Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Belligerent Ghouls Run Birmingham Schools

Nowadays March 17th means St Patrick's Day to me, and some would argue that that has become a rather cliched event, relying perhaps too much upon stereotype. Respected academics Daryl Adair and Mike Cronin have written on the history of the 'Wearing of the Green',  and Cronin published a useful piece in Time this week on its evolution - noting how the USA invented (the celebration of, at least) St Patrick's Day. I saw this myself last year when I found myself in Brooklyn on March 17th, and it provided a stark counterpoint to what St Patrick's Day was like in Birmingham, where I grew up, in the 1970s and 1980s.  However, thirty years ago today the 17th March had a different resonance for me, and  meant a group of Mancunians, themselves partly of Irish lineage, The Smiths, appearing at Birmingham Hippodrome.
It was a strange venue for a gig if I'm honest.  It's the only time I ever saw a band there - in fact the only other time I have been there was for Barbara Windsor in Cinderella with my mum in the 1970's - perhaps I should have called this piece 'Barbara(Windsor)ism Begins at Home' for this was of course a date on the Meat is Murder tour,  and the extended work out of Barbarism begins at Home was one of the album's important moments, although of course not its centrepiece. Of that more later.
The Smiths were always a band who demanded the definite article. In some ways I don't think they make sense without it and I took its' use as a statement of intent. A friend of mine, Nigel, took this one stage further with the support band that day, James. They will always be thought of as 'The James' to me in the light of his demonstrative faux pas. In those days I pretty much saw it as a badge of honour to miss support bands whenever I could, but even though it was clear that everyone was there for the main event, it was obvious James were a decent band, I even managed to find a setlist for the night here.

I'm listening to Meat is Murder again now as I write this. I still play material by The Smiths a lot. They have been one of the most important bands in my life and I return to them often-  cropping up on playlists,  revisiting The Queen is Dead, The Smiths or Hatful of Hollow particularly for example. It strikes me however that I don't often turn to Meat is Murder in its entirety - hearing it again its my loss. Its an excellent album and worthy of re-appraisal. It has no real singles on it - to me This Joke Isn't Funny Anymore was never a proper single. Although history does show it was indeed released as a single and proved to be one of their poorest performing ones hitting the mighty heights of No 49 in the charts. In fact I agree with Jack Rabid that it was the first of their singles that 'wasn't an utter thrill to buy'.

The gig itself opened with 'William, it was really Nothing' (itself allegedly concerning  a liaison with the late, lamented Billy Mackenzie)  and drew heavily, unsurprisingly, upon Meat is Murder. As noted in the excellent passions just like mine blog, Morrissey changed the lyrics to the Headmaster Ritual that night as a nod to Birmingham, and this is reflected in the title to this blog entry. There was actually quite a lot more interaction with the crowd than noted in passions just like mine - we managed to get to the front and were able to engage him with what some would call witty banter or repartee. There was also a lot of farmyard noises coming from the crowd during the centrepiece title track of the album. Its not their finest offering, but in many ways its their most important. Whilst I have been vegetarian for more than a quarter of a century I can't say its the axis around which my diet  revolves it is certainly an important and political song that was a catalyst for many. I heard Noel Gallagher speaking recently and he mentioned that actually lots of The Smiths songs are political, but perhaps not in the overt way of a Red Wedge, Style Council or Billy Bragg, all of which coincided with The Smiths brief orbit. The Smiths did of course appear on the Red Wedge tour (although I think only once, in Newcastle) although Morrissey had been dismissive of some benefit efforts previously, including the Band Aid single of which he memorably noted; 'One can have great concern for the people of Ethiopia, but its another thing to inflict daily torture on the people of England'. See Rolling Stone for some more of his memorable quotes, he has certainly never been shy of courting controversy. The gig was in fact excellent, notwithstanding it was shorter than some other nights on the tour. Looking back thirty years a different question is the relevance of The Smiths all these years later. After the demise of The Smiths they initially suffered a backlash of sorts, even Creation band The Times  in their Madchester cash in/social commentary (delete as appropriate) Manchester exhorted that a clarion call for The Smiths in the clubs and discos of Manchester should be greeted with a response of  808 State. Indeed the famous 'Burn down the Disco' line of Panic was particularly inflammatory, and Morrissey of course did nothing to dampen the flames. What strikes me listening to the album again though is the absolute brilliance of the lyrics. It might even be my new favourite The Smiths' album. Relevant? Gasping - but somehow still alive.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Stone is the Name of the Rose

In June 1989 I was living in South London and  had just finished my summer exams. Looking back 25 years ago, it was a pretty amazing time on all sorts of levels. The events in Tiananmen Square, with the military intervention in response to mass protests  had taken place and whilst the Berlin Wall was yet to fall, the border was beginning to be more regularly breached  and revolution was in the air. As if capturing the zeitgeist, The Stone Roses' debut album had been released in May, its cover famously including three slices of lemon, allegedly as an allusion to a reference a guy made to Ian Brown that lemons could be used as an antidote to tear gas.

The Roses' album was a seminal event for me, and their gigs were life affirming. I had actually seen them quite a few times before the album came out and I'll blog about these another time. This entry concerns 4 The Stone Roses gigs, in the space of five days, beginning on the 26th June, a quarter of a century ago today. I haven't got all the ticket stubs for this unfortunately, but I have got a page of the photo album I used to stick my ticket stubs into which has three of these (the date of the Birmingham one is wrong as this was a  re-arranged date). I've also put the cover of this important social document at the top of the blog as a sort of teaser of what might come in the future. The Stone Roses page is below.

The tour for me, along with fellow desperado Tim Worth,  started with a trip to Bristol on the Monday to see them play the Bierkeller. Having just done a quick search a bootleg of this, along with a setlist, is available here. In fact the blog Spiral Through Another Day looks well worth a proper peruse as there seems to be lots of material to mine there, and whoever put this together obviously loves the Roses.  Most of the gigs I saw that week went by in a haze, although Bristol was memorable for me as I was carried 'backstage' after being crushed on the barriers at the front. Tuesday saw us driving to a place where I didn't even know they had a music venue, Stratford upon Avon. Now obviously growing up not far from there I knew it had a theatre and a lot of good pubs,  but it was the first time I had been to the Civic Hall, now known as Stratford ArtsHouse, and the first time I recalled a gig ever taking place there. It was only when googling that it started to come back to me, and whilst no set lists or details appear available on line, I can now exclusively reveal an original setlist from the gig, in John Squire's fair hand I believe, that I took from the mixing desk that night:

The Wednesday was Birmingham Irish Centre, and again a bootleg is available here. They weren't actually on the best of form that night, but three dates on the run may have dulled my senses somewhat. Thursday was a day off, a bit disappointing now looking back and its a pity that we couldn't have sorted out something for the 'missing' date.  The gig at Leeds Polytechnic on the Friday allowed me to revisit one of my student haunts, and even get a couple of beers in at my old local the Faversham beforehand. It was great to see some of my friends who I had been raving on about the Roses to, and to meet up in some sort of communal reverie.  We met the band outside and asked them what time they were on, Ian was driving the minibus as I recall. A web search does not give much in the way of detail, but I did find a really interesting flickr feed from a guy called David Crausby with a nice photo and backstory. A long drive back to Tim's house in Lichfield, having kidnapped Enda and Helen, and a weekend of heavy drinking ensued.These were actually some of the last times I saw the band, Blackpool and Alexandra Palace followed, and then even Wembley which I have blogged about in passing previously
The Roses were immensely important for me on all sorts of levels.  For my inaugural professorial lecture I talked about the impact the band had, I even played She Bangs the Drums during it,  and I still use their case against Silvertone in my teaching. However, when news broke of the 'Resurrection', I may have been tempted for a moment, but it was only a moment, and whereas once it was the future, it was now the past and it was, somehow, out of time...

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Manic on the Streets of Manchester

Last month I went to Brixton Academy to see the Manic Street Preachers. Now the Manics are a fine live band, and seeing them again got me thinking about previous trips to see them, and I realised that I been going to see them live for over 20 years, longer than my daughter Keir, who is 21 this year, has been alive.  My memory is unsurprisingly hazy on some of these, but luckily, as I have previously recounted, my Ticketing OCD means lots of these are documented by tickets, backstage passes or similar ephemera. So a review of some of these brought back some happy, and poignant, memories - the band playing Clapham Grand and covering 'The Drowners' with Bernard Butler, shortly after his mother had died. A trip to Wolverhampton Civic Hall for an intense Holy Bible set, and two of the last three gigs at the sadly missed London Astoria, including my last sighting of the irreplaceable,  magnificent Richey Edwards, on the final night of the tour. I was also lucky enough to go their first gig as a three piece, supporting The Stone Roses (and that's another, ten storey, love story, for me to tell another month),  and was the last time I saw the Roses - this was the last John Squire gig before the resurrection, and I had no appetite for the reunion. Gigs at Shepherds Bush Empire, The Forum, lots of Brixtons, Knebworth supporting Oasis, and festivals such as Portmeirion's beautiful Festival No. 6 (go, its wonderful) followed, and this gig made me think about all of them. Whilst the final night at the Astoria is undoubtedly the most important in my personal history of MSP, another gig, which took place 17 years ago today made me think about another distinctive gig. Unfortunately I don't still have the ticket for this - a terrible admission I know, but this is one trip where I have some other evidence, and, hopefully a backstory of interest too.

Sometime early in 1997 the Manics announced what was to be their biggest gig to date at Manchester Arena. There was a lot of interest in taking a trip up there from friends, but in the end it was just the four of us (Enda, Helen, Allison and myself) who took the train from London and booked into the Midland Hotel.  After a lunchtime drink or two, Enda and I decided to go for a swim and were taken aback to meet the legendary Mr N Wire in the lift. This led to the somewhat surreal afternoon of a jacuzzi with the great man  - the only time I have ever had a jacuzzi with someone who has both an Ivor Novello award and a Number 1 hit single, in addition to a love of hoovering. He was understandably a little apprehensive about the gig and later Nicky admitted that this concert was when he knew the Manics had 'made it'.  Apart from very under-rated Mansun, support that day included a then largely unknown Embrace, with only one single to their name, opening the evening. For reference, Nicky liked their first single which had just been released, the re-recorded version of their debut is here. A Manics setlist, unverified, appears here and the set was immortalised in the video/DVD Everything Live. As we left the gig we saw a fantastic, and very clever billboard -  'Manic on the Streets of Manchester' - I have searched in vain for photographic proof that this exists to no avail. The next day, before the trip back to London, we did the tourist trip to Coronation Street, then wandered back towards Piccadilly via Canal Street. On the way we passed the Hacienda and took full advantage of the open door to have a look inside during daylight hours, some photos taken outside the now demolished iconic site which has made way for some flats are below ....

Now a different story. Recently whilst in New York I had the pleasure of meeting Mike Garry, a poet and a diamond of a man, who has been called the poet laureate of the North. Check out his fantastic work with the Stroke Association that I blogged about recently too.  I had missed Mike's gig supporting John Cooper Clarke at the Shepherds Bush Empire the week before - in fact I saw him hailing a taxi as we arrived, and later tweeted him to say I was sorry I missed him. I found out he left early because he was in fact flying to New York the next day to appear at the Carnegie Hall with New Order, Iggy Pop, members of The National and others as part of a Tibet House Fundraiser. As you do.

Amazingly, he was happy to meet up and we met at Bonbonierre, a great diner on Eighth Avenue in Greenwich Village. This is just around the corner from the White Horse where we went to channel the ghost of of Dylan Thomas some time later, but in fact found Guinness of overpriced tourist proportions instead. I had seen Mike perform at Festival Number 6 and had loved it, and we talked about lots of things, but was blown away to be given a pre-release copy of a collaboration with Joe Duddell, based around the New Order classic Your Silent Face, entitled 'St Anthony. An Ode to Anthony H Wilson' This is based around a poem Mike wrote about the late Tony Wilson who died in 2007, but is really a love song to Manchester. I was sworn to secrecy and asked not to spread this around and I have been as good as my word - but its been difficult as its one of the most inspiring, and beautiful things I have ever heard. As if it couldn't get any better, its in aid of the Christie Charitable fund, Tony was of course treated for his illness at the Christie and hopefully it will be released soon and everyone with a heart, a soul, and an ear for something beautiful, meaningful, poetic and heartfelt will buy it.

'St Anthony, St Anthony, please come round...'

Strangely that trip to Manchester 15 years ago today was the closest I ever got to Anthony H Wilson. He was eating, alone, in Mash and Air where we popped in during our post-Hacienda Sunday afternoon stroll to the station.  As a callow youth I had written to Factory Records asking all sorts of inane questions - I loved the Factory image, the ethos, and of course the bands, and I remember receiving a package, including a lovely hand written letter from the late, lamented Rob Gretton replying to my queries. Acts of kindness like this, from people like Rob, Chris Sievey (who I had a long series of correspondence with as a 14 year old, documenting his metamorphosis) and even Alan Horne of Postcard Records meant so much to me at the time. So I never spoke to Tony Wilson, I never met him, but after that seminal Manic Street Preachers gig saw him for the one and only time.  I think Mike never spoke with him either, although he would undoubtedly have been at events and places at the same time as him over the years. Two days after I met Mike, on our final day in New York we went out early in Brooklyn to catch the Manchester United Liverpool game at the Black Horse. I won't mention the score, but there, out of nowhere, on the wall, was the face, if not the voice, of Anthony H Wilson.

'St Anthony, St Anthony, please come round
because something is lost, that cannot be found'

Thursday, 10 April 2014

The sight of you makes me feel blue: Boo Radleys and the Pale Saints, The Astoria 10 April 1992

I have really enjoyed Letters of Note and its occasional tweets on often very poignant letters, in fact I liked it so much that I bought the book for my partner for Christmas. It got me thinking about my own personal treasure trove of oddities, the gig tickets I have collected over the years since my first foray into consuming live music at the age of 14, with the magnificent XTC, something that I have blogged about previously. The Letters of Note series got me thinking that maybe I should use these tickets in a similar sort of vein, and use them as a point of departure to discuss other issues related to the event, the date, the band, the venue, or something else completely unrelated. I would call this Tickets of Distinction, a name with its own indie reference points but partly a homage to the Letters of Note idea. So, this is the first in an occasional and irregular series of posts that will celebrate, or commemorate a gig from the past. Who knows, maybe one day it will be a book too.

On 10 April 1992, 22 years ago today, Allison and I went along to see the Boo Radleys co-headlining with the Pale Saints at the Astoria on Charing Cross Road, now sadly razed to the ground to make way for the Crossrail project. To be honest the Astoria was never my favourite venue, although I have seen some notable gigs there over the years including Richey's last ever gig with the Manic Street Preachers (I'll save that for a post in December maybe!) and even some classics in the downstairs Astoria 2 which was a bit of a fire trap, but the Astoria was certainly an important venue, and central London now lacks a similar sized venue of its type. That day, both of these bands were broadly part of that indie/shoe-gazing scene that was later decimated by the onward roar of Britpop, currently celebrating its own 20th anniversary on BBC Radio 6, and of the two bands only the Boo Radleys achieved much success, later clinging as they did to the hem of Blur, Oasis, Pulp and the rest with their one hit Wake up Boo. The gig itself was enjoyable enough. I had liked Pale Saints, who came on first that night I think, since I first heard their 'Barging into the Presence of God EP', with stand out track The Sight of You. The band had formed at Leeds whilst I was at college there and the song was, allegedly, about a friend of a friend. I liked the The Boo Radleys album Everything's Alright Forever too, it had been critically lauded, although my thoughts that maybe it was an overlooked gem was not borne out by a listen via spotify as part of the research for this piece.

The gig was actually only memorable in that whilst we were in the venue, at 9.20, the Provisional IRA exploded a bomb at the Baltic Exchange, killing three people,  injuring 91 others. Elsewhere in London the effects of 45kg of Semtex were also felt, a friend in Clapton reported being knocked off her feet, but we left the venue, some two miles from the Baltic Exchange, in the days before instant media saturation and given the high noise levels inside the Astoria, blissfully unaware of the bombing until the next morning. The site of the Baltic Exchange is now host to the Swiss Re building, better known as the Gherkin and here depicted by Stanley Donwood in his Fleet Street Apocalypse series. Since that evening The Boo Radleys and Pale Saints have long gone their separate ways, the Astoria has been destroyed and the Good Friday Agreement has been signed. London's skyline has changed, and indeed London itself has changed. I'm still going to the gigs though so at least something has remained constant, and this occasional series of posts will catalogue, and celebrate, some of these outings.