Paul Goodwin

We can all be something bigger

24 Jun 2010

It's been a busy couple of days. Yesterday I went to London for a slightly weird PR event where they gave us free beer during the England game but I'm not entirely sure what was being promoted. Oddly, a couple of guys I was at school with and haven't seen for about 10 years were there. They didn't know what was being promoted either. I managed to meet up with three separate people afterwards which was nice, and London is such a great place to be when it's sunny. And England won, and contrived to not be playing their next game during any of The Morning People gigs on Saturday, which is a bit of a relief.

I was in London on Tuesday as well to go and see The Hold Steady at The Forum. I've been quite addicted to them for a few months now, so it was good timing that they were playing. I could only get tickets for the seating on the balcony (Andy got his on eBay and got standing - I didn't think of that) but actually it was fine. The view was better than it would've been downstairs and there was plenty of room. Everyone else looked a bit miserable for some reason. We'd gone to the pub beforehand so didn't get in until most of the way through the support band but, unsurprisingly, they didn't grab me. I don't even know what they were called. Seemed like nice chaps though - very pleased to be there.

The Hold Steady were great. They've lost their flamboyant keyboard player since the End of the Road and replaced him with someone about as flamboyant as me. I wonder if it was his choice to have absolutely no attention drawn to him, even while doing solos and things, or if he wasn't allowed near the front because he's not on the posters. There he is on the right at the back. One step away from behind a pillar.


To be fair it probably made no difference because, despite the guitarists actually being lit up, it was virtually impossible to take your eyes of the singer. If he wasn't jogging on the spot or flapping his hands hummingbird style, he was pawing at the air like a cat or doing his best Vitruvian Man.


They played pretty much everything I wanted to hear (Stuck Between Stations, Chips Ahoy!, Constructive Summer, Sequestered in Memphis) and (which I was particularly impressed with) only did the 4 songs I like most off the new album. It's good when a band knows what their best material is. I got quite excited. The people sitting near me didn't seem especially pleased about it. I did keep spilling my pint.

My other big news is that I've now got HDTV. How I Met Your Mother in HD. It's probably a 5 year high point.

So, a bit more New York...

On the Tuesday morning I got the subway down to the fort thing where you get the ferry to Liberty Island and, after a quick trip to Starbucks, bought a ticket for that and Ellis Island. I'd been told there'd be huge queues if I didn't get there early, and I didn't get there early, so I was relieved when there were only about 5 people ahead of me in the ticket line. It was short lived. Somehow on the way in I'd failed to notice the huge snake of people going round the entire park waiting to actually get onto the boat. Fortunately I was still engrossed in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo so I spent a contented hour reading in the sun moving slowly towards the dock, blocking out the terrifying clown and terrible, terrible violin player who were trying to earn a crust by entertaining the crowd.


Eventually, slightly disappointingly, I had to stop reading and go through the metal detectors to get on the boat. I didn't manage to get on the top deck, but the views through the window were still pretty good.


When I got onto the island, there was a (I think civil war period) school marching band, though I'm not sure that the saxophone had become popular by then, having only been invented 25 years earlier. And sounding dreadful.


I watched them for a bit then got an audio guide and learned some interesting facts about the statue while walking around it. I didn't actually realise that it's built on a fort. Or that it's hollow (though I guess that's pretty obvious). Or that that quote about huddled masses comes from a poem that was written to help promote it. I did realise that it's really effing big. 


I spent about an hour wandering round, enjoying the views of Manhattan,


then got the boat over to Ellis Island where immigrants who couldn't afford first or second class boat tickets were processed. It was interesting, if a bit full of really, really annoying school children.


At one point they stole about 50 foam Statue of Liberty crowns and ended up being chased around by staff. I was relieved when they all got onto the ferry.

When I'd finished looking round the museum I decided to tick off the other really touristy New York thing and go up the Empire State building. Even in a city full of tall buildings it dwarfs the others.


And I reckon contains about 20% of the world's marble


I thought that there would be another mammoth queue, what with it approaching sunset, but it looked very much like they normally have to deal with a lot more people than were there


The views were stunning.




They're missing a trick by not having a bar up there though. I'd have been there for hours. As it was I did a few laps then went to the bar at the bottom of the building and had a delicious strip steak, some tasty orange flavoured beer, and a conversation with a barman who couldn't understand that someone from England could possibly understand the concept of baseball. I pointed out that it's just watered down cricket, where they always catch the ball because of the huge gloves, but he was having none of it. Fun though, and another good day.

I have to go to bed. I'm seeing Bon Jovi tomorrow. Oh wow, CSI in HD. It's probably a 5 year high point.

Taking the pizza

21 Jun 2010

I wolfed down my hot dog (see what I did there?), headed north to Central Park (one of the good things about the grid system is that you know which direction you're heading in at all times) and spent a nice hour or so wandering round. It's a very relaxing place - even the streetlights seemed comfortingly familiar from the films. There are some slightly wild bits too and it's quite hilly - I ended up having to scramble up a bramble strewn slope at one point having followed a guy who looked like he knew where he was going.


I'm not sure how the radio controlled yachts work - there was a sign by the lake saying that no powered boats were allowed, but that implies that people were controlling them simply by moving the rudder and sails about which seems incredible to me.


After a while I stumbled on this tower which I think I read is some kind of weather research facility.


Whatever it is, it has a nice view of some terrapins sunning themselves.


The last thing I saw in the park was Strawberry Fields, Yoko Ono's tribute to John Lennon who was shot not far away. I have a suspicion that the hippy guy who sat watching it the whole time I was there was helping himself to the wishing hat money. I suppose it has to go somewhere though.



I left the park and had my first go on the New York subway, heading down to lower Manhattan. As I got out of the station without particularly realising where I was, this church caught my eye.


It turned out to be right next to Ground Zero and was the place that the volunteers had used as a base. It was one of the more devastating places I've been in my life. This table was particularly upsetting. I'm not sure I should've taken a picture of it really. Things are sadder when you consider the individual real people involved instead of the numbers.


As hard as it was to not burst into tears with every thing you read, there was actually a real hopefulness about the place - loads of stories of people pulling together and putting themselves in danger to help each other.


The museum round the corner about what they're going to do with the space was also pretty moving. I came out quite affected by it all, so I did what anyone would do and got a large tub of chocolate ice cream and sat in a park for a while. I don't know why every other country does better ice cream than we do. Maybe stuff just tastes better on holiday.

I then took a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, which had been the reason for going to that area of the city in the first place. It's quite impressive, and was the first time that I got to see the breathtaking skyline from a bit of a distance.




A couple saw me trying to take a picture of myself with Manhattan in the background and took pity on me, which was very nice of them. It turned out the guy was going to London the day before I flew back.


That is a rare photo of me having been away from work for long enough to actually be happy. When I'd made it all the way across the bridge I had a walk round Brooklyn and was generally impressed by the size of things


but really I was looking for a pizza place that someone at the wedding in Chicago had told me about. "I can't remember what it's called, but it's just under the bridge and there's always a line of people" they told me. Fortunately as I was coming out of a small park which contained some interesting facts about a battle that was fought there at the start of the War of Independence, I overheard some other people ask a local where it was, and what the directions were. It's called Grimaldi's, and even at 3.30pm on a Monday afternoon I had to wait for 45 minutes to get in.


I ordered a small pepperoni pizza and sat quietly with a glass of wine watching the cooks expertly throwing dough around the kitchen, until I noticed that the people sitting next to me were the couple from the bridge and, taking into account the lesson I'd been taught on the plane, started up a really nice chat with them. They finished the small pepperoni pizza they were sharing just as mine turned up.


I don't know for sure if it was the best pizza I've ever had, because I remember having some pretty incredible ones in Italy, but it might well have been. It certainly beat the Chicago one, though I guess we didn't go to the absolute best Chicago pizza place. Soon enough another couple sat down, ordered a small pepperoni pizza between them, and I had a nice chat with them too while I got to within the crust of one slice of finishing mine. The guys next to me, sharing a small pepperoni pizza, were very impressed.

I staggered out and walked back across the Manhattan bridge, which was deserted in comparison to, but offers some great views of, the Brooklyn Bridge.



The bridge ends in Chinatown which is good for a quick look around but, to be honest, is a little bit intimidating. The McDonald's is done up in a fun way.


I sat in a nearby park for a while and watched a game of football, then set off for the famous Bleeker Street, making sure to go via Spring Street so I could see the place that the Dar Williams song is about. It was just a road with some trinket stalls on the pavement. After a while I came across a series of bars which had music on, so I picked a likely looking one, got a beer and watched a showcase type thing where everyone got 3 or 4 songs. The standard was about what I'd have expected in London - i.e. a bit disappointing - I don't know why I assumed New York would be better. I'd have assumed London would be good if I'd not been there I suppose. The guy running it seemed like a bit of a tool as well, so I went on my way when the beer was gone and had a walk around Greenwich Village. I think I'd become overly used to all the roads being at right angles though, because I kept on getting turned around and ending up at exactly the same junction on 6th Avenue. I decided I was tired so resolved to go back another time (though it'll have to actually be another time) and then walked the 30 or so blocks back to Times Square. I popped in to one of the other Irish pubs near the hotel and ended up having a few drinks with a guy called Cory from Philadelphia who was in town for a conference on innovation. Neither of us were sure how you can teach people to be innovative, though the college students next to us were certainly being innovative in weird stuff to do when you're drunk. Drinking ketchup is neither big nor clever kids. It was a really brilliant day.


Feeling good on Lexington

18 Jun 2010

I'm just back from spending most of the weekend at Half-Ton Studios with The Travis Waltons, trying to finish the ep we're hoping to launch in a few weeks. Yesterday my part in it all consisted of eating my body weight in peanuts, brownies and chocolate cornflake cakes and then having a little sleep while the others recorded the important instruments, but I got a fairly epic synth part and some singing that was politely described as "quirky" done today, either side of a pretty enjoyable Morning People practice.

The whole week's been hectic. I finally won a game of squash on Monday - I think I came back from America leaner and fitter than I've been for a while - dunno how that happened. I did one of the more depressing gigs of recent times on Tuesday supporting Jeff Klein who plays keyboards for The Gutter Twins. It'd taken him 2 days to get here from Texas and BA had misplaced his expensive guitar and all his clothes (according to his twitter he's got them back now, which is good) so he borrowed mine (guitar, not clothes - I warned him it was hard to play, but he had a  quick go and reckoned he wouldn't get tetanus from it - his words, not mine). We had a pretty decent chat before the show - he's a nice guy and I felt bad for him. Advanced ticket sales weren't amazing and for some weird reason 3/4 of the people who had bought them didn't even turn up so it was pretty sparse in the room. I always feel awkward for the audience in that situation - like they're trapped - and it makes me not play so well. I also didn't have much to say for myself in between tunes. I played: A Folly or a Fortress, Watertight, 60 Miles with a Slow Puncture, The Ghost of Paddy's Night Past, Muscle Memory, Ball and Chain, Edinburgh. Someone told me afterwards that the highlight was the moment in between the first two songs when I tried to pull up my trousers and accidentally pulled my pants up instead. Then felt the need to announce it, just in case there was anyone who hadn't noticed.

Jeff was great, despite having to put up with my guitar and the weird pops it makes when anyone but me plays it. He did take the piss out of my storytelling ability in lieu of thinking of anything to say himself, but I didn't mind.

Him: "I'm busy tuning here - Paul, tell a story"
Me: "I used up all my stories earlier"
Him: "Wow that was all your stories? I know how that feels"
Me: "Clearly..."

So, that thing from last time that will haunt me forever. I'm almost certain I sat next to the guitar player from Bon Iver on the plane from Chicago to New York. I wasn't totally sure at the time, but having checked out some photos I'm sure it was him now. I spent the whole flight trying to make myself say something and never did. It's a recurring theme of mine. What are the odds of sitting next to a member of one of my favourite bands on a plane? It's not going to happen again is it. What is wrong with me? I could've found out why they stopped playing Blindsided. On the other hand I was a bit confused about his name at the time so I guess it could've been awkward. We did have a bit of a chat and he seemed cool, if unsure about the number of players on a "soccer" team.

The taxi ride from the airport to Manhattan was surprising - I saw a cricket match going on. Probably the only cricket match in all of America at that point. Mary showed me lots of pretty pictures of Florida's flora and fauna on the way and decided not to hold me personally responsible for the oil they have going on down there, despite me being British. When we got dropped off I walked the 10 blocks from outside her fancy hotel and checked into mine. It had got a load of rather mixed reviews in between me booking it and me getting there, but was absolutely fine and literally a stone's throw from Times Square (though maybe by someone with a slightly better arm than me). I settled in a bit then went for a bit of a wander and the day's second McDonald's (it seemed to be doing a brisker trade in people using the loo than people buying food), being annoyed at myself the whole time and vowing to that this would mark a turning point in my life and I will say things that I have to say from now on. A hip-hop guy in the street somehow managed to coerce me into buy a CD off him. I should listen to it. Maybe. Apparently track 11 is good "fow da lovin". I went for a quick drink in an Irish bar by my hotel and got talking to an Irish guy who was moving to Kentucky the next day to go and work in an Irish bar. I think there's a statute that says each Irish bar must have a certain quotient of Irish bar staff.


I must have walked about 20 miles the next day (Monday). I'm not sure there's any way of doing justice to the amount of stuff I saw. I still find it ridiculous it all fitted into a single day. I started off heading east from my hotel and had a look around Grand Central Station - the first of many, many places from films that I would see. It's pretty impressive. I don't remember ever noticing the blue ceiling in the films.


I walked past the Chrysler Building


then across to the East River, humming that brilliant Jeffrey Lewis song ("9 8 7th Avenue, now I'm crossing Madison, sobbing on Park Avenue etc. etc.") the whole way and ended up at the UN headquarters.


I thought about going in, but had had enough of going through metal detectors for the time being, so admired all the flags for a bit then wandered back to 5th Avenue to visit St Patrick's Cathedral on the advice of my guide book. I'm normally quite sceptical when people talk about "soaking up the atmosphere" of places, but it suddenly made a lot of sense. You couldn't be anywhere else when you're in New York and there's always something to look at. It also feels strangely familiar because of all the films/TV shows. I banned myself from listening to music so that I had a better chance of taking it all in. I'm still not sure if I did.

I liked the cathedral, but it's weird to think of it not being nearly as old as it's been made to look. I suppose it's better that way than being built in a really quickly dating modern style.  



The only problem with building cities on the grid system (apart from spending your whole time waiting to cross streets) is that it's quite difficult to take pictures of big things from not very far away, and it's quite difficult to get far away without another big thing getting in the way.

I also had a quick scoot round this church down the road, which has an impressive reredos containing statues of a fairly high percentage of the saints...



St Patrick's Cathedral is directly over the road from The Rockefeller Centre, which I only really became aware of because of 30 Rock, but is really effing tall.


I'll be honest. I came pretty close to just hanging around there all day waiting for Liz Lemon to come out. I think maybe I'd already spent too much time on my own...


It occured to me that I'd not had anything to eat yet and it was nearly midday, so I took a chance on one of the many, many hot dog stands. Street meat someone in Chicago called it. It was great. Juicier and spicier than I expected.


Gah. I have to go to bed. The not particularly romantic not particularly comedy I shouldn't even have started watching has ended. I can't believe I'm only halfway through the first day. I've got another surprisingly busy week. This is going to get confusing...

Come on feel the Illinoise

14 Jun 2010

The next day was the day of the wedding. A few of us went for a spectacularly late breakfast at a restaurant called Yolk. What do you suppose they specialise in?

Also, anyone know what you're meant to do with the clotted cream?

The wedding itself was a beautiful thing. It was held in a warehouse that sells cool pieces of furniture and other bits and bobs that have been rescued from houses that are about to be demolished. For a lot of money.

Most importantly it had a table football table. And a huge fan. Have I mentioned yet how incredibly hot Chicago was? And some killer canapés. More people should treat rack of lamb as a canapé. The ceremony itself was really quite moving - Mat looked so happy that I was a bit worried he was about to explode. It is so nice to see your friends happy. Instead of cutting a wedding cake they cut a wedding roast beef, which is a genius idea. Ciaron did an excellent Best Man's speech: "I'll keep this simple because I know there are a lot of farmers here... and a lot of Americans". The chair dance afterwards was also a sight to behold. The free bar had taken a bit of a toll but when it was finished with the precious few who were there without their significant others and the even more precious few of us who haven't managed to find one (and is there anything that brings that more sharply into focus than a joyful wedding?) went to a series of drinking establishments and played some poor quality pool until nowhere else would have us before staggering home. Pretty great night. I got a splinter off one of the fancy antique chairs. It's still in my thumb.

I finally left the hotel at about 6pm the next day and met up with Fliss to do the two really essential Chicago things. The first was visiting "the bean" -  a big shiny sculpture that's really called Cloud Gate. I didn't expect much, but it's actually quite stunning - not least because the skyline is reflected in it while you can see the skyline behind it.


Also, it's quite weirdy when you get underneath it



There was some other odd art nearby.



These displays show an image for a while,



and then eventually, and at random, spew water out before moving along to the next image.

The other essential Chicago thing, apparently, is deep dish pizza. I did some internet research and a place called Giordano's was the most highly rated that wasn't effing ages away. We ordered a small one (1-2 people it said on the menu, seemed reasonable) and because it was going to be 45 minutes, got a calamari "appetiser".


It would have probably seemed nicer if there'd been some garlic sauce and I'd not been in Barcelona a week earlier where the seafood is excellent, but at least there weren't any arguments about who wanted the last piece... The pizza turned out to be quite big, and each slice ludicrously filling. It tasted great, but I left the crust and Fliss didn't even attempt her last piece. God knows how the massive fat guy on the table nearby managed to finish his. Oh. 



I then went back to the hotel at about 9 because I thought I had to be up early for the flight to New York the next morning. Not the longest day of my being awake career.

In the event (as I believe I wrote at the time) I was at the airport much earlier than I'd have needed to be, even without the 2 hour delay. Shortly after writing that I got talking to a nice woman from Florida called Mary who was going to a conference in a hotel not too far from mine so offered me a ride in the taxi she was getting on expenses. Little did I know that before I got that taxi something would happen that I think is going to haunt me forever...

Can you tell I've been reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo? I thought it was going to be great, but it all went a bit Dan Brown about halfway through.

Via Chicago

10 Jun 2010

I'm sat at JFK airport glumly contemplating the fact that I have to go home, and worriedly contemplating the fact that I have half an expensive but enormous pastrami sandwich that I couldn't finish at lunchtime to eat before I go through security. New York has been properly brilliant - I feel like a real person again. Wonder how long that will last. 9.30 on Monday at best I'd have thought.

The morning after I got back from Barcelona, having had about half a night's sleep and having had the taxi turn up 15 minutes early (not helpful!) I met up with Fliss, (an old workmate of my old housemate Mat) at the station ready to go to Chicago for Mat's wedding. The train journey went nice and smoothly and checking baggage in is a joy compared to having to unpack a bulging rucksack to put your toothpaste in a small plastic bag. Once all that was dealt with I had a "breakfast" from the bar place the other side of security (nice enough, but not enough - come on people there should be a two sausage minimum on a breakfast. When I am king etc. etc.) and bought "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" on a whim, because for some reason I wasn't up for reading the books that I'd brought. Not that there was time to read really and the plane had a better movie set up than the one to Vegas - 65 films that you could start whenever you wanted. I think I said what I watched at the time. This thing being 10 days behind is making for a hard to follow story. We got a bit confused on the subway system on the way to our respective hotels, despite it being really obvious, but a nice man couldn't do enough to help us out. In exchange for a tip. I think 10 days in I might have finally got the hang of tipping every time anyone does what they're paid for already, but it's still annoying. Sales tax is stupid too - I'd have ended up with a lot less change if people would just tell you what you're going to have to pay in advance. I'm coming round to the grid system at least - it makes navigation really easy, even if it does mean you spend as much time standing at junctions as walking.

Anyway. That evening a fairly big group of us went to watch The White Sox play The Texas Rangers. It wasn't quite the spectacle that it was in Japan (despite there being big fireworks for the home home runs) and the stadium wasn't overly busy, and the White Sox lost despite taking a hefty lead, but I do really like watching baseball it turns out. They pretty much never fail to take catches though - if it was football they'd be forever proposing making those mitts smaller to make it more exciting. I guess that would just make it last longer. A few Goose Islands and God knows how many hours awake meant that I was very much ready to go to bed when it was over.



Next morning, even though my body clock must have been a right state, I woke up early enough to make the effort to get the complimentary "continental breakfast" (i.e. overripe banana and dry croissant) from downstairs (I did not make that mistake again) and headed off on a walk. Chicago is a very handsome place and I wasn't really prepared for how BIG everything is. Even the smaller buildings in the city centre are about 10 storeys high. I really like the 'L' train (so called because it's largely elevated above the street) - it reminds me of Due South. I have a thing for rickety mass transit systems - they make places seem more romantic for some reason.




I indulged in a Baconator at lunchtime, just because I could, and it was as good as I remembered. Oh Wendy when will you bring your impractically square pattied goodness back to our shores? It also marked the first in a long run of people getting my orders wrong (Sprite instead of Coke in this case). I then continued the walk for another 3 hours taking in such sights as the water tower (one of very few buildings to survive the huge fire of 1871 that while being a bit of a problem at the time meant that they could essentially start Chicago again),


the river and, most importantly, Rush Street (which of course the 1991 Richard Marx album, the first CD I ever got, is named after)


before heading up the John Hancock Center (sic).


There David Schwimmer told me many interesting facts about Chicago, most notably that he went to University there and his theater (sic) company is based at the bottom of the tower and information about what's going on there at the moment is available at reception. And that there are actually 32 windier cities in America than Chicago and it is only known as The Windy City because its politicians kept waffling on in order to win the World's Fair of 1893. For which a Mr Ferris made a big wheel. Interesting stuff David. The views from the tower are pretty special.




That evening, after I had a substandard KFC in which they somehow heard "mashed potato" when I said "corn on the cob", Fliss and I went to watch some local bands at a really cool venue called The Empty Bottle. It's a shame the whole thing wasn't a week or two later because Eli 'Paperboy' Reed and Margot and the Nuclear So and So's were both playing in the near future. It was quite a trek from the nearest station and it decided to rain for the exact duration of my walk. The rain in Chicago doesn't seem to have any settings in between "Not Raining" and "Really Bloody Raining". The bands were, as American bands always seem to be, very good at playing their various instruments. The first two were fun but a bit classic rock for me, but the last guys Green Grocer were really likeable - three guys stood in a row one on keys and tasteful weird noises, one on guitar and one playing drums (probably the only person I've ever seen really get away with playing drums standing up - even the woman in Low looks a bit uncomfortable to me). I liked it so much that I bought a CD (not that I've listened to it yet). Clearly a band after my own heart, they'd only brought 5 with them, and seemed genuinely surprised anyone wanted one. I dunno why though - anyone who does an electro version of "Sin City" is alright with me.

I had a bit of a lie in next day then went to the David Schwimmer Museum of Natural History


where I learned that David Schwimmer had been to university in Chicago and that his theater (sic) company is based at the bottom of the John Hancock Center (sic) and also that the book of dinosaurs I had as a child seemed to have been based on the David Schwimmer dinosaur room in the David Schwimmer wing. They had all the classics - Stegosaurus, a Tyrannosaurus Rex called Sue (that would be a nice variation on the Johnny Cash song), Triceraptops (my favourite of the dinosaurs) and Protoceratops.



They also had mummies. Mummies and dinosaurs is pretty much the perfect museum experience for me. I was also impressed that they had thought to put a McDonald's in the basement.


When it shut I went to the beach for some pre-wedding games and drinks aboard what was either a beached ship turned into a bar or a bar built in the shape of a ship - I couldn't decide.


It got too cold eventually so I went with some of Mat's old uni mates to see some jazz (though thankfully it was more like blues) and then to a sports bar, though thankfully I managed to leave before the end.



I have to finish this sandwich. If I die of beef poisoning on the way home it was probably the aeroplane food.

Barcelona, come on, protect the motherland

7 Jun 2010

I'm well early for my plane to New York, due to my general paranoia about missing planes and my inability to sleep in this morning. I'm sitting at the gate, 90 minutes before I need to be here eating my first McDonald's of not only this trip but the whole week in Barcelona, even though they (brilliantly) have one in the natural history museum I was at the other day. Pretty good achievement. The chips taste a bit weird though - I wonder if they still use animal fat here or something. And they've just announced that my flight has just been delayed by 90 minutes. Marvellous.

Everyone was feeling pretty ropey on the second day of Primavera and we didn't manage to leave the apartment until about 4pm. We went for a nice meal at a restaurant in the square round the corner, the highlight of which was a delicious gazpacho soup that I failed to convince anyone to send back for being cold. They also gave us the smallest glasses of beer I've ever seen (bear in mind that Mike has unnaturally small hands...)


Another odd thing about Primavera is that some of the shows are in a spectacular auditorium which you have to queue up or buy priority tickets for. Low were playing their entire "The Great Destroyer" album in there, which would've been well worth seeing but the queue was already miles long by the time we got there and tickets had long since sold out. I should've shown more commitment. Instead we watched The New Pornographers on the main stage, who were punchy and upbeat and sounded great...



...but, as bands often do when you don't know any of the songs, eventually got a bit samey and we went off to watch Scout Niblett. I saw her once before, supporting Will Oldham, and wasn't convinced, but this time I was, despite it being a teensy bit creepy. I'm not sure if all her songs are about death/murder but it felt like that and she has a tendency to start screaming with no warning.


Her drummer is great too - following what she does rather than the other way around and adding even more drama. He also helped my moustache count.


I'd heard good things about Ganglians so was all prepared to be impressed but they were so bad that I didn't even take a picture. Comfortably the worst "professional" drummer I've seen in a long time. For shame.

We watched a bit of Spoon on the main stage who seemed ok but I don't remember a lot about them, then a bit of Here We Go Magic who sounded promising, but that's when news of Gary Coleman's death came through so there was a bit of Diff'rent Strokes reminiscing. Did I ever tell the story about finding out Richard Whiteley had died while I was watching Conor Oberst call John Peel a "supercilious cokehead" while headlining the John Peel stage at Glastonbury? Anyway they're playing in New York while I'm there - might check them out again.


Wilco were next up on the main stage. I'd been debating whether to go to End of the Road this year because the line up looks a bit weak compared to last time and I'd have already seen Wilco twice in the last year, but they were so great (despite the amps all turning on and off at random for the first couple of songs) that they've convinced me that missing them would be stupid. We got a couple of songs from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (I forget which), and "Misunderstood" from Being There which are the only two albums I really know, but I'm going to have to get whichever has "Via Chicago" on it - it's been in my head all week for some reason. Their showy lead guitar player managed to keep the noodling down to a minimum as well this time - the other guy they have has a much nicer sound than him anyway, I don't really get it.



Marc Almond was, unintentionally, the most entertaining thing I saw. I'd been warned in advance that he isn't really capable of singing in tune but that didn't seem to be a problem. The problem, for him at least, was that he has made a new album which is (based on this showing) full of so-bad-they're-good songs that he seems to consider to be his finest work. We spent pretty much the whole set blinking at each other and going "did he really just say what I thought he said?". His flamboyant flouncing was in stark contrast with his band of ageing Teddy Boys' air of boredom and knowing looks. You could almost hear them tutting. It was a little bit sad, but quite compelling. I am seriously considering buying the album though - with lyrics such as "I am expanding like an excited flower" and "I'm an erotic neurotic, I need antibiotics" I don't see how it can fail. To be fair it was good to see "Tainted Love" and his closing song "Say Hello Wave Goodbye" was genuinely brilliant.




I'm glad that I stayed with him rather than leaving to jostle for position for The Pixies who were headlining the impractically busy main stage. They were, whisper it, a bit boring. Once they'd done "This Monkey's Gone to Heaven" and "Debaser", which were pretty early on, I lost interest.


We stuck it out to the end, apart from anything else because we couldn't get out, but it did mean we couldn't get anywhere near Yeasayer who were playing on the other side of the site. That too was probably a blessing in disguise, as Chris fell violently asleep the second we sat down to decide what to do.


He'd fallen violently asleep on the toilet a couple of days earlier. It's a good thing I could hear him snoring as there was no lock on the bathroom door and it could've been a disaster.

I was on a bit of a mission on the last day, starting off with a Jaegermeister and then having 1.4 litres of beer before the first band had even finished. The first band in question were Dr Dog, who Chris and Dave have been obsessed with for the last year or so. They were really good to watch in the sun - nice harmonies, lots of energy, though I think their sweaty, sweaty bass player might have preferred slightly less sun. They didn't really look like a band, which is quite endearing. They keyboard guy in particular looked as if he didn't belong. I wonder if they hired him because he has a Nord. I suspect that's the only reason The Travis Waltons are putting up with me. They'd also put glow in the dark orange tape around their guitars - presumably they got drunk the night before and thought it'd be funny.


Actually, we heard a bit of Real Estate before Dr Dog - they sounded really quite good and are apparently playing at Way Out West, so I'll see them properly then.

There was a 4 way clash at 8.30 - The Bundles, Sian Alice Group (I know nothing about them, but their drummer is the brother of one of our clients so I thought I might show willing), Roddy Flame and The Slits. I plumped for The Bundles because I'm a little bit in love with Jeffrey Lewis and it turned out that Kimya Dawson couldn't make it. It was probably a mistake - they were taking the loveable ropeyness just a little bit too far and the sound wasn't that great, which was unusual as it was pretty exemplary for the festival as a whole. On the other hand, Jack Lewis was wearing an anorak, and Jeff was wearing arctic gear, and all of them had eyepatches on for the first song - presumably they got drunk the night before and thought it'd be funny.





Things start to get a little hazy now, but we moved on to Built to Spill who I'd not heard of but Chris is really into and I enjoyed a lot, as I did Sunny Day Real Estate, who apparently have a guy from The Foo Fighters on bass. The Pet Shop Boys were headlining and I'd been a bit dubious about watching them, but with a band like that you pretty much know all the songs, and if you're in a good mood you can't fail to like it. The show was fun too - at one point all the dancers were dressed as skyscrapers. We somehow met up with everyone we knew and there were about 20 of us all dancing like loons for the whole set. I'm pretty sure there was some inexpert doh-see-dohing. I have an interesting video of Mike demonstrating some of his "moves" which I may put up here if I figure out how to get it off my camera, and Mike doesn't pay me not to.

He and Chris decided to go home after that, but the rest of us gamely carried on. I vaguely remember taking this picture of Dave (I still can't tell if the guy drinking knows what's going on), but I think we gave up a bit easily on a rich vein of comedy gold (I could've put the flash on for a start),


before going to watch the end of Orbital, who text message records show had some choice words for Chris and Mike.


Nick and I then got to the front of a DJ set at one of the other stages and jumped around like idiots and played pat-a-cake with random women. Most unlike me all this dancing. At one point a load of sombreros appeared and we managed to nab one and annoy other revellers by taking up loads of room with it until about 7am




when it all finally finished and we got The Metro back.


I arrived at the apartment to find that Chris had violently fallen asleep halfway through taking his trousers off. That's a pretty small window of opportunity.

We managed to get out of the apartments in time to say goodbye to Hannah and Mariam in the Placa Reial the next day then had some Spanish Indian food (not bad! Gorgeous chickken tikka, and a bit less greasy than in England, but I'm not convinced about the conical poppadums) before going to the club that we failed to get into on the Wednesday to see Jeffrey Lewis and The Junkyard. First on was some Catalan band that according to Nick were the best Catalan band he'd ever seen, but I thought were pretty crap - the drummer second only to the guy from Ganglians and the "funny noises" guy overly keen on using his theremin. Once per set is about right for a theremin. If that.

Jeffrey Lewis and The Junkyard were really good, doing a fantastic version of "Roll Bus Roll" which got to me, a few "movies" (slide shows with commentaries) - I don't think I'd seen "The Story of The Fall" before, and some of the other more upbeat ones from 'Em Are I. As usual with him, despite it being lovely, there were lots of songs I'd have liked to have heard that didn't get played. That's got to be a positive sign for a band I suppose.

I left bright and early the next day to go back home for one night, and started reading "The Angel's Game" by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, which is noticeably better written than the trash I've been starting and having no desire to finish lately. I suppose that if a book is good enough to get translated it's bound to be high quality. It was made even more enjoyable by being set in Barcelona and referring to lots of places that I'd seen in the preceding few days. It felt like the most fun nearly a week that I've had in as long as I can remember.


Barcelona, come on now, people, make a stand

6 Jun 2010

I just had a few slices of a Chicago deep pan pizza and now I can barely move. I was meant to be doing some laundry but the hotel reception doesn't have change so I'm going to leave it until I get to New York tomorrow. Chicago is a great, great city - I didn't really have any expectations, but if I had have they'd have been exceeded. I'll be sorry to go. That said, the bars don't close until 4am - I don't think I could live here...

Anyway, more of that another time. Primavera started on the Thursday and we used the second day of our open top bus tour passes to get to the site, getting exciting facts along the way. We picked up our wristbands and went for some tapas and beer at a cafe just outside the front gate, and just as the beers arrived I got a tap on my shoulder and turned round to see Nick, who you may remember from the Way Out West before last. In case you don't, here's a video of him playing minigolf in a very wet Gothenburg.

Turns out he's living near Barcelona now, having moved to Bogata and back, as you do, and had decided to go to the festival at the last minute. I'm really starting to believe in my theory that life is a soap opera and there are only a few hundred people in the world that aren't just extras. I wish they'd give me some better storylines.

They have an unusual beer system where you have to buy tokens in advance which you then exchange at the bar - it does speed things up at the bars slightly I guess, but the queue when you first get into the site is pretty annoying. It also makes it far too easy to keep track of how many drinks you've had. We got there eventually though, and a big wave of excitement hit me as we went down to what was called the Rayban stage this time, the likes of which I've not felt since Buffalo Tom played "Tangerine" on that very stage two years ago.


The first band up were The Wave Pictures, who I've been a bit disappointed with the last few times I've seen them, but they supplied the most moving moment of the whole thing. Their drummer seemed a little bit drunk (I think it was a big gig for them) and they were struggling to hear themselves over the sound from one of the other stages (though it was fine for us) so when it came to "Now You Are Pregnant" which he sings and is my favourite of theirs he was fairly obviously a bit worried. Which meant he really, really went for it and it very nearly had me in tears.

"But I love the back garden at my parents' place,
And I love the view out of my Glasgow window,
And I love waking up on the floor of a flat in New York,
And you don't know any of these things."



After watching a moderately forgettable set by The Fall on the main stage we went back to watch The XX, who I'd heard of but not heard any of. It's pretty atmospheric stuff and they grew on me as they went along. The drummer/keyboard player was good to watch as he did some impressive multi-tasking. They also managed to shoehorn a surprising number of 'X's on the stage. I'd see them again if it was free...


Mike and I went off to see a bit of Wild Beasts, who I'd heard good things about and were alright, but not as exciting as the revelation that you could buy beer in litre glasses, without tokens.


We caught a bit of Broken Social Scene on the way to see Pavement, but I didn't get into them at all. Pavement on the other hand were great, I've somehow managed to not hear a great deal of them, but I'll try and sort that out when I get home. I did think they sounded a bit like Wilco, so I don't really get why they're 'indie' and Wilco are 'country'. Both are 'really good' either way.


Nick and I then went to watch Fuck Buttons, which was awesome, but my hearing still hasn't quite recovered. Half of Cambridge ended up standing directly behind us in the crowd. I wasn't as surprised as I might have been. It could've all carried on for a while but thankfully I got a phonecall from Dave saying that the bus queue was really long and did I want to get a taxi, so I went outside, where I got a phonecall from Emily saying that her and Dave were getting the bus after all. I got a taxi anyway and beat them back so ner.


Best stop there - got to be up comparatively early in the morning... New York New York!

Barcelona, yes you can put your mind at ease

3 Jun 2010

Next day, after a lie in and some games of chess on the roof terrace, Mike, Chris and I decided to go on a hop on-hop off open top bus tour of the city. Emily had hurt her foot while kicking a bollard the previous night, so her and Dave stayed behind and did a bit of more localised exploring. I've not really done many of those tours before, but this one was great - not least because it was really hot and a bit of a breeze was very welcome. We didn't do a huge amount of sight-seeing last time, limiting ourselves to stuff that was walkable from our hostel (and La Sagrada Familia) so it was nice to see some of the other things - I hadn't realised how many ridiculous modernist buildings that look like they're melting there are dotted about.



They're pretty incredible. I wonder what people thought when they first started springing up. Watching the world go by from your balcony seems to be a national pastime in Spain. Which is probably a good way to be.


We didn't get off at La Sagrada Familia, having seen it last time, and went straight to Parc Güell which was apparently a failed attempt to make a modernist garden city. It doesn't look much like Welwyn, though actually they are both a bit creepy. Parc Güell looks a lot more like Disneyland than Welwyn's post apocalyptic wasteland. Here's the gatehouse - it reminds me of a snail.


We stopped for a very satisfying ice cream (why don't we get such good ice cream in England?) which I managed to mostly order in Spanish with the serving lady only resorting to English to say "thank you" at the end (and there was me thinking I'd convinced her I was a native) and then walked through the park, via Gaudí's house


and this viewing point, whose steps are slightly more terrifying than the edge of the Grand Canyon.


Worth it though.



We left through a different gate and followed our noses to the next bus stop, which turned out to involve an awful lot of hills. Unfortunately we didn't find the one that they've installed an escalator on in time for it to be useful.


We thought we had time for a look around this monastery, went up to the door, saw the price, I turned round to see what the others thought and when I turned back around they'd shut the door. Next time...


The bus took us back via the front of a big palace and the Nou Camp, but we were stuck downstairs for those. Slightly odd having a tourist bus with tiny tinted windows if you ask me. The Nou Camp didn't look as big as I expected from the outside - certainly seemed less imposing than Wembley or The Emirates. I bet it's very impressive inside. On the way back Chris noticed this shop, which can go in the same folder as the "waxing" sign from before the Daniel Johnston gig the other month.


That evening there was a pre-festival gig featuring First Aid Kit and Los Campesinos! at a club not far from our apartments, but the queue was already most of the way round the block and stationary by the time we got there, so we had a couple of drinks at a bar across the street, where it became clear that the festival goers this year seemed to have a very high moustache quotient. We decided to have a competition to see who could take photos of the most. I'll show you the results at a later date... We eventually gave up on the show and went to a bar in what seemed like a fairly trendy area behind the apartment which promised (and delivered) cheap cocktails. It was going along in a fairly standard fashion (except for the mojitos) until someone noticed that the guy who plays Ted from How I Met Your Mother was sitting at the table next to us. We spent the next hour trying to be sure that it was him, and, despite the beard he'd grown, I'm absolutely positive. Nobody was brave enough to go and say hello, but I'm not sure we were especially subtle. He looked quite "tired" so maybe he didn't notice. I wonder if famous people like to be recognised.

After a while we went in search of the place we found last time which plays loud rock music and then has headphones hanging from the bar that play the same song but 3 or 4 times louder, which is still an incredible, if slightly pointless, concept. It was exactly where we thought, and half of Cambridge was in there. I wasn't as surprised as I might have been.

It was a good day.

Barcelona, yes you can sail the seven seas

1 Jun 2010

I'm sat in a hot hotel room in Chicago having recently endured 8 hours of the dickhead in front of me on the plane having his seat fully back and the woman next to me being under the impression that the armrest, rather than being the border between the two seats, is a rest for your wrist while you stick your elbows out chicken style. The films were good this time though - The Damned United which I've been meaning to see for ages, Youth in Revolt which was a little weirder than I expected, but good, a weak romantic comedy called Leap Year which is exactly the kind of thing I like (though I always feel a bit bad for the existing boyfriend that gets left for the new exciting man) and Informant which was enjoyable enough apart from the 20 minutes in the middle that I slept through (which may have also been fine). Not sure how much of this I'll get done because I'm off to watch a baseball game in a bit, but until then I've got to keep myself awake.

Before I came here 5 of us (me, Chris, Mike, Dave and Emily) spent the week in Barcelona and I had the nicest time I can remember having for ages. We were there for Primavera, a music festival that you may or may not remember Chris and I going to 2 years ago. It's a shame myspace doesn't let you link to blog posts any more or I'd do just that and all you newcomers could read about Chris falling violently asleep in front of Dinosaur Jr (though there is a fair amount of falling violently asleep action to come, never fear). We stayed in a hostel then but managed to end up with 2 apartments this time. The journey was fairly uneventful, other than me being laughed at for managing to get 6 days of stuff into my hand luggage (what?) and Chris and I failing to complete a lot of unsatisfactory crosswords from a puzzle book he bought at Stansted. We did finish a wordsearch at least.

The apartments were really quite nice,



and we also had use of the building's roof terrace which had picturesque views of the city's forest of TV aerials.


Once we'd settled in a bit, connected our iPhones to the wifi and got to grips with the fact that we could watch British TV, we went off to a bar just off La Rambla for some beers and (excellent) tapas. I discovered I quite like marinated anchovies - I may start stealing the rollmops off my brother when we go home for family meals - and I think I ate close to my bodyweight in squid over the course of the holiday. That said my bodyweight is probably significantly more than it was beforehand due to the amount of beer that was drunk. I digress. After an exploratory trip to the supermarket we went off for some paella and sangria in a quiet square that I didn't find out the name of. We also had toasted bread which we rubbed raw garlic and tomato into then poured olive oil on. I'd not seen that done before  but it was very nice indeed, though we must have absolutely reeked. Then we went to the Irish bar near the town hall in a pilgrimage to the spot where Chris almost knocked himself out last time by standing up hard into a huge low oak beam, but it was full of ghastly Americans on an organised pub crawl which I suspect consisted of the first 7 drinks of each of their lives so we met up with a couple more people and moved on somewhere a bit trendier, but we were all flagging from the early morning (not as early as today though bloody hell! 5am for an 11am flight!) so went back and relaxed on the terrace for a bit then went to bed.

I have to go - The White Sox are calling. I don't think I'll care about them as much as I cared about the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, but we'll see. Actually, I don't even know who they're playing.

Blowing this candle out

24 May 2010

I'm sitting watching the football and writing this when I should really be preparing to go to Barcelona in the morning. Or painting my living room. Or watering the plants. Or at least getting an early night ready for an early train. Logically I know that planes must leave Britain after 10am, but I can't remember when I was last on one of them. I suspect there's a deal between National Express and the budget airlines where they subsidise the cheap flights with some of the extra profit they get from nobody being able to use off peak trains to Stansted. It seems like everyone from work is either actually at this game or watching it with a big pile of complimentary food and booze at the O2 arena, and the Mexican national anthem reminded me of Police Academy, so I've been sucked in. ITV really shouldn't be allowed to do sport though - what a bellend Peter Drury is. God, the England kit is ghastly isn't it - they look like Asda 3 for £5 polo shirts.

Not that I have a great deal to report anyway - I've mostly been either having normal pub nights or enjoying having my TV back working. Or both. Played a fair bit of squash too, but now my knees hurt when I walk. Oh and a spot of golf. All good fun, but nothing constructive.

On Saturday night I played over the road at The Cornerhouse supporting Jane Taylor, who I've played with a couple of times before. The last one was much better than I'd dared hope, so, as is the way of these things, this one wasn't as good. Not that it was bad - I thought I played pretty well once I got going and I feel like I'm singing better than I ever have. Jane is a bit more, er, refined than me, and the people that go to see her (particularly this time) mostly seem like people who find aspects of music important that I don't really care about (and vice versa), so I tried to keep things that might make you feel something to a minimum, and in return they were at least polite. Setlist: The Ghost of Paddy's Night Past, This Place is Dead Anyway, Watertight, Muscle Memory (I'm really starting to like this one now), Edinburgh, You Won't Break My Heart.

I enjoyed Jane's set a lot - she has a very impressive voice and some nice songs. I remember seeing her at one of the acoustic nights I used to play at at the Boat Race in about 2001 when she was just starting out (well, I guess she'd made it all the way over here from Bristol). I get the impression she's doing pretty well now (there's quite a list of people who used to play at them who've done quite well). As good as the set was, my favourite moment of the night was afterwards when she asked Bryan from behind the bar to help her carry her piano out and he went over and dutifully took one end of the heavy looking flight case sat on the stage in front of her piano, and out they walked with it. When they came back in and I pointed out what had happened they both just said they thought the other was unusually strong. Jane's story was more convincing.

That's 3 gigs in 3 weeks that have looked promising, but I still have exactly the same number of CDs as I had before. Bit disappointing. At least I've felt like I played well at all of them. Maybe I've saturated Cambridge. Shame I still haven't managed to convince anyone to let me play anywhere else for ages.

The next few installments of this should be a bit more interesting than the last few. I've got 2 1/2 weeks of gallavanting now. If anyone has any non-obvious recommendations of how to entertain myself alone in New York for 4 days, let me know. I have a short list already, but it is 100% food based.

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