Thursday, 17 January 2019

The Year of Reading Vocariously

Perhaps it was an unconscious reaction on my part to escaping from 30 years of scholarly servitude, or perhaps it was laziness pure and simple, but I’m almost ashamed to admit didn’t read more than a couple of books in 2018. Of course, my lack of literary engagement was the cause of a nagging sense of deep disappointment at my errant refusal to better myself with books, so once Santa had been and the pile of unread volumes on the nightstand had grown alarmingly, I decided it was time to do something about it. Hence, 2019 has been nominated the Year of Reading Voraciously and here are my reviews of everything I’ve gazed upon since the Feast of Stephen.

Ronnie Drew: Ronnie – The first of my Christmas gifts from Ben, this rather reminds me of John Peel’s Margrove of the Marshes, in the sense that it falls between the stools of biography and autobiography.  Back in early 2008, Ronnie Drew was six months into writing his biography when he was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. Up to that point, he’d produced two lengthy, laconic chapters about his early life; warm, witty and insightful material that made it clear that he was an engaging writer as well as a great singer and storyteller. With the encouragement of his wife Deirdre and his family, he continued to think about the book and conducted a number of interviews to keep things ticking over, supposedly until he was well enough to resume work on it. But sadly, much as he wanted to, Ronnie did not get to finish his story. However, his daughter and son, Cliodhna and Phelim, put together Ronnie's work on his memoir along with his other writings, interviews, a wealth of photographs and other material from the family archive, and contributions from close friends, to create a book that is a compelling portrait of, and a fitting and loving tribute to 'the king of Ireland'.

Self-effacement was Ronnie's default position and the real sadness of this book is that it only contains 74 pages of his putative autobiography, as it is immediately apparent that as a writer, Ronnie had a real 'voice'. He conjures up nostalgic but unsentimental images of the Fifties in Ireland and these passages are rendered even more vivid by his eye for detail and his careful use and life-long respect for the syntax of the English language.
Depictions of his coming of age in the Fifties, which takes him from Ireland to England to Spain and home again, is never less than warm, witty and often hilarious. When he hits lyrical passages and relaxes, the writer in him spins a beguiling yarn, where the images literally jump out of the page. Ronnie recounts how his low self-esteem was a legacy from the Christian Brothers, masterful psychologists who specialised in ritual humiliation. There are moments when uncertainty infects Ronnie's prose and just when you would like more detail, he infuriatingly hurries on, as though he feels he might be detaining you with his boring nonsense.

Before the coda of final quotes in the book, there are 30 glorious pages containing passages from the scripts of various shows Ronnie performed over the years. Once again, the meticulous use of language and the intellectual rigour that Ronnie brought to his performances highlights his erudition across the arts in general and about the art of showmanship in particular. The short essays by Ronnie's friends, Michael Kane, BP Fallon, Niall Toibin and Mike Hanrahan, all illuminate Ronnie in different ways and the leavening of quotes and stories from and about Ronnie, are unfailingly entertaining and revealing. All in all; a cracking read.

Brian Glanville: World Football Handbook 1970/71 - When Brian Glanville left Charterhouse aged 17 in 1949, he reluctantly became an articled clerk after it was made apparent to him that football journalism was no career for a gentleman. All that was to change later that summer when he walked into the offices of the Italian Corriere dello Sport in Rome, cutting short his vocation and grasping his lifelong vocation. The newspaper made him their English correspondent, even though he couldn't speak a word of Italian. A similar sense of confused bafflement that Glanville endured must assail contemporary readers who, with the notable exception of the erudite and elegant George Culkin who alone carries a torch for football writing rather than journalism since Paddy Barclay retired, are served up endless screeds of banal, emotive doggerel pretending to be perceptive analysis by the egotists in the Fourth Estate.

This particular style of reference work, a kind of Rothmans Yearbook without the statistics, has been rendered utterly superfluous by the internet, but it is worth considering for the force of Glanville’s strident voice and forthright opinions. Spades are called spades from front to back, in the kind of tired patrician’s narrative voice that puts one in mind of Gore Vidal on the terraces of White Hart Lane and the touchline at Hackney Marshes. Writing the year after Brazil’s triumph at the Mexico World Cup, Glanville expresses a love for Ajax and Celtic’s attacking play as well as, unsurprisingly, venerating Italian defensive strategies, but he does in it a way that places him closer to Machiavelli than Ian Murtagh. A charming anachronism that was a joy to read.

John Hegley: These Were Your Father’s – Like a kind of real-life John Shuttleworth wedded to iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets, John Hegley has been the Poet Laureate of Four Eyed Nerds for more than 35 years. I first became aware of him in summer 1984 with the debut release of his first band; Living in a Mobile Home by The Popticians. Strangely, I found no need to engage with his subsequent work that I found trite, mannered and trying just that bit too hard to be consciously whacky; the literary equivalent of the natural born loser searching vainly for sympathy shags.  Picking up this slim volume from a charity table at work, I wasn’t surprised to come across page upon page dedicated to musings on: his father, Luton, Jesus, spectacles, dogs, potatoes, love and his failure to find it. There is an intriguing series of poems about a surreal camping holiday that veers away from the self-conscious attempts to get a laugh from every line, but it wouldn’t be enough to encourage me to read any more of his winsome tripe.

Simon Hughes: And God Created Cricket - We’re only a couple of months away from the start of the cricket season, thank goodness. Consequently what we once called broadsheet papers will soon be stuffed with opinion pieces lamenting the decline of cricket. At the moment the complaint is about the introduction of the 100 ball fiasco. Such an article may well be run under a headline such as “Why isn’t cricket fun any more?” or “A menace to English cricket”, which as Simon Hughes has discovered, were  headlines that ran in the in the summer of 1930. And the object of their ire? Donald Bradman.

This is the point about cricket, as characterised by Hughes: today’s disaster is the future’s heroics. Hughes’s romp through 400 years of cricketing history is full of such moments when the game, and consequently wider society as a whole, was reckoned to be going to hell in a hand cart. The introduction of professionalism, the incorporation of overseas players into the English system, the advent of the one-day rules, venal administrators flirting with Sky TV: all of them were seen at the time as indicative of cricket losing its way.  Hughes is a spirited and entertaining, if occasionally consciously provocative, guide through the vicissitudes of God’s own sport: 400 years of peaks, troughs and manifestly unjust umpiring decisions.

The former Middlesex and Durham seamer’s theories about the game’s development are inevitably coloured by his own experience..When he talks about those he played with or against, his prose shines. He is brilliant on Geoff Boycott, surprisingly harsh on Ian Botham (he calls his captaincy “narrow-minded and intolerant”) and hilarious on Phil Tufnell. Hughes has travelled widely. As a broadcaster and entrepreneur, he has engaged with the game well beyond the boundary rope. He has been employed to try to arrest its slide in the West Indies and brought in to exploit its phenomenal growth in the Indian subcontinent. Wherever he goes, he is greeted by the same old refrain: the game isn’t what it used to be. Looking back on the summer of 2009 when he wrote this book, following the packed houses of the ICC Twenty20 World Cup and the heaving stands of the Ashes, we might conclude that it isn’t what it used to be: in retrospect it may appear miles better. This would be the ultimate historical irony that Hughes might address in his next book.

Patti Smith; Just Kids - When I was 12 I fell in love with Patti Smith’s music. Over 40 years later, Piss Factory, My Generation, Gloria, Dancing Barefoot and many others remain as vital and compelling as they were when I heard them in the first flush of my pubescent lust. Consequently, I was delighted to receive this volume as my second Christmas present from Ben.

Patti Smith was 20 years old when she fell in love with Rimbaud. By the time she read Illuminations, the poet had been dead for over 70 years but that did not seem to matter. "My unrequited love for him was as real to me as anything I had experienced."  Much of the first half of Just Kids is dominated by Rimbaud and countless mentions of the other important men in Smith's life, most of whom shared the principal attributes of being French, dead and terribly artistic. Baudelaire, Cocteau and Genet all merit frequent references. After giving up a child for adoption she buys a one-way ticket to New York and disappears into an ocean of artistic pretension.  Fortunately both Smith and the book are saved from imploding with self-satisfaction by a chance encounter with a green-eyed boy called Robert Mapplethorpe. In Mapplethorpe, Smith finds her spiritual twin, a man as obsessed with artistic creation as she is. For the next 12 years, against the vivid backdrop of 1970s New York, Mapplethorpe and Smith would live together, support each other and share jointly in their burgeoning success as artists; Mapplethorpe as a photographer, Smith as a poet turned singer.

Although Mapplethorpe later came out, his relationship with Smith remained intimately cocooned from the outside world. As the title suggests, their lasting friendship was defined more than anything by its innocence and purity. The relationship with Mapplethorpe infuses her writing with necessary human warmth. The knowing references become less frequent and she concentrates instead on crafting a moving and delicately handled dual memoir, a love letter to the man who became her real-life Rimbaud.  Living in a succession of squalid New York apartments, spending what little money they had on art supplies and surviving on day-old doughnuts and lettuce soup, both Mapplethorpe and Smith took their first tentative steps towards becoming the artists they so desired to be. Mapplethorpe, always the more focused and ambitious of the two, started to make collages by ripping photographs from male pornographic magazines. To save money, Smith suggested he take his own pictures and a star was accidentally born. Some of the early portraits are reproduced here, Smith's gaunt elegance and dense-eyed gaze staring out of the pages in black and white. It was Mapplethorpe who took the iconic shot of Smith for the cover of Horses.

Although both Smith and Mapplethorpe eventually went their separate ways, as she got married and had two children while he embarked on a long-term relationship with the collector Sam Wagstaff, their spiritual closeness remained. When Mapplethorpe was dying of Aids in 1989, he poignantly comments that they never had a family, Smith responds: "Our work was our children." And it is true that in many ways, Just Kids is a compassionate portrait of an unconventional marriage; an intimacy forged through a shared artistic vision. In both the tenderness of her expression and the beauty of her prose, there is no doubt that Patti Smith has given us a fitting memorial to her lost love and to the art they created together. Sadly though, Mapplethorpe comes across as an unbearable egotist and self-obsessed narcissist.

David Keenan: For The Good TimesTwo years ago David Keenan’s debut novel, This Is Memorial Device, the story of a fictional post punk band from Airdrie, took my breath away with its subject matter and vision. With his second novel, Keenan has trumped that with the incredible story of an unrepentant IRA volunteer reminiscing about his 1970s and early 1980s Active Service salad days, where the armed struggle was accompanied with a soundtrack of Perry Como and Frank Sinatra.

Sammy’s memories pivot on his friendship with a fellow republican, Tommy, whose father helps them make their name among paramilitary high-ups when he tips them off about a hidden stash of weapons from Libya. Any sense that Keenan is glamorising the bloodshed rubs up against the relentless pratfalls complicating Sammy’s operations, as all too often events change direction, or get catastrophically out of hand. Retrieving that arms cache entails ending up waist-deep in raw sewage; one early-morning assassination has to be passed off as stag-do shenanigans when a homeless man buttonholes Sammy just as he’s trying to dump the victim’s body in a bin. At one point, his commander says, “Stop acting like fucking clowns... see if the IRA could dispense with Irishmen altogether, we’d be one fuck of a formidable fighting unit.”

Needing to lie low, a visit to Glasgow proves eye-opening, not least when the pair find themselves invited to an orgy with a gang of Orangemen and their amorous Loyalist ladies of the night. There’s so much going on in this incredible novel, from dream sequences to segments recasting the action as a superhero adventure,  it proves alarmingly easy to forget what we’re actually reading: the unrepentant testimony of a Republican soldier who dedicated his life to the cause of Irish self-determination. This is a brave and brilliant book.

Irvine Welsh: Dead Men’s Trousers Being charitable, only one of Welsh’s dozen or more novels, The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins, has truly stunk from first page to last. Some of the Trainspotting spin-offs have been better than others; the Begbie vehicle The Blade Artist was a surprisingly taut and intense triumph, in the way that Ray Lennox reappearing in Crime was a gear shift from his role in Filth, though A Decent Ride only became vaguely memorable once the focus shifted away from Juice Terry the Caledonian mini cab Robin Askwith. With Dead Men’s Trousers, Welsh has achieved the unthinkable; he has combined dull prose with characters we no longer care about. Specifically Renton has become dull and Spud no longer anything other than a marginalised figure of pity rather than sympathy. The complexity surrounding Begbie’s new found karmic state and Sick Boy’s lifelong, inveterate shithousery do still charm the reader. Sadly, the overall feeling one has is that Welsh needed to write a book that included reference to Hibs winning the Scottish Cup in 2016 and everything else is incidentally. David Gray’s majestic header laid plenty of ghosts that May afternoon, allowing the Hibees to leave the past behind them. Perhaps Welsh could take a leaf from that book and spare us any further diminution of the effect the Leith boys once had on us.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Nutcases in Nyon; Zanies in Zurich

The Europa Nations Cup; what's that all about, eh? Goodness knows, but here's something I penned about it in the new issue of Stand -:

You’ve really got to hand it to FIFA and UEFA; the furthest excesses of human imagination simply could not have come up with such a pair of dysfunctional administrative bodies as these two unnatural disaster areas. Patently unfit to rule over the global game, the brazen behemoths immaculately synthesize corruption, avarice, incompetence and stupidity with such effortless style. In fact, if Trump’s inner circle and May’s cabinet (subject to the usual seismic, hourly changes of evil, rapacious, shape-shifting personnel of course) swapped jobs with the nutcases in Nyon and zanies in Zurich, they couldn’t do a worse job than in their current roles. In fact, I doubt any of us would notice the difference.

Before I’m accused of shooting fish in a barrel by picking on such easy targets as the sycophantic and scheming suits, who may well have the kind of self-awareness that makes them accept their utter otiosity, despite radiating the kind of personal arrogance not seen since the decline of the Mayan Royal Family, let me point out this really does need to be said. The truth is, since the joyously unexpected, high water mark of the World Cup, the game’s governing bodies have once more made international football a brutal, tortuous test of endurance. I’m not just saying that as a fan of the team mismanaged by Martin O’Neill, who has failed to bring his tactics out of the Palaeolithic era, whereby the consecutive 0-0s with the North and then Denmark in mid-November served as the best argument for the end of partition since Bernadette Devlin floored Reginald Maudling with a left hook in the House of Commons. I’m saying that as someone who has come to the conclusion that UEFA are more interested in quadratic equations, algebraic formulae and the more arcane elements of calculus than football.

Can it really be 9 months since the World Cup started? Despite the apocalyptic predictions of dystopian street warfare, we ended up with the best tournament in several generations. Almost every team could attack, but hardly any of them could defend, while referees turned were wise to the kind of reprehensible playacting that makes you shout at the telly like your old fella watching Rodney Marsh take theatrical tumbles at Maine Road in late 72. The whole competition was great, from start to finish. In fact, I even overheard people, basking in the afterglow of a month’s worth of quality free-to-air football, expressing enthusiasm for the 2020 European Championships, which is where things become difficult. Indeed, trying to get my head around the complexities of a competition that was recently happy to have 8 finalists in 2 groups of 4, reminded me of the days before pocket calculators, when we old campaigners had to slog through Maths O Level with only a set of log tables to help us. And if you complained all you heard was “be thankful you don’t have to use a slide rule,” whatever that was…

To understand the 2020 European Championships, you first need to understand the complexities of the European Nations Cup.  There are 55 countries playing in UEFA’s shiny new tournament, including Israel, presumably to upset Momentum members, and Turkey, who were the only country to express a firm wish to host the 2020 European Championships, despite most of their stadia being in Asia. Don’t expect logic from UEFA; the fact is, they’re more likely to carry out their long promised financial fair play sanctions against Man City and PSG than have a proper grasp of geography. These 55 countries were ranked in order and split into 4 Leagues, named from A to D in a 12, 12, 15, 16 division. Further to that, Leagues A and B were split into 3 team and Leagues C and D into 4 team groups, with everyone playing each other home and away. In Leagues A to C, the bottom sides got relegated and in Leagues B to D, the top teams went up.  

Relegated from League A
Promoted from League B
Relegated from League B
Promoted from League C
Relegated from League C
Promoted from League D
N. of Ireland

In June, the 4 League A group winners, namely the questionable quartet of England, courtesy of a 12 minute window of adequacy home to Croatia, Holland, who made Germany the new crash test dummies of the continent, Switzerland, after they’d eviscerated a cruising Belgian side,  and Portugal, the first team to qualify, who were also the only country to express any vague interest in hosting a festival of somnolence that knocks spots off even the Confederations Cup in terms of irrelevance, play each other in mini tournament  at the far western edge of the Iberian peninsula, made up of a pair of semi-finals, a final and a 3rd place play off in early June. Does that sound like a pointless and pointlessly confusing tournament to you? Well, wait until you find out about the qualification process for 2020, which begins in March 2019 and ends in November 2019.

Now, as a Newcastle fan I’ve no intrinsic objection to baffling tournaments with recherche qualification criteria; after all, our last 2 trophies were the 1969 Fairs Cup and the 2007 Inter Toto Cup. However, I’ve really got to take my hat off to UEFA and put my thinking cap on to comprehend this work of inconsequential complexity. Having failed to find a credible host nation for the tournament, the game’s top brass decided instead on 11 host cities, spread from Dublin to Baku and Glasgow to Bucharest, before the semis and final finish up at Wembley, presumably as it’s the biggest ground available. The shrouded this desperate ploy in a tissue of horseshit that proclaimed UEFA were doing their bit to take the international game to every corner of the continent. Yeah, righto…

If that sounds unwieldy, then listen to this; despite not having announced where the group stages will take place, during which the 24 qualifying teams will be whittled down to 16 for the knock out stage, only 20 of the 24 spots for the finals will from the main qualifying process, leaving four spots still to be decided. The 55 teams will be drawn into 10 groups after the UEFA Nations League (five groups of five teams and five groups of six teams, with the four UEFA Nations League Finals participants guaranteed to be drawn into groups of five teams), with the top two teams in each group qualifying. The draw seeding will be based on the overall rankings of the Nations League, which was supposedly the incentive for countries in the bottom tiers not to treat the Nations League like the sporting equivalent of Comic Relief, where everyone turns up in shit Fancy Dress and nicks off early to the pub. What a great reward for all the perennial UEFA minnows though; only 8 hammerings instead of 10. They’ll be dancing in the streets of Vaduz and Auchtermuchty because of that.

So, and this is the really great bit, following the qualifying group stage, the qualifying play-offs will take place in March 2020. The 16 teams of the remaining 35 with the best record in the Nations League get split into 4 “paths” (I’m not making this terminology up you know), based on the 4 qualifying Leagues for the Nations League, with the winners of each “path” needing to come through a pair of 2 leg ties to get a place in the Euros. There will be a “path” made up from each of Leagues A to D countries who finished third, fourth or perhaps lower in the 10 Euro 2020 qualifying groups. We’ve gone from the simplicity of the beautiful game, to a kind of speed-dating repêchage meets pass the parcel, whereby the likes of Moldova and Cyprus will grind out a pair of attritional 0-0 draws and an interminable penalty shootout, for the honour of securing a chance to be pasted by Belgium or France.

Frankly, we may as well do away with domestic leagues if all we’re going to be doing is attempting to qualify for tournament finals 365 days a year. After all, there’s the small matter of the next UEFA Nations League in 2021, before we get to the sporting epicentre of venal corruption, when we all head to the pop-up tournament built on the spilled blood and unmarked graves of forced migrant labour; Qatar 2022.

Curiously, an end to the mundane treadmill of domestic football is probably something FIFA’s Grand Poobah Gianni Infantino would be pleased to introduce. You see the problem with the meritocratic principle in football is that it occasionally produces unpleasant results, like Leicester winning the title and gate-crashing the Champions’ League cartel, or Real Madrid having a crap season and looking likely to miss out on qualification. Clearly, this is not what the storied legions of sponsors want. You’d find the monolithic football corporations operating in Spain, England and Italy, though one hopes not Germany whose laws demand purity in both beer production and football club ownership, are vehemently opposed to uninvited outsiders trying to get their snouts in the trough and feet under the table. For Manchester City and Paris St Germain, their particular interpretation of the concept of Financial Fair Play is keeping as much cash as they can for themselves and cutting their floundering domestic rivals adrift. What the avaricious football megacorps want is a semi-hermetically sealed European Super League, to maximise income streams and avoid the minimal prospect of any team of talented outsiders upsetting the apple cartel by the vulgar expedient of actually daring to win something that should, by divine right, belong exclusively to the big boys. And don’t you just know that if this ever got off the ground, Ajax, Benfica, Celtic and a school of big fish from tiny ponds would be demanding a European Super League second tier.   

Thankfully FIFA, in the shape of Le Grand Fromage Infantino are dead against such plans, as the last thing FIFA wants is a breakaway European Super League. Infantino has announced himself ready to start a fight to cut out the cancer of bent and twisted Corinthianism in our sport with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of FIFA fair play, by banning for life any players who take part in such a competition. Fantastic to see a footballing reference to Colombia that relates to the 1948 El Dorado financial fiasco that led to bans for Alberto Di Stefano, Charlie Mitten and Neil Franklin, rather than a sordid tabloid confessional by a failed second tier starlet who lost it all after he was caught on CCTV doing bugle off his credit club in the bogs of a Droitwich nitespot.

Of course, there is nothing remotely honourable about FIFA’s opposition. The thing is, Saint Gianni reckons he has the solution to all the game’s ills; we simply need a FIFA club World Cup. After all, we all know just how fabulously successful and widely ignored the annual World Club Championships have been. In fact, the only time it ever crossed my consciousness was when Man Utd dropped out the FA Cup and the third round got played before Christmas in 1999/2000. That was a bad idea and was never replicated. Same as the dismal Premier League experiment of playing the Cup Final before the closing round of league games. Other than the play-offs, I can’t think of a single administrative bright idea that has done the game any tangible good, unlike playing modifications like giving attackers the benefit of the doubt for offsides and banning keepers picking up back passes.

There’s a lesson in all of this; if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Now close your eyes and remember Germany imploding against South Korea or Belgium storming away to get the winner in the Japan game. That’s what football is about; poetry not maths. Keep it simple. Keep it clean.

Monday, 31 December 2018

Toxic Shock

The other day I was having a chat on social media with a bloke called Peter Whitfield. Nice lad; never had a cross word with him, so I respected his comment that my opinions aren’t representative of the wider Newcastle United fanbase. I thought about this and replied that as I’m a published poet, a lifelong supporter of the impossibilist position of the Socialist Party of Great Britain and companion parties in the World Socialist Movement, a zealous opponent of both toxic masculinity and the patriarchal narrative, not to mention an unapologetic contrarian who is educated to Master’s degree level, I have to agree with him. However, it is my contention that NUFC would be vastly improved if there were more supporters like me about. Peter said I’d just talked myself out of a dinner party invite to his place; we laughed and left it there.

While the above exchange can be described as semi serious at most, there is a kernel of truth at its heart; many of my social attitudes and the values I hold may be dismissed by those whose opinions vary, as wilful contrarianism. However, to do so would be wrong; the belief system I’ve developed has been rigorously applied in order to ensure I am in constant opposition to macho posturing and all manifestations of phallocentrism.

To illustrate this, I initially considered making a list of those, overwhelmingly male, public figures I find most distasteful, but this is more about ideas than personalities. Consequently, I have compiled an alphabet of attitudes, behaviours and items I regard as examples of toxic masculinity, which I’d like to dedicate to Ian MacKaye, Grayson Perry and John Stoltenberg -:

A is for Alopoecia: Too much testosterone causes a thinning thatch, which is often shaved by those who wish to act the chap, with or without legitimate cause.

B is for Bullying: The default stance of the terminally hard of thinking when out of their comfort zone. Threatening behaviour by any other name.

C is for Chunky Italian Knitwear: Massimo Osti turns in his grave as another self-mythologising middle-aged toughie turns up at the bar pre-match in a snide SI gansey

D is for Dogs: Whether bred for the purpose of social intimidation on urban streets or rural barbarity, these animals are bad to the bone. Avoid.

E is for Expletives: The untrammelled use of curses and taboo words shows a lack of breeding at best. Their use in inappropriate settings compounds the crime.

F is for Fisticuffs: Whether in the bar or boxing room, any man who hits another man is a boor, a braggart and a bully.

G is for Golf: The Tory Party at play. The most ludicrous dress code imaginable.

H is for Heterosexism: Not just homophobia, but the veneration of male dominion over females. The macho detestation of love.

I is for Internet Trolling: The key behaviour of the cyber barbarian. A virtual space to gang up and persecute anyone who thinks differently to you.

J is for Jackets: The more expensive the better. Half a grand minimum is easily affordable if you’re 43 and still living in a rented box or at your mam’s.

K is for Knuckles: Dragging along the floor or clenched to make a frightening fist

L is for Lager: White power in a glass. Fosters is Pegida peeve.

M is for Motor Cars: Penis replacements for the socially inadequate. As bad as Golf.

N is for Nationalism: Union Jacks in the garden and on the Motor Car. Help for Heroes hoodies and metal poppy pin badges all year round. Makes me ill.

O is for On-Line Gambling: Whether it’s football, horses or poker, it’s another posturing approach to the interpretation of maleness I reject.

P is for Poppies:  Less than a decade ago, they were optional. Now there’s an annual witch hunt directed towards James MacClean and insidious media pressure to accept the narrative that venerating the military is essential behaviour.

Q is for Queen Elizabeth: A parasite. Get her in the cellar with the Romanoffs.

R is for Reputation: I wish I’d had a quid for every radgie whose screed of empty threats began with “do you know who I am?”

S is for Ska: The irony of Jamaican working-class music being appropriated as the soundtrack of the ageing racist dregs of white slum society seems lost on the lumpens.

T is for Tattoos: They look common on women, but even worse on men. See also Tabs.

U is for Unforgiven: “That Corbyn supports the IRA,” except that he didn’t, and they’ve been at peace this entire millennium anyway.

V is for Violence: Implied or actual, it is the preserve of evil men.

W is for Watches: Not to tell the time. Just to imply status. As bad as Motor Cars and Golf.

X is for Xenophobia: The default philosophical position of toxic males everywhere.

Y is for Yobs: They grow into Men.

Z is for Zeugma: tough guys carrying a grudge and a concealed weapon.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

The Last Round Up

I’m not in the business of making resolutions for the future; I’d rather call them plans. As you’d expect there’s a few, related mainly to maintaining my mental well-being via sporting activity as both an observer and participant, with the creative urge featuring pretty strongly as well, but they’ll remain unsaid for a multiplicity of reasons. Looking back on 2018, it amazes me how I’ve got to the end of it in one piece, considering the queasy and unpredictable rollercoaster ride the year involved. I’ve documented events in detail on here, but the ease and speed with which I fell off the precipice of normal society into a world of debt, despair and the dehumanising effects of benefit culture was terrifying to endure. Thankfully, I have wonderful friends who intervened to save me from the pit of despair and for that I’ll be eternally grateful, as from from November onwards a kind of tranquil, gnostic calm has blanketed my life that I sincerely hope continues into 2019.

Of course, tragically, others have had it considerably worse; my heart goes out at this time to Bethan and Janine, as well as Kenny and family, bereft in the aftermath of tragic events that have left them repeatedly asking but unable to answer why, as they stare at the bleakness of unimaginable personal losses. I offer you my love; it isn’t any consolation, but it is all I have to give, and I mean it with every fibre of my being.

Musically, the loss of Mark E Smith back in January hit me hard; the realisation of just how much The Fall had meant to for 2 decades or more came rushing back, following the legendary autodidactic curmudgeon’s passing. On a smaller scale, the death of Pete Shelley at the other end of the year was a sad blow, considering how Spiral Scratch was the first English record that made me sit up and take notice of the Punk movement. While I could take or leave both the releases and many of the regular live performances of The Buzzcocks post reformation (though the December 89 show at Newcastle Uni and the July 2011 Mouth of the Tyne extravaganza at Tynemouth Priory, which I was lucky enough to see with Ben, were tremendous afternoons), there were some incredible highlights on the various releases that the dull, mid-paced Diggle plodders didn’t diminish. Pete Shelley was a thoughtful, articulate and perceptive songwriter; he combined an ear for a catchy tune, or a powerful insistent homage to his beloved Krautrock influences, with poetic lyrics that challenged and defeated the dismal machismo that infected so much of what was called Punk.  A memory I will treasure forever if his a capella renditions of What Do I Get? and Oh Shit at John Peel’s 50th Birthday Party at Subterrania in Ladbroke Grove in August 1989. In chronological order, try this Shelley only Buzzcocks playlist as a tribute to the man -:

-          Time’s Up
-          Boredom
-          What Do I Get?
-          Oh Shit
-          Moving Away from the Pulse Beat
-          Love You More
-          ESP
-          Why Can’t I Touch It?
-          Something’s Gone Wrong Again
-          You Say You Don’t Love Me
-          I Believe

Staying with music, my desire for completeness and order has inspired me to write this blog, as there are elements of both live and recorded music that I’ve failed to review so far this year. Firstly, a couple of Tynemouth Market purchases. I’m a sucker for a prog rock bargain and so when I saw the chance of the Island Records sampler Nice Enough to Eat, nestling in the 2 for £5 rack alongside Rod and The Faces live album Overture and Beginners, I dug deep and got the two of them. The Faces album is in pristine condition, which doesn’t surprise me as, aside from a killer version of Jimi’s Angel, it stinks. Self-indulgent, pompous quasi karaoke takes on soul classics besmirch the grooves; I think I’ll stick with studio stuff instead, because the discipline of the recording booth is sadly absent in this smug and dull collection of landfill rhythm and blues.
Nice Enough to Eat has quality running through it like a stick of seaside rock. The opening number is Cajun Woman by Fairport from Unhalfbricking, so I was a willing convert from the get go. Other absolute standout cuts include Time Has Told Me by Nick Drake and the de rigeur excess of 21st Century Schizoid Man by King Crimson, which is almost outdone for pantomime excess by the faux Indian pretension of Quintessence’s  Gungamai and the studious, po-faced solemnity of I Keep Singing the Same Old Song by Heavy Jelly. Well worth two and a half quid of anyone’s money, even if it sounds like it’s been recorded in a chip shop.

Coming back from Teenage Fanclub in Glasgow at the end of October, I picked up a copy of The Wire to keep me entertained on the train back. Appended to the cover was a compilation CD called Wire Tappers, which I finally got around to listening to in the second week of December. I’m not sure I’ll listen to it again, as I’m not that much of a fan of the post music genre that this appears to proselytise. Truly, it’s very samey; electronic ambient bleeps cover most of the disc, though Jef Brown’s effects pedal drenched guitar histrionics are well worth a second go, especially if you like the idea of Thurston Moore paying tribute to Eddie van Halen. Goodie Pal and Pals are a collection of screaming ladies, deeply influenced by No Wave to the extent they kick its corpse up and down the road for a few pleasantly unpleasant minutes.  Tomasz Darbrowski on the saxophone indulges in a kind of free jazz wig out that the Fast Show used to parody; I’m not sure if it is the response he was aiming for, but it really made me laugh.
So, despite the paucity of my purchases in 2018, here’s my scanty, best of list of new releases -:

1.      Trembling Bells – Dungeness
2.      The Mekons – It Is Twice Blessed
3.      Alasdair Roberts – What News?
4.      Pete Astor – One for the Ghost
5.      Yo La Tengo – There’s A Riot Going On
6.      L-Space – Kipple Arcadia

And here’s a rundown of the re-releases and oddities I got hold of in 2018 -:

1.      Mogwai – Ten Rapid
2.      Candy Opera – 45 Revolutions Per Minute
3.      The Door and The Window – Detailed Twang
4.      The Burning Hell – Library
5.      Alasdair Roberts – Pangs
6.      Various – Nice Enough to Eat
7.      Swell Maps – Wastrels and Whippersnappers
8.      Euros Childs – House Arrest
9.      The Fall – New Facts Emerge
10.  Rod Stewart and The Faces – Overtures and Beginners

Lastly, the various EPs and singles look like this -:

1.      Alternative TV – Dark Places
2.      Us and Them – Fading Within the Dwindling Sun
3.      The Burning Hell – Men Without Hats
4.      Bandit / Ground - Noise

Finally, what about the gigs I saw this year? Going back to the financial problems alluded to in the opening paragraph, I had the awful situation of having to pass up on seeing The Nightingales, as I simply didn’t have any money. Ironically, I had to miss my first Vic Godard performance on Tyneside, after an unbroken recording of seeing him stretching back to 1978, on account of the fact I was working the night he played the Star and Shadow; it concerns me that I may be forced to pass up the chance of seeing more live performances I’d regard as essential viewing in the future. Indeed, having failed to see Hector Gannet at The Wheel House on the Fish Quay on Black Eye Friday, on account of a misunderstanding with stage times and capacity, I was crushed to discover I can’t even get to see the second showing of the same set at the same venue on January 4th as I’m at graft, which rankles more than a bit. Consequently, I’ll be studiously searching for Saturday and Sunday gigs in future, which is why I’ve already got BMX Bandits briefs for May 18th at the Head of Steam.

The one gig I did manage to get to since I last wrote about music, was The Burning Hell at Cluny 2 in early December, along with my pal Brendan Oswald, who was back in the country on one of his all too infrequent visits from Slovakia. The Burning Hell was a name that meant little to me, but as Brendan raved about them, having travelled to the gig hotspot (not really) of Banksa Stiavnica to see them, I thought I’d give them a go. Very pleasant they are too; a combination of Yo La Tengo and King Missile. Serious tributes to rock classics rub shoulders with whimsical story ditties. They are, as could be guessed by their diffidence and studied nerdery, Canadian. This manifests itself by cultural references to Men Without Hats, Degrassi Junior High and other Canuck cultural highlights. I bought copies of their charming Library CD and Men Without Hats 7” and I’m very glad I did. The Burning Hell is a name that is totally unfitting to their style of music, but that’s what makes them all the more entertaining; expect the unexpected should be their catchphrase.

Looking back though, here are the 14 gigs I did attend, in order of enjoyment -:
1.      The Mekons; Leeds Brudenell Social Club, April.
2.      British Sea Power; Boiler Shop, November.
3.      Teenage Fanclub; Glasgow Barrowlands, October.
4.      Mogwai; Northumbria University, February.
5.      Trembling Bells; Cumberland Arms, July.
6.      Band of Holy Joy; Tynemouth Club, July.
7.      Three Queens in Mourning; Star & Shadow, October.
8.      The Vaselines; Star & Shadow, August.
9.      Michael Head; The Cluny, July.
10.  The Burning Hell; Cluny 2, December.
11.  Pete Astor; The Cumberland, March.
12.  The Wedding Present; Academy, June.
13.  Brix & The Extricated; Star & Shadow, November.
14.  Willie Mason; The Cluny, September.
See you in 2019; go easy...step lightly...stay free…