Sunday, 25 April 2010

back in the saddle

Now, where was I . . ? Oh yes, up Kinder Scout.

I have been away, gentle reader.  Mrs Dave and I spent the second week of the Easter break in the company of students and some adults, braving the early Spring weather in the Peak District.  The rather handsome chap in the photo resembles yours truly.  The more observant amongst you may notice a slight tension in what should be a classic Black's catalogue pose - due to the fact that it was taken on top of Kinder Scout and that we'd been hanging around up there for several hours*.  We had to wait for some groups of students to come past us. Someone had forgotten to enlighten us to the change in plan and that we would, in fact, NOT be seeing one of the groups as they were now going a different way.  Four hours. Of course, I was as cool as ever and said, "Never mind - it's been quite pleasant sitting here for the last few hours freezing my . . ." etc, etc

Anyhow, all's well.  We're back at school trying desperately to get students to complete coursework just in time for us to mark it 5 minutes before it needs to be in the post and sent off to the moderators.  I've decided that it would be less stressful for teachers to write up all of their coursework and ask students if it isn't too much trouble, if they'd mind signing it so we could send it off as theirs.  There would be much less absence and heartbreak (amongst staff).

So, I'm back on the horse.  The coming few weeks will involve marking - especially around half term when I will be marking AS Level Film Studies exams (as I have for the past nine years).  The only real joy there is that as I finish, everyone else is just starting - FS being one of the first exams.  Little things like that keep me going.  Mrs Dave starts marking Psychology papers about the time I finish mine.  From angst-ridden whinger to smug git in one move.

In the meantime, having just watched two versions of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers - 1956 and the recent (Kidman/Craig) 2007 versions - it should not go unmentioned that our complete Senior Management team seem to have undergone a transformation a la Bodysnatchers.  Suddenly poor behaving Y11 students are getting early baths and extended garden leave; poor behaviour is being dealt with; students are watching their steps . . . this is a New World order.  More on this (perhaps) later.  For now, it's enough to know that a student that was incredibly rude to me last week (how dare I ask him to remove a leather jacket from under his blazer?) was dealt with by a Senior member of management.  Had I been asked as a student to do such a thing, I would have been very polite.

And then written a song about the bastard.

* and that I still have trouble tying my shoe-laces.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

orange aren't the only amps

Gutted!  I just saw a copy of Let It Be on dvd at Amazon.  By the time I'd contacted the seller to verify if it was the film - there's a tv documentary going around too, confusingly - and it was gone! Vanished like an old oak table.  I've been after it for years - evidently Paul has vetoed its release.

Ah well.  On to other matters.  A copy of the new Argos laminated book of dreams arrived home after someone's shopping expedition.  I was looking for a head torch when I decided to look and see what guitars they sell now. I can't believe it but there amongst the shindogu and tat there are two pages of guitars alone.  Nowadays, any kid in any High Street has available to them a number of respectable quality instruments.  A reasonable Dobro-style resonator for 130 quid!  Two pages back and you can buy a range of Orange amps!  That's unbelievable.  Orange amps were iconic in the early 1970s - Wishbone Ash used them (until they got stolen - and because they were so unusual and identifiable the thieves couldn't sell them!).  I would have given my right arm for one.  Mind you I wouldn't be able to play guitar*.  But at least I'd have had an Orange Amp.

Kids today, eh?  They don't know they're born. . . . the availability of good quality electric guitars for less than 100 quid on every High Street.  DVD and/or online lessons etc, etc. Multi-track recording facilities, effects - so much.

If you get a chance to read Mo Foster's 17 watts? The Birth of British Rock Guitar you'll be aware that the main reason music was so vibrant and exciting in the late 60s/early 70s is because at that time rock music just wasn't as ubiquitous as it is now. Talent had an outlet that took time to grow - it wasn't only the best that survived.  many excellent acts like Help Yourself, for instance, floundered and gave up.  Musicians had to teach themselves and come up with answers as it was a pre-wiki world. Without the sort of instant gratification Ech-Factor everything is available 24/7 crap entertainment business world we have now, there was a sort of halcyon days approach.  Innocent times I guess.  Not everything is crap now of course but I'm not sure that there's really an opportunity for those "did you see Bowie on Top of the Pops?" shared moments (Starman or Focus' first OGWT appearence).  I'm not saying that they're necessarily fantastic and still hold up today, I mean the shared experience of discovery was special.

Establishing a fanbase through hard work - "paying their dues" - meant that there was a period of growth. I'm still discovering great bands from years ago that I'd never heard of.  There are some great unrecognised talents around too, so don't get me wrong.  Try Dave Alvin, Pieta Brown and Bap Kennedy for a start.  Oh and the picture was the only one I could find, honest.

*Yes, all right . . .

Monday, 5 April 2010

a road not taken

Notice the indefinite article.

A comment made on the last blog prompted me to (NOT Google, notice.  Easyclick allows you to give money to charity every time you use it) The Longship - a long lost but obviously not forgotten (hardly sorely-missed) pub in Stevenage.  Even then - in the 1970s - it was always considered a dive.

However, I made a few enquiries and the place has long-since disappeared. But the point here is that I ended up on a beer drinkers' website. The site ( is run by an old acquaintance, one Martyn Cornell.  Evidently he is a bit of a beer guru having written books on beer - a real journalist too, it seems. The Telegraph etc. Amazon seem to rate him.  I remember him well - a few years older than me at school.  I got to know him a year or two later when he ran the local CAMRA group.  I won't tell scurrilous stories of his driving me and friends to beer festivals, however (my most over-used word) I was surprised at his name appearing on my search engine.  This sort of thing happens all the time. Old acquaintances come and go - should they be forgot?

Yet knowing that way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

single father

It must have been October 1973.  The Locarno (The Mecca) in Stevenage realised that the Monday and Thursday disco nights were not bringing in the readies - that, or they realised rock bands were a potential source of income.  Man, that well known Welsh band - "Britain's answer to The Grateful Dead" - were touring.  According to Deke Leonard in Whinos, Rhinos and Lunatics: The Legend of Man A Rock'n'Roll Band, the line-up was Man, Iceberg, Vyvyan Morris and John St Field.  Remember that last one.

It was a great gig - everyone in the audience enjoyed it (well, we all did) and Man played C'mon, Spunk Rock and definitely, Bananas.  We knew something was going on, though.  Evidently, "John St Field" poured a glass of beer over the Locarno manager who was complaining about the smoking of some herbal refreshments (this is possibly apocryphal) and the whole tour was banned from future gigs on the Locarno (Mecca) circuit.  As I said, it could be apocryphal but I seem to remember reports in Melody Maker.  Evidently, they never played the Mecca circuit again.

Time shift - many years later.  The year 2000.  Uncut magazine has a habit of giving cds away with each edition to engage its readers with the music mentioned within its hallowed pages.  I found a song called Single Father by Jackie Leven, aka John St Field.  Once of punk band Doll By Doll.

And what a song.

I found it again tonight for some reason or other.  What a song.

If we should meet in Glasgow
by chance on a rainy day
let's sit and drink in a damn good bar
till evening comes out to play

And there are things I don't want to talk about
things I don't want to say
twisted spires and lonely byres
and fishing boats in winter spray

I was a single father
And those were real harsh times
I remember losing my baby
everytime I hear a church bell chime
I was a single father
but I just can't complain
got a heart full of headstones
as I step down from the train

We walked down a leafy ravine
into a cloud of dragonflies
you pointed your finger in wonder
at the colours in the sky

You sat in your chair on the beach
I waved to you from the sea
you saw the wave and smiled
you were already lost to me

I was a single father

Now my son's in the English army
he plays the guitar well
I almost never see him
I walk alone on the distant fell

Now half the world is working
half is watching tv
some take smack and fall right back
it's all the same to me

I was a single father

Jackie Leven is a poet as well as a songwriter.  He has a poet's sensibilities.  I don't listen to him that much these days - I find it difficult to keep up with prolific writers.  Perhaps I prefer the obscurity of those who produce a small body of work.  However, I believe that Ian Rankin is a fan.


However, this song is wonderful.  It starts in a child's nursery rhyme way.  It's basically a shuffle - guitar, bass, drums and some keyboards.  Leven tends to sing songs in a light way - he's telling a story.  I don't know how autobiographical they are.  The chorus ("I remember losing my baby") is backed up by David Thomas (of Pere Ubu - great duet of You've Lost That Loving Feeling on this album).  There's not a lot to this song, and to be truthful I don't know why I love it so much.  I guess it's because it sounds upbeat despite being about loss.

There's been a lot of loss in my life - and I'm sure we've all had a lot of loss.  I haven't lost children, thank whatever diety you prefer - in this current climate perhaps this song could be from the point of view of a single parent who's had a double loss.  The loss of the child as he becomes a single parent.  And then the loss of the child as the child grows up to become a soldier - it sounds to me like a return to the Old Town to come back to a funeral.  And the memories therein.

The album is called Defending Ancient Springs.  If you are aware of David Thomas, you'll like his influence. 

Everytime I go back home to Stevenage I have a "heart full of headstones".

There are things I don't want to talk about
Things I don't want to say.

nothing works

Easter weekend, Saturday evening.  I'm cooking whilst Mrs Dave pops out for a while.  All of a sudden, I notice water in the "back space" - a small area by the kitchen that leads to the back door.  It's where the washing machine and tumble drier are, also the downstairs loo.  The water is dripping from the boiler.

We've lived in this house for some 22 years.  We replaced the old boiler about 10 years ago.  That has already gone the way of all flesh.  Eight years old and we had to get a new one.  This one is only a year and a half old and we had it serviced in October.  It's already leaking.  Unlucky or what?

What do you do late on a Saturday evening when you have an emergency? No heating or hot water in our house constitutes an emergency.  You dig out the phone book and phone for an emergency plumber/boiler repairer.

- Hello, how can I help?
- My boiler seems to be pouring water (It's a lie -it's dripping)
- No problem, I can sort that for you.
- Oh good, no one else can help until Tuesday.
- Oh no, we can sort it out.
- Excellent . . .

A conversation follows that involves the man from British Gas trying to sell us an insurance plan. I don't want an expensive insurance plan (and it is expensive) I just want it fixed.

- Yes okay I'll pay the £169 callout fee, that's fine.
- I can't get anyone there until Tuesday.

What's the point with these damned people?  Why lie so openly and then not care.  By Tuesday I'll  be able to phone the local guys who put it in.  Ah well.

To anyone of about my age you may remember a wonderful Richard Carpenter series on TV called Catweazle.  It was about a Middle Ages wizard who jumps forward in Time to discover life in 20th Century Britain (albeit late 1960s early 1970s Britain). I now officially declare myself him.  Much like him, I am grey of beard and bemused by modernity.  Much like him I am left to wander the modern world claiming that "nothing works".  A man out of Time.

I got told off for shouting loudly in Anglo-Saxon at the boiler by my returning wife who said she could "hear you on the street".