Category Archives: Life

Writer’s Block – Pros and Pretenders

For better or for worse (usually worse), I’m involved in a lot of groups on Facebook, Linked In and the like, where writers of varying descriptions flock together to discuss various aspects of ‘the craft.’ The one topic that crops up more than any other in these groups is writer’s block.

The thing is, and feel free to fight me on this if you want, but I don’t think writer’s block exists. It’s a myth perpetuated by hobbyists with delusions of grandeur. The kind of people who sit in the corners of cafes and coffee shops with expensive tablets and skinny lattes because ‘that’s where they do their best work.’

You’ll find these pretenders haunting most establishments. The trendier the better. They’ll sit quietly, smoothing their beards thoughtfully, adjusting their beanies, and making a single hot beverage last three-and-a-half hours. A smug half-smirk will be tugging at the corners of their mouths, and if you listen carefully, you might be able to hear their inner thought process.

I am a gifted individual. People envy me. I write, therefore I am. My words will change the world. But wait, no I don’t want to write any more. Right now I’d rather be checking the Ted Baker website to see if the new knitwear collection is available for pre-order yet. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. Must be writer’s block. I’m a tortured artist! The angst! Oh, dear creative Gods, deliver me from this hell!

I recently remarked to one of the many ‘WRITER’S BLOCK. AAARGH!” comments that clog up my newsfeed most days that, in my opinion, writer’s block is something that separates the pros from the pretenders. It didn’t go down very well with the supposed victim. I wasn’t being pretentious. The point I was trying to make is when faced with adversity, pros will find a way over, around, or through the obstacle preventing them achieving their goals. Whereas hobbyists, who would just as happily be doing something else anyway, will just give up.

But here’s the rub. They don’t want to admit giving up so easily. That would show weakness, and a lack of integrity. So they pin the blame on something other than themselves instead. Something intangible and unquantifiable, some mysterious ailment that only the supremely gifted can suffer from. Writer’s block is a luxury professionals can’t afford. If they don’t write, they don’t eat and they get evicted. Simple. Have you ever heard of plumber’s block? Dentist’s block? Estate agent’s block? No? That’s because there’s no such thing. Sure, sometimes they have days where they don’t feel like going to work. Just like there are times when you don’t feel like doing the washing up, or changing the bed. That’s when you put your head down, grit your teeth, rise above it and get the job done.

Just to be clear, I have no problem with people writing as a hobby. Quite the opposite, in fact. Generally speaking, I think the human race in general could benefit from reading and writing more. Then maybe a higher percentage of people would be able to spell and punctuate properly and we wouldn’t be such a nation of fucktards.

One acquaintance of mine who complained of suffering from writer’s block said the only thing that alleviates the condition is playing video games, so he did that for three months. Three fucking months. Wait a minute, are you sure you wouldn’t just prefer playing video games? Because it sure seems that way. Incidentally, this writer was unpublished, and it’s easy to see why. I’m not knocking his ability. Who am I to judge? The guy might be a very good writer. Hell, he might even be the best writer who ever lived. The thing is we’ll probably never know, because when the chips are down, he boots up Halo. How many dentists out there do you think take three-month sabbaticals where they don’t work, they just play video games?

I understand that maintaining writer’s block doesn’t exist might be a controversial view.  Message boards and chat forums, even the odd serious article or academic paper, argue otherwise. But what’s really happening here is people misdiagnosing the condition. Writer’s block is an excuse to give up when things get tough. Or, in most cases, a convenient excuse to not do something you don’t even have to do in the first place. Some people just like to blame their inadequacies on things that are supposedly beyond their control. It makes them feel better about being crap at their job or just plain fucking lazy.

I want to leave you with this thought. Real writers write. They don’t sit around pissing and moaning about how hard it is. Those that do it on a regular basis know it’s hard. It’s not the exciting, romantic existence some people seem to think it is. If you’re not enjoying it, or you’re struggling with your latest case of writer’s block, the one that stops you from ever actually writing anything, go find something else to do. Don’t take to social media to bare your soul every ten minutes. It’s boring.

If you want to be a professional, or at least acknowledged as such, act like one. Grow a backbone. Learn about sacrifice, resilience and endeavour. I’m sure Stephen King, Dan Brown and Robert Ludlum would love to kick back and spend three months at a time playing computer games, or watching Friends, or whatever the hell else floats their respective boats. But they don’t. If they did, they wouldn’t have written all those books.

You see? Pros and pretenders.

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This article first appeared on the Deviant Dolls website.


Time for a New Six Nations?

So the Six Nations tournament is in full swing. This always gets me thinking about rugby, and in particular, the competition’s format. Rugby fans might find what I am going to say controversial, whilst nobody else will give much of a shit. But as a rugby fan, I want to make my feelings heard. And before we go any further no, this blog isn’t about the self-destructing Wales team.

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You see, I don’t think the Six Nations should be six nations. Not any more. Frankly, Italy (wooden spoon winners in two of the past three seasons and odds on for a hat-trick) are not strong enough to contest and do themselves no favours by continuing to slug it out with the big boys of European rugby. From the 85 games they’d played up to the start of the current championship, they’d lost 72 and their overall points difference stood at an alarming -1553. That’s more than twice as many as the second worst team, Scotland.

It’s nothing personal. I admire the way Italy stick to their guns, often in the face of overwhelming odds. They are a strong, powerful team, and have produced a couple of top players. But this season really should spell the end of their involvement in the Six Nations tournament. Who needs it? They were effectively out of the reckoning after just two games, having been on the end of two home thrashings at the hands of Wales and Ireland (7-33 and 10-63 respectively). They usually have one good game a year, and that came last week at Twickers. They gave England a scare, more through clever exploitation of the rules than any real skill, but still ended up losing by double digits. All the evidence suggests that Italy are getting worse at this rugby lark, not better. It could be time to go. And you know what? They can take France with them.

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Controversial? Let me explain…

At several points in it’s long history (the first comparable tournament was played way back in 1883) the Six Nations was known as the Home Nations, and consisted of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Then in came the French and it became the Five Nations. Then Italy made it six. Where’s it going to end? Shall we just invite every rugby-playing nation in Europe and call it the 17 Nations? Of course not, that would be impractical. But then you have to wonder why Italy deserve a place. Georgia are actually above them in the world rankings and Romania and Russia aren’t far behind.

I want a return to the old days. But not because I’m some Neanderthal racist who hates Italians and Frenchies. Nope, I have a plan. The tournament should return to its roots, but I think we should do it differently this time. I want the home nations to play every other home nation twice a season, for a total of six games. And lets mix up the draw each year, pulling the fixtures at random, instead of having the format and fixtures set in stone. That gets boring. The draw for the next tournament can be made at the end of the previous one to give fans time to make arrangements, and thereby amping up the drama even more. Put it on live TV, make a spectacle out of it like the FA Cup draw.

Let’s be honest, nobody really likes playing the French. Not because anyone is afraid of them (though they do have a nasty habit of running in good tries), but because they bring nothing to the tournament, especially the way the team is at the moment. They currently stand at 8th in the latest World Rugby rankings, lower than any of the home nations, and haven’t been serious contenders for years. They were fortunate to beat Italy last season. If they’d lost, they would have suffered a second whitewash in four years. Not good enough, sorry.

There’s long been talk of introducing a two-tier system into the Six Nations, with promotion and relegation. If that ever happened, Italy would undoubtedly be the first team relegated. And there’s a decent chance France could follow. I suggest we take the initiative and cull them now, then put them in a separate European group with two of Georgia, Romania and Russia. Maybe even Spain, Germany or Portugal. All are emerging nations ranked in the world top 25. Playing each other (along with France and Italy) on a regular basis would improve their game immeasurably, which can only be good for the sport. The European group of four (even five or six would be manageable as these teams play less games per year than the elite) can also play each home and away, then face the winners of the British group in a grand final every year at a neutral venue. Obviously France would dominate for the first couple of years, but I the other teams would soon catch up with them.

There, sorted. Think about it. This proposed new format would benefit everyone involved. The British teams would only have to play one (or two, if they get to the grand final) more games a season, there would be more opportunity for sponsors and TV revenue, the fans would get more of what they really want (Wales v Scotland, England v Anybody), the smaller rugby-playing nations would have a framework and a chance to develop, and there would be a huge showpiece final every year to rival the (football) European Championship.

Who’s with me?


Boss Blogs #1: Meet Me in the City Tonight

For many people, seeing Bruce Springsteen live, especially with the E Street Band, is akin to a religious experience. His epic three-hour plus live shows are the stuff of legend. The vast majority of artists have their carefully arranged 16-song set consisting of a smattering of tracks from their latest sub-par album, closing the show with a few hits from when they were more popular to send the crowd home happy. They play the same songs, in the same order, every night. Even their salutations are hollow. “Thank you (INSERT NAME OF LATEST STOP ON THE TOUR)! This has been the greatest night of our lives!”

Of course it has, pal.

Springsteen doesn’t just go through the motions. Every show, every note of every song, is shot through with energy, emotion and intensity. Virtually every night the set list is different. Sometimes there are minor tweaks, sometimes there a radical overhaul. He usually does something special, making it unique for those lucky enough to be in attendance. He might dust off a rare deep cut, a non-album track, a new arrangement of an old classic, or an unexpected cover. He has an extensive repertoire to draw from, and nothing is off-limits. After Prince died last year he played Purple Rain as a tribute, in London he played the Clash song Clampdown in homage to Joe Strummer, and in Australia he played the relatively obscure INXS track Don’t Change as a nod to Michael Hutchence. It wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility to witness him tackle a George Michael or Motorhead standard at some point. The first time he ever played in Wales on the Magic tour in 2008 he started the show with From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come), in reference to the size and stature of the country.

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I’m not as fanatical as some Springsteen aficionados. I’ve met people who have seen him live literally hundreds of times, making my six gigs in four countries over twenty years seem pretty fucking weak. Still, I do have some good stories. Like the time I was on a coach coming back from Rotterdam and French border police decided to take us in a room one-by-one and strip search us all. I’d never had that treatment before, so that was an experience. As was travelling all the way from Wales to Philadelphia for the reunion tour in 1999 only to arrive at the venue to find the show had been cancelled because of a hurricane. After being shut in the hotel bar for the night, we eventually got to see another show later in the week so the trip wasn’t completely wasted. Unlike me that night in the hotel bar. At the actual gig, my then-girlfriend went out for a cigarette halfway through the show and security wouldn’t let her back in, so she had to stand in a car park by herself in downtown Philly for two hours. No, I didn’t go out to find her. A man has to get his priorities right. Besides, I didn’t know what had happened until later. There were no mobiles in 1999.

Thinking about it, my Boss gigging history has been dogged by drama. I was also at the infamous Hyde Park gig in 2012, when the council pulled the plug in the middle of a historic duet with Paul McCartney. Hilariously, the Boss started the next gig in Dublin in the middle of Twist & Shout and had a fake policeman drag him from the stage at the end. The first time I ever saw the him live was as a starry-eyed 18-year old at Wembley Arena in 1992. By some fluke, my friend and I had great seats, just a few rows from the front. But probably my favourite ever Boss gig was at the San Siro, Milan in the summer of 2003. I’ve always thought the music spoke to me on some weirdly personal level, and that show seemed to prove it. I still worked in a factory in Wales at the time. I had a car, a steady girlfriend and a PlayStation. All the things that are supposed to make you content. But man, I was so fucking miserable. I was beginning to realize it’s a big world out there, and I was frustrated at only being allowed to experience a tiny part of it. My first book had just been released and, I knew big changes were coming in my life. He sang ‘Follow That Dream,’ a song he doesn’t do often, and it almost sent me over the edge. It certainly put things in perspective. I decided to roll the dice and risk everything to pursue a career in writing. Within a few months, I’d split up with my girlfriend, sold my car, laid my PlayStation to rest (which I still think is the biggest loss) and moved to Southampton to study journalism. Strange how things turn out. I look back on that San Siro gig as some kind of tipping point.

When Bruce & the E Street Band began this latest tour, they were playing The River album in it’s entirety from start to finish, then a handful of oldies at the end. Everyone knew it wouldn’t last. It was too rigid, too predictable. The handful of oldies at the end soon stretched to a dozen, then 15 or 16, and by the time he got to Europe the ‘whole album’ format had been discarded altogether in favour of a career-spanning mash-up. What’s even better is EVERY show is being recorded and released via his website. I used to collect live bootlegs. Over the year I amassed hundreds of them. I’ve always been aware that the studio albums, even taking into account the 4-CD retrospective set Tracks, only tell half the story. But they were expensive and the sound quality was hit or miss. Normally miss, to be fair. These new releases are absolutely flawless, and at $9.95 (MP3 format) for four hours of music, reasonably priced. There’s a bit of polishing and mixing going on, but if it enhances the sound quality I’m not against it like some purists are. Incidentally, if you want my opinion, I don’t think you can go far wrong by investing in the Washington National Park show.

After a few months off following the last US leg, the River tour found it’s way to Australia last month. Because, bizarrely, it’s summer there. And winds up next week in New Zealand. I’m envious of all you Australasians who were lucky enough to get tickets but I’m not that put out. I’ll just get the MP3s.

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Little Virgin Boy Pee Eggs

Today is Chinese New Year! That means it’s time for another China story from the vault. I’ve posted quite a lot here about China, like the time I ate brains and the time I got to be Bad Santa. There was also the snake shop, and when I got pulled in Shanghai airport and some beefy security guards tried to take my cheese off me. No way, mister! Even the most mundane things, like getting a haircut, take on a whole new meaning in the Middle Kingdom.

In 2009-2010 I lived in an extremely inhospitable northern industrial city called Tianjin. I imagine it was a bit like a Chinese Middlesbrough. I only went there to be closer to a girl I was dating, who then promptly dumped me for another dude leaving me alone, miserable and stuck in a job I hated. Said job was teaching English in a primary school. It wasn’t the teaching I disliked. it was the kids. There, I said it. It’s probably hard enough trying to educate children that young when you speak the same language, but at least then you can reason with them. If you don’t speak the same language, forget it. It’s like fighting a war with no weapons. Every class was anarchy.

Eventually I hit on the bright idea of rewarding the good kids with lollipops, hoping the naughty ones would see what they were missing and fall in line. It didn’t quite work out like that. Instead, every kid who didn’t get a lollipop threw an epic temper tantrum. Mostly products of the one-child policy, they were a mass of Little Emperors. They broke me. Regularly. I would cave in and give them all lollipops just to shut them up, costing myself a small fortune in sugary bribes.

One of the few things I liked about this school was the little breakfast stall stationed outside, selling a selection of traditional local food, along with some more normal fare like boiled eggs and corn on the cob. I stopped by there most mornings. It was cheap, and saved me time.

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There was a lot I didn’t like about the school. But the worst thing were the toilets. Toilets in China are gruesome places at the best of times. But in the school there were no locks on the doors, because the little shits would shut themselves in. That meant whenever I used it, I had a swarm of kids around me pointing and laughing. It was enough to give anyone a complex.

I noticed the boys all peed in buckets, which struck me as a bit weird. But lots of things struck me as a bit weird in China, and the buckets of piss just blended in with all the other weirdness. People would come in sporadically, carry the full buckets out, and come back with empty ones. Presumably, they were emptying them down a drain somewhere. I didn’t know, and frankly, I didn’t care. I didn’t think much about it. Until one day, when I was talking to my teaching assistant and he told me something that first confused me, then horrified me to the core. The school was selling the pee. Those people who came in to take out the buckets of piss were actually paying the school for the privilege.

“What? Who would buy buckets of pee?”

“People.”

“What people?”

“Like the people at the breakfast stall where you go in the mornings.”

“Why?”

“Tong zi dan.”

“What’s that in English?”

“Not sure. Little virgin boy pee egg or something.”

He explained that in some regions of China, Tianjin included, urine from young boys, preferably under the age of ten is harvested. It is boiled, and eggs are soaked in it for a few hours. Then the shells are cracked, presumably to let the pissy goodness inside, and it is boiled some more. The practice has been going on for centuries, and is tied to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). Eating little virgin boy piss eggs is said to reduce high blood pressure, stop you catching a cold, and relieve joint pain, and I’d been unwittingly eating them for months.

I’ve never been able to look at a boiled egg in quite the same way since.


The Bookshelf 2016

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Every year I keep a list of all the books I read, and post it here. Yep, that’s how anal I am about books. If you’re interested, you can find last year’s riveting instalment HERE. The weird thing is, these posts are usually among my most popular, which suggests that either my other posts are even more boring or perhaps I’m not the only one obsessed with books and lists.

As you can see, I tend to lean toward contemporary horror fiction, for obvious reasons, but I try to read widely. Promise. I love a good autobiography, the odd debauched rock tale, and the occasional peak into history. The only rule is I have to actually finish the book in order for it to qualify. So without further a-do, here is a complete list of the books I read in 2016.

The Mannequin by Darcy Coates (2014)

Welsh Murders Volume I (1770 – 1918) by Peter Fuller & Brian Knapp (1986)

Bazar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King (2015)

The Haunting of Blackwood house by Darcy Coates (2015)

Community by Graham Masterton (2012)

Death’s Sweet Echo by Maynard Sims (2015)

The Wind-up Toy by David Owain Hughes (2016)

Alfred Hitchcock & The Three Investigators: The Secret of Terror Castle by Robert Arthur, Jnr (1964)

Nails by Fiona Dodwell (2015)

Tales From the Lake 2 by various authors (2016)

The Supernatural Murders: Classic True Crime Stories, edited by Jonathan Goodman (1992)

Dead Harvest: A Collection of Dark Tales Vol I by Various (2013)

War Letters 1914-18, Vol I by Mark Tanner (2014)

Mind Fuck by Renee Miller (2016)

Rayhven House by Frank E. Bittinger (2016)

The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel (1975)

Pictures of You by T.J Alexian (2014)

Last Words by Jackson Lear (2016)

The Hidden by Fiona Dodwell (2016)

Auto-Rewind by Jason Arnopp (2015)

Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin (2012)

I Can Taste the Blood by Various Authors (2016)

The Scariest Reddit Stories by Hannah J Tidy (2016)

Mistrel Bed and Breakfast by Darcy Coates (2016)

The Films of Danny Dyer by Jonathan Sothcott & James Mullinger (2013)

Revival by Stephen King (2014)

Surviving the Evacuation, Book 1: London by Frank Tayell (2013)

The Christmas Spirit by Brian James Freeman (2016)


Dear London

This isn’t an easy letter to write. I think you know, things haven’t been right between us for a while now. I’m not sure they ever were. Don’t get me wrong, we had a lot of fun together. Those early days, when there was so much to discover and indulge in, were very special. So new new and exciting. For a while, I really thought you might be ‘the one.’ I thought I’d finally be able to settle down. But those feelings didn’t last. After a couple of years, all the little annoyances I used to find so charming started getting on my nerves. These days, I find it difficult just to be around you. Everything’s such hard work, and I derive so little pleasure from what we do together. It comes down to balance, I suppose. This relationship is all take and no give.

I would give you that time-honoured “It’s not you, it’s me,” line.

But that wouldn’t be fair, because it’s mostly you.

I know the score, okay? I know how things are. You are this rich, powerful, older woman and I’m just A.N. Other guy. I have to work my balls off to impress you and stay in your good graces. Do you have any idea how exhausting that is?

Didn’t think so. You act like I should be happy just to be here. To have the opportunity. But my best was never good enough. You have ridiculously high standards, and even higher demands. I know if I let my guard down for just a few moments, there’ll be a line of would-be suitors queuing around the block. Like vultures. Half the guys in the world want to get with you. That’s a lot of pressure. Plus, you go through my money like it was piss in the rain.

God, you make me feel like such a failure sometimes. On the other hand, you make me proud just to be with you. That’s the paradox of love. Anyway, enough waffling. The bottom line is our relationship is turning destructive, and it’s probably best I leave before someone gets hurt.

There, I said it.

Sorry to be so abrupt, but you broke my heart, London. At least three times, you cold, heartless bitch.

I know you are fucking other people, okay? You always were, and you always will. It’s just what you do. You don’t care. And why should you? You don’t owe me anything. You’re thinking, “You came to me, remember? Feel free to leave at any time.”

I also want to thank you. You taught me how to be humble, how to be strong, and how to grow. Along the way you taught me a few hard life lessons. But someone had to teach me, and I’m glad I learned from the best.

I’m not bitter. It hurts to know that you’re so ruthless and callous, but I get it. It’s not personal. And don’t worry, even though I knew all along you were using me I have no regrets, because I was using you, too. We were just having fun. I always knew it wouldn’t be long term. How could it? We both value our freedom and independence too much to make any kind of lasting commitment. Many better men (and women) than me have tried to have a relationship with you and failed.

Thinking about it, I suppose we were only ever fuck buddies. At first, there was only passion and lust. I wanted to do everything with you. But then, the spark died. The dream ended and reality bit down on us hard. We stopped going out as much, most of our ‘friends’ slipped away, and our sex life went down the toilet. When we did manage it, which wasn’t often, it was functional and mechanical. Like we were just going through the motions. Yeah, we’d blame things like work and family and the weather and whatever else. But the truth is, we just drifted apart. I know that you never gave all of yourself to me. There was always that part of you that you kept hidden. And no matter what I did, you were never going to reveal it to me. I could spend a lifetime trying and still not discover ‘the secret of you.’

Maybe I was the same way.

I admit, I haven’t exactly been faithful. There’s this other girl called China. I don’t understand half the things she says or does and she has these really strict parents who make things difficult, but she’s just so beautiful and exotic. Then there’s my mental ex, Wales. She was my first love, so I guess she’ll always be in my life. We went through too much together for me to ever really forget her, but we are so volatile together we fight like mad.

Anyway, goodbye, London. I don’t know where this journey will take me next, but I do hope we can stay in touch and who knows, maybe we can hook up again further down the road. The future is a place where anything is possible.

Take care of yourself, and stay beautiful.

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2016 – The Greatest Year in Music for Three Decades?

No, this isn’t satire. This is some serious shit. Don’t mock. I know it’s a massive two-fisted claim, but when you think about it, 1986 was an outstanding year in music. Most of us just didn’t appreciate it at the time. Through no fault of their own, half the people who read this post probably weren’t even alive thirty years ago, which is a thought that absolutely terrifies me.

Slippery When Wet by Bon Jovi, License to Ill by the Beastie Boys, The Queen is Dead by the Smiths, Invisible Touch by Genesis, Graceland by Paul Simon, A Kind of Magic by Queen, Master of Puppets by Metallica, So by Peter Gabriel, Liverpool by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Classics, one and all. Thirty-year old classics. Well, except that last one. Apart from Rage Hard Frankie’s long awaited follow-up to Welcome to the Pleasuredome was utter crap. But it was memorable crap.

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You might not think it, but look beneath the surface and you’ll see that three decades on, 2016 has been another stellar year in music for people of a certain persuasion. Not only did Blink 182 return revitalised and reinvigorated, but there were new albums from Bouncing Souls, Biffy Clyro, BabyMetal, Bayside, Bowling For Soup, and even a few bands that didn’t begin with ‘B,’ like Taking Back Sunday, Feeder, Good Charlotte, Yellowcard, Against Me! A Day to Remember, and the kings of modern punk rock (yes, I said it), Green Day. Still to come we have releases from Jimmy Eat World and Sum 41. Even the Ataris, who haven’t put out anything new since 2007, came to the party. Granted, October in the Railroad Earth is an EP made up of studio outtakes, so it’s neither a proper album nor new, but I’m including it here because I want to, and it’s fucking awesome.

You could say 2016 has been something of a pop punk renaissance, a fact further underlined by imminent new offerings from Billy Tallent, Tonight Alive, Set it Off, and the Starting Line. I think this speaks volumes about the state of the world we live in right now. People are fucked off and miserable. We want the happy back. Break out the fart jokes and beer, all is forgiven! ADTR, Blink and All Time Low even toured the US together in what is probably the greatest live bill I’ve never seen. Thanks for that. A slightly more unsettling alternative is that pop punk now qualifies as retro, and is benefiting from that warm, fuzzy nostalgia buzz that people yearn for when they hit their late-thirties. It’ll be popping up in Classic Rock mag next.

I realise all this might not mean much to some of you. But to get to the point, pretty much ALL my favourite bands of the past fifteen years or so are releasing new albums at roughly the same time. And not only that, but most of them are good! This is a truly unprecedented event of near-cataclysmic significance well worthy of a blog post. Like an inter-planetary alignment over Stonehenge or something. Now, if someone could get Funeral for a Friend to reform and knock out a new album by the end of the year, we’ll be golden. Ta.


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