Saturday, 26 April 2014

Cocteau Twins - Pink Orange Red

As I mentioned in the previous post, 1985 was somewhat of a musical watershed for me. It was the year I threw off the shackles of a somewhat narrow field of vision (audio?) when it came to music.

Once I had determined my new course of musical exploration I just couldn't stop. My musical journey was assisted from a number of sources in the form of John Peel, NME and Melody maker,  a TV programme called the Chart show which trailed 'Indie' bands and most famously the Tube a TV programme which would hardly register in todays world but in the mid-80's was a really anathema to the formulaic, staid and somewhat tired formats of programmes like Top of the Pops.

Each episode had 3 or 4 live bands and many of may favourite bands of the era New Order, The Fall, The Smiths all appeared during this period. However, it was the ability to discover new bands that drew me in - that and the prospect of someone swearing on live TV which they often did.

I vividly remember tuning in to the Tube one Friday night, probably as I was getting ready to go out on a night of dancing, cavorting and illicit alcohol fuelled bufooning at the local underage drinking den 'Ye Olde Boot and Shoe' in Rossendale.

I remember being mesmerised by a song from The Cocteau twins whose singer Elizabeth Fraser who appeared to sing in tongues, mouthing gibberish which through the medium of her amazing vocal range sounded like the kind of noise heaven might make if it existed.

I love this song as much if not more today than I did back then. It triggered a fascination with the Cocteau Twins and a general love of the ethereal that I still pursue with gusto when I'm in the mood.

The Cocteau twins had a somewhat turbulent existence due to drug abuse, psychotherapy and inter-band relationships but that all seems to drive them to new heights for me.

In more recent times, Elizabeth Frasier has been responsible for providing vocals on other favourite songs of mine like 'Teardrop' by Massive Attack, 'Life-forms'' by the Future Sound of London and 'Candleland' with Ian McCulloch from Echo and the Bunnymen. She was also involved in the soundtrack to Lord of the Rings and has recently returned tentatively to life stage from her personal recluse.

There are certain moments in my life I'd love to revisit and hearing her perform this song on the Tub aged 15 is one of them.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Depeche Mode - Shake the disease

in August 1985, I went on a school trip to France to a place called Quiberon, a small place in Brittany. The trip was an activity holiday involving canoeing, windsurfing, sailing and a range of other pursuits that I was and still am throughly unsuitable for.

Aquatic duress wasn't the reason I wanted to go though, it was more about finding the time and space to chase girls, smoke fags and drink cheap alcohol. Aged just fifteen, I'd realised I was quite good at these things and I was fit and active enough to the sporty activities without dying so I was determined to make the trip.

The expedition - and it really was an expedition, involving an 11 hour coach journey each way -  was led by the male and female heads of PE who just happened to be married, francophiles and didn't mind their spending their summer holidays herding cats. The minute we landed we were off exploring and getting into trouble, wading into cheap cider and the packets of Rothmans fags (Paul Wellers favourite brand naturally) that we had bought on the ferry.

Initially, we would be collared on a regular basis by Mr and Mrs McIan but after a couple of days they realise it was a futile exercise and as long as we turned up for that days nautical activities we were pretty much given a free reign.

We found a cafe tucked away with a Galaxian machine, endless supplies of Orangina and an owner who was utterly unflustered by kids smoking in his establishment. He also happened to own a jukebox that had several half decent records on.

At his point in my life I was emerging from my Mod/Northern Soul phase and had just discovered Joy Division/New Order and was developing a taste for electronic music. In order to avoid a punch in the face and merciless ribbing from pals, it was extremely important to ensure that a high degree of caution was taken when choosing a song from the Jukebox and at one Franc for two songs it was was an expensive exercise if you got it wrong.

I didn't particularly like Depeche Mode (and still don't). For me they were tied into that whole new romantic, dandy fop thing that I despised and any music that provoked people into growing long fringes and waving their hands about in the air like they were platting piss was never going to sit well with me.

However, the group of girls in our group who were the target of our affections had a taste for this song that seemingly couldn't be quenched. It came on every other song and whilst annoying at first, it soon lodged itself in my ear and has occupied a space in my brain that it's never really left. Listening to it now, I still like it. It evokes memories of pouting and acting cool, trying not cough when inhaling and slugging as much cheap white wine as I could get my hands on (which wasn't much).

So began my love of France, something else that has never left me.

Self-indulgent Top 100 soundtrack of my life blog.......

This page has been quieter than Old Trafford for the last year and that in itself is an achievement worth noting, or perhaps even an achievement worth nothing. 

It's not that there hasn't been much going on in my life - quite the opposite in fact. I have a baby girl on the way in July, have moved house, bounced from pillar to post at work, travelled to New York, San Francisco, Barcelona (twice) and had our first successful season renting the Gite in France and yet I have not felt the urge to write a single syllable.

I have been writing elsewhere, for work mainly and the odd article here and there along with my usual social media nonsense but could not muster a single DNA molecule of enthusiasm for writing here. But I have finally arisen from my slumber but with an urge to write a blog based around a single idea. Every now and again - hopefully fairly regularly - I intend to write about a song from my recently composed Spotify playlist - the Top 100 songs that soundtrack my life.

I do of course realise that this is self-indulgent but then so is writing any blog about your own life and I've done that for so long that I probably don't need to apologise for that.

Each entry will describe a song and whilst I will try and include some information on the song and the artist that wrote it, my intention is mainly to capture the reason for it's inclusion and what point the song takes me back to in my life.

Before I start, it's worth capturing a few of the principles I decided on when I built my playlist:-

  1. Only one song per artist (though derivative acts are allowed...)
  2. The song isn't necessarily the best by a particular act but the one that resonates the loudest with me.
  3. The songs are in no particular order - that would change the list every week and I can't be arsed with that. 
  4. Occasional changes to my list are allowed but only when I realise I've missed an absolute classic from my list and then I face the agonising choice of which song to drop. 
  5. My Spotify list has a couple of rubbish mixes of a particular song because the best mix isn't available but I'll try and post the Youtube link to the best mix here......
That's probably it. Oh, one other thing, my playlist is available to follow on Spotify to follow if you have either the inclination or the technical knowhow to do that......

Monday, 20 May 2013

Coming of middle age........

Like most people, I'm in denial where getting older is concerned. Whatever age I am, old people are always at least 5-10 years older than me and I've felt like that since before I can remember. Despite my greying hair and constant battle against middle age spread I've stayed in pretty good health and am as fit now as at any point since my teens. I'm also proud of the fact that mentally I'm often as childish and daft as I ever was though I do manage to mask that trait with a veneer of maturity and professionalism where appropriate.

However, I find myself constantly on the look out for signs that I may be ageing, Aches and pains have certainly become more prevalent but I convince myself that's down to my increased levels of exercise. I've definitely become grumpier but I've always been this way and in any case there is so much to be grumpy about so I'm not sure that's really age related, I just enjoy the whole process of getting annoyed. I've also failed to develop any of the tell-tale signs of ageing. I don't like Werthers originals, I don't have a box of tissues on the back shelf of my car and unless I am working I always wear jeans so I've not even developed the urge to wear comfy trousers yet.

I also strive for ways to stay young. I exercise more frequently now than I ever did in my twenties and thirties. I started playing tennis recently and I've discovered I'm much better and more spritely than I ever remember being when I played at school.  I still try and attend gigs and listen to new bands whenever possible though I confess the style of music I enjoy hasn't really changed much. I went to two different gigs last week on consecutive school nights and whilst I subsequently needed to lie down on several occasions due to temporary tinnitus I still think that's pretty good for a forty two year old. (I also left early on both occasions to 'beat the traffic' but we'll not go into that here)

So I've been feeling of late that I am winning my battle against age or certainly holding back the tide. I'm two stone lighter than I was two years ago and If I stand in the right kind of light with the wrong kind of mirror I could swear blind that my hair is going browner and that my grey hair is giving up it's relentless march towards follicle dominance even without the aid of any Grecian 2000 type product. There's no doubt about it, for the time being I am keeping the inevitable waiting.

However, my fight against middle age has been dealt a cruel blow. It started a couple of weeks ago when I was carrying some laundry back towards the bedroom. As is often the case, I dropped a sock. No big deal, it happens ninety nine percent of the time that I carry anything numbering more than one. I bent down to pick it up and heard a strange groaning noise like the sort of sound that a Russian weightlifter makes in an Olympic finals. I looked around but could not see the originator.  I shrugged my shoulders and did a little Scooby-Doo impression (even though there was only me there) and carried on about my business.

Last week, I was bending down whilst putting on my shoes when I heard it again only this time louder and if anything more guttural. Again I searched for the source of this sound but could find no clue. I was suspecting horseplay at this point and I asked my wife if she'd heard it.

Last night, I was playing tennis when I heard it again whilst bending down to pick up a stray tennis ball, this time it sounded like the person making it might be in real trouble. Of course, this time I realised that the sound was in fact coming from me. I wasn't in trouble, I was merely performing the perfunctory task of bending down.

It is with great regret and more than a little sorrow that I must announce I've developed the middle aged trait of making an involuntary groany noise every time I exert any real effort. I have noticed it in others before and I must confess I've always found it quite annoying.  I remember my Grandad doing this but he was much older than me at the time. I've seen other members of my family do it but again, all of these people were older than I am now (about 5-10 years if I remember rightly).

I'm not sure what do about it. Perhaps I can see the doctor. Maybe he can prescribe me something that will stop it or refer me to a Groanologist who can devise a programme of therapy. After all, this could be the thin end of the wedge. Before I know it I'll end up being one of those people that let out a little accidental fart every time they bend down. I'm not having that..... I'm not getting old..... not yet.

Thursday, 4 April 2013


We're seven days into a ten day break at our house in the Limousin. Unusually for us there are very few jobs to do whilst we're out here, no guests to entertain and the only thing to worry about is getting as much relaxation in as possible which is a high quality problem. Mel and I are both on a fairly tight health regime currently and so other than a couple of bottles of red wine (no really....) we've majored on good healthy eating, cycling and walking. Our evenings have mainly consisted of giving up on films half way through because they failed to impress.

The weather has been as patchy as can be expected at this time of year,  though thankfully we have escaped the snow that continues to fall in the UK. However, yesterday we awoke to brilliant sunshine so after a lazy lunch at a little restaurant in Pageas that we habitually visit we borrowed our friends Roz and Neils dog Tess and ventured off into the Limousin forest (les Essarts) armed with a map, a bottle of water and little else.

Thankfully our navigation skills stood up to the test without having to resort to dropping a trail of breadcrumbs behind us and we had a thoroughly fulfilling couple of hours walking around the barely discernible woodland trails without seeing a single person. Tranquility doesn't come easy to me but I found it in spades yesterday, the absolute antithesis of the hustle and bustle of the last few months.

Tess led the way. She appears to know the route like the back of her paw and she comically appeared to show frustration at our hesitancy. Some hours later we returned back home to a roaring fire and a rare glass of wine to toast a fantastic day.

We have a couple more days left before we return to blighty. Mel will then return in a few weeks time with her parents to run the holiday gite. We have several bookings already and are excited at the prospect of seeing Gouhaut spring to life as a holiday destination for other people. I'm almost jealous of the people that will rent our property, spending time here in our rural idyll is a pleasure I never tire of and they get to sample life here at it's very best. The holiday season in France is only about 14 weeks end to end and outside of that window, the area returns to it's almost soporific pace.

We're planning our summer holiday where I will join Mel and her parents here in Gouhaut before Mel and I spend a week travelling down the west coast of France and into Spain. A road trip adventure that I've already begun to plan based on several gastronomic landmarks that I've read about. I will of course share the highlights of that trip here.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Soul food......

Work-life balance has been completely out of kilter of late and working away for much of the week has meant that Melanie and I have seen very little of each other. Dragging my fatigued corpse through the door and dribbling on the sofa doesn't really count and we were well overdue a break. We're off to France for 10 days at Easter but that just seemed too far away. In any case, it's traditional for us to visit the coast, out of season before the hordes arrive and appreciate the faded grandeur of the British seaside resort.

Our destination of choice for the last few years has been Whitby but we decided that a trip down the west coast would make a change. So having consulted the barometer of taste - Trip advisor - we headed off last Friday afternoon to Abersoch, a place I haven't visited in years. Mel has never been to the Welsh coast before so was even more excited than I was. 

We arrived at 3pm, an hour before we were able to check into our boutique B&B the Venetian. We had a quick walk down the road but quickly dived into the first decent pub we came across, St. Tudwals.  Thoroughly refreshed we emerged an hour later having rediscovered my talent for thrashing people at pool and blinked as we discovered the clouds had disappeared and revealed a magnificent blue sky and low winter Sun.  It was to be a sign of things to come, we barely saw a single cloud for the rest of the weekend. 

Our B&B was superb, the owners could not do enough to make our stay perfect and indeed it was. We drank our stresses away, ate until we could eat no more and then walked away the damage along the beautiful coastline by day. I'm not exaggerating when I say the conditions could not have been more perfect and the lack of people around to spoil it was a bonus. 

On the recommendation of a friend who was brought up in the area, we visited a little resort called Criccieth on the Saturday and were so taken with the place that we went back on the Sunday morning to explore even further. I have a real thing about small British seaside towns and Criccieth ticked every single box. No tackiness, lovely cafe's with homemade cakes and ice-creams, well preserved Castle looking out to sea and all pinned against the backdrop of the Snowdonian mountains. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.

We returned to Manchester on Sunday afternoon re-invigorated and well equipped to cope with whatever the next four weeks has to throw at us.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Out of the shadows, into the light.......

In the early 1970’s cine film, 35mm slides, carousels and projectors were all the rage, heralding a new age for photography and home cinematograph. Like many people at that time my parents embraced this new phenomenon and consequently all snaps from that era were captured in this format.

I remember growing up and wondering why photographs of my family and I only started when I was about 7 years old and wondered if I had been adopted perhaps. The reality was less dramatic. It was merely that the projectors and carousels that displayed these pictures were not wholly reliable and when they did break they were expensive to service. When the fashion moved back to traditional cameras and developed film those broken machines were consigned to the loft and the slides and reels of film were left degrading in cupboards somewhere. 

I've subsequently spoken to other people in the same situation who possess or worse have thrown away huge collections of slides and films. Crucial moments captured in time, preserved in aspic but hidden from view or in a moment of carelessness abandoned in landfill.

Just recently, I started scanning and cataloguing old photographs and storing them in the cloud where they can be accessed for years and years to come and shared with people who care about their contents.

I’ve found that when you scan old photos a new life is breathed into the image. Free from the tatty, grizzled and often sub-standard paper they were originally printed on, they take on a new life. I can zoom around exploring hidden details and fixing flaws that have annoyed me for years. I started with my own photos last year and intend to work my way through other peoples collections. 

For Christmas I was generously bought a 35mm slide and photograph scanner. I asked my Dad to lend me the dusty collection of slides that had spent the last 40 years in one loft or another.  After a couple of false starts and some choice swearing I finally got everything working and was instantly rewarded with some unbelievable artefacts, snapshots of my life that I knew existed but had remained hitherto unseen.

Like talking through other peoples dreams, looking through someone else's photographs is an activity that should be endured for no more than a few seconds, so I'll spare you the full slideshow. I've shared the whole collection with my wider family particularly those who are either in the photographs or more poignantly have lost someone who is in them. That for me has been the most rewarding thing about this experience. 

I lost my mum to cancer when she was aged just 48 and though it was over 17 years ago I still miss her incredibly for many reasons not least her great intellect and observational dry humour. Seeing her as a beautiful young woman and mother has helped to reanimate the memories that grief would not allow me to hold on to. Sufficient time has passed now that the photographs feel poignant rather than tragic, comforting as opposed to haunting. The images I have now have coloured in my imagination and allowed me to connect with her again.