaged the carpets we installed only 20 months before. There were seven such separate marks and were impossible to remove (as I think the food was oily, which doesn’t work well with a wool carpet.)

Other parts of the property were in need of upgrade eg. heating, shower enclosure and hob. So we have been energetically spending horrific sums transforming the property to something superior. Not all the work was acceptable, see below! Can you believe you’d fit a radiator that would stop the door shutting? Needless to say after a discussion it was moved!

The market is quiet as a result of the time of year and lockdown. We hope it’ll not be too long before we get new, more considerate/careful, residents.

Grower’

The Favourite Eldest Daughter is lucky to hold the prestigious (unpaid) job of being my sub-editor on my album reviews (that make it on line or into the Country Music People magazine.) Her grammar is first class and is an invaluable help. On one album this month I suggested that several plays made the album more familiar and all the better for that: it was a ‘grower’. At her insistence I was instructed to delete the word and Google the phrase. Apparently this colloquially now refers to men’s genitalia. And worse now that the internet algorithms have kicked in and I receive unwanted adverts for natural enhancing supplements!

House buying

The Favourite Eldest Daughter (her again) and husband (Matt) have got onto the ‘ladder’. After the haggling, surveys and compromises it’s theirs. Anna and I hope we’ve been helpful, albeit at a lockdown distance to Manchester, with some advice based on understanding properties and human nature. Frustratingly we’ll not be there to help them move in.

Jab

Yup, I got a text and took the first opportunity to receive a dose of the Pfizer vaccine. They are getting on with things very efficiently in York, the organisation for parking, queuing and then stabbing was exemplary, I even got a sticker, what more could you want? The only reaction was a sore arm the next day but otherwise great.

Lainey Wilson

This time served Country chanteuse has paid her dues and eventually found a big record label and a top notch producer who’s fashioned a terrific contemporary Nashville Country album. I loved it and the link to my review is here.

Mac Leaphart

A good question might be how come so many ‘Records Of the Week’ after none for so long Tony? I still keep getting quite a few albums and I may even write a review but they’re not good enough for my site. However like the others above this is a fabulous discovery of John Prine meets Boo Ray. The link is here.

News Coverage

As a news junkie then even I’ve had my fix for a long time to come. Coronavirus is the only story but what is there to left to tell? Vaccines, mental health implications, quarantine regimes, schools opening/shutting, illegal gatherings etc. on a never ending loop. A lot of folk are ‘incarcerated’ in their homes living in fear, I know some and a contributory factor to their mental state must be this diet of media misery. The real ‘story’ is that the vaccine is being brilliantly rolled out and that an end is sight. Of course we’ll have to live with the disease (forever?) and some will continue to be desperately vulnerable, but there again isn’t this something we knew all along?

Out Of Towners’

We have a daily exercise regime that saw yours truly jogging the other day plus we both like to get some steps in and stride out around the village. Being rural there was never a lot of folk to bump into. Now we have people driving out into the country in considerable numbers with push chairs and dogs. Of course they are entitled to do this but we’re finding car parking jams, dogs off leads chasing around and ‘private – no entry’ areas being entered and footpaths being turned into quagmires.

Dogs off their leads can be a threat to the local deer or hares. Let’s hope they forget our village when this is all over and they can stroll nearer their homes.

Old Photos

I’ve tidied up my digital photos on my computer, I had thousands of duplicates. However we’ve reached into the loft and Anna has been sorting through the older non-digital types of photo. There are some gems like the, grumpy, Favourite Youngest Daughter with her mother.

An old school friend, John Graeme Varley, dug out a couple of me from the late 1970s. I was quite good looking once wasn’t I! The bloke under the flat hat reading the broadsheet is the former Member of Parliament for Thurrock, Tim Janman. As I remember we’d attended a party in Camden then slept overnight outside the flat in my car before going back in for breakfast in the garden the next morning. Kids eh?

Queuing

With our general forbearance during the pandemic we’ve got used to the protocols of social distancing that delay our everyday lives. Posting a parcel at the Post Office can see you on the pavement whilst limited numbers are only permissible inside the shop, the same for the Chinese takeaway in Copmanthorpe (but in the dark and cold), the artisan bakers in the centre of York with a line of, say, 15 folks in front of you where the millennials are out for a morning coffee and croissants, the central York household waste site where they seem to ‘come and go’ about enforcing social distancing so that you can either drive straight in or hang about for 20 minutes whilst someone empties a Luton van in front of you. The one queue I didn’t mind was the one at the vaccination centre.

Recycling a bike

The Favourite Youngest Daughter briefly worked at Decathlon at Surrey Docks in London about 10 years ago. She espied a discounted folding bike and rang to see if I wanted it. I did and she lugged this 15kg bike on the Tube and onto the train for me. How she carried this block of iron, and survived I will never know. Sadly, despite her heroism, it lurked in the garage for most of this time and I decided in a world of bike shortages to give it away to a shop in York that calls itself ‘Recycle’.

Spring weather

The snowdrops and daffodils are out and there are other buds starting to sprout, the days are getting noticeably longer and the weather occasionally hits double figures. Every bike ride, and there’s been a few, has been done on wet and muddy roads, this means you and the bike get filthy; warmer weather dries the road. This really uplifts my spirits and despite not trusting the fact that we are past the worst I’m starting to feel happier times are ahead.

Twitter

There’s quite a debate on line about black footballers being racially abused. It’s awful. Twitter allows people to post vile abusive comments anonymously. I don’t think any footballer or politician is to be protected from criticism, cynicism or mockery, that’s life and free speech. However, steps to reveal these abusive people by preventing anonymity is the first step. From here they can be pursued for breaking the law eg. race hate speech.

Porky Upton

I’ve taken one of Eric Blackburn’s anecdotes and created a blog about his exciting night in Withernsea with this veritable fireman and his dancing feet. It’s a great story and insight into 1950s Hull. Follow the link

Viewing

Amazon Prime gave me ‘The Professor and The Madman’, a plot that involved an English language dictionary, a schizophrenic 19th Century US Army surgeon and Winston Churchill. Yes quite! It was an engaging two hours. Sadly Netfix’s ‘Call My Agent’ Season Four was only six episodes long and ended in a bit of a shambles but pencil me in for the spin off whenever it comes. ‘The Dig’ was based around the true story of finding some Viking treasure in Suffolk. The ‘true’ bit stopped at the relationships between the protagonists, the main female character’s age and, oh yes, the outdoor sex.

Sara Watkins

Yet another Record Of The Week. I was a bit unimpressed when the magazine sent me this children’s album. However quality will out and it’s a beautiful affair of tunes you’ll know and dreamily performed for your delectation and delight. The link is here.

Zoom (and me)

Winter involves going to York University to complete an evening class. Over the years I’ve done the lyrics of Bob Dylan, Irish history, creative writing etc. This winter I plumped for “Writing about the World: Contemporary Forms of Creative Non-Fiction”. Given my blogging and album reviews I thought it relevant. I only lasted two nights was, basically, reading up some passages of different types of non-fiction and then discussing them with other course members on Zoom and then reporting back. Every week a group would read out, in front of the whole class for a critique, something you’d written as homework. Oh dear, what a drag. The course members seemed homogeneous serial course attenders, some were bores who wouldn’t shut up and others were away with the fairies about what they hoped to do with a future project. In other words there was little or no meaningful instruction just a talk shop. I decided I’d wasted my money but I might as well not waste my time.

The Ballad Of Porky Upton

I am typing up Eric Blackburn’s hand written notes of his life. Eric lives in East Yorkshire with his wife, Shirley. Eric’s nicely into his 90s. He started work at the age of 13 as a farmers boy during WW2 in ravaged Hull. Pursuing a love affair with steam trains he managed to change job and start on the railways as a porter and eventually progressing to the footplate as a fireman and sometime driver. On this ‘journey’ he endured all that Hitler could rain on him in blitz bombing raids (and collecting the spent ordnance!), rationing, the loss of both of his parents, completing National Service before emigrating to East Africa to work on the railways in Kenya and Tanganiyka (Tanzania). His story is very much a joy for anyone interested in the detail of steam trains but some of the stories about American soldiers posted in Hull, his first day on the footplate experiencing a suicide on the rails, derailments and the odd wonderful insight into the everyday life on the railways is a delight. Here is an extract, enjoy.

“For many years after the war a popular Saturday evening entertainment was a dance held at Withernsea, for which a special train was provided, and to which many of East Hull’s young flocked. So as to not fall foul of strict Sunday entertainment laws, the dance ended at 11.55am. By which time many of the young men, fuelled by alcohol, had gained a reputation for some rowdy, but usually good natured, behaviour, often wishing to climb aboard and drive the engine. And whilst the train was in motion, for a bit of fun, frequently pulling the communication cord, bringing the train to a halt. A trick especially prevalent when arriving on the outskirts of Hull. This gave them the opportunity for a short cut home and extended the running time considerably.


One of the perks of the job was free entry to the dance, and whilst I have never learned the pleasure of dancing, I had no intention of missing an evening’s free entertainment. Also tell me, what else is there to do on a Saturday evening in post war Withernsea? To that end, by wearing a clean white shirt, clean blues, and a pair of polished leather shoes, I made myself presentable.

I had a trouble free run to Withernsea with an London Midland Scotland style 4MT and on arrival ran around the train and in preparation for our eventual departure, ran down to Withernsea’s solitary and rather distant water column and filled the tender tank. Whist this engaged I noticed the fireman’s injector water valve leaking half a pipe of water. Jiggling the valve handle failed to cure the defect, and this was to have serious consequences later that night. Returning and coupling to the train I settled the engine down for its long wait by screwing the hand brake hard on. Fixing the reverser in mid gear and opening the cylinder drain taps. At the same time I instructed my fireman, one Porky Upton (so called for his rotund figure) to let the front of the fire to die out, but build a substantial back end, ready to push down and spread before our departure. With our duties fulfilled, the dampers closed and the jet shut off, we left to sample the delights of the nearby dance venue.

Now Porky, unprepared for the dance floor, had come in his stout working boots. And before long was making his mark on the dainty feet of whoever dared to dance with him. Inevitably the supply of girls dried up, and Porky came and sat beside me, complaining of his boots and the damage they were inflicting. I cannot now remember now who’s idea it was, his or mine, but in next to no time he had expropriated my shoes, and though they were several sizes too large, was, not without some difficulty, but with gay abandon, happily steering them around the dance floor.

And so, lost in a world of music and jollification, the evening wore on until by 11pm my thoughts turned to preparing the engine for our return trip. With these thoughts came a memory of the leaking water valve and its drain on the tender tank. In particular I dwelt on the probable long delays inflicted by mischievous passengers on the way home. “Come on Porky”, I called. He was in possession of my own shoes remember, and without them I was helpless. Porky in the meantime, getting on famously with a bit of hot stuff, who in turn seemed to fancy a bit of rough, chose to ignore me, until in the end I had to turn nasty. By which time it was approaching train time. Swapping footwear we dashed to the engine to find it slumbering away with only a half a glass of water, and less than a 100 on the clock. A quick check showed a significant loss from the tender tank, and with the probability of a long delay looming, and a lack of water points between Withernsea and Hull, I decided to ‘lowse off’ and arrange a run down to the water column for a top up. In the meantime Porky, having pushed the back end down and spread it around the grate was, by taking advantage of a tender of good quality hard steam coal, busy shaping up a sound and serviceable fire.

Back on the train I found the Station Master in full uniform, as if to emphasise authority, demanding to know what the delay was about? I had a ready answer in the two delinquents wishing to climb aboard and drive the train. At the same time pointing out neither he nor I knew when we might finally arrive back in Hull, and in those circumstances, every drop was precious. In any case I had decided to leave before the Station Master made further enquiries. It was a bold, and on the face of it a mad insane decision which would put all the passengers at risk. For because a low steam pressure, when I blew the train brakes off, I could only raise three inches of vacuum against a working minimum of eighteen. Leaving me with little or no braking power. To work a train with less than 18 was against the rules, and might seem just about as foolhardy an action as was possible to undertake, and if discovered would surely cost me my job, if not a charge of serious criminal negligence. But as a young man made of stern stuff, I weighed things up with a cold calculating and confident eye. And without further preamble I left.

The return trip had only two booked stops. The first Marfleet, a small urban station on the eastern extremity of the city and then Southcoates Station serving the busy Holderness area. Except on the most congested lines, the most humble of freight trains could expect a clear run through, and I anticipated no less from the signalmen. Giving Porky and myself ample time to raise steam and water levels, and restore full braking power before our first booked stop. And if, as expected, we experienced out of course stops, these would give Porky more breathing space.
Praying the brakes had improved during our stay, I opened the regulator. My luck held, and with a clean bright fire to raise steam quickly, I left Withernsea behind. Before long the fun and games commenced with some joker pulling the communication cord. This occurred several more times between Withernsea and Marfleet. To the accompaniment of raucous laughter and discordant singing, and though this was Sunday, they were definitely not hymns. I made a perilous journey in the dark each time, to identify which tell tale disk was turned, followed by an equally perilous climb to return it to its running position.

Between Marfleet and Southcoates Stations the railway skirted the eastern edge of the city. It was along this stretch that most of the communication cord applications occurred, when the east Hull worthies applied the brakes. Giving them a golden opportunity of a short cut home across the tracks. After a night of high drama, the curtain fell at Southcoates Station. Here a long delay took place, and whilst peering down the dimly lit platform for the ‘Right Away’. I became aware of a young lady, although I use that term with some reservations, being escorted along the platform draped in railway overcoat. It transpired later she had been discovered in a state of undress. Many of her outer garments being thrown willy-nilly out of the carriage window as the train progressed. Whether this was the result of that iconic game strip poker, heavy petting, or a hot flush, remains a mystery. She seemed to take it in good part, so all’s well that ends well.”

Record Of The Week # 108

Sara Watkins – Under The Pepper Tree

Multi-instrumentalist Watkins has recorded an album of standards for children….no, no please bear with me it’s wonderful. I must admit on getting the brief from the magazine I wondered what I’d done to upset the mothership. However parking all reservations I dipped in. Covers can be a corruption of your favourite memories but if you look at the track listing it’s certain that at one time or another you’ll have sung several if not all of the songs on the album. If you’re a parent you may have also crooned these songs to placate a fractious offspring in the backseat or as you lie on a bed in the early evening, fighting the pulling powers of sleep, whilst your little precious shows no signs of wearying.

Watkins has a beautiful ethereal voice that immediately sounds like a mother singing to a child with all the tenderness that might have. She’s joined by several guests throughout including Nickel Creek and I’m With Her on a couple of songs. The arrangements are delightful and the sound is acoustic, lush and entirely enchanting. The album progresses seamlessly with the mood maintained throughout as if raising the volume or changing the gentle acoustic accompaniment might spoil the moment (or wake the child).

It’s an age old eclectic selection of songs ranging from The Beatles (“Goodnight)”, Harry Nilsson (“Blanket For A Sail”), Disney films (“When You Wish Upon A Star” and “La La Lu”) and Rodgers and Hammerstein (“Edelweiss” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone”). Two songs are original compositions; several of the rest have become standards because of their original performance on the silver screen. It’s easy to imagine this whole album as some sort of soundtrack. It is the quality of the melodies that are the lasting impression and the aspect that makes this enduring rather than a one off project for a younger audience.

After starting at a young age in the music industry Watkins made her name in Nickel Creek where terrific string musicianship and vocals ensured their permanent place in the pantheon of premier roots folk acts. They split permanently over a decade ago but occasional reunions are common and she regularly plays with one of the band members, her brother, Sean. Other projects including touring as part of The Decemberists and the trio, I’m With Her. It wasn’t a big stretch to follow another muse, not least as the mother of a toddler. It’s beautiful.

Record Of The Week # 107

Mac Leaphart – Music City Joke

Mac Leaphart is new to me and one of the most delightful discoveries I’ve recently had. The recruitment of Brad Jones  (Hayes Carll, Chuck Prophet, Over The Rhine amongst many) as producer is inspired and Leaphart’s accompanying notes, with the album, talk of Jones being a demanding task master who extracted the best out of him. Leaphart has constructed 10 superb stories, some allegories, with exceptional americana country tunes. He’s also the possessor of winsome tubes that reminded me of Boo Ray or Ryan Bingham.

‘She got knocked up and kept on drinking / Smoked a half a pack a day / She didn’t want that baby / But, she had him anyway’ are the first words you’ll hear on “El Paso Kid”, about a child who didn’t have an auspicious start in life but was determined to beat adversity. This story is played out to a traditional country tune with Will Kimbrough playing acoustic guitar and Fats Kaplin weaving sonorous delight on the fiddle. Kaplin has played with a lot of country and americana royalty including John Prine. That connection is pertinent as Leaphart’s lyrics and sound are redolent of this master’s work. 

“The Same Thing” is about unrequited love. Over a picked acoustic guitar, and Kaplin now on pedal steel, Leaphart ruefully observes her at a distance: she’s happy, and in the company of another. The tender melody is quite the heart breaker. However humour permeates the album whether wry, deprecating or off beat. Irony is evident on “Blame on the Bottle” where a walking bass drives this country stomp, with Kimbrough adding electric guitar licks.  In the song an old hell raiser friend has now discovered the Lord and been convinced of the evils of alcohol to the extent that Coca Cola is his tipple. Leaphart points out that the whiskey didn’t pour itself in the first place! Off beat is “Ballad of Bob Yamaha or A Simple Plea in C Major” where he assumes the persona of a Japanese acoustic guitar that longs to be played properly. (Worryingly I have a Yamaha acoustic guitar that no doubt feels the same.)

“That Train” barrels along with a Bob Dylan Blood On The Tracks era feel with fiddle and shuffling rhythm doing the heavy lifting. Leaphart describes the arrangement as ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ with a full band including mandolin and harmonica. “Every Day” is a paean to his wife who he describes as the ‘breadwinner for our family’; whilst he pursues his art she’s keeping food on the table, not a piece of support he’s overlooked.

This is a complete gem; to think he had to crowd fund the project with no record label support is a surprise. Over a decade he’s paid his dues and this, his fourth album, just goes to show that life isn’t fair. He deserves a large commercial break with this.

Record Of The Week # 106

Esther Rose – How Many Times

Sonically this is an upbeat record, in contrast to the slough of despair that apparently inspired the album. Rose’s third long play release comes on the back of a tough couple of years as regards matters of her heart. However, as you listen closely to songs about failed relationships, the lively americana country tunes roll out. She has the melancholy resignation of a woman who’s been passed up and is now moving on to her next lost cause. She’s quite a collector and relays the stories with honest reflection and deprecation. Her voice is occasionally (and interestingly) off-tone and fragile but mainly fits the mood and her range carries the arresting tunes.

“How Many Times” has her standing in the shower until the water runs cold and taking pills to cope with a broken heart. This single release has her voice over a snappy snare beat whilst the fiddle plays around a chorus of voices to make the melody a little country. “Keep Me Running” is a pacy highlight with the fiddle of Lyle Werner again to the fore. All the tracks on the album are underpinned by an upright bass and give the album an acoustic feel. Throughout Laura Cantrell came to mind because of the short personal stories and the type of acoustic country and roots she purveys.

“My Bad Mood” is a two-step over the insistent snare that sees Matt Bell’s pedal steel come to the fore. Max Bien Kahn’s picks some tasteful electric guitar on “When You Go” – ‘Well I guess your little lie was the last of our goodbyes’.On Songs Remain over a gentle acoustic backing she sings wistfully  ‘Black coffee and bacon fat / You’re an inner city lumberjack / Yeah, a country boy through and through / I think that’s why I fell for you’. “Are You Out There” is made more tender-hearted by the dance tunewhich accompanies more rejection. Againmore male departures and sad Saturday nights at home. Another two-step finishes the album as the band strike up a lively rhythm on “Without You” and Rose serenades us with a splendid melody. Despite more lovers left behind whilst she’s on the road, she seems to be bearing up.

There’s not a misstep here, not least helped by an accomplished band, accessible lyrics and considerable songwriting talent. It’s a very engaging and consistent album. If this pleasing 40 minutes is the result of a dysfunctional love life then I hope she continues using songwriting as her therapy.

Record Of The Week # 105

Lainey Wilson – Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’

After three years of living in a caravan, hoping for a break in Nashville, Wilson is starting to get traction. The album includes earlier single releases. A check on the internet sees her being identified as ‘one to watch’. This isn’t her first release but now there’s discernible momentum, with a major record label behind her.

She has an expressive and mellifluous voice often backed by harmonies on the chorus. The backing doesn’t lean on traditional instruments and is a pop rock confection with the odd acoustic guitar and mandolin. If that isn’t enough country for you then her voice and breadth of sounds compensate. The triumph of it all is that the ‘session musician catatonic contribution’ with its digital homogenous hard brittle finish is absent and in its place vibrancy, authenticity and funk. It’s hook-drenched and radio friendly.

The alchemist is Jay Joyce: he is amongst the doyen of country producers with Ashley McBryde, Eric Church and Brothers Osborne on his CV. And you can see how His earlier rock career influences his contribution, thoughtfully applied rather than the usual bro-country torpor. Lyrically it tumbles into Nashville storylines of small towns, drinking, partying, ‘single and free’, ended relationships and knee bending for the legends of country music including the song “WWDD” (What Would Dolly Do?).

“Neon Diamond” is a sing-a-long rock song made country by Wilson’s delicious Louisiana drawl and delivery. She eschews wedded bliss (and the ring) for a night on the town – ‘my left hand ain’t interested in anything but a drink’. “Sunday Best” tells us ‘right now forgiveness ain’t something I can find’ with drink easing the pain: but more importantly this is wickedly funky with a bass line that should also be bottled. “Small Town, Girl” also has a memorable bass line with an outlaw vibe and the combination of a great melody, voice and wailing electric guitar solos elevate it all. 

The mood is taken down to something more reflective and slower with “Dirty Looks”, where such censure comes about as she gets amorous in public. On “Things A Man Oughta Know” the electrification gets dialled down. A sensitive and heartfelt lyric that encapsulates her voice inside a belting melody, whilst a tasteful and bluesy guitar adds depth before a mandolin ends this too soon. Things are wrapped up with “Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’”, an admission of guilt that she wears her heart on her sleeve with no filter: the declaration is about a relationship and its honesty. It sounds like after all the fun and braggadocio that’s preceded this she’s signing off being deadly serious. The hypnotic locomotive insistent beat and the harmonies are compelling. 

I reckon this is an end of year pick already. I hope she soars.

Record Of The Week # 104

Midnight Flyer

If this album was a person it’d be banging on your door shouting ‘Let me in’. After gaining entry it’d barrel past you with an impressive swagger. It has it all – a great vocalist with a unique voice, a tight accomplished band and great tunes. However on its release in 1981 it flew beneath the radar and it’s only a 2020 remaster that introduced it to me. It originally appeared on Swan Song Records. This was a label set up by Led Zeppelin’s manager, Peter Grant. By all accounts not an easy man should you ruffle his feathers. This former bouncer and wrestler became a most feared and respected rock band manager. The record label hosted Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Dave Edmunds and Sad Café. Maggie Bell, the Scottish lead vocalist, was on the label prior to Midnight Flyer. She was the female equivalent of an early Rod Stewart with rough, whiskey soaked tones, capable of a fearsome roar and a blues diva’s interpretative talents. 

Bell came to prominence with a band called Stone The Crows in 1970. Other outings included an appearance on Rod Stewart’s 1971 break through album Every Picture Tells A Story: she’s the female vocalist on the title track. Other claims to fame are as the chanteuse on “No Mean Streets”. This was the theme to the 80s TV detective series Taggart. One way or another she may be a familiar voice to you. I saw her with Stone The Crows at a festival at Charlton Athletic’s ground (with The Who topping the bill). It was another 44 years before I saw her again in Hull with Dave Kelly (from the Blues Band) on acoustic guitar. She was a small frail figure who looked a little bewildered in the small and closely packed club, nevertheless, it was good to see her still in fine voice and making a living. 

Hull 2018

It’s everything I love about rock: ballsy vocals, blues piano fills, incendiary guitar breaks and a solid rhythm backing of bass and drums. I was so taken that I ventured onto Discogs and bought a second hand copy of the original vinyl. If it were a glass of wine the bouquet gives hints of 70s Joe Walsh, Deep Purple, Rolling Stones and Little Feat. However there are some commercial 80s touches with the arrangements and melodies that may have been an attempt to get wider airplay.

“Hey boy” is a rip-roaring honky tonk boogie at a pace that takes your breath away. Whilst your attention is drawn to Bell’s vocals, you’ll love the sympathetic, tight and rocking band that chugs, squeals and thunders behind her. Antony Glynne’s electric lead guitar is razor sharp and delights with more flourishes and darts than D’Artagnan’s sword. Tony Stevens’ bass coupled to Dave Dowle’s drumming provide a rhythm platform of real drive. The difference often comes with John Cook’s keyboards whether electric or piano: he gives the whole sound more bluesy shades with repeated honky tonk runs. 

“In My Eyes’ is as near as you’ll get to a ballad as the band slow to a subsonic pace and Bell croons majestically. “Do You Want My Love” has a catchy chorus, no doubt written to order to tempt chart recognition. “French Kisses” is a funky blues rocker with Lowell George slide guitar, bliss. In fact the whole album is tuneful; the band members composed the whole album.

The title track “Midnight Love’ with synth keys sounds American with clear distinct bass lines and splashy drums. Eventually a long piano intro delivers “Rough Trade’ and the last track on the album. Over this accompaniment Bell gives us a tour de force. A vocal that soars, a vocal that draws us in and a vocal that confirms her as one of the all time great female rock vocalists.

Sadly they didn’t last and went their separate ways. How this album didn’t spawn a great career is a real mystery. I’m so glad I found it*.

*Gratitude to the Mighty Jessney on Vixen 101’s Nothing But The Blues who brought this album to my attention

Cat flaps, Laptops and Rain – Week 3 : 2021

As my cycling pal, Tim, said ‘You’ve not posted a blog in a while?” “Well Tim, there’s not been a lot to blog about at the moment has there?”

In fact as my first wife commented in all sincerity this morning as she scuttled down the landing – “You’ve got a busy day ahead, there’s a light bulb that needs changing.”

A busy day ahead

Unavoidably we all have to agree that in the UK it is a dreary time being locked down in this wet and very cold weather (if it rains much more I’m going to start gathering animals in pairs.) Even if you do venture out for a walk then all the walkers and dogs have turned paths, over fields, into something resembling the Somme. Cycling is still very important to me but the weather has been treacherous let alone unpleasant. It’s either snow and ice or flooding. In fact it got so difficult to find a way across the various overflowing rivers in North Yorkshire that Anna was called to pick me up during one spin from Pocklington. However by this stage I’d cycled 60 miles and climbed 900m, bear in mind Snowdon is 1,085m high.

Another road impassable in North Yorkshire

In fact, things have got that bad that I was even prepared to answer a long and pointless questionnaire from a Geordie on a dodgy phone line about the exciting (not) Pension Protection Fund. I nearly envied people who worked for a living but thankfully that quickly passed when I realised that now entailed going into your spare bedroom at 8.30am and firing up a computer and only emerging a limited number of times during the day to resolve the need of bodily functions.

Talking of Stupid O’Clock then the cricket is back on as England tour the sub continent. The Sky coverage remains immaculate but the BBC’s Test Match Special on the radio has degenerated into something as trivial as bored housewives chatting on WhatsApp with an occasional mention of what’s happening in the middle. Banal chat includes UK weather (southerners were very excited about snow), various breakfast treats to sustain them through the early hours, had they walked the dog yet? And encouraging the public to Tweet in stupid questions for the scorer eg. when was there last an international century partnership with batsman with the least number of characters in their surnames? ‘Click’’… off.

‘Bants’ with les enfants on WhatsApp

Mrs Ives has various lockdown activities, one of which has necessitated me fitting a lock to the knife drawer: I’m worrying about Anna developing ideas. She’s binging on Scandi Noir from morning to night. Who knew they could make detective series in Iceland or Finland? The regular formula involves a dysfunctional policeman (existing on a secret diet of pharmaceuticals), lots of snow and ice, exclusively operating at night or dusk, clambering over a growing pile of mutilated bodies. All this is understood by subtitles. I breeze in to the lounge thinking it’s the Swedish chefs from The Muppets having a loud argument to find a Volvo driving at high speed toward an empty warehouse, in the dead of night, to rescue a child hostage, a Greta Thunberg lookalike with pigtails, being suspended from a beam just before an elderly lunatic, unsuspected, sub post office mistress intends to lower her into a vat of acid. I turn on my heels.

My search continues around the various TV streaming networks and terrestrial channels for something to watch. Channel 5’s All Creatures Great and Small is tremendous but was only seven episodes. These were quickly consumed. Call My Agent has had their fourth season uploaded onto Netflix and so not all is lost.

When Anna’s not doing this I am receiving her expert advice. This irritatingly extended to guitar tuning, who knew? To kill some time I dug out an old guitar to reaffirm how hopeless I am at playing it. The first task was to tune it. Despite changing a string I couldn’t tune the bottom E. My electronic tuner just couldn’t hack it and I contemplated buying a new device, to which the ‘font of all knowledge’ casually said ‘there must be an app for doing that’.  Disappointingly she was right. Yet something else I can do with an iPhone.

You hum it and I’ll play it

If you’re house bound then it seems timely to get to those chores you’ve put off forever; I’ve been editing and slimming down my photo library on my PC hard disk. This ran to 23,000 photos and I’m down to just over 19,000 and falling.  The library has documented my cycling trips but the size of the library reflects the benefits of digital photography. That is, you can take a picture of something five times to get the best shot knowing that all you are doing is ‘expending’ megabytes. A more worthy task has been the digging out of an old work laptop and sweeping it of documents and files. I plan to pass it across to a former co-worker who’s a teacher now. He worked in IT and spent some of last year restoring laptops for use schoolwork for children now at home. I know the government’s been chuckling lots of money into resolving this but there are apparently still children without.

Lastly, despite the weather I trust you’ve kept up your vigilance for men in shorts. They still abound in York, although I suspect they’re escaped Geordies breaking lockdown by migrating further south. This unnecessary shank exposure is usually explained by a desire to display a large tattoo they’ve had doodled down their calf and shins. Pray for them.

2020 – A Summary

As a look back at the year I have extracted the highlights and low points of what will be a year many feel lost to the virus. In reality life went on but it was different. I suffered lockdown less than most mainly due to a bicycle, however, I yearn for the freedom to do more next year.

Anna’s Sight Restored

Lined up from the previous autumn was a trip to the east coast of Australia where I’d cycle from Melbourne to Cairns. A couple of thousand miles trundle in a country I’d never visited. A November 2019 holiday in South Africa enabled me to get fit in the winter and I’d worked closely with Leeds Beckett University on a nutrition regime to propel me more comfortably up the coast. Escaping the British winter was a complete bonus and after I completed the ride Anna would be in Cairns for us to see more of the country but a little more comfortably!

However, Anna whilst riding her bike near Hermanus in South Africa got double vision in one eye. All the medics, in South Africa or York, checked to see if there was anything terribly untoward, there wasn’t, and then said it’ll return to normal sometime in the next six months. In the meanwhile she couldn’t drive and would be ‘land locked’ in Acaster Malbis unless a chauffeur hung around. So goodbye Australia and my January flights.

One of us needs the patch (and the other one thinks they’re being funny)

Then on a frosty February morning she looked casually out of the window and not everything was double. A trip to the Eye Clinic followed and she was declared able to drive. The rescheduling of my trip was allowed but Anna chose not to follow me as Margaret, her mother, was scheduled for an operation and she wanted to be at hand. My adventure was back on albeit seven weeks later but now free of bush fire risks. I booked a flight for late February. What else could possibly go wrong?

Australia

I started my trip cycling up from Melbourne into the Victorian countryside. Melbourne was too cosmopolitan and diverse for my liking or my previous understanding of what Australia was like. I’d come to see the men wearing corks off their wide brimmed hats, drinking a ‘tinny’, obsessing about cricket, using the swear word ‘bloody’ and with a proud history of standing side by side with the Brits in whatever war we were fighting. Victoria was wide open, uninhabited and reminiscent of the US mid-west.

Avenel, Victoria. It wasn’t all tarmac!
Overnight beside an Australian Rules pitch in Walla Walla, NSW

To get north the only option was to ride alongside a highway getting soaked by the spray from 18 wheelers dodging dead kangaroos on the hard shoulder as the skies opened. A bus ride saw me complete the journey to Sydney. This city was a complete treat with world class things to see and do.

Sydney
Happy Birthday! 65 and a well known sight behind me
The Queen Mary in town with a certain bridge behind
On my way up north
I will never forget riding across the Harbour Bridge

So across the harbour bridge I headed north up the coast where adventures included losing my passport, getting stung on my butt maybe 20 times by mosquitos in an hour and seeing so many fabulous beaches that I became blasé. Disappointingly the Australians are a hardy and self contained bunch. A ‘pom’ on a bike is no big deal and conversations or engagement was limited although I did pick up one pearl of wisdom from a camper I approached, after I arrived at a campsite and Reception was shut. I was concerned that I would enrage the owners to set up my tent without their permission. He opined that it was ‘always easier to obtain forgiveness than permission’. Noted!

Beaches to die for
When it rained, it rained!
Australian haut cuisine (I’m not joking)
Apparently there are 47 million of them. I only saw a couple of roadkills…

Brisbane was a sensational looking city on an ox bow river and here I found a friendly face and a enjoyed beer with Karl on St Patrick’s Day. He’s a pal we’d made from a wonderful earlier holiday in Sri Lanka. He proved the exception, as Australians went, and bought me a beer or two! After a brief rest it was continuing up the coast although the road was difficult to travel due to the level of traffic prohibiting bicycles. I was liking Queensland and relishing the next 1,000 miles. However, with Britain planning a pandemic lockdown and flights becoming scarce I was soon back in Brisbane trying to find a box to pack my bike in for the flight back to Blighty.

The view on my run into Queensland
(Refugee Englishman) Karl and yours truly enjoying some St Patrick’s Day libation
Favourite breakfast stop in Kin Kin, Queensland
No option other than to join the other British millennials and get a bus back to Brisbane and a flight home

Such adventures throw up many memories many of which come back to you over time as little things remind you. Eg. I still would like to walk on the beach at Hawks Nest, NSW and then have another fabulous breakfast at The Benchmark on Booner restaurant again. Other moments will enter my head as I search for sleep one night. The full blog is available by clicking this link.

Brilliant Weather and DIY

So back in Britain and confined to barracks I discovered Zoom and Teams and also spent days on my knees repointing the patio. Walking and catching up (digitally) with old friends was a daily task as we endured the isolation. Strict alcohol consumption regimes were enforced as you can enjoy yourself too much. Supermarkets bemused me as they were ‘super spreader’ environments that undermined all the other actions taken to protect us.

Anna went into overdrive befriending folk who were afraid or discouraged from doing essential shopping. She was often collecting shopping lists, and probably more importantly, spending time on doorsteps talking to these elderly folk and giving them some much needed conversation and company. A true angel. Her mileage to and from my father -in-law’s care home must have and is stretching into thousands of miles and usually it was to talk through a window as below.

Not the shabbiest transport for her

His other daughters were as attentive as they could be but living in either Manchester or London meant they were often prohibited from travelling. As her less capable assistant I was recruited to cook a few meals for one neighbour who gamely didn’t object to my chicken chasseur or bolognese sauce. He’s still alive! My other help was selling some stuff on eBay for one neighbour: I was surprised by how much his jigsaw and drill fetched. My other actions to obtain an MBE included two mornings in the lake extracting bullrushes out of thick mud in front of another neighbour’s house who needed some brawn.

The weather made everything tolerable but the virus was a mystery in terms of how it really spread and controlling it; after the Dunkirk spirit the whole pandemic went even more toxic as hounding the Government turned into a blood sport by the media. Literal questions ‘of how do feel about killing so many people Prime Minister?’ This hostility made me want to be abroad even more.

Lockdown DIY

Anna’s Landmark

Plans were made to celebrate Anna’s ‘seventy less ten’ birthday (thank you Favourite Youngest Daughter, Sophie, for this gem) with fine dining and some time away as a family. The virus stopped not only the family decamping to somewhere but also the daughters appearing only by the screen on her iPhone. Rescheduling was made for the autumn (but that booking also got cancelled). Anyway she doesn’t look that old in any case!

If anyone celebrated Anna’s landmark it was me! This milestone kicked in a occupational pension and she kindly used some of the dosh for me to buy a new expensive bike, my first in 12 years. So a top of the range Cannondale with electronic gear change, 28mm wide tyres and disc brakes became my dream ride up and down the country lanes. That takes my collection back up to five bikes. Only five? I hear you say…

Margaret

For the residents of care homes the virus was a danger and social disaster. They were rightly imprisoned and communication was through windows often shut to keep the bad weather out. Meanwhile you tried to eyeball your relatives as you talked to them on mobiles. It had to be thus, but what a regime. For my mother-in-law, the most social of ladies, this was a burden made worse by a delayed operation to alleviate excruciating pain caused by a hip. She had a few days of joy on the announcement that they were now scheduling a date for her to have that operation in late spring.

There were risks known to us all. Due to her other conditions it went wrong and she passed away; it was a terrible shock. For her daughters it was doubly distressing as they hadn’t been in her presence for over three months. The care and attention that would have been lavished on her by the family as she resided in hospital was not possible. It hailed on the day of her sparsely attended funeral. After having been her son-in-law for over 30 years even I was unable to attend the service due to the restriction on numbers attending. Left was a widowed husband not used to being apart from his lifelong companion.

Lockdown One was Over

Many things were relaxed. Trips to the household wastes sites was now possible. After all those weeks of sorting and throwing away I could now deposit it with City of York Council. Deep joy. Shops started to open and money could be spent with organisations other than Amazon. The threat of the second wave was known but in the meanwhile we enjoyed the changes. 

Lodger

Katrina (Favourite Eldest Daughter) was now tired of being cooped up all day and night in a Manchester city centre flat with only two rooms. This, during the lockdown restrictions and working from home, became a prison. So she tripped across the Pennines stayed with us for about a month disappearing into the dining room to don her headset and deal with the rest of Europe (as her job demanded) occasionally popping out for food and drink. However, after 5pm she was then frog marched around the village and the woods to get her daily exercise, pumped for information about her busy working day and then sent into the kitchen to create fine food for her father. It worked for us!

Some chaps in a local wood we spotted on a daily walk
These chaps made it out of ‘lockdown’ and into our garden. On shouting mint sauce they returned whence they came

In fact with all this walking from March until today I became profoundly aware of the seasons. From damp, colourless and gloomy shuffles around the wood albeit with sightings of deer we progressed to lots of newborn lambs, carpets of bluebells, remarkable giant rose coloured flowering rhododendron bushes, hateful horse fly bites in the long grass and birdsong everywhere.

Slowly it changed as the lambs went to the dinner plates of Yorkshire, the flowers died, the heat disappeared and the verdant vegetation started to turn to the colours of autumn. The journey continues.

France and Leeds United

By July I was granted permission by Anna to use a flight that had been booked in February to go to Carcassone in the south of France. On an empty Ryanair flight I flew into the heat with my bicycle and a 1,000 mile ride home. It soon became clear that despite all the reporting in the UK that our handling of the pandemic was a disaster that the French had little or no meaningful control or protocols for social distancing or face masks. They just had a bigger country where there were less people packed together. My ride was hard, much more demanding than Australia, but it was great to be back out there doing what I love.

The route
The Langeudoc
The Auvergne
In Champagne- Ardenne

Even better was not being in England suffering the trauma of the final few games in the Championship following Leeds United’s attempt to get promoted. I was in Bar-le-Duc the night it happened. However I can also tell you where I was in the French wilds when we scraped past Barnsley or when Pablo Hernandez got the winning goal at Swansea. After a couple of weeks I was in Belgium and Holland as they went back into lockdown. 

(Obviously I continued to cycle back in Yorkshire and clocked up over 6,000 miles for the year. That’s the equivalent of York to Beirut and back!) Click here for a trip to the link.

Wedding Bells

If I had frustrations then nothing compared to Katrina and Matt. They’d had written in the diary their wedding for months. It was to be held in Manchester, one of the worst places to be hit in the country. This meant the arrangements had to be changed and generous relatives disappointed by having their invitations revoked. However, on a sunny day in August it took place. A reception on the terrace roof of a multi storey city centre hotel was perfect; speeches were made, glasses raised and cake eaten. The day was a joy and the troths were pledged. One daughter gone.

Katrina & Matt
The sadly small gathering due to Manchester’s lockdown
The toast!

Signs of Mortality

One of truly grim aspects to growing old is that the statistics kick in and people you know pass. They die much younger than is expected and usually with short illnesses. A long time school friend of Anna’s seemed the picture of health by running half marathons and seemed irrepressibly bouncy. From my recollection of Sally being sat on our sofa last Christmas to discussing her quickly failing health whilst sat on a bench whilst taking a break from a long day in the saddle in France. The cancer took her and on another sunny day we were at York Crematorium still wondering what had happened. With these events it always make you remember life is not a rehearsal.

Short Staycations

Buying an affordable bicycle became a challenge as bike shops sold everything they had but simply couldn’t replenish. Anna fortuitously got sorted with a local shop and was now the owner of a racing bike. The world was now her oyster and a few nights away at Hadrian’s Wall and in the Borders saw her ride up and down a few difficult hills. This time in Norfolk it was flatter but she faced a greater distance. We stayed in Lavenham and saw some seaside towns on two wheels. After my overseas adventures then these were her only holidays.

Admiring the flowers near Hexham
Lavenham

Getting a Grip

Eventually it appeared the end might be in sight as vaccines are received and people start to get inoculated. The lockdowns had been partially successful as large groups of people continued to ignore the government’s instructions to wear a mask, keep a social distance and wash their hands. As we emerge from this time what damage has been done to jobs, retail, careers, other aspects of health etc? It will all unfold.

Full Steam Ahead

Anna chose to look up some of Margaret’s old friends. One such couple lived in east Yorkshire and I’d met them once before in 33 years of marriage! Eric is 92 years old and writing up his life story. It’s a hell of a life leaving school in Hull at 13 years old and going to work on a farm. It didn’t help that it was wartime and Hull was being blitzed. From here a career on the railway began in the glorious age of steam with Eric on the footplate where after National Service he found his way to East Africa and Tanganyika . Foolishly I offered to type it up not realising he’s already written 200,000 words! What a story, it’s a compelling journey told in bright technicolour through different times and attitudes when you can only but marvel at the deprivation, dangers and the simpler times. What a joy to stumble on this project.

So with the vaccine being rolled out we can contemplate a return to the new normal, whatever that is. A deal on Brexit was concluded that seems to offer few downsides that I can see for Anna and me. So here’s to 2021, with just the small matter of Premiership survival to trouble my sleep.

Happy New Year.

Records Of The Year 2020

So it’s that time of the year where I submit my Top 10 albums of the year. This year I’ve received the usual 200 plus digital downloads: some of it by famous artists eg. Drive-By Truckers, Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan and Shelby Lynne but most of it by folk you’ve never heard of or I’ve never heard of! The source has been from my man in the USA at The Americana Music Show, Country Music People and my own purchases. I’ve bought about 60 albums during the year. A few were new releases but most were of earlier years. As a consequence my list below includes these.

  1. Joshua Ray Walker – Glad You Came

Enthralling from start to finish. Walker’s comfortable mastery of so many country styles with layered arrangements elevates these fabulous compositions to my No. 1.

2. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Reunions (2020)

My Americana album of the year. Terrific melodies and diverting stories often following his philosophical muse with wry observations. A master at the top of his game. 

3. Will Banister – Everything Burns (2020)

Everything you could hope for in a pure country album. A sonorous baritone linked to a tight band with compelling tunes. Inevitably he was ‘too country’ to dent the US charts.

4. Brandy Clark – Your Life Is A Record (2020)

Humour, philosophy, tearjerkers and love songs. Her lyrics could make a TV box set of every day USA. For me, a journalist highlight was getting complimentary tickets to her Gateshead concert in January to review the gig.

5. Ashley McBryde – Never Will (2020)

Complete ‘ear candy’ as she produces another fabulous set of blue-collar testaments to love, striving and survival over an upbeat contemporary country Nashville soundtrack. 

6. Marshall Chapman – Songs I Can’t Live Without (2020)

Her covers album is an absolute delight with numbers by Leonard Cohen, Elvis, Bob Seger and Carole King. A care worn voice redolent with all life’s experiences and never hurried. Arresting.

7. Public Service Broadcasting – The Race For Space (2015)

After having heard one track off a sample CD I eventually bought the album and was captivated by soundtrack about manned exploration flights into space. They caught the majesty, tension and breath taking bravery of man’s endeavours.

8. Pete Atkin – The Colour Of The Night (2015)

I first discovered Atkin playing Ealing Technical College in 1974. From there I collected all his records until his long hiatus. An internet search threw up this fabulous latter day singer songwriter album with Clive James’ words. For me it was like meeting an old friend.

9. Talk Talk – It’s My Life (1984)

A bit like Martin Peters, Talk Talk or Mark Hollis, were ahead of their time. This is elegant and innovative rock with its rhythms and imposing deep vocals. This band should be more lauded than they are. This turned up from a neighbour’s record collection. Result!

10. Ray LaMontagne – Monovision (2020)

He seldom fails with an album and this is a return to form after Ouroboros. Playing all the instruments his gentle ballads serve up a cathartic, melody fest with that staggering voice that captures you from the first track.

You’ll find album reviews of Joshua Ray Walker, Jason Isbell, Brandy Clark, Marshall Chapman , Public Service Broadcasting and Talk Talk on the website. Just click the links.