Archive for the ‘ music ’ Category

Teenager alert! (and he’s only 10)

Things my 10 year old son claims he no longer likes that he used to:

*Night-time cuddles and stories – “yeah mum, like I want you in my face before I go to sleep – not.”

*Super Furry Animals, Radiohead, Wedding Present, Smiths, any of the many bands with guitars I indoctrinated him into liking as a child – “they’re, like, so old fashioned. Haven’t you even heard of Bruno Mars? Or Chase & Status? God, you’re so ancient.”

*One or two of his childhood friends – “mum, they’re so immature. And they don’t even know it.”

*His dad – “I sometimes think you just haven’t taken to me.”

*His brother – “Sometimes I wish you hadn’t been born, you’re THAT annoying.”

*Me – “Did they have exams when you were younger to get into university or were you just allowed in even if you weren’t clever, like you?”

*Having his picture taken – “If you take one more picture of me without asking my permission first I’m going to sue you.”

Things I love about my 10 year old:

*The way he insists on wearing aftershave (Lynx Africa)

*The amazing cuddles he gives me – they may be loads less frequent but when they come they are so worth it.

*The way he flicks his head to get his new fringe out of his eyes

*How he loves horror stories, even though they frighten him

*The brilliant way he amuses his brother with silly impressions and crazy voices to cheer him up if he’s sad or hurt.

*His lovely caring nature; he may try to act tough but he gives it away every time

He no longer allows me to take his photo, unless it is for a very special reason, like he’s engaged in an unusual activity like flying down a zipwire. Instead, to feed my desire to capture his lovely face as often as possible, I have to devise cunning and sly tricks.

Due to computer problems I can’t seem to upload an image to the blog today, but suffice to say they are of a “blurry/arty” nature – where he has moved suddenly on realising his picture is being taken. Several of them were taken inside the Pompidou Centre in Paris during a trip yesterday. We took part in an art project, called Inside Out. The artist, called JR, has set up a giant photobooth in the centre and each person enters the booth, sits still and an image is taken. During the process a bindi mark is placed on every person’s forehead. The resulting images are printed out onto giant sheets of paper – mine is nearly as big as me – which are ejected from a huge slot high up at the top of the giant photobooth, from where they flutter to the ground, to excited squeals from the people waiting below. It is great fun and you can see the results at http://www.insideoutproject.net/pompidou

Behind the fun lies the incredibly powerful idea that everyone is beautiful and unique. As someone who constantly struggles with self image, it was interesting to note my own reaction. While everyone else in my family ooed and aahed over their posters and laid them out on the floor to take in all their glory, I couldn’t wait to roll mine up and hide it away. Participants are urged to put their poster faces up in their own community – while I can think of a million places I’d want to display the giant faces of my sons and husband, I can’t imagine being comfortable placing my own giant face anywhere other than in the back garden. Funny how a bit of fun art can make you stop and think and analyse your own vision of yourself, isn’t it? I’ve certainly embraced one of the stated aims of the project – “to discover, reveal and share your untold story…”

You don’t have to visit France to join in – visit http://www.insideoutproject.net to find out how to submit your own portrait and receive a poster back in return.

Next to the giant photobooth were traditional, smaller versions, which produced 7x5inch prints. Felix had to kneel up to get to the right eye level for his pic – and while he was doing so I snapped a couple of candid pix. He will hate that I photographed him without him knowing it, so am I morally right to do so? It’s a tough one – I know I’d hate it.

As my son enters into the twilight world of teenage insecurity, I’m sure he, like me, doesn’t see and appreciate his own beauty, and that’s probably why he constantly asks me to erase the pictures I’ve taken of him. I won’t though – I want him to know that he is beautiful and amazing, if only he’d open his eyes to it. A lesson there for me too I think.

Spotify your way to happiness

So, it’s another evening in for you and yours? There’s nothing on the TV worth watching; the kids are in bed (or you don’t have any); you like music but sometimes think you end up listening to the same old tunes over and over again; you haven’t had a proper natter with your other half or your mates for a while; and you’re skint.

Well, may I make a suggestion? It’ll probably sound a bit naff, but I promise you, if you’ve got some good music-related memories or you are game for a laugh, you will enjoy it.

“It” on this occasion is the Spotify “Chain Game” (said in deep booming voice, with accompanying homemade theme tune) Honestly, it’s good fun. Really. Do you trust me? You do? Then give it a whirl. What have you got to lose?

Before you know it you too could be discovering and marvelling at the likes of Richard Cheese (real name) and Catfish Keith; digging out a “before they were famous” track by Bros, or reliving school disco days with The Cult. I’m not selling it well am I? Bear with, bear with…

First, you will need the following: a laptop or iPad or other device on which you can call up Spotify (free version of course); a comfortable setting, probably your lounge; some speakers (inbuilt ones will do); at least two people for the chatting part, though I guess you could play solo; access to nice wine/beer/cocktails/drink of choice.

Next you need to pick a theme. It could, for example, be cities, or countries, or names of people you know or who are in your family, or vegetables, or animals. Most ideas seem to work well, but try more obscure ones if you like (detectives of the 1970s and 1980s is a tester…)

All you need to do now is start the “Chain Game” (don’t forget the booming voice and doodley doodley theme tune).

Now, the first player types in a word on the theme – for this example, I’ll pick vegetables, so I type in ‘aubergine’.

A list of song titles and artists containing the word ‘aubergine’ duly appear. It’s not a very long list, but still more than I’d expected. Another player picks a number (I’m playing with hubby and he picks five.) I scroll down that number and together we listen to whatever comes up – in this example it’s “Aubergine Walls” by Nick Lawson. It’s a chillout, ambient electronic thing (describing it as a tune would be a bit strong). It’s all right but I won’t be rushing out to buy Nick’s EP. We cut it short after 2 minutes.

Next hubby inputs “carrot”. Now that’s more like it – I can spy tunes from Neutral Milk Hotel, Pavement and Captain Beefheart. But I go for track 20 – which turns out to be a racket by Bentley Rhythm Ace called A Lot of Stick (But Not Much Carrot). Turns out they are from Birmingham and feature the bassist out of Pop Will Eat Itself. They are truly dreadful, but it triggers a long rambling conversation about bands from Birmingham (Duran Duran, Steel Pulse, and err, that’s it…), nights out we have known in Birmingham (bizarrely involving strippers), and whether the Selfridges Bull Ring is an architectural gem or a load of silver hubcaps stuck on a round wall (it’s an architectural gem).

Which segues nicely into my next choice. “potato”. Now I had no idea there was a band called Potato. Their biggest hit is Jamaika Ska. They are located via the number six. They make a pleasant enough old school reggae noise, with lots of trumpets and skanking beats. We recall the holiday we once had to the Dominican Republic, when hubby got a dodgy tum. He ended up in bed for three days with raging diarrhoea. I, on the other hand, learned to windsurf after a fashion and enjoyed lots of cheap local rum.

Do you get the idea?

We did Chain Game recently, inputting our own first names. This led us to the discovery of the comically monikered lounge singer Richard Cheese. You have not lived until you have heard versions of the likes of Sunday Bloody Sunday by U2, Smack My Bitch Up by Prodigy and Nirvana’s Rape Me performed by a man called Richard. Cheese. (You’ve realised the rudeness potential by now I’m sure.)

So if you sometimes run out of things to say to the other half of an evening that don’t involve the kids, work, DIY or what’s on the telly, I’d urge you to give “Chain Game” a try. It won’t be long before you’re grabbing the laptop off each other to click on a song you’ve spied on the list, or shouting out how much you used to LOVE this song and you haven’t heard it for ages, or how this always reminds you of being in a caravan with your mum and dad in north Wales. Obviously getting slowly drunk together aids the process considerably.

You’ll almost certainly end up abandoning the game after a while, but hopefully that will be because you are chatting so much you end up just letting the music play on without your input. Or you realise it’s after midnight and the wine has all gone and you’ve got work in the morning.

Give it a go. I might be onto something.

Random thoughts while watching TV

This blog will do what it says on the tin. I will merely blog tonight as I watch TV and observe my family. This is called multi-tasking, I think. Women do it all the time apparently, men less so; at least, that’s what gender stereotypes would have you believe.

I’ll set the scene for you: my eldest is sprawled on a bean bag in the middle of the lounge, lanky legs akimbo; hubby is snuggling littlest man on the settee, his injured leg up on a second bean bag (he’s just been to the physio and has an icepack on his poorly calf muscle); and I’m slumped on an armchair, son’s laptop on knee, trying not to annoy everyone with my touch typing.

The room is quiet – it’s the boys’ Simpsons time, when I normally spend half an hour pottering in the kitchen in peace, listening to the radio or humming to myself.

By rights I should not be here tonight. I have tickets to go and see Jonny – a new collaboration between Euros Childs, ex Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, and Norman Blake, of Teenage Fanclub – in Bristol with one of my oldest and most lovely friends Liz and her sister Suzy. I’ve been looking forward to it for ages. I should right now be at Liz’s house, quaffing wine and booking a cab. But my flu-hangover is still with me, and I really couldn’t face the hour-and-a-half journey down the M5, so I’m stuck here instead.

I’m fed-up, I must admit. Fed up to be missing seeing a good band but mostly fed up to miss out on seeing my chum, who always makes me feel happy. But to be honest I’m quite resigned and realise I’ve not got much to moan about really. I’ve only had flu, not a fatal illness. And while I’m lacking in energy, I’m not in pain and suffering.

Oops; I’ve now caused a minor rumpus by switching channels from Channel 4 to Emmerdale. I don’t think this will give me the excitement I am craving. The storyline concerns Jackson, left paralysed in an accident, and his relationship with boyfriend Aaron, who has a new fella on the go (but feels guilty about it). And now there’s something about a pair of sisters; one of them has a son, but he’s not really her son, he’s her sister’s son, but doesn’t know it. It’s very confusing. Pauline Quirk from Birds of a Feather is in it. That’s all I can tell you, as I’ve now lost interest.

I did notice none of the houses in Emmerdale are ever messy (unless it’s done as part of the storyline, to symbolise someone’s mental decline). The pub never seems to have any empty glasses left on tables or piled up at the bar. How on earth does it manage to employ so many bar staff when it has so few customers?

The adverts are on now. I like the Oreo one with the dunking boy and sad dog and the cheesy Werthers one that uses “I would give everything I own…” by Bread to sell sucky sweets.

The kids have disappeared to play in the kitchen with littlest boy’s Ben 10 ultimate alien car, which he has just converted to a – well, to a convertible. It was a robot thing before. Their dad is filling hot water bottles, making the boys’ beds and is about to read a story with littlest boy. He’s a fantastic dad. Sitting here typing instead of helping suggests I’m the less good parent. This is probably true.

The laptop battery gave out briefly, so I’ve been away a while, just getting back in time for University Challenge. The Sheffield team are easily the least handsome quartet I’ve seen for some time. They almost certainly put their religion down as “jedi”, quote from Lord of The Rings and enjoy a game of dungeons and dragons into the early hours.

I’ve had enough now. I have things to do, like talk to my husband, take some more flu remedy and maybe even have a bath. Exciting, eh? Well, when I promised to blog daily I never promised to blog about interesting things.

The Summer of 1996, Swansea, Wales

My flu-enforced house confinement this week has given me lots of time to contemplate the past, present and future (and sort through some old boxes of junk).

Tonight, one of my discoveries was a mix tape I made in May 1996 or thereabouts – a time when I was living and working in sunny Swansea.

I moved to Swansea in early 1995. I’d applied for and been offered (on the basis of a chat over a pint in a pub) the job of district news editor with the South Wales Evening Post. It was to be my first news desk role so, even though I didn’t know a soul and the job would take me miles from friends, family and my boyfriend at the time, Richard, I jumped at the chance.

I arrived on a cold and blustery Sunday, the wind blowing across the Mumbles seafront as I took a solo stroll along the beach. I wondered what the hell I was doing there.

I’d left the comfort of my simple life as a journalist at the Wolverhampton Express & Star, living with my boyfriend and having Sunday lunch at my mum and dads, to move to this distant corner of Wales, to live in a sad bedsit over a craft shop.

As soon as I met my new workmates the next day I knew it was going to work out just fine. They were friendly, kind and funny people who very generously allowed this English interloper to fit into their gang, who made me feel instantly at home.

I worked long hours and partied pretty hard, but also enjoyed long walks in the parks and on the beach with my new pals. I made some particularly special friends – Kathy & Rich, Cathy, Peter & Jayne, Janine and Kaye and many more – who shared this lovely time with me.

Within weeks I had been introduced to Wendy, a Scottish probation officer, who invited me to lodge in the Sketty home she shared with her black Labrador Mac and boyfriend Robin.

Though there were only a few years between us, Wendy quickly took on the role of substitute mum. I was naughty teenage daughter; I hardly ever washed up, rarely cooked, played loud music, drove a rusting, unreliable red Ford Escort and often came in late and drunk. I think it was a role she was used to – her partner, now husband, Robin, a fellow journalist, was like my naughty older brother, always in trouble. Mac the dog was definitely the least troublesome member of her household! Wendy could always be relied upon for a shoulder to cry on, someone to have a laugh with – and she always, always, had a pot of tea brewing.

It was a lovely period of my life. The only downside was the amount of time I spent apart from Richard, who by this time had moved up to Fort William, in the Scottish Highlands, to take up his own dream job – reporting for a weekly paper by day, climbing mountains every evening and weekend.

We only got together for one weekend in six, because of the immense distances involved. We had each taken on our new jobs with the other’s blessing – I wanted to push on in my career, and Richard wanted to seize the opportunity to live in the Highlands, however briefly. We were both prepared to risk being apart, in the belief our relationship would survive, and thankfully it worked. We enjoyed our independence, but ultimately we realised we wanted to be together more than anything.

While I missed Richard I truly fell in love with Swansea. It is an amazing, warm city and I would happily move back there tomorrow, if the circumstances were right.

Working at the Post was interesting and challenging. The editor who appointed me, Hugh Berlyn, was a difficult blighter – one day funny and brilliant, another day moody. It was a newsroom blessed with plenty of characters. I had the odd difference with people, and I’m sure I made the lives of some of the district reporters hell, but mostly we had a good giggle. It was easily the best place I have ever worked.

During this era my interest in music was reignited (probably because of all the time I had to myself tootling about in my Escort or in my room.) I went to lots of gigs and befriended a couple of the staff at Newport’s Diverse Records, which I called in to every time I popped along the M4 to visit my folks in Shrewsbury.

We quickly came to an arrangement – they would post me a batch of 45s every month, and I would keep what I liked and return the rest. They introduced me to lots of amazing bands – Super Furry Animals, Snuff, The Grifters, Lambchop – and lots of rubbish ones too, but the arrival of that package always gave me a great buzz.

So here I am tonight, sat in the kitchen, listening to that mix tape, remembering my old Swansea buddies. In front of me is the commemorative front page my old pals made me on my departure. It makes me smile every time I look at it, recalling as it does some dodgy nights out, my love of clumpy shoes, my inability to answer phones, my crush on MP Peter Hain (don’t ask), and my penchant for flavoured alcopops.

I left Swansea in November 1996 to move with Richard to Nottingham. I’d got a new job as deputy news editor at the Nottingham Evening Post, while Richard became a TV press officer for Carlton TV.

I made it back to Swansea a few times after moving away, but I’ve not been down for several years. I keep pledging to visit. But it won’t be the same, will it? Going back never is. There’s a bit of me that just doesn’t want to risk it. I want to remember Swansea, the Post and the people there just the way it was, summer 1996. Good times. Very good times indeed.

That Mix Tape in Full (labelled March-May 1996):

Manic Street Preachers: A Design for Life

Whipping Boy: When We Were Young

Bluetones: Cut Some Rug

Menswear: Being Brave

Auteurs: Light Aircraft on Fire

Bis: Kandy Pop

Gorky’s: If Fingers Were Xylophones

Wannadies: You & Me Song

Rocket From the Crypt: Young Livers

Laxton’s Superb: Coming Round

Gene: For the Dead

Snuff: Nick Northern

Ben Folds Five: Sports & Wine

Urusei Yatsura: Kewpies like Watermelons

Peter Perrett: Woke Up Sticky

Lambchop: The man who loved beer

Sparklehorse: Hammering the cramps

60ft Dolls: Talk To Me

Nilon bombers: Superstar

Shed Seven: Bully Boy

Eggman: Not Bad Enough

Ian McNabb: Don’t put your spell on me

The Grifters: Parting Shot

Sleeper: Sale of the Century

I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing…

My boy Felix

Today is the first real day of my PostADay Challenge. I intended to start with a bang, by conjuring up some magical words and images to dazzle and amuse you.

But as it happens the little dose of flu that’s been leaving me under the weather for a week or so has kicked in big style.

I’m just off to bed, hoping not to keep coughing myself awake all night – but before I go I thought I would share this picture of my son Felix with you. I have cheated a bit – I didn’t take it today, but yesterday in the bandstand at one of our local parks.

It seemed appropriate though to use a photo taken in a musical location, so I hope you’ll forgive me.

Today Felix was lucky enough to sing at Birmingham Symphony Hall as part of a regional schools’ “Sing Up” event. It was magical and the setting was very inspiring.

I had intended to blog about the event and include a picture of Felix in his full, mouth open, eyes wide, singing glory. However, our seats were up in the gods, so it was impossible to isolate him, even using a fairly good zoom lens.

Anyway, that’s it for tonight folks. I’m very much hoping to be back to my usual self very soon; I’m VERY bored of feeling rotten. I have lots of things to DO, lots of places to BE and lots of fun stuff that I’m missing out on.

From a very frustrated J xxx

Flaming Lips and Dark Beaches

Last Easter we visited our favourite British seaside location, Woolacombe in north Devon. One night, after a particularly wonderful day, we headed down to the beach to take a stroll.

Other than the distant lights from the village, there was nothing to pollute the darkness. Not even the stars penetrated the black night sky. Our breathing and whispers were the only sound accompanying the gentle swish, swoosh of the far-off tide.

A bit creepy really – all that darkness, all that space.

The kids must have picked up on the vibe. They were terrified. They clung to me and their dad, begging to get back to civilisation.

Teasing them, we ran off towards the sea, turning to run back to them only when their cries of anguish reached fever-pitch. Ha ha, what a jape.

Sensibly, hubby thought it best to silence their screams before the police were called, so hoisted littlest boy on his shoulders and gripped the hand of big brother before setting off towards the bright lights of the Red Barn pub.

Because I like to frighten myself sometimes, I lingered awhile.

The sand between my toes was icy cold, making the whole of my feet tingle; the wind blowing across the beach was like gentle puffs of fairy breath. Before I knew it I got to contemplating the earth, the universe, everything. My life, where I was going, where I had been…what colour burps were…how long I would live. Then I hastened after my family, keen to swap my deep thoughts for the buzz of their noise.

I sometimes love being alone, in perfect isolation. Sometimes, like when I go for a long run or walk, or head off to take photos, being alone is inspiring and uplifting. But I’m not naturally good left to my own devices for long – I end up eating takeaways and jumping at shadows and getting greasy hair and getting melancholic.

That’s when I turn to my two loves for salvation  – people and music.

Sometimes, of course other people are not available – not in a real sense. I guess that’s why I’ve embraced social networking so wholeheartedly since I took to spending chunks of my week alone. It’s also why I dote on my iphone and my ipod – if ever I don’t like being alone, I’ve got company in my pocket.

Then there’s always my music. The first thing I tend to do when I am alone in the house and not revelling in the peace, is turn on some tunes.

Music has been a constant, loud and lively presence in my life for as long as I can remember. My dearest childhood memories involve music – from my mum blasting out Billie Jo Spears’ Blanket on the Ground, or The Carpenters, or Elvis, while spring cleaning on a Saturday morning; to listening to rock ‘n’ roll classics while she and dad practised for their world record jiving bid in 1976; to my sister loudly playing early Police, Jam  and Siouxsie and the Banshees in the bedroom we shared til I was 11.

My kids complain that I’m “always” listening to music. I tell them I am doing them a favour, educating them in pop and rock history and preparing them to be cool kids when they are teenagers. Then they insist on putting on JLS just to annoy me.

Top of my list of bands I feel a missionary zeal to teach them to love and appreciate is the Flaming Lips. Anyone who knows me well will know I have a particularly soft spot for the band’s frontman Wayne Coyne.

He turned 50 this week, and still looks amazing. I have dragged my husband to the north of Scotland to hear him perform. He doesn’t mind my infatuation though – Wayne is the sort of guy that men want to be like and women want to be with.

He is cool with a capital C, slightly mad but self aware, and has devoted his life to pushing back boundaries, both artistically and sonically.

Last year he made  a poster in his own blood to mark an appearance at a festival. When asked why he replied he thought it was better to use his own blood than extract a chicken’s. Oooookay…

This is also the man whose live festival shows start with him emerging from an alien mother ship and rolling over the audience in a giant zorbing ball, before then dazzling the audience with fantastic light and sound effects, confetti cannons, dancing teletubbies and giant yetis.

His band released an album in 1997 which has to be listened to on four separate CD players, through four separate speakers, to be properly appreciated.

Each Halloween, Wayne dresses up to scare trick-or-treaters who come to his home in America. He feels that it is good to scare children, because when they grow older, there are things “that are horribly scary…you can’t just run away from them or turn on a light and it runs away.”

He a man who believes in the power of communication, in every form, to heal, to make life better. As he eloquently puts it: “Without art, without communicating, we wouldn’t live beyond 30 because we’d be so sad and depressed.”

The incredible The Soft Bulletin, their breakthrough album of 1999, is a place I like to escape to if I’m ever feeling a need for people, but either real or virtual friends won’t do. It is a thing of beauty and brilliance; easily one of the best albums of all time.

It was written when Wayne’s father was dying, and some of the songs resonate with sadness. Waitin’ For A Superman, a track that blew me away when I first heard it, is a good entry point for people who don’t know much about the band. The opening verse is based on a conversation Wayne had with his brother, on realising his dad was not going to get well. He asked his brother: “Is it going to get heavy?” to which his brother replied: “I thought it was already as heavy as it can be.” The meaning behind the rest of the lyric is self-evident – there are some things in life that even a superman can’t lift, or make better.

The Flaming Lips are a bit like social networking. You either get it and embrace it, or you don’t. No point in dabbling – either go for it wholeheartedly or leave it. If you don’t get it, then I respect your choice – but just know that you’re missing out, all right?