Monday, 31 December 2018

They disturbed my natural emotions

My first 7" single, no pic sleeve and, unfathomably,
now housed in Pye sleeve
I had to drive to Birmingham to pick up my mum just before Christmas. Rather than my usual BBC6 I chose some CDs to listen to on the journey.  These have been overlooked somewhat with my return to vinyl and use of streaming services, and most are now in the loft, but  a number have been kept to hand, primarily 'best ofs' and early Rough Trade album club editions. I happened upon 'Singles Going Steady' something I didn't realise I had on CD - I had played tracks off the vinyl version on the day I heard the terrible news of the passing of Pete Shelley, but must have picked up a CD copy at some point aswell. Playing it on the drive brought back lots of memories. First and foremost what a singles band they were, and with some fabulous b-sides too, and there were some superlative singles bands in those days. The CD edition had the bonus of eight extra tracks too including the 4 post Harmony in My Head singles. I had had a great day on 6th December with a successful music themed lunchtime event at work and was in positive mood when the news that Pete Shelley had died came through and deflated me. I turned straight away to my records and some of the outpouring of love online and on the radio made it as little easier but behind it all was the feeling that a part of my childhood had died. Revisiting Singles Going Steady in full on this journey brought back some memories.

buzzcocks could, and perhaps should, have been my first gig. The first single I bought with my own money was 'Ever Fallen in Love' and each perfect pop single that followed in quick succession was snapped up. Not long after my mum spotted that 'The Buzzcocks' were playing the Birmingham Odeon and did I want to go. With her. I was 12 at the time she asked me and I guess this may even have been intended as a birthday present as it appears it took place about a month after I became a teenager. I unfortunately turned down this kind offer, during my burgeoning interest in the music press and by delving into back catalogue I had picked up on songs such as 'Orgasm addict' and 'Oh Shit', as well as being broadly aware of the moral panic around punk/post punk and felt I could not face the embarrassment of going along with my mother. My loss of course, and testament to what a caring and lovely person my mum was and is. It also appears this was my one chance to see Joy Division who I have since found out were supporting them that night. I am actually really proud of my first gig (XTC, The Members and Last Touch some 15 months later) but with hindsight this would have eclipsed it.

At School buzzcocks even permeated my art lessons, when learning to screen print what better way to test this out than with a re-imagining of buzzcocks' logo, and even english when studying romantic poetry, later to be further developed by The Jam's Sound Affects.  Later on other bands took primacy in my affections, but at my core was a love of buzzcocks, the songwriting of Pete Shelley, and all they and he inspired and that could not have happened in their absence. The day after he died a story came to light of how during a student occupation at the Regent Street headquarters of my workplace, he arrived in the middle of the night with an acoustic guitar to provide some entertainment for the student occupiers. As if I couldn't love him more. 

Friday, 29 June 2018

End of the group stages psychosis blues (reprise)

At exactly the same stage in 2014 I blogged about the end of the group stages psychosis blues, a knowing nod to That Petrol Emotion that readers may have picked up upon. The essence of the blog was an acknowledgement of that empty feeling when the group stages with at least three games a day have finished. It was also a paean to my attempts at World Cup cooking. I've been quiet on the blogging front but rest assured I have still pushed back culinary boundaries for the Russian edition of world cup. The idea is to try and create an evening meal that echoes in some way a team or teams playing in that day's group matches. An added factor is the fact that I am vegetarian so many national dishes have to be adapted and countries such as Iceland prove a challenge, and also the non qualification of Italy deprived me of my usual open goal.

Whilst not as prolific due to trips away from home and other commitments I again boldly attempted to subvert the traditional. Egypt/Saudi Arabia was an early highlight with Saudi Arabia taking centre stage with a Ruz Bukhari, accompanied by some falafel based on a recipe from the marvellous British pulse producer Hodmedod's and using their split fava beans as a base which was a loose take on Egypt, a country I was to return to later (see below).

Bukhari Rice (Saudi Arabia)
Whilst I am a man of savoury leanings, my odyssey is not constrained by such predilections. The qualification of Iran allowed me to try out a pistachio based chocolate torte that was delicious although the less said about my Uruguayan cauliflower fritters and Peruvian potatoes the better - i didn't even take any photos.

Chocolate and pistachio torte (Iran)
I had ambitions for many other creations, including delving into Moroccan cookbooks in more depth than I have previously and having a barbeque whilst watching Australia, but it was not to be. I did manage during the final round to return to Egypt more authentically with a well known national dish, Koshari, pictured here with extra tomato sauce and fried onion garnish. It is however with the knock out stages that the fun can really start, with a series of mash ups and fusions becoming possible, already Belgium/Japan looks intriguing and Brazil/Mexico looks like a Latin bean bonanza. The joy is that this is a game you can play too and you have 24 hours without football to consult your cookbooks and let your creative juices flow. France v Argentina tomorrow might be a good place to start, but world cup cooking is coming home.

Koshari (Egypt)

Thursday, 22 March 2018

I used the NME

I picked up my last copy of the NME (pictured) at Oxford Street tubestation. Ironic really, as back in the day I used to make a trip to the tube station most tuesdays during my lunchbreak to pick up the NME. One of the best things about moving to London in the 1980s was that you were able to pick up the music papers a day early - invaluable, particularly as this was my main source of gig listings and tour announcements and you could steal a march on less savvy punters armed with this knowledge.

Whilst I had some memorable trips to the shadow of IPC towers to pick up the papers, my usual port of call was outside Tottenham Court Road tube station. It was always a delight that it was not only me getting there early, but sometimes the subject matter of the paper too. More than once Ian MacNab was in the queue in front of me. Memorably you could also pick up a bootleg cassette nearby whilst you were about it too, daringly set up close to the Virgin Megastore and often sold by the late, lamented Liam Maher out of a wooden case which he would fold up and run with at the first sighting of the police.

Of course, the last issue of the NME was terrible. It had been awful and pretty pointless for years but I still would pick a copy up and think wistfully back to the days when it really meant something, not just to me but to a whole swathe of people like me. It was a gateway to a wider world and an acknowledgement that writing about so called low culture did not mean that you resorted to facile comments and lacklustre reviews.  I remember showing my dad one of the reviews once, I think it was an review of Joy Division's Closer but I would need to do a bit more detective work to ascertain this for sure,  but I recall being staggered by the quality of the writing, the depth of the analysis and an awareness of context that I had not been subject to up to that point via my English literature lessons. Not sure it persuaded my dad to listen to Atrocity Exhibition though.

I recall being terrified that i would miss an issue containing a free 7 EP  and making a special trip to Leeds Railway station when other stockists had all sold out. I remember happy days at Doggets on the Southbank with Christmas bumper issues of all of the music papers trawling through over a beer or two with my partner in crime. But more than anything I remember the excitement,
and anticipation of my trips to buy it and the joy of reading it. RIP

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

What Difference Does it Make (Part 2)?

Terence Stamp, from 'The Collector'
Next week sees the second Difference Festival hosted by the University of Westminster. There are some absolute treats there and the team have done a brilliant job devising an eclectic mix of events focussed on Soho. I blogged last year trying to give some context to what difference means to us under the banner 'What Difference does it Make?', hence the 'Part 2' addition to this post. All the events are free, the festival starts on Monday 26th February and its open to all so please come along.
Last week I appeared on Pete Paphides' Soho Radio show to talk about the festival, the show is available here. In tandem with this Pete put out a call for 'Songs about Soho' so we might make a playlist. As with his wonderful Station to Station feature, we got some brilliant Soho songs, which I have put together on this spotify playlist. I won't explain all of the references and links, some can be found by looking at Pete's twitter timeline and others explained in the show itself, but whilst it includes the obvious, yet still brilliant, it also celebrates the tangential and often personal takes of listeners to Soho Radio. Pete may well put together a more beautifully curated and crafted one in due course, but I wanted to put this one out there before the festival starts.

What you get to hear is Soho with a Difference you might say.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Wearing badges is not enough (reprise)

Wearing badges is not enough

I've always loved badges. Along with event tickets, see my other blog tickets of distinction  for some of these, and records, I guess I have been a bit of a collector. I've recently become the proud owner of three more badges, displayed opposite.
The first reflects the Music Minds Matter project, predicated upon the excellent Can Music Make you Sick study produced by my colleagues at Westminster. A fine piece of work and a fine project.
The second relates to a project I am involved with, Lost in Music, which was launched last month at Westminster Law School. This is a free, open access, resource that hopes to help people navigate the maze of the music industry and we are currently seeking funding to develop this further. The third, rather than  reference to The Smiths' How Soon is Now alludes in fact to the British Academy/AHRC Being Human Festival which takes place this week. There are lots of fabulous events taking place, one of which I might add, somewhat immodestly, is one of ours.
Matt Morrison introduces visitors to the Soho Poly

Yesterday was the first day of our Lost and Found: Disrupting the Everyday series of events. This was sold out and a fabulous event, with Fred Proud, the original artistic director of the space and the poet and our Writer in Residence Mike Garry giving excellent performances. This will followed by a viewing of various materials from the archives and some beautiful, previously unseen, Nobby Clark photos and the premiere of a piece of digital theatre commissioned for the space. More here on this.  As I write this (tuesday morning) there are still spaces for some of the days, and you can even pick up a badge. I've previously written in a different context of how wearing badges is not enough, a phrase I lifted from Billy Bragg's Days Like These. Please take this as a clarion call. Come along and visit the Soho Poly, either this week or in one of our future ventures (follow Matt's excellent blog here for more details), go on to the Lost in Music resource and post a comment or question  and help us make this a vibrant, active space, and support in any way you can, the Music Minds Matter initiative. Because wearing badges is not enough, in days like these.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Disrupting the Everyday: Being Human and the Soho Poly

'St Anthony', artwork created by Derek Power, words by Mike Garry

"St Anthony, St Anthony please come round,
because something is lost that cannot be found"

St Anthony is the patron saint of lost things. Given the University of Westminster’s link with the poet Mike Garry , author of the superb poem St Anthony, this year’s Being Human Festival theme - 'Lost of Found' - was something of an open goal for us.

The (AHRC / British Academy-funded) Being Human festival runs in late November, and is all about displaying the hidden stories that humanities research can bring into the light. And once we started digging further into our own University archives, we started to come across more and more extraordinary stories.

Chief among them was the story of the original Soho Poly theatre - radical forerunner of today’s Soho Theatre on Dean Street - which operated out of a tiny basement room belonging to the University from 1972-1990. Many of the country’s best known writers, actors, designers and directors worked here during this time. This secret space quickly became the centre piece of our Being Human project, and, for the whole week beginning 20 November, visitors will be able to come and visit London’s most important ‘lost’ theatre.
Courtesy UoW Archives

Our research also uncovered other inspiring stories of creative endeavour – including a series of public lectures from 1917 given by Louie Bagley, then Head of the School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art, on 'Poets and Poetry of Today'. The final name chosen for our event (curated by Matt Morrison of the English Department and Guy Osborn of the Law School) makes reference to both these discoveries: 'Disrupting the Everyday: Found Theatre and Found Poetry'. It offers an opportunity to experience an exciting and various programme of events including a newly commissioned piece of digital theatre, live poetry readings, and an exhibition of rare Nobby Clark photographs. And all of this to be enjoyed in the specially re-opened Soho Poly basement itself.

Book here and come along to be surprised and delighted.

This blog entry is jointly authored by Guy Osborn and Matt Morrison. For Matt's blog see here

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Why Poetry Matters

I was fourteen when The Jam released Sound Affects, an album Weller maintained was their finest. They were already a really important band for me, notwithstanding the callowness of my youth. They had released a peerless run of singles since my first purchase of ‘When You’re Young’ the previous year and I had delved into the back catalogue with relish and found a band to cherish. I’d adored Setting Sons – it introduced me to ideas of class struggle, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas and the notion of the concept album – although the latter was sadly not fully realised in the album itself.  Sound Affects was different though. First of all, the breadth and variety of material was impressive. Perhaps this reached its apotheosis with The Gift but here were echoes of the many eclectic influences that Weller was drawing upon across the eleven tracks.  For me, however, the reverse of the sleeve was even more illuminating.

 We had of course dabbled with poetry at school by this point. In fact the poem Timothy Winters made a lasting impression on me in terms of its rhythm and imagery; I was delighted years later to see Christopher Ecclestone use it memorably in Bleasdale’s GBH. Its fair to say that poetry had not yet really grabbed me though. The excerpt on the sleeve did however and stirred something in me, awoke me from my slumber you might say. Certainly lyrics can be seen as poetic, and lyrics to great songs such as ‘Down in the Tube Station at Midnight’ started off as a poem. Weller’s love of, and commitment to, poetry went further though, creating his own publishing company, Riot Stories, and publishing poetry and other works including ‘December Child’ and ‘Notes from Hostile Street’. In many ways this excerpt was my gateway drug to other things – when Weller mentioned beat poetry, or Geoffrey Ashe’s ‘Camelot and the Vision of Albion’, I would go and check it out, much in the way that the Manic Street Preachers would later inspire fans to read Plath and Pinter, or discover Kevin Carter and Zapruder. The excerpt from Mask of Anarchy acted as a catalyst for me, journeying to the library to read the full poem and later delving further into Shelley, including picking up Paul Foot’s ‘Red Shelley’ which I loved. So to see Mask of Anarchy picked up by Corbyn and others during what was an inspirational election campaign was personally very poignant – something that had been a catalyst for me was becoming a touchstone for others, and hinted at a collective awakening.
It hints also at the power of words. This is something I have talked about a lot with my friend Mike Garry, a peach of a poet and who we are privileged to have as a member of our Centre for Law, Society and Popular Culture at Westminster Law School. I’ve blogged about the links between law and poetry, and the history of poetry at our institution before, but am now delighted to announce that we have a new initiative starting in November, entitled Poetry Matters, as part of a British Academy/Being Human funded project entitled ‘Found Theatre and Poetry: Disrupting the Everyday’. More details to follow on this in due course, but it draws on the sometimes occluded history of poetry and theatre, and celebrates their power and potential, but in particular pays homage to the power of the word. And that’s why poetry matters.