Sunday 30 July 2023

The Day I Met God

Nearly thirty years ago I wrote a short article about an event that took place nearly fifty years ago. The event was breaking my leg playing football in the street, and the place of publication the football fanzine The Heathen.  At work today I found this document and its cover can be seen below.

Now it might be that many readers (I like to kid myself that I have some readers) would be bemused by this, perhaps they would be perplexed by this seemingly odd activity. What the hell was I doing looking for this fanzine in my office? Why is the injury of a ten year old of interest to anyone? Surely even Guy's mother is bored of this by now, and so on.

Well, the reason is that on Monday I heard of the passing of Trevor Francis and it hit me hard. Trevor Francis was an amazing footballer, fifty two games for England, the (then) youngest ever player to play for Birmingham City, a European Cup winner (he even scored the winner with a rare headed goal) and a well known face via football management and commentary. He was also my first hero.

The reason I broke my leg is that I was attempting to perform a 'Francis special' - the origin and definition of this manoeuvre is lost in mists of time. Suffice to say it resulted in 12 weeks in toe to thigh plaster and fractures of tibia and fibula. It was the end of my football career. Some months later my mum, who worked in a local department store frequented by footballers after training, and who had captured me a number of prized autographs, spotted TF in a local supermarket car park. She accosted him with a retort that this 'Francis Special' had caused my fateful injury, only to be told that he had no idea what one of those was and that he certainly wouldn't know how to perform one. Mum asked if he would at least sign an autograph and Trevor indicated he would be delighted to. The only problem was a lack of paper. My mum frantically looked in her bag and spotted the Spiderman book she had bought me as a  Christmas present and proffered this as a suitable receptacle for the great man's signature. Hence two superheroes met in a moment of unanticipated synchronicity. The images are below, and this story was captured in the aforementioned article, titled, in a post punk reference to  track on Adam and the Ants  debut Dirk Wears White Sox, 'The day I (nearly) met God'.

Fast forward now to the next millenium. Back in Solihull visiting my mum we went for a curry at a place on the Warwick Road. During the meal I noticed that the great man and his wife were eating at an adjacent table. Managing to control my excitement until he had at least finished eating, at the the end of the meal I approached his table with my son, Noah. I'm rarely tongue tied or awe-struck, but this proved exceptional. I somehow garbled some platitudes about what he had meant to me, told him the story of my broken leg and he listened, patient and gracious. Meanwhile, he and his wife started talking to Noah who was extremely chatty with them, telling them all about his own football exploits. Trevor offered him his after eight mints which Noah gladly took. whilst walking away from the table he exclaimed 'I've got Trevor Francis's DNA!' to much amusement in the restaurant. Unfortunately, I do not have photographic evidence of this, but here is a photo meeting another hero, Billy Bragg, where Noah told him about me getting his plectrum at a Red Wedge gig. 

They say don't meet your heroes, and I agree it's dangerous, but meeting Trevor was an absolute joy and a real privilege and he really was a lovely man. RIP

Friday 2 December 2022

Christine McVie RIP

 Very sad to hear of the passing of Christine McVie this week.  An amazing musical pedigree in anyone's book. We usually think of her in terms of peak period platinum selling Fleetwood Mac, but it's interesting to dig a bit deeper. After a series of bands in her native West Midlands, she came to prominence with the band Chicken Shack. Looking in our archives it appears that Chicken Shack played the Poly,  now the University of Westminster, at least twice in the late 1960s. Posters for the 2 events are below;

I've written before about the musical history of  University of Westminster, and we have run a number of 'ghost gigs' celebrating artists that have played at one of our venues. Here we source recordings of the gigs that took place, and play them again, on the anniversary of the date they originally took place, as far as possible in the space in which they took place. We play these at lunchtime as a homage to the lunchtime theatre model of the Soho Poly  and in order to 'disrupt your day with culture'. More about this project here. One of these was based around the Fleetwood Mac performance in 1968, the fanzine we produced for this is here, in case you are wondering why the second page is upside down, its designed for double sided printing and to be folded into an A5 'booklet'.  This of course was Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac before Christine McVie's time.  We don't have any recordings of these Chicken Shack shows, but here is a link to. a John Peel session from that year so it hopefully captures what it might have sounded like. Quite an artist. RIP


Tuesday 4 May 2021

Naming The Cafe at Little Titchfield Street

During lockdown the Estates Team has been working really hard in Little Titchfield Street, the home of the Westminster Law School and the library, and everyone will spot some great improvements when we are all back in the Building. One of the things the team have been working on is the Café area, this has been rejuvenated, see some teaser photos below, and this will be a great place to relax and meet. 

One of the things it does need however is a name. Below are three possible names for the area and we would love to hear what you think. PLEASE VOTE ON OUR (ADVISORY) TWITTER POLL, link here, or if you have other ideas tweet these too!  


1 THE GREEN ROOM. Many people know that the main lecture theatre was a famous venue hosting bands such as The Who, Fleetwood Mac and Jimi Hendrix In the 1960s and 1970s. What perhaps they don’t know is that the Cafe was then the Backstage Area/Green Room for the artists. This name would pay homage to that history.

2 LAW AND ORDER – its in the Law School, and you place orders for food and drink – simple eh?

3 THE MARY LINES CAFÉ Some of you may have spotted that 2021 marks the centenary of our athletes competing in the first Womens’ Olympiad in Monte Carlo. Mary Lines was the star of these games and represented the University, this name would recognise and acknowledge the women of the University, and tie into a brilliant project that is running at the University, see here.


Monday 8 March 2021

Mary Lines, the University of Westminster and the curious case of the third plinth

The third plinth
March 21st 2021 marks the centenary of our Polytechnic (now University of Westminster) women departing for France to participate in the first Women's Olympiad. To mark this we are running a project, entitled Writing Between the Lines, which involves ten student poets celebrating the stories and achievements of these fantastic women. These interventions will be performed, displayed and published, and will begin to rectify an absence of acknowledging women in our sporting history which up to now has not been fully visible. The project begins by celebrating these ten women athletes but aims to develop to embrace the crucial importance of women to the University more generally. Symbolically the beginning of the project is marked by us celebrating one specific member of these ten athletes, Mary Lines, the first star of womens' athletics after the first world war. 
The Foyer, 309 Regent Street

We note an absence above, but in the grand foyer of 309 Regent Street (above), the Headquarters of the University of Westminster, there is another absence. If we look at the board of the Studd Trophy an impressive list of Polytechnic Harriers can be seen, but no women are listed. At the same time, we have an important place in London's Olympic history, but women were in fact largely occluded from the Olympics until 1928.  Our foyer is a beautiful space but there is a further specific absence. If you look carefully in the room there are three plinths, on two on the 'Gallery' side you will see busts, of Hogg and Studd, very important figures in our history.

Bust of Quintin Hogg
Bust of J.E.K. Studd

Above the entrance to the cinema on the other side there is a third plinth, but this has been empty for years, see the photograph at the top of this blog. Drawing on the concept of the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square we mark the centenary of the 1921 successes of our Polytechnic women at the Womens' Olympiad by recognising Mary Lines, on behalf of all Polytechnic women, on the third plinth in the Regent Street foyer. This will be lit on 21 March 2021 to mark the centenary of the departure from Victoria station and remain lit for the period of the competition and until the centenary of their return.

Thursday 2 May 2019

It starts and ends with you

The first time I saw Suede,  third on the bill
This entry is something of a digression for Tickets of Distinction. Hitherto, and very sporadically, I have posted blogs concerning tickets on anniversaries of the original event, and tried whilst doing this to excavate some social or personal history of the time.  I haven't managed to post as much as I would have liked given these parameters, but a gig last week made me realise that there were other possibilities for the blog.

Last week I saw Suede at the 02 Academy in Leeds. I have no ticketing proof as, as is often the case today, tickets are not the artefacts they once were. Sometimes digital on a phone (such as Dice), sometimes a code and your name on a list (wegottickets), there are myriad ways in which we get access to events these days.  Although physical tickets do sometimes exist they are often now anodyne and functional. I was in Leeds to examine a PhD and looked at the listings and saw Suede were playing, I had a night in a hotel booked, so why not? Suede were a revelation. Celebratory, participative and still really important. This actually should not have surprised me.  

I first saw Suede almost 27 years ago this month. Suede were third on the bill to Kingmaker that night - I had missed out on tickets for the Africa Centre and was desperate to catch them live having heard great things about them. I had always maintained that I saw them on the day The Drowners was released, but closer inspection of the ticket shows the gig was on a thursday and singles were always released on mondays back then. Also wikipedia and suede fan sites make it easy to find out these dates now and it appears The Drowners was unleashed the week before so I would have had time to play this pearl of a single to death before the gig. Like The Smiths before them, and to whom they were often  compared, the b sides were similarly fantastic. I wouldn't have known the whole repertoire at this point so this would have been the first time I would have heard much that was to comprise the debut album. Unless you saw any band a number of times there's no way the average punter would learn much about the songs in those pre internet days - the only time I really experienced knowing just about all the songs BEFORE the album came out was with The Stone Roses, see a previous Tickets of Distinction for my stories of that. Coincidentally whilst writing this blog my twitter feed showed that The Stone Roses was released 30 years ago this very day...

My second time seeing Suede was later in 1992 at the SW1 club in Victoria, I'd never been before, and apparently was quite a well known club venue but that night was draped in red velvet  and looked very suede. The Auteurs supported and were superb. After that there was a cancelled gig at the Kilburn National, that re-appeared as a gig at the Brixton Academy in May 1993. This is notable for at least two reasons, first, the performance is immortalised in Love and Poison. Secondly, Allison my partner was six months pregnant and my soon to be born daughter, Keir, was doing cartwheels and we like to think of it as her first gig. I missed out on the chance of the My Insatiable One flexi disc as the queue was goo big and we had to get home - most unlike me.
SW1 and Brixton tickets, the latter gig captured as Love and Poison

Later that month I was due to fly to the US for my first academic conference, the conference was taking place in Chicago but along with my colleague Steve Greenfield, we were able to arrange a trip to NYC whilst over there. This was largely sorted by the late, great Martin E Silfen, and we interviewed a number of well known entertainment lawyers in Manhattan which made it quite a trip. Whilst in the office with Marty we mentioned that we were hoping to go to Suede that night at the Irving Plaza but that it had sold out. 'Hey Janna - suede - they're one of ours aren't they?'  he shouted across the office and we managed to get hold of one ticket and the advice that if we hung around long enough and spoke loudly enough outside in our English accents we would both get in. Marty's advice was correct, although it was Steve's George Best t shirt which swung the deal.

We loved it of course, and it seemed wildly exotic to be on the guest list for the hottest band in the UK on their first US tour. Apparently a number of the crowd weren't keen on the choice of opening number (The Next Life) whilst we saw it as a bold subversion.

There followed a few years when I didn't see them so much, I still bought, and loved, Coming Up, and there was a memorable trip to the Brighton Centre to see them around the millenium, but perhaps the next time I saw Brett & Bernard it was as The Tears post the Suede split. Refugees was splendid of course, but overall it was a little underwhelming. Before Leeds the last Suede show I saw was the excellent Dog Man Star show at Brixton, I have no ticket evidence for this as the remarkable Bill Marshall had sorted out the guest list.

On the train up to Leeds I spotted a tweet from someone I've never met but via twitter have discovered is a fellow veteran of Roses' gigs at the LSE and elsewhere. He tipped me off that Brett's Coal Black Mornings was on sale for £3 in a discount book store. I had neglected to buy this although it was on my 'to do' list so picked up 2 copies. The first I gave away to a fan at the Leeds gig, the second I bought the next morning to replace it. The reviews are right - its a fabulous and brave read. I've not finished it yet but its a lovely and tender take on the early part of Brett's life, before the madness really kicked in. He writes beautifully on Justine too. But something that Luke Turner wrote  in the Quietus....about Suede's audience struck me too - he talks of 'the profound relationship Suede have with their audience, a shared energy, a sense of love'. Simon Price has noticed this too,  and their kinship with the Manics in this sense, and also a sense of a new generation also 'getting it' too. Whilst around me at the 02 Academy were lots of people my age, at other points and in other spaces a younger group  were also drawn in.  Quite something 27 years on.

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 a 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, I  snapped up. Not long after this my mum spotted that 'The Buzzcocks' were playing at 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)