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Monday, July 2, 2012

#notmurdered - the beautiful and The Damned

Breakfast of champions
So Saturday morning does not bring the hangover I was dreading. The drinking was steady, I only had a couple of what I have heard recently described as 'cooking lagers' during the Buzzcocks show and after so the head's pretty good.

There is no possible way I could have consumed everything in @JelloPuss and @CardinalPhink's gift basket so I cram as many of the packets of goodies into my rucksack as I can. You never know when you'll need to get your face around some hairy pork fat, right?

Breakfast includes a bloody mary. It's a fine start to another exciting day. The sun is splitting the stones, another rock n roll adventure awaits. We even get to watch a bit of the qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix. I'm a happy boy.

The run to Liverpool airport is trouble-free. Almost. Note to airport car park operators: your car parks are confusing. Get it sorted.

Liverpool to Belfast, well you're no sooner up than you're down again. While my companions are getting their baggage, I go to pay for my parking. This is where disaster strikes. When I try to get some money, computer says 'no'. The car park ticket machine wants thirty-odd quid, I have to get petrol to get us out to our hosts on the other side of Belfast and back up to the North Coast the following day. And there's the small matter of socialising. My cards only get me enough to pay for the parking with a bit left over. Something's gone wrong again. Ah well. I genuinely don't know what to do or what has gone wrong.

We're on a tight schedule. We have to get to East Belfast to our hosts and then back into town to see The Damned at QUB. All the excitement that had been building all day has been sucked out of me. Time slips away. There's a burned-out bus on the M2 and the traffic is backed up. We also go awry in a certain estate. It's navigation device finger error, postcode digits transposed. Schoolboy error. We eventually arrive at @DeadbeatMum and @dirt_bird's sumptuous dwelling (helpfully picked out with  black goth flag accessory). A calming drink with a pomegranate seed in it helps get me on an even keel.

All my excitement for The Damned gig has been sucked out of me. While the gang (@CardinalPhink, @JelloPuss, @DeadbeatMum, @dirt_bird and @IsGrandmaThere [resplendent with a dashing purple streak]) are in Boojum having a delicious burrito, I'm pacing Botanic Avenue trying cash machines. Same deal, not a local error. I'm definitely out of funds. This was not in the script. Resolution? Generous friends. I'm humbled.

Just for you, here's a love song ...
So, on to QUB. There is a lot of black going on. And who's this? Maxine and Steve from Buzzcocksworld*, whom we also saw the night before in Manchester. Us aside, it's an odd crowd, actually quite unlike Buzzcocks the night before. It's nothing to do with provinciality either, The Damned have a quite unique following. Not so many middle-aged punk-curious here, it's a lot more alternative, grimly Gothy. Yes, there are the 77ers. Maybe they're here for The Defects who, from what I can hear, are living the punk rock dream still. Everything in their world that has happened since 1978 has happened to other people.

I've never seen The Damned. I have no reference points. Even so, I can say with conviction that this is one of the top five shows I have ever witnessed. It's the last night of the tour, maybe there's some additional playfulness in the delivery. The sound mix is clear and perfect, the band look upbeat. We get it all - theatre, banter, fun, hits ... everything a performance should offer. Dave Vanian is in fine voice and, despite his dark and serious persona, you get the feeling that he's having a ball. Captain Sensible cannot fail to make you feel happy. He's a paradox, a pantomime creation with divine guitar skills that kill stone dead the idea that punks can't play. That's a nonsense. And what songs! It's just a sensory battering of the most glorious kind. And for me, another piece slotted into my personal punk jigsaw. I'd have been happy if they had performed the whole set again. And again.

And then it's over. We're corralled into the bar for a Goth Disco. It begins promisingly with 'A Forest' but soon industrial music takes over. I already know how Goths dance, I've seen it in Germany. Seems it's the same here. Feet still, a lot of gloomy arm waving ...

We roll home to East Belfast. I'm feeling battle fatigue, I'm looking forward to my own bed on up the road. But that's tomorrow night. The craic and company are first class. The next day brings sausages, more sun, a Grand Prix al fresco and a leisurely run up the Antrim Coast behind the world's slowest driver. And then home. I'm shattered.

And that's where we leave this odyssey. To return to the central theme in this thread of blogs - #notmurdered. It might seem foolish to entrust yourself to the mercies of strangers.

"I can't think of many other circumstances in which you would blindly put yourself in the care of people you had never met."
Well, I did. My life has been enriched because of it. You can find good people via social media. New friends that feel like old friends. And for the record, I didn't murder anyone either.

*was nice also to meet (albeit briefly) @marshwigglegoth @5Lighters. Apologies if I have missed anyone else.

Read parts one, two, three and four of this punk rock odyssey.
If you like my writing, please consider giving my novel a go - thanks!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Thursday wallows, Friday follows ...

There's nothing worse, I think, than Twitter users shedding all dignity and begging for followers. I call it begging, because that's what it is. You're asking for something without offering anything in return. It's also one of my 'unfollow' criteria. The implication is that the volume of followers you have somehow validates your own worth. That's a nonsense. I have vented about this already, so no more here.

"Gather followers by being engaging. Don't be afraid to unfollow bores and people who just jibber-jabber to fill a void."

With this in mind, I have gathered a list of people whom I follow and recommend to you. This is not the #ff methodology usually employed I suppose, but Twitter never allows room for context. I would not expect someone to follow anyone just because I said so. In some kind of alphabetical order:
  • @_MuckyWaters_73 fast cars and blues guitar. What more do you need to know?
  • @CardinalPhink and @JelloPuss - punk rock hearts smothered in strong alcohol and cheesecakes. Not murderers.
  • @cath_caldwell - Mum, student ... heartwarming tales of boiler repair men ;-)
  • @DeadbeatMum and @dirt_bird - an hilarious living sitcom but also insightful and thoughtful comment on a variety of issues. Sweary DIY-related tweets. Cats (if you like that sort of thing).
  • @DonColerainey - the Teflon Don of the North Coast. Articulate and very, very angry most of the time. Not a man to cross.
  • @hannahhou - beloved #1 daughter. F1 and BTCC news and views. Her beau is @TheJonnyMoore.
  • @IsGrandmaThere - hilarious and widely-travelled social commentator and raconteur. Impeccable taste in music.
  • @jasebell - stick fiddler, wry observer of the human condition. Has bass desires.
  • @JudithR33 - Secret Publican, masochist swimmer, photographer of vivid scenes and dunnocks. Has a good pie recipe.
  • @kezwilliams13 - multi-talented and knowledgeable muso with many hats. A good egg.
  • @loftspace - government bullshit filter, social conscience and mum.
  • @muldutch - scrabbler. Pretty handy with a taunt and a riding crop.
  • @M_Corbett - writerly, thoughtful and funny. No fan of the grocer's apostrophe.
  • @paul_beattie - first rate photographer but first and foremost, thoroughly bloody nice real-world bloke. Great chef. No TV.
  • @sera_mcdaid - The Agoraphobic Fashionista. Truly original and inspiring.
  • @siralanwhite - the Sage of Wrenthorpe. Purveyor of humorous asides.
  • @VictoriaKLM - strong views, forcefully expressed. Good for a debate.
  • @wonderwaff - funny and touching insights into motherhood and family life. From Finland, like the Moomins.
I may have missed people.

Until next time, social media fans.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

#notmurdered - I'm So Excited

It's a holiday in Mancunia, where the people dress in black - part IV

So you rejoin us outside the Manchester Apollo where punks and the punk-curious from far and wide are gathering to attend Buzzcocks' landmark Back to Front show. Back to Front is Buzzcocks from three eras: the current line-up perform a set of songs drawn from the 1996 - present catalogue; the 'classic' line-up (1977-81) do a set drawn from the first three albums and associated singles; and finally the original 'original' line-up with Howard Devoto will perform the songs from the self-financed and seminal Spiral Scratch EP. This is unparalleled. It has taken a long time to set up. Bassist Steve Garvey has flown over from the US for these two shows (more about him later). I'm excited.

Manchester Apollo is a cavernous ex-cinema. It's filling nicely, there's a goodnatured buzz of anticipation. I spot Buzzcocks' manager Raf at the desk. There is the aftershow business yet to be arranged, I might as well grasp the nettle. Apollo security are not letting anyone near the desk but I have a go anyway and explain that I know Raf and that he knows me. I ask Raf what the plan is for joining the aftershow. He's bemused. He assumes this is all sorted out. He tells me to go to a particular door at the side of the stage after the performance. Hmmm ...

Torpor! Enervation!
The three sets are superb. There are plenty of reviews of this show you can read, and this is not my task here. Let's just say that it's chaotic, the sound is fucking awful and it is thrilling and brilliant. We surge forward to the pit for the second set. We're just in front of Steve Garvey. I love him. It's hell down there though. Pissed-up and very determined man mountains are not to be denied their place at the barrier. Poor @JelloPuss, crushed at the front. @CardinalPhink and I are trying to be gallant AND enjoy the experience but it's pretty hairy down there. A raging sea of drunken, bellowing bonhomie. It's not for the fainthearted.

At the end of the show we gather at the appointed place. This is where things take a turn for the worse. The notoriously intolerant Apollo security are herding us out. That we were told to wait side of stage makes no difference. Our resistance is spirited but useless. We are pushed back to the lobby, where we mill about, pretending to look at merchandise. I make a few calls to the 'inner sanctum'. While we're waiting, I hear my name being called. It's @JelloPuss and she has Steve Garvey in tow.

You have to understand what a profound effect this man has had on my life. My Buzzcocks epiphany was based on borrowing an album and then playing it incessantly for about three months. On the cover of that album were four moody young men in black. One of them was Steve Garvey - mean, moody, so New Wave ... he was (is) also a superlative bassist. I wanted to be Steve Garvey. Ideally, I wanted to be Steve Garvey IN Buzzcocks, but hey ho. Anyway, he was my role model. I learned to play bass because of him and I've had a few adventures of my own because of it. Thanks to him. So when I was introduced, all the things I wanted to say flew out of my tiny head. I was the starstruck teenager waiting outside the back door of Oxford New Theatre thirty-odd years ago. I could have gone home happy then.

Apollo security get their wish and chuck us all out. So we loiter outside, about fifteen diehard Secret Publicans unaccustomed to being outside after a 'Cocks show. My 'phone rings. It's Pete Shelley*. Well, it's Pete Shelley's 'phone. Someone will be down with passes shortly.

The legendary Steve Garvey and a fat bloke.
So, armed with the privileged green wristbands, we get up to the bar where the party is in full swing. There are lots of family members, the Secret Public family, everybody's happy nowadays. And I get my chat with Steve G. I tell him all the stuff I have been carrying all these years and he seems happy to hear it. I'm totally made up now.

There is also business to transact. We're gathering items to auction to support the running costs of Pete Shelley has something special for us - bespoke underwear hand-stencilled by Lou who makes his stagewear. If you want to win this stuff by the way, stay tuned and I'll post the link to the auction when it happens. We also have a Back to Front poster signed by all iterations of the band. This is cool, desirable stuff.

The venue win again. they want everyone out of the building. We get to chat to the people we want to chat to - in many ways this is my extended family. We meet at gigs all over the place. Oddly enough two of them - Maxine and Steve - are going to be at a Damned gig in Belfast the following night. About which more next time ;-)

A great night, made better for turning out all right. Good friends, new and old, a few beers ... you know what? I Don't Mind.

In the next instalment, I find myself financially embarrassed, go on a tweet-up and mingle with Goths.

*It's not smart or funny to drop names. Kenneth Branagh told me that.

Read parts one, two and three of this NW punk rock odyssey.

If you like my writing, please consider giving my novel a go - thanks!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Are 'Inverted Commas' Necessary?

The paint's peeling off of his walls ...
I have been posed a challenge.

In 1979, Gary Numan and his Tubeway Army released what was, at the time, a seminal piece of dark synth-pop called 'Are 'Friends' Electric?' My challenge, thirty-odd years later, is simply to discover why the 'Friends' in the title is separated out in inverted commas.

Simple, huh?

Well, no. I'm sure all the cod pop psychologists, lyric autopsiers and Numan fanatics have debated it endlessly. I'm simply not interested in their analysis. I need to hear it from the man himself.

Can it be done? Watch this space ...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

#notmurdered - but feel like death

It's a holiday in Mancunia, where the people dress in black - part III

So whatever happened between coming in from the garden and going to bed remains a complete mystery. I wake up in the bed but with the curtains wide open. Listening to people talking about how much booze they have consumed and how drunk they were can be tiresome, I know. Let it suffice to say that a very convivial evening was had. I think. I'm sure.

So when I wake up, squinting in the sunlight, death would be a welcome release. And yet ...

... and yet there is too much to look forward to. Firstly, now the ice is broken, I know I'm in first class company. I knew I would be, I hope my hosts aren't too horrified by the incoherent, stumbling monster I must have become. By magic, it seems, a cuppa has appeared at the bedside. It's very welcome. That's the kind of thoughtfulness I'm talking about. I'm feeling rough. There's no skirting round the fact that I have to make myself sick*. There, I have said it. Emptied and raring to go, the day takes a significant upswing. @CardinalPhink takes me on a stroll to the shops. The sun is blazing. I have my traditional hangover cure - an ice lolly. It's the one that looks a bit like a cock. I don't care. I also exchange that half a ton of coins for notes. Everything's coming up roses.

If there's a finer prospect than a whistlestop pub cultural tour in the blazing sun, followed by a landmark punk rock show, I'm hard-pressed to think what it could be. I like Manchester's suburbs. They are cosmopolitan and vibrant in a way my home is not. For this reason, the bus ride into Manchester feels more like a continental holiday. Living in a beautiful desert blunts your memory of metropolitan life.

The first beer in Trof is divine. It's boiling outside, Trof is cool and shady. Hangover, begone! In the vernacular, I'm sorted. @JelloPuss informs me she's sure there will be a local celeb at the bar of our next stop. I'm intrigued but short of guesses - Mark E Smith? Hooky? Shaun Ryder? Well, I ain't gonna tell ya who it was. Suffice to say it was in Sam's Chop House.

I promised you the best jukebox in the world. It's right there <-------. And this is where it gets a bit creepy. We're on our way, eventually, to see Buzzcocks at the Manchester Apollo. What does the world's best jukebox play as we wait for the first pint @CardinalPhink has had to remortgage the farm for? Buzzcocks - 'Moving Away From The Pulsebeat'. We didn't put it on, it just came on, deus ex machina. I call this 'Buzzcocksicity'. It happens all the time.

Der Mulletmann
Bull's Head, Munich.
Stereotype craving satisfied :-)

Yeah, this is cool. It's a beautiful day, I'm in brilliant, generous company, we have a first class cultural event to look forward to and I have a nice beer buzz going. Things could not be better.

I'm in sporadic contact with a carload of Buzzcocks fans en route from London (Hi Coppo, Lynda, Lester Sands, Jacqui and Oetzi!) and we arrange to meet in the Bull's Head near Piccadilly station, along with @thatandywhite, @JudithR33 et al. I'm particularly keen to chat to Judith as the last time we met, at a Buzzers show in Belfast, I was too busy and then too shy to talk. Idiot! The pub is filling with old punks. It's no surprise where they're heading. We're like wildebeest gathering at a waterhole before the great migration. Feels like home. We hook up with the London contingent at the bus stop. Punk rocknfucking roll ahoy!

I promised you a legend. It'll have to wait until next time ...

In the next instalment - three bands, green bands, icons and underpants.

Read parts one and two of this NW punk rock odyssey.
If you like my writing, please consider giving my novel a go - thanks!

*clarification - the cuppa made by @Jellopuss was lovely, the residual wine, beer, whiskey and vodka was a bad tenant.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

#notmurdered - He's Leaving Home

It's a holiday in Mancunia ... where the people dress in black - part II

I love that holiday feeling, the one where you know you're on your way and whatever the holiday holds is ahead of you. I didn't have much time to enjoy that feeling for this trip because I had pressing matters to address. I do a bit of volunteer work on a  local arts and music newsletter and I had an edition to get off to the printers. That would mean an hour at the computer and then a trip into town to deliver the artwork. I also needed my hair cut badly I also badly needed a haircut.

Coleraine at 9am is pretty much a desert. My favourite gentleman's barbershop is closed. I gatecrash a salon without an appointment. Punk rock, let's go. Even though my haircut is achieved, the morning is going Clockwise-esque. A summary of tasks in hand:

  1. haircut
  2. deliver pen drive of artwork to printer
  3. change £70 worth of holiday fund coins into notes
I fail on 3. I have to take my bags of coins home again with me. It doesn't matter. There are two banks and a post office in Portstewart.

There are no longer any banks in Portstewart and the post office is closed due to 'unforeseen circumstances'. I stuff the bags into my rucksack. I am so pleased I make my 2pm departure time for the airport that the realisation that I have forgotten to leave Carlosita's laptop round to her mum's is a real pisser. Turning round, getting it and delivering it adds half an hour onto my travel time. I'm now looking tight for getting through security at the airport, still the best part of an hour's drive away.

"Have you got coins in your bag?"
"No. Wait. Coins? Yes."

What is it about quasi-official questions that make you sound flustered and stupid? At least I got to the airport just on time. I only have time enough to do one of two things: have my habitual pre-flight whiskey OR go to the duty free. I go to the duty free. One till is down, the other has a long queue. I buy a bottle of Bushmills for my hosts and leg it to the gate. I needn't have bothered. A long, immobile line of sweaty travellers is still waiting to board.

Flying Belfast to Liverpool is hardly a flight at all. You're no sooner up than down again. I'm too cross to buy an inflated drink from the 'travel kiosk'. I read about the nightlife in Berlin I have missed in three visits and bingo, we have landed. I'm forcibly reminded that I'm about to entrust my personal safety to people I have never met. I only have the sketchiest idea how they look. What if they're awful? What if they're axe murderers?

I have to call home to say I landed safely. I know it's a delaying tactic. They're waiting in Arrivals and I'm hovering in the baggage hall. My nose is running and my ears are blocked - summer cold or hayfever, I don't know which. I'm just a tad nervous. This could be a colossal mistake. I wish I was drunk.

Oh dear ...
And there they are. @CardinalPhink and @Jellopuss. I'm shy, it's all a bit awkward. I'm not a great socialiser. I needn't have worried ...

The run to Greater Manchester from Liverpool is fun. I can't hear a thing in the back of the car, @CardinalPhink is a brisk and deft driver. I feel like I'm on a rollercoaster. I don't offer much by way of conversation. I'm not that guy. I'm beginning to wonder if they're wondering if I'm a nutter.

At Casa Phinky there is a gift basket in the spare bedroom. There are two cats - one chummy, one invisible. There is punk rock, speciality ale, vodka, Ch√Ęteauneuf du Pape, Bushmills, cheese, pork pie with black pudding on top - on top! - and there is pie, glorious home-made pie for tea.

A vat of booze is consumed, the craic is great. I don't know how I get to bed. Feels like home ...

In the next instalment: bar-hopping, the best jukebox in the world and after some tribulations, I meet a personal hero.

Read the prologue
If you like my writing, please consider giving my novel a go - thanks!

Monday, June 4, 2012

#notmurdered - the prologue

It's a holiday in Mancunia, where the people dress in black ...

Behind the blank anonymity of your connected device, you can create a character for yourself that is closer to how you wish to be than how you actually are. It's very easy to make up for your known deficiencies by being bold and funny, or flirty, or coy or whatever: you can give yourself the attributes you desire. This principle began in online role-playing alternative universes such as Second Life. Now it applies to your 'real' self, or at least how you wish your 'real' self to be perceived.

Social media thrives on social validation. You can seek this validation in a number of ways. One is by volume - the number of followers or friends you acquire, regardless of their interest or interaction with your actual life. Another is in the type of friend/follower you acquire: they may be more like the real friends you wish you had than the ones you actually have.

So social media is a bluffer's paradise, right?

Well, here's the thing. If you're using social media properly, the real world is much closer over the horizon than you think. You're very likely to have befriended people you know in the real world, and they will immediately pick up on any crap or fantasy and pull you on it. Everyone needs at least one friend like this, by the way. One of the delicious ironies of a global social network is that the people you befriend may be closer that you think - in your town or even a short 'plane ride away.

Which brings me to my own Rubicon. I have been chatting on Twitter to Prestwich tweeps @CardinalPhink and @JelloPuss via an introduction from a mutual friend for about a year. We quickly discovered a shared love of punk rock, specifically Buzzcocks to whom @JelloPuss has a very direct personal connection. When Buzzcocks announce a landmark show (Back to Front, Manchester Apollo - to be reviewed separately), I know I will be going - as a fan and as admin of the official Buzzcocks fansite In fact, there is no way I won't be attending ... In an odd twist of fate - or maybe it's destino - @CardinalPhink's favourite band The Damned are playing in Belfast the following night.

A whirlwind of punk rock bonhomie is unleashed. Invitations are extended. I'm going to Prestwich to stay with people I only know from Twitter and have never met ...

In the next instalment: I buy a bottle of whiskey and encounter a gift basket and some cats.
If you like my writing, please consider giving my novel a go - thanks!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

2012 - a Buzzcocks Odyssey Part 3

There is something a bit dreary about a venue immediately post-gig. It's a little like casual sex - the lights come on, the excitement and intimacy is over and you're left with an unsettling vision of how shabby and sticky things are. And yet you don't want to leave. You want that little thrill to be more than a memory. You want the residual excitement to continue to light you up. But it's a forlorn hope. The party is over. The hosts want you out of the house.

I don't know if it's my perception changing over the years, maybe it's health and safety. Venues want you out as quickly as possible these days. Didn't bother me that everyone was being steadily herded away from the stage. I knew from prior experience that the aftershow would be in the upstairs bar, so I hung around looking smug at the foot of the stairs, behind the velvet rope. It would surely only be a  matter of time before I'm whisked up to the inner sanctum for some proper ligging.

OK, I'll wait in the lobby.

OK, I'll wait outside. The band will be out in a minute and we'll go back to the hotel for a proper chat.

It's getting bloody cold. Scantily-dressed young women are going into the venue. Something's Gone Wrong Again.

I spot Buzzcocks' manager Raf packing up at the merchandise booth. I front up to the bouncer (which I should have done an hour ago). "OK if I nip in and buy a T shirt?" He nods. I'm clearly old and not looking to blag my way into the nightclub with the totty. Raf remembers me from various other occasions.

"Have you been backstage yet?"

Raf takes me backstage. The band are more or less leaving. I walk down to the car with Pete. He's telling me about the primitive wired internet at his hotel. We pause at his transport, which is waiting to leave.

"Short and sweet", he says and we shake hands.
"See you in Manchester", I say.

And then he's gone. Ever fallen in love with a band you shouldn't've fallen in love with?

Next time out - Manchester here I come!

Monday, May 14, 2012

2012 - a Buzzcocks Odyssey Part 2

The Lee Harveys
Frankly, the Dublin Academy is looking a bit sparsely attended. As the Lee Harveys take the stage, there is just a thin crust of punters around the bar and the edge of the pit. Doesn't seem to bother the band as they race through a blistering set of short, sharp punk tunes. Retro styling - maybe. Let's call it 'timeless'. It's no frills, the Ramones-style three-chord rush with a Celtic flavour. The band banter, the drummer wants to slow down. "We've got another 84 songs to do yet", quips the frontman and off they go again. Good steam, as they say round these parts.

If you book them, they will come. The magic starts to happen and the place is filling up. I don't know if Steve Diggle won a bet on the way over or whether the sound guy just can't be arsed but the background music is Paul Weller. It's not what I would have chosen to preface a performance by one of the original - and easily the best - veterans of the punk rock wars. The crowd is a familiar one. Not in the same faces but in composition. There are those living in a permanent personal 1977, where punk never died, never grew out if its bumflaps and dayglo dreads; there are the punk-curious and their partners; there are the young'uns who have heard their new best favourite guitar bands citing Buzzcocks as their role models. They're all here and they're all a-buzz with excitement.

Rightly so. Buzzcocks amble on.  Diggle's clutching a bottle of Moet et Chandon, the most famous item on their infamous rider. There's a bit of knob twiddling. Then we're straight into 'Boredom'. The communion has begun. The beauty of the band's long, idiosyncratic and uncompromising career is that songs from any era of their existence fit together seamlessly. The cognoscenti will happily tell you which epoch each song represents. It's irrelevant that tonight's set opens with an extended nod to their first album before rushing headlong, via a couple of drum-heavy excursions, into what the casual punter wants - the singles.

Pete breaks a string during  'Why She’s a Girl From the Chainstore'. He carries on singing while his spare guitar is tuned, and he straps it on perfectly in time for the solo. Slick and professional. polished, even.

There's a token pause after 'What Do I Get?' when the band leave the stage but they're soon back to give us a further battering. We're in Dublin after all, so Steve Diggle uses 'Harmony in my Head' to deliver a rambling homage to James Joyce. He introduces the song as " ... inspired by Ulysses". I think he's over-pitched it. The crowd just want to jump and bellow. And they do. We're all orgasm addicts.

Fast Cars
I Don’t Mind
Get On Our Own
Whatever Happened to?
Why She’s a Girl From the Chainstore
Sick City Sometimes
Moving Aay From The Pulsebeat
Nothing Left
Noise Annoys
Love You More
What Do I Get?

Harmony In My Head
Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)?
Orgasm Addict

Part 3 - aftershow ...

2012 - a Buzzcocks Odyssey Part 1

In case you didn't know already, I bloody love Buzzcocks. It is a 35-year love affair that has never dimmed. When their May gig in Dublin was confirmed, there was no possibility that I wouldn't be going. I do a bit of work in Buzzcocks-world. I know I'm lucky to have got to know the band over the years. I'm not dropping names when I mention them, it's part of the story - forgive me.

There are some immediate difficulties to consider. Firstly, a 160-mile drive immediately after work to get there. Secondly, some technical difficulties with the car - I can't lock it and there is a paperwork issue that will not withstand intense scrutiny. Thirdly, nowhere to stay. So a quick trip to Asda for clicker batteries and fuel, a prayer and the throwing of a duvet into the back sorts me out and off I go, a little after 4pm.

I haven't done this kind of almost impromptu road trip for a long time. My life is busy and complicated, there isn't much that I can do that is unplanned so even a run down to Dublin and back needs a bit of forethought. I think I know where I can park, I know I am on the guestlist for the gig, I have a few lay-bys in mind for my stopover on the way back ... All of the variables run through my mind as I hit the road. The traffic is light, I'm happy to cruise at an economical speed. The sun is shining. All is good.

I make my first stop just over the invisible border, in a hotel car park. It's good to stretch my legs. I'm making good time and I think I'll be in Dublin well before the 8pm I had set myself. You never know with these city centre venues. Some of them revert to nightclubs after gigs. I don't want to be caught out by an early stage time. More than this, I have a few things I want to speak to Pete Shelley about. My stop doesn't last long and I'm soon back on the road.

Terrifically convenient as it is, the new road to Dublin is dull dull dull. I amuse myself by working out the mile equivalents of the distances in kilometres. And by listening to Placebo. I have, of course, got Singles Going Steady in the car but I don't want to listen to it. I want my Buzzcocks straight from the well today. When the CD finishes, I let the radio autotune itself through a number of dance music stations until I hear something vaguely listenable and stick with it.

The run into Dublin is straightforward until I take what I think is an intuitive left turn, signposted 'city centre'. As I do so, the radio plays Orange Juice - 'Rip It Up'. The song quotes Buzzcocks' first recorded work and I feel the cosmos is reassuring me. I call this Buzzcockicity - references to the band pop up mathematically impossibly coincidentally. It happens a lot. I feel better about being slightly lost in Dublin. Even though this is not the way I would normally go, I feel confident, so I go for it. My confidence is shortlived. I'm soon in only vaguely familiar territory. I know I'm generally travelling in the right direction and, frankly, the city centre is not far, so I start looking for a car park. This is more of a problem than you might imagine. My original research had uncovered that a lot of the city car parks close at night. I don't want to be walking the streets until 7am to recover my car/bed. Eventually I find myself parked onstreet near Custom House Square. I had been following signs for the N1/N2, to go round again. This will have to do.

As soon as I park, I spy the hi vis jackets of two lady Guards patrolling up the street towards me. My car is quite shabby, it's parked onstreet in Dublin with a Northern registration, my load cover is pulled over to conceal my duvet and my manbag (these Mercedes-Benz people think of everything). Frankly, I'd be suspicious. I have to act quickly. I spring out of the car and ask some confusing questions - can I park here? What's the best way to O'Connell Street? My diversion works, they answer helpfully and walk on. Phew. They didn't look at that which I hoped they wouldn't.

It's a ten-minute walk to the venue. Things are back on track. There is the usual kerfuffle at the door. It's cheeky to ask to be on the guestlist and I usually don't. On the odd occasion I am, I never know if I'm down as my Buzzcocks-world self or under my real name. Anyway, I'm found on the list and waved in. I realise, of course, as soon as I get into the venue that I have no Euros at all for a drink. I have to go out and in again. This time I waltz straight in.

Because I help out with a few things in Buzzocks-world, I get to speak to Pete Shelley sometimes. I have missed the soundcheck and hope that he'll come out to watch the support act. He often does. We have an exchange of texts from within the building:

Me: I'm watching the support band.
Pete: I'm in the lobby [I go to the lobby. No-one there]
Me: You must be invisible ;-) [some minutes pass]
Me: Try to catch you after.
Pete: Ok

We don't hook up.

Read Part 2 - the gig ...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A matter of conscience

There has been a Formula One grand prix in Bahrain since 2004. This makes it a relatively recent addition to a race calendar that is increasingly turning its back on the traditional circuits - the heartland of motorsport - in favour of chasing the new money. The big stories about Formula One in recent times have been about money: about how to make more of it more quickly, and how to divvy up the spoils between its owners and participants. The people whose bank accounts end up replenished through this process call this 'globalising the brand'.

Against this multi-billion pound business backdrop, the actual sporting spectacle becomes a bit of a sideshow, a dancing bear at the boardroom circus. Yes, it's loud and glamorous. In recent times it has even become exciting again. However, the real overtaking and fast cornering is largely done in private. Much of the three-cornered relationship between (in broad terms) the rights owners, the teams and the regulators is cloaked in secrecy.

In the context of this juggernaut of commercial progress, human rights issues in the sport's host countries become a bit of an elephant in the room. Whatever else Formula One does, it puts its hosts in the global sporting spotlight for one week in the year. It's time to hide the dust under the carpet, give the windows an extra polish and get the best crockery out. The rich relatives are coming to visit with their video camera and we wouldn't want anything to spoil it.

Unfortunately for Bahrain, there is the little matter of its pro-democracy campaigners and government oppression. A little local difficulty, most of the time. It's not as if this is Syria, after all. Last year, Formula One had to withdraw from its commitments in Bahrain. Not that anyone but race fans cared - the circuit owners still paid up the full fee.

This year, the race goes ahead amid a gale of hand-wringing and very visible concerns. Does Formula One, as a sport, care?

I would argue it does not.

What Formula One worries about is not caring, but being seen to care. If abuse of human rights was an issue that Formula One had a moral conscience about, there would not be races in China, the US or the UK ... in fact, which nation comes out of that particular question with a spotless record?

As for the fans, I doubt many of us could point to Bahrain on a map, or have anything but the shallowest wiki-ed knowledge of the country. We didn't care pre-Formula One and we're only pretending to care now. We certainly didn't care about human rights abuses in Bahrain 2004-2010.

There's too much money at stake for the decision to race there or not to be anything other than a commercial one. So here's an idea. Run the race behind closed doors. Don't televise it. If Formula One really, REALLY cares about human rights issues, let it donate the £multi-million race fee to Amnesty International.

Better yet - Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari et al, close your showrooms in Bahrain ...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

One man's freedom fighter ...

The Breivik trial has brought into focus just how easily we can park and overlook those thoughts and feelings that are inconvenient for us and do not fit with our particular ideologies. As Breivik's drama plays out, it's comfortable to be swept along in the revulsion at the horror of his acts, the inhumanity of his actions and his chilling lack of remorse. These are the proper responses to such an overwhelming human tragedy.

And there it would end, with Breivik facing the cool analyis of Norwegian law and being judged and punished for his actions. After that judgement, he will fade from the public view, or be overwritten by a new panic.

However, Breivik seems to be claiming legitimacy for his actions by calling them political acts. In this he joins the ranks of Oklahoma bomber Tim McVeigh, the Omagh car bombers, the 9/11 terrorists and legions of suicide bombers, buddhist monks, paramilitaries of all stripes - all of whom have used violence acts against others - or themselves - to effect make a political statement.

Depending on where you are standing (and this is my point), these are easy to file away as 'bad' political acts.

But what about the 'good' acts of violence? The armed forces of the so-called 'free' world roam a number of foreign territories, armed with explosives and weaponry. Their remit is pretty much the same as Breivik's - to prevent an 'unacceptable' change to our society by using violence or the threat of violence.

Yet our troops are heroes.

Our troops don't kill indiscriminately, do they? The most shallow of research will uncover a three-figure number of investigations by British military police into the murder of Afghan civilians, incuding the stabbing of a ten year old boy and the beheading of an Afghan civilian's corpse. Add to this allegations of Koran burning and the massacre of Iraqi civilians by US forces ...

'Our forces work to a government mandate', we cry. 'Like the SS did', we whisper.

Breivik will get comfortable incarceration. His victims' families will not get justice. We feel for them because they're like us. I don't condone political violence in any context. Our forces do a job that few of us would contemplate doing, to keep us safe not from violence but from change. Take away the legitimacy that their uniforms and badges give them and you have, however, men and women doing what Breivik did. In his mental landscape, he's defending an ideal. Just like us.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Teenage poetry

Ah, we've all done it. Those wasted, wistful days when our only friend was despair and a tatty notebook.

I have decided to share the only adolescent poetry I recall from my youth. It's an odd mix of unrequited love and practical advice:

Kate Bush
Kate Bush said "come and wallow
In the soft musk of my hollows"
And though I said "fair enough",
I was wary of the fluff.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

My three-point diet plan

By popular demand, here is my three-point diet plan. I have lost over stone on it so far, so in my unscientific sample, 100% of those asked said they lost over a stone following this simple method:

  1. Only eat what you need. Don't be a greedy fucker.
  2. Treat yourself from time to time. A treat is OK because it's not the norm.
  3. Don't get in the car every time you need to go anywhere. Walking or cycling is good.

That's it. Off you go.