Tuesday, 29 May 2007

A500 Apartheid Road

Whooppee! We’re from Newcastle-under-Lyng!

Alec enquired today about what else I rant about if not the more masochistic extremes of our national game. It's as if I have a one-track mind and the only break I give my mind is the lunch-time trip to Soo's Shop for a carnivorous treat. No, fair point though, actually, all things considered.

Well, the debate that I totally own on a regular basis - mysteriously unblogged until today - concerns the relative merits of Stoke-onTrent and our dear, near neighbour, Newcastle-under-Lyme, home of those two twins off Big Brother (ha - and we're like, "one-nil!").

It does seem to be emphatically the case that our sub-region is a divided one. The 'professionals' flock in their waves to 'nicer' Newcastle via Checkpoints Penkhull and Porthill, eschewing the glories of this illustrious city for all they are worth.

I just don't understand what makes Newcastle such an attractive proposition by comparison. Don't get me wrong, I don't *mind* Newcastle particularly. What winds me up is the widely-held and frankly barmy perception that Stoke is the abyss to Newcastle's Arcadia. That is to say, it's just bollocks.

Nil thread!

This man is a genius


Arrington de Dionyso, Taylor Johns House, Coventry
Sunday 27 May 2007

I first encountered Arrington de Dionyso (formerly of Old Time Relijun) at Festival Mo'fo in 2005, when Holty and I stood stunned before the stage as the performer greeted the crowd in broken French and proceeded to open his improvised set by blasting and snorting down the wrong end of his saxophone (or bass clarinet, whatever). We rapidly retreated for the bar, trying suppress a tipsy snigger each.

Fast forward to May 2007 and long-time mate Matt has texted me saying he's back in the country for a few days. A quick ride on the internet is enough to enlighten me: there's a gig(gle) on in Coventry and one Mr. de Dionyso of Portland, Oregon is headlining. Woop! Time to give him another spin - and drag along an unsuspecting primary school teacher too. Mwahahaha!

Tonight's venue, Taylor Johns House, is situated in Coventry's canal basin, an area regenerated in the late eighties but cut off from the rest of the city centre by the ever-dispiriting marble-chute of a ring road. The bridge providing access is wobbly enough to put its more famous London counterpart in the shadows - amateurs! The canal basin did however find fame on the back of a Specials LP. In all, though, it's A Rainy Night in Covo, and the wind wasn't whistling any charms (yeah, I know, wrong band).

We roll up during the soundcheck and are a little disconcerted to discover that the venue has been kitted out specially with those wooden chairs you used to have in school assembly's. I half expected to be told to pick up your chairs, 6P, and file back to the classroom. As it stands, we're politely ejected and informed that things are to kick off at 8.15. So we sod off to Wetherspoon's in the pouring rain, only to find there are no real ales on. Nnngh. Pivovar Herold is a worthy substitute. How very Bohemian.

Back to Taylor Johns and Mr. de Dionyso is busy fingering his iBook, pretty much the only other person in the bar. It's a bit like following Darlo away in the LDV vans trophy, when the only other people in the Maxpax queue are the subs, texting away on their mobiles instead of warming up or something. Nice venue though - bijou, housed in a couple of old coal vaults, and with (in the bar at least) nice chairs of comfy varieties.

Gradually, a few punters drizzle in, invariably looking like the sort of people that read The Wire. The only exceptions, us aside, are the group that can only be music lecturers, and the two EMO kids, who have probably come because it's the only gig on tonight. All in all, that makes about 16.

The first act is about to start. One of the staff is very anxious that we all amble over to the other vault: Adrian Palka awaits, with his home-made "bow chime" - a clutch of metal rods, a bow, a drumstick, and an amplifying "thing" that reminds me of a Roman centurion's shield, only much tweer. Palka produces an improvised series of textures, a strokes his instrument as if it it were an embryonic painting. The aural textures are gorgeous, but it's not my thing visually. I do think he should run some ante-natal neuromusical programming sessions - it's just that sort of meditative effect. Great anyhow. I like pop music and it takes me time to adjust, but great.

Ignatz is next, a quietly spoken Belgian who plays geetar kind of like a seetar - and treats the resulting vibes with a range of distorted drones and fizzes. It's the kind of soundscape that used to shake our student house when Ben was in his bedroom reading that massive blue book of Chaucer by which all English Literature students are to be identified. The textures are coarser, perhaps a little harsher, but I'm starting to adjust. Getting into this kind of stuff is a bit like the feeling in your ears as the plane climbs and descends.

It's just as well, since Arrington does not disappoint. His set commences with a freestyle montage on the sax / bass clarinet / whatever. He then carefully disassembles his piece, and experiments with each component in almost every conceivable way. Throughout the set, a cast of several instruments is introduced - two carrier bags, some bits of rubber, a sheet of tin foil, and one of those jaw harp thingies.

The EMO kids slouch in their school chairs, arms tightly folded.

Dionyso's star turn is his Tuvan throatsinging - like an impressive, and passable impression of a didgeridoo. Lungs and throat built at Shelton Bar, clearly. This is probably why critics (via his record company's website) describe him as "some fuckin' scary shit." He is.

After the gig, Matt wondered whether the guy was mad or a genius. I love the fact that he can tour the world and make a living on the back of a very idiosyncratic talent. Long may he continue. As a gig, it's not the sort of thing I'd go to regularly, but it's a damned refreshing (and relaxing) change.

Taylor Johns House is a really friendly joint that seems to specialise in this sort of night. Apparently The (excellent) Chap are there on Friday, so you never know, I may be back.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

First the Dudgeon, then the Spurn...

First the Dudgeon, then the Spurn,
Flambro' Head comes next in turn,
Whitby Light shines clear and bright,
Sunderland Light lies in the night,
And if all gans well, we'll be in Shields tonight.

Today I received a consignment of photocopied notes that my grandfather had apparently made towards the memoirs that he never wrote up before his death. All I know of him are the odds and ends, the ships and exotic places named in his old log books, and the occasional song and rhyme passed down through our family. So this bunch of papers, with that wonderful wrought-iron handwriting that nobody uses nowadays, is the closest I've ever come to the old seaman himself:

"South Shields: a back street just off King Street and at the corner of Chaplin Row and near the G.P.O: Merkel's the Pawn Shop. Window filled with instruments of all descriptions, mainly nautical but other things as well, treasures brought home from afar, or so it seemed to me. This shop always had a fascination for me and became my first stop in a journey around Shields. At this time I would be around 13/14 years of age. Always alone out of preference. No-one to please or displease. It was at this shop that I would in a few years time, having acquired a B.O.T. certificate , buy my very first sextant. This would be in the year 1924. Mr. Merkel took me into a back room in which the mahogany sextant cases were piled high right up to the ceiling, rank upon rank. Each one represented a 2nd mate or a chief mate or a master down on his luck. One thing that a mate or a master never parted with was his sextant. In much the same way the cabler with his awl, the gunner with his linstock, the seaman with his sheath knife, and so the navigator with his sextant: all of them tightly bound up with the tool of his trade. There was a saying in those days which ran: "a sailor without a knife is like a whore without a fanny." And so in 1924 in one pawn shop alone, hundreds of sextants, a bitter indication of the state of the Merchant Service.

Lots more to get through, including a description of a visit to South Shields by Gustave Hamel and his monoplane :-)