Zaine Griff – Run

Mansfield was a desperate place to grow up for live music in the 1970s; there were no venues in the town and no late buses back from either of the places that did have them – Nottingham or Sheffield. That I remember seeing Zaine Griff in 1979 says much for the paucity of the live musical options.  I only recall having seen one other band in the town – a bunch of Van der Graaf Generator wannabes, who vaguely knew Peter Hammill from Leicester, and wanted to emulate him.  Sadly for them, they were playing terrible chart covers in a pub on one of those uncertain boundaries, between suburbia and council estate, to a handful of bored looking drinkers and me, drowning my sorrows after some set back or other.  Putting their gear and squeezing their bodies into their van, to make the trip back down the M1, was probably a relief for them.

Zaine+Griff+Ashes+And+Diamonds+439827Zaine Griff, was New Zealand’s answer to Bowie, I had never heard of him and I suspect that was true of virtually all the audience at the Civic Theatre in 1979, but it didn’t matter mind, it was live music, music from London. I remember nothing of the evening apart from a band from Sutton-in-Ashfield, the neighbouring town, providing the support.  They proclaimed that Mansfield was the ‘rock and roll capital of the universe,’ it was, but, only if your world only went as far as Huthwaite.   Having done a number of rock standards, the guitarist used the opportunity of being on the ‘big stage’ of the Mansfield Civic Theatre (where I had performed on numerous occasions in my junior school class choir, more on that another day, maybe ….) to enact that classic rock and roll guitar extravaganza – smashing the ‘axe’ against the speaker stack.  He obviously wasn’t that experienced in this – it took an age of pounding against the Marshalls to complete the task.

I can’t remember who I went to see them with it may well have been F (I have changed his initial to protect his identity), who had left my school at 16 to join the merchant navy who used to regale me with tales of the high seas, girls and VD clinics and buy me copious amounts of Hardy and Hanson’s bitter on his shore leave.

I have no idea whether Run was performed but it was certainly from that era of Zaine Griff’s career.

My next trip to the Civic (now Palace) Theatre was a couple of years later in 1981, a very different line-up – it was a rally of Tony Benn, as part of his Labour Deputy Leadership Campaign, and Arthur Scargill, who was standing for the leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers.  It was really inspiring and, I think, spurred me to join the Labour Party that year.

Maxïmo Park – Going Missing

While my own youth and early teens had a variety or musical influences from home, many which have shaped music that I latterly listened to, none were things I could talk to friends about.  I did attempt to feign knowledge of ‘popular beat combos’ but generally made errors, suggesting the likes of Slade, The Sweet and Emerson Lake and Palmer – whose ill drawn logo appeared on the back of many a school rucksack of the era, including my own.  There was little or no actual knowledge of the music that I purported to like, so any cursory attempt to ask about which albums I had was met with blank looks on my part and the inevitable witty banter or derision as a result.  The ELP rucksack mysteriously ‘disappeared’ at school one day (although strangely I was able to take all the contents home in a carrier bag….)   I would probably have been better off sticking to things I actually knew about, such as Mozart.

Around the Millennium, I had returned to those classical roots, but as my older son was approaching his early teens, and the younger son not far behind, I wanted to make sure that they at least had the musical influences from home that might get imbued into their own musical consciousness and allow them to name drop without the risk of the mockery and embarrassment that I had experienced at their age.

220px-Goingmissing_cdThere would be no point dusting down the old Blur and Oasis CDs, they needed new sounds, new bands and new music.  So despite my dislike of adverts invading my life, my non-running journeys to work started to have the accompaniment of XFM.  One of the first songs I heard on the station, in the early summer of 2005, was Maxïmo Park’s ‘Going Missing.’  I loved it, it was proper, basic rock and roll music – it felt as though a musical space in my life had been filled.  The CD of the ‘A Certain Trigger’ was bought the next day – the first of many similar bands from the era like The Rakes, The Enemy, The Pigeon Detectives and a little later Arctic Monkeys.

A_Certain_TriggerAs for the strategy; well, it sort of worked – the indie music influenced my eldest and youngest; my eldest borrowed loads of my CDs and we saw a couple of dozen bands live together.  ‘A Certain Trigger’  was often the backdrop to return trips home from Selhurst Park with all three children,  my daughter always changing the words of one of the lines of my favourite track,‘The Coast is Always Changing’, from ‘And we look out upon the sea’ to ‘And we look out upon the ceiling.’  The reasons for the change presumably came from her six year old self mishearing, but it is still the same whenever she hears and sings it – now approaching 17.

MaxPFast forward ten years to the autumn of 2015; Maxïmo Park (still with a proper rock umlaut, although not in lights) did a short 10th anniversary tour where they played ‘A Certain Trigger’ in its entirety as the second half of the gig.  My eldest got tickets, as a present, for the ‘leg’ at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, I was a little apprehensive as one of the odd psychological impacts of my accident had been an intolerance of noise, including loud music, and I hadn’t listened to Maxïmo Park since January as a result.  I needn’t have worried though, I loved it – I was able to sing along, almost word perfect, and almost mimicking Paul Smith’s Geordie intonation.  For a couple of hours, I had gone back in time.

Sadly, I couldn’t find any footage from the Roundhouse of the song – but a few nights later they performed it at Newcastle City Hall.

Gil Buhet – The Honey Siege

honeyAn utter delight of a novel – an almost timeless tale of French teenagers rebelling against authority after being wrongly accused of the theft of honey from one of the hives belonging to their teacher.  They draw up the village’s medieval castle drawbridge, hoist a red flag and the siege begins.  It is beautifully written by Gil Buhet and  wonderfully translated by Geoffrey Sainsbury.

Buhet paints a delightful picture of 1950s French village life, the fictional Casteilcorbon is beautifully created with (in my imagination at least) a slightly smaller, much more derelict version of the the walls and keep of Carcassonne, and a series of well crafted and all somewhat flawed characters.

The novel was mentioned by Michael Rosen in an interview on his cultural highlights in ‘The Guardian’, it intrigued me, and within a couple of minutes of reading the interview, I had found and bought a copy on-line.  I opted for the Penguin first edition rather than the hardback found by Rosen.

It arrived with the beautiful, yellowing paper with that wonderful slightly musty, ageing smell of the old secondhand book; much as I like the convenience of the Kindle, the cream and orange of an old Penguin is special.

buhetThe back cover seems to give more biographical detail on Gil Buhet, than the entire internet combined.  He was born in St Étienne in 1908, he started writing for a living when he became editor of an in-house ‘journal’ of a grocery chain; was later a literary editor of a Lyon publishing house and then a bookshop owner in his home town.

By the time that Penguin published ‘The Honey Siege’ in 1958, Buhet had published half a dozen novels.  Oddly, Penguin claim that he won the prestigious French literature award, Grand Prix du Romain Français in 1948 – he didn’t.

It is somewhat surprising that the novel has been almost forgotten; this is despite radio adaptations by the BBC in 1954 and 1958, a 6 part television drama in 1959, a reading of it as Book at Bedtime in 1963 and an HTV 7 part anglicised adaptation in 1987; but he is out of print both sides of La Manche.

The little bit of interest caused by Rosen’s interview seems to have plundered virtually all the second hand copies of the novel too, the only copies I could find when writing this post, four weeks after the interview, were £67 for a hardback and £34 for a Penguin edition – a ten-fold increase in less than a month.  Perhaps it is time for a Penguin re-issue, assuming that they still own the rights to it.

Oasis –Don’t Look Back In Anger

SICP-4152In my musical auto-biography Oasis have to feature, and ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory’ has to be there too as it would be on my ‘Desert Island Discs’ list.    ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’, while not my favourite song on the album, holds a really special place as it forms an important part of the backdrop of my children growing up.

My younger son loved singing along to songs from when he was very small, we have an embarrassing (for him at least) recording of him singing along to Boyzone’s ‘No Matter What’ in front of a Christmas tree.  In the car though, the demands were frequently for ‘The Sally Song’, as ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ was always referred to.

Roll on a decade or so and my eldest and I went to see Oasis at Wembley Stadium in July 2009; it ought to be a horrible venue for seeing bands, but Oasis made it their own and the size, even standing on the top tier somehow didn’t matter.  It was to be one of the last gigs they played before the tensions between Liam and Noel finally boiled over. Towards the end, probably as part of the encore, Liam appeared on the set on his own and just let us ‘do’ the vocals – 90,000 singing back his lyrics to him, as he played a pared- back version of the song.  Of all the songs, at all the gigs I’ve been to, it is the one that is most firmly implanted in my memory bank.

Patrick Hamilton – Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky

Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky is an entertaining, beautifully written trilogy of intertwined semi-autobiographical novellas which were published separately and centre on The Midnight Bell, a fictional London boozer near the junction of Euston and Tottenham Court Roads.

Though it had no wide reputation, all manner of people frequented ‘The Midnight Bell.’ This was in its nature, of course, since it is notorious that all manner of people frequent all manner of public-houses – which in this respect resemble railway stations and mad-houses.

hamiltonThe first novella, ‘The Midnight Bell’(1929), centres on Bob, a waiter and would-be writer, who becomes enchanted by a prostitute he serves in the bar – mirroring events in Hamilton’s own life. In the second, ‘The Siege of Pleasure’ (1932), the focus is on Jenny, the prostitute, and her fall from respectability.  The final book of the trio ‘The Plains of Cement’ (1934),is about Bob’s colleague Ella, torn between the attentions of an older, wealthy man, and her unrequited love for Bob.

hamilton2It is perhaps surprising that Hamilton isn’t better known or more widely read, he certainly deserves to be – his bringing to life of working class Londoners is superb with echoes of Dickens.  The only negative for me is the lack of any real sense of place – the “Twenty Thousand Streets” are little more than street names, just a means of transporting the character from ‘The Midnight Bell’, to perhaps a cinema, a different pub or a Lyons Coffee House – they are rarely described, incidental to the plot.

Madness – It Must Be Love

OnBlackheath felt different to other festivals and concerts I have been to, I think it was because it seemed like the first real post-parenting one – the older children were both away and our youngest was out with friends, and, at 16 going on 17 and sufficiently ‘older and wiser’ to safely make her own way home in the early evening ( yes, I know that should be 17 going on 18).

madness1

An excellent prelude to Madness had been provided by David Rodigan’s DJ mix of reggae and ska classics which warmed up the chilly early evening in a way none of the earlier acts on the main stage had managed before.

Madness was J’s musical past rather than mine really – I was much less into ska than she was in her youth, but Madness, collectively and individually, are national treasures, everyone knows their music, everyone can sing along (even if I didn’t know all the words of every verse…)

The age of the audience told though – maybe a decade ago, certainly two decades ago, we would all have been bouncing/dancing throughout the set – but it was only for 30 seconds after each song was recognised and started, followed by 3 minutes of shuffling (out of time in my case) we just can’t keep up with the frenetic activity that we used to.

Almost predictably, the evening brought a few tears for me – it was one of the ‘times’ that Melody Gardot sung of which I wrote about a month or so ago.  The trigger was about being still able to be there and being in love.

The Blackheath Society, amongst others, had forced the organisers to finish the set at 9:30 (and had set up a sound monitoring van between the festival site and the Village).  Twenty five years ago I would have been outraged at this, but now,  I was secretly quite happy – I was home before 10, sitting in a comfy chair with a glass of red wine.  It seemed perfect – my younger self would have been quite depressed by the thought I would hazard.

Nena – 99 Luftballons

99 Luftballons is probably the only music that I have bought for not entirely musical reasons, I was 23 and really old enough to know better…..but…

99_Luftballons_single_coverIt wasn’t the only reason though – the song had a very clear anti-war message, which was slightly lost in translation with the English version, 99 Red Balloons.  I was certainly aware of the differences as I recall the Guardian doing a piece on it.  It was effectively a song about mistakes leading to nuclear war and was written against the backdrop of the Cold War and the nuclear re-armament of Europe.  In Britain, this included the purchase of Trident, the basing of American Cruise Missiles at Greenham Common and the growth of CND, which I had supported since the late 1970s due to a fantastic article in the New Musical Express.

I bought the album expecting more of the same, it wasn’t though, and was quickly discarded and I probably didn’t listen to anything other than 99 Luftballons more than a couple of times.  I no longer have the album; I assume that I must have traded it in for a pittance as a down-purchase on other second hand records at a small shop alongside a remote bit of Birmingham’s inner ring road.

Oddly, the song stayed in my subconscious, and it was one of the first tracks I bought electronically as I retraced my almost lost musical footsteps, it is one I still listen to a lot – it reminds me of Birmingham, particularly New Street where it was bought, and CND.