Tuesday, 26 February 2013

blood wedding

a dozen drunken uncles are pissing up the wall
grandad is grinning
there's no one home at all
happy ever after*

So, Birmingham. Tipton Sports and Social Club. Saturday night.

We got to Birmingham through the wonders of modern technology - I will never travel to that god-forsaken city without a sat nav ever again. We found our hotel - a term I use loosely, although Premier Inns aren't as bad as I thought - I only had to drive around a housing estate briefly after the sat nav (or she-who-must-be-obeyed) told us to, "do a U-Turn as soon as you can." Er, isn't that illegal? Anyway we got there. After a quick meal in the Brewer's Droop (or possibly Fayre) we called a taxi. The first one had disappeared by the time we walked the one minute it took to get downstairs, so we ordered another one. Two turned up. I approached the first one and asked if it was for Leeke to Tipton, "Yeah, yeah, whatever" - I looked at the other one thinking, is this a scam? Anyway, someone else was climbing in to that one, so we jumped in. After a few minutes as we passed the local Tesco at speed then took a hanger right, the driver asked us where we were going. I told him. Then he asked if we knew where it was.

"Er, no, that's why I got a taxi."

"Okay, no problem." Fiddles with sat nav. "Okay."
We got there. By now, Mrs D was thinking, if he charges more than a tenner, it's going to be an argument.
"A fiver, please."
Blimey, he got us there quickly and it only cost a fiver.   It was beginning to snow and it looked less inviting than Barack Obamah's invitation to Lady's Night at the KKK AGM. But we went in - the taxi had gone. Off to find another fare to somewhere he didn't actually know.

We entered said establishment. Now, I'm not sure, gentle readers, how familiar you are with such establishments but you may have had to endure spend an evening at such a do. We were a little early but we weren't invited to the actual wedding. The scene was one of several trestle tables full of characters from the Oysterband's Blood Wedding* with hundreds of very small children running around playing with balloons. The bar looked uninviting but, hey, it's a bar. I managed to negotiate some drinks -  a few glasses (actually mini bottles) of white wine was possible. No problem there. I looked at the rows of lager and Caffreys and John Smiths pumps and my heart sank. I got a little panicky - a bit like an eleven year old being told Mr Savile was coming to babysit. Anyway, I spotted a bottle of Morland's Old Speckled Hen and felt a little relieved (as though the party was cancelled and JS won't be around after all).

Eventually a few more characters started turning up. I was heartened by the fact that the previous wedding to this one was, "Really Chavvy." Oh dear. I must explain at this point that we were at my nephew's wedding. Now, I'm not just trying to make fun of this, there is a point to what I'm writing here. We have been here before  and nobody here was from Essex. But, there is a current style of wedding that has become popular since certain programmes on the tv have celebrated them.

There were a lot of larger ladies at the do. Now, as a skinny person, it's so easy to mock, I guess. The amount of flesh and tattoos and high heels and boobs that were on show was pure Essex. And I don't even watch these shows but understand what that means! At one point the bride fell over - obviously accidentally but I wonder if the old iPhones were out? Harry Hill is awaiting your call now. Lots of tears, anyway.

Now, the food was a spectacle. Not exactly what one might call delicate. Less of a finger buffet and more like the whole bloody arm. Pork Pies that were just pie crust and jelly, rolls so full of egg and salad cream** that a it would make a family meal. But, stop! It's so easy to jest. This isn't really the point - I said there was one.

It was the dancing. I will admit to rushing back from the bar mid-order to dance with Mrs Dave to Brown Eyed Girl but other than that, the music really was (for me) quite dire. There was a lot of what can really only be described as "dance-offs". I've not really witnessed it before. Every so often, a ring would form with much hand clapping. A woman or girl would wander into the centre and twirl around with little ceremony. And then the blokes started. Oh my god! The beer riddled floor and cheap perfume could not disguise the testosterone on show that night. It would appear that such modern dances are "test-fests" (I made that up). Young lads of primary age were body-popping and shuffling across the floor in a sort of young exuberant display of energy. Then adults - I'm talking of guys in their 20s and 40s - were showing off. One guy danced like David Brent but it seemed like it wasn't a joke; another 40 year old shuffled across the floor like a cross between the amoeba twist*** and Devo's Jocko Homo (check 3:40 into the video)

I'll tell you what it was like, it was like watching bands from the seventies when every member of the band had to play a solo whether they were capable or not, or some sort of play-off where you show 'everything you got' (maybe a tribal thing). I'm not joking, it was a real Man's Thing. The females got a cursory sop of a twirl. It was horrible and pretty embarrassing (unless you happened to be an anthropologist). Also, for Birmingham, I was surprised that there was only one Asian in the whole place. Yet, the music was predominantly black, hip-hoppy and repetitive. One hell of an experience but not a situation I feel comfortable in. I guess I'll refer us all back to Show of Hands' Roots -They're playing and dancing all night long/So what have they got right that we've got so wrong?****

The point. I was surprised at the testosterone level on show - perhaps I shouldn't be. It wasn't about how awful the wedding may have been/not been. I am surprised at the Imperialistic view still there as far as appropriating other cultures. I had no intention of bringing up Roots but it does seem to crop up every so often. I am not advocating any form of fascistic view but I really don't want to feel embarrassed about what little bit of culture we've possibly got left. I was so pleased that RT still harks back to the tradition even now. this blog post was going to mention the Cambridge gig but it's for next time.

for richer, for poorer,
for better or for worse,
now we are married, a blessing or a curse
kiss me and don't forget
what you see is what you get

* Zouk, lyrically the clue is in the video
** I guess egg mayonnaise has yet to hit this corner of Birmingham
*** as performed by Patto c. 1974, and my good self in The Pillar of Hercules, Soho c. 1980
**** Sorry to raise this one again, feel free to agree/disagree/give a shit

Monday, 25 February 2013

the blues are gonna find you someday, somewhere

Dave Alvin
(Blue Horn Toad Music, BMI)

Well when I was a young boy
I used to slip away
Down to the Ashgrove
To hear the old blues men play
There was Big Joe and Lightnin’
And Reverend Gary too
Well I’d sit and stare and dream
Of doin’ what they could do.

Well it’s been thirty years since the Ashgrove burned down
And I’m out on this highway travelin’ town to town
Tryin’ to make a livin’ 
Tryin’ to pay the rent
Tryin’ to figure out where my life went.

I wanna go back to the Ashgrove
That’s where I come from
I wanna go back to the Ashgrove
That’s where I belong.

Well you don’t have to go searchin’
Pretend to put on airs
‘Cause the blues are gonna find you someday, somewhere
Now my mother’s gone
Now my father’s gone
And all the old blues men have all passed on
And I’m out on this highway travelin’ town to town 
Settin’ up my gear and then I’m tearin’ it down 
Turnin’ up my guitar
Standin’ on the stage
I’m just tryin’ to raise the ghosts up out of their graves.

I wanna go back to the Ashgrove
That’s where I come from 
Yeah I wanna go back to the Ashgrove
That’s where I belong.

Well I can’t say I been all sinner
Can’t say I been all saint
I’ve done some good deeds and I’ve made big mistakes
I been in and out of love
Said words I regret
I been drunk, been sober
Smoked too many cigarettes
And I’m out on this highway travelin’ town to town
And the news on the radio just brings me down
Intolerance and fear
Ignorance and lies
It’s the same old same old I heard a million times
And I’m thinkin’ of friends and lovers
And how they come and go
Like look-alike houses on the side of the road
Full of everyday people tryin’ to get ahead
Tryin’ to find a reason just to get out of bed
‘Cause we all need somethin’ just to get us through
Well I’m gonna play the blues tonight man
‘Cause that’s what I do.

I’m goin’ back to the Ashgrove
That’s where I come from
I’m goin’ back to the Ashgrove
That’s where I belong.

A house fire on our return home last night has left us a bit shocked. Nobody's hurt but it was cold and dark after the Fire Brigade went. They were wonderful. Please do not support the Tory attempt to privatise them! Join/support 38 degrees - it is working.

Normal service will be resumed asap. Thought Dave Alvin says it so well.

Friday, 22 February 2013

the stranger in blue suede shoes

I play before the audience
I make them laugh and shout
And when they've laughed for quite a while
The door man lets them out

I can't really let the passing of Kevin Ayers go by without comment. However, I was also trying not to be too nostalgic when writing for a while. But the best laid plans, and all that.

It's been many years since I saw him live but Kevin Ayers played at the first proper gig I ever went to. It was at Hyde Park and Pink Floyd were performing Atom Heart Mother at a free concert. Others on the bill included Formerly Fat Harry, Edgar Broughton, Roy Harper and the Third Ear Band. The latter mostly being famous for the soundtrack of Polanski's Macbeth. And for being quite awful.

Ayers was joined on stage by Robert Wyatt and they were pretty good. I suppose at my young age (14) it all seemed pretty amazing. Ayers also played Hyde Park free in 1974 so I must have seen him twice that year as I was also at the Rainbow for the recording of June 1,1974 which was a fantastic evening featuring Eno, Nico, John Cale and Mike Oldfield. Oldfield was also the bassist for Kevin Ayers Whole World - the band that had played at the previous Hyde Park gig. I think I saw Ayers at the Roundhouse and somewhere else but it's all getting lost in a failing memory. I do remember Oldfield playing an excellent solo on Everybody's Sometime and Some People's All the Time Blues that night. A lot of people forget what a great guitarist he is. Ollie Halsall was the main guitarist and worked with Ayers for many years after leaving the ill-fated Patto. Halsall died of a heroin overdose which made Ayers think about his own mortality. Although, it would seem that he remained a drinker to the end. The interview in the Guardian yesterday prompted this brief post. He also appeared on the children's tv pop show Supersonic singing Marlene Dietrich's Falling in Love Again which was quite bizarre.

I used the title of one of his rare singles After the Show for a blog post recently. I remember songs like Shouting in a Bucket Blues, May I? and Lady Rachel being popular with audiences. Steve Hillage played the lovely guitar part on Bucket on the Bananamour album. Just little bits of pleasure from a rare talent. Even my mum liked him. I'm surprised that his passing was commented on on Radio 4 yesterday, they even got Robert Wyatt in to reminisce. I don't think that Ayers was as influential as some people are making out but when someone dies everyone tends to be very respectful. The truth is, he wrote some great songs had a remarkably deep voice and was mostly respected for being a louche womaniser. In fact, his affair with Richard Branson's wife produced a daughter. He was a true sybarite.

He had a great sense of humour that filtered through to his music. His appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test performing Oh! Wot a Dream was unforgettable. He performed this silly little tribute to Syd Barrett with an acoustic guitar alongside two band members playing a duck call and a triangle. It also doesn't seem to be on You Tube which is a surprise - the song's there but not this particular performance. Ah well, it doesn't matter. A suitable place to end with the mention of Whistle Test because it was his father Rowan that launched the programme.

So, farewell Kevin and thank you very much.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

iken see for miles

The day started inauspiciously enough with grey skies where there should have been blue and every pub in the area closed on Mondays.

It was Mrs Dave's birthday and because we'd been promised fine weather she had decided to go on a walk. After driving for ages around the Suffolk Triangle where whole villages disappear, we found the Crettingham Bell. The idea was to walk for a few hours and come back to a nice pub lunch and a pint. The fields around were water-logged and the roads seemed wet. We drove back to the previous village - still there - and the pub there was shut too. The guy I thought that was waiting for it to open seemed to work there - most of the pubs in this area are closed on Mondays, he explained.

Mrs Dave was beginning to get a bit fed up so we drove towards Orford. On a whim, we turned off and headed for Snape. When we got to the Maltings the car park was pretty full but the on-site pub The Plough and Sail was fairly empty. But open. By now it was gone midday and we decided to eat then. Excellent fish and chips and a decent pint of Adnams set us up for a wander around the Maltings. The various boutiques and galleries were expensive, of course, and a small bookshop had a display of books that looked like the contents of one of my bookshelves. The clothes were all too huntin'-shootin'-fishin' and impossibly expensive. After wandering around a huge "home and kitchen" area we realised that the clouds had gone and the sun had decided to bless us with its presence.

We booted up and started to wander down by the River Alde on what is known as the Sailor's Path but it was so unpleasantly muddy that we decided not to bother. We wandered over to see the Barbara Hepworth statue The Family of Man, then wandered down towards some trees. This lead on to a part of the Suffolk Coastal Path so we thought we'd try that. I'm planning to walk the whole path soon so it was worth having a wander down part of it.  A great tit charmed us with its melodious song until three booms from a crow-scarer interrupted it. Then we moved away from the wooded area.

This area of Suffolk seems timeless. All we could hear was the occasional honk of faraway geese and the piping of an oystercatcher disturbed from poking around in the soft, gooey mud. We stopped in the picnic area to read the sign explaining the area. This was Iken Cliff. The church sounded interesting so we headed off towards it. As we climbed gently out of the wooded part, a large white bird flew close overhead. It had the size and slow languorous elegance of a heron but the familiar egret shape - a great white egret, a bird that is becoming a more and more frequent visitor to Britain. In the distance we could see the spire of the church.

The timelessness and solitude of these flatlands are the landscape of a future novel for me. This really could be any time in the past, or the future really. But we're in the now. Out there in the distance beyond the twisted dead trees the various geese, swans and waders were continuing their seasonal, daily  routines unworried by us and our brief snatches of solitude. Talk of "Big Skies" is appropriate - Norfolk and Scotland are always mentioned but here in Suffolk, we too can be overwhelmed by vast vistas of watercolour skies. Once around the headland we found the church up a lane where pregnant sheep that looked more like pigs in fleeces ignored us. Signs everywhere made tourists feel slightly unwelcome - no dogs, don't lean your bikes on our delicate reed fences, don't go here, private, get lost, leave us alone - but we went in anyway. It's a lovely old church supposedly the site of Ikenho and a major part of the mysticism of East Anglia. St Botolph was an East Anglian monk who set out to evangelise the pagan hoards under direct instruction from St Felix the first Bishop of East Anglia. The church has been an important religious site for some 1350 years. Most people probably don't even know it's there.

We were pleasantly surprised to see one of those shaggy coated bulls with really huge long horns - a Highland Breed I assume but will probably soon be informed differently - in the field next door. We went in to the little half-thatched church. I was stopped short by the fact that ten young men were lost in the Great War from this village. Ten. The village is tiny and this fact alone brought it home to me about the devastation wreaked upon the land. It seems that nowhere was unaffected. On Sunday on the wireless there was an interview with a woman whose father had been killed in that War. It seems so long ago but there are still families that were affected by it. My grandfather fought in that War but I realise now that I didn't really know much about what he or my dad really experienced. And it's all too late now to discover much about those experiences. But ten young men killed from one tiny village seems overwhelming in its sheer cataclysmic effect.

We wandered back out into the late afternoon sun and headed back the way we came. Some geese had come in nearer to the reedbeds and were waddling about comically. The oystercatchers were still trilling and piping in their slightly nervous way. Ahead, several times, I saw the ghostly white elegant shape of the egret keeping out of our way but just on the periphery of our vision. One solitary neglected boat was the only evidence of any human attempt to make a living from the water. Two figures padding across the duckboards back towards the man-made elegance of the Maltings where Benjamin Britten had introduced high culture to this quiet corner of farmland and wetlands, we turned and looked out at what Nature had managed. Miles of low lying reeds and water, a landscape where bird life continued as though nothing had ever changed. Maybe the recent colonisation of the area by some European visitors, the egrets, was a suggestion that times have changed.

The landscape that St Botolph had built his church on, where ten young men had grown up in those halcyon Pre-Lapsarian days but would never return to remains the same. The almost silence broken only by the occasional plaintive cry of solitary waders and the boom, not of crow-scarers, but of a bittern stand as a testament to those moments of contemplation and peace that is available to us still if we're prepared to go out and seek it.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

a man's a man for a' that

for a' that, and a' that,
his ribband, star, and a' that:
the man o' independent mind
he looks a' laughs at a' that

There are certain things, it seems, that as men we should own. I'm sure there are similar lists for ladies but  I'm not acquainted with any such list. I stumbled upon a list recently that you may wish to peruse purely for pleasure.

I did actually spend a few minutes thinking about these items - to a certain degree, it's mainly about what's called in the guitar fraternity GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) but some of the items on the list make sense. Certainly not all. So, I thought I'd spend a few moments going through the list - much as I hope you all will.

1. I have NEVER owned a pair of brogues - I'm not sure I'd recognise a pair if I tripped over them but they look like the sort of things skinheads in the 1970s used to chase me through the mean streets of Stevenage with.  I may not recognise them but I've probably felt them against my head a few times.

2. A toy - the list suggests a Strat as one of the possible "toys", so yes, I own two. Both American originals and one of them I have mentioned before, the other I bought in memory of my mother as she left me a small amount of money when she died. I have lots of toys, especially in this modern digital age, but I agree that we all need a hobby (no matter how awful we are at it).

3. Isn't that the fate of all bits of old clothing?

4. Just having a watch is enough in this day and age. Lots of younger humans can't tell the time nowadays. I'm happy with my Timex Expedition - it glows in the dark! It tells the time.  Er . . .that's it.

5. I have a picture of my wife, me and our three kids on the beach nearby.  I have another one of me with my eldest daughter and dad and grandad.  All happy enough. I guess that now everything is Facebooked and recorded and updated every other second, that seems like it's nothing unusual.

6. My father bought me a Black and Decker drill and electric saw as a Wedding gift. The saw eventually gave up the ghost but the drill continues and is regularly put to use - even my son uses it now. Fantastic present. I must admit that the Bosch saw is much better than the original B&D one but it lasted for years and was certainly an incredibly useful piece of kit for many years. Actually, the Bosch cuts straighter.

7. Well, there always seems to be one in the house somewhere. I don't really like the stuff but it's always handy to have one around. other people like it. So they say. Useful every 31st December.

8. Well, what can you say? It's obviously a useful thing to have around - if only to order stuff from Amazon.  What do you mean, you use your debit card? It's not protected whereas credit cards are, automatically.

9.  Well, I've got a few of those but my favourite is an Oysterband one that says " Lord Protect Us" on the front and "From Your Followers" on the back. I've had a few "looks" from people for that one. There are some bands that it won't ever look cool wearing one - that doesn't stop some people wearing them. However, a new freshly laundered "Led Zeppelin Knebworth Road Crew" T-shirt will always look naff.

10. A good fountain pen is,indeed, a thing of wonder. Amongst the Lamy's and others, my Rotring Art Pen is still a thing of beauty. I just used it to jot down the list from the MH site. I'm not sure if it fits the list but - well, who cares?

11. The Godfather trilogy on dvd. I own it. I have watched it. However, there are better things - Once Upon A Time In America for a start. Sorry.

12. Well, what can I say? Kate Bush? Joni Mitchell circa Blue? Madelaine Smith . . . .etc

We've all got our own lists, so what do we think? What should we own? It's interesting that they never put Richard and Linda Thompson's I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight on the list but I guess that it's assumed everyone owns it anyway.

Oh yes! Good friends. How come they're not on the list? Probably the most important item.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

as i walked out one fair badger's day morning

Of Candlemas beware old man
the wind gale and the thorn
and if you think that winter's dead
it's barely been born
and if you think that
the spring has come
with the bright sun in the sky
an icy wind blows icy tears
from the corner of your eye

Due to American Cultural Imperialism, nowadays most people associate February 2nd as Groundhog Day. But rather than Punxsutawny Phil, the weather traditionally in parts of England were predicted by none other than that much maligned gentleman of the woods, Brock the Badger.

In the North Candlemas has traditionally been a time when farm tenancies were commenced or terminated. In Devon and other parts of the country, it was an important part of weather forecasting. However, in Huntingdonshire, Candlemas Day was also known as Badger's Day and it was he who upon waking from hibernation decided whether winter was over or not by the casting of the shadow of his tail.

The view from the car park
As I stepped out of the house yesterday morning, there was a light sprinkling of snow on the car - being only a few hundred yards from the sea means to me that it had been pretty damned cold in the early hours. I took the road up the coast to a village called Ramsholt (Rammesholt in the Domesday Book). Turning off down the lane towards the Ramsholt Arms, I had to follow two 4x4s with horse boxes so it was a slow drive for a mile or two. I spied a buzzard overhead, then found the car park where the loose walking group we have formed over the last few years were waiting. Mrs Dave was too busy marking exam papers to come and it was a diminished group of five hardy fellows (well three fellows and two ladies). Oh and about twenty horse boxes and horses of various sizes. We spoke to one of the horsey ladies and they were going for a ride after a champagne breakfast. With dogs. Okay.

Ramsholt Church of All Saints
We set off across the fields and went up the gentle incline towards the church. At the top of this small hill, we saw a few shifty characters jumping out of a small people carrier. A comment or two was made about them but I thought nothing of it. The church was fascinating as these small country churches often are. It's a grade II listed building. The tower had been thought of as Roman in design but it is Norman (probably mistakenly attributed to the French "Romanesque" rather than "Norman") and quite unusual as it's oval in shape. Evidently it's round inside. It was used as a seamark on maps from 1287 but the history seems confused. Near to the entrance of the tower inside is a stone coffin used for washing corpses.  Ah well, time to move on.

At seven o'clock we do begin
and we generally stop about nine or ten
to have our beer and oil her up
then away we go till one o'clock

Behind some houses and near another church a murder of crows were gathering. On the fields, on the fences and in the trees - or was it a storytelling of rooks? According to Mark Cocker, in Norfolk they say that where there's a rook it's a crow and where there are crows they're rooks. So I guess they were rooks, then. We walked up to Shottisham where a discussion about the local pub had led us to. Evidently the locals didn't fancy losing their local pub so decided to buy it. The pub, The Sorrel Horse, was bought in August 2011. The finances are in such a good state that they've managed to put a new thatched roof on and they still have some £450,000 in hand.for future projects. With so many shareholders they've secured a good future for the pub and locality. Perhaps it's something more villagers should do to ensure the survival of communities in these days of pubs closing at the rate of 2 per day (there are about 60,000 pubs still open in the UK). It's good to hear of a successful community project. A fine lunchtime pint of Adnams in front of a roaring fire set us up to continue.

As we crossed a field I turned and looked back at the sky. So far, the BBC's weather report was closer than the Met Office's App on my phone. The sky in the distance was black and moving our way quickly - there was no cover so just pull up the hood of your waterproof and keep walking. BBC 1, Met Office Nil. Actually, it passed over quickly and the worse we had was a brief icy shower as we entered a wood just above the shoreline of the Deben where we could see Waldringfield opposite. We found what was probably an ancient fleet - a slipway where trees were cut down to be build a warship and then dug out to float the ship into the river. There's one called King's Fleet on the opposite side of the river which is marked on the map, and there is a local Primary school named after it. We climbed the gentle incline up through what must surely be a bluebell wood - I'll come back later in the year to check. As we left the wood the sun came out briefly and warmed us slightly. A cormorant scudded past above us and I looked out across the river. Others talked of sailing here and someone suggested that the inlets were good for canoeing so perhaps we'll try that later in the year. Although this landscape appears bleak to many, I think it has a strange beauty. Big Skies and miles of reed beds and a rugged landscape full of teeming bird life give this county a wild charm.

By the time we got back to the Ramsholt Arms after our brief walk (Andrew the leader of the group had recently broken a rib and wasn't able to sustain walking for too long) we realised we hadn't seen the riders. But we heard the dogs. After settling down for a pint and shared plate of chips, a few riders were straggling in looking elegant and rosy cheeked. But it was time for me to go. All-in-all, a good day - no hint of any badgers, though.

After the goodbyes and hand shaking and kissing was over I went up to the car park. A very well-spoken gent unharnessing his (huge) horse and coercing it up into its box started chatting to me. I was more concerned that whilst I un-booted myself that this ton of animal muscle wasn't going to damage my car. He spoke of seeing a buzzard earlier on and that it was quite unusual - okay mate, but they're not that rare around here, I thought. I said that the changes in farming practice over the last twenty years was good for wildlife. Of, course his father had been a farmer (my mouth gets me into trouble, and all that) and we talked of DDT and other things that people seem to think I know about. God knows why. I did read The Peregrine by J.A. Baker once but I'm hardly an expert on farming practice of the 20th Century. I suppose there was a little meeting of two classes in that exchange. Him with his wealthy Young Farmer's background and me with my working class, council house roots. I bid farewell and drove out of the car park, there seemed to be a lot of police presence. And some familiar young ruffians in black masks.

Oh, they were hunt saboteurs, then? It hadn't crossed my mind what was going on really. I haven't really experienced this sort of thing that much. It all looked a little tense but at least I was being ignored. Meanwhile, the riders were wandering down to the pub . . .

the huntsman he can't hunt the fox nor so loudly to blow his horn
and the tinker he can't mend kettle or pots without a little barleycorn