Thursday 26 June 2014

Those weird musical guilty pleasure moments

I heard two songs today (which I'll reveal in a moment) – two songs that I shouldn't really like because they just don't fit my usual taste at all, and because I've never liked anything else by the bands concerned. But each one contains something which, for some completely inexplicable reason, I'm a bit of a sucker for. My first weakness is a good old “Whooo!” - you know, when someone whoops (can also be a “Whahoo!” as in Blur's 'Song 2' or a "Whoo-ooh!" like in Gwen Stefani's 'The Sweet Escape').

So today I heard 'Spiralling' by Keane. Now, every time I hear anything by Keane I'm taken back to several years ago, working on Sundays in my tiny village library where I was allowed to play the radio. Actually, not just allowed to play it but actively requested to play it as it was part of a whole, new 'informal library experience' reserved for Sunday openings, along with a miniature coffee machine and a horrible purple sweatshirt I was supposed to wear (but didn't).  Anyway, I used to tune it in to Virgin, which was the most likely station to play something I could actually tolerate hearing at the time. Now, whenever I hear White Stripes 'Seven Nation Army', 'Hey Ya! 'by Outkast, several tracks by Stereophonics, Muse and the Strokes, and 'Bed Shaped' by Keane I'm mentally transported back to the musty little library room with its heavy bookshelves and peeling paint.   Keane became one of the 'library days' bands....I didn't like them but they were of the time and in that context were just alright - helped the day to pass. Anyway, I heard the much later single, 'Spiralling', today and I was surprised at how un-Keane-like it sounds to my ears. In actual fact, I confess I quite like it.   But the bit that really does it for me, and which I could hear over and over again on a loop, is those “Whooo!”s in it.  Why?  What does it all mean?   I don't understand, but I want more.

The other track that I used to hear in my library days and heard again today - probably because it's now being used on an advert -  was 'Sing' by Travis. I am not into Travis. I should not be into a song like 'Sing'. No!  But, it's that banjo... and, oh, this is my other incomprehensible weakness, the plinky plunky plucking banjo.  Now if Fran Healy could have just dropped a couple of triumphant, ecstatic sounding “Whooo!”s into that song as well I would be in a very strange parallel world of music I don't really like, and yet I really do. Does that make sense?

Sunday 22 June 2014


Last night, after flicking idly through the TV channels, we ended up unintentionally watching the BBC2 documentary, a Culture Show Special, 'The Battle For Stonehenge'.   I was totally engaged from the off and so pleased I saw it all.

Stonehenge is just one of those places, so fascinating for obvious reasons, but so easy to take for granted, especially perhaps for a Briton.  I've driven past it many times on the A303 on the way to Devon and Cornwall and was also taken there as a young child in the days when you could wander around freely with your crisps and a bottle of Cresta.   I even went to the Free Festival there in 1979 when Mr SDS' original band were booked to play a support slot  and a group of us travelled down. I remember I wore my pink drainpipes. I also remember the heavy atmosphere, the Hell's Angels, the rumours about bikers carrying knives and unruly, unsupervised kids appearing out of nowhere to clamber over the van like monkeys in a wildlife park, rummaging through our bags. When the so-called schedule got so far behind that the band ended up not playing after all, we drove back grumpily and hungrily through the early hours, stopping in London to try and sleep, cramped together like kippers on someone's tiny floor after drinking a cup of something cold and gritty masquerading as tea. I was only 15 and was supposed to have been delivered home safely that same night, but had to ring my parents and explain that I was staying in a strange flat in Stoke Newington instead...

But back to the programme: I learned so much – and I love it when you find out about things without even trying and without even realising you were that interested in the first place. For instance, I had no idea that Stonehenge had ever been privately owned, nor who by. It was also fascinating to see the carved 'graffiti' that was already hundreds of years old on some of the stones - I love these reminders that people are pretty much the same throughout history, unable to resist the chance to leave their mark somewhere. There was even an unexpected clip of Marc Bolan from some film or documentary that I've no recollection of ever seeing before.  And, as you probably would expect, there was also a bit of background to the whole Druid thing, and if you could bear to witness the rainbow coloured garments, white person dreadlocks, beards and tribal drumming long enough (I confess I have an innate aversion) an interesting insight to the ongoing traditions of a spiritual nature and some associated political wrangles.

Talking of political wrangles, perhaps the most moving part of this programme was the footage and personal account from the infamous 'Battle of the Beanfield'. Whilst I remembered seeing the news about it at the time, I was still horrified and shocked all these years later at the level of police brutality and the underhand tactics they deployed.

There are 5 days left on BBC iPlayer if you're interested...

Friday 20 June 2014

Dance, dance, dance

Last night I was dancing around the living room, noticing the sunset sky outside the window. It was so easy to imagine I was somewhere else, that I could smell the crushed grass, the sun-cream and the weed, that I was exchanging coy looks with the smiley barman in a drinks tent, that I was in a place I've never been but want to. I was high on just the music... dance music. This was surely not meant to happen!

I mean – it used to be so simple; you could tell straight away what someone was like by their musical taste and, for me back then, dance music came with a stigma. My early '80s experiences of working in a small town record shop gave me this education, exposing me to many different genres and consequently to their typical fans. I could so easily have written a 'Bluffer's Guide' to musical stereotypes based just on our customers. For example: heavy metal enthusiasts were nerdy and more intelligent than they wanted you to think, indie kids were sweet and shy, goths were introvert, Gary Numan fans all looked like Gary Numan and crusties were... unwashed. But it was the dance fans you really had to watch. Anyone who looked at the dance charts for their inspiration, who bought the Street Sounds Electro albums and who preferred Chaka Khan to the Cocteau Twins, was quite likely to be rude, aggressive, glue-sniffing or moronic, or all of these things. It was the dance fans who brought back their recently scratched albums and tried to pass them off as faulty. They were the ones who changed their screaming babies' nappies on the counter and stubbed their fags out on the shop's carpet. I grew to hate dance in its broadest sense just on principle. It was almost impossible to disassociate it from the arseholes who made our lives a misery with their demands for refunds on the Break Machine albums they'd spilt their cans of Tennent's over.

It's only in the relatively recent past that I've managed to shake off this irrational prejudice. Now, with the interim years bringing closure to my record shop dance fan paranoia, I can hear the music differently.  Saint Etienne and Apollo 440 first made it more palatable, then others followed and now so much also sounds better retrospectively.  What would I rather listen to at this moment – Theme from S'Express, or Song To The Siren? It's a closer call than it's ever been.  EDM is getting under my skin and, more to the point, under my feet. Dubstep, uplifting trance, progressive house... oh god, my '80s self would have shuddered. Possibly the creators of some of the albums now gracing our CD racks are shuddering too at the thought that their music is appealing to 50-somethings. Does that mean they've failed? Or is it all different now anyway because it really was our musical roots which inspired them in the first place?

I don't know. But here's a track from the forthcoming Nero album. Now tell me this isn't good!

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Dry as a bone

Oh dear, it must have been a horrible way to die.

It was just a small, furry rodent, but... well, I think about these things. Finding itself at the bottom of a deep, narrow-necked garden pot and then presumably caught in a downpour, repeated but failed attempts to jump out in its rain-soaked state must have sapped its energy. I found its remains on a dry, sunny day, some time after its demise. It was still in the climbing position, still looking hopeful, even in death; a little bank vole, judging by its size and shape.

A few years ago I did at least manage to save a fellow bank vole from a similar fate. I heard a strange noise coming from an empty watering can and discovered that one had wedged itself up the far end of the spout. I slipped the rose off and waited – but not for long – suddenly, making me jump too, out it popped like a cork from a champagne bottle, and scampered off unharmed. (I always leave the watering can covered now...)

I wish I could have rescued this one too, but now that its fragile body has long dried out and is decomposing naturally and not gruesomely at all (no gooey bits or maggots), I'm just waiting to see its perfect little skeleton*. I'm strangely excited at this prospect and intend to find a way to keep it in order once all the bones are clean. That's not weird, is it? I guess I just wish I'd paid more attention to Biology lessons at school as I can't help being curious about this stuff, only we had to dissect things and work in a lab that smelt funny and it was all a bit too icky for me in my early teens. There are ways you can speed up the process – some involve warm or cold water, some use hydrogen peroxide or other solutions I believe – but as I don't really fancy donning a mad professor outfit and poking a dead creature about in a saucepan in the kitchen, I'll just wait.... All it needs is air.

Not so for the body of a dead cat in one of our local hotels. The cat, and the section of wall behind which it had been incarcerated, is now displayed behind glass in the reception area and it's quite creepy to see its mummified remains with skin intact. Over here, in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was a superstitious custom to sometimes bury live cats behind walls to ward off evil spirits, like a kind of lucky charm for the property. (The more animal-friendly version of this was to use shoes). In this part of the country they were often buried whilst the building was under construction to protect from 'witches, warlocks and fire'. When this particularly unfortunate creature was first discovered during renovation work in the 1970s, it was removed... but, soon after, a number of strange and unfortunate events (including a fire) occurred in the vicinity. Curse or coincidence? Who can say? But the subsequent bad luck was enough to ensure its return.

I must remember that when my vole skeleton finally emerges...

* I've talked about bones before here too, if you're interested.

Friday 13 June 2014

Mad bag

Yes, yes, you think I'm talking about myself again. Or the old woman who walks around town in her wellies pushing a pram....

Instead I just wanted to show you my new satchel, which really is a mad bag. Who could resist imagery which combines a pink typewriter with a selection of colourful birds and a couple of nests? On a bag?

I bought it to replace my old one which also had an avian theme.

A woman I'd never met before admired it once. “I love the picture!” she said, on seeing the robin.  “But I don't like what it's made of ,” she then added in a strongly disapproving tone.  Actually, it's not real leather, it's faux leather... but I wasn't about to get into a debate about it with a woman who had clearly overdone the peroxide at one time but not recently enough to disguise her black roots.  Faux blonde?  Ooh, catty!

Faux leather eventually flakes, though; hence the need for a new bag, which is also faux, but very truly mad. As mad as a bag of birds.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

All the records I've ever owned

Thanks to a post over at the excellent Bagging Area, I was recently reminded of a couple of records I owned in 1981: in this instance it was the New Age Steppers' first album and the Slits' second. Sometimes I miss them... and those they rubbed up against... I look back on them fondly like old friends. But if I still had every record I've ever owned I would have to give them a room of their own for there's no space to spare here; there have been so many.  It got me thinking... remembering.  A quick flick through my brain's RAM reveals a mixed selection: long-since-gone albums by Buzzcocks, Punishment of Luxury, Wire, Generation X, Afghan Whigs, Au Pairs, Bauhaus, Mighty Baby, the Lyres, Rain Parade, PiL, Steel Pulse.... not to mention dozens of compilations (or 'combinations' as someone I once knew described them).  And I can still picture the labels on my singles and EPs by the Ruts, Comsat Angels, Neon Hearts, Crispy Ambulance, Television, Voice of the Beehive, New Model Army, New Order, Zodiac Mindwarp & The Love Reaction... I'll stop there. I'm probably omitting vast swathes of my varying musical taste with a selective memory that has conveniently glossed over certain purchases, best forgotten anyway.  Maybe you think that about Zodiac Mindwarp?! - no, I loved my Wild Child 12” at the time, perhaps helped by the fact that I rather fancied the leather-clad Mark Manning too.

What happened to them all?  In the '80s many would have ended up at the Record & Tape Exchange, usually the branch in Notting Hill Gate, where they may have been openly sneered at or secretly salivated over by the usually rather snotty staff before being, well, exchanged of course.  Mr SDS and I used to make the trip down to London with one big bag of records... and come back with another big bag of different records. Others found new homes via charity shops.  Loyalty to my vinyl, CD and tape purchases has always been fairly transient. Loved truly, madly and deeply for a while, but ultimately replaced by younger, or just as likely older, models: an ever-changing music library. Today's joint collection includes a few hardy perennials (Aladdin Sane, Clash first etc) but a good many which (don't tell them) possibly won't be here this time next year. We've even bought albums, sold them, bought them again, sold them again... Every so often we pull one out and say, “Are we ever actually going to want to listen to this these days?” and then their fate is sealed. We make the trip down to the charity shop with another big bag of CDs.

Don't mention downloads... we're not there yet.... still sticking with things we can touch. Even if we don't always stick with them for very long.

Saturday 7 June 2014

Walk with me (again)

It's been quite a stressful week seeing the bathroom looking like this

so yesterday evening I needed to get out, on my own.  Just go for a walk.

I nip out the back gate and head down the path.  It's gone 6pm but the sky holds on to the hues of a Summer afternoon

and the corn on the right shimmers in the sunlight

whilst on my left I pass a familiar character, lit up beautifully against the cobalt blue.

Then the path curves gently round the big horse chestnut

and at the bottom I turn right up the bridleway, where the sound of a wren makes me stop to catch the merest sight of its propeller tail before it disappears into the gnarled secret chambers of this gorgeous old tree.

To complete my circuit I turn off to the North... a shadier path...

... at times barely passable and I have to duck under drooping boughs

until I reach a clearing.  I can see my house from here!

Then the furrow in the cornfield leads me back home, with low-swooping swallows and small tortoiseshell butterflies as my ushers.

That feels better.

The only thing missing is the sea!

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