Issue #89 October 22nd - November 4th, 2004
John Peel, 1939 - 2004
Lost but happy
The boy as tall as a tree and the journey to the land in the middle of the sea.
Hunting them Down
Clayhill - The Roadhouse, Manchester
Obituary: John Peel (Legend), 1939 - 2004.
It’s easy to say that ‘all good things must come to an end’, and deep down I suppose that we know it’s true. But every now and then something happens that just knocks you sideways. Something unexpected, something that if had you sat down and thought about it logically you would have known would happen at some point. But at the same time you never dreamed it would happen, and that leaves you totally unprepared for it when it does.
And so with the sad passing of the legendary John Peel I find myself wondering just where music broadcasting will go from here. John Peel was a D.J. who didn’t just break the rules, he didn’t even care that the rules existed. He was aware that there was a whole world of music out there that was neither recognised nor heard, and he dedicated his life to putting that right. He was the first to play the same record twice in a row, he played songs in their entirety and never spoke over introductions and fade outs – he openly admitted that this was to enable fans to record the tracks from the radio and not have him wittering on over them – I recall him pre-warning us that ‘A very special song from Morrissey’ was coming up next when he was (as was usual) the first to play ‘Suedehead’. But that is not to say that what he had to say between the songs was not as entertaining as the songs themselves, his soft, yet gruff northern tones, his occasional unplanned disaster, pressing the wrong buttons, playing the wrong track, or playing the right track but at the wrong speed – it all added to the geniality of the man. It’s stated elsewhere that he was more like a favourite uncle than a media star. His unique wit, his utter charm, and perhaps most importantly, his insistence in standing up to champion bands that otherwise would never be entertained by mainstream radio was vital in the world of music, and my greatest fear is that there is nobody out there doing as much for this cause as John did. My heart says that he is irreplaceable, but my head is yelling ‘well don’t let all his hard work go to waste’.
The passing of John Peel, quite simply denotes the end of an era. Not just within the world of the media, and not just within the world of music, John's death signifies the greatest loss to British culture that you or I may see during our lifetimes. It's impossible to imagine who is now going to wave the flag for young kids who are just getting hold of a guitar for the first time, and putting their first songs together. Who will be their champion? to whom will they turn? Without John Peel and his determined pursuit of un-heard, un-heralded, and under-rated music the new generations of the disaffected, and disillusioned, the next salvo of noise mongers and sonic head cases will have nowhere to set out their wares. Songwriters of immeasurable talent - I'm thinking Morrissey and Marr, New Order, Mark E. Smith and Half Man Half Biscuit, David Gedge et al - will in future be left floundering in a world of pub gigs and damp rehearsal rooms. It seems an ideal opportunity for the programmers and play-listers, for the record company executives to finally have us all singing from the same hymn sheet. Will there ever be another John Peel? - I'm afraid that the answer is a definite 'No'. However, let us not get too self indulgent, it is true that John is with us no longer, and so we should remember the good times, those teenage years, under the duvet waiting desperately for the new Anti-Nowhere League single, or the next Cure Peel Session. They really were reasons to be cheerful. And as a better man than me once said "...Don't forget the songs that made you cry, and the songs that saved your life, because you're older now, and a clever swine - but they were the only ones who ever stood by you..."
There will never be another so humble, yet unique, so self-effacing yet innovative, so modest yet defiant beacon in the bleakness that is British culture today. This really is the end of an era. Maybe he was the last of the true believers, often imitated, never bettered. Goodnight John, Goodnight.
The Friends of The Heroes, despite
feeling a huge loss themselves, extend their
deepest condolences and love to John's wife, Sheila, their four children and to all
his close personal friends and family.
Red flowers on her balcony. A splash of colour against pristine white walls (somehow the rain never leaves its mark there). A cat – perhaps hers. This is what I know about her. This is all I want to know. And yet it feels like I’ve been in love with her for fifteen years.
We moved into this flat at the start of the year, my brother and I, this flat looking down upon her balcony. With its red, red flowers. And yet, in these few months it has come to seem as if every girl I’ve ever seen, since I’ve been seeing girls - the ones that turned my head or made me smile as they strode on by, oblivious of my searching eyes, the need to be recognized by a stranger – has stood on that balcony, with a cute green watering-can, perhaps, or pruning-shares, cutting away the fading flowers. And then I think – no. No, that’s not her. I turn and look at them, laughing down the street and and around the corner with their friends, and think again: No – it can’t be you. You don’t look the type to have red flowers bloom for you in May. (Of course, you have to bear in mind at this point that it’s the Southern Hemisphere here, and May is distinctly wintry. But then again – I haven’t even bothered to check what flowers they are. Maybe they’re supposed to bloom the whole year round, and this is what I do not care to know.)
I suppose I could’ve found out a lot of things like that about her, if I’d wanted to. My brother has even seen her once or twice, and I had to stop him desperately from telling me what she looked like. So it’s not like I spend hours gazing at the balcony , perhaps with binoculars. I’m not a pervert, or a stalker, like that. In fact, I hardly look at it at all. Just twice a day, briefly – when I leave in the mornings, and when I come back in the afternoon. Sometimes late at night too, if I can’t sleep or I’m feeling down. It refreshes me, seeing those flowers, and wondering about her who tends them. So just a brief glance then, five seconds in front of the window, drinking them in, and the curtain falls again. Literally. In my mind, the play goes on, whole day long.
Once or twice I had to flee quickly – I’d catch a glimpse of movement down below and have to turn away so fiercely that my heart would jump into my throat. Once I wasn’t quick enough and retained an imprint in my eye, but the gods were smiling at me that day: so that’s how I know about the cat. It’s a slightly dog-eared affair, this cat, wild-eyed and oddly-built, fur fluffed out all over the place in a mottle of grey tiger-stripes and tortoise-shell. I don’t particularly like cats. Anyway, I’m not even sure it’s hers – I’ve seen it around all over the complex, but it couldn’t have gotten onto her balcony except from inside – it’s too high.
And so the year goes on – and will go on. I know that in not so many months, I will be moving, or perhaps she will. I haven’t thought about it much, what’ll happen then. I’ll still know she’s out there somewhere, of course, but I’m really scared that it won’t be the same, that I won’t know what to do without the sight of those red blooms to send me out with a happy heart into the world each morning. I’m scared the world will turn to grey too. I suppose I could get some flowers of my own, but somehow I know they won’t bloom for me quite that vividly, and it’ll be too sad, seeing these pale shadows of something that used to mean so much. I haven’t decided what to do – I take things one day at a time for now.
My brother thinks I’m crazy, of course. He’s even a little worried about me, I think, and I think perhaps he’s right: something about it feels decidedly strange. He says I should just march in there someday and invite her over for tea – we’re neighbours after all. I think he secretly hopes I’ll be disappointed. The funny thing is – so do I! And perhaps that’s what I’ll do, when the year draws to a close, and I sense her slipping away. I’ve learnt to burst my bubbles, but I also know to live in them for a little while first, to view the world through the gentle palette of its oil-slicky skin until I feel strong enough to do without. Then I’ll invite her over, and have to write her off.
Until I find her again, in the most unexpected way, I’ll be back hanging out in bars, trying to decide if there is anyone I’d like to meet, and not being able to get the courage together to do it. That’ll last for a while as it always does. Then, she will creep up on me again, one day, unexpectedly. Who knows when? Or where? Or how?
Lost but happy
It's a Thursday night and me and Nick are standing outside a closed door. There's loud music coming from behind it. The door is at the end of a corridor which is on the top of some stairs which are in a rather run-down building which is some way on the other side of the railtracks from where I live. It's past our bedtime, we're shy and tipsy and wondering what's on the other side.
"Now, let's see. If there are more than five people in there..." I don't finish the sentence because there's no point. We both think it's going to be kind of empty, but because standing there is about as strange as I'm making it sound we push the door open and go in.
The story had started on a Sunday while Nick was trying to buy a Paul Weller record and I was too tired to walk up the stairs of the record shop, so I lingered in the street in front of the door. That's why I spotted the poster. It was mostly grey, terribly designed to the point of being charming and it namedropped the Siddeleys among others. ""Eighties indie pop party," it said. Thursday 7th of October." Then the name of a place, and the time. I stared, half in amazement and half in disbelief, and I didn't know what to think. When Nick came down I told him about it but he didn't know what to think either.
On Sunday night I dreamed about it a little. On Monday I got excited. On Tuesday I forgot. On Wednesday I wondered what it would be like -whether it could be as good as it sounded, whether everyone would know each other (but us) and whether they would care about us at all in this case. On Thursday I did it all again, but faster, and I worried about going out on a Friends of the Heroes night. I was in two minds for a long time but in the end curiousity won over. Curiosity, and the prospect of hearing a Siddeleys song being played somewhere outside my front room. I knew I would never have been able to forgive myself had I missed such a chance.
And so we found ourselves going out at the time we'd normally go to bed. Having spent the time we'd normally go out drinking beer and trying to make a mix cd has made me, at least, a little sleepy and a little excited. On the way way there we get lost -which has nothing to do with being drunk or being sleepy: we get lost all the time, it's part of being us- and I get unspeakably happy. There's nothing I can do about it so I sing along to a Lucksmiths song and try to read a map instead, which kinda works, because we finally find our way there, and we climb the stairs and we push the door open and we walk in...
The room is empty. There are two djs, a bar, a girl behind it, two girls in front of it and a shiny red sofa opposite this all which is where we head to. We sit down and I add the people I have mentioned up. There are five of them, and I giggle. Unsurpisingly, they all seem to know each other but us, so we sit there and stare at them (openly, as they're standing in the direction we're facing) and they try to stare at us back (which isn't as simple.) It is dead strange and rather amusing (and I'm tipsy, remember) so I laugh a lot and come up with another bet. "If they play five songs we don't know..."
I don't finish that sentence either. If they play five songs we don't know, we'll start feeling we've come to the wrong place, but they might play one we know straight afterwards, so it won't mean too much anyway. And if they play something we know and like in the next five songs, then something's good going to happen. This is too complicated to put in words when you have to shout them into somebody's ear so I just wait, and wouldn't you have guessed? The fifth song is not only something we know and love but the last song we played before we left the house and I nearly fall off the couch, because one has to mark an occasion like this and there's no way I'm going to start dancing on my own in front of five strangers. Nick doesn't seem half as impressed but he knows what I'm smiling about which only makes me smile more.
And even though something good does happen in the end I think I will keep it secret for a while longer and tell you about the bit where nothing happens instead, the bit where we sit there, too shy to even buy ourselves some beer and we get half an hour of heavenly music that echoes through the empty, shiny room and the glittery night on the ugly buildings outside the window and I can swear something good is about to happen. Because the Siddeleys 'My favourite wet Wednesday afternoon' played in an empty, shiny room in a glittery night over some ugly buildings on the other side of the railtracks from where I live while my little heart is present and thus made to beat a little faster makes the world vibrate in the right frequency to do just that.
The boy as tall as a tree and the journey to the land in the middle of the sea.
I wasn't at all sure what to expect when me, the girl, and the boy as tall as a tree stepped out onto the land in the middle of the sea but it seemed to me anything was possible here. Maybe in this land chocolate would grow on trees and cats would not be allowed to climb onto sheds to sit taunting me. Maybe the people would have three legs, and dogs would have five legs. Maybe I would finally learn how to fly like a pigeon or find a chicken all of my own.
As it happens none of these possibilities turned out to be correct and on first inspection the land in the middle of the sea appeared to be almost disappointingly normal.
By the time we were there though it was getting quite late. From the look of the sky and the feeling in my stomach I knew it was fifteen minutes to food. I looked at the girl anxiously. It was too late to get back home now and if we weren't careful not only were we going to miss food we were going to miss our beds. As luck would have it though the girl and the boy as tall as a tree got talking to two other people and they seemed to like us so they took us too their house.
Once we got to the new people's house the girl pulled out a tin of food from her bag and gave me my food. That girl never ceases to amaze me. You would have almost have thought that she knew that we'd be staying there that night. Everything looks better after some food, and I started to feel very happy indeed. The new people seemed nice and didn't look like they were about to throw us out into the night, the boy as tall as a tree was with us, and the girl had a smile on her face. I knew everything was going to be ok.
Time passed and soon I realised we were well past food time, and it would almost be bedtime and the girl and the boy as tall as a tree hadn't eaten a single thing! Although they were laughing and smiling and talking I began to get very worried for them. I ran into the kitchen to see if the heating cupboard was hiding their food. It wasn't, and in fact it was still cold! I started to wonder if I should have left them some of my food and felt a bit guilty for a few minutes. Then I remembered how tasty it had been and felt even more guilty.
Just as I thought I couldn't stand it any more another person came to the door. The girl whose house we were staying at went to talk to him for a little while but I don't think she liked him as much as my girl and the boy as tall as a tree because she didn't ask him to come in to her house. Instead he went away leaving her standing with 4 big flat boxes. You'll never guess what was inside them - some food! I ran around and around telling everyone how great it was and how that it had been quite a long time since I'd eaten so if they could spare a little bit of there food I'd force it down until my girl told me to "shut up and sit down".
As it turns out there was more than a little bit of food spare. Normally when it is just me and the girl, after a while she will say "you've had more than enough to eat Belle" and send me to my bed but because there were so many people I ran around each of them and although I got far more food than normal not one of them said "you've had more than enough to eat Belle" which just proves that the girl is not always right.
The next day all the people went out and left me on my own. I didn't mind too much because I was feeling a bit tired after the excitement of the day before. I also did not mind because when they were gone I found some chocolate! I t wasn't easy to find because girl and the boy as tall as a tree had left the place in quite a mess before they had left the house. They had left all sorts of boxes in front of the door and I had to try very hard to push my way through into the next room. Then I had to sniff around for quite a while until I found it hiding in a coat pocket.
By the time me, the girl and the boy as tall as a tree decided it was time to leave the land in the middle of the sea we had done about million things. We had fought off a giant monster, which had flapped its wings and made a strange rustling noise at us. I was glad we had the boy as tall as a tree with us because he said: "it's ok Belle I'll save you" all the girl said was "Belle don't be daft it its just a plastic bag". We had found more square flat boxes with tasty food in them and we had sniffed a hundred pebbles on the beach (actually it was only me that did that - the girl and the boy as tall as a tree didn't do any sniffing at all). Most of all though I decided that I really liked the people who had let us stay in their house and I didn't want to leave. As we travelled away across the sea in the room with a lot of chairs I wondered if we would ever see them again. Then I noticed that the girl and the boy as tall as a tree were smiling and I felt certain that we would.
Hunting them Down
“We will never tire, and we will hunt them down”
President Bush, 21st November 2001
“We will go after the terrorists. I will hunt them down, and we'll kill them, we'll capture them.”
John Kerry, Democratic Party Presidential candidate, 8th October 2004
After the murder of Ken Bigley it was announced that the SAS and American special forces would hunt down his killers – senior Al Qa’ida member Abu Musab al-Zarqawi being the chief suspect. The theory that you can hunt down and kill all terrorists and that this will deter others is still widely believed. President Bush is its leading exponent with John Kerry following his lead. Who could oppose this? Terrorist killings of civilians are wrong – no-one could deny that or that those responsible for them should be brought to justice. The only problem is it doesn’t work that way.
Israeli forces have been carrying out ‘targeted killings’ of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and PLO leaders in Gaza and the West Bank for decades. The current Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has stepped these up and openly stated it as government policy, using military strikes to kill the leader of Hamas Shiek Yassin and both his successors among others. The result has been more dead Palestinians – armed and civilian – and so even more terrorist attacks from suicide bombings to rockets fired into Israel. So Sharon has repeatedly invaded the Gaza strip to prevent the rocket attacks. The result – more dead Palestinian civilians, more support for terrorist counter-attacks among Palestinians. And the rocket attacks? There are more of them. And Hamas’ military wing which carries out the attacks? It has more recruits, more funding and more support than ever.
The British and American governments have rightly condemned Sharon for ‘disproportionate’ use of force – which is strange given the parallels with what American forces are doing with British support in Iraq.
The reinforcement and re-deployment of British troops in Iraq is designed both to give the appearance that President Bush has allied support just before an election and also to facilitate an intensification of the American attacks on cities including Falluja. These attacks are justified on two grounds. The first is hunting down terrorists. US forces and the US-appointed Iraqi interim government have demanded that Falluja hand-over of Al Qa’ida member Zarqawi, suspected of being behind the murder of Ken Bigley. As one Falluja resident put it The Americans have created a bogeyman in Zarqawi. We haven't seen him. They can't kill him, so they kill us.”. The previous major assault on Falluja in April was carried out after demands to hand over the killers of 4 American private military contractors.
The second reason given in April and again now is that Iraq must be ‘pacified’ in order to allow elections in the Spring. In the April assaults on Falluja and Najaf hundreds of civilians were killed according to Iraqi hospitals due to American forces shooting anyone who moved and bombarding entire streets according to both Iraqis and western journalists. Amazingly this did not increase support for the occupying forces or the government they had installed among people in Falluja. In fact support for anyone fighting them increased. Did the coalition realise that butchering people doesn’t get their support. No. They’re repeating the whole thing again in Falluja and other cities. Civilians are being slaughtered and wounded teenagers dragged away from hospitals by American troops as suspected insurgents. From a situation where Grand Ayatollah Al Sistani’s position of peaceful opposition to the occupation was the majority one Iraqis have been pushed towards supporting armed resistance. The American military and the Bush administration consider ‘negotiations’ to be nothing more than demanding the unconditional surrender of all their opponents and the hand over of terrorists whose whereabouts are unknown – and keeping up attacks while negotiations are attempted. In Vietnam one American officer claimed that ‘in order to save the village it was necessary to destroy it’. One civilian in Samarra, which has suffered attacks similar to those on Falluja, echoed this by saying ‘they are killing us in order to save us’.
President Bush can claim till he’s blue in the face that ‘three-quarters of al Qaeda's key members and associates have been brought to justice’ He is creating more than he is killing. The fact is for every terrorist he has eliminated he has created a martyr and often killed many civilians who were guilty of nothing. Al Qa’ida has gained new recruits and more funding as a result each time. Every informed analyst from the International Institute of Strategic Studies to Blair’s counter-terrorism adviser Sir David Omand agrees that the war in Iraq is strengthening Al Qa’ida. The last State Department report on global terrorism trends shows the number of terrorist attacks and victims has risen sharply during Bush’s ‘war on terror’.
There is a more effective way to deal with terrorism. Don’t engage with the terrorists in a murderous conflict where they kill your civilians and you kill theirs. Stop giving them the prestige and support they want by trying to hunt them down with military forces and killing civilians in the process – or, even if you manage to kill them, turning them into martyrs. Treat them as the sad, deluded, irrelevant maniacs that they are – mere criminals for the police to deal with. Don’t label all your opponents – even those who target your military rather than civilians ‘terrorists’. Negotiate with those, like the Moqtadr Al Sadr, who are more than willing to negotiate a peace given the chance and with those who, like Al Sistani , reject violence. That way you isolate the fanatics who will not negotiate and marginalise them. It worked in Northern Ireland. There are still fanatics who continue to support violence like the Real IRA and elements of the UDA and UVF – and many former terrorists are still involved in mafia-style criminal activities. However these people no longer have any significant support among the population – they are looked on largely as maniacs and criminals - and the amount of violent attacks has been reduced. This could still happen in Iraq if we stop pretending that you can ‘hunt down’ all terrorists and ‘pacify’ a country if you just kill enough of its people.
Ken Bigley’s brother Paul, who made an admirable and determined attempt to get his brother freed which was blocked by both the kidnappers and the American government’s over-ruling of the Iraqi government’s proposed release of Iraqi women prisoners to meet the kidnappers’ demands, is one person who is not thanking Bush or Blair for their pointless military attacks. He backs the Stop the War coalition’s calls for an end to the occupation. Maybe we should listen to him and the majority of Iraqis
Next month marks the beginning of the 6th annual National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. Since it’s humble beginnings in 1999 of 28 people in one town, NaNoWriMo has grown to become a huge, international event where thousands of people sign-up with the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel in one month. This year they are expecting somewhere between 35,000 to 50,000 participates, and many have already signed-up on the website in preparation for the start date on the 1st November. The winners are those that pass the finish line at midnight on the November 30th with those 50,000 words written. Length is the only criteria that the novels are judged.
Although there can be as many winners as there are participates and there are no prizes apart from being listed on the NaNoWriMo website, there is an element of competition about the whole event. That and the one-month deadline is what motivates the writers to keep writing – keep adding to their word-count before time runs out.
And the word-count is what NaNoWriMo is all about. Quality goes out the window. No-one is saying that you have to write a good novel, just get it written. This process can be very freeing because it allows the writer to silence their inner-critic and just concentrate on getting the words down and telling the story. They are encouraged to be long-winded and write detailed descriptions of everything from the meaning of each characters names to the history of every place they live in, as well as long dream-sequences or stream-of-conscience prose. The relevance of these details doesn’t matter; they are still words that bring you closer to your goal.
Although competition can be encouraging, another thing that brings people back to NaNoWriMo year after year is the community aspect of the site. The message boards are somewhere to go when writer’s block hits - or the need to procrastinate! There are suggestions of how to make the novels longer, ways to keep your motivation up, tips and rules for writing particular genres of novels.
There also the local meetings in many town, mostly in the US, where writers can get together to exchange ideas, procrastinate further or just sit and write together. Also, there are the weekly pep-talks from Chris Bathy, the founder of NaNoWriMo, that are e-mailed to all the participants. Chris, who as well as keeping the website ticking over (along with a small staff) and encouraging all the participants, also writes a novel during NaNoWriMo himself. He has also written a book to help people survive NaNoWriMo called ‘No Plot? No Problem!’ This community is a contrast to the isolated environment that most novels are written in.
And come November, another bunch of people will start writing in this new environment and at the end of it, a lot of them will have a novel. Probably not a very good novel, but it’s just a first draft. They will also walk away with the experience of one busy, hectic month with a big group of people.
P.S. If you are taking part in this year’s NaNoWriMo, or have done so in the past, I would love to hear from you and maybe interview you about the experience for another article.
Clayhill - The Roadhouse, Manchester
Manchester at night has always felt a little edgy. It's busy enough, and the bright lights are often blinding, but when most of the people on the streets at this time of night look like they would stab you for a quid, it's just, well, a little uneasy. The brigades of Burberry baseball cap wearing thugs are countered only by the suit wearing wage slaves making their way home after a late meeting in the office, or a post work pint. It a war of the classes, and a war of the nerves. The Roadhouse however, is a small, dark basement refuge right in the centre of the hubbub. Only fifty or so yards from the pivotal hub of Piccadilly (which once had gardens, but now only has office blocks), once you slip through the doorway, down the stairs and round the corner into the sanctuary, you could be a million miles from the muggings, brawls and general mayhem taking place just a few yards away. The Roadhouse provides a perfect oasis, a haven in the city storm, a back of the wardrobe door into a musical Narnia that is only available for those who are willing to look for it.
It's on a night like this that Clayhill take the stage at The Roadhouse. They don't strut majestically, they don't shamble and they don't even casually stroll - they just sort of appear there, like an old t-shirt, or those favourite jeans that are so comfortable you just feel so at home inside them. Clayhill offer no pretension, there is no attitude here, just a gang of mates sharing what they love with you - their new best mates.
There was never going to be pyrotechnics, there was no chance of a light show, but what we got tonight was so much more comforting, so much more easy going. With a set of acoustic driven numbers, mainly culled from their current album ('Small Circle' on Eat Sleep Records) Gavin Clark, Ted Barnes and Ali Friend make The Roadhouse into their own private rehearsal room, it really is that laid back. 'Rushes of Blonde', 'Mystery Train' and 'Alpha Male' are simple yet stunning; 'Moon I Hide', 'Funny How' and 'Afterlight' are utterly enchanting. Obvious references and parallels are easily drawn to Sunhouse - Gavin Clarks previous incarnation, and in particular their definitive record 'Crazy On the Weekend'. Cutting, incisive lyrics, presented ever so gently on a bed of luscious, textured and harmoniously rigid yet luxuriously fragile guitar and upright bass. Let this music simply wash over you and it will seem somewhat lightweight, but listen carefully and you'll be convinced of their invincibility.
Tonight's audience is obviously well versed in all things Clayhill, they are appreciative and welcoming. The club has been set out with tables and chairs which itself invites a more relaxed atmosphere, and people actually listen to the songs, to the words and to the music. There are no sing-alongs, no mosh-pits, no lighters in the air, just a bunch of people who appreciate intelligent, sensitive, gently and effortlessly presented songs of passion, of love, and of life.
The set ebbs and flows, with no obvious sense of crescendo, it's not as though they are building up to anything more special than what we are already seeing, until they introduce a little song by The Smiths, and produce perhaps the best cover of 'Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I want' the writer has ever had the good fortune to come across. This is a perfect little song at the best of times, but tonight, in this setting, with this atmosphere it slips perfectly into the set. The Manchester audience, often so unwilling to share it's heroes with outsiders, recognises the beauty in the whole experience and responds with polite, informed gratitude. Following this, and to close the set is 'Grasscutter', which I suppose is becoming their signature tune. The audience response is to sway gently, and smile intently. This is just too good for words.
The band don't go in for the leave the stage and wait to be invited back charade, there is no need for any cod-rock encore teasing, instead they stay onstage, and decide amongst themselves to stay up for 'Afterlight' and 'Northern Soul' - and are joined onstage by Rocky on harmonica for a luscious rendition of 'Even Though' to close the show.
Post show the band mingle in the bar, chatting to fans, signing cd's, and generally enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. They prove to be far more amiable and entertaining than their low tempo, minor key slices of pop beauty may suggest. Gavin reveals that the tour has gone really well, and they seem to have been made welcome wherever they have been - but that it will be nice to get home. After that he spends the rest of the evening discussing the films of Shane Meadows with the photographer, and as they are both clearly in raptures I leave them to it and slink off into the dark, unwelcoming Manchester evening, confident that I have just witnessed a perfect evening of perfect music, with perfect people.
It doesn't get much better than that.
Photographs of the Clayhill show at The Roadhouse in Manchester, taken by Jack Quinn, can be found here.
The wonderstuff - Bristol Academy
Half expecting the media styled loudmouth, half expecting a cynical, bitter, angry young-ish man, and half expecting a man bored with the rock and roll circus within which he has been the ring master for 23 years the photographer and I were ushered onto the luxury tour bus parked outside the venue with an element of trepidation. It was a surprise to be greeted by the (self labelled) short fused and bad tempered Miles Hunt with the question "Can I make you lads a coffee?"
We said, "yes".
The Wonderstuff are back, with the two critical members Malcolm Treece and the aforementioned Miles Hunt at the centre of things. The forays into fiddles, accordions and whistles have been tested, tried, taken to Top of The Pops and subsequently outgrown. It's pretty safe to say that The Wonderstuff have gone full circle and stripped back down to a tight, compact four piece. The new record ('Escape From Rubbish Island') is more reminiscent of their first album 'The Eight Legged Groove Machine' than anything else that followed. And it is a perfectly valid point that Miles makes when he says that Malc has grown in confidence immensely being back as the main instrumentalist in the band, he "tolerated" all the folky input during the bands early '90's heyday, and now he see's the band as being in the incarnation it was 23 years ago, and in his own words "This is how it always should have been". This is wholly evident later in the evening when Malc is jumping around like a kid with a grin from ear to ear. This is a band fully refreshed, and ready to enjoy it so much more than first time around.
The live show is predominately a run through of old favourites, with half a dozen tracks thrown in from the new album. The newer tracks are well received, but with more of a polite response than what is reserved for the oldies. The audience, with an average age of somewhere in the thirties has not forgotten how to jump around and generally get sweaty - and these actions are more than intensified for the likes of 'It's Yer Money I'm After, Baby', 'Give Give Give Me More More More' and 'Unbearable'. Whilst the opening 'Escape From Rubbish Island' (the title track from the L.P.), 'Better Get Ready For a Fist Fight' and the splendidly semi-anthemic 'You Don't Know Who...' are seemingly the most popularly received from the new record. Miles introduces the last two new songs, and after that it's 1989 all over again as the band and the audience career out of control and rip through the remainder of the set and then the encore, lapping up the onslaught from the archetypal four piece Wonderstuff firing through their 'best of..' on all six cylinders. 'Don't Let Me Down, Gently', 'Unbearable', 'No for the 13th Time', and the set closing 'Room 410' all feature in a set culled mainly from their first two albums ('The Eight Legged Groove Machine', and 'Hup'). In a way it's like a reunion, in a way it's almost like a regression, but in a more important way it's just a bloody great way to spend a night jumping around and getting sweaty to a brilliant band playing brilliant songs from a brilliant time in your life.
Earlier in the day Miles Hunt had said that it had always been the case that they "..would play all the new stuff and then come back on and play all the old favourites, and that it was obvious that those songs were what people had come to hear - and it took us a long time to realise that..". With that in mind, the band have assembled a new, yet surprisingly reminiscent line up that reflects the early days of The Wonderstuff perfectly. Indeed, Miles introduces "Brother Mark McCarthy on bass", as "the closest thing to 'The Bass Thing'" with reference to the sadly departed yet still inspirational Rob Jones who wielded the four strings with the band in their original line up. With this the case they have completed a barnstorming short tour of the U.K. and are set to travel to the States, and then return for a new album and further dates next year. All is indeed looking good in the house of The Wonderstuff.
In all, the new album may still be ridden with angst, bile and anger, it may be laden with 'don't fuck with me' guitar tracks, but it is still an essential listen. The live shows with a re-generated Miles and Malc partnership who belie their 38 years with ease are totally unmissable, especially if you were leaping around to them the first time around.
The photographs of The Wonderstuff at The Academy in Bristol were by Jack Quinn. More Can be found here.