Paul Goodwin

Travellers tales

10 Feb 2011

I encountered a 9 man strong dance troupe on the Airtrain on Monday. I know they were a dance troupe because they kept on dancing (how little self awareness/what amount of drugs must it take to show off your routines on a train?). And by the level of conversation they were having. Is there any lower branch of human artistic endeavour than dance? Apart from musical theatre obviously. One of my favourite bits of Stewart Lee's excellent book is the appendix which is a 4 page anti-musicals diatribe.

I've been doing quite a lot of flying lately. It's got to the point where I have a favourite cubicle (is it just me that finds the word stall that they use over there a bit horrible?) in the JFK Terminal 4 toilets. I've also noticed that more suitcases now have red ribbons on them to aid identification than don't. It's like that bit of The Sneetches where they've all got stars on their bellies. My case has a piece of yellow and black warning tape on it because, it turns out, suitcases with wheels aren't really designed to be wheeled around. Nobody else has thouught of that yet.

I've also come up with an idea to improve online airline check-ins. You get to choose your seat, and this time I changed mine from a window seat at the back to an aisle seat near the front. Which would've been fine, had there not been a child sat 2 seats away screaming the entire time, and had his mother not tried to comfort him by bouncing him around and kicking me in the arm with his foot. Anyway, my idea is, the little map of the plane should show you where children are sitting so that you can avoid them. It would've improved my journey no end. You could extend it so that public school meathead accountants who are going to put their seats all the way back and then be incapable of sitting still are clearly marked too. And maybe dancers.

I saw Daniel Kitson (I have real trouble not calling him Dave Kitson) at The Junction last night, and he is a genius. He told a 90 minute shaggy dog story, of which (he said) only the start was true, but who knows where truth finished and story began. The writing was brilliant, the delivery enthusiastic and charming, and I was engrossed and smiling for the entire time. I should go and see more comedy - I've not gone out of my way since I saw Eddie Izzard in 1997 at the Corn Exchange and I didn't feel like I got an amount of laughter out of it equivalent to the ticket price. I seem to be a lot more aware of comedy suddenly, I think because I've started listening to a lot of podcasts.

It occurred to me recently that someone should do a mash up of James Taylor's easy-listening-for-the-hard-of-thinking classic "Fire and Rain" with "When I See an Elephant Fly" from the Disney motion picture Dumbo. I think it could work.

Up in the air

25 Jan 2011


I'm sat in my favourite (i.e. the only) bar in JFK Terminal 4, being subjected to a US comedy that is so weak that I don't think it's made it to UK TV at all (I wonder how many of those there are, bearing in mind I even watched the execrable Linc's), drinking what passes for "ale" over here (it doesn't seem to serve lager - maybe using the same thinking that resulted in the KFC's decision to not sell pieces of chicken). It's been a really good week.

Last Saturday we went to see Joseph Arthur and David Bazan at a nice venue called City Winery, which is, as you might have guessed, a wine shop/restaurant by day. They bring you wine in conical flasks, which is both quite cool and a bit worrying at the same time. They have a quite ridiculous amount of good acts coming up.

Bazan was great, though was obviously an unknown support act to a lot of the crowd (the people on the table next to us were quite loudly not enjoying it) and these things are always a bit better if everyone's into it. We got a few of the best Pedro the Lion songs, a few from Curse Your Branches and a few from the album which is due to come out in about May, and I've forgotten the name of. All were great, though you can imagine that Priests and Paramedics and Transcontinental might have seemed a bit strange to people who didn't know anything about him.


Joseph Arthur was the first "real" act I ever saw in Cambridge, when he was young and nervous and brilliant supporting Ron Sexsmith at the Boat Race. I've seen him 3 or 4 times since and he's never quite lived up to that first time (with the possible exception of a Portland Arms show that was pretty great). I don't think I'll see him again. In retrospect it was largely the use he put loop pedals to (I never saw anyone that came close, though he was also the first that I saw) that set him apart and the shows since he stopped doing that (I wonder if he got bored of the restrictions they put on you, or if their prevalence for a little while made him feel they were passé) were markedly less fun. This time the addition of a drummer and rubbish sounding guitar player made every song, bar a couple of solo ones, pretty much indistinguishable. He did play "Mercedes" from his first (great) album, and "Honey and the Moon" and "In The Sun", though all were right at the end and my patience (as well as most of the audience) had been lost by then. Also the tune to "In The Sun" seems to have changed over the years to something that's much less good than the original was. I never really understand when people do that (Counting Crows and Bob Dylan being the main culprits I've seen) - I wonder if it's to try and bring songs that people like more than they feel they merit down a peg.


We saw a few smaller bands too, mostly somewhere on the mediocre to rubbish scale, but Boy Without God at Pete's Candy Store in Brooklyn were (they'd say was over here) a notable exception. Charismatic frontman, pretty, playful songs, unusual lineup (not that having an unusual lineup makes you good, but 2 guitars, viola and, that rarest of beasts - tasteful saxophone), just pretentious enough to make you think they're cleverer than you but not so pretentious as to make you think they're just trying to be. If that makes sense. I think the set might have been slightly front loaded because I went to the loo with about 10 minutes left and when I came back the spell was broken, but for a little while there I was blown away... I've not had time to investigate further, but I will.

This Saturday we went to the newly refurbished Museum of the Moving Image. I went to the one in London as a child, and remember it fairly clearly - they had a green screen that allowed you to fly over The Thames and some skeletons from the original Jason and the Argonauts. This one has been open for a week and is entirely white inside, including the floor and while it's striking, they've had to employ a small army of moppers to keep it that way. I bet they're regretting getting rid of the tartan carpet. I got most excited about going through the display of Star Wars action figures pointing out the ones I had, and that they had Chewbacca's actual head from The Empire Strikes Back, and a working Defender arcade machine, but there were some interesting exhibits about how films are made, and some insteresting installations on the top floor, including a white plastic/ceramic cityscape with a projector above it that made it look like the sun was rising over it and occasionally like it was in Tron.

I'd been told that New York gets really cold in winter, but, to be honest, while the temperatures are really low (it was -8 at 1pm this afternoon for example) I felt much much colder in Cambridge a few weeks ago when it was only about -2. I dunno if it's because it's drier here, or just because the sun is out a lot. I've been impressed by how quickly they get rid of the snow - I'm pretty sure there were more guys with spades on the platform of one subway stop the other night than there were in the whole of Heathrow during the unpleasantness the week before Christmas. Based on the piles of the stuff along the edges of all the (clear) pavements there has been quite a lot.


Down to earth

14 Jan 2011

I'm sat in my favourite (i.e. the only) bar in Heathrow Terminal 3, being subjected to Keane, drinking a fairly nice glass of wine and waiting for the gate to open to my flight. It's been a frustrating couple of weeks since Christmas - I think having some time off has reminded me that life is a lot more fun when I don't use up most of my energy thinking about work, and returning to that situation has been a bit depressing. I know I shouldn't complain - life is good and I have a fairly varied and challenging job that essentially allows me to do whatever I like. It just wasn't what I thought I'd end up doing. We live in strange times for art I think. I wonder if historically people made art/wrote music mainly for money, for recognition or for the love of it. Music's a funny one, because the recognition of a performance is so integral to the thing.

It's probably even more true of stand up comedy. I finally got around to starting Stewart Lee's book about (eventually) making a success of that, and it's just as good as everyone says it is. The journey here flew by. I was actually a little disappointed when I arrived and had to stop reading. He's a very clever man, and it's very interesting to see the amount of technique that goes into what he does, from how he's coralling the audience at any given moment to which words are just amusing. I also admire his attitude that you shouldn't worry too much about what other people think, because most people are idiots. Is it still arrogance if you are actually better than everyone else?

I've been thinking about music a lot more in the last month or so. Possibly because I've pretty much completed the 6 main songs for the little CD I've been procrastinating about for, Christ, about 18 months now. Just waiting for a David Greeves special and a load of editing on the silly secret track and then it'll be done. It's, as you'll know if you were reading a year ago when I first wrote about it, 3 (well, 4) new(er) songs and 3 songs that I thought about putting on Scars but didn't. The old ones were on EPs years ago, but I wanted them to be recorded to a better standard than that. I'm weirdly loyal to songs. I'm very much looking forward to starting on the next thing. I think I'm finally over how crazy making Scars drove me, and I've realised that nobody but me cares about whether everything is perfect. Or at all really.

I've finally managed to write something without complaining about customer service issues. Or have I? I got a letter from HMRC reminding me to pay my taxes but not saying how much I owe, what with what's been paid on account, and the (not insignificant) amount that's been overpaid in the past because they are incapable of telling you how much you owe at any given point. Surely someone must know? I can't be that hard to work out. I think maybe they are in league with Santander. Still no progress on that front by the way. There comes a point where the amount of time you've spent on something is no longer worth what you get out of it. A third revenue stream! Not only the helpline charges, and the interest they steal by not giving you your savings back, but the savings themselves when you realise that life is too short to spend this much time queueing in Santander. I wonder how the citizens of Santander feel about being associated with such an awful organisation? Maybe they should be told.

Below the fold

12 Jan 2011

Oh my God - I've written 3 times this year and 3 times I've started off by complaining about something. It's like the good old days. I got home from an unsatisfactory pub quiz yesterday (seriously, 17 points out of 100 or so for naming the 17 Pete Postlethwaite films that the quiz master judged to be "big budget". We got about 5, no thanks to me. We only managed to name one of Francis Drake's Seven Seas though. I will learn them) to find an envelope hanging from my front door, in full public view, that anybody could have just come and taken. It contained some really nice pictures from Dreamery Studio, printed on pages ripped out of a 19th Century German-English dictionary, and, despite "DO NOT BEND" being printed on the envelope in huge letters, it had been folded firmly in half, I can only assume in an obviously doomed attempt to fit it through the letterbox. I actually couldn't believe it. How clear do instructions have to be?

It had been lovingly packed, with a nice little thank you message, and I'm still really annoyed that the postman, out of sheer laziness (the sorting office is literally 30 seconds away) ruined my moment of unwrapping. And the prints to an extent. I was even more angry than the time they chucked a widescreen monitor over the back fence in the rain and didn't tell me so I didn't find it until I took some recycling out a few days later, and the time they left a bombarde on the doorstep all day for passers by to pinch (imagine everyone had been away for the week!) because this time some damage was done. You can't even complain to them though can you, because the postman will figure out who it was that got them in trouble, and all your mail will get even less care taken of it, or be delivered on fire or smeared in shit or something.

I managed to mostly smooth the creases out in the end, and they look nice in their frames. I'm still not happy about it all though.

I was wandering round the market the other day and, while browsing a book stall, I found a novel by someone I was at university with among a load of things that I'd read and really liked. It seemed too much like Fate to not buy it, so I did. I'll let you know how it goes.

I'm off to New York again on Friday for an ever so slightly too short trip: Rosanne Cash is playing there hours before I get in and the Decemberists are playing hours after I leave. I do get to see Joseph Arthur and David Bazan though so I shouldn't complain. Apparently I need warmer clothes and bigger shoes than I have.

Look at the game of chess I played with Chris the other day. The Empress set has the white king missing and replacing it with all of the draughts pieces makes an actual difference to the strategy you need to use. Castling becomes important just so you can see what's going on. I won, though as you can tell from the picture, Chris wasn't giving it 100% of his attention.

Back in the saddle

9 Jan 2011

I'm aware that I'm in danger of this turning into Watchdog or something, but bloody hell, Santander really are the worst company I've had the misfortune of dealing with, and I've had the misfortune of dealing with a lot of useless companies at work. I put some money in an Alliance & Leicester ISA a few years ago and when Santander took them over they promptly and predictably reduced the interest to virtually 0 so I thought I'd take it out. It would've been a pointlessly complicated process even before Santander came in and ruined everything. The first step was to move the money from the ISA into a second account that was linked to my current account at a different bank. So I tried to do that, but got an unhelpful error from their online banking saying to try again later, which I did. Then I rang up their expensive, shrill, Liverpool-based call centre, who told me that for security reasons my account had been made dormant due to inactivity (I can't see a good security reason for that by the way) and to go to a branch with some ID to get it reactivated. So I did and tried to move the money again, with the same result. So I called again, only to find out that the other account had also been made dormant (why not tell me that in the first place?) and to go to a branch with ID to get it reactivated. So I did, and finally moved the money from the ISA into the account that, in theory, allowed me to take the money out. But of course, they'd conveniently lost the details of the account it was linked to, and their online banking, despite what it says in the help section, doesn't have the facility to add another one (or make any payments at all it seems) for old A&L accounts. So I called up again, and again, and both times got told I needed to talk to the savings department and got put through to an automated line that had no way of getting to an operator without a card number that I don't have, because I only had online accounts. So I went to the branch (45 minute queues every time by the way), where they told me that they couldn't do it either, but re-set me up on internet banking so hopefully when the new details come to me, at some point in the next few months, assuming they remember to send them, I'll be able to make some more progress. Christ. I can't decide if their entire business model is based around not giving people their savings back and making a tidy profit on their phone line or if they're just completely hopeless. I pity the people who use Santander for everything. The teller the last time said "I notice you don't have any other accounts with us Mr Goodwin, would you like to speak to someone?". I suppose you have to admire that.  

I wonder if I keep complaining then eventually people will start to give me free things. To be honest, just my money back would do from Santander...

I did my first solo set of the year at the Folk Club on Friday, filling in for someone who had to pull out at the last minute. It was good luck really because I've been out of the country for a series of things they've offered me now. It was nice to play - it's been quite a long time, and I thought I was pretty good. The crowd were fairly enthusiastic, mostly, though not as many people went as would usually be there, I guess because it's so early in the year. It can't have been because of me because I was a last minute replacement. Setlist: The Ghost of Paddy's Night Past, Watertight, This Place is Dead Anyway, Muscle Memory, Magnetic or Rhetorical, Edinburgh, The Temptation of Adam (Josh Ritter cover). I love the Folk Club - the venues may change but it's essentially exactly the same as it was when I started playing. There was an amazing guitarist there this time (David Youngs I think his name is) - similar in style (and, to the untrained ear, not that far off in ability) to the late great Eric Roche, though he was doing it without the complex arrangement of pickups that Eric used. Or any pickups at all. He seems to have appeared fully formed out of nowhere - he said he'd not been playing in public long. Check him out if impressive guitar playing is your thing. Or even if it isn't - it isn't mine and I really enjoyed watching. 

My friend Chris suggested that instead of giving up drinking for January this year I should play 5 minutes of squash per pint as penance. I like playing squash, so it doesn't seem like a bad idea, and I'd be roughly up to date with it if I'd managed to play this morning like I wanted to. There was a tournament this morning, so only one court was free, which we had booked, but when we turned up there a guy told us we couldn't play because there was a great big hole in the floor. How does a squash court end up with a big hole in the floor? All I can think is that someone with very pointy elbows took a tumble. Or they have an infestation of those things from Tremors.


2 Jan 2011

The Christmas break has been lovely and extremely relaxing, with nothing too interesting happening. I did lose my locker key somewhere in the swimming pool at the Holborn Grange Hotel, and get extorted out of £15 by the receptionist, who couldn't really speak English, in order to get my clothes back. She pointed to the sign saying that there was a fine if you don't empty your locker by closing time and said "you must have seen it". I resisted pointing out that I hadn't deliberately made the key (which didn't have any kind of safety pin on it) fall out of my pocket, so while I was aware of the sign, it wasn't really a deterrent, and what's the point of the £1 locker deposit (that she tried to not give me back) if that isn't the deposit? But what can you do when you're standing dripping in your swimming trunks without your room key. The sushi in the restaurant on the ground floor is nice though (despite the difficulty in communicating with the non-English speaking staff), and we got upgraded to a king size room after the first one they gave us stank of cigarette smoke, so that was something.

Anyway, it was a pretty good year. I've been to Bournemouth (where I won at blackjack), Amsterdam (Anne Frank's house and the Van Gogh museum were both very moving), Las Vegas (I shot big guns, lost at blackjack and accidentally wandered onto the set of CSI), The Grand Canyon (wow), Barcelona (lots of Gaudi and lots of bands), Chicago, New York (what an amazing place - I had the biggest sandwich ever), New York again (at 18 hours' notice - it changed everything), New York again, Gothenburg, The End of the Road, New York again, and New York again. I did some good solo gigs, in particular the Wish You Were Here thing here, as well as supporting Erland and the Carnival and Chris T-T, and all of the Travis Waltons shows have been fun. The playing side of things seems to have dried up a bit in the last few months, but I've been having a very nice time.

Here's the traditional list of the bands I've seen (81 this year it seems), and whether they were shit or great: Sarah Jaffe, Midlake x2 (great, in particular the first one), Postdata, David Bazan (great), Hot Club de Paris, David Ford, The Pony Collaboration x2 (great), Chris T-T (great), Justin Grounds, National Snack (great), Tommygun (rubbish), Jeffrey Lewis x2 (lovely), Daniel Johnston (sad), The B of the Bang (great), The Dawn Chorus x2 (great), The Momeraths (great), Jesca Hoop, Erland and the Carnival, Jane Taylor, The Wave Pictures (great), The Fall, The XX, Wild Beasts, Broken Social Scene, Pavement x2 (great), Fuck Buttons, The New Pornographers, Scout Niblett (great), Ganglians (not good), Spoon, Here We Go Magic x2, Wilco x2 (GREAT), Marc Almond (quite something), The Pixies, Dr Dog, The Bundles, Built to Spill, Sunny Day Real Estate, Orbital,  The Hold Steady x1 1/2 (GREAT), Kid Rock, Bon Jovi (GREAT), Christina Aguilera (for about 30 seconds), Regina Spektor (great, but sad), Wye Oak (great), Mark Kozelek (great), Dawn Landes x2, Justin Townes Earle, Josh Ritter x2 (great), Jens Lekman, Paul Weller (bleurgh), Wu Tang Clan, Local Natives, The National (let me down again), Iggy and The Stooges, LCD Soundsystem (great), Wilderness of Manitoba, Lonely the Brave, Wintersleep, Mumford and Sons (good live), Talib Kweli (great), Marina and the Diamonds (not as bad as you'd think), Daniel Norgren, Shearwater (GREAT), Steve Earle (great), Boo Hewerdine (great), Jake Cogan, Singing Adams x2 (great), John Grant, The Mountain Goats (GREAT), Modest Mouse, Deer Tick, The Unthanks (good), Iron and Wine (great), Yo La Tengo, Smoke Faeries, The Low Anthem, The Frames x2 (GREAT), The Loom, Anais Mitchell, Horse Feathers, Catherine AD, Dar Williams (great).

As far as resolutions go... I'm going to finish off that silly little CD I was on the verge of finishing all of last year as quickly as possible, probably by dropping the number of tracks to 6 due to the effort it'd take to produce the 7th song well enough, and then get on with the next one, which I'm actually a bit excited about. We'll see. I'm not sure how much I'll write here - it seems like as the music side of things peters out, there's less and less point in carrying on. We'll see. I have high hopes for being happy in 2011. Touch wood.

A taste explosion

18 Dec 2010

A bottle of orange juice blew up in my kitchen bin the other day, knocking the bin lid onto the floor and covering some nearby laundry in juicy bits. I can only assume that the bottle top was actually vapourised, because there has been no sign of it. I only realised what must have happened when I came downstairs to find a tangy smell and a puddle of orange liquid on the kitchen floor. And an orange juice bottle with no lid on. Does that sort of thing really happen? I'm still suspicious that I might have unwittingly wandered into an unconvincing romantic comedy at some point this year.

I spent the afternoon painting doors in my house, secure in the knowledge that I was going to London tonight for a premature Christmas Eve drink so I'd be able to get away from the fumes. Unfortunately someone seems to have tipped a pile of snow over the entire country apart from here, so instead I've spent the evening watching 30 Rock and slowly getting woozy and feeling lucky I'm not flying anywhere today. So if I say anything odd, that's probably why.

The Frames show at Shepherd's Bush last week was outstanding - even better than the New York one. I think partly because they were further into the tour, partly because the venue was smaller and partly because British crowds (even London ones) seem to be a bit more attentive (despite the poshest man within a 5 mile radius standing next to us wittering on about how much he liked Once). I got tingles for at least the first 10 songs with, as usual, Seven Day Mile, Fitzcarraldo (which was missing in New York) and Star Star being highlights. The impromptu version of Rhinestone Cowboy was fun (especially watching Joe Doyle trying to figure out what the notes were as they went along) though my feeling about that kind of thing is that I'd rather hear a Frames song (apart from when they sneak Hotellounge into Star Star). We didn't go in for the support act, Duke Special, on the grounds that I heard him on the radio a couple of times, and beer was cheaper in the pub. £17.20 for a round of 4 in the venue! Blimey.

I've been reading a lot of "best of" lists lately, in an effort to find any good music that I've missed, but all I've got round to checking out so far is Laura Marling and First Aid Kit, neither of which I liked much, the First Aid Kit one in particular (though I'm not even sure it was out this year) sounds like it was written by a couple of teenage girls who don't have English as their first language. Oh... I'm not sure how many new albums this year I actually liked. Certainly of The Guardian top 40 the only one that I've heard and really, really like is LCD Soundsystem, though frankly any list that doesn't have "dogshit" in the title and contains a Paul Weller solo album probably isn't to be trusted. I had high hopes for The National and quite high hopes for Vampire Weekend, based on their last releases, but was about the same amount disappointed with each. I was pleased for John Grant (who I saw the other week) that he was in there, though I'm not sure one good line about Wynona Rider's ability to do accents makes a great album. I've not heard The Arcade Fire one (they fell off Spotify) but reports from people I trust have said it's not as good as their others, which weren't really my cup of tea. I should probably check out Beach House, because everyone seems to be raving about them, but I got put off of them by seeing them live a few years ago. People improve though, right? What else have I even heard... The Hold Steady one has a couple of moments, but on the whole doesn't have whatever it is I like about their other ones. Chris T-T's "Love Is Not Rescue" is great and, I think, his most consistent. Dan Mangan's "Nice, nice, very nice" is nice, nice, very nice (though maybe came out last year). The Weakerthans' "Live at the Burton Cummings Theatre" is brilliant, and I was especially pleased Chris recommended it, because I'd somehow been unaware of them. I quite like Erland and The Carnival's album, though it's very different to the live show. Oh! Josh Ritter! I only started listening to him at all about 6 months ago (just in time to see him in New York), but the one that came out this year is, I think, the best. Such incredible words. Also, I know I'm friends with them (and mastered it), but Small Town Boredom's "Notes From The Infirmary" puts a lot of more well known acts to shame. Maybe it's not been so bad a year.

Don't think I'm not aware of how stupid it sounds judging other people's efforts when nobody really likes mine. It's funny how actually trying to do something yourself makes it harder to have opinions about it. That said, I'm pretty sure I care more about music than The Guardian rock and pop critics do.

I went to the Folk Club here for the first time in a while last night, though I didn't play - there were still 4 of us left to play at 11.15, so I fell on my sword. I was feeling ill anyway - our work Christmas do was on Wednesday and I only felt right again this morning. I won't relay the amusing things that happened, but we did a freezing punt ghost tour and I got a reminder of how pretty Cambridge is. It turned out that one of the regulars, Alan Bailey, died recently, which made me sad. I didn't know him well, but he was an excellent guitar player and was always nice to me, especially when I was first starting. Some good people played, in particular Tom (with a lovely new song), The Willows (who borrowed my guitar, so at least it was worth taking it) and a guy called Dave who was approaching the level of Eric Roche on a completely unamplified and therefore unprocessed acoustic. Which is impressive.

Are you out there? Can you hear this?

6 Dec 2010

I've decided to move this here from myspace, as the only advantage of myspace (the fact that it used to tell people when I'd written something) has finally been removed. Them redeveloping their site and forgetting to put in the RSS feed was the final straw. Also, they've made it very hard to see old ones. I'm not sure how much longer I'll keep writing this anyway, I don't seem to have much time these days. I'll start to fill in the back episodes slowly over in front of the TV as the weeks go by. I (eventually) got the whole lot out of myspace. 260,000 words. I've wasted my life.

The last couple of weeks have been comparatively quiet. The Travis Waltons did a show at The Portland, which wasn't as good as others have been due to a soundman mix up straight out of one of the lower grade American comedies involving the landlord having the same name as one of the people who could maybe have been doing the sound. And ended up doing it, but not really having enough time to get it quite right. I don't know much about how it sounded because I had a loud guitar amp by my head (I was slightly deaf the next day, despite my earplugs), but the feedback I got was "LOUD" and I'm fairly sure I didn't cover myself in glory, though I couldn't really hear what I was doing. The other bands, The Judge Reinholds and (what I saw of) Magoo were great. Onwards and upwards. 

Jason came to visit last weekend. We watched Splash! then went to the pub and sat in front of the fire watching You Only Live Twice (or whichever Bond film it is where they shave his chest and he passes for Japanese. There was another amazing bit where he was trapped a room with a heavily armoured door and paper walls) and Federer v Nadal. Predictably, this also happened at one point:

I went to see Dar Williams at Union Chapel last night, and it was lovely. Andy and I went for a Nando's beforehand (2 in a month! - life is good) and used about a year's worth of luck up on a quiz machine in the Hope and Anchor.

I didn't much like the support act Catherine AD (A.D.? A-D?) - she was fine at playing and the strings sounded nice, but the songs were precocious rather than good, and I've never been a fan of Kate Bush. Also I couldn't get past the feeling that she's being bankrolled by indulgent parents. Not that there's even anything wrong with that.


Watching anything there is pretty bloody nice though...


I was a bit nervous before Dar's set about the presence of a couple of keyboards, because there seems to be something about the kind of people that end up playing keyboards for folk music that makes them choose cheesy piano sounds and play as many notes as possible, but it became obvious very quickly that the guy she had (Bryn Roberts his name is I think) was more concerned about making everything sound good than showing off and added quite a lot. I've gone on about Dar Williams often enough in the past, so I'll just say that it was lovely. She played a fair amount of newer stuff which tends to be a bit issue based for me, but she told a lot of funny stories (my favourites being a slight whinge about the songwriters who end up as the soundtrack to medical dramas because they can write polished love songs, as an introduction to a song about the Milgram experiment and not being able to be on the cover of High Times on account of not using marijuana) and we got If I Wrote You (which was particularly beautiful), February, As Cool As I Am, Spring Street and The Blessings (which I'm pretty sure I've not heard before, and, it turns out have had the words wrong to all this time). She broke a string just before the second to last song and, oddly for a professional I thought, didn't have a spare guitar or change it, but played bravely on. I guess if you rarely break strings it's a balance between the risk of actually breaking one and the hassle of carrying more stuff.  



I've been listening to Withered Hand a lot for the last week or so. I first heard of him a couple of years ago when I did a gig in Edinburgh with Small Town Boredom and he was playing elsewhere in the city and (apparently) pinched a fair amount of the people who might have otherwise gone. I've forgiven him, and them, though because his album is really great. Genius lyrics. Check it out.

People get ready

30 Nov 2010

I wrote this last week - the second part of End of the Road will have to wait...

Just on my way home from another really lovely week in New York. Terminal 4 of JFK has developed a KFC in the last month. I'm tempted, but my US KFC experiences have not been good and scandalously this one doesn't seem to actually sell pieces of chicken, limiting itself to burgers (this had better not be the way things are going... I feel like I did when they invented nuggets and then surrendered the idea to McDonald's), so I'm making do with a pre-flight beer for now.

It seemed a bit less activity filled than other times I've been - I'm almost out of touristy things to do - all that's left on my list is going to Katz's Deli and a carriage ride around Central Park (maybe next time). We did see a fair bit of music - some local stuff as well as a couple of real gigs. I finally made it to The Bowery Ballroom last Saturday, more for the venue than the music that particular night, and a really nice venue it is. The first band up, The Loom were pretty good I guess, with what sounded surprisingly like folk music. The brass was a bit piercing and it was weird to hear an American guy putting on an unconvincing English accent. Anais Mitchell was up next and was a noticeable step up in quality (despite having a guitar player who seemed to be being paid by the note) but the same problems I had with her when I saw her supporting Ani diFranco a couple of years ago were still there - she spends a lot of the time doing the laughing policeman dance with her legs (which is a stupid criticism, but really offputting), and is too bloody excited to be there in between songs. I guess I'd be excited in her position, but still, she's meant to be a pro. Headline band, Horse Feathers, are a name I've heard, and seemed to be popular among the uniformly individual hipsters that made up the crowd, but there didn't seem to be anything good about them to us, and sticking it out for the regulation "fair crack" three songs was a bit of a struggle. It'd been a long day I guess.

Exactly a week later we went to The Frames. I know I've talked about them a lot but the time I saw them with about 6 other people at the Boat Race over a decade ago now was a defining moment for me and is still the most blown away I've ever been by anything I think. They've not played for a few years because the appeal of The Swell Season to the kind of people who regard music as atmosphere for dinner parties (i.e. almost everyone) has meant that they've been busy. It was a lovely show, despite American crowds being chatty, and the loudest cheer being reserved for Marketa Irglova's cameo. They did about 4 encores, which even I thought was excessive, but I'm not going to complain. There were maybe 2 or 3 songs I'd have liked to hear and didn't, but they played all of my real favourites - most of Dance the Devil turned up and not too much from the last few albums. I like it when bands know their best work. They claimed to be a bit rusty, but it wasn't obvious to me and there were plenty of spine tingling moments. I'm seeing them again in London in a few weeks. Can't wait.




The other huge highlight was Spa Castle, a slightly ridiculous 5 storey building containing a load of different baths, pools, water jets, saunas and relaxation areas. I love that stuff - I've been hooked ever since I went to a similar, but less hilarious, spa in Aachen about 5 years ago (the same weekend I found my taste for blackjack). This one was slightly weird inasmuch as you had to be naked to go into the single sex pools (I decided not to - people are often really odd shapes, who knew?) but a "uniform" consisting of T-shirt and long shorts to go in the saunas. Those uniforms must get pretty stinky. Most of the pools were outdoors, which may seem like a bad idea in November, but they didn't skimp on the heating, so it was actually really nice. We were there for nearly 7 hours, which was longer than even I thought possible. Just before we left I had my first ever go on a massage chair. I might buy one. We are definitely going back there next time I visit, though I suspect it'll be even colder...


I turned 33 on Friday, which seems like an OK age. Especially as 32 surprised everyone by turning into a really good year out of nowhere.


If they push that button, your ass gotta go

24 Nov 2010

A few of us went to see Midlake at The Junction the other night. It was a gig that divided opinion, with some people thinking they were inspirational and some finding it really boring. Every time I've seen them before I've not expected much and then really enjoyed it. I'm not sure why I forget that I like them in between times - probably from listening to the albums. Even this time I was more excited about going to Nando's before the show. Anyway, I did enjoy them a lot, though it was a little lacklustre compared to their set in the theatre next door in January. I guess they've been touring a while. It's also pretty obvious that they're jazz musicians playing at doing folk/country (3 flautists out of 7 people - really? And that's not to say the others can't all play it too) and I can see why that might irritate, and there's no exucse for any instrumental section to last more than 8 bars in this day and age. Nobody likes watching guitar solos. Apart from November Rain. Probably the real highlight (other than maybe "Head Home") was when they did a Grandaddy song with the guy from Grandaddy (who'd been the opening act, and was really good for a few songs - I think I'd have really enjoyed the first 4 he played, whichever order he'd played them in), which is interesting.

Also interesting was the other support act, John Grant. He even divided my opinion by mixing funny, clever lyrics ("I feel just like Winona Ryder in that movie about vampires, when she couldn't get that accent right, and neither could that other guy") with really awful ones ("I wanted to change the world, but I couldn't even change my underwear..."). Maybe there's not such a distance between funny and awful. He was completely deadpan, so it was impossible to tell if he was serious or not. I think he may have been. Some of the synth sounds illicited the same feeling. Either way it was memorable, but he seems pretty damaged and afterwards I felt a little bit like I did when I saw Daniel Johnston. I read up about him the next day and he does seem to have had a tough time of it.

So... I thought I'd finally write about The End of the Road Festival, easily the nicest festival in the UK. The journey there was riddled with errors and bad luck. First of all the National Rail website flat out lied about when you can use network railcards, so we didn't get to Ciaran's house until 2 hours after we intended to. Then the front of Ciaran's car fell off in Sainsbury's car park, just after we stocked up on alcohol, cookies, kinder eggs, alcohol and monkey nuts. Luckily he'd brought some gaffer tape, for some reason. In case I snored maybe.


Then we changed our route because Andy had told us about a traffic jam, but roadworks in the Clapham area meant that there was a diversion that took us to the location of the supposed traffic jam, 20 minutes later than we'd have been there otherwise. Then Ciaran got the letters 'A' and 'M' confused and we nearly ended up in Portsmouth. Things went well until just after Stonehenge, when the turning we needed simply wasn't there. Or possibly Ciaran and I were both fiddling with the bottles of coke we'd just got from a garage. None of this would have mattered if there hadn't been a band that Severine wanted to see on at 4pm. She just made it. Ciaran and I had a good time pitching the shitter (see last year's End of the Road) in reasonably high winds, and I realised that the tent that Andy and I went to Glastonbury in in 1998 that I'd brought for Severine to use was really starting to be past its best. Our work done we sat and had a beer for a while, before going over to see the Mountain Goats, who we very nearly missed due to some programme misreading. We got there just as "You or your memory" was starting. They played at the same festival 2 years ago but that time they got off on the wrong foot by breaking a string in the first song, and never really recovered. This time was exceptional. It's funny how much of a singalong "No Children" is, considering. "I hope you die. I hope we ALL DIE". I love how dark all words are. It just goes to show that if the music is upbeat hardly anyone even notices what you're singing. Not that The Mountain Goats are nearly as popular as they should be. If it hadn't been for Wilco on the last day, they'd have been far and away the best thing I saw at the whole festival. To be honest, it made everyone else a bit of an anticlimax.




After a wander round I watched Here We Go Magic for a bit, who I saw at Primavera, but now, as then, I can't really remember anything about them other than what they look like. Headliners, Modest Mouse were ok for a bit, but I couldn't take how out of tune everything was after a while, so I had a wander round the woods, caught the end of the Edwyn Collins song (you know the one), and tried and failed to get a game of table tennis, before retiring.


P1020594 P1020622



The next day, after a breakfast burrito, the crossword, and a small amount of messing about with the toys from the Kinder eggs

Ciaran and I watched Anvil at the cinema tent. It's a great film. Funny, sad, uplifting. For anyone who doesn't know, it's about a Canadian metal band who nearly made it in the 80s and were still plugging away into their 50s, doing terrible jobs and playing in bars. The main guy came from a family of lawyers and bankers and was obviously really bright, and the drummer who was a lifelong friend was a gifted, if slightly misguided, painter (a turd in a toilet bowl?). The film started off with them being given the chance to tour Europe, and documented everything that went wrong along the way (missed trains, a few disappointing crowds, not being paid). It was amusing, but I found it hard to feel too sorry for them about it all - if I got the chance to go round Europe for 6 weeks playing to what seemed like 50 people a time, it'd be amazing. The second half of the film focused on them making a new record with the producer that worked with them on their almost-breakthrough album in the 80s. It seemed to me like he'd fallen on hard times and was taking advantage, but they were all very excited about it... The most moving parts were when you saw the guys in the band with their families and the effect that it all had on them. One thing that struck me was that they still seemed to be a really good band (as far as stupid 80s metal goes) - it's not like they were deluded back in the day when people liked that kind of thing. It'd really highlight the dangers of not knowing when to stop, if the success of the film hadn't apparently given Anvil the break they needed.

When it was over we dashed across to the tipi tent to watch a bit of Eagleowl, who played a couple of shows on the mini mini tour I did with Small Town Boredom a couple of years ago. It seems like they're doing pretty well these days which is nice.


We returned to the tent to recharge our bags with beer, and missed Phosphorescent, who I heard good things about from Andy. We got back in time for Deer Tick, who reminded me of a less good Dr Dog with even more meaningless lyrics. I wasn't a fan.

The Unthanks aren't really the kind of thing I generally like either (altogether too much sailing, consumption and 18th century murder) but were excellent - the kind of spot on harmony singing that gives you tingles (even the a capella one was brilliant) and a nice big sound when the band came in. I even enjoyed the clog dancing. The only fly in the ointment was the odd presence of a multi-instrumentalist who couldn't really play anything (particularly the drums) but seemed to think he was very important. Presumably he's dating someone in the band.



Iron and Wine was a pleasant surprise, after being a big disappointment in Sweden a couple of years back. He'd done away with the awful jazz piano player and weird guy playing steel drum (and almost everyone else) and was much better for it. The standout song was admittedly a cover, but it made me want to check out more of his records. Shame the only one on Spotify is the one with the jazz keyboard player and steel drums.



We watched a bit of Yo La Tengo, though they didn't make it easy on us by playing a 10 minute song consisting of the line "A nuclear war, if they push that button yo ass gotta go, and what you gonna do without an ass" interspersed with noodling. I actually really liked it but liked not being on my own more, so we watched some of Black Mountain, who seemed to be at the wrong festival to me. Caribou were the last of the main acts that I saw, and I thought they were excellent, though I've struggled with the recordings I've listened to since. Ciaran and I stayed up a bit, hanging around the flashing dance floor in the woods and seeing some terrible brother and sister duo from New York in the tipi tent. The brother visibly shrank every time his sister sang (or said) anything. I didn't catch their name. Probably for the best.

I'll talk about the last day next time...

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