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Pesky Indie Kids .. September 3, 2008

Posted by stagedive in Music, Reviews.
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I kept reading about Vampire Weekend and ignored them. I’d heard all I needed to hear on ‘da radio and they sounded twee and somewhat lacking a USP. I aquired a copy of the self titled album and placed the needle on the iPod – infectious, articulate, upbeat, considered … and lots of other superlatives. It’s one of those great lost arts of making an album better than the sum of it’s parts. The two or three singles that I was familiar with, sounded a bit inane on their own, but put together I am leaping round the continuous repeat button like a sprightly teenager. Well done boys, well done …

I don’t even want to mention Noah & the Whale in this post, they are just too lovable to mention … just when I thought it was safe to listen to the Dennis Wilson re-issue, I get distracted again …

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What time is love? July 21, 2008

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It’s been almost a week since I last put pen to paper on here .. I was so inspired by a Monday back at work after a week out that even looking at blog searches from a year ago inspired me.

Whats happened?? 20th Nov last year 31,517 people looked at these pages in one day – thats about a 5000% increase on when I actually wrote anything on here that (I thought) had meaning. If only working life was like that, you take some time out and the worker pixies press buttons for you .. if only. It was a search on panda eyes or something. There was me thinking the only person that read this was gf linking through to Annie Rhiannon’s site cos she is too lazy to bookmark it.

Tips brain contents out onto page so can look back and remember some of this in a year from now ..

We went on a fantastic long holiday and I meant to write about it, Moscow, across Russia, Mongolia, drank Yak’s milk, Beijing, Shanghai, celebrated National Day, Hong Kong, then home .. I even took some notes at the time to get the blog motors rolling, it seems so long ago.

We had a romantic weekend in Bratislava too for gf’s birthday. Lovely place & the best hot chocolate in the whole world ever. I didn’t think it were possible to get that excited about hot chocolate, but it is! A trip across the border to Vienna for the day, without my passport – life on the edge, the closest I get to being a bond villain.

A lovely trip to Canadia to see the in-law’s. The Ontario winter was a sight. I got to drive the Bobcat – I was momentarily ‘Mr Plough’, but alas I wasn’t there long enough to develop my obvious natural ability for a change in career. Two days cross country skiiing by Lake Pigeon in a little log cabin too, it’s harder than it looks.

A rejuvenated TFC had a couple of gigs, one at the Islington Academy with shiny new line-up. I always promised myself I would never be in a band with keyboards, oh the shame I have brought upon this humble home, but that’s another promise broken ..

Went to Latitude with the kids last weekend. Got dirty and didn’t care .. Saw a whole bunch of bands that I hadn’t heard of, watched a whole load of kids walk round with T-Shirts of bands that I hadn’t heard of. It was a great weekend. My shoulders are a different shape from carrying youngest son on shoulders for the enitire (almost) Elbow set down the front. They even had showers this year that worked & toilets that were bearable. Highlights were largely in the Comedy & Literature tents with Russell Howard topping the stand up list & Colin Watson at the Book Club just being mesmiringly mental & taking lots of laughs. I also saw Attila for a bit of left wing nostalgia who was bang on form. Musically, Elbow, Death Cab for Cutie, Joanna Newsome & Okkerville River all ruled.

Booked a bunch of holidays this year … at last. There was a worrying few weeks where we had nothing booked and a bleak horizon of work and no play. The sun is shining again though & in this house the summer starts next week, officially.

Rebellion .. June 6, 2007

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index2003_r1_c4.jpgSo you think you are a punk? Well no, not really, but picture the scene ..

I am sitting at one PC watching the very entertaining American Hardcore*, grinning at the Jerry’s Kids live set and some in-depth interviews with Ian and Henry .. I even sang along with Minor Threat a little just to get into the mood ..

My youngest Son is listening to JAMES BLUNT on Bebo .. those three wise men can shove their semi’s somewhere unpleasant ..

I am sure their will be some role reversal come the teenage years, but frankly, I might need to beat this phase out of him ..

 * Great film for nostalgia, focuses a little too much on the West Coast for my liking, but a lot of grainy snippets of live footage that I could watch for weeks on end. Look forward to seeing the extras on the DVD.

I Missed Communism .. April 26, 2007

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pictwall2.jpg

It should be easy to catch a train from London to Colchester, but when you work to the wire and run to the station there is a tendency to ignore the destination list ajust jump on the first thing heading east .. suffice to say that I did just that, didn’t get a seat, sat on the floor and popped my head up at the first stop.. which happened to be Manningtree, about 20 miles to far East ..

Fuckwittedness corrected, I met up with T in Colchester and we managed to eat just in time to catch the start of last night’s thespian delight .. I Miss Communism at the Colchester Arts Centre ..

It’s a one woman show, loosely linked to the Eastern Bloc, but more closely categorised as a life story of Ines Wurth. Ines is a Croatian by Birth, now living in California. It follows growing up under Tito, through a move to the US to attend College and up to present day. It is an energetic work & for one person to keep the audience engaged through song and dialogue alone is very impressive ..

The trials along the way included an alleged gang rape at the hands of Serbian Soldiers during the war. This wasn’t the easiest topic for anyone to build into a lighthearted jaunt, but that aside the smiles were plenty & Ines squeezes a lot of laughs out of contrasting ideologies ..

She even has a picture of herself with Pee Wee Herman on her web site – I bet Tito would have loved that ..

Go see  .. it’s going round the country ..

BMG, Justin & Me .. April 23, 2007

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220px-avrilgfdl.jpgIt’s a small victory, if a victory at all, but the only publishing music contract that I still have is with Complete Music. This was for some songs that I wrote for Ipswich Town FC and the Cherry Red Record that bore their fruit. It’s not lucrative in the Robbie Williams sense of the word and I would be hard pushed to keep myself in Wine Gums from the revenue, but that’s hardly the point ..

The other day I received a letter in the post to say that Sony/BMG had bought up Complete Music, and that all the songs are now owned by BMG publishing .. woo hoo .. BMG is the biggest baddest Music compony going and one that you would run a mile from to retain your false indie credibilities, but I’m no longer Citizen Smith in that department, so the small victory now sees me sharing publishers with Avril Lavigne and Justin Timberlake amongst others .. I can picture it now, they are bound to invite me round for lunch sometime soon .. maybe ..

Madrid .. April 18, 2007

Posted by stagedive in Holiday, Idle Thoughts, Madrid, My Girlfriend, Reviews, Travel.
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Of course your car will be safe parked in Luton all weekend .. <gulp> .. as we hauled our sleep deprived, adrenalin fuelled bones to Luton Terminal 1, I tried to sound reassuring .. it was quite good to leave Luton, it isn’t the most inspiring location in the UK ..

The taxi into Madrid centre is unassuming at first, but you get a great panoramic of the City about half way , with the bull ring menacing close and the Commercial district in full view ..

urban_hotel_central.jpgI still didn’t know where we were staying & when we reached the destination, I was somewhat speechless. The Hotel Urban is a gem .. a Five Star gem at that .. the fixed grin that started at the leafy tube station the day before just got a tad bigger .. with Madrid being more a place of atmosphere rather than manic sightseeing, having a plush hotel was just the best thing ever ..

Urban is full on .. part of the Derby Hotel Collection and notably a feature in the Design Hotels Guide that T had spotted when we stayed in the Three Sisters .. very clever girl ..

“Urban” is plush in the design sense of the word. It has oceans of glass and steel without all the twee fussiness of a traditional bell-boy-esque 5* establishment. If anyone would feel out of place in a 5* royalty, but wants some seriously lavish design, this is the place to come ..

The staff were all understated and friendly without being in your face, and their dress code is closer to Men In Black than Brideshead Revisted. There is ethnic art a plenty, which whilst not my bag, it does work really well with the contrasting uber modern construction.

What to do in Madrid? well aside from making full use of the hotel’s features and hospitality, naturally .. we did a walking tour of Old Madrid, taking in Tapas, Plaza mayor, the Palace, the Cathedral & the Opera .. ending up on the main shopping street of Casa Via .. it is a very clean city, and whilst my pre-conception of Spain is neutral take it or leave it, the country as a whole did go up in my estimation after only the first day.

Adjusting to the eat late and party principle, we Siesta’d and ate at a great little Restaurant called Root at something approaching midnight. It’s a marvl that old and young alike are out at this time, all looking bright and fresh .. if this were the UK, eating at midnight would be pissed blokes out for a Curry and nothing more. The place was rammed with locals, always a good sign, and the waiting time was acceptable. Food was fantastic and the atmosphere equal to it .. could have happily stayed there all evening, but we went drinking instead.

The following day we went further afield, slightly. A walking tour through the Bourbon District, including Parque del Retiro & its lazy laid back inhabitants. Then we headed out on the Metro .. I love getting underground on public transport, Faro de Moncloafor one thing it’s seemingly always cleaner and more efficient than London & also gets you a view of the real City. I then went on a solo tour of the Bernabeu Stadium whilst T hit the shops .. we then leisurely walked for miles toward the Faro de Moncloa tower .. a great vantage point over the City .. sadly it was a Woody World situation and the place was shut, but the walk was worth it ..

We did the right thing and slept, then ate late and then drunk more .. it is definitely the way to go, but it does screw your body clock up when you get back to blighty. It was a struggle to get up and out of the hotel before 3pm the following day, but it was for all the right reasons..

Culture injection on Sunday. Approx 3 stops at the marvelous Faborit Coffee Shop, bordered by a waltz through the Old town, up and round to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Depending on your taste in art this is well worth a visit .. a sweeping overview of 19th & 20th Century Western Art with some great Impressionist & Expressionist pieces. I tire at the older Baroque period, but thankfully my partner in crime feels the same .. the building and gardens are notable in their own right & also the £4 entry seemed cheap by US equivalents ..

Then .. we came home .. the car was safe, lost and alone in a multi storey middle England concrete prison, with lifts that had aroma’s of piss & crashed the soul back to earth with a jolt ..

It was a fantastic weekend, primarily the company, but that aside, I hadn’t a clue where I was going and Madrid was in my Top 3 places to visit! I would have been happy as larry in Skegness, but there’s always T’s birthday .. I’m sure she would like the Smith’s tribute deep down .. I’ll work on it ..

Hoxha in the name of Love .. March 14, 2007

Posted by stagedive in Idle Thoughts, Reviews, Travel.
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650382-tirana-the-block-0.jpgAlbania is unlikely to reach the top of the Holiday Top 10 this year, but when your good buddy suggests a boys weekend away before the imminent birth of baby #2, and they ‘couldn’t think of anyone else who would want to venture to such a destinantion’, in a back (double) handed compliment sort of way, who is to resist .. it was well worth it too ..

I amazed myself, and my fellow passengers by being the only person that was not only on time, but early (gulp).. I am not renowned for my punctuality, but with trains from Leeds and London running late, the East Coast contingent of James & I were ahead of the game..

Flying BA by necessity was very welcome. The ‘Deli Bag’ that I was greeted with was the most edible airline food I have witnessed and it does seem they are doing something to combat the sleazyjet and ryanair. Flight staff people were really friendly and relaxed too – woo hoo, that’s almost a glowing report ..

Tirana Airport is essentially a decaying shed. There is a new terminal opening in a month or so, but that wasn’t the greeting we got. The existing building is a bit like a high-class cow shed. Passing through Passport Control, you get the officious looking woman in a faux portacabin collecting the 10Euro ‘tax’ to enter the country .. it’s an odd term ‘tax’ .. the rather less than favourable exchange rate and short change suggested someone else other than the ‘country’ was benefiting .. or is that just the cynic within me .. James and I both gave the lady £10, and each got differing amounts of change – maybe the exchange rate changes by the second, but I have my doubts ..

To save money, street lights other than main intersections, and turned off at night .. obviously .. I guess they may be used on special occasions, but the drive from the airport is punctuated only by the myriad of petrol stations and passing cars. It was very eerie, in a David Lynch movie kind of way. On entering the city itself though, you get more of a feel for the metropolis that it is becoming, but it was a dusky sort of air that night & had all the elements of a Sccoby Doo mystery ..

We stayed at the Tirana International Hotel, right at the centre of the city on Skanderbeg Square. A great location and I since found out that the star rating sytem is self awarded in Albania, so the 3 stars that were placed on this place, were well deserved .. breakfast was fantastic, and as the high cost of pesticides means that all food in the country is organic, they find themselves ahead of the game in fruit and veg at least ..

As the weekend events could takeup a very very long post, I’ll paraphrase some notable points, in case you are thinking of a trip ..

We ate at a pizza restaurant on the 1st night, fantastic food for about £3 a head, including beers – a slight oddity when we got up to leave and the well dressed woman on the next table begged me for some money .. quite bizarre, maybe she should have thought about that before buying shed loads of wine and cigarettes ..

160px-enver.jpgThere is an area of the City that until Communism fell, was completely out of bounds. It’s called the ‘block’ .. Essentially a slice of California bay area housing and manicured gardens for the Nomenklatura. Enver Hoxha’s house was the best by some way, a fantastic pool and balcony to play with whilst the rest of your country struggles in decaying squalor .. thanks matey .. Imagine discovering a millionaires playground in your back yard when you are queuing for bread rations..

Up until 1991, there were only 600 cars in Albania. No one was allowed them. Since 1991, everyone has a car and the roads suggested that they wished they could press rewind! Very few road markings and no driving tests has resulted in some of the craziest driving manoeuvres I have ever witnessed. An excellent spectator sport, but not for the feint hearted… ‘what do mean you can’t overtake on a roundabout in England?!’ .. 

There aren’t a lot of ‘sights’ in Tirana itself .. we did the lot in about 40 minutes, but there is a lot of absorbing the atmosphere to be had. The locals are incredibly friendly and you really did feel welcome and warm. In bars we were offered humble hospitality without any feeling of neediness or a great desire to talk to the tourists. I really liked the attitude.

We hired a driver & visited the hills of Kruja on Saturday. Largely as we had done the City sights the day before. It was a good trip to do and we ate food at the top of a mountain, bought lots of tourist tat & had a wander round the museum. there isn’t a lot to see as such, other than the spectacular views, but it was great to get out of the city and see country life in the raw..

There is a distinct lack of Communist relics to be had. I have visited some spectacular ones in russia and other parts of Eastern Europe, but my 3 cohorts were all in hope of some crackers in Hoxha Country – it seems that nearly all have been destroyed. That is probably the sign of progress, but be warned if you are visiting as a Commie Tourist, that there is little here to see, move on ..

bunker.jpgEnver was pretty paranoid of attack and built thousands/millions of concrete bunkers to protect himself. They are everywhere! Little dalek structures at the sideas of the road, in the middle of fields that are nigh on impossible to uproot. You can laugh at them now, so long as they are not in your front garden …

It was hard to spend money in Albania .. in a good way that is. Three nights of great food and beers, plus the sights and taxi’s was less than £80 each .. the food was great too. We ate at Vila Ambasador Chocolat on Friday night, the former East German Embassy building, it was fantastic .. excellent service, slightly upbeat but not stuffy atmosphere, a couple of bottles of wine & the food was better than anything I’ve had this side of February .. and all for £12 a head.

We got to see a Serbian covers band on the last night. Not sure why that sounds odd, but it certainly felt like an ‘only in Tirana’ moment. They rocked, we drank and we danced ..

It was great to spend time with all three travelling friends. Graham works in Video production and as such entertained with tales of James Blunt’s butt cheeks or similar, Ed was Toy Camera-tastic and full of stories of Amy-love & jokes that I found funny & James snored like an angry bear and then woke up innocent like a wounded puppy. I had a lot of fun & don’t see them often enough..

Oh and to cap it all, the girl I got sat next to on the plane turned out to have just flown over for the weekend to get married to her Albanian boyfriend & she was/is Bob Marley’s 4th Cousin .. now that really is an ‘only in Tirana’ moment, or should that be Kingston?! .. bless you one and all ..

In no particular order .. March 12, 2007

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It’s not that I haven’t had the urge to write, nor that I haven’t set time aside, but something always seemed to get in the way that was way more important. In the past week or two I have mostly been doing some or more of the following;

  • I have eaten out on three occasions, starting with a birthday bash in the ‘Japenese Fusion’ (whatever that means) of Aqua 8> This turned out to be a really nice looking building with decor reminiscent of a Tony Soprano owned establishment. The atmosphere was upbeat and the food was good. It was pretty pricey for what was offered, but it has all the hallmarks of something better than a provincial town. What followed was lots of booze and dancing around with Tulips – people have video phone these days too and dancing with Tulips when you are pissed, never quite looks as stylish as you think it did at the time..
  • Another someones birthday took me to Mizu .. which is owned by the same people as Aqua Eight, only its a cheap and quick noodle bar version. Seemingly, their excellent food has been dressed down and moved to the up-market younger brother .. it might be me but the food seemed a bit bland to what it was and the plates have all gotten smaller .. why do they do that?! The birthday girl had a Salsa evening and I strutted all the moves I know* & left quickly afterwards ..
  •  I took my 93 year old Aunt out for Sunday lunch with my Mum and Brother. We went to the Cornwallis resturant in the Countryside. I was amazed how completely together she is, witty and mentally sharp. She is still sarcastic and in on the jokes, not only the general ones, but also the subtle piss taking – I hope I am still like that at her age. I also got upset thinking how much she reminds me of my Dad. I only tend to think of my Dadin a happy light (he died 12 years ago), but seeing the way she glanced at me in exactly the same way as my Dad used to was a bit full on in terms of  emotion. Inevitable as she is the only surviving relative on that side of my family, but when she felt ill towards the end of the afternoon and struggled for breath, it was a step closer to panic that I reached. She recovered when she got home and was really appreciative of the day and gave me a big hug – she is great..
  • I cared for 2 sick children. Both my kids got fever and felt sorry for themselves for a couple of days. They both puked up – my eldest looked a bit green and went to puke in the toliet and didnt move quickly enough .. I caught the puke in my hand, in a double cupped motion .. it was warm and stunk like a badgers armpit .. after the clean up, digging chunks from between the floor boards, I had to shower twice to get rid of the smell .. Mmmm ..
  • I taught my Canadian Girlfriend what Ska is, its origins and dance moves (ahem) .. We went to the Skatones night at the Great White Horse in Ipswich. Preceded by lots of beer in a pub crawl formation and danced in some refined style all evening. I loved it ..
  • I also taught/was amazed that my Canadian Girlfriend didn’t know what the NME is .. really? .. yes .. In the cultural waters of Montreal and Toronto, it seems that Indie Pop is not what it may seem. I can appreciate a world where music isn’t as important to some people that others, but to not even comprehend what the NME is/was, or what the foundations of a muso nerd in the UK even look like, was quite odd to digest .. very refreshing .. she’s great too ..

… oh .. and, I have been to Albania for a Long Weekend of dust and Communism lost .. I’ll follow that one later ..

* none of which are strictly Salsa moves but done very quickly and with some extreme style..

Waiting Room .. February 13, 2007

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joe.jpgLast night I took a trip to Norwich to see Joe Lally at the Arts Centre. I love the Arts Centre, it being a fairly regular focal point to my teens and early twenties. It was a full rush of nostalgia walking in there last night, I could even picture the 21 year old me getting everyone to sing happy birthday (to me) from the balcony in the bar room.

It was also life affirming meeting up with some old Norwich friends that I hadn’t seen in an age. The times change from them being dope smoking punks to dope smoking Phd graduate teachers, but the backdrop remains the same and it was very nice catching up on tales – more appreciation for Architecture and the Russian revolution though than the latest jade Tree  SoCal punk trio.. It is fair to say that some characters stay with you for life – I don’t think I will ever forgot those guys, they manage to make me laugh just walking in the room ..

The gig itself was pretty low key. Joe looked uneasy being the front man. The tunes were bass heavy (there was no guitar), Jazz subtlety almost, but engaging and lyrically thought provoking. Fugazi it was/is not – the irony brought to the fore by Simon Goober reminding me that when Fugazi first played over here, people would be asking ‘do they sound like Minor Threat?’ .. its the kind of thing that would grow with familiarity, but worth checking out .. I was however convinced that he broke into the first two lines of Waiting Room on more than one occasion ..

Gone Fishing .. January 29, 2007

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We’re all going on a Summer Holiday .. I’ll be ‘gone fishing’ for a few days, back with some vacation ramblings if I find an Internet cafe and some spare hours. That’s if I can understand the Cyrillic keyboard.

I haven’t time to post anything of note as I need to pack, but .. I watched the best film of the year, for me at least, followed by the second best in one night .. wow .. that’s good picking on my part .. so kids .. watch Thank you for Smoking and laugh out loud, possibly an all time great, and incredibly funny .. then watch the Devil & Daniel Johnston & feel humbled by greatness ..

Happy Holidays … I’m packing now Andy, honest …