Bullish China Shop Owner Considers Switch To Fruit And Veg Stall

A couple of days into the brave new world and the Friday evening appearance of a plate spinner having an epileptic fit has swiftly evolved into a dramatic dust-storm pick up by a rescue helicopter; and even the bull who owns the china shop isn’t looking best pleased.

On Thursday, with the promises from the Leave campaign of cuts in immigration, £350 million pouring into the NHS and an unbridled economy ringing in their ears, and witnessed The Sun and Daily Mail readers tearing the ring out of Remain‘s bloodied nose …

On Sunday morning the promises have begun to morph into: immigration might not fall/freedom of movement of labour will still be needed to continue to maintain EU trade deals; money promised to NHS is now considered a mistake/only a possibility – funny how they never clarified that before, eh? – and the pound slid to a 30-year low.

banana
Can I eat these?
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Did someone order a turbo vacuum? No, it won’t pick up bullshit.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party, who initially appeared content with shaking Jeremy Corbyn’s rickety high-chair are now busily arranging themselves into a circular firing squad. And after Cameron’s “Fuck it, I’m off!” [condensed] speech, his mealy mouthed sidekick, George Osborne, has simply disappeared. Completely. [Maybe this is one of those times when a rotting corpse lies in a flat undiscovered for a few months because no one cared enough? Can someone please check to see if the milk bottles have been collected off his porch.] And, only this morning, Nicola Sturgeon floats the possibility of the Scottish €uro.

It must be starting to feel oddly disconcerting for all those Brexit voters who’ve now seemingly only guaranteed the right to eat bendy cucumbers and bananas – and plug in a turbocharged vacuum to clear up the broken china.

The Pondering

This morning I was asked by my friend Michael [@elnon66 on Instagram] what I felt the pros and cons were behind the major EU Referendum vote today. So, I answered as honestly, and humourlessly [not easy!], as I felt I could. But I couldn’t entirely forget Cristiano Ronaldo …

That’s a potentially long answer, Michael. So, for me, I’ll keep it simplistically nutshelled.

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The Ponderers

The Leave campaign have offered absolutely nothing beyond vague jingoism, goblets of fear and scattergun facts. The Remain campaign have offered very little beyond vague stronger together platitudes, goblets of fear and scattergun facts. The facts, such as they are, have been all but lost, blurred and twisted to have become largely meaningless.

However, I will say this, I have a strong sense that if the climate of the irrational fear of immigration – and in extremis, pure xenophobia leeching into racism – were to be taken out of the equation, I honestly believe the vote wouldn’t be even remotely close. And this is one of the reasons I’ve grown cynical of the politics; the fear. Fundamentally, it makes for poor reasoning and therefore equally poor decisions.

I will be voting Remain for the simple reason that I refuse to be kowtowed by those irrational politics of fear; and because I genuinely feel that the future for all of us – not just Europe – will ultimately be best served by collaboration, compromise and a shared sense of unified purpose.

And on a lighter note, I can’t resist but leave you with the petulant man-child that is Cristiano Ronaldo’s dance following Hungary’s third goal against Portugal yesterday:

 

 

Uh, Cristiano … {Wags finger then points to scattered things } … now pick up your toys and put them back in your box, there’s a good lad.

The Spirit Of Music

It’s been a strange few days; often finding myself suddenly disarmed; close to tears…

The foothills of the 90`s had been a difficult time for me; a life turned on its head due to the fateful roll of the health dice. It was during this time that the UK television schedules began running 24 hours a day; without enough programmes to fill the schedule they began buying in shows from around the globe to fill the gaps. One such show was Canada’s MuchMusic [still running today in Canada]. And by equally fateful accident I was given a gift. That summer I would sit lazily in the passenger seat of a car flashing through English countryside roads, and The Tragically Hip’s Fully Completely was the soundtrack. A distant love affair had begun. It would be another 7+ years before I finally got to see the band live, and what proved to be one of the most memorable gigs of my life.

Earlier this week the band released a statement which began, “Hello friends. We have some very tough news to share with you today, and we wish it wasn’t so. A few months ago, in December, Gord Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer…” I’m still getting my head around the news. The band, but especially the enigmatic poet and performer tour de force that is Gord Downie, have weaved a musically spiritual legacy through my life. But even when a diagnosis hurts like a loss, their joint band statement still bristles with that spirit “… after 30-some years together as The Tragically Hip, thousands of shows, and hundreds of tours… we’ve decided to do another one. This feels like the right thing to do now, for Gord, and for all of us. What we in The Hip receive each time we play together is a connection; with each other; with music and it’s magic… we’re going to dig deep and try to make this our best tour yet.”

There are so many memories and connections entwined throughout the intervening 25 years, but it seems appropriate to revisit that very special night when I saw The Hip live for the first time at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, England. Well, it was kind of England … On 9th June 2000, the day after, I sat and wrote this for the alt.music.tragically-hip forum:

8th June 2000 : The Tragically Hip : Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, England

I make no apologies for this l-o-n-g post. I hope you choose, and the writing is entertaining enough, for you to read it all [particularly those that know me and therefore know how long I’ve waited for this day…Hip Day!], but just in case … If you want to skip the Pre[r]amble, you’ll find the Gig and Setlist and a beautiful [preordained (?)] slice of fortune…further down the page.

Pre[r]amble:

You’ve possibly heard of Little Venice [a scenic part of London infamous for its canals and moored boats] … Well, a corner of Shepherd’s Bush became Little Canada last night. I felt strangely like a stranger in a strange land.

We reached London later than hoped, but we still just had time to wander into The Walkabout, an Australian pub apparently temporarily annexed to Canada for the crepuscular! Even the atmosphere in the pub contained a distinct frisson and flavour of what was to come; the place was buzzing with a fervent anticipation. After settling on the corner of a table a young dark haired girl caught our conversation and suddenly interjected.

“You’re not Canadian are you? Where are you from?”

“Uh … here. Well, when I say here, I mean…Bristol, England … here,” responding a little nervously, fearing we were about to be deported.

“Born and bred?” said the girl.

A trick question? Should we have forged some Canadian citizenship  documentation?! “Uh  … yeah, born and bred.”

“Wow!” she exclaimed excitedly, “You guys are my heroes! English Hip fans! Oh, oh, I must take a picture,” and she eagerly fumbles in her bag for camera, somehow smiling even more broadly than we are as she presses the shutter and the flash pierces the air. Quite possibly the most surreal beginning to a conversation I’ve ever had with anyone!

Note: I’ve edited out a significant chunk of the original post here that refers to meeting many people from the alt.music.tragically-hip [an early internet forum], but as well as other rare English Hip fans, there were also ex-pat Canadians and even a dedicated few who’d flown in from Canada for the gig. 

 

It was a suffocating, humid evening, so we decided to grab 15 minutes of fresh air on Shepherd’s Bush Green before heading into the venue. Although, fresh air could be considered a Central London oxymoron if ever there was; even the grass of the Green was a dusty grey! So, we gasped for breath on Shepherds Bush Grey for about ten minutes, then the final countdown had really begun …

The Gig, er, Pre[r]amble:

Okay, I introduced another category … sue me!

The venue was outrageously sticky and airless. We were in the general admission stalls, stood towards the back of the lower floor when the support act [Sloan] were competing for our attention, but long before they had finished the room-to-breathe quotient was fast evaporating. Being in possession of a slightly vertically challenged other half and being a bit of a fragile old fella myself [Ed: this was 16 years ago!], we decided to try and head for the seated upper levels. We squeezed out to the back of the room, only to be met by a burly security guard with a face like a bag of spanners – and all the charm to match – who turned us around and sent us straight back. Fate had seemingly decreed we would dance with the lions in the pit …

So, deciding to make the most of a bad situation, we then squeezed our way back through the throng to within about 40 feet of the stage and found ourselves stood next to the only other two English people in the house; attracted by a subliminal osmosis? With perspiration now dripping from the walls and us unavoidably exchanging bodily fluids, we struck up a conversation. To cut a long conversation short [uh, yeah right! you all say] they had Level 2 tickets, but had “sneaked down”, so offered to swap. After a moment’s ponder “Hmmm… Nah, we’re wedged in here now!” Anyhoo … I was in the perfect position for potentially being able to describe to Sue, my other half, probably just the top of Gord’s sweaty pate, now only a matter of minutes away … when suddenly …

The lights dim, an almighty roar rises from the crowd, Gord mutters something completely incomprehensible through the tumult, the band rip into Something On, the floor disappears from under our feet and we’re now swooping like kelp in a pounding surf!

Mid-song, another decision is made: we feverishly swap tickets with our new friends and fight the tide in an attempt to beach ourselves at the back of the stalls! We eventually reach dry land, towel ourselves down and head out through the door, climbing the now deserted staircase to the brooding bass lines of Grace, Too … we stealthily open the door to Level 1. Our timing is perfect, security are distracted by some fool completely [fully] lost in the moment, apparently contemplating a leap from the balcony! We swiftly nip inside, slide down the aisle and are somewhat surprisingly confronted with the very front of the lower balcony, with the most perfect view you could ever imagine.

Throughout the gig, people would occasionally come and stand right next to us and were immediately ejected [for blocking the aisle]; it was like we were completely invisible to our spanner-visaged friends in the yellow T’s. Lucked out doesn’t even come part way to describing the series of coincidences that led us here. And sitting at my desk today, I still find it hard to believe. Clearly, fate and the Go[r]ds had certainly been smiling …

The Gig:

Well, over the years I’ve been to, quite literally, 100’s of gigs [of varying shape and size], but in all those times I’ve never experienced an atmosphere quite like this – the U2 Unforgettable Fire/Joshua Tree tours had their moments – and the sheer sustained intensity of emotion at this gig was altogether remarkable. The energy and enthusiasm just swept though the entire building, to all four levels. In fact, I would say there was probably enough energy generated in those two hours to keep a medium-sized Scottish Isle lit up like a Christmas tree for a year! Just breathtaking.

The air was constantly charged with the sound of 2,000 voices carrying the band’s songs around on their collective shoulders, no more apparent than when they played a new song, when the unfamiliar cast an almost reverential hold – it wasn’t exactly quiet but the contrast did possess a fascination in itself. Then, with batteries suitably recharged, the next familiar intro would reignite the blue touch paper and the ocean in the stalls below became alive again.

The band: Gord Downie was undeniably the permanent focus of the collective attention. Whether it was simply tossing and catching the small percussive beads [actually a bunch of grapes!], in perfect time, throughout Springtime In Vienna [he did drop them once, only to deftly flip them back up over his head and catch them again!]; revealing exaggerated high jump techniques over his bent microphone stand during a jam; or curled up on the floor in the foetal position to close-out another song [damn!…what was that?]; he possesses a quite remarkable presence and his quirky movements and gestures seem to have taken ‘dad dancing’ to a whole new level! Meanwhile … the band played on – seemingly oblivious to both Gord’s antics and what was happening in front of them – a pure focused unit cranking out this wonderful stream of atmospheric plankton.

So, my personal highlights from a truly magnificent set … I especially reveled in Ahead By A Century, Escape Is At Hand For The Travellin’ Man and Scared [when the soft plucked chords of the intro to the latter began I exalted a breathless “Y-e-s-s … only Nautical Disaster for the [favourites] full set” to Sue – the guy next to us smiled, but we didn’t get it; my only real disappointment. Churlish really.] Fully Completely and Courage [came together or quite close? – it’s a bit of a blur!] and lifted the roof. At The Hundreth Meridian was, er, intense! The magnificently brooding Gift Shop burned. But the thing that will live longest in my memory, simply as it encapsulated the whole experience: the crowd responses. Somehow even managing to pick up a gear for the encores of New Orleans Is Sinking and Little Bones; and the mention of ‘Toronto’, in Bobcaygeon, brought a response akin to a last minute winning goal in an FA Cup Final [er, that’s a very big English football match/institution!]. I just gazed all around the Empire in awe. This had been a truly special night.

Set List:

[The first four songs and the encores are correct, er, I think! – otherwise the order is approx.]

Something On
Grace, Too
Putting Down
Gift Shop
Escape Is At Hand For The Travellin’ Man
Ahead By A Century
Lake Fever
Courage
Fully Completely
Stay
Poets
At The Hundreth Meridian
700ft Ceiling
Scared
My Music At Work


Fireworks
Bobcaygeon
New Orleans Is Sinking


Springtime In Vienna
Little Bones

 

This blog has been written to preserve this memory. The Tragically Hip remain arguably one of Canada’s best kept musical secrets – staggering, when you learn they’ve had nine No.1 albums there in their 30-year career – and undoubtedly one of the most special live bands I’ve ever seen. I still can’t quite get my head around the tragic news. And couple that with what will be an extraordinary handful of shows that finish in their home town of Kingston, Ontario in a couple of months; emotionally charged would barely be an apt way to describe one of their regular gigs. This … I can barely imagine.

A Momentary Lapse Of Reason

This stuff is beginning to simply write itself …

 

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I Have Something Important To Say …

 

My playfully, favourite political news story of the week was when a YouGov poll revealed that, of the entire, influential G-20 nations, only one would support Donald Trump as a presidential candidate: Russia. This news was swiftly followed by the coercive endorsement of Trump’s presidency by a certain Vladimir Putin. And it made me think, what a mindf*ck for the dim-witted Republican demographic to deal with: “We’re supported by communists now?!” In the confusion they might end up shooting themselves in the face.

Relax. In rides one Bobby Knight to introduce Trump at a subsequent Indiana rally, endorsing him during a meandering and befuddled rant as the man to press the nuclear button and become the fourth great president after Truman [the third] did the same … Knight only just pulled up short of the character in The Simpsons who yells “Yee-haw” at the end of each statement before firing two revolvers in the air. 

The brilliant mind that is Armando Iannucci writes the acclaimed US political satire, Veep [starring the wonderful Julia Louis-Dreyfus – unapologetic namedrop in a hapless attempt to gain more blog hits! 🙂 ], then, with the advent of Trump, American politics turns reality into pure satire.

“Our Time Is Indestructible…”

Music is emotion. Music has often sustained me during my lowest ebbs, when a pulse of rhythm, anthemic soar or lyrical flourish can lift me up and even give me the belief I could build a ladder to the stars.

Music itself has suffered its own high profile tragedies in recent months. And although I knew this was coming, it’s been an extraordinary couple of days…

I first saw School of Seven Bells live on a boat permanently  moored in the harbour of my home town during the summer of 2010. It wholly cemented my affection for the band. A couple of summers later and Benjamin Curtis, the multifaceted driving force behind the band, began writing their fourth album with Alejandra Deheza [and soul mate]. But as time ticked into 2013 Curtis was suddenly diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma. In November, the usually private Curtis confirmed via an open message on the band’s Facebook page that the initial diagnosis had since progressed to leukemia. He signed off with a determined “In the meantime, please know that life is amazing, and I don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.”

Curtis remained resolutely creative throughout the intensive treatment, even in his hospital bed – a recording of Joey Ramone’s I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up) was made entirely on his laptop in the room with Deheza later recording her vocal in a nearby studio with him directing via Skype! – fighting the aggressive cancer with equally aggressive spirit until his untimely death four days after Christmas. Benjamin Curtis was 35-years-old.

Finally, early last year, Alejandra Deheza found her own resolve and reopened Curtis’s laptop of demos and archives. And with the help of M83 and Beck producer, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, completed the love letter from start to finish that became SVIIB and finally released a couple of days ago.

 

 

With its release, alongside Bowie’s posthumous Blackstar, they share the passionate living embodiment of the emotive, lingering power of music. SVIIB is a joyously life affirming triumph over life’s innate and ultimate adversity.

I’ll leave you with the heartfelt words of Alejandra Deheza:

Friends, Benjamin and I wrote this record during a tour break in the summer of 2012. I can easily say that it was one of the most creative and inspired summers of our lives. What followed was the most tragic, soul shaking tidal wave that life could deliver, but even that wouldn’t stop the vision for this record from being realized. This is a love letter from start to finish. It’s the story of us starting from that first day we met in 2004, and that’s the story of School of Seven Bells. So much love to all of you. Thank you for being a constant light in our lives. This record is for you.

-Alejandra