Thursday, 14 January 2021

Coming Down Fast

 Helter Skelter 2021.......


National Lockdown #3. New Variant Coronavirus. The Beast from the East #2.  Trump’s Tramps. Brexit Year Zero. Newcastle United. Dry bloody January. The fucking Tories imposing restrictions the Roundheads would have balked at, in a disastrously Cavalier fashion. Happy New Year eh? No wonder many are looking wistfully back to 2020 with something approaching nostalgia if this is the best 2021 has to offer us.

The wisest words anyone said to me during the whole of that last, benighted plague year were spoken by young Ben McGee one sunny Saturday afternoon in mid-September. We were sat on the players’ balcony, half drunk, watching Tynemouth 2s beat their Sunderland counterparts in the semi-final of the Banks’ Bowl. It was not a game that stayed long in the memory, despite it being the last one I saw in an already drastically curtailed season. What did stay with me was the way in which the trainee legal eagle summed the cursed, declining world up so perfectly. While not a Marxist, Ben marvelled at how the Capitalist system that had ruled much of the planet for nigh on 400 years, was built on such unsteady foundations that the very first human who contacted Covid-19 had effectively destabilised the Global means of trade and supply and the attendant distribution of power and wealth.

Four months on, with our human rights calcified and erased, harking back to trhe privations endured by the underclasses before the Great Reform Act and the Abolition of Slavery, the ruling elite seem no further forward in their muddleheaded struggle to save humanity from the twin spectres of disease and decay. The 100,000 deaths and counting that Johnson, Hancock, Patel and the craven imbeciles who rush to tongue their ideologically infectious assholes, are responsible for, may just be the beginning of the mendacious and maladroit plan for mass murder that the Khmer Bleu will inflict on us.

For this piece, when I discuss Coronavirus, please be aware that my remarks are centred wholly on the situation in England. While it appears that Celtic have been employing the help of the same buffoons as the Tories for their public relations strategy, the inescapable truth is that, even if Jeanette Mugabe ends up in jail for her devious, ad hominem prosecution and persecution of Alex “Cuddles” Salmond, she has done her best to avoid turning Scotland into the charnel house England has become.


Since Johnson belatedly responded to the announcement on 31 January 2020 that there were cases of Covid present in England, by announcing National Lockdown #1 on 20 March 2020, there has been little if any evidence of cohesive thinking, planning, proportionate or appropriate responses to the pandemic by the pricks in power. Other countries have seamlessly stifled the virus with a minimum of fuss, while the reactive response in England has been to work and infect the heroes in the NHS to death, as the brazen, braying dishonest donkeys allegedly in control have singularly failed to keep anyone safe and, predictably, have reverted to type by lining their pockets by dishing out corrupt contracts to their chums. Witness the outrageous, though thankfully withdrawn, recent proposed school lunches that even Johnson rejected; starvation rations more fitting to the gulag where Ivan Denisovich languished than the nutritional needs of any growing child in, allegedly, one of the most advanced civilisations on the planet. Don’t worry though; after the shiftless mea culpas over a bag of carrots and a loaf of dry bread being presented as sustenance, the morons have now instructed schools not to feed children over half term. For what died the Sons of Rashford?

Looking back now on the misguided Eat Out to Help Out initiative, when big plates signified big strides forward in the race to normality, it is possible to feel a soupcon of sympathy for the poor bugger who thought the whole thing up. However, whichever meathead (and I’m training both barrels on Gavin Williamson here) thought it was a good idea for schools to go back in September ought to be shot with shit. Mind the same useless wankstain who ushered in the social disaster caused by a return to the classrooms was minor in terms of the catastrophe that was the start of the academic year in almost every University, deserves shooting with an assault rifle.

Sending schools back was simply a malicious, cut price way of turning teachers into glorified child minders, so the majority of those who could have been furloughed were corralled into getting their noses back to the grindstone, thus enabling the Capitalist class to bathe deeper bin money. While that was as sordid a motive as I’ve ever come across, it fades to moralistic philanthropy when compared to the vile grab for cash that saw students firstly coughing up nine grand for fees and the thick end of another five for accommodation and then coughing up their lungs as hundreds of thousands of young people from not just all around the country, but all around the world, were forced to mingle and then be confined to barracks in a grim Halls of Residence cell, doing their degrees on-line. If they tried to escape their digs, they’d find barbed wire fences restricting their movements at Manchester Met and trigger happy flatfoots removing their consciousness with tasers by the side of the Trent.

As yet, the level of infection and numbers of cases linked to Universities reopening has not been publicised, but to my mind it was the single worst example of social repression by the Tories and their mates the Boys in Blue during the entire pandemic, which is saying a lot since I’ve not had a proper pint since early November. Universities are full of young, intelligent, vibrant minds; after a summer of rebellion for the Black Lives Matter protests, the Government didn’t want any of this Free Speech malarkey inconveniencing them. Did you know all political demonstrations are currently illegal under the Lockdown legislation? You do now.

The drip feed of grudgingly imparted information such as that is what has persuaded me that the Tories, shower of incompetent imbeciles that they are, do have some vaguely defined ulterior motive for the seemingly random acts of unkindness that restrict further our human rights. Basically, on account of the fact that the overwhelming majority of slothful conformists who voted these bastards in, could not be relied on to crawl off the settee and away from the telly for more than 30 seconds, there is absolutely no chance of a contemporary Yeomanry assembling to defend the interests of their overlords. Not unless Sports Direct is doing camo gear in 3XL that is.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Coppers are the ones to look out for, as Babylon are bloodthirsty for power. Witness how the Met are able to randomly and wantonly execute black youths with impunity; it’s coming to a high street near you soon. Witness plod at Tynemouth Metro on New Year’s Eve afternoon quizzing those arriving on Metros regarding their home address and reason for the visit. That’s just fucking scary. Mark my words, sooner or later, some over adrenalized pig is going to let loose a few deadly rounds on a gang of curfew breaking kids, just trying to have some fun without getting hassled by The Man.

The situation is already out of control stateside. I’ve no particular affection for the Democratic Party, but at least they don’t wave the flag for QANON or advocate the widespread culling of young black men. The Republicans have always embraced the lunatic fringe on the extreme right and Donald Trump’s personal battalion of neo Nazi, redneck fucktards, aided, abetted, funded and armed by the security forces working inside the US Capitol, aren’t going away soon. One great thing about the failed coup was that so many Republicans had to publicly raise their hands and back. I am fairly certain that either Biden’s inauguration or the largely symbolic impeachment of Trump will see minor terrorist acts at state capitols across the Union. Though I’ve a feeling Detroit, Baltimore, Atlanta, the Windy City and the Big Apple won’t take such shit lying down. January 20th could see Helter Skelter coming down fast and wouldn’t that be a fine thing, ladies and gentlemen?

 

 

 

 


Monday, 4 January 2021

The Shining Path

 We've been locked down again haven't we? Well, this is the last football I got to see before the curfew -:


It had to happen, didn’t it? Just as we were feeling our way gingerly back into the glorious world of competitive grassroots football, Johnson, Hancock and all those fucktards admitted that, once again, they’d failed to confront the pandemic properly and predictably decided to punish the rest of us, by slinging the whole country into Tier 4. Of course, this isn’t a lockdown, a circuit breaker or any other minimally comprehensible lexical aberration, it’s just another necessary step on the journey to normality that maintains its default position just beyond the far side of the horizon, however quickly or slowly we approach it.

Of minimal concern to the population as a whole, especially the #NUFC Department of Twitter Sofology who were still drunk on indignant arrogance after Broooth’s Front Foot Mags phoned in a JPEG flag of surrender long before the Boxing Day bollocking at the Etihad kicked off, was the fact I was denied the chance to see live football of any standard on St Stephen’s Day. No Northern League games at all and no entry to elite games which, for the purpose of the tiers of repression, included Blyth Spartans 2 Gateshead 2. Imagine how 2,000 half-drunk punters in Croft Park, throwing oath edged talk back and forth across the Plessey Road DMX, would have created the perfect antithesis to the supposed true meaning of Christmas. Well, we can dream.

In contrast to the accepted practise of the last couple of dozen years at least, the Northern Alliance, instead of embracing its usual pragmatic 2-week shutdown occasioned by local authorities closing their facilities for the holidays, offered clubs the chance to play games on either or both of Monday 28 December and Saturday 2 January. The Massacre of the Innocents was the preferred option of 24 clubs, though frost and floodwaters reduced the actual number of fixtures played to 5. A degree of staggered kick-offs allowed double headers, with a packed gathering at Scotswood seeing the stalemate between Newcastle Blue Star and Burradon New Fordley, with fewer onlookers taking in FC United 0 Prudhoe 1 at the Langdale Centre, while Morpeth FC kept up their 100% win record with a 2-1 victory in a home game switched to Newbiggin.

My unaffected choice was for two games at the same venue on reliable 4G. Druids Park, latterly home to West Allotment Celtic who, as yet, haven’t debuted at their new facility at East Palmersville Pavilion, now the official home of Ponteland United Reserves, hosted the first team, as their muddy pitch at the old High School was frozen solid in a reversed fixture against Blyth Town, whose South Newsham home was similarly adamantine underfoot. The deciding factor for me was the promised appearance of my mate Graham, who I’ve not properly seen in a few years, accompanied by his younger son Tom, respectively a former Ponteland United youth coach and player, at the old Wheatsheaf Ground.  In the circumstances, paying £2 entry was a perfectly sensible requirement. I’d guess the game pulled in about 150 spectators, with a good smattering of actual Blyth fans, Ponteland types and a rake of groundhoppers.

In the end, the only people who may have regretted turning out were the two goalies, who failed to cover themselves in glory for the first four goals, with the Blyth lad fumbling two shots for tap ins and the Pont keeper twice setting up his wall like a crystal meth addled bricklayer. Running the line was the godlike genius of Keith Scoffham, whose raised eyebrows and wistful chuckle told how the septuagenarian superstar viewed the efforts of both custodians as the ball whistled past them. Blyth took the lead for the first time from the penalty spot on 65 minutes and held on for the win in a tough and tight tussle. It was a good game and great to see Graham again, though I fully understood why he and about 130 others pushed off for the warmth afforded by a seat at their own firesides, rather than hanging about for the undercard of Newcastle East End Reserves against Whitley Bay Sports Club A.


The onlookers had thinned out to a couple of dozen mates and hoppers, including me of course. Being a connoisseur of the Northern Alliance Third Division, I was delighted to be joined by Chemfica Amateurs’ senior netminder, Tyrone native Pete Holland; a good keeper, a sound man, a skilled raconteur and one of our lot. Best of all, he was good for a lift home afterwards. He, like me, reacted negatively to the arrival of a van full of the Peelers, though it turned out they were there for benign purposes, supporting one of their number who was featuring for the Coastal club. I’d not had the pleasure of seeing NEER this campaign, though I had seen Chemfica Amateurs dismantle WBSCA 7-2 at Churchill Playing Fields back in September.

The standard of play wasn’t expected to be particularly easy on the eye, and it wasn’t. Despite the 4G surface, the players seemed to believe they were ankle deep in clarts and struggled to move the ball effectively, though Whitley’s Mario Carangelo finished a smart move to put the visitors ahead. After that, NEER came back into the game and, as we thought, equalised via a scramble. Being honest, it wasn’t the best of games and I was more concerned with giving my attention to Pete’s magnificent recounting of Loyalist clown Jeffrey Donaldson’s vituperative reaction to the latest Spider-Man Playstation game that features a pixelated CGI of the Leinster flag, representing Ireland, on the outside of a mythical United Nations building. Donaldson, who’s a fucking lunatic incidentally, issued a strongly worded complaint to the game’s designers that he also opined in Hillsborough Castle, for no apparent reason anyone other than Arlene Forster and Edwin Poots could begin to comprehend, responded with characteristic banal fury; Northern Ireland's future within the UK won't be determined by what's in a Playstation game.

So engrossing was this story, we somehow missed NEER taking the lead. Consequently, the bizarre own goal that we thought put WBSCA ahead was actually an equaliser. Thus, when NEER were given a stonewall penalty in injury time, I found it baffling that NEER reacted wistfully and philosophically rather than with agonised howls when the spot kick was blazed over the bar and into the car park of the deserted Wheatsheaf hotel, that once gave this ground its former name but, in Covid-19 times, resembles a budget version of the Overlook. I suppose it is fitting, as the Northern Alliance has been the shining light of my year. Even if it took until I got home to find out the proper score… goodness only know when I'll be able to do that again.


Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Counting Down

 2020's greatest hits....


If you’d told me on January 1st 2020 that I’d only get to see 2 gigs, but would read in excess of 50 books, I simply wouldn’t have believed you. As it was, Alex Rex’s barnstorming launch party for Andromeda, supported by the equally wonderful Lavinia Blackwall at Platform, ending the Celtic Connections Festival, was the last live set I saw. The other had been a free gig for Burns’ Night at The Cumberland with Francis MacDonald, which was warmly appreciated. It’s nice to know the Scottish theme will continue into 2021 with new albums promised by: Arab Strap, Alex Rex, Jill Lorean, Mogwai and Teenage Fanclub.

Equally surprising, neither Alex nor Lavinia’s releases were my album of the year, being bested by Ed Askew’s masterful London, which was in turn kept off the top spot by Cornershop’s triumphant, anthemic two-fingered salute to all the intolerance and hatred we have to live through; England is a Garden truly is the best hour of 2020.

Elsewhere, it was great to rediscover Bauhaus in their entirety and to treasure Jill Lorean’s flawless solo debut, along with the marvellous Will Oldham Covers album she made with Alex and Alasdair Roberts under the Three Queens in Mourning soubriquet, that makes her impending album release a probable highlight of 2021.

 


I thoroughly enjoyed being able to list my books of the year as well. I’m utterly unapologetic about the top choice; Harry’s book is inspirationally brilliant. As far as fiction goes, don’t just stop at David Keenan’s magic realist masterpiece, Xstabeth; consider all the equally ranked ones, as they are short collections of brilliant short fiction by independent presses, highlighting outsider writers that I adore and am pleased to call my friends. Read them!! Anyway, here are the lists -:

2020 Albums of the Year:

1.      Cornershop – England is a Garden

2.      Ed Askew – London

3=. Alex Rex – Andromeda

3=. Lavinia Blackwall – Muggington Lane End

3=. Three Queens in Mourning – Hello Sorrow; Hello Joy

6. Dinosaur Jr – Swedish Fist

7. Wire – Mind Hive

8. Bob Dylan – Rough & Rowdy Ways

9. Wire -  10:20

10. Various – Return to Y’Hup


2020 Short Releases:

1.      Jill Lorean – Not Your First

2.      Youth of America – Bop Showaddy EP

 

2020 Re-releases and Curios:

1.      Bauhaus – The Collection

2.      Tight Meat Duo – Creaming the Gutter Punk

3.      Tebot Piws – Y’Gore A’R Gwaetha O’R

4.      The Prats – Way Up High

5.      The Pastels – Advice for the Graduate

6.      Directing Hand – What Put the Blood?

7.      Directing Hand – Songs from the Red Room

8.      Kelley / Neilson – Passport to Satori

9.      The Wedding Present – Sticky

10.  Michel Houllebecq – Establissement d’un Ciel d’Alternance

11.  The Wedding Present – Once More

12.  Edwards / Mikari / Neilson – Live at Café OTO

13.  Michel Houellebecq – Presence Humaine

 

2020 Gigs of the Year:

1.      Alex Rex: Platform, February 1st

2.      Francis MacDonald: The Cumberland Arms, January 25th

 

2020 Books of the Year:

1.      Harry Pearson – The Farther Corner

2.      Owen Jones – This Land

3.      Karl Whitney – Hit Factories

4.      David Keenan - Xstabeth

5.      David Snowdon – Give Us Tomorrow

6=  P.J. Smith – Analogue Party

6= Holly Watson – Never Seen the Sea

6= Jim Gibson – The Hidden Valley

6= Fee Johnstone – Hath No Fury

6= Ian Dowson – Rain God

 

 


Friday, 25 December 2020

Tiers for Souvenirs

I’ve lost count of the number of blogs this year where I’ve alluded to the fact my 2020 resolution was to get as close to completing the full set of 42 Scotch league grounds as possible, and we all know what put paid to that fond hope. The eventual start of the Northern Alliance season in September gave me renewed zeal in my ground collecting endeavours, until October 24th when my trip to Newbiggin Central 4 Morpeth Town Reserves 0 was my final exposure to the most honest and praiseworthy football competition I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching, before the second lockdown that arrived on November 5th.


One bonus, if you can call it that, of the second lockdown was my awareness of what this period of virtual house arrest would entail. Consequently, the fact I was able to psychologically prepare myself for bleak isolation, meant I didn’t lose the run of my mental health this time around, despite the dreadful situation whereby every Newcastle game was on telly, so I’ve had to endure watching that shite every bloody week.

Some respite, at the end of the second lockdown, came at the start of December, when the away game at Villa, slated for Friday night, fell afoul of the Covid epidemic that ran through the club. This allowed the beautiful people of NUFC twitter to harp on and twist about the lack of football to watch, despite the fact they harp on and twist about every single Magpies performance, win, lose or draw, with Broooooth at the helm. Despite the Northern League opting not to restart with limited crowds and closed clubhouses as a fact of life, there was plenty of football to watch at Alliance level, though none of the bellyaching, Brooooothphobic twitterati managed to drag themselves away from their smartphones to actually watch a real life version of the game they claim to be so in love with.

Ironically, as soon as it was announced the Alliance would recommence on 5 December, the poor autumnal weather turned to terrible winter storms and downpours. The choice of games remaining was limited, but the top of the Premier Division clash between Cullercoats and Killingworth was the contest that grabbed my attention. I’ve not been to Links Avenue for several years; 2013 in fact, when the home side played Rothbury in the Northumberland FA Minor Cup on the day Yohan Cabaye’s goal gave Newcastle victory at Old Trafford, to a tumultuous reaction by the players and coaching staff ostensibly involved in a game 100 yards from the North Sea. I’d also been to Cullercoats with Percy Main twice; a 4-0 clattering on a frosty day in November 2008 when Graeme Cole made his Main debut and a 1-1 draw the season after that ended in darkness, with the only illumination being the lights of vehicles passing along Broadway, adjacent to the pitch.


This game was good, though not so memorable. A slick Killingworth outfit, apparently denuded of the Galacticos of previous years, won rather more comfortably than the 4-2 final score suggests. Perhaps the most relieved player on the pitch was Cullercoats keeper Dan Gladstone whose mid-game meltdown ought to have been punished by more goals against than Killi managed. Despite the far more widespread and successful boycoutt of grassroots football by the self-elected NUFC superfans than they’ve ever managed at SJP, the wider north east non-league community stepped up to the plate and over 200 socially distanced supporters took the game in. 

The most important thing for me wasn’t the football per se, but the opportunity to reconnect with pals I’d not seen in a while; Big Kenny took in the first half, but his poor clothing choices drove the chilly teuchter back to his fireside, while the Whitley Bay management of Tony Fawcett and Derek Forrest were great company, until Tony had to go home and finish the ironing anyway.

At least he’d done his chores in plenty of time the week after, allowing him to take in the whole of Percy Main versus North Shields Athletic. Last season, I’d seen Percy Main destroy Alnwick Town 5-1 and squeeze past Winlaton Vulcans 2-1 in a truly excellent game that was last one I attended before the first lockdown. This 2-2 draw was an even better feast of glorious, grassroots football than my previous visit. This was made all the better by the fact driving rain the day, night and morning before had put paid to many games, suggesting I’d be freezing by the side of a 4G cage in the bowels of a soulless, deserted campus. Instead, I was able to enjoy a big local derby, with all police leave cancelled.


When the ref blew his whistle for the teams to come out, dressing room doors were flung open, allowing clouds of embrocation-tinged air to escape, helping those who’d not recently had a test to learn they remained Covid-19 free on olfactory grounds. Once the game, slightly delayed by the removal of a pile of canine waste from the pitch, got underway, PMA missed two early chances before NSA took the lead with a clever, flicked backheel that beat the despairing leap of the well-upholstered Chalky Junior in the home goal. Main didn’t give up and drew level with a beguiling, curled finish from the edge of the box after 25 minutes, before going ahead with a composed finish from a one-on-one. In the last minute of the half, a series of unfortunate events led to a Main defender turning the ball into his own net to make the scores level at the break.

It goes without saying, one of the famous Percy Main hot dogs went down a dream during half time; they remain the greatest snack at any local ground and acted as the ideal preparation for a stunning second half, in the company of Foxy and Tony from the Bay (though Brexit Stu kept his own counsel, thankfully), ex Main, WQS and Heaton Stan keeper Shaun Backhouse and former Main stalwarts, now Shankhouse managerial duo, Magoo and Graeme Smith. The lads have had a tough start to their debut campaign at the helm, but it is truly wonderful to see lads who I kept an eye on their whole career, now helping to run the beautiful game at grassroots level.

After a good catch up, the bike took me to Enigma Tap for my Two by Two and Vault City prescription, before getting home in time to see the bitter recriminations from the NUFC sofa jury about West Brom’s equaliser redoubled by Gayle’s stunning winner. For me, news that Wooler had played a home game, when I’d expected the whole village to be under water, made me readdress the question of completing the Alliance set.

The latest tick on my hitlist was Whitburn & Cleadon 6 South Moor 3 in the Durham FA Minor Cup on 19 December. Having travelled there via Shields Ferry and a circuitous journey on the glacially-paced E1 to one of the nicest villages I know, especially its cricket ground, I was determined to enjoy this one, despite my usual cartographical catastrophe necessitating me clambering through a bordering bramble hedge as the referee blew his whistle and the game got underway. It was only after extricating myself from the jagged snares of the bushes that I realised I’d been here before. 20 March 1990 to be precise, for Brinkburn Year 9s 4-1 victory over Whitburn; a surprisingly upbeat snapshot of my school coaching career.

For this game, the visitors from Wearside League Division 2 were up against it right from the start. A quick break through the middle gives Whitburn the lead, before a corner floats in untouched at the back post. South Moor tried to get back in it with an incredible scramble that sees the ball kicked off the line 4 times, before a clear foul in the box is deemed outside by the second successive Saturday specky ref. The visitors’ entourage do not take these decisions well and are close to exploding when a breakdown at the back sees them go 3-0 down via a suspiciously offside-looking tap-in. Half time sees unnecessary, oath-edged stage whispers and dark mutterings before they decide to let the football talk, pulling one back after 50 with a smart finish across the keeper.

Sadly, it’s immediately 4-1 when Whitburn get the goal of the game with a flighted finish from the edge of the box. Goals go from a flood to a tickle in the last 10 minutes; 4-2 after a loose ball in the box is fired home, 5-2 after the South Moor keeper dives over a gentle free kick. In injury time it becomes 5-3 when a composed finished is rolled home, before Whitburn take the set and tie 6-3 when a mishit cross drops over the keeper’s head. Nine goals and free entry in a bucolic school field make for a decent afternoon: certainly, better than the evening, watching Broooooth’s front foot Mags stagger to an undeserved point against Fulham. Thankfully, a dozen of Elder Café’s finest Belgian ales took my mind off the Premier League and back to the far preferable Alliance.

Currently, the Northern Alliance has 62 teams spread across 4 divisions. After my trip to Whitburn, only Seaton Sluice (home tie against North Shields Community Christians in the Northumberland FA Minor Cup on 16 January pencilled in) and Wooler (I’ll get back to you on that one) have yet to be visited by my good self. Therefore, once these 2 trips have been made, I can say I have completed the set. However, there are some clubs who have moved since I last saw them. In alphabetical order, Bedlington shifted from the High School to St Benet Biscop School at the start of this season, while Burradon and New Fordley are using the John Willie Sams Centre until Fordley School, which is the club’s projected base, is up to scratch. Hebburn Reyrolle used to play on “the small pitch” at the North Drive complex, but that and the cricket square are history now. Hebburn U23s often play on the 4G at Clegwell Leisure Centre. Ponteland United moved from the Leisure Centre to the almost adjoining High School a couple of seasons ago and Willington Quay Saints swapped the Barking Dog for High Flatworth when 2020/2021 kicked off. I’ve watched games at High Flatworth and played at John Willie Sams Centre, but the other 3 are unvisited. In the absence of other viable challenges north of the border, I’ll probably try to tick these venues off as well.

The Northern Alliance never has games on Boxing Day, which means I’ll undoubtedly be stuck in the house watching the inferior professional game. However, fixtures are promised on both Monday 28 December, though I doubt I’ll get to Wooler v North Sunderland, and Saturday 2 January. All options remain open and I’ll report back here timeously.

 

 

Thursday, 17 December 2020

Blue Cheers

So, we come to my final cultural blog of 2020, other than the end of year Top of the Pops style lists of favourites that will be the last blog of the year, uploaded during the week beginning 28th December 2020. As ever, in this missive from the quiet year, there are a load of books to discuss, but also a few records. No gigs sadly. In fact, the only ticket I’ve got is for Teenage Fanclub in Leeds at Easter.  Anyway, here goes….

Music:



Record Store Day was a bizarre affair in 2020; rather than a single instance of vinyl overdose, it was spread out across 3 Saturdays in Autumn. Also, rather than jam packed shops full of prog rock and indie obsessives belching COVID fumes, almost all the business was done on-line. Personally, I do my distant shopping from the morally impeccable and unimpeachable Monorail Records, which is why I got hold of a 7” by The Pastels. Culled from a 1997 BBC John Peel session, the main track, Advice for the Graduate, is a Silver Jews cover. As could be predicted, it’s an intelligent slice of well-constructed baroque pop. Enjoyable, if not euphoric, my preference is for the mildly experimental Ship to Shore on the reverse. A loose limbed, semi improvised meandering piece that is right up my street; the sort of treasure from the vaults it’s a delight to buy

Also from Monorail in the Record Store Day offer was Dinosaur Jr’s impressive, deafening live album, Swedish Fist. Recorded in Stockholm in August 1993, it features one of the final gigs played by the incarnation of the band that was denuded of Lou Barlow and Murph. I’m rather cynical about those who replaced the defining, founding members of the iconic band, though any such reservations are swept aside by a performance of stellar, ear-bleeding proportions. Culled from across the band’s whole career, the set that makes up Swedish Fist starts off loud, gets deafening around Feel the Pain and doesn’t let up. Considering the band often sucked on stage, this is a quality release, with Freak Scene getting a respectful outing and Sludgefeast blowing the covers off your speakers. A niche, curio release, but one I’m delighted to have bought; even if it cost the thick end of £30.

Ever heard of The Prats? A gaggle of Edinburgh school kids who Fast Product gave space to on Earcom 1. Back in 1979, they were a vital and unsettling presence in the post punk world. Their most famous track is probably 1980’s Disco Pope, though I find it deeply annoying and probably the worst thing they ever did. Early items such as Inverness and Nazi Aeroplane are indicative of their original DIY ethos and are here in all their glory. However, even better, are the late era tracks such as General Davis that showed the band, who dispersed in mid-1981, were expanding towards a more Fire Engines or APB inspired nervous funk groove. It’s a shame they called it a day, but some bands don’t see their art as a career or a cash cow.

At the other end of the spectrum, David Gedge does a fantastic job of maximising earnings from The Wedding Present; rereleases, rerecordings and remixes aplenty, not to mention touring and streaming sets of the band’s greatest moments for top dollar to a large body of gullible, ageing indie kids with more disposable income than sense. He was even knocking out Christmas jumpers with Bizarro and Seamonsters designs recently. Fair play to the lad; he’s just turned 60 so I reckon he needs a decent pension pot in these challenging times. One glorious find that appeared on the Scopitones website a bit back was a slack handful of 1992’s Hit Parade 7” singles, allegedly found in someone’s basement. Gedge isn’t thick; he was punting these 28-year-old records at a tenner a pop. Personally, I didn’t buy all the releases at the time, though I did subsequently obtain the album Hit Parade Volume 1 with the first 6 singles on it. Typically, the majority of the items on sale were from the first 6 months, though I did manage to source a copy of October’s Sticky; not one of the outstanding numbers in the series, but a good, solid, thudding rocker, accompanied by the worst choice of song to cover on the B-side, in the shape of Bow Wow Wow’s disposable Go Wild in the Country. Always nice to have another Weddoes single about the place though.

One band I’ve only ever had a couple of 12” singles by are Bauhaus. Their reputation was never the best and the passage of time hasn’t been kind to them among the chattering classes, but they inspired a devoted following and always seemed to be an intriguing lot. Seeing their 5 CD collected box set available for a tenner on line, I made an impulse purchase and I’m very glad I did. Containing their first four studio albums, In The Flat Field, Mask, The Sky’s Gone Out and Burning from The Inside, as well as another disc of all their singles and b-sides, it veers from banal pomposity to genuinely impressive indie rock noir. You could whittle down the four albums into a brace of absolute banger CDs, while the singles collection is great on its own. Almost uniquely, the original Bauhaus consisted of the same 4 members (Murphy, Ash and the Haskins brothers) throughout their career, which probably explains the almost telepathic tightness to their music, such as you’d find in the otherwise utterly different British Sea Power and Fugazi. I’m happy to report Spy in the Cab, Kick in the Eye, The Passion of Lovers and Burning from the Inside sound as vital, vast and visceral as they did 40 years ago.

Books:

Let’s look at fiction first eh? I loved Hubert Selby Jr’s dystopian, revenge fantasy The Room, but never read the infinitely more famous Last Exit to Brooklyn. Having seen the jaw-dropping, slacker classic film Requiem for a Dream, I decided to read the book. Goodness, it’s dull and uninspiring, or perhaps Selby’s deathly, as opposed to deathless, mundane prose is supposed to reflect the realities of a life lived in slow motion anomie by Brooklyn druggies in the 1970s. Despite only weighing in at 220 pages, this is a challenging read and I was almost pleased when the biblical downpour at Haltwhistle against Hexham turned the book into literal pulp fiction. Free to a good home….

I’m still learning about on line shopping. Having bought the cheapest version available of Roddy Doyle’s new publication Love, I was dismayed to find I’d actually paid for a click and collect paperback that isn’t out until June 2021. Instead of cancelling and trying to get the hardback, I opted to wait and instead, got myself a copy of a Doyle book I didn’t even know existed. Charlie Savage is the eponymous story of a middle aged, lower middle class nice fella from Da Nort Soide, told in episodic, undated diary form. Charlie is a good lad and could easily be one of the heads enjoying a pair of pints in similar, journalistic, micro fiction elsewhere in Doyle’s oeuvre. This is real life, so not much happens as he interacts with the family, the pets, his pal (who identifies as a woman and then takes up with Charlie’s high school squeeze) and football. It’s a glorious slice of ordinary life, written in the DNS argot that seems both gloriously nostalgic and poignantly contemporary.

The big fiction release of the autumn for me was David Keenan’s Xstabeth, the arrival of which which was heralded by the brief on-line only The Towers The Fields The Transmitters.  I loved both This Is Memorial Device and For The Good Times, which encompassed the post punk music scene in Airdrie and Republican volunteers in the Ardoyne respectively, because they were so different. Xstabeth continues this disparate theme, which Keenan claims is because his writing is both automatic and beyond his control. The Towers The Fields The Transmitters is a prequel; set in St Andrews, telling the story of the life and death of a paranoid engineer called David Keenan, who experiences a breakdown when he arrives to audit a military air base, which is presumably RAF Leuchars. Obsessed by his estranged daughter, who he believes is walking the streets at night, he starts to look to art and ritual in order to redeem this new reality, even as time itself appears out of joint, as old WWII fighters appear in the skies and his twin brother, his double or personal daemon, wreaks havoc in his name.

The Towers The Fields The Transmitters is best regarded as magic realist novella that channels the surreal paranoia of Kafka, Burroughs and Philp K. Dick, while planting intertextual foundation and grave stones for Xstabeth which reveals itself as the next stage in Keenan's radical prose practise. In the way he musically developed from the jolly, jangly indiepop of 18 Wheeler to the bleak maelstrom of sound he created with Tight Meat Duo, Keenan is heading deeper and darker underground with every Christmas card he writes.

Xstabeth begins in St Petersburg, Russia, where the narrator Aneliya is torn between the love of her father and her father's best friend. Her father dreams of becoming a great musician but suffers with a naivete that means he will never be taken seriously. Her father's best friend has a penchant for vodka, strip clubs and amoral philosophy. When an angelic presence named Xstabeth enters their lives, Aneliya and her father's world is transformed. Moving from Russia to St Andrews, Scotland, Xstabeth tackles the metaphysics of golf, the mindset of classic Russian novels and the power of art and music to re-wire reality. Xstabeth is a haunting, visionary novel, with ghosts hovering over every page.



My other fiction choices were a pair of independent collections of short stories by outsider writers I’ve had the pleasure of publishing in
Glove; both of these books need to be read. PJ Smith, who uses the comically ordinary nom de plume of Roy, is a recovering addict who writes brilliant, life-affirming stories of morality, redemption and revenge, set in the grimy terraces and echoing council estates of Liverpool’s north side. His collection Algorithim Party tells tales of justifiable violence and casual criminality, with the spectres of grotesque, Bud, bugle and Hugo Boss Scouse golem Brian Scanlon and a pervasive, invasive soundtrack of late 80s pompous pop, comprised of Dignity and the Whole of the Moon, hovering above everyday life and acting as harbingers of doom. It’s a powerful and brilliant read; the sort of thing Kevin Sampson could have written if hadn’t gone to a fee-paying school.

Going back to his childhood in rural Nottinghamshire, Jim Gibson, who runs Hi-Viz Press and has edited such magnificent journals as Low Life and Hand Job, has relaunched himself into the world of publishing with the gloriously scary collection, The Hidden Valley. This is the stuff of nightmares; a weird kid who could have stepped straight out of Winter by The Fall, tells tales of solitary play, with axe murderers and The Devil popping up to disrupt his dysfunctional idyll in a kind of Cider with Loonies way. This is Keith Waterhouse’s There is a Happy Land mixed with Blue Remembered Hills. A genuinely creepy and effecting read that I enjoyed enormously.

And now to the non-fiction. I never used to like Owen Jones, being deeply suspicious of his familial ties with the Leninist cult that was Militant. Thankfully, he has distanced himself from the dirigistic Trotskyiste Assemblies of Taaffe cult and demonstrated he is capable of independent political thought. This Land, his forensic, disinterested dissection of the Corbyn Years, puts forward a cogent argument as to why this brave project was doomed to fail after the high water mark of the 2017 general election.

Having turned down a sinecure with the newly elected Labour leader, Jones looks at events in detail and from a distance. He is remarkably generous about Ed Milliband, who previously I’d only credited with being less of a shithouse than his odious brother, before explaining the almost unreal 2015 leadership election campaign that saw Corbyn swept home on a tidal wave of support from a huge increase in membership.  What becomes clear from the very start is that the number one hero of this book is John McDonnell, who is principled, articulate, moral and courageous; he should have been leader. Corbyn, as we all know, was a terrible fit. He hated confrontation, went missing for days on end, switched his phone off and lacked interest in anything that wasn’t related to overseas development. He was brilliant when compared to the intransigent, flaky, arrogant ideologue Seaumas Milne though. However, the point must be made that devious right wing MPs were the ones most keen on destroying JC’s leadership.

Despite the worst efforts of the right wing, the absolute incompetence of Theresa May and her squad meant that the 2017 election was something of an unexpected fillip for Labour. Sadly, the crucial error was Corbyn opting not to stand aside for a more dynamic leader, with McDonnell as the obvious dauphin, which led to the absolute disaster of 2019, whereby the devious inaction of central office and the rank amateurism of Team Corbyn, failed to get any message across, failed to rebuff downright lies peddled as the truth by a vicious media and above all, failed the very people who needed the Labour Party to act on their behalf. Hence, we are where we are.

I’m still a Socialist. I’m still in the Labour Party. And I’m proud to say I voted for and support Keir Starmer. If that puts me up against the headbangers and Johnny Come Latelys in Maomentum or on social media who’ve never delivered a leaflet in their lives, so be it. I’m also dead against the right wing Blairite hacks in the PLP and won’t forgive Tom Watson for his treachery until long after he’s dead. If you want to know why, read This Land. I’ll lend you my copy when I get it back from Stoke Dave.

Karl Whitney’s Hit Factories is a pumped-up, adrenaline and adventure-laced upgrade on Paul Hanley’s Mancunian musical hagiography, Leave the Capital. Instead of just concentrating on one city, Dublin born Karl (who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in the company of Harry Pearson) travels around England to major cities with a stake in musical history, as well as taking in Glasgow and Belfast. This whistle-stop tour of major cities and the bands who grew up there is a glorious read. My favourite chapter, because of my musical tastes, was Leeds and its reference to Gang of Four, Mekons and Delta 5 era Marxist agitpop, but the whole book is a delight than can be devoured or dipped into according to taste. I heartily recommend the fascinating Liverpool chapter, that involves Karl walking from Paul McCartney’s modest working class terraced house to the large semi on a leafy lane that Lennon was brought up in.

Finally, more local talent in the shape of Dan Jackson’s The Northumbrians has caused me to be less ignorant than before. To be honest, I don’t have a great, burning affection for the North East. Alright, Newcastle’s a good place to live and Northumberland is endearingly pretty once you get north of Blyth, but I don’t endure Busker or Leonard Osborne levels of Geordie nationalism. However, Dan’s fascinating, detailed and relentlessly enlightening history of a people he puts in a proper historical context could almost change your mind. It was also good to read a proper academic text for the first time in years.

 

 

Sunday, 13 December 2020

Cornering

 Issue 10 of Hopeless Football Romantic is now on sale; get it from @weareHFR or https://wearehfr.bigcartel.com/product/hfr-issue-10 please. There are many brilliant articles inside its covers & I'm proud that my autumn trilogy about Harry Pearson completes in here -:


Harry Pearson’s first book, The Far Corner; A Mazy Dribble Through North-East Football, was published in 1995. Ostensibly a diary of his attendance at 25 games, played at 23 different grounds during the 1993-1994 season, it is also a history and a celebration of the game in this corner of the world, not to mention a presumably unintentional semi-autobiography that is by turns screamingly funny and disarmingly poignant. Most importantly, it is possibly the greatest book ever written about football. Harry’s latest book, The Farther Corner; A Sentimental Return to North-East Football, is his fourteenth and a return to the subject that elevated him into the public consciousness after a quarter of a century interregnum. It is a fitting companion to his debut, but one that is garlanded in sombre colours as time has been a malign influence on both the game and the author; a man who I am truly honoured to call one of my closest friends. In the latest book, Harry attends 22 games (it would have been 23, but he got the kick off time of Hartlepool v Salford City wrong, arriving outside Victoria Park to see a stream of jubilant Poolies wending their merry way home after a last minute winner in a 3-2 classic) at 14 different grounds.

Having been a devotee of When Saturday Comes since I first came across it in Rough Trade records in Notting Hill back in November 1986, I was well aware of the evolution in football writing that spread from fanzines to books, such as Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch. The coverage WSC gave to The Far Corner in early 1995 caused me to order a copy, which I devoured in less than a day. To say it was kicking at open door would be a massive understatement; you see, from the beginning of the 1993/1994 season, I had resolved to take in Northern League games on any Saturday when I wasn’t watching Newcastle, whether because of inaccessible or overpriced away games, the proliferation of international breaks or the cursed intervention of Sky television. Once in possession, I reread it, then read it again, before loaning it around my mates, all of whom adored it. Eventually, I plucked up courage to write to Harry, to ask him if I could interview him for NUFC fanzine The Mag, then nearly fainted when he called my home phone a week later.

On 18th November 1995, Newcastle drew 1-1 at Villa Park, while Harry and I took in South Shields 1 Washington 2. It wasn’t the greatest of games, though it was one of the most important I’ve ever been to, as Harry and I formed a bond that has endured over the years, to the extent we took in Haltwhistle Jubilee 4 Hexham 3 on a soaking wet night that trumpeted the arrival of the non-league season in early September. In The Farther Corner, Harry recalls that trip to South Shields, whereby the home team and the ground were owned by uPVC window magnate John Rundle, who had turned the clubhouse into a licensed showroom for his products. So effective were they that Harry and I missed the kick off and first couple of minutes, on account of not hearing the ref’s whistle.

Beautifully phrased and exquisitely finessed, such 24-carat anecdotes pepper both books, adding depth and human interest to an already persuasive anecdote. However, whereas those in The Far Corner are uniformly uproarious, those in the new book are often more tear-stained than sepia-tinged. Witness the following aside in a chapter dedicated to Ryton and Crawcrook Albion v Washington in September 2018;

This fixture had a certain sentimental value to me as it was seven years before that I’d been reunited with Ian… After that first game (at South Shields), we took to roaming about together watching football all over the old Durham and Northumberland coalfields… Then Ian’s life hit a bump and by the time he’d got over his troubles I’d got problems of my own.

 That final sentence, disarmingly gentle and simple as it is, refers to as much sadness, despair and emotional baggage as could fill a five act tragedy: divorce, betrayal, unemployment, debt and an unbearable burden of sadness that would make you wonder how we didn’t give up. But then you remember; the Northern League brought us together and it was kept us going through the dark days, as well as providing a purpose for our middle-aged meanderings as a second wave of contentment benevolently blankets us both. However, despite what the last few paragraphs contain, this article is not me attempting to claim some kind of second hand celebrity status; it is an attempt to evaluate how things have changed over the last 25 years.

When Harry’s writing, which includes books on such disparate subjects as: agricultural shows, Belgium, cricket, dog walking, the internet and professional cycling (in Belgium, naturally), came to public prominence, he was universally referred to as a Middlesbrough fan; this was very true at the time of The Far Corner, which includes an excited epilogue about Steve Gibson’s plans for a new ground and the installation of Bryan Robson as manager, the two of which had been announced just as the book went to press. News of what was to become a decade of joy for the Teessiders gave The Far Corner a decidedly upbeat ending, just as reference to walking through Newcastle on the day he’d taken in Ashington 1 Whickham 1 and the Charltons’ boyhood home, arriving in town just after The Magpies had qualified for the UEFA Cup after beating Arsenal 2-0 on the last day of the season in May 94, had made the final chapter so uplifting; seen through sepia tones a quarter of a century later, it almost provokes a tear.

And yet, in The Farther Corner, we live in an era where 8 of the grounds he visited in 93/94, as well as 3 of the Northern League sides featured (Evenwood, Gretna and Langley Park), no longer exist. While Ashington, Bishop Auckland, Middlesbrough, Sunderland and West Allotment (very soon we’re promised) upcycled their crumbling old grounds, the tragedy of Darlington abandoning beautiful Feethams and the farce of Durham City’s travails that resulted in them groundsharing at Willington, while eternally finishing bottom of the NL second division, are cautionary tales for fans of any club where a chairman of chief executive talks blandly and mendaciously about plans for a shiny new stadium.

Of course, it isn’t only tales of sad misfortune or rank incompetence that scar the North East landscape with half-remembered, defunct arenas which changed Harry’s focus so markedly in this latest book. He doesn’t set foot in St James’ Park, though he fully appreciates and cogently articulates why the Ashley Years have wrung every scintilla of joy and hope from a famously optimistic set of supporters. Neither does he visit the Stadium of Light, preferring to touch lightly on the wreckage of SAFC, much in the way of a Victorian paterfamilias steering conversation away from the shameful deeds of an institutionalised sibling. In fact, he doesn’t even go to Boro; like the players, the supporters and everyone bar Steve Gibson, he just can’t be chewed with them.

Much in the same way that Harry’s personal and professional lives betrayed him, with the shattering end to a 25 year relationship and a heartless P45 from The Guardian, where he’d been the shining star of the sport section for over a decade, football at the higher levels offers him, and by implication all of us, neither a sense of comfort nor entertainment, but instinctive revulsion at the sordid, money-saturated, pantomime it has become. Thus, it is no surprise to discover more than half of the chapters of The Farther Corner are devoted ostensibly, we’re talking Harry and his legendary predilection for digression here, to the three Northern League clubs he has developed a passionate affection for: Dunston UTS, Newcastle Benfield and Ryton & Crawcrook Albion.  Of course, the other chapters on: Consett, Darlington, Esh Winning, Hartlepool, Marske United, Morpeth, Newcastle University, South Shields and Sunderland RCA, are equally fabulous in their descriptions and digressions, not to mention the deft delivery of hilarious punchlines and crippling blows to the emotional solar plexus.

While there is scope for argument that being a Tyne Valley resident, Ryton and to a lesser extent Dunston, are his local teams, the truth is, Harry has good friends at all three clubs. He talks warmly of his pals Jimmy and Margaret at Dunston, admiringly of the tireless Steve Carter, the secretary at Ryton, while even managing the odd good word about a man who looks like some wild Irish folk singer and his beloved, estranged Newcastle Benfield. In just about every chapter, Harry talks about conversations, pints and outings with an array of kindred spirits, slightly eccentric perhaps, who value him not just as a brilliant writer, but as a bloody brilliant bloke, even if he is too bashful to admit this. In that sense, The Farther Corner is more than a wryly amusing sports book, it is Harry’s tribute to friendship, compassion, support, community and the undeniable social glue of non-league football that binds these trends together and gives us something tangible to cling on to in these desperately challenging times.

Please buy this book. It’s brilliant.