Paul Goodwin

Catching up

7 Nov 2010

It's been a while again. I'm not sure where my time is going lately. I've still not written about The End of the Road festival. I'll maybe try and find the time before I go to New York again at the end of the week or too much will have happened again...

Highlights of the last month or so then:

I made it to my second Cambridge game of the season yesterday, which was excellent fun, despite nobody scoring. Having a season ticket was starting to feel like chore towards the end of last year (I guess it was bound to after 4 or 5 years) so I decided not to get one this time. It's clearly the right thing to have done as I've been so busy, and going less often makes it more exciting when I do. The game was on ESPN (there were guys there with those weird cameras that look like they're flying) and if they repeat it I'm going to try and find out if we all imagined a Huddersfield player punching the ball clear or if the referee really was as bad as he seemed.

I've been to a few gigs. Josh Ritter was excellent at The Barbican however long ago that was - I don't much like the venue, and the muesli munchers that frequent it (and the impossibility of finding your way out of it) and I only decided to go on the morning of the show, but I'm very glad I did. Dawn Landes was (not that surprisingly) the support, and I liked her much more than I had in New York - I think she felt that she could play some less upbeat numbers. I don't remember any details now of her set now though. Josh Ritter must be the happiest man in the world. He certainly looked it what with all his grinning and jumping around. I guess it must have been one of the more impressive places he's played. I think I just got put off it when the guy from the Hothouse Flowers for a huge ovation for singing in Swahili while playing the arse flute when I saw him support The Swell Season there. Anyway, Ritter was exhilarating to watch and I was grinning almost as much as he was for most of it, though the set might have been 15-20 minutes too long, despite missing The Temptation of Adam and Girl in the War. Or maybe I was just tired.

Did I ever write about Steve Earle at the Corn Exchange in August? That was really nice, though not as moving as End of the Road last year. He said he missed Cambridge out of his last tour and was going to Orkney or Shetland or somewhere to make up for a date that got cancelled, so sorted a one off thing out. As it wasn't promoting anything in particular we got all the hits. There was a lovely moment when he was fumbling for a harmonica and someone in the crowd cheered and he said something along the lines of "I don't come to your work and hassle you". Then it happened again, someone cheered again, and he had to resort to a jovial "fuck off". The encore was a slightly surprising "Little Rock 'n' Roller", though I guess he's had a baby lately. I bet my friend Jack, who was coincidentally sitting behind us, despite having had his tickets for months, that it'd be Rex's Blues/Forth Worth Blues. Shows what I know.

Steve Earle talked a bit about how he had a bit of an affinity with Cambridge and namechecked (with only a slight mispronunciation) Boo Hewerdine, who was good at the Folk Club last week. I've been to a lot of his gigs over the years, and this is the first time that a fight almost broke out. A group of ladies had sunk a white wine too many and were talking a bit (a bit too loudly to be fair), and it offended some of the surrounding people, who presumably had never been to a gig before. I'm not sure when his audience got so old. Ten years ago the people who went to see him were in their 20s and 30s, and now they're in their 50s and 60s. It's not like he's lost much intensity, so I'm surprised that anyone of that age would even like it - the words mean things and there are no songs about fishermen. I guess he does have a folk music connection now that he didn't really have before. We didn't get 16 Miles, but it was nice to hear Joke for a change. That was the first song I ever heard of his, back in about 1994 on VH-1. I couldn't believe it when I moved here and it turned out he lived round the corner. The support act Jake Cogan was pretty good too - she's got an incredible voice and consequently went down a storm with the aged punters.

I had a good time watching Singing Adams, and some old faces the day after too, though I ended up a little worse for wear. I don't love them like I loved The Broken Family Band yet and the playing is (maybe deliberately) less tight, but, as someone or other said to me in the loo, maybe I just need to hear the songs more than once or twice. The support act were really nice too - ((((Oh Dear from Ipswich.

That might be all I've really done other than work, lose at squash and underperform in quizzes. Oh, we've had a couple of Travis Waltons practices ready for a show with Magoo and The Judge Reinholds at The Portland in a couple of weeks. Sounded pretty great from where I was sitting.

In other news, the steam powered computer that I used to record Scars finally died (taking with it the only known recording of that song I wrote about how the world would be a better place without the likes of Tunstall, Coldplay, Johnson, Jones (N.), Melua etc. etc., which is pretty out of date now anyway. I don't think it ever got a name, but now I think of it "Fish in a Barrel" would've been good. I wonder who'd be in it if I rewrote it now - I've managed not to have any nicely produced but essentially meritless pop music inflicted on me for a while. The only times I've accidentally heard Radio 2 they were playing Miley Cyrus, Frank Sinatra and showtunes, and while I can't stand any of that either, it doesn't really qualify. I suppose Tunstall has resurfaced recently - I saw some reviews at least. Oh hang on I do know - China Soul) so now I have a shiny new one. Then it turned out that the steam powered sound card I used to record Scars isn't compatible with modern computers, so I got a shiny new one. It's all coincided with my 7 month decorating saga being virtually done with, so I think that album I was making of old and or overly happy songs might actually get finished. Though the old computer took all the effects with it, so I'm going to have to start the mixing process again, which is filling me slightly with dread.

I was going to bet on Liverpool to win, Torres to score first and Newcastle to beat Arsenal today because I thought all the odds were too long. I really wish I had.


19 Oct 2010

I did a short notice gig on Friday night at the Cornerhouse to general indifference from all concerned. There were a couple of decent moments, but the lack of response got to me a bit so I didn't especially get going. Anyway, I played: The Ghost of Paddy's Night Past, Muscle Memory, Watertight, The Temptation of Adam (Josh Ritter cover, just to see if I could - I could but it'll be better if I do it again. So many words!), Magnetic or Rhetorical, Soaked to the Skin.

Not much else has happened this week other than a ridiculous quiz last night (world record for eating 2lb of strawberries anyone?), so I can clear some of the backlog. Jumping back to day 2 of Way Out West. When they make this into a book the editor can put it all in the right order...


I slept in quite late, paid another visit to the hot tub/sauna then wandered to the festival site just in time to watch Mumford & Sons who I enjoyed a great deal. I don't much like the album (as Richard Herring memorably said on Radio 6 the one time I've accidentally listened to it in the last 5 years, "that was Mumford & Sons with their new single, a cover version of their last single") - but live they really are excellent. The banjo guy seems to have managed to grow a proper beard since the End of the Road last year too - I'm proud of him. The keyboard player should sit down though - it's undignified.


We listened to Anna Ternheim from the safety of the beer area, and pleasant enough background music it was, then, having got some popcorn, watched Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek. I don't know what it is about live hip hop, because I'd never normally listen to that kind of thing, but I seem to always love it when it's put in front of me. I'd not heard of him, but I'm told Talib Kweli is one of the best. I can believe it. Also, the popcorn was nice. 


After another lightning raid on the beer area we took up a position for Pavement, who I enjoyed again. They seemed a bit less up for it than they'd been in Barcelona, but were still obviously quality.


We watched some of Marina and the Diamonds on the smaller stage, and I was pleasantly surprised. They're like the anti-Florence and the Machine, in that she could sing and the band could play. I'm not going to listen to them ever again obviously, but I enjoyed it at the time. She had some weird props too.


The second problem with the way the festival is run (following on from the first part, all those weeks ago) is that the capacity of the club gigs after the music ends at the main site isn't that high, so you're in danger of not getting in if you don't sacrifice some of the headline acts. Shearwater were playing at a particularly tiny place in the city, and, determined not to miss it, I left halfway through Lykke Li, a good couple of hours earlier than necessary it turned out. I only missed La Roux and the Chemical Brothers though, who I couldn't care less about. Being there early meant that I got to stand in the front row for both Shearwater and impressively coordinated (he was playing guitar with his hands, harmonica with his mouth and drums with his feet) but unfortunately bluesy support act Daniel Norgren. He looked the part at least.


Seeing a "real" band at the kind of proximity as I did that night is a massive treat for someone like me who can't (usually) be bothered to turn up really early to things and forego beer to keep my spot. It was lovely. I could've stolen the glockenspiel hammers. Shearwater were as good as I've seen them too, despite not having the element of surprise they had the first time. Dynamic, bombastic, a bit weird. I love it. Here's a video I took.


The whole weekend was excellent fun, especially once I'd caught up on my sleep. Though the music didn't often hit the heights (to be fair I don't think I was in the mood on the Saturday), the company was good and the hot tub and sauna were outstanding. Good times.

That's so great Jeremy, I'm going to go home and fart into a shoebox

12 Oct 2010

I'm just back from another, slightly longer, trip to New York. I managed to get a whole hour of sleep on the plane. Films watched (both ways) this time: The Disappearance of Alice Creed (a bit harrowing - the only one not at least partly set in New York - I only recently noticed that 95% of films are set there), Kick Ass (as good fun as they say) Letters To Juliet (really awful - the kind of thing that makes me think I could do a decent job of writing a romantic comedy - like the Dan Brown of the film world), Please Give (really enjoyable), Date Night (surprisingly good), Get Him to the Greek (started off well).

Anyway, on the first Saturday we did some shopping for a new wallet and coat for me, then went to the Earth Room, which is a surprisingly sizeable apartment that was filled with 2 feet of soil in 1977 and has remained like that ever since. It's quite hard to get into - you have to press a button on a very unobstrusive set of doorbells, then walk up the stairs (the lift won't stop at the correct floor) and talk to a guy who must be paid to sit there for about 20 visitors a day to spend 2 minutes going "oh wow, a room full of soil - bigger than I expected though".

We also went to a very cool cocktail bar which you get to by going to the phone booth in a grotty looking hot dog place, and turning the dial, which opens a secret door. The smell of booze hits you like a slap in the face as you go in. The cocktails were strong. I'm pretty sure that a semi-famous band was sitting in the corner, but I've not figured out who they were. At least one of them was a very tall, well dressed, English guy with a handlebar moustache. Any ideas? After we left there we saw a proficient but forgettable banjo-toting band. The New York music scene is a lot like the London one in that respect.

I'm not sure if this will translate to the written word, but if someone turned it into a Fast Show style long running TV sketch they'd make a fortune. On the way home we stopped to get some crisps, and Annie asked the attendant at a late night grocery if weird stuff starts to happen at about 10pm on a Saturday night. He said "no, not really". We turned to leave and the guy behind us in the queue immediately held up a plastic bag of fruit and proclaiming "I HAS THIXTH ARNGETH" in a high pitched voice without moving any closer to the till. Maybe you had to be there.

Other highlights included:

Going to see what I think must be a uniquely New York (or at least American) thing - comedy improv groups. They were all actually funny, which I was pleased about because I bet that kind of thing can go horribly wrong.

Peter Luger's, which is meant to be the best steak house in New York. I can't imagine how a steak could be better. I have a full set of the small plastic cows they use to communicate how the steaks are cooked.

Wintersleep and The Hold Steady at the Beacon Theatre - I missed Wintersleep at End of the Road (which I'll talk about another time) and thought they were great, and The Hold Steady sounded better than I've heard them.


Breakfasts of "everything" bagels with cream cheese, freshly squeezed ARNGE juice and cwaffee.

The Brooklyn Brewery "tour", which is the least tour like tour I've ever been on, consisting of a 15 minute talk in a garage from which you can just about see into the brewery. Actually it wasn't really a highlight. Williamsburg is fun to be in though.


We went to a craft market thing that was mostly full of massive wankers selling pretentious bullshit (the best was the guy who painted blue aliens in the style of famous people and explained why it was challenging the way that we all look at the world while having REALLY WIDE EYES), but the kreepy doll stall made any amount of twaddle worthwhile.

Annie spending quite some time asking the tour guides at the bottom of the Empire State Building how to get to the Empire State Building


The most ill judged name for anything I've ever seen


Seeing these freaky dolls every day


Do you reckon you can get passport photos in this place?


Anyway I had a great time again.


Wish You Were Here

2 Oct 2010

Just going to jump to the present day for a moment to talk about the nicest gig I've done for as long as I can remember (or since 2006 at least). It was at the Wish You Were Here festival - a one day thing across four or five Cambridge venues featuring local acts and some slightly more famous bands (Alessi's Ark, Wilderness of Manitoba, Cate le Bon was meant to play but didn't). I thought I was going to be on at 6.30, and was a bit worried nobody would be there, but the publicity changed to 7.30 with a few days to go (I suspect because of Cate le Bon, and then in the event I seemed to have swapped with Karmadillo and got an even better slot. Anyway I turned up at 6 or so to see Tom go down really well in a pleasingly busy Portland. I caught about half of Steve's set at the Boat House, where I was due to play, and the atmosphere was a bit odd - nobody was really there and all the lights were on, giving it the ambience of a youth club. I went over to The Portland to see Wilderness of Manitoba, who I'd missed at End of the Road (which I'll talk about another time) and they were great for about 10 minutes, but went far too Fleet Foxes for me (i.e. slightly Fleet Foxes) so I went and lost money on the quiz machine instead.

By the time it was my turn the Boat House had filled up a bit (and Rishi had apparently gone down very well in what would have been my slot) and by a few songs in there were people out the door and halfway down the stairs. They were nice to me too, and I did play about as well as I can I think.

Setlist: The Ghost of Paddy's Night Past, Muscle Memory, Watertight, You Won't Break My Heart, 60 Miles With a Slow Puncture, A Folly Or a Fortress, So Finally a Love Song, Soaked to the Skin

I very nearly had tears in my eyes at the reaction at the end of it. The whole event had a really nice feel to it - everyone was there to enjoy themselves, so every act I saw got a warm reception. It made me want to try and get shows again rather than just grudgingly accept anything that falls into my lap and assuming it'll be discouraging.

After I'd calmed down I took my stuff home and went over to the Haymakers, via Mr Burger, to see Lonely the Brave who are apparently looking like being the biggest thing to come out of Cambridge(ish) since... I dunno. It seems a shame to say Pink Floyd because they're so unremittingly dreadful, but who else actually made it? Anyway. I always thought Lonely the Brave were good, but they've really stepped it up since I last saw them - they sound huge, and committed, and the songs are nice enough that lots of people will like them. If you hadn't heard it somewhere else, you heard it hear first. Apparently they supported Lostprophets the other week and I can only assume they blew them off the stage.

In other news, Small Town Boredom's second album, "Note From The Infirmary" (which I mastered for them) has finally come out. I can't take much of the credit, but it sounds really great. I imagine it's a beautiful thing to look at too.

I only seem to get time to write these in the departure lounge at Heathrow these days. A lot of cool stuff has happened that I've not got round to writing about. I hope I do - it's nice to read these things back and remember that the last few years have been pretty fun, even if it didn't always feel like it.

You do something to me too

15 Aug 2010

Again, this was written about 6 weeks ago - I've just not had time to fill in the photos. There's a lot of stuff to catch up on. I'll write one about the present day soon...


I'm in an Irish pub in Gothenburg waiting for either Chris and Janne to lose their hangovers and turn up, or some non-MLS football to start. My plane gets to Stansted at 10.50 tonight and they've helpfully changed the last train from about 11.30 to 11.02. Interesting. Maybe it'll be early? I just bought a moderately large bag of fudge from the market here, not realising either how filling or how expensive it was going to be. I ate two pieces of about 15 and could face no more. Oh well - it lasts ok right?

This weekend was the now traditional pilgrimage to Way Out West, a lovely little festival in a big park in the city. It's made all the better by me having an excuse to stay in a hotel with a sauna and hot tub. Ryanair have changed the flight times to make the early one even earlier and the late one even later. I chose the early one, which involved me getting up at 4am the morning after getting back from New York so I was pretty sleep deprived when I got here on Thursday, but after buying some swimming trunks for the sauna (I forgot them, then tried to get some at Stansted but, as with Heathrow, there's nowhere to buy anything you might possibly actually need when travelling. Unless you need obscure teas) I met up with Chris and Janne at an Irish bar and had a beer before going for a very nice meal of mincemeat, mash and rosé sauce. We went on a bit of a wild goose chase to get our wristbands, then worked our way, via a few bars, to the weekend's most important event - the minigolf.

Some of you may remember Chris's scandalous behaviour last year where he "nudged" my ball off of a plateau that I'd worked very hard to get onto, thereby spoiling my score and ruining me mentally. This year we decided that that kind of thing was not only allowed, but to be positively encouraged. Here's Janne showing how it's done.

Here's Janne showing how it's not done.

Sorry the videos are side on - I dunno how to rotate them. They're good with sound though - it's nice to hear the laughing.

It was all square between me and Chris going into the last, slightly ridiculous, hole but the onlooking crowd of disapproving Swedish people (who take it in turns to play the whole hole) after I smacked both of our balls into the water dampened our spirits a bit and we rushed the finish. I won by a stroke but it felt slightly hollow. You can probably tell from this picture.



We had a couple more beers and Janne's friend Karin who was also coming to the festival showed up. I stopped making sense at about half 9 due to tiredness so took a tram back to the hotel for a fairly spectacular night's sleep.

I woke up at a sensible time, which was surprising considering the ridiculousness of the last week or so, and went for breakfast and a go in the hotel sauna and hot tub where I got into a conversation about The Mountain Goats with a couple of Swedish guys who were also going to the festival. They knew more about them than me. Which isn't hard I guess, but I bet there aren't that many people who do.

I got to the site about 15 minutes later than I intended to due to misjudging the length of the queue outside, so went to see Jens Lekman rather than meeting up with the others. My other friend Chris (who wasn't at the festival) is a big fan, and has always told me I'd really like him, in particular because the band is made up entirely of hot Swedish women and he has hilarious inter song banter. As it was, the band was made up of not very hot Swedish women (not that I care about that), a gangly guy and a guy on keys that looked like the 65 year old server in a dirty pizza place, and he did the in-between talking in Swedish. Fair enough obviously, what with him being Swedish and in Sweden, but it meant I didn't find it all that funny. That said I really enjoyed the first few songs until everyone else showed up and started complaining about it. I made them stay until he played "Black Cab", which was awesome, and then allowed myself to be dragged off to the bar area.



Lovely as it is, there are two problems with Way Out West. The first is that you can only have beer in designated areas, from which you can only vaguely see the stages and can't really hear what is going on. It got to me more this year, especially as you couldn't see the second stage from the one by the second stage. Music is much better when you're a little tipsy. I'll go into the second problem in the next exciting installment.

All music is better when you're tipsy, but you'd have to be pretty wasted to enjoy Paul Weller. Chris got really angry - it was much more entertaining than anything coming from the stage - about half an hour after he finished it was like something flicked in his brain and he suddenly went on a big rant about how unfair it was that someone like that had managed to carve out a 30 year career in music just to being in a good band for about 10 minutes, and STILL didn't have the decency to play any of the songs that anyone could possibly like. I tend to agree. All those people that thought Stanley Road was acceptable need to take a long hard look at themselves on what they've inflicted on the rest of us.


Next up were Wu Tang Clan, who I'd been looking forward to on the grounds that I've loved every rap act that I've seen at Way Out West. In the event though we mostly stayed in the beer area not really getting into it, apart from a brief but enjoyable solo expedition to the middle of the crowd.

It was a common theme throughout the day - I think I was still over tired, and there was a weird malaise across the whole place. I'd not noticed before, but Chris pointed it out and it's definitely true, that the Swedish don't seem to have a concept of personal space. I think being stood far too close to and seemingly deliberately pushed into by drunk people for hours on end got to me a bit. Strange, because normally I'm like the porter in that scene in Scrubs that JD accidentally bumps and both of them let out a small sigh of pleasure at actually having some physical human contact.


We went across to the little stage to enjoy a bit of Local Natives, whose name I keep seeing all over the place but I'd not listened to at all, before heading to what I was hoping would be the highlight of the day, The National. I saw them at the same festival 2 years earlier, and was a bit disappointed, but I'd heard good things about their live shows recently. Unfortunately I didn't really enjoy them again (though, on the bright side, at least I'd decided not to go and see them at the Albert Hall). In a live setting it's way more obvious that 90% of their songs just consist of the same line repeated over and over (Sam from The Morning People pointed that out about Boxer, but they've taken it to new levels on the latest album) and it bothered me how much it looked like the guitar players would rather be sat in the corner cuddling their comfort blankets and sucking their thumbs. And I'm not even going to get into what the keyboard player looked like he'd rather be doing. The slightly more distorted guitar sounds they use live didn't really work either. I left about halfway through to go and sit on a hill, and enjoyed it much more from there. Not sure if it's because I couldn't see the band any more, because I was sitting down, or because they saved their better songs for then. Anyway, bit of a shame.




Iggy and the Stooges were as you would expect I guess - good dated fun, and great dated showmanship though Iggy Pop's naked sagging torso is not a pretty sight these days. It was entertaining when they got a pile of people up to dance on stage. For all the rock and roll mayhem it was meant to demonstrate, the roadies were pretty strict about keeping them in their place. I'm not sure what had happened to the guitar player's leg...



The last act I saw was LCD Soundsystem, who were comfortably the best thing of the day, despite coming on late because of all their gear getting stuck at the border. Energetic, thumping, interesting. The only problem was I was standing there thinking "this is awesome and all I can think about is how much I'd like to be asleep" so I left about half an hour in, went back to the hotel and slept like a baby.



You're not a good shot but I'm worse

10 Aug 2010

I'm on the train back to Cambridge after another lovely weekend in New York. I've been away for 4 days but, as is the way with these things, I feel like I've been gone for months.

The journey there was a bit annoying - the entertainment system was broken in the plane and I spent bloody ages in immigration again - I always seem to get screwed at the point where the main queue turns into loads of little lines. There were people who were about 100 yards behind me that got through first.

Saturday was mostly spent wandering around Manhattan looking for somewhere that sold pants at a reasonable price, as I'd got myself into a bit of a laundry position the week before. I was hoping to buy some at Heathrow, but for some reason there's nowhere there to buy anything you might actually need when you go away. I went for H&M in the end. My friend Brian had told me about an art installation that's just a room full of soil, so we went to find that, but it turned out to be closed until September. I saw a photo - it didn't look that great anyway. Here are some photos of the walk.




Sunday morning/afternoon was spent exploring Queens and Long Island City. Highlights included the depot where all the city's hot dog stands are stored


a crateful of bagels on the pavement


and this park by the river which has some pretty amazing views.


I enjoyed the general sense of decay.



We also blew some bubbles.


In the evening Josh Ritter was playing a free show on Governor's Island, which is situated just south of Manhattan, has no running water and is only reachable by ferry. There's a free ferry from Ikea in Brooklyn to right by the place where you catch the Governor's Island one, though I got it into my head you needed to have spent $10 in Ikea to be allowed on it. I've never been to an Ikea before. The furniture is ok eh? There was nothing there to spend $10 on though, especially if you're about to go to a gig. I found it strange that you feel like you've done four or five complete laps before you end up back where you started. I'd be interested to see a floor plan.

The setting is one of the more spectacular I've been to.



The neon palm trees really did it for me.


First up was Dawn Landes, who is married to Josh Ritter. She was ok but a bit perky, and the songs didn't really grab me. There was a good bit where she had 4 people playing percussion. Three drumming guys in a row really going for it is quite a sight.



Justin Townes Earle was up second and was pretty good. A bit more traditional country than I expected, and a bit more traditional country than I really like, but he was excellent at it. His fiddle player was great too. He's obviously learnt his banter from his dad. He even used the "I remember my first beer too" put down that I first heard at a Steve Earle show in Harlesden probably 15 years ago when Justin played guitar with him for a song.


Josh Ritter was fantastic. Joy was just pouring out of him and you couldn't help but feel it too. I've only recently started listening to him really (thanks Severine!) having seen him supporting The Frames years ago and mentally dismissed it as a bit boring. I'm glad I did. My favourite of his is a song called "The Curse" (check it out on youtube, the video with the puppets is beautiful) I think at least in part because it reminds me of New York, and the version they did of that was stunning.





On Monday night Annie and I did a show in a bar in Long Island City, round the corner from that park above. I don't remember the name of the first guy we saw but he wasn't really my cup of tea. Annie was great though, and her emergency piano player/backing singer Arthur was ace too. I was pretty nervous about whether anyone would hang around for/not hate me, but it was good fun - Annie's guitar is much nicer than mine - when you hit it hard it sounds as if it's been hit hard. Maybe I should finally relent and get a decent one. I felt comfortable and think I played well. There was a big table of guys with high powered water pistols being a little bit rowdy I guess, but one of them came up after and said how much he enjoyed it so I forgave them. They were playing some kind of war game - they were in the street afterwards trying to pick off a water sniper who was hiding on the roof of the bar. Weird. though the weirdest bit was that they had someone following round with a big video camera. My banter was on pretty good form. I kept on complaining that nobody could ever understand what I was saying. It's true though - I reckon even fewer Americans understand my name when I say it than have passports. Setlist: Take it All, Muscle Memory, The Forked Tongue and the Blind Eye Turned, Watertight, The Ghost of Paddy's Night Past, A Folly or a Fortress (with lovely harmonies from Annie), So Finally a Love Song, 60 Miles With a Slow Puncture, You Won't Break My Heart, Edinburgh.

The plane back was a jumbo jet and I got to sit on the top deck which was much more comfortable than usual and meant that we had 2 stewardesses between about 25 of us, so I got to take advantage of more free wine than usual. It was also super fast - we got back in under 6 hours. I only had time to watch Hot Tub Time Machine and get a couple of hours sleep.

I'm feeling pretty fortunate at the moment. I wonder how long this can last.


6 Aug 2010

I think I've broken my toes. The other day I was dreaming that I was involved in some kind of martial arts contest just as I was waking up and I kicked the end of the bed really hard. I also keep hurting my foot by playing squash, trying hard and being fat. This must be how Andrew Flintoff felt.

On Saturday a group of us went clay pigeon shooting for Dave's stag do. I've not done it before - the closest I've come was ruining a paper target with a pump action shotgun in Las Vegas a few months ago. The gun we got this time was significantly less powerful, but I think our shoulders would've been destroyed by the recoil quite quickly with anything meatier.

We went in three cars for the 20 minute journey, not in convoy and each one using a different navigation technology (google map, satnav, blind faith in things working out for the best) and, somehow, every single car got lost in exactly the same way, ending up in some ghastly newly built town called Red Lodge. I think the problem was that the shooting was part of a general outdoor activity centre and it didn't say that anywhere or mention it on the signs.


Even once we established that we were in the right place we managed to get lost trying to find reception. I don't think we'd make it in a real combat situation. Or maybe we would on account of not being able to locate the battle.

When we finally found the place the worryingly young instructor guy asked if anyone had shot before. Even though lots of us had, all but one of us said they hadn't, I think on the grounds that you generally look like an idiot if you claim to be an expert at something to someone who actually is. My friend, and joint best man, Will said later on "the only gun I've shot is an M-16, what was I meant to say?". Predictably the guy who said he'd done it before didn't hit anything for ages. Never admit to knowledge. Clay pigeon shooting is fun - it's really satisfying when you hit the clay in the middle and it flies apart in all directions. I was probably about average in the group at it, but I found that I hit them more often when I didn't really think about what I was doing rather than going "wait for it to peak then aim down a bit". I could never tell what I'd done wrong when I missed. As usual when taking part in activities, I didn't look terrible graceful...


I'd definitely go again - I like firing guns. Appropriately, Dave won the competition after a seemingly endless sudden death deciding round in which he and joint best man Joel kept hitting everything for ages. It was impressive. I blame their public school education.

Last Thursday I went to see Mark Kozelek at the Union Chapel in Islington. Even when covered in scaffolding it's a beautiful building. There's a new Sun Kil Moon album out apparently, but I've not heard it (because it's not on Spotify and the last one was disappointing so I've not been moved to buy it). I like the albums, but each of them only has a handful of really great songs on. Live is a different proposition, I think because you have to give him all of your attention, so even the less gripping songs are completely absorbing because he makes such a lovely sound. I think Kozelek sets are among the times I get to think most deeply. It's the first professional gig I've ever been to with no support act I think, presumably because he needs the money (he used needing the money as an excuse for having to endlessly tune his own guitar at one point rather than having a guy to do it) though the place was rammed - much busier than lots of the other times I've seen him - we cut it a bit fine due to hanging around in the Hope and Anchor beforehand so were right at the back of the balcony. He was in an unusually good mood, which I'm not sure I approved of. He didn't tell anyone off at all, nor did he complain about the way all his fans outside London "wear fucking backpacks" and I think he may have even made a joke at one point.


One odd thing is the abrupt way he ends the songs. It's as if he gets to the last chord and it no longer interests him, so instead of letting it ring out like anyone else would he mutes it after about a second. It almost sounds apologetic. I notice it every time then forget.

I'm finishing this off in the departure area of Heathrow, waiting to go to New York again. I'm going to Sweden the day after I get back. When did I become so ridiculous? Life feels pretty good right now though.

Written in the stars

1 Aug 2010

A couple of weekends ago I went back to New York on something of a drunken whim. The idea first came up on the Wednesday, and I decided that it'd be great but a bit impractical, then on the Thursday, in a plot device that would be laughed out of the writers' meeting of even the most low budget romantic comedy, the mysterious horoscope that had been appearing unbidden in my inbox every day for a week or so, said

"Today's discerning Virgo Moon makes us aware of all the sensible reasons not to take initiative. Nevertheless, we can feel the tension increase as the Moon edges closer to action-hero Mars throughout the day. Although cool logic tells us one thing, we still may follow an impulse and do something else."

As much as I obviously don't believe in that kind of thing, being a scientist, I felt it made an argument that I had no answer to. Also we went out for Ciaron's birthday and everyone told me that you have to do this kind of thing when you can and I'm always complaining about how boring my life is. I think without really expecting me to actually go. But I got back and booked a flight for 18 hours time and the cheapest hotel I could find.

I felt like the British transport network was trying its best to make me miss the plane, but it was fine in the end. American Airlines are not a patch on Virgin. The most sour faced cabin crews I've ever come across. Below par entertainment systems too, though I did nearly watch Leap Year again on the grounds that there's a lot gratuitous transatlantic flying in it.

Once I'd eventually made it through immigration (the one guy on duty felt the need to make 10 minutes of small talk with each person. At least he was friendly) I got the subway to Manhattan and checked into my, according to a pamphlet at reception, newly refurbished hotel room. Wow. Someone decided it'd be like that. Note to self: check pictures on website in future.


I met up with Annie who you may remember from last time I was there, and we went to watch some music of varying quality before I was too tired to carry on really.

The next day there was a free festival going on in Coney Island, which is somewhere I'd meant to visit on my last trip, so that worked out quite nicely. The subway there takes quite a long time and we were lucky enough to be sat next to a guy who had his own huge cooler of beer and regaled us with tall tales of how he owned several bars and an apartment block in the city and had been to prison for 3 years for forcing a police car off a bridge during a high speed car chase or something. It's good to know that I can attract these people internationally too. Coney Island is a pretty cool place - I may have mentioned before that I have a soft spot for run down seafronts. I bet it's really atmospheric during the winter.





This is an abandoned roller rink.


The guys at the front of it were making an artwork by putting paint on various objects and using them to splat it on a big sheet of paper. My favourite ones were the robot dog and the radio controlled car. Annie chose the spiky rubber ball on a piece of elastic.


In the end we only saw one decent band - Wye Oak, but bloody hell they were amazing. I saw them support Okkervil River the day after End of the Road last year, and liked it, but they were much more powerful this time. One song in particular stood out, called "I Hope You Die". I've listened to the recorded version a lot since, and it's not so rocking as it was live. I'm glad I didn't know what it was called because I assumed it was a nice song, until out of nowhere she started singing "I hope you die" and it really affected me.



Playing drums and keyboard at the same time is pretty impressive, though thinking about it, if you're coordinated enough to play drums to any kind of standard, playing a bit of keys at the same time shouldn't be a real challenge.

Annie was singing a song with a country band later, and did a great job (they were a good band too!), then we went to Greenwich Village and got, unbelievably, an even better pizza than the one I had at Grimaldi's on my previous visit. I don't get why pizza here doesn't even come close - I'm pretty sure that if anyone opened somewhere here that sold pizzas even half as nice as this place (called John's) every other pizza restaurant in town would go out of business pretty bloody quickly. On the way home we saw the most dedicated busker ever. He takes a grand piano around with him. To provide background music for a juggler. Madness.


On the Sunday we tried out a couple of open mics, which reminded me very much of London ones - there's seems to be a real culture of people doing open mics (at least) every day of the week. The first was at a really cool venue called Pete's Candy Store in Brooklyn. I had a nervous moment during the cab ride there when the driver took us down a rough looking dead end, but it turned out he'd just got a bit lost. When we arrived there was a church service going on in the gig room, but everyone piled out for a beer in plenty of time. I nervously did Watertight and Muscle Memory to general apathy. After getting the best (and biggest) sushi I've ever had (I got put off sushi quite a long time ago by it being distinctly fishy the first time I tried it, but I think I may have been converted)


we did another nearby with better sound but less atmosphere. I played Edinburgh and You Won't Break My Heart. It was ok. For some reason I felt the need to mumble things in between songs in the style of Hugh Grant. Weird.

I spent most of the Monday wandering around Manhattan checking out a few places I'd not got round to the first time I went.



Including Union Square



and the Flatiron Building (dunno why it's called that...)


My flight home was delayed by a massive thunderstorm, but I was back in work at about 11. And feeling surprisingly chipper. I love going away for the weekend - you can get what feels like 2 week's worth of life out of a few of days. Stay tuned for more of the same...

You're an animated anvil and I'm an animated duck

25 Jul 2010

Wow, I can't believe how long it's been since I wrote here. Sorry about that, if anyone still cares...

What has happened...

Last night I played at The Cornerhouse supporting The Dawn Chorus, and had a very good time. The sound was really great - the best I've had anywhere for quite a while. I don't know if they've improved the PA recently or if the guy that was doing it is just unusually good. Either way that, and the fact that people seemed to be into it, meant that I played better than I have anywhere other than The Portland for as long as I can remember. I did: You Won't Break My Heart, Muscle Memory, Watertight, Borderline, The Ghost of Paddy's Night Past, So Finally a Love Song, Soaked to the Skin. And maybe something else somewhere in there.

The Dawn Chorus were awesome - last time I saw them they played almost entirely stuff off the second album, which was good (I've listened to it a lot since and I think it's even better than the first), but meant that there were songs I really like that they didn't do. This time was more of a greatest hits kind of thing and I loved every minute of it. Every member of a band yelling backing vocals out unamplified at the top of their lungs is extremely evocative. Also any band that can have no fewer than three members produce trumpets from nowhere and play them in harmony is alright with me. I don't understand why they're not famous yet, but talking to them it sounds like things are moving in the right direction, so that's good. I bought a T shirt. They only had medium but I reckon I can get away with it if I breathe in.

A couple of weeks ago The Travis Waltons did an EP launch at The Portland. The CDs turned up a day later than they were meant to on account of the courier company not bothering to go to Dan's house and saying that they had (surprise surprise), but, despite a bit of a panic, they were there in time for the show, so it was all ok in the end. They look really nice and sound great. I'm not totally sure how you go about getting them, but you probably should try to. We went for a band meal between soundcheck and the start of the gig, which I've never really done before, but is definitely a good thing to do - you end up feeling like a team. And Teri-Aki is pretty nice. I missed the first support act but the second guy, who plays in Tellison, who I really should go and see if they play again, was absolutely great. Lots of really good originals, and a fantastic cover of The Hypnotist's Son by Emmy the Great, which had never really grabbed me when I'd heard it before. I thought we played really well - we'd been practicing a lot and it paid off. How different everything could have been if I'd realised that 10 years ago. There are some pictures here. I'm the one who doesn't look like he's in a band.

I'm really enjoying playing at the moment in pretty much any guise. Haha - I just remembered about The Morning People gig a few weeks ago in the middle of a street when I had to sit on a flight case lid because there were no chairs. I even enjoyed that. At one point a little kid came up and tried to unplug the bass amp. Everyone's a critic.

Last Thursday I went to see Regina Spektor at the Corn Exchange. It was simultaneously one of the best things I've probably ever been to and one of the saddest. There was a "rumour" (i.e. Chris had got it into his head) that Chris Isaak was supporting, but it turned out to be a singer songwriter called Nicole Atkins who was ok I guess, but we went back to the bar after a few songs. Chris had told me just beforehand, while we were getting the second best pizza I've had in the last month, that the band's cello player had drowned in Lake Geneva about a week and a half before, leaving a wife and young kid. I kind of wish I'd not known, but it did make the gig much more intense than it would've been. I'm slightly surprised they didn't just cancel the rest of the tour. I guess people have to eat. The empty chair and music stand set up really got to me though. Especially when the rest of the band went and hugged it after they finished. Regina Spektor is a spectacular musician and writer. I've been blown away every time I've seen her. Personal highlights were, predictably, "Samson", "Us", "Summer in the City" and "On The Radio". I was crying my eyes out by the end. I think I successfully hid it behind a series of yawns.

I did one other fairly interesting thing that I don't have time to tell the story of tonight. I'll leave you in suspense about what it could be, so that you end up thinking it's more exciting than it is...

There must be something happening, it's just too big a town

4 Jul 2010

I've hardly stopped since last time I wrote. Most of this week has been used up with Travis Waltons practicing, painting my living room ceiling (which is turning into a job akin to painting the Forth Bridge), losing at squash, winning pub quizzes in ridiculous ways (seriously, I guessed the stations that the first London Underground journey went between and the nationality of the inventor of velcro. And Chris worked out which year Radio 1 started by knowing the first ever song they played and which year it topped the charts. We won £15 and some magic beans.)

I did a short set tonight over the road at The Cornerhouse. As usual I felt awkward, but there were a few moments where I thought "wow this sounds pretty great". I need my mojo back. Anyway, I played: Muscle Memory, Watertight (slight guitar tuning problems), This Place is Dead Anyway (well out of tune. I should've stopped. I think I probably won't play that one much more anyway - it's really good about 10% of the time), So Finally a Love Song, The Ghost of Paddy's Night Past, Soaked to the Skin. The band on after me, Minnie Birch, were really charming.


Last Friday I went to see Bon Jovi at the O2 Arena. I don't care what anyone says - I like Bon Jovi. Keep The Faith is genuinely not awful. Screw you all. We went down to London in the early afternoon - I spent most of the journey downloading the Zippo lighter iPhone app in case they played Bed of Roses, but because I'd updated the OS that morning, and (much as I love the iPhone) Apple are incapable of making anything that works properly, it didn't work. We went and had a few beers by London Bridge in that pub next to that replica of Walter Raleigh's boat then moved on to the O2 just in time to catch the last couple of Kid Rock's songs. Perfect timing - it's good to confirm that people you have no interest in seeing hold no interest for you... I love the way that the station by the O2 has big signs with directions to the arena, despite the fact that a huge white dome is clearly visible as soon as you get up the escalators.


I'd tried to convince Andy to come to the show, but he'd said that he'd only come if I could guarantee that they'd play "Blood on Blood". I said I could not. I was pleased when they played it first. I kept texting him to say, but I don't think he believed me.



As well as all the obvious hits (apart from "Bed of Roses", though I would've been annoyed at my lack of lighter app, or anything from "These Days") we also got treated to "Santa Fe" and "Blood Money" from his solo album. Pretty special. I had an absolutely brilliant time hearing all those songs again, but what struck me most about the whole thing was how, even when all the lights were down, you could still see Jon Bon Jovi's teeth shining like some kind of cheesy beacon. I would go and see them again in a second. If someone can guarantee they'll play Dry County.

So, the final chapter of New York.

On the Wednesday I slept in a bit, then got an incredible breakfast roll from the deli next to my hotel. I did have a certain amount of trouble eating it while walking around and carrying a cup of coffee.


I decided to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so wandered off up 5th Avenue checking out the diamond district (pretty seedy I thought, considering how expensive everything in the shops must be. There were people pushing leaflets into your hands, very much like in Las Vegas, except they were advertising diamonds rather than girls) along the way. At the corner of Central Park there was a stage set up with a crowd assembled, so I thought I may as well join it. It turned out Christina Aguilera was recording some kind of TV appearance, though she only managed half a song before it started raining and they all ran away again under big umbrellas.


I decided that I'd seen enough, considering the weather, and went and looked at Tiffany's for a minute then sheltered in Trump Tower, which also contains a fair percentage of the world's marble.



I pondered getting a set of Donald J. Trump signature golf clubs for the bargain price of $2500, but the rain stopped just before I called the toll-free number so I went off to the museum.

I've always enjoyed art galleries most when I've been with someone who knows something about art, so I got an audio guide on the grounds that it was the next best thing. Or maybe even the actual best thing. I somehow ended up in the Egyptian part first (how many art galleries have an Egyptian section?). I was still at a fairly high mummifcation saturation level from the museum in Chicago the week before, but it was a more extensive collection and they had some cool stuff including a temple that had been moved there brick by brick from the desert, an interesting aside on early eye-surgery, all kinds of innard jars, and some really effing big sarcophagi.



The building itself is really impressive. Not many museums have facades of other impressive buildings taking up small sections of wall.


After a quick wander round the pottery, silverwork, furniture and musical instrument sections (!) I got down to the main business of the visit - paintings. They had a Picasso exhibition, seemingly because someone had noticed that they'd accidentally assembled a hefty number of them, and I spent a good couple of hours there. I didn't really know anything about him before I went in, and, to be honest, I preferred the earlier works that actually looked like things, but I could see what he was getting at. I did appreciate the audio guide saying of one of the paintings "here Picasso is seeing how much he can distort the human form while keeping it recognisable, and if you squint you can just about tell this is meant to be a woman". I am always slightly fascinated by people who've been brave enough to properly dedicate their life to art. I think probably because I wasn't, and feel like I've wasted whatever creative talent I had. Not that I'm deluded enough to think I'm not better off how things are.

This was my favourite of the paintings. It's called "Au Lapin Agile" which is a Montmartre drinking establishment, so called because the sign was painted by a guy called Gill and had a rabbit on it. What a genius way for a place to get a name. That's a self portrait on the right.  


I also appreciated this quote of his "Grief is at the basis of life... If we demand sincerity from the artist, sincerity is not found outside the realm of grief". Just saying.

There were lots of other important paintings there too. Van Goghs, Vermeers, Rembrandts, Monets and, probably my favourite of the artists, a couple of Caravaggios. Even with my pathetically limited knowledge I can always recognise him - it's the way he used light. Or maybe dark.


God, I sound like a wanker. I don't know anything about this stuff.

I know even less about modern art, but I did quite like this American flag that had been painted white.


I left the gallery just as it was shutting, and just as it was beginning to absolutely piss it down. I ran a few blocks to the nearest subway and headed a couple of stops east to an Irish pub where I'd found out an open mic was happening later in the evening. It was an interesting bar - the unique selling point was that the only draught beer they had was Guinness. They actually had 7 taps in a row, spelling out GUIN_ESS. The missing N used to be Budweiser apparently, but then they thought they'd go for the 100% Guinness. I asked the barmaid what the thinking was and she said "well, it may be like selling the smallest sandwich, but at least it makes us special". Fair enough. The open mic itself was kind of depressing, but Steve, the guy running it, was a good laugh (and from Harrow, weirdly) and I'd had a fair few pints by the time it was my turn. Much like most open mics everyone left/went outside almost as soon as they'd played. I did Watertight, The Ghost of Paddy's Night Past (come on, all they sold was Guinness) and Edinburgh. The few remaining people were nice about it and I had a great time in the end due to the barmaid (who fulfilled the at least 50% of barstaff in New York Irish pubs have to be Irish law), Steve and Annie (who was playing as well and started talking to me having cunningly turned up after I'd done my turn) all being a lot of fun. We sat there being a bit mean about the guy who tried to harangue everyone into singing along and got really cross when nobody would. And the other guy who played Hallelujah. Oh God, I just had a flashback and realised that Bon Jovi did Hallelujah. I'd blocked it out. Ugh. Steve and Annie are both actually really good. Check them out.

After a taxi to the point where our paths home diverged I got a delicious chicken kebab from a street vendor, then had to explain to some local bankers what a kebab is. They all got them after I had - the guy should've given me commission.

The first thing I did on the next day was to get a coffee in Times Square. There was a stage set up with a crowd assembled, so I thought I may as well join it. Nobody actually knew who we were waiting for this time, being almost entirely tourists who joined the throng simply because there was one ("What did you do in New York?" "Stood waiting in a crowd for 2 hours") but it turned out to be Jennifer Lopez doing a press conference for some charity. She is a very pretty lady.


I then went for a walk for an hour or two, and visited the lobby of The Chrysler building, which, surprise surprise, contains a fair percentage of the world's marble. I'm not even convinced marble walls look good.

I met up with Annie for a very enjoyable lunch at what she realised halfway through was the deli two doors down from the best deli in New York. I'd promised Flay I'd go to Katz's which is where they filmed that scene in When Harry met Sally, but it was a bit far away. Whatever -  the one we went to was still very special. I had the biggest pastrami sandwich I've ever seen - it makes Schwartz's in Montreal look positively fun size. I'm not sure this photo really does it justice. You have to bear in mind that that is a normal sized fork rather than a tiny one...


You wonder what kind of meat-based arms race would have to occur for sandwiches to reach that size. And at which point the bread becomes completely superfluous. And what the people next to us were thinking getting chips. As it was we got the other halves of our respective sandwiches wrapped up for later. I finished mine at the airport. Even now my bag still smells slightly of pastrami. 


We said goodbye and, at her suggestion, I spent the afternoon in the Natural History Museum. It was even better than the Chicago one, though considerably less free to get into. It was, at least, considerably more free of David Schwimmer. The mineral room was beautiful - better than the one in London because of the way it was largely in darkness with spotlights on the rocks. Though I've not really captured that in my pictures. Sorry about the last one, it tickled me.



The dinosaur rooms were great too, they essentially had two of everything the Chicago one did. And a lot of protoceratops heads.


And a styracosaurus.


The dioramas are very impressive too.




I stayed until the museum shut, then sadly made my way to the airport. 

I had such a good time in America and New York in particular. I've been feeling a bit flat since I got back (Bon Jovi and The Hold Steady excepted). I'm not sure what to do about it.

People are much friendlier than here - even on that last day after the museum I had a nice chat with one guy while waiting for the train to the airport, and another guy gave me $5 to go towards a beer at the departure gate - "a man can't be expected to fly without having a beer". The city is stunning and, more importantly, it feels like a place that things can happen. Here hasn't felt like a place where anything is going to happen for quite a while. I should probably just consider myself lucky to have had the chance to go.


In other news The Travis Waltons have an EP launch at The Portland Arms on Saturday if anyone is in Cambridge and at a loose end. The EP sounds pretty awesome, despite my (albeit small) involvement.

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