Bearded

This story begins, as many do, with a Dave. Dave is the lovely man behind the quite staggeringly mind-bending website Nervous Squirrel, and a good friend of Kev, one of my oldest and bestest pals. One day I get a shout from Kev, asking if I would be interested in playing at Bearded Theory festival, a wee shindig up in the beautiful Derbyshire countryside, alongside this magnificent beast, the Alpaca Sound System:

alpaca_sound_system_01

The Alpaca Sound System was created by Dave, and is (essentially, and to quote the website) “a radio controlled life-sized alpaca mounted on petrol engine powered caterpillar tracks, with a 3m wide 2600W sound system including two 18″ subwoofers. No further explanation is required.”

Accompanying me, Kev (AKA DJ Oz) and Dave on this trip were James (aka DJ Flibble) and his mate Lee (more of whom later). The plan was that we would be based in one of the beer tents at the festival, providing quality sounds for the discerning festival-goer between the hours of 3pm and midnight for the three main days of the festival.

The idea of playing tunes in a bar is one that most certainly appealed – although, I must confess, the idea of spending any extended period of time under canvas was not something I was particularly looking forward to, given my love of duvets, showers, and roofs. Luckily I was in the company of seasoned festival-goers, so my borrowed tent and borrowed rucksack were augmented by a borrowed sleeping bag and borrowed inflatable bed. Lee, attending his first ever festival, amazed both James and me by cooking udon noodles with tofu, venison and sugar snap peas on our first night in the crew camping area.

Kev and Dave had arrived the day before us to set up the alpaca in the bar in which we were to play, only to find miscommunication was the order of the day and that the situation had become so shambolic that the normally level-headed and amenable Dave had threatened to go home and take his alpaca with him. Fortunately, we had a Kofi Annan in our midst in the form of James, who smoothed things over in a remarkably silver-tongued manner and laid the foundations for a rather splendid relationship with the bar manager and his staff.

All logistical formalities completed, the weekend proceeded as weekends do, and we all had a jolly splendid time, all told. Highlights are numerous, so I have attempted to whittle them down a little. A little whittle, if you will.

The people we had coming along to dance were mostly nice – especially the couple from Derbyshire who, once they heard we would be playing reggae every day, attended every day. An honourable shout also goes to the incredibly pissed woman who, having misjudged the terrain while dancing, fell and smashed her chin very hard on a flight case, then carried on dancing as if nothing had happened. A less welcome intervention came in the form of a another woman who proceeded to have a minor meltdown, yelling and screaming and crying at DJ Oz as he had dared to follow Toots & The Maytals’ version of Pressure Drop with The Clash’s cover version. “You’re ruining EVERYTHING!” being my absolute favourite of her bon mots. Another big shout goes to Dan and Jayne, for just being Dan and Jayne.

The hero of the weekend, however, was undoubtedly Lee. Lee (who is always right) acted as techie, roadie, gopher, chef, bouncer and general all-round bad motherfucker. It is not an exaggeration to say that we would not have got through the weekend without him and I am delighted to say that we have become friends. He obtained free chips, kept us in drinks, stopped folk from placing their children onto the alpaca’s delicate back (“I was only joking mate”) and even got threatened for trying to keep someone away from a metal tent pole during an incredibly violent thunderstorm on the Sunday afternoon (we discovered later that the festival was only minutes away from being shut down due to safety concerns).

Another big thank you goes to King Ron, an unassuming man with whom I shared a mutual interest and who kept me very happy for a great deal of the weekend…

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I also managed to see some bands, but not many. UK Subs and Sleaford Mods were the ones who I did not expect to enjoy, but did. I also managed to avoid killing a dreadlocked imbecile who kept throwing himself into a massive puddle in the Woodland area while Dan and me were trying to watch Ruts DC, covering everyone in a five foot radius in beastly mud and oomska. I took solace that, given my feet and fists did not shorten his life, there was a possibility that e-coli may have done so.

So, the upshot is now that the Alpaca Sound System (please do not use an acronym) has been invited back to Bearded Theory 2019, bigger and better and even more something than we were in 2018. This time we will be in our own space, where the plan is to create the Alpaca Sound System & Lounge, a venue for the discerning (and not so discerning) to assemble and have a ruddy good time listening to fine tunes and hanging with fine people.

I am considering getting some “Lee is always right” t-shirts made for the occasion.

Crying

One Of My Turns – Pink Floyd

In a particularly dark place about 15 years ago I found myself in debt, smoking too much weed, hating my job, and listening to Pink Floyd’s The Wall on the bus on the way to work. Not sure why, to be honest, because it’s not my favourite Floyd album by a very long chalk (although it does contain the odd nugget of gold). Anyway, One Of My Turns comes on just as the bus is approaching Cambridge, and Roger Waters sings:

Day after day, love turns grey
Like the skin of a dying man

And night after night, we pretend it’s all right
But I have grown older, and
You have grown colder, and
Nothing is very much fun anymore.

And I find myself sobbing hysterically on the top deck of the X9.

The RAH Band – Clouds Across The Moon

Bit of a stylistic leap here, but bear with me. This single came out in 1985, and it’s as cheesy as all fuck, but something in it appealed to me for reasons I can’t fathom. The song, for those unfamiliar, is about a woman calling her husband (on Mars) from her home on Earth, telling him how much she misses him and how lonely she is etc. etc. Anyway, I’m sat at home one night watching Top Of The Pops and this tune comes on. At the song’s end the telephone call is interrupted and she is advised by the intergalactic operator to hang up the phone.

Ok. Thank you very much…”

She replies,

“I’ll…I’ll try again next year…”

Cue spontaneous blubbing from yours truly. Holy shit.

Football

I think Mark Hughes will not be able to keep Southampton in the Premier League this season. The problem, however, is it’s not just the manager. Katherina Leibherr sold up cos she’s not interested in football and it was her Dad’s pet project anyway. The new owner (whose name I do not recall) just wants the prestige that comes with owning a Premier League club (how many matches does he attend?). Where are Ralph Krueger and Les Reed? Full of themselves and happy to take the credit when things are going right, but nowhere to be found when the chips are down. Appointing Hughes after the end of last season showed a lack of bravery, a lack of vision and a commitment to short-term outcomes only.

Even if Saints had a squad that would get them a top 12 spot (which I’m not convinced about) what does that tell you about the Premier League? Only 4 clubs (six at a push) capable of winning the thing, with the others either making up the numbers or providing cannon fodder while they try and avoid relegation.

This isn’t the club I used to support, and it’s not the sport I used to love either. I know change is inevitable, but there comes a time when you just have to say to yourself “You know what? This isn’t worth my time anymore.”

Still, at least it saves me some space on my YouView box now I’ve stopped watching/recording Match Of The Day twice a week. Swings and roundabouts…

French

Last year, for my birthday, I was given a rather splendid present – a Pioneer DDJ-SB2 controller.pioneer-ddj-sb2-top_960x540This was gifted to me by my family, on the condition that I get myself out of the house and use it, maybe even to earn myself some much needed additional income. Since that time, it has been utilised at three wedding celebrations, a couple of house parties, and several gigs, as well as finding me twenty feet up a scaffold tower at Cambridge’s Strawberry Fair.

It is one of those weddings I would like to write about today, so I will. This one was pretty memorable – not for being the celebration of good friends, as two of them have been – but for very different reasons.

It is a Wednesday afternoon, and I am work (battling the forces of evil, since you ask) and my phone vibrates. It is a message from my pal Colin:

“Can you do a wedding in Suffolk on Saturday?”

Turns out that Colin has unexpectedly found himself stranded in Portugal, following a pilots’ strike at a well-known budget airline, and so a DJ is required for a wedding. In three days’ time.

I have played at weddings before, this is true, but these have always been for people who are friends and who know what sort of music they’re going to get from me. This is a beast of an entirely different stripe – a wedding party at a posh location, for some folk with some very specific musical requirements (more of which later) and the number of people I will know at this “do” is precisely zero.

I’d like to say that I approach this task with calm stoicism, but anyone who knows me will surely scoff at such a far-fetched scenario, so I won’t insult anybody’s intelligence. To be frank, I’m shitting myself.

I begin diligently researching wedding music, a soul-destroying task akin to keeping abreast of the news. I defy anyone to type “Most requested wedding songs” into Google and not become overwhelmed with despair for the future of civilisation. By the time Saturday rolls around, I have, along with help from the stranded Colin, managed to accumulate a large quantity of mp3s that I would never, ever listen to out of choice. Which brings me to the music requested by the happy couple.

In some ways, in fact in most ways, it is helpful to know the expectations of your clients in advance. This saves the potential for a conflagration when a wedding guest asks you, inevitably, to play something a) you don’t have and b) you can’t believe anyone would want to hear at a wedding (or anywhere else, for that matter). The first dance is always the choice of the newlyweds, obviously.

This wedding party have asked for some form of chronology to their celebrations. This is because half the guests will be French and, apparently, it’s a tradition for French wedding party music to proceed in such a fashion. So 50s, 60s, 70s etc. There is a slight wrinkle here, however, as I am provided with a list of French tunes from the 80s that have to be played, before moving onto “the usual 90s club music”.

I arrive at the venue to be greeted by the leader of the ceilidh band that will precede me. I am to start at 8:45 and finish at midnight – a quick piece of mental arithmetic confirms that this is slightly longer than the “hour at the end of the evening” that was originally mooted by the gig organiser, but what the heck. The ceilidh band does its thing, and it calms my nerves to see that a large number of the guests are already on the outside of a goodly quantity of booze. I witness a couple of near-fatal collisions, and it becomes clear that this is a fairly “up for it” crowd.

The rest of the evening goes pretty well, and I must resort to listing highlights for fear of turning a blog post into a novella.

A gentleman attired in what I would call moneyed clobber (checked shirt, red trousers, tan brogues) comes up to me at the beginning of my set. Turns out he’s the owner of this very impressive venue. “We spoke on the phone earlier”, he offers me a handshake, “Rupert.” I almost tell him that my name’s not Rupert, but err on the side of diplomacy given that I am, as is evident from a cursory look around, not among my own kind. “Everything OK?” he asks. I affirm, and offer a positive appraisal of the facilities. “Well, yes. We like to keep things straightforward. Saves fucking about.” And with that he’s off, pausing only to turn around and say “Midnight” which, being a good little oik, I take as the order it most assuredly was. If I’d had a forelock, I’d have tugged it.

A drop-dead gorgeous woman approaches me and, in a French accent that would cause tumescence in a dead man, says “One of my favourite songs is I Don’t Want To Stop Now (sic) by Queen – do you ‘ave it?” Of course I do. I’d have fucking played Agadoo by Black Lace if she’d asked. Crikey.

As is common at such events, there is a small contingent of tiny people, all hopped up on sugary drinks and excited to be allowed to stay up late. One such miniature gent approaches me. I smile, and say hello. He opens his mouth to speak and I realise that I don’t understand a word of it. So I smile, give him a thumbs-up, and off he trots. Minutes later, he returns and says something that sounds, to my mono-lingual ears and over the noise of the PA, remarkably similar to his previous utterance. I repeat my thumbs-up, and off he goes again. A couple more minutes pass, and he returns, this time accompanied by what I assume is his mother, and it is revealed that he wants to hear some Daft Punk. Bien sur, petit monsieur. Later on, when I drop some Bruno Mars (don’t judge me) the same young lad pulls off some very impressive dance moves, surrounded by a cheering and clapping circle of heavily refreshed adults. By the end of the evening, he is fast asleep on the stage.

One of the tunes I’d been asked to play is We Like To Party (The Vengabus) by Venga Boys, a tune that is best described as the ebola virus in musical form. I figure that the optimal plan is to play it as soon as possible and get the damned thing out of the way, so I am surprised that the opening bars are greeted with almost orgasmic cries of delight from the assembled throng. I am further startled to witness the formation of an enormous conga line (I started counting but stopped at 70) that proceeded to snake its way around the venue to the sounds of this 136 beats-per-minute slice of dreadfulness.

So, it’s around 11:15pm, the floor is rammed, people are dancing, all is well. A few of those dancing are getting really rather inappropriate with each other and I begin to consider the possibility that some of the revellers are being fuelled by stimulants unavailable at the bar. It is a lovely feeling to see a load of happy smiling people bopping away, and I have to confess that I am really rather enjoying myself. And then, without warning, my laptop dies. As my DJ controller is powered by USB from said laptop, this also dies.

Oh fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.

I hurriedly swap over laptop chargers (yes, I brought a spare, aren’t I clever?) and, while I’m doing so, the French contingent begin to sing. My first thought is that they have joined in a chorus of the Gallic version of Why Are We Waiting?, but they are, in fact, singing a traditional French wedding song (again, more of this later) and erupt into cheers of delight when, after a system reboot and a hurried reassuring chat with the groom, I play Highway To Hell by AC/DC. Ah, I have them back. Boom. It’s time to bring out the big guns.

In the email I received, detailing musical preferences, I was asked for two tunes that only financial inducement could bring me to play. As we are approaching the end of the night, it seems only fair to hold up my side of the bargain. I grit my teeth and cue up the theme tune to Baywatch.

They. Go. Mental.

The groom and all his mates are now stripped to the waist, pulling muscleman poses. Beer is flying. I look back to my decks in order to cue up the next tune. A huge cheer rents the alcohol-sodden air and I look up to see the bride, still in her wedding dress, borne aloft on her back by eight shirtless men. They begin to pirouette and I mentally speculate as to the extent of my mate Rupert’s insurance cover.

Africa by Toto is next and, if you’ve never thought of this as a party tune, what I witnessed would have forced you to reconsider. Arms aloft, tears in eyes, singing along, these people are having a better time than I thought was possible to such a turgid, overly-earnest and essentially meaningless piece of music. I’m clearly out of touch.

So, we approach the witching hour, when Rupert has told me I must stop. The final tune is nigh, one requested by the groom and apparently the one that traditionally closes a French wedding. This is it, and I recommend you listen to it while reading the rest of this post:

Michel Sardou – Les Lacs Du Connemara

As the tune commences, a roar of recognition ensues. Everyone forms a circle on the dancefloor, hokey-cokey style, except that they all have their arms over each other’s shoulders. The bellow along lustily to a French language version of a traditional Irish song, and I find myself breaking into an enormous grin. This is fucking brilliant. The tune subsides, and one gent steps into the middle of the circle, crouches on his haunches and begins to loudly beat the floor with the palm of his hand. Everyone in the circle follows suit and, as the song builds to its final crescendo, they all slowly rise, all the while singing along as if their very lives depended on it. At the song’s close, they cheer and applaud and, much to my surprise, I find myself joining in.

I finish bang on midnight, the house lights go up, and I start to pack away. As I’m leaving, one of the celebrants asks me “C’est finis?”

I decide to show off.

“Oui, c’est finis. C’est l’Angleterre, n’est ce pas? C’est merde.”

The man looks at me in a startled manner, presumably perturbed at the poor quality of my spoken French, and replies in a broad Essex accent.

“You fucking said it, mate.”

Laugh

Prompted by an online discussion, I put together a list of my ten favourite comedy films. That’s it, really. There are many omissions, but it was done quickly, so get off my back.

All of the films listed below have brought me enormous quantities of happy happy joy joy over the years and continue to do so.

Please feel free to share your faves.

  • Way Out West (James W Horne, 1937) – this film is like a big bowl of soup (with warm crusty bread). A total comfort watch, with too many highlights to name.
  • The General (Buster Keaton/Clyde Bruckman, 1926) – I came to Buster Keaton films rather late in life, and now I feel that the majority of my existence on this planet has been a complete waste of time.
  • Withnail & I (Bruce Robinson, 1987) – The first time I saw this film, it depressed the fuck out of me. The second time I laughed until my buttocks throbbed.
  • Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979)  – this film has EVERYTHING, even a lady’s front bottom. Deeply serious as well as deeply funny, with everybody at the top of their game. Initially banned from cinemas in my city of birth which, while it wasn’t the reason I moved away, is reason enough not to move back.
  • Blazing Saddles (Mel Brooks, 1974) – this one nearly lost out to The Producers, but it’s attitude and relentless gag rate makes this my favourite Mel Brooks film.
  • South Park – Bigger, Longer and Uncut (Trey Parker/Matt Stone,1999) – this film made me laugh so much I had to use ventolin. Shouldn’t have got stoned before watching it, I guess. It remains the only musical I am willing to sit through without complaint.
  • This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, 1984) – is this a musical? Nah. Is it funny? Oh yes. Tom Waits reportedly can’t watch it, as most of the incidents in the film have happened to him at some point in his career. I suspect he is not alone.
  • Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964) – Peter Sellers’ performance rightly garners the most attention, but the supporting cast, particularly Slim Pickens and George C Scott, give fantastic performances. Still a relevant film, sadly.
  • The Jerk (Carl Reiner, 1979) – dumb, crude, enormously daft and unexpectedly touching. After watching this film I developed an enormous crush on Bernadette Peters, which persists to this day.
  • Take The Money and Run (Woody Allen, 1969) – if you watch this movie and don’t laugh out loud at least once, you are dead inside. Woody’s second, and still his funniest.

 

free writing 1

desperate revellers aching for the warm comfort of a bed at a bus stop in the rain falling on the cold old pavements looking at a lady in a hat carrying her shopping bag in the crook of her arm reminds me of my nan as I take another drag on my cigarette and wish it was something else something to take me away from all this a land of sweet oblivion where responsibility is someone else’s responsibility Christ it’s cold and the rain is falling harder good job I wore my warm coat where’s the fucking bus? reflections of street lights in puddles and no warmth and no joy all the tired angry faces heading somewhere somewhere else anywhere really but most probably home. where is home?

Timing

Peter Sellers, Jerry Lewis, Rowan Atkinson, Norman Wisdom, Andy Kaufman, Al Murray.

The connecting tissue for all of the above is that they are comedians, right? Correct, with the possible exception of Al Murray. But let us not quibble. The other attribute shared by these notables is that they are/were also drummers and, before we start getting into all that tedious beyond measure “drummers aren’t musicians” hilarity horseshit, it’s important to note that many comedians are also talented guitarists, keyboard players etc. etc. and the crossover between the two disciplines is considerable.

In the time I have spent in bands, one of the most enjoyable elements has been the considerable amount of laughs I have shared. Of course, there are musicians without a keen sense of humour, but they are rare. Most of the musicians I have played with have been naturally funny people, and into their comedy in a fairly big way.

Before we go any further, I need to state the obvious fact that not all people are into comedy, and not all people like music. Mostly these people enjoy Mrs Brown’s Boys and Coldplay, and by this measure can be safely (and not unreasonably) removed from any further discussion on the grounds of taste and idiocy.

So, where were we? Ah yes, comedy and music.

The mutual appreciation society between musicians and comedians is longstanding and one must presume that it stems from the fact that, since pre-ketchup times, they have found themselves performing on the same bill, often working together (music hall comics often had a musical number to use as a finale). Both would also have a decent amount of free time between shows and, in a touring company for instance, would find themselves sharing transport and accommodation. This would naturally lead to some shared social time and a chance of cross-pollination between the two artistic disciplines.

Peter Cook and Dudley Moore – one a prodigiously talented musician, the other very much not – were the accidental beneficiaries of this back in the mid-1970s, when bootleg recordings of them improvising in a New York studio found their way into the hands of touring rock bands, among them Led Zeppelin. These tapes were copied and passed around, eventually becoming big sellers on the bootleg market. Cook reasoned that if anyone was going to be paid for this work it should be him, and the tapes were eventually released on Island records in 1976. The rest is foul-mouthed history.

Similarly, a compilation of Monty Python out-takes entitled “Hastily Cobbled Together For A Fast Buck” also did the rounds of rock bands (most notably Motorhead) but is yet to see the light of day as an official release.

While the musician is often a fan of comedy, and the comedian either a musician or a music obsessive, combining the two is a tricky business. Done well, it is sublime. Done badly, it is Mitch Benn.

I will probably come back to this subject for future posts, as I feel it’s a rich subject worthy of further discussion. Right now, however, it’s time for my big boy afternoon nap.

Love

Nick

Vonnegut

I know, I know, I know. No excuses, really, save the kind of inertia reserved for the terminally pessimistic. To be honest, I only remembered yesterday that I actually set this blog up and, when I had a look, the last post was around seven months ago. Even by my standards, that is a shocking state of affairs. And it was a post from my old blog site too, so fuck knows how long ago it was written.

There’s also the little matter of “The Pig And Whistle”, the second instalment of which was apparently in the pipeline. Ha! Best not to hold one’s breath, if previous form is anything to go by.

So, here we all are (or here I all am) pondering why I find it so difficult to commit to the simple act of recording a few hundred words on a blog on a semi-regular basis. I think, in part, there’s a certain lack of confidence in my own ability, the deep-seated fear that, actually, I have nothing original to say and am, in any case, not very good. There exists alongside this a deep insecurity regarding any intellectual rigour required to present a piece of work to an (admittedly miniscule) audience, a feeling that I’m actually just a low budget Ricky Gervais. All the above work their malignant magic on my brain, with the result that there is no end result to speak of.

In August 2016, I turned 50. Only a number, as many folk have told me, shortly before I punched them in the genitals. It is, however, a milestone of sorts. It has to be, otherwise my family and friends would not have made such a wonderful, love-filled fuss about it. It also has the effect of making you assess your position in life, and how your achievements measure up against the aspirations of the younger you. As a result, I have become more prone to melancholia, and the bouts of anxiety and unease which had previously been sporadic have redoubled their efforts and their efficacy. What a laugh we’ve had together.

In the main, the outcome has been a distinct lack of enthusiasm regarding activities which had previously brought me so much pleasure. I haven’t played the drums (in any meaningful, sustained way) for nigh on 5 years. The 18 year old me would be absolutely and angrily appalled by this but I draw solace from the fact that, like many 18 year olds, he was a bit of a prick and can be safely ignored. I have had thoughts about returning to playing music but a perusal of the “drummers wanted” ads is not something I would recommend. To all intents and purposes, it seems that the only genre of music that people of my age want to play is “utter shit” and, if I’m going to play “utter shit”, I want paying. Fat chance. A lot of these musos have spare cash and view their musical excursions as a hobby. This is absolutely fair enough, but hobbies cost money and I’m not playing Kings Of Leon tunes without some form of remuneration.

Anyway, I also DJ a bit and I love it. I have a Mixcloud page where I post up my attempts, and for my 50th birthday I received a spunky new DJ controller that I hook up to my laptop full of music. It’s a marvellous piece of kit to use, and I’ve got a few gigs lined up this year in which to utilise its many functions. All unpaid gigs, it’s true, but I only play music I like so that’s alright.

Which brings me back to the writing and this here blog. While digging around the web lately, I came across an online discussion regarding motivation, and read something that struck a chord. It was this:

“…ambition doesn’t have to include success. In fact, there is liberation in doing what you want without worrying how it will be perceived by others.”

And I’m starting to realise that, despite my loudmouthed protestations, I care very deeply what people think about me and I am constantly seeking affirmation from others (whether consciously or subconsciously). What I need to do, really, is crack on and do stuff that a) stops me from going to bed, exhausted by negativity, at 9pm every night and b) helps me develop as a human being. Shame it’s taken me 50 years to reach such a conclusion, but better late than never.

In the words of Kurt Vonnegut:

“I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.”

So I’ve decided to fart around a lot more and not get bogged down in all the bullshit. If you want to join in, fine. If you don’t, that’s also fine.

Love

Nick