Sunday, 27 January 2013

after the show

Saturday night and I'm all alone,
No ring on the doorbell, no ring on the phone
And nobody wants to know
Anyone lonely like me

29th August 1970.

Saturday night. It's probably raining; it usually was. The constant drumming of the rain on the caravan roof was the soundtrack to the family summer holiday. I was reading the Westerns by Louis L'Amour and all of the Bond novels in order. Every so often one of us had to take the dog out for a walk. No little plastic bags in those days - leave it where it falls.  Sometimes white (whatever happened to white d. . .?). I was fourteen.

My sister had recently split up with her boyfriend (who she later married anyway - I said it was a holiday) and had hooked up with an older lad from Newmarket. I think his name was Pete. He was part of the team switching Stevenage to North Sea Gas and obviously caught my sister's eye. Whilst we holidayed down on the East Coast at Felixstowe (being near to Newmarket) Pete came down to see us - well, my sister I guess. Well: small caravan, rain, dog, parents, irritating little brother - how do you get to spend some time with your new beau? A gig! There's a band playing at the Spa. And little brother seems to like this long hair music.

My sister and Pete offered to take me to the said gig. That means mum and dad can relax, walk the dog, go for a drink, have a row or whatever they got up to (which seemed to be that exact list in no particular order). For a short lived affair, Pete and my sister got on very well - I was even invited to meet his parents once - it was a Sunday and I watched Free and Deep Purple on their tv - can't remember where my sister got to for a while but a whole new world was opening up to me. So, Saturday night and off down to the Spa Pavilion Theatre for a gig.

Now, so far the live bands I'd been used to seeing was the three piece sax, bass and drum line-up mentioned here with their risqué humour. But a real live rock band in a club, wow! So off we went. Fourteen and I'm going to see a real live rock band. Except I had been to Hyde Park to see Pink Floyd, Kevin Ayres, Roy Harper and others totally free. Now this has been mentioned before and is probably a future post. So, live music and me weren't total strangers.

29th August 1970. Saturday night at the Spa Pavilion, Felixstowe. The band were called Audience. A month earlier they had appeared on TOTP performing, I think, Indian Summer (great song). But here they were, live on stage in front of me. My first proper paying gig. So, I was starting with A and would, through the years, reach Z (Frank Zappa, Hammersmith 1970-something). 

Audience were a strange band even for the early 1970s. Their line-up was a singer who played classical guitar, an electric sax/flute/clarinet player with bass and drums. Howard Werth, the singer, had a really weird voice (he later replaced Jim Morrison in a short-lived version of The Doors) and, rather obviously, they were a Prog band. I enjoyed the gig and saw them a few times later - most notably on 9th April 1971 at an All-nighter at the Lyceum in London (yes, I DO realise how old young I was) with VDGG, Genesis, Bell & Arc and Patto. I hope you're taking notes, Andy - there's a post about the six bob tour coming up soon. I think I saw Tir Na Nog in some sort of underground bunker beneath the Spa as well either in 1970 or the next year. I definitely saw them but my memory is beginning to play havoc with my real life . . . 

A year later and we're in a similar situation. Rain, caravan, dog grizzling. Only this time an ex member of Jethro Tull is playing. Unfortunately, the heydays of the Tull and Blodwyn Pig were behind Mick Abrahams, for it is he. By now he was playing with a loose group of musicians under the name of Womit (hmm . . ) but I do remember being able to buy beer at the bar. Yes, yes, I know, I was fifteen. They probably weren't the best band I ever saw live but I will never forget the comment Abrahams made. "We're gonna do a long number called Seasons now - there's a long guitar solo in it so you can go off and have a s . . . " well, you get the idea.

All good fun and the sort of stuff one remembers all these years later. I have been to a few other gigs since then at the same theatre - the Blues Band, Al Murray, Joe Brown, Dave Burland and Simon Nicol amongst others.

And now? Well, Mrs Dave and I wandered past it today and it was all boarded up. The picture above is actually as it is today filtered through a '1970s' style and the black and white one probably makes it look a little timeless. The gardens my parents loved to walk through, where we taught our children to ride bikes and all those years ago we wandered through just taking in the ambience have begun to go now. It was a meridian time. I can't imagine that I was the only youth who was caught up in the music of the time. They were part of the 50p circuit just like the New Resurrection Club back home in Hitchin with weekly gigs by bands like Genesis, Trapeze, Black Widow and monthly ones by a down-on-their-luck pre-Rumours Fleetwood Mac, Rory Gallagher et al (those gigs cost about £1.50). 

The reason that the Spa is boarded up is because it can't sustain a profit in these everything-on-the-internet times and, if the place is left alone for two minutes, the kids would break every window asap. Just like they've managed to do with every other building left to rot in this town. Perhaps if the recent owners had managed to put some decent gigs on like those packed houses I was at in the seventies, this place would still be open and supplying great music to them. When I put the gigs on at Stevenage College, I understood advertising was the key to getting an audience. Lessons learnt then don't seem to have filtered through.

I started with Audience and ended with mention of an audience so I guess I've somehow managed to bring things round.

This post was brought to you with an understanding that nostalgia is an acquired taste. 

Sunday, 20 January 2013

living in the past

From the time that I could walk, he'd take me with him
To a bar called the Green Frog Cafe
And there were old men with beer guts and dominoes
Lyin' about their lives while they'd play
And I was just a kid and they all called me his sidekick . . .

I have recently been referred to as someone's "sidekick" when I was younger. I'm not sure whether the comment was designed to be pejorative or not but I did find it rather galling. The idea that I may not have had much of an identity of my own or that I was some wraith-like figure suggests our fleeting presence in each others lives.

Initially it made me feel like Guy Clark in Desperados Waiting for a Train but after a while it made me wonder about how we are perceived by others.  I have over recent years got back in contact from characters from my past: fellow travellers that shared formative moments with me. Obviously all the people I am personally back in contact with are people I liked, respected or had good times with. I guess sometimes we are thrown together on our journeys with fellow travellers that we never want to see or hear from again whereas we lose contact with people we'd love to at least hear from. As an old romantic I like to hear about how these people are getting on and whether or not Life has been kind to them. Even if we only had very brief journeys together.

Some of the chaps I "knew" for a very short time, some I have known for the majority of my life in some ways. And the word "chaps" was deliberately chosen as the people I'm talking about tended to be school friends (Boy's Grammar) or because I've been happily married for thirty years, getting in contact with females somehow seems out of the question. Maybe it's just my English Reserve . Having said that, a very good female friend and I do occasionally converse via email - she's an artist still in Hertfordshire. It's just nice to know that another platonic friend survived and is getting on well.

A few years ago the phenomenon of Friends Reunited was difficult to avoid. I did register just to see if anyone from the past did want to get back in contact. A few did, most didn't. There was one who tried writing but it seems that my replies never got through so he gave up. Not too worried personally about that one. Another is still a good friend and we do occasionally meet up to put the World right and to drink from the Well at the World's End (he'll understand).

On another occasion, I noticed a very good friend's details there and thought, but I know his phone number, we just haven't spoken for a couple of years. So I phoned his number. A hesitant female voice at the end seemed shocked that I should ask for him by name.

Evidently he had died a few months earlier on an operating table for a fairly minor op. Nobody had thought to let me know. I was devastated. The news came the same week that a very good friend of mine committed suicide. He was four years older than me - a contemporary of my sister - he was at the same school but we became great friends in the aftermath of school. You know, real life where age doesn't really seem to matter. That wasn't a good week, I can assure you.  The bitterness of not knowing about Hugh's death and not being told took a long time to recede. I was in his address book. Anyway . . .

So, many of us have survived in various ways. Some of us are successful, others have not always been lucky. But. But how do we actually perceive our friends? Why do we feel the need to get back in touch with characters from our past? For me it really is a matter of just wanting to know. I assume in many cases that I'll probably never meet some of them again. I have been able to meet some. One of these fellow travellers lives and works in the same institution that one of my daughter went to. At her graduation, I was able to pop in and meet up briefly - in fact we've met twice. Another one lives in France and yet another in Hong Kong - I'm not likely to see them again physically.  I guess it doesn't matter - the internet has changed everything, I suppose.

But I wonder what their abiding memories of me are? I wonder what we think when first we decide to get back in contact? The funny incidents, drunken nights, embarrassing moments, the gigs, the sheer pleasure of their company? Each of the people I am back in contact with bring a warm glow of a time (mostly mis-) spent together.

My eldest daughter came back home for a few weeks over Christmas. She told me that my blogs tend to have a nostalgic feel to them. If that is the case I do apologise to all.  I suppose now that the internet can accommodate everyone's memories through youTube and Facebook people can look back and find it all there. For most of us whose formative years were well before the advent of social notworking, we have to rely totally on our memories. If we can occasionally reminisce whilst keeping up with current happenings, that's not a bad thing. I don't actually think that I live in the past, or at least I hope I don't. But I guess I need to think about that carefully.

It's finally started to snow here in Suffolk. Perhaps I'll sit and stare at the logs burning and think this through. It's funny what can kick start a thought process.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

the dog, the dog, he's at it again

ghosts and angels are but memories and visions
and revenants are out there taking up positions
but back when I believed in you
you'd raise up the sun and set the moon
how could I help but love you holy as religion
away you are going, away you are gone

Just after Christmas I stood in HMV and found what I was looking for - even more amazingly, it was at a price I didn't mind paying. Mary Chapin Carpenter's recent elegiac album Ashes and Roses explores her recent illness and loss of her father and I am happy to recommend it to anyone who'll listen (probably about one in three at a wedding party). I paid about £7 for it and was quite happy to pay that amount - I wanted the cover with the lyrics. Anyway, I then wandered up the main drag of Ipswich to meet Mrs Dave somewhere - past the pound shops and the "seasonal" shops (oops! They've all gone). Christmas is over. More empty shops.

The loss of HMV is sad for one reason only - there's nowhere to go to peruse album racks. Still, I guess it's because we've not really been doing that that they've gone into receivership anyway. However, most of us haven't really been able to do that for a long time. Oh, I'll go into Fopps* occasionally if I'm in the Smoke but for provincials and rurals like most of us, it's a long time since we've really been able to do that.

A friend of mine, Ian, ran an Independent Record Shop here in the small coastal town in the East of England I've lived in for many years. I loved going there to peruse his (tiny) shop worth of cds and he'd get ANYTHING for you, no matter how random or obscure. He was so into music he was virtually a character out of an early Nick Hornsby novel. He closed it down (some 10 or more years ago) because Woolworths and Smiths had moved into the town and were selling Top 50 cds - his bread and butter. No matter that the shop was full of "Heads" and freaks looking for obscurities, grannies looking for the latest hit album were the foundation of his business.

And then came along Amazon.

They were the death knell for Ian and many like him. I use them - I always have. I loved the idea of Amazon. Still do. Everything I want (with a few provisos, I guess) can usually be found if I'm prepared to wait**. There are things that I can't find; if I'm honest, when I finally get some things I hunt down, I am often disappointed. The thrill is in the chase, of course. But the point is that HMV destroyed themselves. It wasn't all down to Amazon.

I've been buying records since I was a kid - early singles include Bowie's Space Odyssey, The Walker Brothers' Archangel (actually the B side but I bought it for that as the A side was lame), The Pretty Things' October 26th and god knows what else. I stood countless times in W. H. Smiths listening to singles in those little listening booths ( possibly more to do with - and get this, I can still remember her name - Caroline Scott, a Saturday girl probably from the Girl's Grammar School) and occasionally I bought something. And over the past twenty years or so, there is still no real thrill to clicking through cd covers like the thrill of leafing through lp covers in plastic covers. I have occasionally gone in to second hand record shops purely to relive the pleasure of doing that.

Amazon, it seems, have threatened to open stores in town centres - er, are you sure about that? You've destroyed the town centres and now you're going to open the shops you've closed? To sell the things that people could already buy happily in the town centres? Ah! A Master Plan.

I miss shops like Ian's and I am aware that I have not supported them as much as I should have. I am aware that I am part of the problem - I do download albums from iTunes and Amazon. I also support artists who sell cds on tour too. Maybe if there were smaller shops locally I would try to support them.

However, the problem has always been economical. Amazon, let's face it, sell albums cheaply. For instance, A few years back (I'm about to lapse into the possibility of a taste war but I don't care - so don't bother commenting) I bought the re-release of Argus by Wishbone Ash. In HMV it was £22. £22 for a single cd. Amazon? £11. No, I didn't buy two of them but you can see the point - how can they charge that much?

HMV simply priced themselves out of the market and never responded intelligently to the battle on hand with the internet. David Hepworth can winge about the "magic" of High Street shops as much as he wants, but the truth is chains like HMV wanted to destroy the smaller independent stores by homogenising music (okay, the supporters of that may have won the war but hopefully the fragmentation of the internet will keep some form of individuality going) and, ultimately they've been hoist by their own petard. I have no real sympathy for the loss of HMV beyond the fact that yet another 4000 people are out of a job.

The public chose not to bother any more with HMV and I, for one, don't blame them. HMV were always overpriced and disinterested in those of us with broader tastes. Over recent years they have sold cds in a permanent sale situation. Great if you wanted those particular albums at £3 but tough if you have more recent esoteric interests because that wasn't what they were after.

Mind you, they obviously didn't get the type of customers they wanted anyway. Perhaps they should have courted us more esoteric types. Oh, there's no business in that, is there?

* yes, thank you I know that HMV own Fopp, so they'll be going too.
** Well, not everything - there are a few albums I'm looking for but a boy's got to have a hobby.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

consider the ravens

To the tower and to the ravens
And the tale that hopes they'll never leave.
What if they should go?
We always dread to think of them.
I wonder if they flew one day
And no-one ever knew they'd gone
To circle over ships at sea,
Claiming yet another son.

The first few flakes of snow made an attempt at midday today as we parked in the Waitrose car park. The sky has been threateningly grey all day but so far, it's all come to nothing. The Russian weather front was supposed to hit yesterday but, as you can see, it was a beautiful day in Suffolk.

We left about nine o'clock in the morning to get to the meeting place in plenty of time - it meant being able to stop for petrol along the way as there are precious few patrol stations in the wilds of Suffolk. A jay flew up from the road as we gently came round a bend and then half a dozen roe deer ran across the road ahead through Rendlesham Forest. This was going to be a nice day.

We parked behind Orford Castle and after a while as the rest turned up we went for the first walk of the year. We completed a circular walk although we actually finished it off at The King's Head a few hundred yards further down the road. Of course.  What's the point of going for a four hour ramble and not having a pint at the end as a reward?

Suffolk is pretty flat and there isn't much opportunity to use many different muscles on this sort of walk but it was great to get out into the fresh air and drive away the post-Christmas blues. One week in to a new term and already everyone's knackered. I've tried to keep away from New Year Resolutions but there are a few areas of my life that will benefit from a change or two. Mrs Dave and I are determined to get out and walk more at weekends. We bought an OS Active Map of the Woodbridge and Saxmundham (Explorer 212, if you're interested. It's the same one if you're not, too) so that automatically makes you feel that you have to use them as they cost £14. Anyway, we felt great and after a pint or two of Adnam's finest we were looking forward to collapsing in front of  the tv and watching Made In Dagenham. After a bath and a chilled Thai meal from Waitrose that's exactly what we did. Therefore, as the more astute amongst you will have already realised probably completely detracted from most of the benefits of going for a four hour wander around Suffolk woods and fields. Ah well.

Those roe deer we saw seemed to be circling us - we saw them twice more during the walk - we're fairly sure they were the same ones. There were sixteen of us on the walk and one of the chaps had a dog with him. I think it was the dog that made the deer even more nervous than usual but it was a fine sight. It also prompted a discussion about poaching as two of the chaps with us were ex-police. I also learned that we now have any crimes that are punishable by the death penalty. This may explain why so many comedians nonchalantly take the mickey and are openly rude about the Queen nowadays.

Okay, so we've reached a point where castles and Royalty are connected. As I looked up at the very graceful keep towering above me I desperately wanted some crows to be flying around, which were there but not quite visible. On the way home we stopped off at the newly opened Waitrose in Ipswich where I picked up a copy of their weekly paper.

There was a fairly bizarre story therein about the Tower of London and how the ravens have, evidently become fussy about the food they eat. They don't like Cheese and Onion crisps, it seems. Well, who does? But still, they rip open packets of crisps and dip them in water to get rid of the taste. Perhaps that's why people drink beer with crisps. Anyway, there are two new ravens at the Tower, Jubilee and Grip. The first is obviously named as he was a present to Her Madge whilst the other was the name of Charles Dickens' pet raven. I didn't actually know he had a pet raven, but each to his own (the past is a different country and all that).  The last paragraph in this short report is:

Legend has it that in the 17th century, King Charles II decreed that at least six ravens should be kept at the Tower at all times, in the belief that if they ever left, the place would crumble away.

Of course, as most schoolchildren used to know, if the ravens left the Tower then the country would fall. There is a Celtic connection here. In the Mabinogian the story of Bran (which means 'raven') has his head buried facing France at the Tower to ward off invasion by France. However, supposedly King Arthur dug it up. Whether any of this is true or not doesn't really matter; the point is that ravens have been kept at the Tower for hundreds of years.

And why is it that they have never left so that England has managed to avoid being invaded? Oh, they've clipped one feather of one of their wings so they can only make very short flights around the area they are captive in. Hmm, best not to take any chances, eh?

Oh well, Sunday evening and still no snow. I guess the ravens are still happily being "treated like Royalty" (possibly being photographed naked in a hotel room somewhere?) so I suppose it's business as usual. Back to work . . .