Champion Things – Decline of the Adventure playground

Decline of the AP

Champion Things – Decline of the Adventure Playground

Contains strong language

Review by Paul Kane Sept 2019

I’ve been listening to and following Scream Blue Murmur for a many years.  I tried to get to see them when I could live and liked them so much that I’ve booked them for live shows several times.  I’ve also reviewed some of their previous recorded work including the instrumental album, one from a period of instrumental works, ‘Shankill Graveyard’.

I was interested in how this latest work would pan out. Effectively this is a new incarnation using the core of ‘Scream’, Gordon Hewitt aided and abetted by Wallace Gibson on sax and EWI, with Vic Bronzini Fulton offering a few additional instruments as well as co-producing. The material was recorded at Earth Music Studios.

On first listening, (then re-listening) I felt this was a return to the spoken word format I used to be familiar with in work from earlier years. Perhaps the reduction in musical personnel has freed Gordon Hewitt, given him some space to work his lyrics into. Perhaps he has more to talk about, more to say and to comment on. His themes and issues are of vital importance and they come wrapped up in a dub groove and augmented Middle Eastern rhythms and dystopian minor solos.  T

There is a lot to talk about these days and not too many people are saying much of consequence, so I donned my headphones a third time to get the most out of this new work.

I do consider how this new format will play out in a live scenario, but that’s for a live review.

Tighter

This album feels tighter than previous work, possibly as there is less instrumental work going on and a lot more freedom for rhythms to develop.

There are injected vocal arpeggios acting like musical breathers or musical commas, semi colons or full periods and therefore spoken word now plays a greater role.

Lyrics come in the form of the main vocal with backing vocals, sometimes dovetailing, sometimes providing additional musical interludes.  Narration and observation play a key role in the scenarios with individual story lines acting as backdrops for larger and more complex issues.

Dust Bowl Children opens with honking sax and glistening guitar, breaking down to allow space for the spoken word narrative.

This could be about children all over the world, but for me it sang clearly of Syria initially, with the backing vocals ringing out like a call to prayer from a minaret. It might be equally valid for people from Latin and Central America working their way up to what they feel might be a new life in the US.

‘This little murder Gang’, Gordon sings lightly but with a weighty message of Child Soldiers. I see prepubescent youngsters with bullet belts and well worn Kalashnikov’s being railroaded into a loss of childhood and a life of horrific crime.

The title of course is reminiscent of the drought in the late 20’s and 30’s in the US where migrating working farmers suffered xenophobia (ironically they were all Americans!) and horrendous violence simply by trying to find a better life.

Mucho Ranchero

Opening up with a long intro into a punchy vocal riff then a secondary sax solo, lyrically it begins with a female protagonist and her life, its seems a life of close proximity, of claustrophobia.

I had initially thought this might have been about Selma or some of the other southern States in the 60’s but the reference to Dexy’s Midnight Runners puts us in the late 70’s and 80’s. Could it be Brixton? It could be anywhere in working class UK or Europe.

Vocals alongside backing vocals work as question and answer scenarios, reverbs and rhythms and delays act as memory signifiers, shifting in and out of past and present.

‘Sometimes you just to have to make that break’, the theme of leaving and moving is used here in a seemingly unrequited love scenario.  This might be real or aspirational, we don’t know, but it motivates the sense of needing to move.

Although there are many different rhythms here, vocally it does remind me of a Gregorian chant blended with Sufi overtones, an almost transcendental form which is not unpleasant.

No Celebration (Life)

Taking time out, this lighter reggae dub intro leads us into the first time we here the main vocal singing.  Without taking away from the vocal I did want this track to move somewhere musically, the static nature of the one key is understandable, possibly even measured to trap us and make us want a sense of movement as the title suggests.

We do a get a little breakdown almost right at the end, but it somehow feels too little too late. Perhaps it’s the musical metaphor for life.

Sun Brown King (Definitive Version)

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I will be honest, when I saw 08.53 time frame, I was not sure what to expect.

We hear a dreamy vocal and sax combo, which feels self indulgent and lengthy and we hit almost a minute and a half before the vocal kicks in.

I try to get underneath this and work out what is going on; is this a story of social mobility?  Is boxing, a way out of a ghetto? But the big players in the ring are not saying enough about the places they came from? Why not? What’s going on?

I feel like we’ve gone the full 12 rounds on this, is the ethereal vocal our fighter on the canvas looking up deliriously at the lights willing a flying towel to come visit? Or is it us.

Then it kicks in – life outside the ring is segregated, its hatred, its dehumanising. Time is struggle, its hard work but it’s for nothing, a smoke and mirrors celebrity which makes everyone else rich but the Boxer.  He is seen in his later years in a wheel chair signing autographs for a dollar in Las Vegas.

‘I can see the Sun, feel it burn’.

Her Morning Walks

One of the more pop orientated tracks, it has some psychedelic overtones of Pink Floyd with striking eerie keyboard solos replacing previous sax work.

Its placement in the album does offer a sense of relief to some of the more meaty issues we’ve already been listening to.

No Celebration (Work) This second instalment of the trilogy starts with a solo bassline taking us into a haunting sax solo. This belies the lyrics which lament working zero hour contracts and feeling worthless, ‘They break your back against the stones, they make you feel like rag and bone’.

At 02.30, counter point solos of sax and trumpet eek out a similar musical conversation of loss and lack of love and eventually come together to sing the same tune. They seem in a camaraderie of drudgery.

All this against the relentless machine of the guitar and drums, the industrial machine ever turning, never resting, never caring.

The rimshot is like the ticking of a clock, marking time – this is indeed ‘no celebration, feels like I’m lacking love…’ its ends in what might be a death throe, with discordant key changes.

Her Morning Walks (Spoken Word Version)

This version takes on a Kate Bush feel evoking the track ‘Waking up the Witch’, not musically but in its use of spoken words and phrases to nudge listener along.

 No Celebration (Play)

A contemplative and reflective piece, which, allowed me to look back on the album as a whole.  The use of keys on solos, that helped with both the dynamic range of sounds but also felt more relaxed and less urgent.  When the sax does come in its less harsh and filled with gentle reverbs and soft delays.

My only criticism is that I would have preferred lead vocals a little higher in the mix, I could be (and probably am, my hearing is not great, 35 years of playing in some heavy bands will do that) struggling at times to hear Gordon’s inflection as he machine gunned out a few lyrics.

As noted previously I would like to hear how this will be performed live, I always enjoyed the dynamism of a large number of musicians on stage, but I was always aware that from a cost, sound engineering and quite frankly space issue this was always going to be difficult to maintain.

I liked this work, it made me think. It married hooky musical lines with hard hitting words.  I was glad to hear more of Hewitt’s spoken word, although at times not an easy listen, but that’s the point for me.  These are not easy subjects and should not be swept away or easily forgotten.

In a time of stark political polarisation the poor always get poorer, and the marginalised become irrelevant. The time is right for work like this, but like its subject matter this album might too be made to take second place and may reach only those people who are already doing something about tackling the issues covered in the recording.

Thematically, it was about movement or lack of it.  Movement of people, time, place and potentially, after listening, perspective. Well worth a listen.

The recording can be found at the link below

https://open.spotify.com/album/4fzpRcgVnfci6iar3DmJOy

Delhi

Delhi centric

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The Golden Triangle they call it. Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Dehli the bustling metropolis of wall to wall people, manic traffic and molten streams of chewing tobacco expectorate. Agra is home to the Taj Mahal and Jaipur the Capital of Rajasthan and centre for all things fabric and jewel laden.

It’s not my first time in India, but my Third. I imagined I was a seasoned India traveller having weathered and survived Mumbai, Goa as well as quite a few southern states after all! Well, nothing prepared me for what awaited in Delhi… on arrival I discovered that 500 and 1000 Rupee notes were removed from circulation by Prime Minister Modi in order to reduce counterfeit money, so there was no money in ANY of the ATM’s and also then a limit of £20 even if you could you could get it!

So it took this seasoned traveller 20 mins to get the nerve to cross the road… It was bedlam on the first day, but there were Angels and Demons all around. Angels in the fact that one man on arrival warned me I was in a dodgy area, a nice hotel but not so good surroundings. He dragged an unwilling young Tuk Tuk driver into the fray by asking for a map and then telling him ‘Take this man to a bank and charge him local rates only!’

I had 10 Euro which eventually gets exchanged to pay Ajay (I eventually get my first Tuk Tuk and its driver to take me around for a few days) and we luckily make it to one of the few banks that has cash in its ATM. As a minor celebration I get escorted to one of the Government gift shops – they are well run and a lot of the profit goes back to the workers. You can also trust that what you are buying is the real deal, not a knock off. Good if you want some jewellery or good textile items.

I’m given the hard sell but I relax into it, I’m in no rush after all and the building has aircon. Rugs first; I get the knots, the patterns, the frame the whole nine yards and get hit with the price – a cool £1,000 plus shipping of course. I take photos and say I need an OK before I even think about it. Next floor is textiles, pashmina’s, scarf’s, shirts, & bedding you name it; its there. I’m offered a hand made shirt and tailor made suit – the books with the styles are decidedly dodgy. A polite no. Paintings are next, they start on camel bone and are extremely kitch as well as very expensive – ‘Everyone will love this Sir!’ I’m told. ‘Money means nothing here Sir!’ I’m told – It’s a mere (a quick tap on the calculator) £750!’ I’m told.   He sadly uses the family card next in response to my silence, ‘My Father made this 40 years ago’ which translates to I’ve been trying to flog this crap for 40 years! I move on and he’s pissed.

On the way back downstairs I ironically have to ask about the jewellery section, which seems to be cordoned off. I go in. Its pretty cool and the guy behind the counter is more relaxed and less a sales person. He asks what I’m after – I tell him honestly, I don’t know. He starts by showing me some stones, first in a raw state, then the cut gems. I feel like Rockerfeller – there’s diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, rubies the list goes on. But it’s interesting. He talks about how the stones were formed, the minerals in them and what region they are from. He offers me a beer, its 10am, I almost accept! But remember I am in the most expensive section of the shop!

He shows me some beautiful bracelets and rings and I opt for a silver garnet bracelet and matching ring – the colour is deep purple and blows the lighter rubies out of the water. He explains that these garnets represent what older rubies used to look like. I see a nice plain silver ring for me and as we chat he says ‘we could make a ring for you, maybe add in a stone?’ Now I’ve been wearing what’s called solidarity rings for years. Solidarity for people who cannot afford expensive jewellery – some were wooden, my current one is stainless steel, bought for the princely sum of 6 Euro in Barcelona many years ago. I ponder on the moral right to make this purchase? The place is a cooperative too, I ponder on it, so I don’t feel too bad.

But we speak more and begin to haggle a bit. It’s not an enormous amount of money and I’ll never really get the chance to do this again so after agreeing a design, a stone and getting the size right, I buy it. 6 hrs later I become the proud owner of a solid silver Ruby ring of almost 3 carats – its decadent, its OTT, but I love it! As I leave the shop the gem dealer shakes my hand and honestly tells me – ‘I really enjoyed working with you today, You are happy and I am happy’. Result.

Ajay eventually became my legend for the next few days and keenly showed me around the city, his only indulgence was to snap madly with me in tow in his selfies. He was kind enough to also ask me to lunch with his family, his gentle wife and lovely children giggled away in their tiny kitchen and only came into the room for a quick photo and to say thanks for the inadequate box of chocolates I bought for her. He picked up some stragglers who turned out to be Demons in disguise. Each morning he picked me up someone or two new people were with him. He confided in me later on by saying not to have anything to do with those people, I was his guest and he was looking after me. I worked out that it was either extended family or just shysters looking to get something out of the ‘rich guy’.

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I saw the sights, the forts, the towers, the temples all amid the hectic traffic and the not so luxurious (or safe) confines of a Tuk Tuk, but what inspired me most was Ghandi’s home and the ultimate place of his death. It was moving just to see a bare bed with a rolled up mattress and a glass case with all of his worldly possessions including; glasses, a staff, pocket watch and assorted cutlery. It was a bright sunny morning and I pondered on the strength of a man to ensure passive resistance and to pay the ultimate price for that. I ponder on my purchase of the previous day too.

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The lure of the west proved my undoing. A large La Vazza coffee sign outside a little café snared me to my doom. Once inside I spied a focaccia bread sandwich and was hooked. The coffee was sublime and the sandwich seemed to have raw chilli’s in it, which were rather tasty! However 2 hrs later my cup runneth over with some of the worst stomach issues I’ve had in my 20 years of international travelling. To add insult, the next 24 hrs had me flat on my back hallucinating – things crawled out of the walls, the floor turned itself upside down ‘Inception’ like and the bed was like something out of ‘Train spotting’. Only constant self-badgering and two litres of water keep me going and sane. The next day it was slowly getting better and thankful as I was going to be in a car for over 3 and a half hours, that was the trip to Agra and the Taj Mahal.

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Agra can only be described as a nasty little town, hawkers multiplied the closer I got to the Taj and £10 entrance fee for Tourists was a little steep especially by Indian standards. Yet it did not disappoint! Its glorious three gates in dark stone with the main building which seems pure white at first until you get closer (wearing obligatory disposable overshoes) is bedecked with marble marketry of exquisite flowers and Islamic text. Stunning does not come close.

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Afterwards I’m ferried to a shop to see ‘How its made’ marble work. They are good, but after a quick offer of tea, the hard sell starts, no beating about the bush here. The first small tabletop rolls in at £450 – ‘Don’t worry about carrying it Sir!’ I’m told ‘ We ship it directly to your home for only an extra £100!’ The prices go up from there on in. I’m led to the fabric department, there are only so many pashmina’s a man can look at only so many sariee’s, only so many elephants… I purchase nothing. I’m met with chargrin, as this is the shop keeper who has agreed to take my credit card payment and give me cash, it’s a modest 3% mark up – well worth the hassle. Having said that most of the cash goes to my driver and guide anyway.

I’m led back to my hotel to leave the following morning, I had arranged for Ajay to pick me up. I had a bottle of Whiskey and a large tip for him but sadly he’s a no show and I need another taxi ASAP, so off I go. I still have no cash (I pay by card at the hotel) so an extremely happy Nepalese taxi driver gets a tip of a bottle of the good stuff. I must admit I’m a little disappointed then wonder who else might have come along and maybe he was actually doing me a favour by not showing up?

As I sit in the airport I ponder on what the week had for me – it was the basics; water, decent food, sleep and companionship. I never would have made it without Ajay or saw quite so much and avoided a few nasty people. Thanks.

Jaipur

Jaipur

It’s a short flight from Delhi to Jaipur, I’m on Indigo Airlines and its manned by a crew of Nepalese flight attendants, I’m in an a emergency exit seat so they offer instructions on how to exit the place safely, but the flight attendant politely asks if I would like the instructions in Hindi, English, Spanish or French – Wow.

My plan for a quieter trip is somewhat hampered as I realise (way too late of course) that Jaipur is the Capital of Rajasthan, its far from a back water but at least the hotel seems nice. A rather sharply dressed and suave looking tall gentleman at reception tugs his beard and nods in appreciation of mine. On entering the room I immediately notice it has double-glazing, so the sound of horns don’t penetrate too much. Ahh… a little respite from the mayhem. With the banking crisis still in full flow (unlike its cash) my first night sees me in the hotel restaurant, something I would never normally do, (I like to get a feel for a place and try new things, eatery’s offer a way into the soul of a city) but at least I can put it on my room tab. Needs must. I grab a beer or two and tuck into some really nice food! Some chickpea patties in sesame seed followed by a mutton curry with nan and potatoes! Great stuff! Then I see the tax on the bill, then the luxury tax and then some other tax and discover that 1 third of my bill is tax… But at least the room is quiet!

I’m on the 2nd floor, the bar is on the 5th. At 9.30 on the dot my glass starts dancing across my glass table; the ‘Disco’ has started. Fuck me its all bass and vibrations, I crank up the TV but its like I am in a bass tumble drier. Thankfully, 10.30 and its all over. With a few beers in me and a good meal I start to nod off whilst reading. Not so Quickly chum! a family of about 14 seem to be in the room opposite. They find it quaint to let their kids play in the corridor and shout out encouragement. The kids are playing football. Fucking great. This happily only lasts for about 20 mins and silence again, well up to 1.30am, when they seem to return from an outing and yes lets have the kids get a good play before bedtime for good measure in the corridor again.

Its 6.30 and I’m wide awake so I take the opportunity to check emails and plan some itinerary’s. Walking seems more doable here; I check the map and head off in search of the Pink City. It’s really quiet, and I’m surprised to hear right at the start of my journey being called Ali Baba by taxi drivers and total strangers to boot. At first I’m a little annoyed then take it as a compliment obviously it’s my beard, but Ali was a clever guy wasn’t he? He got the better of those forty thieves.

It’s a tough walk; the traffic is horrendous. There are simply no gaps to get a across. On my first trip to India a few years ago I rode a Royal Enfield 2000 miles across the south, through Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The best traffic advice I was given was ‘ A green light means go, A red light also means go!’ Take nothing for granted on the roads in India. You need to develop a ‘Spidy Sense’ as well as major balls just to take the first steps into oncoming traffic. Crossing the road became a simple but meaningful victory. I planned well and spotted a old man who I literally mirrored to get across. We nodded sagely at each other at surviving the crossing.

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Its all the usual story, two worlds colliding – the rich and the poor and it becomes apparent in both the shops and the streets. It always seems a bit starker in the developing world. Poorer Rickshaw Walla’s hang out by a small park. The dip into tiffin tins or glass jars with various concoctions. They smell great though, loads of cumin and coriander. I get near the first city gate, its very Arabic and I could be in Tehran or Morocco. ‘Taxi’ is shouted at me incessantly but at least I get some kudos for my shiny Oxford shoes and a few nice remarks about my shirt (its designed for heat and purchased in Mexico).

The Bazaars all seem to sell the same things, mostly tat clothing and pashmina’s. I’m hawked at every turn and it becomes tiresome.   I find a little music shop and try out a few bells, I want some Jingle bells for Christmas gigs when I get home and find some really nice ones with two little cymbals for less than a fiver. Problem in I only have the equivalent of 2 quid in cash.   No problem, there’s is a card machine! I worry as he has to blow the dust off it but no it opens up and I punch in my pin – nothing, Declined I’m told. Try again? OK. Declined. I know I’ll probably never find this shop again as I have been practically lost for the past two hrs. I sadly hand back the neatly wrapped up package – both of us are disappointed.

I’m not sure what street I am on but I spy a beautiful building which turns out to be the Hawa Mahal originally built as a high screen in the 1700’s for women to gaze on the shoppers below. It’s amazing. I nod to another tourist and we strike up a conversation. He’s Tony from Toronto and after a few short sentences and exchanging personals he asks if I know Terri Hooley! His family were originally from Ballymena. We part company as I’m politely asked into a jewellery shop. I’m in no rush and am on the look out for a bracelet for Robert anyway. After spotting a nice one and having a good old haggle, I come away with a very good buy. I firstly put it in my pocket but decide to put it on so I can keep an eye on it, big mistake – I fall in love with the thing myself!

I find a little office licence and order a strong Tuborg – this leaves me with less than a pound in cash… I decide after 6 and a half hrs walking that I want a Tuk Tuk Home. I’m in no shortage of offers, but all are well over the odds in price, its not until I get a little off the beaten track that I manage to get one that fits my budget. He takes me past New Gate and towards the MI Road a busy 4 lane road. As we stop at lights a young girl of about 5 comes over asking for money, I really don’t have anything. She mime’s to her mouth for food, I try to tell her the banks have no money; I have no money! The driver leans back and tells her too. She is undeterred. Eventually the young face turns into a demon as she rakes her nails across my arm leaving me with 4 bloody trails for my sins. I’m taken aback not so much by the pain, although it was fucking sore! But by the look on her face from sweet angel to devil I wonder what she has seen to warrant that. Eventually I begin to envy her a little, I’ve been feeling sorry for myself, not really thinking about the millions who have absolutely nothing, I’m moaning about not wanting to eat in a hotel! She at least has the satisfaction of giving it to the Man! Me the rich punter who would not give her a single rupee. Sad irony being I had nothing to give and probably would. She awakens me from my selfish slumber.

The days are long and the cash is still nowhere to be had. I take to my walking into town but mostly I’m unable to purchase anything. Irony again in the fact that the places that would take my card are not the places I want to shop! I’m frustrated again and hamstrung at every turn. I count the ATM’s and Banks I’ve tried this morning; 27… There are at least 100 people at every bank. I look over eagerly at bank no 28 – I can see there’s no cash, people coming out of the cubicles with no money. A bike pulls up and a young man asks if I’m needing money, I’m wary but what the hell. I left the hotel this morning saying, bring it on India I’ll embrace all you have got!

He takes of his helmet and we introduce ourselves. His name is Ali…a real Ali. He says there’s a main bank about 6k away then a HBSC if that fails. I politely tell him I‘ve no money to get a Tuk so he says ‘no problem hop on I’m not meeting my wife for another few hrs!’ WTF, I go for it. Now I’m a biker, but in this traffic I mostly have my eyes closed. We get to a bank well out of town and I’m taken through security and politely asked how I found out about this particular bank? A local told me I say. He says he cannot help but that he HSBC bank has a tourist ATM. Ali kindly takes me to this next bank. I wait in a line of ten compared to one hundred locals at the other door, its hot and I’m dripping with sweat. The Guard calls me up and prompts me to the front of the queue, I politely decline, not really understanding what he needed. 5 minutes later a young Australian man at the front of the queue who speaks Hindi tells me that the man thinks I’m very old with my white beard and the sun is bad for me! I suck up my pride and jump the queue. Inside a very formal lady tells me strictly and repeatedly only 2500 ruppees per person! I’m gutted that’s about 30 quid. As I take my time she moves off and I hurriedly put my card back in and withdraw a second amount! What the hell!

Ali’s final good deed is to take me to a women’s coopoerative silver store. He tells me he has no interest in this store and does not make anything from bringing people – I believe him. The store is empty and the lady is very gracious in asking what I’m looking for. What I find is a bracelet like (but not exactly) like the one I originally bought for Robert. She hands me a solid bar of silver and explains that this is what people work from! Its amazing. I see a ring too and that’s it. In the meantime Ali has arranged a Tuk for me to show me the sights and all he asks is I meet him at a coffee shop later. I agree.

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I have a little cash in my pocket and I’m finally able to see some of the sights of Jaipur. I put Jaigarh Fort behind me; no real need to see one huge cannon for a 26km jaunt. Amber Fort is near by so I trundle up there. The hills are quiet and cooler – its beautiful. Then we hit the Fort and its Choc a bloc. I look up the incline and the driver tells me it’ll take an hour and a half and there are no taxis its on foot. I amble up. To be honest the air is thin, the sun is warm and frankly my heart is not in it. I get half way up and know what to expect at the top a load of sales folk and extortionate water prices. I stop and take on the lovely view, it won’t really get that much better higher up.

Khan the driver and I share a good few jokes, he politely tells me its good to talk and learn about different cultures also to share a little of his view of Jaipur. He tells me not everyone wants to converse, one man bluntly told him ‘I’m paying you to drive, not talk.’ We stop to share a beer and get chatting to some of the locals it’s been a good day. I look forward to the Disco on my return! However, I don’t forget Ali. The traffic is getting pretty busy and I decide to try and get to the coffee house a little early to be on the safe side. Ali’s already there and greets me warmly. I can’t help but feel it was a bit of a test? But I passed. We sit down to coffee and Doza, in the Indian Coffee House, I’d been trying to find it for a few days but its obscure sign lead into a little alleyway and was easily missed.

We chat generally and after thanking him again we get to talking about kharma. Now I feel I’ve already been the recipient of this from Ali’s Help. He tells me always try and help a Rickshaw Walla, they are the poorest. We talk about books and other things and I really enjoy his company. I pay the bill and offer him some money, I don’t want to offend him but I don’t have too much either. He stops a Rickshaw and agrees a price of 100 Rupees, he tells the guy I’m in no rush so take his time. I climb onto this and off we go. I notice the man is stick thin, he has one badly bloodshot eye and has pustules on his leg. We barely make it into traffic and I fear for both our lives in the busy traffic. It’s a fixed wheel bike and I’m no light weight, I can tell he is shattered already but he doggedly works on and only stops to ask directions. I’m so busy looking at the traffic that I don’t notice a hand stopping the rickshaw, its full of rings and bracelets. ‘You will come into my shop now!’ I’m ordered. My manners stop me from telling him to fuck off, the rickshaw guy is clearly scared so I take it easy. No thanks, I tell him, I was actually in your shop yesterday. He is confused now but lets us go on. We arrive at my hotel and I remember Ali’s words and pay the man a decent tip. He is extremely grateful and I hope he at least eats OK tonight.

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I’m almost at an end to the trip and it was not what I expected. I look back at all that happened and feel like I’ve been part of a Rudyard Kipling morality tale – but what did I learn? Don’t be manipulated by people, keep a head and politely refuse. Use your gut more, it’s usually right. Learn to embrace strife and difficulties – there are something’s you cannot change. Finally and most importantly, give back whenever you can.

Nashville

Take 2

My visit to Belmont was well worth it. The professor who showed me around was clued into what his young people needed out of the industry.

img_1332He proudly showed me a billboard where one of his past students now had a world wide publishing deal ‘That’s his brand new Merc SLK in the driveway’ I’m told. I get the full spec – Chet atkins bough up most of the real estate in the 50’s and secured RCA’S Studio B sister studio to the one in New York. In the successful years to come he would be asked what exactly is the Nashvile sound? He responded comically by rattling some coins in his pocket…

Its not often you get to hang out and actually write songs in the same studio Dylan recorded. These guys are in the thick of it all. I’m pleased to see at least a 50 50 gender balance. There’s students dotted all around the building in small songwriting rooms, learning Logic and Pro Tools in larger rooms and others casually chatting whilst holding vintage acoustics.

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The days are long and I don’t want to miss a thing. Like a corruptible child I’m drawn inexorably back to Broadway – Of course I want to see the Honky Tonks and Tootsies where so many folk started out. I down a few bottles of Dos Perros and listen to top class pedal steel playing.

By pure luck before travelling to Nashville I scoped out The Ryman Auditorium. My favourite Artist Tom Petty is on – there are only a few tickets left, I’m lucky. A few hrs before the gig I wander into the Nashville Welcome Centre (its cool and there’s free wifi) I pick up a few trinkets and over hear one of the staff asking if his colleague had had any luck in getting a Tom Petty ticket? No was the doleful reply. I patted the little cardboard golden ticket in my pocket.

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He doesn’t disappoint, neither does the venue. Its an old Church with hard seats but a million memories. James the Professor I worked with earlier started life as a young man on stage crew here. It all makes sense. The only fly in the ointment is a redneck who is very drunk and keeps shouting up ‘Way to Go Tom’ every time Tom speaks. Thankfully he for some reason leaves early – maybe he was thrown out, I’m grateful anyway.

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There were other jewels in the crown though. I discovered the Time Jumpers were playing Third and Lindley a Honky Tonk just out of town. They are a western Swing Band and I was told if I was really lucky Vince Gill would be with them. 15 bucks later I’m in.  After a cold craft beer and a reasonable supper and the band come on. Its an intimate venue and I guess I was just lucky because Vince has just walked in. These guys are tight, three fiddle players, stand up bass, two leads, acoustics and drummer – I’m back to 1946 and Bob Willis. They are amazing, their star (alongside Vince Gill) is the pedal Steel player Paul Franklin. There are crisp tight jazzy riffs with vibrant close harmonies and enough hooks to catch a lakeful of catfish.  After a dizzying array of songs (where the same lick is never played twice!) the band ask up local stars to join them. For 3 hours I’m in musical heaven and the last player Jack Pearson sets me up for my final gig in the station Inn.

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Its Friday and I’ve just come out of a 3 hr meeting (it doesn’t feel like it) at the Curb Center in Vanderbilt. Its in a quiet part of town and it is t he flip side to the Broadway main drag I’ve seen. I come away with a plethora of names and universities to follow up work on – my head is buzzing. I walk outside the building and into my first Uber taxi courtesy of the colleague I’ve just met. On a whim I ask if the driver knows Carter’s Vintage Guitars? Yep its only 10 blocks away. So off we go. I see one of the Carter Family painted on the wall and I know I’m in the right place.

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As I walk in I’m greeted with a warm hello and invited to take down and play anything off the walls – Oh My God… The first thing I see is a sunburst Les Paul – on closer inspection the little sign says this is the very 1st sunburst Les Paul ever produced by Gibson it’s a POA – must be ell over 1.5 million, and there it is, just sitting there…

Its wall to wall Martins, rows of double basses vintage amps, electrics and basses. In one small players room I think I spot Phil Cunningham from the Transatlantic Sessions TV programme. I go over just to say hello, I politely introduce myself and tell him I work for a Music Centre in Belfast, he smiles back and says ‘you might as well say hello to this man then!’ I turn around to be confronted by the 6ft 2’ figure of Jerry Douglas – I’m a huge fan. Finally Phil says ‘You also may as well say Hello to this man too!’ its Country Music legend Ricky Skaggs.   It turns out they are making a documentary for the BBC. Pleasantly the Producer comes up, ‘Oh Hiya Paul, all good with you in Oh Yeah? I thought I heard a Belfast accent there!’ Smiles all around and I leave the guys in peace. A very small world indeed.

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I am close to buying a 1973 Martin D28 for $3000 – Close but it sadly just does not feel right… Anyway the tax man would have killed me on the way home. I decide to walk back into town. I just happen to discover Manuel’s shop. The Guy who designed all the outlandish costumes for all the country greats. I take out my phone and snap a few shops of the mannequin’s in the window. A screen gets lifted up and I’m hastily told to ‘FUCK OFF’ – Nice.

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So its my final night. I stay out all day, I grab a bite to eat and an Icelandic craft beer in a 19th Century reclaimed bistro – it does not have Aircon, God its warm, strong fans blow my salad and carnita’s all over the plate.

I get a taxi to the Station Inn. I’ve no idea who’s playing, but I sort of know they’ll be good. I’m a little early, so I stride across the road to the Two Old Hippy’s store. Is and up market clothes and jewlery emporium. Cool spot if not a little expensive. I plumb for two bandana’s @ $10 dollars for the pair. I spy a little brass keyring below them and go that too. At the till the price comes to $39?? I politely ask and am told yep the key ring is $27 with two bucks tax… Ah well.

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I arrive way too early but get a good seat. It’s a square box reminiscent of Moes Tavern. They only sell beer and Pizza – but it’s a cool spot with a beat up old double bass in the corner beside vintage photographs and posters that are ‘not faked’ put there.

It’s the Jack Pearson band on. Well Jack on his own acoustically first then the band. They are Country Jazz, all are amazing and just like the Time Jumpers Jack never plays the same lick twice. They are only into their second song and the light from the front door comes in as another person joins the throng. Its Whispering Bob Harris… He’s on his own, no film crew, no producers. I resist the temptation to go and speak and just let him enjoy the show.

It doesn’t happen often but for a few days I feel like I’ve been in the right places at the right times.  Goodbye now Darlin.

Nashville – Not so Patsy Inclined

Take 1

I guess I’m just on the wrong side of the tracks – literally. I’ve just landed in Music City to be greeted by a huge sign saying ‘Well, Hello there Darlin’!’ There is no bus, so I glibly hop into a taxi expecting to be scalped, but no. The driver is courteous and tells me right off, it’s a flat rate of 25 bucks to the city centre. Good start.

Next, not so good. I’m in a Motel in a sort of industrial estate? Its memorial Day tomorrow, I did not know that, its seems my academic appointment did not remember either as she frantically emails, voicemails and texts via a colleague to try and rearrange – I get it sorted eventually.

What I can’t sort is the three drunken youths outside my room (I’m on the ground floor) its natural that the only seat and light in the whole complex is right outside my room. Their gift to me. 1 against 2 – they don’t want him in the room, he doesn’t know why? I don’t care! Sleep on the road I mentally urge him. I decide that what’s needed its to try and join them – I head to the garage for some food and refreshments. I end up with a snickers bar, a packet of cheesy Lays and 12 cans of Miller Lite. As I pay (its actually very cheap) the polite young black girl asks for my ID – I laugh, she laughs, I tug at my white Beard. She stops laughing and says ‘No, its the law I need to see your ID’. OK then…

I scramble back to my room, down a beer or three and get cab into town. It drops me off at the Ryman Auditorium; Result. I hear the raucous of Broadway and wander into Sodom and Gomorrah. It’s a main street full of bars, boot shops, candy shops and bars (yes lots of bars). Mostly everyone is drunk or getting there, all seem to be in Hen or Stag parties. Music Bellows out of every window front advertising the musical wares of the people inside. That simply means looking at the back of two Fender Tweeds and several Nashvillian Butt cracks. Its 30 degrees outside (11.20pm) I wander to a door, its rammed and feels more like 50 degrees inside. I move on. I find the refuge of a boot store, its huge, and not surprisingly it smells like leather. Lots of girls are trying on inappropriate and VERY expensive boots. Inappropriate only by the very fact that the girls either can’t get them on or can’t walk in them when the do get them on. Cinderella syndrome.

All that is welcome in the shop is the cold air con and a fairly sincere ‘hello there darlin’ mirroring the airport sign. The boots range from 500 to 5 thousand and up. I’m getting educated, there’s square toe (working mans boots) round toe and winkle picker, obviously for the dandy James Garner types. I leave the shop sans boots.

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No where to eat is problematic – the three beers are all I have had, snickers and lays were put to one side in the heat – All that’s left is a Hard Rock Café – I go in. The service and food are good but the music and décor ain’t. Nashville you are disappointing me here…

Memorial day rolls in, more music more drunks. The Johhny Cash Museum is a welcome oasis if not a little small and cramped.

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The Ernest Tubb Record Store is a marvel.  Cardboard cutouts now stand where the stars once were – a small intimate show after The Grand Ole Opra.   I do work there too of course… I meet a Professor at Vanderbilt who is signposting me to other academics not only in Vanderbilt but across America doing pioneering work on music and working with people and dementia. I meet another Academic at Belmont University, he is kind enough to take me on a tour before lunch of Music Row and to talk about his work. I see all the publishing and songwriting houses all worth billions of dollars to the American Music Industry. We head back and in 1 short hour I’m introduced to Columbia Studio B and Quonset Hut. Among many others Dylan has recorded in the first, Patsy Cline and some of my Rockabilly heroes Johnny Burnette, Buddy Holly and great guitarists like Grady Martin in the second – I’m in awe. My phone is red hot taking pictures of the 70 year Ampex Recording machine.

After all this work the following day I find that I have a morning window – therefore I’m in a queue for The Hall of Fame. Its rammed and its only 9.15… there must be two hundred people in the queue. A young strapping man is making his way down the line, he comes to the end and politely asks if I’m buying tickets, he has a piece of paper in his hand. I look down the line then at him and say sure thing, I’m happy to buy a ticket from you. Again he responds politely and tells me that his sister is unwell and he is happy just to give the ticket away, he was just looking for someone on their own, as he only had one ticket!

I thank him and look at the ticket – its $110 worth, not only entry to the Hall of Fame but a bus Tour to RCA Studio B. Its worth it alone to see Hank Williams original musical note suit and D28 Martin.

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I climb out of the Airconned bus to 42 degrees. I’ve seen footage of the RCA studio and even know that Elvis took over the building opposite it to record all 250 songs he worked on here. There’s even a guitar shaped pool to prove it. I’m struck by the stars on the walls who have worked here, Jim Reeves, Dolly Parton, The Evererly’s… and of course Elvis. I feel the hackles rise on my neck as we are told of the process of recording, how a coat rack became an improvised isolation booth and how Elvis installed mood lighting, blue for slower ballads and Red for up tempo numbers. As the lights dim we are told Elvis stood right on this X and had all the lights turned completely off – Now or Never plays – as the lights come up slowly we feel we have been part of the session. Listen out the guide tells us, as a gentle bump ends the song. That’s Elvis bumping into the mic in the dark.

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Canned Applause – MoMA New York

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MoMA
There they are big and bold; Warhols soup cans – I’m struck by the fact that not many folk are at them, I can freely take a photo of the whole selection uninterrupted. It feels a bit like a full circle, Warhols taking of everyday consumer items and then turning them into art, now the work has been used by so many people to sell things (including Over The Hill Music collective for its own pop up stand) that its become banal, almost meaningless.
Everythings turning Japanese at MoMA on the 2nd floor Japanese architecture models take up the massive space – they are typically Japanese in that they are all clean lines and meticulously constructed. The attendees are of the same kind, its mostly Japanese folk in the exhibition and for once in my life I feel a bit tall.
The 4th floor has been renovated, now it’s housing a diverse range of visual art from the 1960’s. Mostly older men are drooling over the convertible e-type Jag in the middle of the exhibition. There’s mo doubt of its beauty and as with most objects that live ‘outside’ the simple fact that is now in a gallery deems it special but I suppose that what Mr Duchamp intended.
I prefer the found metal car parts by John Chamberlin it says more about humanity, death and reincarnation – a bunch of dead cars now living happily together on a wall who otherwise may have just rotted away. Bus a live size painting of a Greyhound by Mason Williams, is in the music section featuring album art of Dylan, The Beatles, and Jimi Hendrix as well as various psychedelia. People are hiving around as if at a cool party sans alcohol. The original art set along side its printed album cover really ‘pops’ and the printed matter feels almost diluted alongside its superior original.

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But it is the image Pray for America by David Hammons, which grabs me. Made as a body print by pressing his skin and clothing smeared with grease and margarine and then the surface sprinkled with graphite. It is a haunting image of the artist draped in the American flag. It was made 1 year after the assassinations of Dr Martin Luther King and President John F Kennedy I wonder what Hammons would produce today – I wonder.
I’m here to meet Laurel Humble to chat about Meet me at MoMA (working with people with Dementia) and the outreach work of Oh Yeah, Over The Hill and Creative Exchange Artist Studios. We sit in the garden, I succumb to the draw of a cold Pilsner and we discuss our relative programmes. It feels like validation to discover that we are doing similar things around our programming and one main issue we also discover and share is that it is the choice for people with dementia whether on not they attend, not, the caregiver or institution they attend. We share the challenges faced by professionals in the creative world working with people who have dementia but we agree that we should be doing more to emphasise the positives around people and although not neglecting what the limitations are for people with memory loss but celebrating and engaging in a positive way.
I’ve taken photos of the art work too but it seems like just at music gigs everyone is looking through the lens of their phone cameras – they have a smug sense of achievement as the little fake shutter sound tells them they have captured all they need and they move on. How much time does art deserve? Seeing the art in the flesh is about the size, the drama, the brush strokes the thickness of the paint, the frame and the content – surely it warrants more that 1.5 seconds of shutter time? I sadly witness a man sit down and promptly turn his back on a film installation and stare at the ceiling. But who am I to judge? I suppose you should enjoy art whatever way you want? They did come to the gallery after all, I just happen to like mine slow cooked.

Surly meets Burly – New York

IMG_0606Never ask a New York Bus Driver questions he can’t possibly answer. What time does the bus leave? Can I buy a ticket? How long to Grand Central? Response; ‘Hey Man can’t you see I’m busy here’ as he picks his nails.
Its wet and its warm; tropical, but without the fruit. To get out of a heavy squall I step into the shelter of some scaffolding, it’s outside an apartment block. An older lady is taking her shoe brush for a walk, its rain coat is two sizes too big, it’s a hopeful raincoat maybe expecting the dog to get miraculously bigger one day. It sniffs at my foot, I have an urge to use it to buff my scuffed shoes, the lady must be psychic as she manoeuvres her massive umbrella directly into my face. The dog squeezes out a puddle of urine the size of a nickel – its kidneys must be of poppy seed proportions. I want to say ‘ Hey I’m standing here already’ in a loud New York accent, but don’t.

People are big here, some obese big but mostly just big. I look at the men and know if we were on the same plane together he would be right beside me. Maybe it’s the food? Who knows? Most of the stuff is all processed, cheese is, well yellow soft plastic, bacon must come from bacon factories each rasher exactly alike. Deli’s serve everything, but the most expensive is the fresh fruit. You get a paper cup, makes your choice from the varied selection of cut fruit and its weighed at the cashier counter – problem is its three times the cost of everything else. You could feed a family of three on the bacon eggs and grits I see served to individuals for three bucks.

Please stop saying like… for some reason its mostly the girls, every other word is like, like you, know like I mean like little verbal caesura to get some thinking time in but a real pain to listen to. I struggle to wipe out the conservations of one girl and her friend (Both White) who like seem proud to like, live like in East Harlem like. We go into the Lincoln tunnel, my headphones are tangled, PLEASE!! I escape into the red Shoes of Kate Bush and idly watch their mouths flapping. In total disregard for both people getting off and on the bus they stop right outside the bus door to discover they both wear the same eye make up.