Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Songs Of The Year 2008

10. 'Warwick Avenue' - Duffy
Bangor-born, Dusty all over, the sight of Duffy weeping through 60s eyeliner as a cab pulls off from an obscure tube station is the singular sorrowful comedown image which followed all my 2008 disco highs. ‘You think you’re loving but you don’t love me’ cut a little too close to the bone this year, but oh the pleasure and the pain in that voice ...

9. 'No Lucifer' - British Sea Power

Might also be my top video of the year, this track is one of the growers which BSP specialise in. In twenty years time tracks like this will make musical archivists wonder why they weren't the biggest band in Britain. To me they might be.

8. 'The Bones Of You' - Elbow

The only vinyl I bought this year and already feels like a classic, Elbow have been in my life in several wonderful ways this year and this was the prime cut from Mercury-winning The Seldom-Seen Kid. 'I took a hammer to every memento' has been a touchstone line in 2008's darker days.

7. 'Morning After Midnight' - Adam Green
My favourite accidental find of the year, Adam Green the Jewish James Dean plied one of the sassiest and (gasp) funniest tracks of the year with a glorious androgynous muck-up vid to boot.

6. 'The Rip' - Portishead

Eternal thanks to Thom for directing me to a glorious Lazarus-like infusion of faith in Portishead. Yes, that trip-hop band the stoners played to death at University. They came back with an ultra-modern album of mechanically-retrieved soul and this, their finest song to date in my opinion, was given a kiss of approval by a Radiohead cover should you dare harbour doubts as to its other-worldly merit.

5. 'Suffragette Suffragette' - Everything Everything
The great white hope. Recently discovered, homegrown, sophisticated, smart, witty, complex, arresting ... if this band were a man I'd be dating the fucker. This track belongs amongst the year's finest and the future belongs to this band.

4. 'Time To Pretend' - MGMT
I know 'Kids' is probably the cooler choice but the number of times the opening Grandaddy-esque kiddie-toy synth on this track has given me a second wind this year makes it my MGMT highlight hands down.

3. 'Lights Out' - Santogold
Not representative of her output in any way, but what track could be? This seemingly off-the-cuff pop cut is actual genius, distilling 90s guitar riffs into something Kim Deal would be proud of. Santi's finest to date.

2. 'California Girls' - Magnetic Fields
Possibly anathema to have a non-Merritt lead vocal as an MF track of the year but the mix of witty feminist critique, Beach Boys punning and crashing Mary Chain reverb combine to say what Pink's 'Stupid Girl' tried to without the painfully flat-stomached hypocrisy. Stripped down acoustic versions show what timelessly sweet structure underpinned the song all along.

1. 'Mars' - Fake Blood
Everything I love about dance music in four minutes flat, faceless, possible superstar origins (is it Soulwax??), futurist noise pollution and contagiously clipped beats. Trippy Charly-esque beast noises lure you to a darkened world where suddenly the houselights are thrown up to reveal Altern 8-styled in your face aciiied noise terror! The first 'MARS!' is guaranteed to make the hairs on the back of my neck go ping. I literally CANNOT make my feet behave when I play this track. Song of the year.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

My Helen of Troy setlist

Sex and the City Movie theme
Yazoo – Don’t Go
Juliana Hatfield – Universal Heartbeat
Ladytron – Blue Jeans 2.0
Diana Ross – I’m Coming Out

The Breeders – Divine Hammer
Pat Benatar – Love Is A Battlefield
Amerie – 1 Thing
Jale – Not Happy
Peaches - Tombstone Baby
Stars – Ageless Beauty
Sugababes – I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor
Blondie – I’m Gonna Love You Too

MIA – URAQT (Root Out mix)
Jane Wiedlin – Rush Hour
Belly – Slow Dog
En Vogue – Free Your Mind
Echobelly – Insomniac
Lush – Ladykiller
Stereolab - French Disko
Eurythmics – There Must Be An Angel
Shonen Knife – Daydream Believer
Joan Armatrading – Drop the Pilot

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing

This club has provided me with some of my bestest nights out this year so I'm more than honoured to have been asked to lend my DJ 'skills', such as they are, to their final party of 2008. Not only is it their last blowout of the year, it's the last ever of Helen of Troy in its current incarnation. Sob! So if you've been promising yourself a trip down there, NOW is the time to do it.

BUT, all is not lost, Marie-Claire and Lyndsey will be putting on more Helens with additional style and flair in mysterious new incarnations in the New Year. Eyes and ears peeled! Not to mention the fantastic Helen blog, fast becoming THE touchpoint for all things witty and wonderful in new women's music.

So, for the last time this year head down to Charlie's and feast your ears on decade-spanning music from the great and good of women in rock, dance, pop, indie, electro, r 'n' b and everything in between. You're spoiled this time too, not only will the resident girls be womanning the decks but Thom 'The Bomb' Docking and Caroline Topham are also taking a turn, plus my own 90 minute set of danceable divas, slick noise terror, platinum cheese, forgotten classics and one-hit misses. See you there.

Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing
Charlie's nightclub, Harter St, off Princess St
Manchester M1
10 pm till 4 am
£4 in, £3 with flyer or NUS

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Lobotomies and London

Cocktails, dressing up, haemorrhaging from your mouth on the dance floor … why can’t every Friday be like this? Come to think of it, I think it is in certain establishments. The best Halloween, nay the best NIGHT, for ages. Outfit courtesy Primarni and kitchen knives, make up courtesy Paul Mayers and the make up of make up artists purchased at Spar. Cheap and chilling. The highlight was my very own lobotomy scar, pictured. Spookily real, in fact two punters in Via Fossa thought it was real and flinched when I made them stroke it. Mwahahaha. The Zombie Pride party at Legends was so much fun, great music, strip show and the swapping of undead beauty tips (‘But black lips make my teeth look yellow!’ ‘Just bloody them up then!’) … Amaze.

Last weekend I went to London for the first time in, God, three years? My little sis Clare is living in Kentish Town and my half-planned idea of a bit of art, bit of theatre, bit of culture went right on the train to Titsville. Instead we went on a bender round Kentish and Camden Towns on the Friday night: Abbey, World’s End, Black Cap, Dublin Castle … lager lager lager. We were so drunk in the Dublin Castle we were sitting next to the discarded glass spot at the bar and drinking other people’s skanky half-finished pints without even realising. We’ll probably all catch gingivitis and it’ll serve us right. Also met lovely Kev, an internet friend who it turns out is actually a real person, and really lovely to boot.

Saturday I managed to buy FOUR items of clothing. FOUR! This would normally represent a successful year of clothes shopping for me, never mind a single day. Very chuffed indeed so got dressed up on the Saturday night and me and Clare ate Japanese food by the river then ran across the bridge in the pouring rain and howling wind with a three quid inside-out umbrella, screaming. Halfway across we simply gave up, tossed a quid to the guy playing steel drums there and danced with the fuzzy lights of London at our feet.

Passion fruit cocktails at Lab, go-go boys at Village Soho then utterly trashed at Trash Palace where Boogaloo Stu presided over an hysterical multiple choice celebrity question cake-eating competition and uttered the immortal line: ‘Take your knickers off and eat two cakes’. Stupid queue at Ghetto so last Southern Comforts for the road in 12 Bar then a series of wobbly night buses and falafels home to NW5. Such fun.

Miserable trip home in the rain and traffic next day, punctuated by an evil meal at Burger King where I had a bean burger and fries and felt riddled with shame even as the carbo-high kicked in. Home to a weirdly dry Manchester and a forlorn feeling in the flat. As ever after a trip to London I return full of excitement and what-ifs . . . ? What if I moved there? What if I hated it? What if I missed everyone too much? What if I can never ever buy my own place? What if I go for just a year? What if there’s no job for me in Manchester when I come back? What if I grow a backbone and just DO IT? Answers on a postcard please …

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

New favourite band

Hello? Anybody home?

I know, it’s been a while hasn’t it? I’ve had important reasons for staying away though, and important ones for returning too. Here they are:

A while ago I was recommended to listen to a track called ‘Suffragette Suffragette’ by Manchester-based band Everything Everything. Yes, things do seem to happen twice in their world. The song kinda washed over me at first, then as I was dusting my knick-knacks later in the week it came back into my head and so I re-played it, video and all. Thank goodness I did. Listen to it at once and be glad:

The hilarious yet somehow touching closing refrain notwithstanding I think this band represent a ‘bright new talent’ ™. Some sparky journo has written that ‘This band incorporate the best bits of Foals and British Sea Power but possibly with Peter Gabriel somewhere at the helm forcing them into weirder territory than either plain old indie or math rock will allow.’ I’d say amen to that.

Went to see them live at Deaf Institute, where I now live it would seem, to see if they are worth their salt. They manage to pull the whole thing off live with magnificent panache, acute harmonies and the best drumming I’ve seen since the Wire gig . . . and it’s only a year since they first played together. I’m pinning great hopes on the album when it arrives. ‘Suffragette …’ (sorry I simply haven’t time) is their first single, out December 1st. A couple of the lads are working in caffs and pizza restaurants at the minute and it's no place for them. Listen to the last minute of 'Weights' (on their myspace) and tell me that something sublime isn't happening. This stuff should be Arts Council funded. More please.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Manchester Blog Awards

There’s probably a difference between a supportive community of writers and a clique, but at last night’s Manchester Blog Awards, as we watched people from the same table get up to collect all the awards, laugh in just the right places, and reward what were on the whole mediocre offerings, I wasn’t sure which was which.

There are some really good blogs written in and about Manchester but any verve and talent in the actual writing was killed in mumbled, self-conscious or self-congratulatory delivery. For a medium which is ungoverned, unedited and free, is there any point criticising? Probably not, but when you start giving awards for the thing, you invite a critique. They chose the wrong winners for a start, evidenced in part by the reaction of the crowd and the vox pops of the people I interrogated. The few that is who had actually heard of or read any of the blogs. Do your homework people!

With the exception of this person

who is a fucking genius, the readings, in my humble opinion, were flat, ill-chosen and uninteresting. Other adjectives loaned to me were ‘whimsical’, ‘trite’ and ‘woefully middle-class’. They didn’t hold the attention of the audience who got increasingly rowdy, impatient and talkative while the readers mumbled about coffee and home appliances. Nobody had the good sense to ask the noisy bastards, not even via the conveniently-placed microphone, to please shut the fuck up while people were reading. I love DIY culture, but shambolic and homemade doesn’t have to mean a shambles, does it?

Praise for the event has started to appear, I’m sure it will continue, no doubt including from people I spoke to last night who were much more honest after a few pints but freely admitted they probably couldn’t say what they really thought. Therein lies the trap of a supportive community of writers; you can’t say what you really think. What the hell are blogs for, if not that?

After the astonishingly good writing I witnessed at the Manchester Writer's evening at the Deaf Institute on Sunday it was a shame that even the published work, I mean really proper published-in-books published stuff, was weaker than the online material that was read out. Was it all just poorly chosen? What a disappointment. Still, we had a fucking fantastic time. Coco, I love you, you were robbed.

Before the criticisms roll in (as if anyone reads this!) yeah I did nominate myself in every single category, partly to prove how elastic they were, and no I didn’t win anything. Turns out someone else nominated me too though, so thankyou. This isn’t sour grapes though, I promise.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

On Dave Haslam and Abba

There seem to be two trains of thought regarding Dave Haslam in Manchester. One is that he was a key player in the city’s astonishing musical renaissance, the other is that he was something of a warm-up man for the real acts, that his forte was the student disco and perhaps time has been kinder to him than it should. I’ve met him briefly and heard him read and he’s a sound and very lovely bloke. I’ve yet to read his Manchester, England book. In fact I was about to buy it when I noticed that he’s written another, called Not Abba. Here’s what he says about it:

"I grew up in Birmingham in the 1970s, and I honestly never met anyone who liked Abba. My big sister and her friends were into the Faces, and Neil Young, and Fairport Convention, and my little brother had a thing for Led Zeppelin (he had all their bootlegs). The thing about Abba then was that I [had] trouble relating to all that 'Mamma Mia' and "I could dance with you honey, If you think it's funny" stuff to what was happening in the streets of our towns and cities; high rise tower blocks collapsing, trade union strikes, widespread racism, rising unemployment, gay liberation, and football hooliganism. And the thing about Abba dominating histories of the 1970s now is that not only is it a distortion of the past, but it's also symbolic, I suppose; symbolic of the way our society can only be comfortable with a sentimental view of our history, that conflict and struggle are best forgotten. Not Abba is about everything TV programmes like 'I Love the Seventies' don't understand or don't want to acknowledge."

There’s a phrase in here which troubles me:

"I [had] trouble relating to all that 'Mamma Mia' and "I could dance with you honey, If you think it's funny" stuff to what was happening in the streets of our towns and cities; high rise tower blocks collapsing, trade union strikes, widespread racism, rising unemployment, gay liberation, and football hooliganism …"

Well is that how people listen to music? Relating what’s happening in the world to the records on your turntable? Is Dave still doing that today? I wonder if the sets he plays address recession, Iraq, the two-party system? I’m being facetious I know, but it’s to make a point. I think his sentiment misses something quite fundamental about the way people actually use art, and perhaps significantly for Haslam, it back-writes some cool into his own story.

When I was young and miserable I played my Smiths albums endlessly, in part for the delicious wallowing but also for the comfort that someone older and wiser felt as I did and had made something beautiful, a life in fact, out of it. When I was older and actually depressed and having counselling I couldn’t play that music. I can’t play it now as it happens because The Smiths were something my boyfriend and I shared and it will be a long time before I can play ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ without crying. Instead I get ready to go out playing ‘Got To Be Real’ by Cheryl Lynn, ‘I’m Coming Out’ by Diana Ross ('don’t let it show on your face', girlfriend). Back in the dark days I would play ‘Hush The Warmth’ by Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci over and over again and it covered me like a duvet,. When I went out I danced around to indie pop and I got away from it all.

So there are two things to say about Dave's premise. First, what about escapism? What about ‘only when I’m dancing do I feel this free’? It’s interesting that he mentions gay lib, it was in the seventies that gay people won unprecedented freedom and it began, and expressed itself best, on the dance floor. Those kids weren’t dancing to Led Zep or Ziggy or The Clash though, it was D.I.S.C.O. all the way. Escape from the grime and the name-calling and the lying and the shrinks and the furtive loveless sex and dancing into a new life. Escape! Imagine you’re a gay, black, fifteen-year-old lad living penniless in a tower block in a crumbling British city in the 70s. How could the power of ‘Dancing Queen’ not lift you towards something, somewhere else you’d rather be? Taylor Parkes wrote:

“You can dance, you can jive / Having the time of your life ..” Outrageously poignant chords clash, collapse .. THIS is the time of your life, it will get no better than THIS, this transient transcendence, this petit mort … “Dancing queen, feel the beat of the tambourine …” - rarely (never?) in the history of popular song, has one word, any word, been loaded with more gut-wrenching emotional violence than that massive brimming “tambourine” in the second chorus of ‘Dancing Queen’. It spills over with poignancy, chased by a blaze of helpess, skyscraping cries …"

Now there’s someone who understands pop music. I realise that Abba, as Haslam indicates, are being used symbolically to represent the sheen which the nostalgia industry has put on the 70s. It’s worth pointing out the obvious though, that during this decade of poverty, social unrest, strikes, depression, violence, Abba were the biggest pop group on the planet and by a long way. The nostalgia industry didn’t manufacture that fact. Makes you wonder why? When there’s a war on you don’t get every book you can from the library about war and play sad songs all day long. At least that’s not all you do. You dance and drink and screw, get ratted, gather round the joanna and have a bloody good sing-song and a knees-up, don’t you?

Of course you need art you can relate to, always, but I don’t buy the premise that art which addresses the conditions of its own production is superior to art which 'makes another thing possible', to quote Toni Morrison. In other words I don’t see an essential difference between ‘You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life …’ and ‘This town, is coming like a ghost town, all the clubs have been closed down, this place, is coming like a ghost town, bands won't play no more, too much fighting on the dance floor …’ Each serves its purpose in its own unique and beautiful way. Are The Specials a more important band than Abba? I’d like to hear you argue that one. Go and play ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ now, before you decide. It could be argued the 80s were as bleak a decade in their own way as the 70s had been. I recommend Dave digs out The Visitors (1981) for a beautifully executed exercise in tenderness, anxiety, sadness and alienation. It’s that good a record. They don’t mention this album on 'I Love The Seventies' either. In fact they do Abba as much a disservice as Dave has.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Music, Vermouth, Sex and Poetry

Speaking of music, a fine gig was thrown by Coraline in the sumptuous upstairs room at Deaf Institute to celebrate the release of their fantastic first EP. I am determined to throw a party in that room, it is officially my favourite space in Manchester. Gutted I couldn’t stretch to the Holy Fuck show there following their stint supporting Foals at the Academy. Seeing them twice in one night on a Wednesday though, even I have limits. Foals themselves were quite quite brilliant. Very exciting prolonged intro with massive shadows of the band cast the full length of the venue walls. Spine tingling. The songs are just something else entirely played live, fuelled I suspect by the power emitted from Yannis’ now enormous hairdo. The kids loved ‘em, I’ve never seen so many stylish and mashed children on a week night. They knew all the moves. Better than a cup a soup in front of Desperate Housewives. Don’t like the new Academy bar though, yuck. The bouncers were monsters too, sniffing people’s drinks and ID-ing all and sundry. Mind your own business and watch the band.

Forgot to mention my transplendently splendiferous Sex and The City party. I had a grand screening of the movie at my gaff and a right old knees-up it was. No attention to detail was spared. I had a playlist assembled featuring songs from the series (Cheryl Lynn, The Source feat. Candi Staton, ‘Moonriver’, ‘Are You Gonna Go My Way?’) culminating in the series and movie theme tunes for added excitement. God what an anorak I am. I screened two carefully selected episodes as pre-movie trailers (the one where she breaks up with Aidan by the fountain, the one where Big leaves for California and Miranda has the baby) to an even more carefully-selected audience of appreciative girls and gay boys. Dear Paul even dragged himself out of his sick bed to attend and proved himself a sterling mixologist making Martinis, clean and dirty, and Cosmopolitans till his perfectly-toned arms ached. Fun fun fun.

In other news I recently got myself a nice eight quid, austere, to-the-bone haircut as a kind of baptism into my new life and to celebrate our current wartime penury. My god I was freezing. Check out my skull.

After the partying described passim, the madness came to a crashing halt, as these things do. I went to the Warehouse Party’s Eat Your Own Ears shindig and could only withstand three songs from Late Of The Pier before I had to retreat home trembling. The night before had been unbelievably sticky, finishing at 8 am with bruises, Noilly Prat all over the carpet and a trashed flat. Honestly, at my age. Lesson learnt.

More cerebral and low-key adventures are now in order. To that end I did this. And I am also reviewing the Manchester Poetry Prize Gala on Thursday night. Exciting stuff. Looking forward to seeing Carol Ann Duffy again, whom I adore, especially since the drunken night when she held my head in her hands and said, ‘You look like a poet. Are you? You look like David’s Michelangelo.’ A memory I will take with me to the grave.

Lastly, and most importantly of all, I sat down and worked on The Novel for the first time in weeks, rattling off an entire chapter in one evening. This means I have three chapters to go and the writing is DONE. Then comes the edit. I am geared up for it now more than ever. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

'Lived in bars …'

I hear ya sister. Most of my time of late has been spent in drinking dens the length of Oxford Road and its surrounds, my second homes being Kro, Kro 2, Odder, Deaf Institute, Cornerhouse, Temple, Rain Bar, Peveril, Via Fossa, Taurus … It’s sinfully indulgent considering my appalling financial state and the wider economic crises but I have needed to be numb of late and, you know, I do love the night life.

Fun things have included the free comedy night at the Ape & Apple where, unintentionally, the most amusing thing was an inebriated loudmouth from Gorton attempting to tell me his life story by shouting over each and every act. There was some excellent material from the real acts though, lots of pony-tailed men for some reason, and some that just made you want to curl up and die.

In related news, my hobs are the cleanest they’ve been since I moved in because I have been eating out at every given opportunity: Pi, Lead Station, Panama Hatty’s, Try Thai, Great Wall, Croma … Honestly, I feel like Marie Antoinette. It’s going to be a lean Christmas I tell ya. Somehow I’ve also managed to lose weight at the same time. Je ne comprends pas but I love it.

Dear Oscar said, ‘Anyone who lives within their mean suffers from a lack of imagination.’ We would have got along so very well. I have flown in the face of the so-called recession these last few weeks by simply flinging fistfuls of my hard-earned in the face of ennui, misery and my general disbelief at the state of things. I have to say it’s been marvellous. I even indulged in retail therapy, which I never do. I am quite incapable of buying clothes which is why I always look like a pile of someone else’s dry-cleaning. I am able to purchase one or two nice items every couple of months by going to Oxfam or Ryan Vintage, anything more than this and I fail. I know exactly what I want to look like but nobody sells the clothes required, at least not in my humble price range. I did however manage to successfully procure a shirt three sizes too small for me in Top Man in order to make my arms look just-so buff. Basically I look like trade in it … perfect.

Musically I fared slightly better, eventually getting myself a decent Roxy compilation AND Marianne Faithful’s Broken English at long last (£3 from Fopp!). My pride and joy at the moment though is a rediscovered Among My Swan by Mazzy Star (also £3 from Fopp!) which sounds as ethereal and crystal-like as it did when I first heard it ten years ago. Must get ‘Fade Into You’ too, Hope Sandoval, I salute you. That, plus my gorgeous vinyl of Elbow’s The Seldom-Seen Kid, Magnetic Fields’ Distortion and Set Yourself On Fire by Stars, are all helping me to steel myself against an unkind world. Music was my first and it shall be my last love.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

That set list in full ...

What a pro I turned out to be. Okay not really, my fading in and out was a bit ropey, I should have put the free lager down for a start (note rosey cheeks and printed setlist), but the people danced and what the hell else is a DJ for? I honoured John Peel and hoped that he would have had a bit of a jig too. Here's me in action ...

And here's my Peelified setlist in full ...

St Etienne – Only Love Can Break Your Heart

Cocteau Twins - Iceblink Luck


Granddaddy - AM 180

The Fall
How I Wrote Elastic Man

Huggy Bear - Her Jazz


Divine Comedy - Vapour Trail

Super Furry Animals
Lazy Life

Depeche Mode – Everything Counts

Come Out 2 Nite

Foals - Balloons

King Of The Kerb

The Horrors - She Is The New thing

Teenage Fanclub - Sparky
s Dream

Wire - Outdoor Miner

Longpigs - She Said

Subcircus - 86

Lemonheads - Dawn Can
t Decide

Strangelove - The Greatest Show On Earth

They Might Be Giants - Birdhouse In Your Soul

Stereolab - French Disko

Ash - Kung Fu

Shonen Knife - Daydream Believer

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

John Peel Night

Roll up, roll up … This month’s Are Friends Eclectic? pays tribute to the wonderful and sadly-missed Mr John Peel and the brilliant music he gave to us all. Tracks will be dusted off and aired from Peel’s very favourite bands, the groups he got you all listening to via his show, classic highlights from Peel sessions through the years, and general Peel-inspired Peel-approved indie punk alternative lo-fi messiness that you can dance to. PLUS my very own DJ booth debut with a very special setlist of cracking indie tunes, forgotten gems and modern killers. Cheap in, cheap at the bar, lovely people, and the spirit of Peel in the air. DON’T STAY HOME!!

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Youtube cover versions

You know how it is, you're supremely talented but just too damn special to even get onto X- factor. So what do you do? Simply broadcast your extraordinary gift via Youtube instead. It usually goes something like this: 'I was bored so here's a video of me doing 'Enter Sandman' on my clarinet, will somebody give me a thousand pounds please?' It would just be too easy to put the five most hideous offerings up here, so instead I set myself the task of finding ten genuinely excellent cover versions out there in the ether. Not to get all Victoria Wood on you but I really have never seen so many untidy bedrooms and nasty pelmets in my life. Anyway, God himself couldn't find ten outstanding covers on there so here's five, and don't think they were easy to come by. Enjoy ...

'Boxing' by Ben Folds Five

'Fox in the Snow' by Belle & Sebastian

'Hometown Glory' by Adele

'Babooshka' by Kate Bush

'Motion Picture Soundtrack' by Radiohead

Monday, 22 September 2008

Can't cry hard enough

I’ve been bed-hopping a fair bit lately. Sleeping alone I might add, just holidaying at various friends’ and relatives’ places. It’s nice to be looked after but it can give one a slightly disjointed feeling waking up to a different ceiling each day. Having had a lovely evening with friends Kate and Pete in Chorlton I retire to my Auntie and Uncle’s house where I’m cat-sitting for their Charlie and their Poppy. I’m full of wine and fall asleep right away but my night is plagued by terrible dreams, one in particular I remember clearly.

I’m living back at my parents’ house and, after everyone goes to bed each night, I step outside, barefoot and barechested, and I fly. I fly over the houses and fields, I fly down to the seafront, along the promenade, gliding quietly through the night sky. It’s an amazing sensation and I land back home exhilarated. It’s also unsettling though, I’m a little more afraid each time I fly. The air is bitingly cold and I can’t wear anything more than trousers or else I won’t take off. I’m a little bit scared of the dark. I worry I will see something else flying too. Sometimes I see macabre, murderous things through people’s windows as I sail past.

One night I am flying only feet above a suburban street when I see a boy watching me from his window, terrified, and in a fit of cruelty I fly right up to the glass and pull an horrific face before disappearing into the air. The next night I see my Mum standing out in the garden looking up. I join her and I see that news of me must have spread, the black sky is full of laser beams, fireworks and flares are sent up to light the clouds and find me out. People are sailing in hot air balloons, desperately waving torches to try and track me down. The sky looks beautiful.

I decide flying is too dangerous tonight so I feign illness and am tucked up in bed. My elder sister comes to see me, she holds my hand and tells me I’ll be okay and for some reason it moves me to tears. I see behind her eyes that she knows something more than she is letting on. When I wake I’m not sure where I am. There are strangers around me arguing with each other, their faces are unkind and I sense their anger will soon be directed at me. I try to snuggle under the blankets but one of the men looks squarely at me and I feel something violent is about to occur. Suddenly my powers get the better of me and I lift involuntarily right out of the bed and in broad daylight begin to hover in front of everyone. People begin to scream and hurl things at me and I have to make my escape. I am hounded into the sky where planes begin to pursue me. I know they mean to capture me and pull me apart and see what I am. I realise I’m alone and so I have to flee. I don’t have a chance to say goodbye.

As I’m flying away to who knows what I hear Judy Collins singing the beautiful, maudlin, epic wrist-slasher, ‘Can’t cry hard enough’, and it so upsets me to hear it that I scream to try and drown it out.

‘I’m gonna live my life like every day's the last

Without a simple goodbye it all goes by so fast

And now that you're gone I can't cry hard enough

I can't cry hard enough for you to hear me now …’

That’s when I wake up for real, and I am screaming the house down, waiting for my boyfriend to shake me like he always does and tell me it’s a dream and that everything is okay. But he doesn’t, and he won’t, because I’m also waking up to the fact that real life is suddenly worse than these strange nightmares I’m having. He’s left me, in fact, hence the bed-hopping, and what I thought was my great love, isn’t. Charlie comes and nuzzles me to see what all the fuss is about and it’s such an innocent and loving act I can’t help crying. I fall asleep eventually with the same bloody song on repeat in my head. I wish I’d never heard it. I wake the next day and I am miserable, lonely, frazzled, pondering that I am one day closer to … what?

Friday, 19 September 2008

Speed Diary 2

Elbow win the Mercury (at last!) and it feels like a well-deserved hometown victory. To be fair I had only heard a third of the albums short-listed but theirs is a genuine beauty. The very next night, after a gorgeous dinner at Katie’s, she and I head to The Temple of Convenience (my long-time favourite and now neighbourhood bar, housed in a converted Victorian lav) where the band are back from London and celebrating in true Manc style by getting pissed with their mates after 2 hours sleep (and several dozen interviews). Bit different from Mayfair innit? Stephen Fretwell is also in attendance as are some of I Am Kloot. Guy Garvey is ‘the happiest man in the world’ ™ at this stage and it’s a pleasure to shake his hand. When we leave them a few hours later he is swaying by the jukebox with girlfriend Emma by his side and the world at his feet, knocking back mysterious black shots and smiling for England.

Birthday drinks for Emma and Anne at Kro 2 where Matthew brings the best and most inconvenient gift ever, pictured.

Then he and I head to the Union to witness the triumphant return of the mighty Wire. Eeek! I love this band with a special kind of reverence I reserve for those who are truly innovative but are too frequently overlooked in people’s record collections (Pixies and Kraftwerk figure on this list too). They still sound amazing and though I don’t get to hear ‘Dot Dash’ or the gazillion others I prayed for, we do get ‘The 15th’ (the cover by Fischerspooner is in my ten greatest covers ever list) and a face-slapping version of ‘12XU’ which reminds me why I fell in love with the fuckers in the first place.

Robert Gotobed is my favourite living drummer, there I said it. The new album tracks already sound like vintage Wire, angular speed-drone, and the new girl guitarist is shit hot. A girl guitarist is probably the only thing that could have made Wire any cooler in fact. If it comes to it I would like to be buried with my Pink Flag please, though it’s ‘Outdoor Miner’ from Chairs Missing which features my favourite opening lines of any song ever. Regard:

'No blind spots
In leopard's eyes
Can only help
To jeopardise
The lives of lambs
The shepherd cries'


Next night is a huge group dinner at Cocotoo’s with 15 of us in greedy attendance, including my Ma and Pa. I’ve had mediocre food in Cocotoo’s before but this time I am pleasantly surprised with a delicious Ravioli con Funghi which came in a rich yumscious cheese sauce and which I forced myself to finish. Then it’s back up to the Union for a gig at the opposite end of the musical spectrum, Nearly Dan, the Steely Dan tribute band to end all others. They are in fact blessed with the approval of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker themselves. I was raised on Steely Dan, to me they are the sound of long summer drives in the back of my auntie and uncle’s car where the trip is more important than the destination and you can pretend you’re out on the open road in the 1970s, idling your way from East Coast to West whenever you get too jaded by one or the other and your only worry is where the next shot of Cuervo Gold is coming from …

'I'll learn to work the saxophone
And I'll play just what I feel
Drink Scotch whisky all night long
And die behind the wheel ...'

Speed Diary 1

Here’s how I spend my time and your money …

To Odder with Matthew for a gottle o’ geer and a GORGEOUS pizza (better than Cornerhouse even), all for a crisp fiver, how good is that? Quick pint at Cord, very empty, then on to Nexus for a night of music and album launching. Nexus is a nifty little basement café cum gallery and performance space at the corner of Oldham and Dale Street. It started life as a safe-space-late-night-café affiliated with the local church so that mashed clubbers could wait for cabs out of the way of danger. How sweet. It explains the incongruity between wall graffiti (‘I hope your kids explode!’) and overheard conversations (’I haven’t seen you since your baptism!’).

The main event is the launch of third album, The Kansas Sessions, from Kirsty McGee and her Hobopop collective. First up however is The Bee’s Niece, pseudonym of singer-songwriter Ragnhild Zeigler, and very lovely she is too, delicate, plucky songs with a wry and funny underside. Alas she couldn’t compete for long with the noise from the percolator and smoothie maker so we retire somewhere with a license to wait for something a bit louder. Matt and Phred’s was a melancholy scene, two bored and beautiful barmaids, us three supping Guinness by the open window looking onto the rainy back street, and a lone pianist practising his sad jazz down the back. I am so going back there for a proper night soon, haven’t been for far too long.

Back to Nexus then to hear Kirsty MCgee’s up-beat, foot-stomping, rockabilly ‘n’ country tunes. All good fun and some fantastic lyrics but not my cup of Earl Grey especially. Excellent musicians though and any live music is better than a night in front of the telly. And all for free!

Later in the week and Are Friends Eclectic? comes around again at Retro. This usually studenty pub had THE most amazing clientele upstairs out of term time, I was transfixed. A gaggle of old-school seventies clone queens manhandling the jukebox in one corner, a slab of gorgeous Manc rough trade in the other, metal hair freaks round the bar, rough diamond Gorton sports dyke serving, and right in the window a straight couple gettin’ it on in the most spectacularly public fashion. Get a room people! Love it.

Guinness and black for me please. Drank it all night and woke up feeling like a cough sweet. This month’s AFE was Manchester themed, with a particular bent towards Moz/Smiths. Sparsely populated though, which was a shame. Where else can you hear Slaughter and the Dogs and The Wedding Present of a Thursday? The lovely Phil Gatenby did a turn on the decks and we persuaded him to whip out his new Smiths tattoo (and his very hairy arms also).

Next day it’s off down Whalley Range to celebrate the lovely Maria’s tenth year in Manchester. I had a similar idea to celebrate my own anniversary a while back (I think I went on holiday instead) where everybody would have to dress as themselves ten years ago. I still might do it. Depressingly though, I might only look slightly different. I bet I even have my old glasses. Utterly wrecked and up till 5 am, relocating to Chorlton along the way. My attempt to force everyone to listen to this at 4 in the morning went down like the proverbial, but I still believe!

Party again the next night, this time to celebrate Emma and James shacking up. Hooray! Feeling very fragile by this point but lovely to see friendly faces from Charlotte, Kate, Pete, Dee, John, my brudder and his lovely g-friend Charlie. All next day is spent on the couch at Dee’s watching The Green Wing which I have come to regard as semi-genius.

I take a spontaneous half-day off later in the week and eat my favourite thing in the world which is the falafel burger with spicy fries at the Deaf Institute then me and Char go off to the Great Northern Warehouse to watch The Dark Knight, about which nothing more needs to be said, other than 1) Christian Bale isn’t trying, and 2) it’s a fitting swan song for poor Heath. A framed picture of Heath adorns my CD tower and makes me think daily about the irresistible tragedy of somebody so beautiful that dies young. I still miss River Phoenix. God love ‘em both.