Monday, 13 June 2016

Friday 10th June 2016

I won’t lie, pulling into Copenhagen train station a little after midnight makes me feel old. Normally this is when Pernilla (my wife) and I would be heading home from a concert, not arriving for one. Then again if ever there was a concert designed to make me feel my age it’s this one. We’re off to see Giggs, my favourite of the current crop of Grime acts. He’s playing at Rust, a venue that before yesterday I’d never even heard of. That’ll be that age thing again, no doubt. In typical Copenhagen fashion he’s not even due on stage until 1 a.m.

Earlier in the evening I watched France beat Romania in the opening match of the Euro 2016 tournament. So I already have a couple of beers inside me and a thirst for some decent entertainment after the lacklustre football. 

Walking swiftly we carefully weave our way past drunken Danes staggering home to start work on their hangovers. It’s a thirty minute walk into a section of town that neither of us know all that well. We find Rust with ease though thanks to the fact that you no longer require a second mortgage when using your phone abroad. 

Rust’s a strange place, a warren of rooms and metal staircases. Dark, semi-industrial with toilets that reek so badly of piss that you don’t need signs to find them. It takes a couple of wrong turns and questions to find the main room. My heart skips a beat when we walk up the stairs and I catch a glimpse of Giggs’ uniform (grey sweat pants/white trainers), beneath the black curtain bisecting the tiny stage.

At first there aren’t many people around and I worry that this might end up being a four men and a dog concert. We grab a beer and settle in to listen to the DJ warm up what little crowd there is. Then the place quickly starts to fill up. Arms are slowly waved up and down, connections are made, beers are drunk. I observe a steady flow of bad tattoos. The bass is loud, hitting your chest before reaching your ears. The beer on the other hand is meat-and-potatoes Danish lager. This is no place for craft-ale, longboard riding, full-sleeve-tattoo beard types. Thank fuck.

The DJ is fucking aces, he’s on for less than thirty minutes but manages to slip at least four Skepta tracks into his brief set. Sensing that things are about to get under way, we move closer to the front of the stage. Then, without any introduction, without any fanfare, Giggs is onstage. All very low-key, all very cool.

He’s a big bloke, scary looking, while we were waiting for him to come on stage I’d thought about how funny it might be to shout out a request for Rolex Sweep (a Skepta track). Seeing him in the flesh though those thoughts shrivel up and go to the place where cowards go to die. People surge down to the front, there’s not many here, 100, 150 tops, but none of them are on their phones or talking, everyone’s eyes are fixed on the huge black man bouncing up and down on stage making his free hand into a gun and urging us to bounce with him. 

His DJ keeps cutting the music out at key moments, allowing the crowd to fill in the blanks, which they do without fail, every time. We’re told by Giggs that we’re a 'sick crowd', we’re asked to 'raise our middle fingers if we’re representing where we’re from'. No one fucks about, everyone does as they’re told. The audience is a strange oil and water mix, the usual club kids, dressed to impress but also to drink and dance mingle with the hardcore; wiggas in backwards baseball caps throwing shapes and mouthing every word, rubbing shoulders with a gang that look like they’ve come straight from an audition for Straight Outta Compton 2. 

Everything is cool until a fight breaks out in the crowd, a guy with a pubic afro gets into it with a kid with thousand-yard-stare killer eyes. It could go either way and for a moment my attention shifts from the stage to these two. A bouncer breaks it up before it even really begins though. Up on stage Giggs plays on as if nothing happened. He chats with the crowd, explaining how the police shut down his shows back home, before removing his sweat top and handing it to the third guy on stage, whose job seems to be to film everything on his iPhone. The look of concentration on the cameraman's face suggests learning difficulties might be involved. 

Then before we know it, it’s all over. The crowd shout for more, but when Giggs walks back out the DJ puts some music on and it’s too late. The show is over. He was astounding, and both me and Pernilla talk about nothing else all the way home. Both agreeing that it was one of the best things we’d seen in ages and how we can't wait to see Skepta, Kano, Stormzy and Wiley at some point.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

How Begbie Found Me

There have always been cats in my life, along with a few dogs here and there; but cats, like wonky teeth and record buying have been a bit of a constant for me. Bonnie was the first. She had a coat that looked like it'd been thrown together by the sort of person that would unironically wear a kaftan. She looked like she was made up from a patchwork of offcuts from the sexier, better looking cats in our neighbourhood; all ginger, black and brown. She died a few weeks after I started school. 

I knew something wasn’t right when my mum met me at the school gates with mascara running down her face. If I’d known who Alice Cooper was back then no doubt I would have said to myself, “blimey, mum looks just like Alice Cooper”, but Alice Cooper was at least seven years in the future for me. At that point in time I only really knew Elton John and Kiki Dee, Brotherhood of Man and ABBA. On our walk home she explained that she’d found Bonnie dead in a neighbour’s car port (think a garage without the door). She thought she’d been run over. Not only that but we’d have to wait for my dad to come home from work so that he could put her in a bin bag. All of which meant nothing to me. I was still way too young to be able to process any of it. Run over? Bin bag? Whatchyaonabout mum? Ten minutes later I was standing beside a very dead Bonnie, who just that morning had been a very live Bonnie. She was laying in an impossibly awkward position. If I’d worn mascara back then I’d’ve looked like a Minipops version of Mr. Cooper. I remember Bonnie more for dying than for living. 

Bonnie’s untimely death was made easier for me by the fact that we still had Sweep, who was black and naughty, and Clyde who was also black and naughty but wasn’t a cat at all. He was a Dalmatian/Labrador cross that legend has it (well, so my dad says), was picked up on the drive home from hospital after I was born. So me and Clyde arrived in the family at the same time, which meant we had a bond. I never told anyone but it was obvious to me from year dot that Clyde was my dog. 

Back then there was only one real reason to have a dog, which was because you liked dogs. Unlike nowadays where people choose dogs to go with their outfits. Pets as accessories if you will. Every family had a dog when I was little, and try as I might I can’t remember any of them being dressed up as sharks or bumble-bees. Thinking about it I don’t think any of them had their own Instagram or Facebook accounts either. Then again in those days oxygen was only the third most popular thing to breathe in after carbon monoxide and second-hand smoke. So it’s all a trade off I guess.

Clyde died too (it tends to happen with pets), but years and years later, long after my parents had split up and my dad’s parents got custody of him. He was the most easygoing dog in the world. As a kid I used to fall asleep on him. He was famous for escaping from the back garden and roaming the streets until he’d had enough and would decide to return home. It was the ‘70s, things were different then. He did that right up until he was too old to do anything except lie in front of the fire at my grandparents’. He used to get so hot that you’d have to roll him over for fear that he’d combust. 

So anyway, like I said there’s always been cats in my life. There was Jah-Wah who we (me and my then girlfriend Clare), found in an alleyway by the side of our flat. She was covered in creosote or tar or something. She was great, really easy going, used to get everyone in the street to feed her. She was also black and had the biggest yellow eyes, hence her name. Little old ladies would coo over her and tell us how sweet she was. Then there was Hooch, a little white thing, I can’t even remember where she came from. When I moved to Sweden, Clare took Jah-Wah off to London with her, where she lived a long happy life. Like some sort of fairy tale ending, albeit with a cat rather than a precocious princess. My dad took Hooch, and to my eternal dismay gave her away to his sister’s neighbour a couple of months after I’d moved.

In Sweden there was Mookie and Namlook, who ended up going off with another girlfriend after we split up. Then for ages and ages there weren’t any cats around. I was living alone, so when I’d come home there was no one to greet me, no little furball winding its way around my legs trying too convince me to give it some fish. They weren’t my favourite years. I was depressed without really knowing it. 

But that’s not what this is about, this is about how the cat I’ve had for the past nine years found me. I’m a postman, and I was out on my bike one day delivering post to houses, like postmen tend to do, when I spotted a little black ball no bigger than an orange run out in front of me from under a caravan. I immediately braked, and the black ball turned and with the saddest look on its little face gave an inaudible meow. I tentatively got off my bike and walked towards the kitten, fully expecting it to run a mile. Instead it ran towards me, up my trouser leg and onto my shoulder where it nestled its head against mine.

I did all the things you’re supposed to do, knocked at every house on the street and asked if the kitten was theirs, put up posters saying that I found a kitten and even informed the police. More importantly I took him to the vets and got all his jabs sorted out. Turns out the kitten that I had presumed was a girl was actually a boy and was only five weeks old. Which was far too young to be away from its mother. So me and Pernilla (then girlfriend, now wife) had to try and feed him with a bottle. Which was great except for the fact he kept chewing through the rubber teats. 

I wanted to call him Kitten Kong, Pernilla thought Begbie was far more suitable, and as usual she was right, since it suits him down to the ground. He's always been a bit of a tearaway, running around like crazy. The long and the short of it is that no one ever claimed Begbie, and if we hadn't bumped into each other I'm certain he would have died within a few days. As I sit in my kitchen writing this he’s curled up on the kitchen chair that he makes me move next to me whenever I sit down to write. I doubt a day goes by without me remembering how we first met. I saved his life and he's immeasurably improved mine. I can’t imagine my world without him in it.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Sunday 2nd August 2015

How does that old saying go? ‘Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me.’ I remember George W. Bush getting himself all in a tangle when trying to recite that once, too many long words I suppose. Then again his Vice President struggled to spell ‘potato’, so maybe I should cut him some slack. Either way after what happened to us on Sunday, I can safely say that the second part of that saying now very much applies to us. 

I kind of knew from the get-go that things weren’t going to work out how we’d expected. I don’t mean that in a grumpy face way, it’s just the way things are with us. It doesn’t matter how optimistic we are, or how much preparation we put in, if there’s the slightest chance of anything going tits up then it usually will. 

It was Saturday afternoon and my other half (Pernilla) was trawling her way through Facebook (as she does), when she came across a picture of the two beardy men from Museum of Love. Nothing too shocking about that I know, but stay with me for a minute. The caption underneath the photo read ‘Day off in Denmark… Viva Copenhagen!’

Now just to quickly rewind a second for those who don’t know, Museum of Love are Pat Mahoney, ex LCD Soundsystem drummer and possessor of a singing voice to die for, and Dennis McNany, who as Jee Day put out two of my favourite ever 12”s on DFA. The MoL (as I’m going to refer to them from now on) debut album was one of the best, if not the best album of last year. Okay, so now we’re all on the same page I’ll crack on. 

So we both flipped when we found out they were in Copenhagen, since that’s just down the road from us; well alright a thirty minute train ride across a giant bridge/tunnel into a different country if you want to be pedantic about it. So what the hell are they doing in Copenhagen? Both of us slipped into Columbo mode and started scouring the interweb for clues as to just what the fuck was going on. Day off suggests they were about to or had just played a gig or something. A quick trawl through their own website and a few gig listings turned up nothing. Good at making music MoL may be, good at updating their own gig listings they most definitely are not. So Pernilla fired off a quick message to them to ask what was happening. The sort of direct approach that Columbo never bothered with, at least not until that last second when he’d tap his forehead and spin around for his ‘one last thing’ moment. They got back to her that night saying they were playing at some festival or other in Copenhagen and that was that. It was one of those ‘too good to be true’ moments. True, we weren’t sure if they were DJing or actually playing live. In fact, we wondered, do they even play live? Two minutes later and YouTube proof of actual live instrument playing prowess was ours. Yay. So we looked up the festival and saw that it was free and in Copenhagen. Double yay. They have to be playing live, don’t they? It’d say if it was just a DJ set. ‘Yeah, that’s right’, we convinced each other ‘has to be live’. That’s it, we’re fucking going.

The festival is called Stella Polaris, I’ve never heard of it. Pernilla thinks she might have but isn’t sure. It’s been going for almost twenty years. All of a sudden I feel very old and more out of touch than I usually do. According to their Facebook event over thirty thousand people are going to be there. That’s a lot of people. Especially for someone that doesn’t like crowds. 

So MoL are playing at six o’clock after a few people neither of us have heard of and bizarrely, Jimmy Somerville. That’s festivals though isn’t it. Eclectic line ups are all the rage, that’s just the way it is. Besides seeing wee Jimmy belting out Small Town Boy could actually be good.

It’s a sweltering day, and we head off early enough to be able to get in a good position to watch MoL. We find the massive park with ease, grab ourselves a programme and proceed to weave our way around the thousands of bicycles that are absolutely everywhere. We follow the crowds towards the high-pitched squeal that signals that La Somerville has hit the stage. He’s got quite a set of pipes on him. 

There’s a lot of people here, it’s slow going, but the surroundings are nice, lots of greenery, all sorts of flowers and trees, albeit flowers and trees that every now and then reveal people emptying themselves of booze, making space for that all important refill. 

Eventually we find ourselves in large clearing. Somerville is belting out one of his hits and I have a stone in my shoe. We both look around for the main stage, squinting in the direction of the music but we can’t see anything vaguely stage like. The music must be bouncing around I think. We’ll turn a corner and all will become clear. What I can see is a gentle slope leading up to a giant yellow stately home type of affair. Behind us is a lake and beyond that a park filled with people. In fact everywhere you look there are people. Lots of them. All over the place. Like ants on a discarded ice cream. We spot the beer tent. Result. We’re both gasping for a beer, but agree it’s better to find the stage first, since navigating a festival site with a plastic glass of beer can result in problems best avoided. We make our way up the hill towards the direction of the music and that’s when it hits me, the little red tent that I’d presumed was a food or merchandise stall is in fact the main stage. I know this for a fact because I’m now close enough to see that Jimmy Somerville is quite small and despite having a voice like an angel in leather chaps, looks like a bit like a potato. 

Oh well, as knowing mothers tell their sons, size isn’t everything. Still, now that we know where the stage is we can grab ourselves a beer and find a small patch of grass to call our own. My throat feels like it’s lined with sandpaper. Nothing a cool beer won’t fix though. We get in the queue and with typical Scandinavian efficiently soon find ourselves at the front. The Danes know how to drink. I order a couple of plastic beers and hand over my credit card, but there’s a problem. I don’t get it at first, I hear what the barman says, he even says it in English for me, but it doesn’t make any sense. Then it slowly sinks in. They only take Visa cards and both me and Pernilla have MasterCards. “Sorry man” shrugs the barman, as we slope off to lick our wounds. 

Being modern types we don’t actually have any folding money on us. Who carries actual money around with them anymore? Except old people who feel sorry for muggers I mean. That’s why credit cards were invented, wasn’t it? We try the wine tent, hoping like fuck that they take MasterCard, but of course they don’t. So there we are in the middle of Copenhagen, warm and then some, desperate for a drink, and to make matters worse we’re surrounded by thousands upon thousands of people all of whom are kicking back and drinking as if it was the big new thing to do. 

Pernilla’s not happy. Neither am I, but we can’t both get in a bad mood about it, so I have to try and remain a bit chipper so that we don’t form some sort of suicide pact before the day’s over. Plus if I’m honest I’ve already had my stampy feet moment. After the beer tent debacle I moodily declared that I was never coming to Copenhagen again. E V E R. I meant it too. For a minute or so. Thing is I never chose to have a MasterCard, or not to get a Visa card, it’s just what the bank sent to me. It’s not my fault, I’m innocent, society’s to blame. These are not the sort of things I think about. My head is full of films and music, credit cards aren’t really on my radar. 

So the thing is like I said at the top of all this, this isn’t the first time this has happened to us. A few years back we went to see Aidan Moffat and Bill Wells play in Copenhagen. We were excited. There was some kind of problem with our bank, it was offline or something, so we couldn’t draw any money out when we arrived. Sod it we can use our cards we naively thought. Turns out we couldn’t use our cards. The venue didn’t accept MasterCard. So after arriving well before nine p.m. we had to sit there and wait. And wait and wait. We couldn’t even hang in our coats. It was well after midnight before Moffat and Wells rolled out on stage. We were so thirsty that we’d started looking at molten candle wax as a possible option. Worse than all that though I was working the next day, which meant I had to get up at six a.m. so we ended up leaving before the concert finished in order to get the one o’clock train home. We were not happy bunnies that night. God alone knows why they came on stage so late when the doors opened so early, but like I said before if something can go wrong then it usually will. 

So anyway back to our sweltering Sunday, we’re sitting down amongst hordes of tattooed kids, laughing about the situation (well I am, Pernilla has a face of thunder), but really desperate for some form of liquid refreshment. Jesus, even a warm discarded can of sickly-sweet Coke would do us. But it’s not to be. Jimmy Somerville is surprisingly good, it’s funny to hear that he has quite a gruff voice when he talks between songs. I guess I kind of expected him to talk in falsetto too. Anyway our spirits lift somewhat when we spot MoL mooching about backstage. It’s nearly six, they’ll soon be on and any thoughts of being thirsty will drop away once the music starts. I daren’t tell Pernilla that I’m actually really hungry too.

The people around us are typical of the sort of people that you find scattered on the ground at free festivals. Lots of parents with kids, everyone has some sort of ink on them and wears suitably weird shaped clothes to show that fact off. There are lots of straw hats, there are beards galore but more than that no one here seems particularly interested in the music. It’s all background noise to the fun of having fun. The group of back-slicked haircuts in front of us pay more attention to their phones than their surroundings. I have a flick through the programme I picked up at the entrance. 18.00 - Museum of Love (DJ Set). Ah. I show Pernilla. She’s not happy. Some Danish guy with a dirty beard, headband and feather combination grabs the microphone and gargles at the crowd to put their hands together for Jimmy Somerville, even going as far to state that what we just witnessed was ‘a once in a lifetime event’. Me and Pernilla look at each other, unconvinced, making sure that what he said wasn’t some dehydration induced hallucination. 

A DJ plays some old Underworld and all of a sudden the soundsystem sounds awful, really bassy, as if the sound-man has gone for a beer. The crowd doesn’t notice though, or maybe they do but they’re too cool to show it. So they go back to doing what the crowd does best, namely taking selfies and playing keepy-uppy with everything from lighters to coins. Not long now. Then MC Shit Beard is back blathering away in Danish. I hate him. He looks stupid. I’m uncomfortable on this slope, my body is being forced to lean in a direction it wasn’t meant to lean in. I want to stand up but no one else is. I can see right up the skirt of the girl in front of me, and feel like I’m trapped in a lift with a bunch of men with face tattoos, I don’t know where to look. I feel English. I’m thirsty and secretly hungry.

Beardy man is gone and now Pat & Dennis are alone on stage. They start building their set with a lone organ sound that is gradually joined by a junk-shop drum break. It sounds pretty good, if you ignore the fact that the speakers are farting more than Grandad after Sunday dinner. 
“Just say when you want to go” Pernilla says after ten minutes. We end up staying for about ten minutes more, but the fact that no one is showing the slightest bit of interest in MoL and even worse two twats are actually playing tennis in front of the stage makes the decision to leave all the easier. 

We wind our way out of the park and past the huge homes that surround it, wondering to ourselves what sort of jobs the people that live in them must have. We find a café and tentatively ask if they take MasterCard. The woman behind the counter looks at us as if we have asked the most touristy question ever. Something along the lines of ‘do you sell coffee’ in a broad New Yoik style accent. So we heave down a perfect black cup of coffee along with a sublime rhubarb sponge cake.

Pernilla is happier now. “Why does this always happen to us?” she asks. Looking at me as if I have an answer. 
“I think this sort of thing happens to everyone, but they tend not to mention the bad things on Facebook/Twitter.” Is as good an answer as I can think of. We head off into town to have a beer and some food. We plan to walk to Christiania, but walk too far in the wrong direction and miss the bridge. So we have some awful Indian food instead down by where the boats to Malmö used to leave from. 

It’s late and we stroll back through the side streets of Copenhagen towards the train station. I point out the bridge that Hitchcock used in the opening shot of Topaz to Pernilla, but she’s not impressed. Once we get to the station we find that our luck has changed, the train will be along in a few minutes and isn’t delayed. 

“Excuse me, can you speak English?” I look up and see the question has come from a frantic looking bearded man in front of me. I think he’s from New Zealand. I tell him that I can, and he proceeds to pour out the fact that he’s supposed to be travelling to Berlin and isn’t sure where to get his train from. He shows us the ticket on his phone. We look at it and check the board, before coming to the conclusion that his ticket is for a bus, not a train. Problem is the bus station in Copenhagen is currently a building site and I haven’t a clue where he should be catching his bus from. Plus he only has twenty minutes to sort it out. He thanks us, and I see the panic in his eyes as he turns and rushes off as fast as his flip-flops can carry him.

How does that old saying go? ‘There’s always someone worse off than you.’

Friday, 24 July 2015

Saturday 18th July 2015

When it comes to going out I tend to find myself in a bit of a catch-22 situation. The thing is I like going out, I really do. I love hooking up with friends, meeting new people (although not too many at once), drinking, babbling away and generally making a fool of myself, before tottering off home to get in synch with my rapidly spinning bedroom and falling into a booze coma. So far so normal. The thing is that whenever the opportunity to go out for the night raises its head, I pretty much always find an excuse to stay home. I’m kind of famous for it, or infamous, depending on who you ask. I’m not sure why it happens either, I’m a bit on the shy side, so it could be that. It doesn’t really matter, I’ve gotten used to it by now and so I think, have my friends. 

Anyway, the one thing that always gets me up off the sofa and out of the house is Rundgång’s annual knees-up. Now Rundgång, for those of you that don’t know, is a record shop in Malmö. Actually scratch that, it’s pretty much THE record shop in Malmö. There are others of course, some have been around longer, most are way bigger, carry more stock and employ more staff, but none of them hold a candle to Rundgång. “Why?”, I hear you ask? Well if you’ll give me a minute I’ll tell you. Rundgång is the sort of record shop I always wanted to exist in my town when I was growing up, but didn’t. It’s a hub for the local music scenes, a place for people to meet up, talk shit, find out what’s going on, have that first beer of the weekend, hear new/old music, do a bit of backslapping and of course every now and then actually buy some records. 

That’s why when Rundgång’s head honcho, Dennis Lood, announces each year’s party it feels like something worth celebrating. Our little record shop has survived another 365 days and is still with us. Hurra, hurra, hurra. Handily for me the choice of venue lately has been Babel, a gorgeous old converted red-brick church, that just so happens to be a two minute walk from where I live. 

Now unlike the guy Lou’s hanging around for in I'm Waiting For The Man, I’m always early. Which means that when I arrive I end up walking into a totally empty bar, and when I say empty I mean tumbleweeds-rolling-by empty. There are two bar staff, two DJs and me. I grab a beer, ensconce myself in a corner and feel sorry for the DJs having to play to the uninterested bar staff. Everyone is outside, I know everyone must be sitting outside, it’s the Swedish way, but I can’t bring myself to walk out there. Worst-case scenario would be that it’s packed out there but I won’t know anyone or be able to find a seat, so I’ll end up having to come back in here, tail between my legs to reclaim my original seat. The chances of that actually happening are slim, but I decide not to risk it. So I stay put, pull out my phone and check the usual trinity - Facebook, Instagram, Mail. Besides I’m enjoying the music the DJs (Madeleine and Anna) are playing. Then I spot Erik at the bar. For some reason he’s known to one and all as Pops, I can’t bring myself to call him that though. 

“Erik” I shout over to him, but he doesn’t hear me. I give it another go, which yields the same result. I give up, I’m doomed. But then he sees me and ambles over, causal as you like. He’s happy, he’s DJing here tonight. He tells me to come outside as that’s where everyone is. So I do.

Once outside I make a bee-line for Federation, the band that are kicking off tonight’s celebrations. Within no time at all me, Nisse, Victor and his brother, Daniel (Broder Daniel ha, don’t worry you’ll only get that if you’re Swedish), are talking about VHS copies of Jumanji and how it’s high time that Federation started playing more gigs and perhaps even put out some records. All of which is easier said than done since none of the trio actually live in the same city. Meaning that Victor ends up doing a 750 mile round trip once a month just so they can rehearse. Not ideal.

Still it’s lucky for us that he does, since when they hit the stage thirty-or-so minutes later the evening proper gets underway. A handful of monitors dotted around in front of their equipment flicker into life as Federation set about unleashing the sound of an angry hornet’s nest having it out with a drum machine. That’s not to say that Federation just make a racket, it’s just that like almost every Swedish band I’ve ever seen, they sort of can’t help but write songs that are as melodic-as-fuck. They’re The Stooges filtered through Detroit techno. They’re electronic, but not in that safe, smug, nodding baldy heads and beards version that has somehow become de rigueur for this sort of music. Their instruments look like they’re held together with bits of tape and band stickers. To my ears they sound like how a Steve Albini fronted New Order might’ve been, if he’d steered them away from the NY disco scene and towards the dirty synthscapes of Suicide instead. Victor, who you might recognise moonlighting from his day job in MF/MB/, yelps and barks his way through the songs like a man who knows that every second counts. God knows what he’s singing about, but whatever it is it sounds like he means it. Daniel, when not abusing his keyboard, dances around like a marionette being operated by an epileptic. 

Don’t ask me how many songs they play, or how any of them differ from each other, because I couldn’t tell you. I'm swept up by the whole thing, and before I know it, it’s over. The music stutters to a halt, the spell broken and off stage they traipse. So it’s back outside for a beer and feeble attempt by me to avoid the plumes of smoke emanating from the young things around me. Then Malmö’s loudest voice™, Erik Börén (our MC for the evening), announces that it’s time for us to trundle back inside as local hero Noe Spagato is about to play. So trundle inside we do. 

I like Noe Spagato, I like the lone 7” he put out on Psychic Malmö and I really like him live. He’s a hands-on analogue kinda guy. There’s some sort of technical hitch though and for a few minutes everything looks to be a bit touch and go. There’s no sound coming from the stage. Which when you’re about to play a gig is a pretty big deal I imagine. Noe Spagato, or Fredrik as he’s known when not up on stage surrounded by ancient keyboards, doesn’t look at all phased though. He squats down and calmly waits until everything is fixed, no tantrums, no histrionics. He’s dressed like a resident of Mega City One, he’s not one of us. In fact come to think of it, this is only the second time I’ve ever seen him not wearing roller skates. 

Then all of a sudden something clicks and we’re underway. Fredrik coaxes all sorts of burbles and squeaks from his keyboards. This is no minimal, sleek lap-top and black box set up. He sounds like the missing link between mid ‘70s Tangerine Dream and early ‘80s John Carpenter, or perhaps Klaus Schulze if Klaus Schulze hit his stride during the house era. What do I know? Either way it sounds great. 

As an added bonus there’s minimal drum accompaniment from whom I’m reliably told is his girlfriend. She mainly sticks to a rigid hi-hat and kick drum combination with the occasional cymbal flourish. She underpins everything, allowing Fredrik to noodle away to his heart’s content. Which works like a dream. So much so that when she turns her attention to a woodblock at one point the whole track elevates three meters up into the air.  

The gig ends and I wander off to the bar feeling a bit drunk. Have to get some water, mustn’t forget to drink water I think to myself. I order another beer, all thoughts of H2O completely forgotten. I wander outside to talk rubbish to friends and bump into my friend Emos. Before we can get chatting though it’s time to head back inside for the return of The Loodz, the ‘supergroup’ made up of various Malmö music types. The Loodz are fun, they made their debut at last year’s Rundgång Fest and were easily the highlight of that night for me. Their set is all very tongue-in-cheek with guest vocalists for each song. I’m starting to sway a bit now. It must be getting late. I check my phone and see that it really isn’t. 

Various people clamber up on stage and karaoke their way through various Swedish classics. Some I recognise, some I don’t. Dennis attacks Bäddat För Trubbel’s Inte New York, elsewhere two of Arre! Arre! have a stab at Familjen’s Det snurrar i min skalle. Smulan (Christine from Nightmen & MF/MB/) Suzi-Quatros up Brainpool’s Bandstarter, turning it into a chugging double-denim clad rocker. Perfect. Last up is Katja (Arre! Arre!), who thunders her way through the Bob Hund anthem Nu är det väl revolution på gång?, like she’s about to storm Drottningholm Palace. Everyone joins in, even me, singing every last word. It’s only after the song ends with the biggest applause of the night that I realise that I only actually know the words to the chorus, and even then I’m not 100% about that.

More beer, more chit-chat then it’s into the main room for tonight’s headliners, K-X-P, who I don’t really know anything about, except that they’re from Finland and everyone says that I’ll love them. They’re not wrong. Three robed monk-like figures make their way across the stage. Two of them take up their positions behind drum kits, while the other picks up one of those fuck-awful cricket-bat guitars. Then it begins. H O L Y  F U C K. They’re good. They must be involved in the black arts. The drums pound, the guitar wails and then one of the drummers starts playing a trombone. It’s like something from a particularly weird David Lynch film. All we need now is a dwarf. 

I look around at the audience, who for the most part are entranced by what is happening on stage. The temperature in the room noticeably rises. K-X-P should never be allowed to play during daylight hours, they should carry a warning sign that all children must be safely tucked up in bed before they can begin. They grind onwards, time becomes elastic, their set lasts forever and is over within minutes. Although that could just be the beer. When they do clamber down from the stage they walk through the audience and I shake their hands as they pass. I don’t know why, I just do. 

I drift back into the bar area, Emos buys me a beer that I neither want or need, but once it’s in my hand I gladly gulp down. The night is dying, there’s no more wood for the fire. Erik and Nopan are spinning vinyl that should make everyone head for the hills. Meatloaf, Boney M, ABBA and far worse things that I’ve excised from my mind are pulled out and slapped onto the turntables. The dance floor is packed. 

Oh the irony. Here we are celebrating the best record store in town, the only place that stocks obscure Kosmische LPs alongside hand-folded 7”s by local bands that will only ever be bought by their friends. Yet all ideas of cool vaporise in the sweat of the dance floor which is heaving with beanpole-thin-tote-bag-carrying girl-boys, tattooed punk types and everyone in-between, all screaming the lyrics to Dancing Queen at the top of their lungs. 

It’s a Swedish thing. You can stand at the same bus stop, with the same five people for years over here before you’ll get any sort of conversation out of them. Get a few pints down those same five Swedes though and you’ll find yourself getting messy on the dance floor with them, doing shots, planning trips to the countryside before running down to the beach for some 4 a.m. naked swimming.

I’m half-joking of course, but Swedes are kind of funny like that. Hyper-hip to every little nuance of changing trends, yet if an evening doesn’t end without being able to get at least one last beer inside them whilst listening to something that would normally have them exclaiming ‘the horror, the horror’, then it’s deemed a failure. Still, it beats the punch up and chips English version of a night out I guess.

It’s a real ‘it’s me not you’ situation. Erik and Nopan are playing exactly the right music for the right situation. I feel like a music snob, worse than that a drunk music snob. I take this as my cue to head home. I feel rough-as-fuck and realise as I stagger along that I never did manage to drink any water. That’s me fucked then. Hangovers are bad news once you hit 35, and end up lasting longer with each passing year. I’m 42 now, and after each one hits, I always consider retiring from alcohol altogether. Well, for a day or two. Fuck knows how I’m going to cope once I hit 70. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it though. I’ll just have a glass of water when I get in, that’ll do the trick I think. Might even be adventurous and have two. Ten minutes later I’m in bed adjusting my body to the Earth’s gravitational pull, trying to find that one angle that unlocks sleep. All thoughts of water long forgotten. I drift off quickly and dream of setting fire to my Dad’s bathroom with some dodgy indoor fireworks. He wasn’t best pleased I can tell you.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

A Marriage Made in Heaven - Part Two

Our plan once we’d signed the register and the wedding photo’s were out of the way, was to hot foot it over to Glasgow and get on with our honeymoon. We’d booked into the same hotel (The Radisson) that we stayed at on our first ever visit to Glasgow back in October 2005. Romance huh, this stuff doesn’t just happen you know, it’s all thought through. 

Well sort of, since despite my best efforts I kept drawing a blank when trying to find a suitable restaurant for our wedding meal. We’d imagined somewhere old-fashioned, grand, chandeliers, lots of flowers, white tablecloths you know the sort of thing. Despite having been to Glasgow a few times we’d never really found a decent place to eat anything other than fast food, and I was hitting a wall with every restaurant I checked out on-line. I think us both being vegetarian didn’t really help matters much. Three course meals for people that don’t eat meat are usually a bit thin on the ground. So in the end, more out of desperation than anything else, I phoned The Radisson and asked their advice. No one knows more about Glasgow than a local was my thinking. 

The woman on reception thought through my quandary for a moment before declaring that she knew the perfect place. What’s more it was right slap-bang next door. Which meant that we wouldn’t have to stagger through the streets of Glasgow dressed up like a couple of abuse magnets.
“Vegetarian food?” I double checked, “good atmosphere, romantic?”
“Oh yes, yes, very. Perfect for what you’re wanting.”
Joy of joys. Local knowledge, you can’t beat it. She even went that extra mile and offered to book a table for us. Wow. After being up to my eyeballs in train/plane/ferry timetables, trying to figure out something clever to inscribe inside my wedding ring and all the other problems exclusively available to those about to tie the knot, I jumped at her offer. Well you would wouldn’t you? 

August 9th 2007 felt like one of those days that lasted longer than its allotted twenty-four hours. We spent most of it travelling or hanging out in departure lounges eating plastic food and looking at things we had no interest in buying. There were no direct flights from Copenhagen to Prestwick, so we ended up with a two hour layover at Stansted. If you look at a map that doesn’t make any sense, but what are you going to do? Sometimes there’s no point in stamping your feet and screaming off an angry email. I’m not a good traveller at the best of times, it’s not that I get ill or anything, I just hate all the sitting around. So having to do that twice in one day… 

Still it gave us a chance to test each other on the wedding-vow memory game that we’d been playing all summer. Once we eventually staggered out of the airport at Prestwick, it was just a hop, skip and a jump, well taxi, ferry crossing and a short walk to get to our B&B (The Glenartney). We were finally in the little village of Brodick, which with a whopping 621 residents was the most populated place on Arran. It all looked a bit Wicker Man. We’d only just managed to catch the last ferry across, but at least now we could just chill for a while in our room before doing that most basic of human needs, finding food.

Ah yes our room, possibly the smallest double room I’ve ever stayed in. It was like a shoebox, a child’s shoebox. There was a double bed and very little else, no space for trivial things like cases, or chairs, or desks or any of the other things you’d expect from a room advertised as a ‘double’. As with the airport thing though, what are you going to do? There was a bed and a roof. So we were happy. Life became very ‘c’est la vie’ the night before the big day. Even with the nagging feeling that something enormous and problematic was charging towards us, we accepted that it was too late to do anything about it and that we’d just have to take things as they came. 

So after a swift shower and with our wedding garb hanging around the room we headed out into the night to explore the village. Brodick as it turned out had amazing views, a stunning coastline and as many old rustic fisherman’s cottages as any right thinking person could wish for. What it didn’t have was much in the way of vegetarian food. “D’ya no eat fash?” was something we quickly got used to hearing. But we found a pub, sank a few glasses of white, ate something forgettable then decided to call it a night. Big day tomorrow and all that. 

When we got back to the B&B I bumped into the owner and asked him the whereabouts of the registry office. Turns out it was in the next town over, Lamlash. Righto. I. Did. Not. Know. That. I remember wincing inside to myself. How could I not have known that? Then again I’m famous for booking hotels only to realise once we’ve arrived at our destination that I’ve forgotten to write down the name or the address of them. 
“Is there a taxi service on the island?” I asked in my best little boy lost voice.
“Aye, there is.” He replied and I could already tell that he really didn’t want to be dealing with me, or guests, or problems, or people or anything really.
“Great. See the thing is we’re getting married tomorrow morning, is there any chance you could call…”
“No. It’s better that you phone yourself.”
“It’s just that I don’t have any change for the phone.”
“It’s better you phone yourself.” He repeated handing the taxi company’s business card over. Bugger. Quick side note I had a bit of a run in with the same guy the next morning, when I explained to him that we didn’t have any hot water in our room when I got back from booking our taxi. Turns out that keeping the boiler running all night is a waste, so at ten p.m. sharp it’s turned off until the following morning. I bit my tongue, I was off to get married. The Glenartney in Brodick, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So anyway, it turned out that Arran’s taxi company was actually just one sweet old guy, called George. When he picked us up in the morning he chatted away for the whole journey, I can’t for the life of me remember any of what he said other than him referring to Pernilla the whole time as ‘The Boss’. Great bloke.

The registry office itself was a gorgeous old stone cottage next to a gone-to-seed disused gothic church. We were early so made our way in to smooth out any last minute wrinkles. The Michael Nyman CD was handed over along with an explanation about which track we wanted played (Molly from the Wonderland score in case you were wondering), as we walked down the aisle. Then it was back outside for a sneaky fag and run through our vows again until Amanda, our wedding photographer, arrived. Then it was time. 

Everything happened so fast, almost double speed, like skipping through a DVD. Albeit a DVD of a stranger’s wedding, which would explain skipping through…it…so…fast… Uh, anyway, we were introduced to our witnesses whose names I immediately forgot, then the doors were flung open and those wonderful low-key Michael Nyman strings began to swell as we walked past row after row of empty seats on our way down the aisle. Both of us clinging to the other as if we were walking on ice with banana-skin shoes. I was a little nervous, Pernilla far more so. 

When we finally made it to the big wooden desk, the woman marrying us (yet again her name escapes me), hit stop on the CD player and all of sudden the wonderful heavenly music that we had so carefully picked out all those months before, was no more. No fade, no subtle lowering of the volume, just a brutal edit from the sublime back to real life. The vacuum left behind was huge, like the after-effect of a freshly burst balloon. That’s disappointment number one I thought. I looked at Pernilla and knew she was thinking exactly the same thing. Ho-hum.

After that little shock we were handed our wedding vows all neatly typed up on pieces of paper. I wanted to throw mine down on the desk like some kind of Mexican bandit, along with the proclamation that ‘I didn’t need any sheets of A4’, that it was all up here (I’d tap the side of my head as I said that bit), that I’d ‘learnt the damn thing off by heart during the past three months thank you very much’. I didn’t though. Lucky really, since my memory had decided to hang around outside and I ended up referring to my crib sheet throughout. We got through the ceremony without laughing or crying. My main memory is of Pernilla turning pink around two minutes in. 

That was it, we were now man and wife, Pernilla was no longer my girlfriend, she was now my other half, her indoors, the trouble and strife et cetera. She was my wife and I her husband. We kissed, signed the register, and then in a daze shook hands and thanked everyone (the registrar, the two witnesses and Amanda). Then we were outside having our photo’s taken against the backdrop of Holy Isle. It was all happening so fast, I felt like I’d been at the pub for too long and it was probably time to stagger home to bed. There was no time for any of that though as the local paper were there and wanted to know why anyone would travel to their little island to get married. We did our best. We kissed they took some photos and we gave them a brief interview, all the while Amanda kept snapping away in the background.

Then we were in a car heading off to the local country club for a glass of champers and some photos in their grounds. The sky hovered between happiness and surliness all day, but it never rained. Before we knew it we were on the ferry and waving goodbye to Amanda and Arran. During the hour long crossing old women cooed over us, their heads filled with memories of their own weddings no doubt, while behind them their granite faced husbands looked on forlornly, ‘you look happy now son, but just you wait’ their sad eyes said. We sat there in a daze while the womenfolk clucked their congratulations, just soaking everything up. Now finally on our own for the first time in hours, we took the chance to run through what had happened and how we’d perceived it. Then we were on the stern of the ferry and Pernilla was throwing her bouquet backwards over her shoulder into a gaggle of seagulls. None of them managed to catch it and we watched it drown in the Firth of Clyde.

We drew a few stares on the train journey into Glasgow. Us in our wedding outfits, everyone else in their casual Saturday clobber. By the time we arrived at the hotel things become a bit of a blur, no doubt due to the two bottles of champagne we knocked back. We ordered room service, learned that Factory supremo Tony Wilson had died that morning (disappointment number two), kept playing with our wedding rings and reminding each other that we were actually married, as if it was the most amazing thing that any human being had ever achieved. We were drunk.

At around seven p.m. we ambled downstairs to eat. I’d double and triple checked with the reception desk that everything was booked before our arrival. Now I just needed directions to the restaurant, since I’d of course forgotten to write down it's name. Alarm bells started ringing when I was told that we didn’t even need to leave the hotel since there was a connecting door at the far end of the lobby. That didn’t sound good. 

So long story short, it turned out to be a tapas bar. We ate our big wedding meal in a tapas bar. Not just any old tapas bar mind you, but a tapas bar in Glasgow with a bunch of lads loudly watching the footie on the flat screen TVs dotted around the place. Oh and just to add insult to injury the only other people eating there had two kids who ran round and around our table, playing some game that seemed to involve a lot of screaming. Do I really need to write ‘disappointment number three’? I thought not. We ate our lacklustre paella (the single vegetarian option on the menu) quickly, the fact that our bloodstream was 50% proof made it easier. We didn’t hang around for desert.

I guess the moral of the story is never leave anything important for other people to sort out, especially strangers. I fucked up, pure and simple. Not only that but I dropped the ball on one of the more important aspects of the day. But there you go, these things happen, and what felt like a throw yourself from the highest tower block moment then is something we chuckle about now. The up side to all that is that we make a bit of an effort for our anniversary each year. Especially when it comes to where we eat.

Anyway, as bad as all that was it's nothing compared to what happened to us on our honeymoon, but that’s a whole other story for another time.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

A Marriage Made in Heaven - Part One

I can’t remember whose bright idea it was to get married in Scotland. Let alone where the plan for getting hitched on a little Scottish island came from. It could have been mine, then again it could have just’ve easily been Pernilla’s (my then bride to be). It was definitely one of us, unless of course it was someone else. It was me that made the proposal though. We both agree on that one. Although even something as simple as a pre-planned wedding proposition didn’t quite work out as it should’ve. 

It was August 2006 and we were away in Dublin. It rained. A lot. We drank. A lot. When in Rome et cetera. The weekend following our stay in the winner of that year’s ‘wettest city in Europe’ award, we’d booked a break on Ven, a tiny island (can you see a theme emerging?) situated halfway between Denmark and Sweden. Now Ven, like most of Sweden once you get outside of its cities, runs on Fifties time. It’s an old fashioned sort of place. Its big open spaces are broken up by small clusters of rich-people houses and normal-people holiday rentals. The roads are practically devoid of cars, teeming instead with yellow bicycles carrying happy Swede’s to various picnic destinations. The perfect place for a traditional down-on-one-knee style proposal, I figured. My big idea was as simple as finding an old tree that would still be standing long after we weren’t, and doing the aforementioned. Couldn’t fail, I figured. 

So anyway back in Dublin, we’re in bed, and being a little the worse for wear due to the day’s drinking, are caught up in a ‘you don’t love me any more’ mini-argument. Out of nowhere I blurted some words that when strung together formed a marriage proposal. No huge romantic gesture, no flowers or rings or knees, no holding hands or looking longingly into eyes, just two people easing their way towards the oncoming hangover. Bad moods and bad weather, not the best of bedfellows. If I’d been sober, less tired, in a different city, not trying to placate Pernilla, who knows, perhaps I wouldn’t have done it like that. But that’s life, and that’s how it happened. Still at least we stopped arguing.

That’s when the real headaches started though. It’ll come as no shock to anyone, but getting married involves a hell of a lot of preparation. There is so much to organise, so many decisions to make, so many things to deal with. It’s difficult to know where to begin. But begin you must, so we decided to start by drawing up a list of who to invite and try and figure everything else out from there. Our list was huge. Even after we’d whittled it down, it was still far bigger than felt comfortable. The biggest problem we could see was how to justify spending so much money on a wedding? We’re both minimum-wage monkeys, and wouldn’t dream of leaning on our parents to splash out for anything, let alone going down the bank loan route. So what do you do? Do you cut corners before you’ve already started? And if so, which corners? Smaller wedding cake? Worse catering? Less free booze? Rubbish DJ? Less guests? Cheaper wedding outfits? So like I said, total headache situation. 

The thing is a wedding day is supposed to be the couple’s big day. “It’s all about you,” people will tell you. “It’s your big day,” is another phrase that gets thrown about. At the same time family members that you’ve never heard of get in touch, telling you how much they’re looking forward to their place at the table. If you’re not careful things can very quickly start to tumble out of control, as you find yourself in the unenviable position of trying to balance pleasing your wedding guests and yourselves at the same time. Which is impossible. Or at least that’s how it felt for us. 

The thing is we were after something a bit different. Not quite jumping-out-of-an-aeroplane-and-screaming-our-wedding-vows-at-each-other-as-we-hurtled-towards-the-earth-at-breakneck-speed different. Just imagine how bad those wedding pictures would’ve looked. But not really the tried and tested local church hall with a wedding DJ, flashing lights and 80s music type scenario either.  

So after looking around Malmö for a suitable venue for a few months, it started to dawn on us why most people got married in the traditional way in the traditional places. All of the odd venues we found came with their own unique set of problems, and when you’ve already got a huge list of problems that you’re desperately trying to cross your way through, the last thing you want to do is start adding to that list. Something had to give.

Which is how we ended up thinking it would be easier to tie the knot seven hundred miles from where we lived. On top of that we decided not to invite any friends or family and throw a big party for them when we returned from our honeymoon instead. Strangely, the only person we ended up asking to our wedding was a total stranger, Aidan Moffat (Google him if you don’t know the name). He was kind enough to reply with a ‘no can do, I’m busy that weekend’ email, which was expected, but still sweet. We figured that since he’d once sat in a record-shop window for a day as part of their window display (in exchange for a crate of booze), it was worth a shot.

So anyway, Scotland it was. Pernilla is Swedish and I’m English, the half way point between those two places is Scotland. Which is a nice and easy explanation for people when they ask why we decided to take the plunge in the land of kilts. That’s not the real reason though. The truth of the matter is we’d fallen for the place on our first visit. We loved the weather-beaten cities guarded by mountains, the coastline that seemingly never ends, the high drama of the countryside with its waterfalls feeding into huge lochs, the bruised Scottish skies and of course the people and their amazing accents. Even now if ever we hear a Scot utter the words, ‘shoe’, ‘murder’ or ‘dirty’ we can’t help but smile at each other. Scotland is like a magnet for us and so any excuse to travel across the North Sea to say hello is always taken. Although that said we’ve still never set foot inside a Glaswegian pub despite having been there on three separate occasions. 

For some reason most of the arrangements were left to me. Which is weird since I’m only really good at two things, buying records and watching films. If you ever need either of those doing then I’m your man, anything beyond that though and you’re taking a chance. Still, we knew one hundred percent that we weren’t going to get hitched in a big church, Pernilla decked out like a giant cake and me in a suit that you could eat your dinner off of. We wanted the actual wedding ceremony to be a small, non-religious affair that would be over and done with as quickly as possible.

We settled pretty quickly on the Isle of Arran for three reasons. It was a small Scottish island, it had a registry office and it was easily accessible to us, which was important since neither of us drive. Tick, tick and tick. Perfect. Next came the hurdle of actually making everything happen. This was 2007, pre-Facebook, we were still in the MySpace age, and despite Sweden being well up to snuff on all things broadband, Scotland’s little coastal islands most definitely weren’t. They were still very much operating on the old tried and tested ‘give us a call on the telephone’ method. So there were a lot of phone calls, and lots of paperwork to sort out. 

But sort it all out we did. We booked the island’s only wedding photographer, ordered flowers and sorted out various hotels and B&Bs. I even remembered to check if we could choose the music to be played during our ceremony (we could). After everything was in place all that was left for us to do was practise our wedding vows and be nervous.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Neil Knowlden & Me

Back at the start of the nineties I played bass in a band called Cloudscape. Four white blokes and a drum machine, that was us. Between indie kids ditching fake Manchester accents for newer cockney ones, there was the short lived shoegaze scene. It was a bit of a blink and you missed it moment. My Bloody Valentine kicked the whole shebang off with ‘89s Isn’t Anything, and ended it all a couple of years later with their epic album, Loveless. That’s the train that Cloudscape desperately wanted to hitch themselves too. I couldn’t play bass, I’d never even picked one up, but the singer who wasn’t so much a singer but more someone who really wanted to be a front man, had asked me to join his band. So I thought fuck it, why not? I was wearing a Moose T-shirt and had the right sort of hairstyle. I looked like a bass player in a shoegaze band. So I was in.

It didn’t go well. We were at the arse-end of something that was rapidly going out of fashion. We rehearsed, I was awful, I’m not a natural musician, which I learned the hard way. We never played live. I fell out with the drum machine, and that was that.

Anyway, through being in Cloudscape I started hanging out with their circle of friends. The singer who couldn’t sing was called Robert, the guy who wrote the music was Ross, the other guitarist was Rob, he had a sister called Alison, who was friends with Tim, Clare, Cathy and Steph. Steph was in an on/off relationship with this guy called Neil. That’s how I first met Neil Knowlden.

Neil had been in the year above me at school, lived in the same area of Basildon that I did (up until I turned fourteen), went to The Pink Toothbrush in Rayleigh and to top it all off even worked for the same company as me, Our Price Records. Yet despite all of that we’d never bumped into each other. Once we did finally meet though we hit it off quickly. Neil was the sort of guy that got along with everyone, happy-go-lucky I’d guess you’d call him. He liked a drink. Almost all of my memories of Neil involve him drinking or being hung over. He smoked like a chimney too. He had a great mop of thin mousy blonde hair that hung over his eyes, he always reminded me of Mark Hollis from Talk Talk crossed with Tim Roth.

I ended up working with Neil on and off for the next six or seven years. First at Our Price Romford, then at one of the Basildon Our Price’s and eventually the hell on earth that was Virgin Basildon. It wasn’t unheard of for Neil to arrive at work reeking of booze and begging for a 10 a.m. lunch. As I say he liked a drink did Neil. Being over twenty years ago my memories of that time are a little hazy, and most nights out have bled into one another. One thing I do remember very clearly was that Neil was by far and away the worst person I ever knew when it came to money. It ran through his fingers like sand as soon as he got any. Wages would be blown during weekend binges. Once we almost ended up buying a flat in Pitsea together. It was only the fact that Neil's credit rating was so bad that we couldn’t get a mortgage, that that particular adventure didn't happen.

Like all of us back then Neil had a huge love of music. It was the glue that held all of our friendships together. His tastes changed as the bands he liked became popular. He was always championing the underdog, becoming bored with bands once the general public began to catch on. I was working with him at Romford Our Price when Smells Like Teen Spirit was released. We all loved Nirvana back then, Sliver being a guaranteed floor filler down The Toothbrush. Neil frantically cut open the new release boxes until he found a copy of Teen Spirit, rushed over to the deck and slapped it on as loud as possible. He loved the single and the album Nevermind, until it became obvious that everyone else did too. After that he moved onto Mercury Rev, Helmet and Monster Magnet. I remember him having quite a thing for early XL Records too, stuff like Charly by The Prodigy.

I have quite a few of Neil’s records in my collection. Why? Well whenever we were out, Neil would inevitably end up skint well before the night was through. I’d buy him a couple of beers, but he’d always want to borrow money for more beer, a cab ride home or that all important egg-burger and chips after The Toothbrush had shut it’s doors for the night. He never had any cash to pay me back, so he used to give me records he didn’t want anymore instead.

We all went to the 1992 Reading Festival. Well all of us except Steph. I don’t think camping was really Steph’s thing. That was the year Nirvana headlined the final day and were absolutely awful. We woke up that morning to find the campsite under a foot of water. Neil ate a massive lump of dope on the first morning and passed out in his tent. He saw one band during the whole festival, Leatherface. Leatherface! That’s typical Neil. Although to be fair he did spend a lot of time in the comedy tent. I remember watching Frank Sidebottom with him and both of us laughing until we cried. Thinking back on it now, it’s obvious that Neil loved comedy even more than music.

Neil, Tim and me went to see The Orb at Brixton once. Neil went missing when The Orb hit the stage. He surged down to the front of the venue and me and Tim didn’t see him for the rest of the night. We were all a little the worse for wear, and it turned out that Neil had somehow managed to walk out of the exit by mistake. He tried to get back in but couldn’t, so he phoned Rob at 3 a.m. to come and pick him up, which he did. Meanwhile me and Tim spent our night looking around Brixton Academy for him, even phoning around the hospitals and police stations the following morning to try and find out what had happened.

I can’t really remember how me and Neil lost contact. It must have been when he left Virgin and was living in Wickford with Steph and their son Anthony. Sadly I think it was as simple as he lived in Wickford, I lived in Leigh, neither of us drove and we drifted apart from each other. A year or so after that I moved to Sweden and that was that.

Then one day a friend told me that Neil had died. They didn’t know anything more than that, just that he was dead. I couldn’t get my head around it. How could Neil be dead? Some people you meet in life aren’t destined to be around too long. But Neil wasn’t one of those people. After looking up old friends via Facebook I finally found out that he died due to complications arising from his asthma. I don’t even remember him having asthma. I was told he’d ballooned in weight and even needed a chair lift in his home. What an end.

Thanks to Facebook I’m now back in touch with Steph, and even Neil’s sister Angela. Last week I saw a photo of Neil in a wheelchair taken towards the end of his short life. It was that photo that made me sit down and write all this. I could still see the person who loved Count Duckula, the boy that used to throw himself around on the sticky dance floor to Mudhoney, the guy who’s New Order 12”s are next to my turntable as I write this, but he was buried beneath the outer shell of an old man. That picture was hard to look at, made my eyes fill with tears. It’s an image that I’ll never be able to unsee. I miss you Neil, and I hate that it’s too late to tell you that.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Friday 1st March 2013

We (me and my wife Pernilla) knew something must be rotten in Denmark as soon as the cab driver didn’t know the street we’d given him as our destination. He tapped it into his sat nav, and all became clear. We were off to DJ at the album launch for MF/MB/s new album. Now despite Malmö being jam packed with exotic venues, MF/MB/ had decided that said album launch should take place at SingSang, which is slap bang in the middle of the industrial district. During daylight hours that wouldn’t be a problem our cabbie informed us, but he couldn’t drive in there at night. By now my curiosity had gotten the better of me and I asked him to elaborate. ‘What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of illegal clubs?’ He asked us.
I look at Pernilla and she looks back at me. Good times, no curfew, cheap bar - I’m sure Pernilla was thinking the same as me.
‘Drugs, violence and weapons.’ he barked back at us before we had a chance to say a word.

Being a nice chap he took us all the way up to the door of the venue anyway, pointing out the police signs that forbid traffic from stopping in this area between 5pm and 6am seven days a week. Seven days a week! We jump out and thank him, it’s not often you get a decent cab driver, and the chunky guy with the bluetooth ear jewellery was just that. I just hoped we could find someone like him to dare to venture out here to get us home after the gig, since walking through this obviously lawless wasteland in the wee hours of Sunday morning armed only with a record box and an oncoming hangover seemed like a really bad idea.
We’d got to the venue early. We’re always early. There were three other people there, Rickard who runs SingSang and whose name I forgot almost as soon as he said it much to my own embarrassment, Magnus who runs (owns?) Adrian Recordings (home to MF/MB/) one of Sweden’s premiere indie labels, and most surprisingly of all Sweden’s answer to Iggy Pop - Joachim Leksell. We all say hello and head into the venue which neither me or Pernilla have ever been to before. We head up the spiral concrete steps and into our home for the next few hours. First impressions are it’s small, really small. Tonight’s show is invite only, and is supposed to be around 80 people. However right from the get-go we're told it’s more likely to be 120 or so. When we look around at the size of the place knowing the amount of people they are expecting it doesn’t add up. Should be interesting.

They’ve set our decks up behind the band, which means that we are well protected from the audience. Result. However the journey through and around the instruments becomes almost like one of those games where you have to guide a loop along a piece of twisty metal without touching the sides for fear of setting off a buzzer. Except instead of setting off a buzzer you’d be more likely to fall into a drum kit. Anyway the decks are all set up correctly, if somewhat confusingly. This record player to the left is on channel 2 while the CD player on the right is on channel 1 of the mixer, the sort of thing that’s fine at the start but becomes tricky after a few beers. There’s no one about so we stick on the first Beta Band EP and have a wander around. There’s one toilet. One. 120 people, one toilet. I figured I’d be pissing outside tonight. There’s a huge roof terrace, it’s March and it’s freezing but I know this area will be packed since there’s no smoking indoors. The tiny kitchen is doubling up as the bar, the beer is alarmingly cheap. People are going to be drunk, very drunk, there’s only one toilet, the room is very small and there’s no stage. Should be interesting.
We flick through our records sorting them out into piles of songs that work well together, when I look up there’s about 20 people in the room. Blimey that happened quickly. Someone’s waving at me. Why are they waving? Fucking hell it’s Conny, I haven’t seen him in years. He looks exactly the same though, still skinny with no arse. He comes over and we hug and do that ‘long time, no see’ thing that people do. Then he’s gone into the ever growing crowd. It’s packed now. The sound of people chatting creates a massive hum, and sounds like some sort of musique concrète piece. Stockhausen would be proud. We turn the music up louder. Then we hear Rebecca’s voice over everything else in the room. You can always tell how drunk Rebecca is by the volume of her voice. She must be pretty drunk, Pernilla heads out to investigate and I wave from the safety of our bunker.
By now people are pouring in, I look up and see Dennis Lood (owner of Malmö’s best record store - Rundgång) waving at me. I give him a smile and wave back. The next time I’ll see him is about an hour later when he’s furiously punching the air during ITF's set, as if trying to fend off an invisible attacker.

The place is absolutely fucking rammed now. I look over at the toilet, trying to work out if there is some sort of queue. There can’t be, maybe it’s working on an honour system with the person most likely to piss themselves being allowed in first. Then all of a sudden the first band are taking their places, mics are being checked, drums banged and guitars strummed. Hang on how are we supposed to get out from behind them if they’re already in place? We’re stuck directly behind them. It feels weird watching a band from behind. The whole crowd is pressed right up against them, I crack open another Becks and settle in.
I find out later that the band were called Ra. Which makes sense since they have a real early 70s Kraut vibe about them. Pulsing, driving almost monotonous but really powerful music, topped off with a singing drummer. Pernilla says something to me. I can’t hear her, I point to my ears, she shouts louder. I still can’t hear her though and nod hoping that’s the correct response. Ra were great but are finished after just three songs, so we’re back on. We roll forward with the music, as the next band - ITF start setting up their stuff. I don’t really know anything about ITF other than it’s Victor from MF/MB/s electronic side project with his brother. Should be interesting.
Pernilla fills me in with the news that our friend Åsa is really drunk. It’s Saturday night, this is how things should be on Saturday nights. Loud music, friends and drinking. Good for Åsa. It looks like ITF are about ready to start, I tell Pernilla I need a piss and we both agree that getting out from the bunker before the band starts is way preferable to trying to fill empty Becks bottles with wee in front of a 100 people. So we escape out into the freezing winter night. I find a chain fence surrounding an electrical substation and decide that no one would be too hacked off if I used this as my toilet for the night. Pernilla stands guard in case any of the drugs, violence & weapons illegal club thugs decide to attack me. There’s no one about though.
Back inside we catch the end of the first song by ITF, they are sensational. The crowd are going bonkers too. It feels like at any moment it could all go wrong, so many people in such a confined space, all that energy mixed with alcohol surely violence is just around the corner? Of course not though. It’s a great crowd and the energy in the room is enough to power a small town. I get the chance to have a quick chat with Rebecca who isn’t as drunk as I would have thought. She’s happy as always, snapping pictures of the band before disappearing into the crowd. ITF remind me of Handsome Furs at their most electronic. They launch into their last song - an MF/MB/ cover I think, and it feels like the building is going to collapse. And then they’re gone, and things calm down a bit.
I spot a group of people on roller skates. Is this what The Factory was like back in it’s 60s heyday? Someone I don’t recognise is making his way through the maze of instruments towards us. He’s holding an iPod dock/speaker system in his hand, he has a ginger beard and the sort of hat that would make Jamiroquai blush. I chat away with him, until he reaches over and starts turning the bass on the mixer down. Luckily thanks to the channels being so weirdly laid out it doesn’t effect what’s playing. I lift his hand off the mixer.
‘Don’t do that.’ I tell him.
‘Oh I’m sorry.’ He says, sounding genuinely surprised that he might have upset me in any way.
‘Can you play vinyl?’ He asks.
I point at the record deck directly in front of him and nod my head, already long bored of him.
‘What channel are the records on?’ He enquires.
I point to channel two and ask him politely but firmly to fuck off away from me now since I’ve had enough.
‘Do you want some gum?’ He counters.
‘No. Just go now please.’
And with that the ginger prince is gone. Very strange.
MF/MB/ hit the non stage and they start banging their instruments and checking volume levels. Okay so now the penny drops, Joachim Leksell is at the mic. So he’s going to be singing with MF/MB/. Right, now I understand. He thanks me for DJing (I’m thinking it was him who cheered when we played The Monks), which was sweet if a little embarrassing since Pernilla was also DJing, but he kept thanking me over and over. She didn’t seem too bothered by it though. Erik the drummer has a mild panic attack when he can only find one of his drum sticks. I point to the sticks on the floor.
‘They’re not mine.’
Blimey does that matter I wonder, but obviously it does. Then I clock three more sticks on his kick drum. They’re not his either though. Finally the missing stick is found and the gig gets under way. They play three songs. The first is a Nirvana cover, don’t ask me which though since I can’t remember. The line between the audience and band is gossamer thin, at one point I see seven people all singing into Joachim’s mic. It’s chaotic, it’s a bit messy but it’s also fantastically exciting. Everyone is smiling. A lot. Including me and Pernilla despite the fact that we feel a little overexposed standing behind the band. At one point Jocke the guitarist turns around and gives Erik the weirdest most manic grin. His guitar is vertical through lack of space and despite not being able to see Erik’s face I knew it must reflect what was on Jocke’s.
During the second song someone actually crowd surfs and is in danger of getting friction burns from the ceiling. I look at Pernilla to see if she is seeing the same thing as me and get a fright when I see someone outside the window. He’s waving at me, hang on it’s my friend Björn Stegmann. I didn’t have a clue he was even here. What the fuck is he doing outside on the roof? I wave back to him and he raises his beer bottle to me. I rise mine back and return my attention to the band.
Last song now and the liveliness of the crowd is about to reach it’s peak when MF/MB/ launch into a cover of one of the greatest Swedish anthems - Underground by Broder Daniel. We survive. Everyone looks pleased, more beer is drunk, we play some LCD Soundsystem, YACHT and The Rapture. But the evening is falling away. It’s time to wind things up and head off to after-parties or dodgy clubs. Rickard comes over.
‘Just a couple more songs.’ He informs us.

Uh okay, I think. What does that even mean though? Is it alright if those songs are Sister Ray and Autobahn I wonder? That’s when I realise that not only am I getting drunk but that I need to empty some of the beer from my body. I ask Pernilla to hold the fort while I nip outside for a wazz. On my way back in the road is blocked by four blokes who obviously haven’t been watching MF/MB/, they look pretty scary to me. I trot pass them neither looking them in the eye or looking away. Don’t appear scared I think.
‘Good luck.’ The one nearest me says.
Christ alone knows why he said it, but for a second I thought I was a goner.

Back inside things are really winding down rapidly. Björn is now behind the decks with Pernilla, so I head over and have a chat with him. I show him the Cindy & Bert CD I bought with me and decide at that moment that there’s nothing more in the world I’d like to hear than Der Hund von Baskerville - their cover of Sabbath’s Paranoid. I slap it on and to my extreme embarrassment it ends up being the last song of the night.
We pack away our records and say goodbye to various friends and make plans with others for sharing a taxi home. Then in that magical drunken way time skips forward and we’re in a people carrier on our way to an after-party. The last thing I see and hear is Erik the drummer shouting that he wants to put his bike on top of the taxi. He’s still swinging it about like a man possessed when the taxi pulls away. He looked happy enough though.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Twelve Inches of Pleasure #3 - !!!

!!! - Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard (A True Story) [Warp Records 2003] - Cat# WAP163

Okay let's deal with the elephant in the room first shall we? !!! is pronounced Chk Chk Chk, or any other three repetitive sounds. They even slap a sticker on the front of their records to explain this. Not since those long ago nutty days of Prince changing his name to squiggle have we had such pretentiousness with a band name. The difference here though is that !!! are fucking aces, whereas Prince was already well on his way down towards the Mormon internet only triple album dumpster where he now resides.

Phew! Anyway, Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard (A True Story) (did I already use the word pretentious?), is a euphoric slab of dance/funk/punk excellence. It kicks off like it's in the middle of another song before settling down into a wonderfully dirty groove. This is one of those journey records that Funkadelic, Can or early post Barrett Floyd used to make, except there's no denying what era this 12" is from. This is most definitely post house and subsequently is packed full of hands in the air moments. The best of which starts with the song being stripped back to just drums around the three and a half minute mark, then they pile on extra drums followed by a throbbing pulsing bass, next up come the dry chiming guitar chords, still building, constantly building upwards, then the guitar gets more frantic and finally just when it feels like everything that's happened before is going to collapse, comes the triumphant bored-slacker barked vocal "people always ask me, what's so fucking great about dancing?''. It's a killer moment that the song never really manages to top. 

This is one of my favourite ever singles, it's prog for the dance generation, it's uplifting without being braindead, but best of all it works on a dance floor. It's one of those tracks that everyone should play before leaving home on a Saturday night. Honestly.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Seven Inches of Joy #8 - Quickspace Supersport


Quickspace Supersport - Quickspace Happy Song (#1) [Kitty Kitty Corporation 1995] - Cat # CHOOSY01

Like all good (and some god awful) music this really reminds me of where I was at when it was originally released. I seemed to spending all my free time hanging around North London, watching bands that never went anywhere, but still have a huge place in my heart. This was the heyday of Mo' Wax, Warp, Too Pure and a whole slew of wonderful British labels and artists. Despite '95 being the height of Brit Pop, if you made the effort to scratch beneath the surface you'd find there was so much more going on. It wasn't just people wearing Union Jack underpants, conning themselves that the swinging 60's were happening again whilst bigging up Tony Blair. Well not for the most part anyway.

So for every Blur and Oasis there were ten other far more exciting bands to follow. Quickspace Supersport, (who later dropped the Supersport) were one such band. I used to catch them live at least once a month, and at every gig there seemed to be a line up change. The one constant was founder member Tom Cullinan, who'd previously led Th' Faith Healers to nowhere in particular.

This was their debut single, and it manages to capture those early ramshackle gigs fairly well. It sounds like they pretty much went into the studio played it through a few times then pressed it up. It has a warm fuzzy feel to it, sounds are not isolated but rather just bleed into one another. Of course the whole thing is juddering to a halt before you've even had a chance to start singing along. All the way through it sounds like it's about to collapse in on itself at any moment, tempos rise and fall and off key vocals are the order of the day. It'll never be mistaken for a Trevor Horn production.

So all these years later this little seven inch still gets it's fair share of time on my record player, and still sounds as good as it did on the day I bought it. The lack of production helps make it less a product of it's time and more something that continues to sound fresh and vibrant to my well worn lugholes. Great little hand made sleeve too, and the first release on their own Kitty Kitty Corporation label to boot. Quickspace went on to release loads more music, some of it even better than this track, and yet it's always this piece of vinyl I dig out to play when I need that kick that only music can deliver.


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