I’m going to be busy this evening so I’ll post the second page of my biographical comic strip. It’s not great, but you gett the idea.
I feel very honoured to have played a small part in the short but dazzling life of Splinter Magazine.
Andy Winter, as part of his new site, lays out the fun, sweat and tears that were integral to its inception and subsequent issues. Andy and the backroom team worked their sweaty little balls off every month to get a rather wonderful, scathing, joyous, flawed magazine out most months. I fear that the majority of poor spelling and grammar was down to yours truly, but by Lemmy’s mole it was a wonderful, terrifying, possibly illegal, crazy time.
Huge thanks to Andy for taking me on and putting in the hours and mentioning me in such glowing terms in this piece. God, I miss those days. Hopefully, those that I offended have since received the medical support that they so desperately needed.
Check out Andy’s retelling of those heady days in the 90’s on his new site that covers comics, film, podcasts and a whole host of stuff. Just click here.
At last, Birmingham has its very own alternative radio station, Brum Radio. The station covers local bands, including an interview with Ocean Colour Scene’s Steve Craddock, and events as well as a Book Club programme that looks at the work of local authors. Their first guest was Johnathan Coe talking about his new book, Number Eleven. The show has teamed up with Waterstones to give you a £6 discount on the book when you say…….Well, to find out what the code is read the full article here on Mazzy Snape’s blog.
If you missed the first show you can grab it at MixCloud.
There’s stuff to do. There’s always stuff to do. I’m supposed to be finalising my application for the Word factory apprenticeship scheme and to be fair I’ve done a bit, but my mind is elsewhere. Early this morning I’d just got out of the shower and was about to do some press ups when my wife came in and told me that David Bowie had died. I looked at her as if she was mad. ‘I’ve just heard it on the radio,’ she said, ‘they just announced it on 6 Music.’ I grabbed my phone and sat on the bed. Sure enough, the BBC News confirmed it, David Bowie had died at the age of 69 from cancer. All my enthusiasm for the day ahead sagged away. I went through the motions of my morning exercises with one word bouncing around, ‘fuck.’
These last few weeks have seen some musical greats depart. First there was Lemmy, the infamous front man and bass player from Motorhead a man known for his partying and ‘fuck you attitude.’ Many were surprised that he was still alive. Then there was the death of John Bradbury, the drummer and backbone of The Specials, a band that created the soundtrack to my teens and now…now this.
I got into Bowie late. Lots of people loved him, but they weren’t my people. They were old or dyed their hair and wore ridiculous jackets with padded shoulders. ‘Let’s Dance’ may have catapulted him into world-wide stardom but it wasn’t for me. ‘Ashes to Ashes’ had a bleak melancholy that was loved by Goths and New Romantics alike, but once again they weren’t my people. When I was at Art College a friend of mine went to see Tin Machine (Bowie’s short-lived rock project) and I couldn’t understand why – why would you go and see the guy who sang ‘China Girl?’ Then in the mid 90’s I listened to Hunky Dory and nothing was ever the same again.
I wouldn’t say I was an obsessive Bowie fan; I haven’t listened to all of his work, yet, but I know what I like. What got me from the off was his lyrical playfulness, the way the words were just as important as the music. He could weave history, heartache and literature all within a song that you couldn’t get out of your head and he never stood still. Many musicians will find their niche and stick with it ploughing the same furrow over and over. Bowie was always moving, always growing and never afraid to take risks. In 2009, Vanity Fair published their Proust Questionaire that included answers from David Bowie. It’s well worth reading through the whole thing -which is here– but the question that stayed with me was this:
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Living in fear.
David Bowie showed us what it was like not to live in fear, to be daring, to take risks and to have fun and he did it all with an innate sense of style.
I haven’t received my copy of his latest album, Blackstar, yet, but I know it’ll be good. It’ll be something I take time to listen to and digest, something that I cherish, something beautiful made by a man who changed music and art for so many and who wrote some of the best songs ever.
There was a post today from Gaz Coombes, musician and former front man of Supergrass, that I found incredibly helpful. A friend had texted it to him, when he heard of Bowie’s death and he posted it on:
If you’re sad, just remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.
Something to lighten the mood…
The first of many posts from the sometimes inflammatory and often funny, Benjamin John Jones. Here he reflects upon Simon & Garfunkel in philosophical style. Enjoy.
I didn’t realise that I had a Saturday morning ritual until I moved in with my partner. Before then I’d just managed to get on with it without reflection, missing it whenever I was over at hers or she was at mine. When we moved in together and our lives blurred, she noticed that I did the same thing every Saturday. I’d wake up and make a pot of coffee and pick a record, doing little more than listening to it in silence with a cat on my lap or standing in front of the record player. It was a way to just let everything soak in, settle down and gear up. It was the strange moment of stasis I had before the day began and I gradually moved towards Monday. My partner will be upstairs sleeping or getting ready for the day. I get a brief moment of my…
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Or: Why does a 46 year old man drive 274 miles in one night to see a band?
Today I find myself groggy and out of sync. Everything seems muffled and a little duller, the colours are muted and there’s an underlying hum, like a guitar amp left on low, an almost imperceptible electric hiss underlying everything. The weather, even now building into the muggy onset of a storm, is not to blame. No, last night I saw Blur.
Yesterday I left work sat in traffic for nearly two hours trying to get out of Birmingham and then shot up the A41 (to name but one road) to Llandudno. I don’t know a lot about Llandudno, I’ve only been there a few times, but it’s never struck me as a rock and roll town. With its Victorian promenade and four-story guest houses it looks more like the kind of place you’d take your aged aunt for a pot of tea and an iced bun, not somewhere you’d jump around for two hours whilst choking back the stench of other people’s sweat and the richly spiced gas that their pre gig snacks and drinks have evolved into.
Llandudno looked pretty good in the early evening sun, a vanilla glow covered the bay as middle-aged couples took in the sea air. I parked right outside The Venue (no, really, it’s called The Venue,) decided it was madness to join the queue that snaked away from the entrance for some ridiculous length down the road and walked into town. Llandudno continued to appear sedate and at peace with itself. I ordered a heroic portion of fish, chips and mushy peas, sat down and took in the world.
Blur took to the stage with a confidence and aggressive swagger that stripped the years away. Damon was a man possessed, his eyes feral, unblinking, taunting the crowd, pumping them up to breaking point. Graham was gripped with a boyish intensity, attacking his guitar in staggered blasts as his face lit up with delight. Alex strutted around the stage in a shirt and tie, his face a mask of cool aloofness that soon dissolved into beaming joy, whilst Dave pounded at the drums his face gurning out every beat, his tongue in danger of dragging his forehead over his eyes.
Don’t ask me what the first song was, I can’t remember. I didn’t go there to write a review. I didn’t go there to spend two hours stretching with my phone to get the perfect shot and obscure the view of everyone behind, (so ta for these pics Wales’ Daily Post,) or to start a fight with someone who was more beard than man (although that was tempting.) I went to see Blur and by God they were bloody good.
Go Out kicked things off (thanks again Daily Post, at least someone was taking notes) and was magnificent, firing the crowd up into a near hysterical fever of chanting and beer throwing. This was followed by a break neck speed There’s No Other Way. Two songs in and I was lost in a sea of joyous madness. The new songs were incredible, full of verve and confidence, such a pleasure to hear them with 2500 strangers.
The performance was electric. Blur stormed through songs from all their albums including seven from The Magic Whip,the highlight of which was Terracotta Heart the song that details Damon and Graham’s friendship, a friendship that is the heart of Blur. Coffee and TV was fun, Parklife expected as was Girls & Boys, I Broadcast almost took the roof off and The Universal had me close to tears at the end. The surprise of the evening was He Thought Of Cars, an album track from The Great Escape. In its recorded version its a pleasant enough experience a gentle enough refrain on globalisation -possibly? and yet, last night it was transformed into a snarling demonic beast that had the hairs on my hairs standing on end.
Tender and Song 2 had everyone by the throat and groin, a hall full of people swept away by the sheer, primitive magnificence of it all.
I left the gig buzzing. Stared at the sea for a bit and decided to drive home: there was no way I was sleeping after that.
And this is where I came in, I think: Why does a 46 year old man drive 274 miles in one night to see a band? Because they’re not just any old band, they’re Blur.
They’re the band I grew up with. They were there when I was an arsehole, when I was young and stupid, when my heart was broken, when my teeth were broken. They were there with me and my mates and they were there when my mates were gone, they were there when my mates came back. And that’s the key to this. They’re not a manufactured money machine or an ‘arty’ sneering experiment. They’re four friends who’ve grown up, grown apart, fallen out and then fallen back in again. They’re my band and I love them and fuck it, it’s only 274 miles.
This evening I’ll be reading selected poems or possibly a short story, if only I could decide, damn this indecision!
Anyway, whatever it is it’ll be fun -blush- not because me but because of the other wonderfully talented people that’ll be there and because it’s hosted in the rather wonderful Cherry Reds on John Bright Street, Birmingham.
Billy Bragg has played a big part in my life. He was there, when, as a teenager I struggled with the images of striking miners and Exocet Missiles, he was there in my twenties when I wrestled with an uncaring Tory government and Poll Tax riots, he was there through my thirties as I came to terms with yet more wars and New Labour, and now, in my forties, he’s more relevant than ever.
Billy Bragg didn’t turn me into a socialist, he didn’t make me a left wing agitator or communist sympathiser, he didn’t make me go out and attack policemen or set fire to images of she-devils, none of these things, he just made me realise that I wasn’t alone.
Growing up in the eighties, despite what current nostalgia will have you believe, was grim. The working class were encouraged to hate their neighbours, to look down on people in need and to worship at the altar of avarice. We were all encouraged to become middle-class, to own our own homes and to own our own utility companies, even if it meant buying something that already belonged to us. The north of the UK all but closed down, whilst Yuppies paraded around the South so pumped up with greed that they didn’t even bother to hide it. The fallout from such doctrines can be seen everywhere today, the world teeters upon the brink of financial collapse and the media blames everyone bar the bankers that brought this down upon us.
As a fourteen year old boy I looked upon this with confusion and a great amount of shock. There was no guidance from my parents, who bought into this ‘new dawn’ wholeheartedly, buying the tiny council house that they lived in and quoting the Sun’s headlines as if they were the words of God. I was alone. And then I saw Billy Bragg.
However, it may have been the resonant and powerful lyrics of To Have And Have Not that first drew me to Billy Bragg, a brilliant call to arms for the millions of kids chucked on the scrap heap by the then Tory government, but it was the love songs that kept me. Yes, love songs.
For many, Billy Bragg is seen as a loud mouth lefty who’s spark was dampened as soon as New Labour came to power; they couldn’t be more wrong. Over the years he has given us some of the finest love songs ever committed to vinyl. Bitter sweet tales of unrequited love, of tormented anguish and of course the truth about pain. In fact my first encounter with the word unrequited was when I played Saturday Boy off of the Brewing Up album, heartache can be educational.
So why this sudden outpouring of man-love for Mr Bragg? Well yesterday I received my 30th anniversary reissue of that first Bragg album Life’s A Riot With Spy VS Spy on glorious vinyl and Mr Bragg’s signature on the front cover. This was the album that so electrified me as a young man, this was the album that told me I wasn’t alone and, most importantly, the album that let me know it was ok to be in love and to feel shit.
I’ve got all of Bragg’s albums, up to Don’t Try This At Home, on vinyl, so why buy the reissue? The reissue comes with the remastered album on side one, still played at 45rpm and a live version of the album on side two recorded at Union Chapel in London on June 5th 2013. You also get a free download of the album so that you can listen to it on the go. But I haven’t really answered my own question. If I’m honest I think I bought it to say thank you and also to be a bit of a completist. If you’ve got the original do you really need this, well no. The live tracks are good, very good, as Mr Bragg always is, but not essential. If you haven’t got the original, or have since decluttered and let it go, well now’s the time to put that right and to grab a copy of this excellent debut album.
As many young men before me, and since, I was excited by the idea of picking up a guitar and making music, of forming a band and changing the world. Naive? Yes. Bloody good fun? Oh yes! I struggled with tuning and chord formation, posed in the mirror and scribbled down substandard sixth-form poetry and got to the point of giving up until I heard Billy. Here was one man, armed with nothing more than a guitar that looked like it’d been built from the junk you’d find in a skip, and a gob full of the most wondrous words. The music was angry, jagged, aggressive and the words powerful, precise, beautiful. I continued with the guitar, formed a few bands, played a few gigs, wrote some songs, had a lot of fun. I’d like to think that he inspired others too, the obvious one being Frank Turner but what about people like Simple Kid, Badly Drawn Boy, Jim Noir and the stratospheric Jake Bugg? All these guys have started out on their own with nothing more than a guitar and a headful of songs.
So, I’d like to say thank you for the songs Billy and where the bloody hell did those thirty years go?