Friday, 16 December 2011

And the Award Goes To...

A popular question in interviews is “what is your greatest achievement?” If you are a parent then that it is all too easy to answer. Even if you are trying to get this job so you don’t have to spend as much time with the annoying little shits, replying with “my children” will always be one of those acceptable, politically correct, collect-£200-as-you-pass-go answers.

For the rest of us singletons, low-flyers, hobby-less people out there this achievement question is a tough one to deal with.

Thinking back over my life achievements, or lack thereof, it brought me back to a school memory that I had stashed away, alongside the embarrassments, foot in mouth moments and that time I heckled a Morris Dancer. The unlocked, dark memory was The Tale Of The Swimming Certificate. Are you ready? Then I'll begin.

Back in primary school we endured half a term of weekly swimming lessons at the local pool. The class was sectioned off into “sink like a stone”, “can manage the doggie paddle” and a select group of “the next Michael Phelps”. Guess which group I was in?

I started off in the main group of kids who could manage and just needed to learn a technique, but was quickly cast out to the group ran by someone’s mum who used to try and alleviate my fear of water by saying “look, I’ll have a lot of paperwork to fill out if you drown”. Fears and the longing looks to the uber-swimmers splashing around in the deep end aside, I splashed, kicked and floated on.  My main aim being to complete a width of the pool and receive that coveted swimming certificate.

At the end of term we all gathered in assembly, the buzz of the certificate presentations milling around the class. We sat cross-legged and watched the teacher in anticipation of hearing our names read out. 

The first certificate was for “confidence”. Basically the absolute bog-standard, pee-poor excuse for an award. Looking down the line of my friends I rolled my eyes and shot a pitiful look for the poor saddos who would be forced to accept this.  My patronising looks were soon cut short when my name was read out. WHAT?! I stood up and collected my rubbish ‘award’ half-dazed and half absolutely gutted. I was still in disbelief as I watched my friends pick up their ‘width’ and ‘length’ certificates. Bastards!

Ironically this award for gaining confidence totally knocked my confidence and whilst I still visited the pool frequently at weekends in my teens, I still to this day have no real technique other than ‘flail and don’t drown’.

The moral of the story? Don't write acceptance speeches unless you are a sure-fire winner.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Album Review: Mat Kearney - Young Love

Unusual name-spellings aside (Kearney apparently adopted the one 'T' version of his name after finding an error on his birth certificate which had him down as "Mathew"), Young Love is the fourth studio album from the American singer/songwriter.

The first thing that strikes you as you listen to this album is how much his voice sounds like Coldplay's Chris Martin. Scarily similar. I mean so alike in sound that mid-way through the album I was still checking that the album cover wasn't in fact Mr. Martin in a stripey top and flat cap. It wasn't. Proceed.

The comparison is a huge compliment. Kearney's voice is rich, textured and has a vast range - even managing to pull off some mild vanilla rap. No really. In Ships In The Night and Chasing The Light he delivers a folk-sounding rap which keeps pace with the hand clap beats and synthy drums which are so prevalent throughout the album.

Songs like Down and Young, Dumb and In Love showcase Kearney's story-teller lyrics and conversational style of delivery (when he's not faux-rapping of course) which is reminiscent of his hero Paul Simon.

Hey Mama and She Got The Honey are pretty little ditties which are the perfect soundtracks for summer days and cold beer consumption. In contrast to these cheery melodies are the more mellow acoustic guitar tracks like Learning To Love Again and the album closer, Rochester. The latter song telling the story of his father who is trying to "rip that boy from Rochester right out my chest".

As a whole the album is a bit too repetitive and samey. Perfect for lazy days and summer festivals but not one you'd have on repeat at home. Coldplay fans will heart him.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Album Review: PJ Harvey - Let England Shake

With her eight studio album, PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake, not only marks her fourth Mercury Music Prize nomination, and second win, but also puts her alongside Radiohead as the most nominated artist in the history of the awards. No mean feat.

Released in February 2011, the album is the follow-up to 2007’s ethereal, piano-led album White Chalk. Using Iraq, Afghanistan and Gallipoli as reference points, Harvey reportedly spent years researching these different conflicts to construct the lyrical content of the album.

References to war and England’s destruction are integral to every song on this album. ‘Let England Shake’ opens with Polly’s echo-ey vocals declaring, rather depressingly, “England’s dancing days are done”. The rambling xylophone adds to the eerie, quiet tones and delivers a muffled punch to the chorus.

Harvey began the construction of the album using an autoharp and its lush string sound can be heard emanating throughout, particularly in ‘Let England Shake’ and ‘The Colour of the Earth’. The album also uses a lot of layered guitar sounds which add richness in contrast to the stark, often gruesome, lyrics. Not content with punctuating the gorgeous sound with war-torn lyrics, Harvey uses other means to prick the listener out of the dreamy sound. In ‘The Glorious Land’ a building intro is matched with bursts of the army’s ‘regimental march’ bugle call.

Her vocals teeter between soft and eerily girlish on some tracks, to a slight desperate, quiet hysteria in songs like ‘The Words that Maketh Murder’.  Compared to the rock-banshee, and rich deep tone she has used in previous albums (White Chalk excluded) it seems she has taken on a softer voice to let the words do the damage. In, ‘Hanging in the Wire’ her soft vocals trill “there are no birds singing on the white cliffs of Dover”. Vera Lynn for a new generation she is not.

Some obscure samples are put into the mix, with a distorted vocal from Said El Kurdi (yep, never heard of him either) in ‘England’ and an almost reggae-sounding chant of “let it burn, let it burn” in ‘Written on the Forehead’.

Let England Shake is altogether a more subdued, less-in-your-face affair than her previous creations, yet the tapestry of the lyrics are closer knit and woven into rich layers of sound, only to be singled out again against stark guitar or brass section solo’s. Rather than a punch in the nuts, these songs creep into the subconscious, luring you in, and then silently attacking with words, evoking gut-wrenching imagery, “seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat. Arms and legs were in the trees”. 

The endless layers in this album, and not to mention the timeless theme of war, are what will keep me coming back for more time and time again. 

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

Let me start by saying that this year has been shit. I'm not blaming you in anyway for the undelivered promise of 2011 so far, however, maybe if you showed your face around town more often instead of popping up for a couple of weeks per year it would have helped. A little gift whilst stood in the freezing cold waiting for the train last month would have gone down a treat. Just saying. Anyhoo, I digress...

Here is my wishlist for this year:

  • Make all the rain and wind and cold in England stop.
  • Make the summer actually happen in summer - not in October.
  • Remove all two-faced, annoying, stupid, stuck up, and generally horrendous people. I embody all the aforementioned traits but as this is my wish list I am exempt from the banishment.
  • Stop Adam Sandler and that guy from King of Queens making any more films together. Nobody needs to see that again.
  • Spread some rumours around about me. Need to improve the street cred.
  • Do you perchance have hairdressing qualifications? If so, if you could spare four hours every morning to sort my barnet out it would be much appreciated.
  • Cause some kind of 'accident' that effects half of the England football team (I like to refer to them simply as the Arseholes). Nothing serious, maybe just some kind of freak attack that puts them out of action for a few years until they learn a lesson. I dunno, you can come up with the specifics but maybe the elves could be involved?
So as you can see from my list I'm not asking for anything insane. It's not like I've asked for the boxset of Glee. That would be mad.

Peace and joy to you and the Mrs.

Love you lots.


Friday, 22 July 2011

My First Single

Buying your first single is a watershed moment in anyone’s life. It joins the ranks of those memorable events that are ingrained so deeply into your memory that useless information like your pin number have to step out of the way.

Two words for you: Take That. Two more words: Everything Changes.

I remember the day so clearly. The weather was blindingly hot and my mum, being the thrifty (some may say ‘tight’) person she is, decided to take me to a car boot sale on a stretch of wasteland behind the local pub.
I think it is safe to say I wasn’t thrilled to be spending the day looking into the boot of cars. That was until I saw five familiar faces emblazoned on a plastic case poking about in a shoe box. I picked it up, examining the cover and imaging what it would be like to be able to take this home and call it mine. All mine! The couple of pounds I had been given to keep me sweet jingled in the pocket of my Bermuda shorts (blame the 90s) and I looked over to my mum to check that it really was OK for me to hand over the readies. I got the nod and my £1 was whipped out of my hand in exchange for my first ever single.

I clutched my new possession all the way home and ran up the stairs to put the disc into our boombox, listening to the song on repeat and practicing my smooth moves for youth club.

We all know the amazing comeback story of Take That. Almost 20 years later they are celebrating being at the peak of their success and popularity. I saw them live last month and had to smile when they all sat around Captain Barlow’s piano to sing a few lines of the old favorites, Robbie breaking out a few lines of Everything Changes.  It’s still a fan favorite and there was almost a sense of disappointment that they didn’t belt out the entire track.

Everything Changes is still regularly played on the radio today, a testament of what a truly brilliant pop song it is, and my love for this song has only grown over time.  Whenever I hear the bouncy piano-chords and young Robbie’s spoken intro I turn up the volume and sing along “forever mooooore…”

This article was initially published on Electric-City. For further 'first single' stories, music reviews, news and general all round goodness please click visit

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Oh, Hi V! *Waves*

Sooo I'm posting something I wrote over two years ago about my first festival experience. No reason why. Just carry on with your business people. Nothing to see here! But before you go can I please have a show of hands of how many people would describe my love of music as epic? *looks at you all with your hands up* OK. Cheers. Off you pop.

On week before: Panic buying/loaning of hoodies, rain macs, tops and the elusive "perfect bag" (doesn't exist).

Two days before: weather reports look grim for Sunday, thank god I bought those pac a macs and wellies

The night before: more ill-advised manic packing - packing for all weathers bar a snow blizzard.

And so the day arrived.....

Drove down with fellow festival buddy, listening to the sounds our homemade CD of V performers, so full of excitement that the motorway sign for junction 12 had us squealing...and even drove us so far as to take a photo of it *ahem* We laughed in the faces of people who had told us about huge queues. "What queues?!" we laughed, as we sailed down the country road, little did we know the weekend would not go queue-less.

We parked up and debated whether it was sandals or wellies? The weather said sandals but this is England, which means give the weather half an hour and it could so easily say snow boots. I kept the faith with my sandals while my friend wrestled her (not optimistic-at-all) bright red Hunter's on. We walked down to the grounds, marvelling at how huge it was, and nosing at the campsites safe in the knowledge we would be sleeping in a hotel that night (YES I KNOW! SCANDALOUS! NOT REAL A REAL FESTIVAL UNLESS YOU SLEEP IN SOMEONES SHIT! Lemme just throw up a big "whatevs" hand gesture).

After looking at the stalls and attempting to get in to a wristband only entrance (YES I KNOW! WE DIDN'T HAVE A WRISTBAND! WE COULDN'T WEAR IT WHEN WE GOT HOME TO SHOW EVERYONE WE'D BEEN TO A FESTIVAL) we entered the grounds to be met head on with the huge main stage, a carnival to our left and stalls for every food imaginable - literally all I need in life right there.

We sat on the boundary line for the main stage and enjoyed the sunshine. When the barrier was finally moved we walked down to the front while everyone else legged it. Do you know who they were running for? Abba tribute act Bjorn Again. Some brummies behind me decided they needed to put toilet paper around their heads (coz that's just what the kids do these days - recession meant no money for umbrellas) while another group of guys insisted they would be really annoyed if Will Young came on stage (who, until I actually saw him live would have thought the same).

And so the first act appeared - all knee high boots and beards - in the form of Bjorn Again. They got the crowd warmed up at least - like a calf stretch before a good run - no one wants to endure it but it's kinda necessary. After they had finished their set we trundled off for some lunch and like the bargain hunters we are we found the baked potato stand, with a drink thrown in (£3 if I remember rightly, check them out. Right in the corner on the left with the fit young guy serving with a smile). We devoured our lunch listening to Ocean Colour Scene and commenting on the songs we actually knew (reckon there was two at least..)

From there we made our way back to the main stage, and back to the front, to watch James Morrison. We managed to hear "Broken strings" before walking over to the 4music stage. Navigating our way to the front we danced and sang along to The Proclaimers final song (have a guess what that was....) We marvelled at Alesha Dixon and her dance moves but an important moment was to occur that would dominate the weekend...the meeting of 2938. Ah yes, the fit looking Glaswegian security guard that worked like a Trojan passing out water to us all. He took some flack of the guys behind us but it was all friendly. They even made up a song about him entitled "The pencil song" which  after it being insulting, ended with the plea to "...get me on the stage..." This genius song writer then had a water fight with 2938, peed into a cup and then left the festival feeling like a man.

The pink flamingos and blow up strawberry's marked the entrance of  a very kitsch Katy Perry performance.

We watched the beginning of Paolo Nutini before hobbling off for a sit down - but not before we got some free sweets, one of us sneaking back for a second packet, shock horror! We chilled out on the grass listening to the end of Paolo's set I was asked by a Welsh guy whether he had a mark on his eye - it took a few times to persuade him before he finally shook our hands and bogged off. He didn't have a mark but a few more times asking and he'd would have had a shiner. Ooh I'm well 'ard me!

It was then over to the Arena for The Gaga herself. I had a mild panic attack while we weaved through the scallies listening to the end of the The Streets set - smashed up against people we finally found a spot near to the stage. As time ticked on and she hadn't appeared the crowd started to boo. She finally came on but with the smoke, lights and the annoying tall men in cowboy hats in front of us we didn't manage to see very much. Gaga was in loopy, annoying form, making up a song about "bloody bloody England" and talking about eating pies. Get on with the songs we shouted! Finally we had enough and decamped to watch Oasis, from far far away! This turned out to be there last gig EVER so I now like to band that around as my "I was there" moment. It's not quite the Sex Pistols first gig or even Billie Pipers first TOTP appearance, but it is something.

After a few potato wedges we couldn't hold on for a wee anymore (urine talk alert) so made our way back to the car. 45 minutes later we finally found the car. After asking three security guards and going the wrong way twice we managed to navigate through the pitch black field to find the C3. Note for next time, take a torch.

We managed checked into our luxurious hotel (and by luxurious I mean more than bog standard - there was no duvet, that's all I'm saying) rested our feet and recharged for the next day...

The second day arrived (far too early). I grappled to find my watch on the bedside table but before I could reach it my friend informed me we had five lousy minutes before we had to get up. Groan! We stumbled out of our beds and put our carefully planned "Day 2" outfits on. We re-packed our bags with the essentials again (bacteria killing bottles, wipes...anything) and after nearly leaving my ticket behind, set off for another day in the field.

We parked up in a nearer car park - wellies were the footwear of choice for both of us today which was the sensible option as the fields were covered in a whole host of shit. We walked down to the main stage arena and sought out some freshly made pancakes and fended off an attack of wasps while eating them in the field.

First act of the day were Mcfly who were very entertaining - although the stupid girls at the front with their Tu-Tu's did get slightly annoying. We trudged over to the big tent to see Pixie Lott - but who did we see the end of? NDubz, wohooo! We danced our way to the front singing No. 1 while all the scallies filed out of the tent. I'm being a tad judgmental here but seriously, half these kids were tagged (JOKE) They were deffo ASBO cases though (TRUFAX).

Pixie entertained while Will Young had us in stitches with his chatter. Helpfully informing us what a "riser" was and pondering what his fan-made sash said. It didn't say "wanker" as he first thought. All good in the tent hood.

After some lunch we were back over to the main stage to catch the end of the now infamous (thanks to Kanye West) Taylor Swift. Feet report at this point: sore. The Script blasted on stage and all the girls went starry-eyed for Danny (well he is fit like!)

The Saturdays lit up the tent with their multi-coloured outfits and we learnt a new dance routine for "Last Chance" an embarrassingly easy arm movement. Seriously girls, show your fans some respect, at least throw in a two-step next time.

After a short sit down, some food, and a couple of ice creams (in the presence of people peeing behind a shack we were sat next to) we readied ourselves for the last few hour hours standing up. Feet report: Throbbing intensely.

We made our way to near the front of the main stage - which now smelt like strong wee (none of the weak stuff now) - and positioned ourselves for Razorlight. Johnny Borell came on with his rock star shades and swaggered around the stage. He is a total cliche but it kinda works live. Agreed? Good. Our feet got increasingly more painful and I was shamefully wishing time away whilst waiting for The Killers came on stage.

The hour in between the acts seemed to last an absolute age. The shifting of weight from foot to foot no longer kept the pain away. Finnnnnnnnnnally The Killers took to the stage and all pain was forgotten. We sang along to "I got soul....." while jumping up and down to  "Somebody told me" Brandon's voice soared across the park, completing the night with "When we were young." Then they were gone. The perfect end to our festival.

We trudged back round the field - well up, down and round as we seemed to go the wrong way. We made the slow way back to the car - at this point our feet were in so much pain we became hysterical, laughing our way through the pitch black forest desperate to sit down. After a few false alarms, and the road seeming to be longer than the longest road in eternity, there it was, the light blue Citroen C3, THERE! We walked over, slowly (obviously) and ceremoniously removed our wellies in favour of more comfortable footwear. We sat down on the car seats, dumped our bags and....our feet felt just a fecking painful as when we were stood up, if anything they actually hurt worse when we sat down.

The queue to get off the car park was monumentally horrendous. We sat in the car for an hour waiting for the queue to die down and not one car had moved! Eventually we made a move to join the queue and sat there - singing along to The Script "we're not movvvvvvvvvvvvvvving, ohhhh" and coming up with made up terms - such as moveage - which we shouted very loudly every time we moved an inch. We watched the car in front intently - "MOVEAGE!" we yelled as we moved that important few centimetres. Finally, after around two and a half hours we waved goodbye to Weston Park...our adventure was over....or so we thought.

Back to the hotel we thought, wohoo. Only, the satnav decided she was going to be an awkward biatch and sacked us off for most of the journey, refusing to switch on. After a bit of guess work we made it back to the glorious hotel and stumbled our way into the lobby, and finally our room, ahhhh peace at last....or, again, so we thought....

We sat and enjoyed the rest when my friend suddenly noticed the biggest, ugliest looking spider on the wall of our room. For Fucks Sake!! Wasn't the weekend a test enough without creatures adding to it? After some feeble attempts to squash the git I made my way down to the lobby to ask for someone to remove it. On my way I encountered a smashed-off-his-tits bloke who happily peed into a beer glass on the stairs, nice. After a nice man came and got rid of the spider my friend had an ingenious idea of what could relieve our tired feet - a Sprite bottle. Ridiculous! I thought but then the knobbly bottom of the bottle started to relieve the tension and I thought it was the most brilliant invention in the history of the world, EVER!

Finally we thought, 3am and peace at last. We started to faff around getting ready for bed when we heard a knock at the door - after ignoring the first tap I answered the door only to be met by the smacked-off-his-tits man who asked me to keep the noise down. After agreeing and asking him to go back to his room I quickly bolted the door and wondering what the frig would be thrown at us next - the earth had just decided we were not going to get any rest tonight.

Finally, finally, finally, we were allowed to sleep.....zzzzzzzz.

The next morning we awoke and slowly got ready and packed up our things for the journey home. We waved goodbye to Staffordshire while the satnav decided to take us the scenic, and long, way home. I  recuperated for work the next day while planning for V Festival 2010. Rock. On!