Category Archives: London

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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Vicar on the Underground

I was commuting home from work one evening on the Northern Line somewhere between Goodge Street and East Finchley, when a vicar got on the tube. Seeing a vicar on the Northern Line wasn’t that unusual in itself, God knows I’ve seen a lot more weird shit than that, but something about the way the man carried himself was unusual. Even in the midst of rush hour chaos, he was the image of calmness and serenity.

Just as he got on the train, a couple of tourists got off and two seats opened up. Seats on the underground at that time of the day are as rare as rare as rocking horse shit, and the vicar swooped right in without even breaking stride. But even though the carriage was rammed and people were falling over each other as they fought for space, the seat next to the vicar remained empty, almost as if people sensed not to get too close. I watched him from afar for a while, as you do on, without ever approaching him. But later, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Vicar on the Underground and a few days later this story leaked out.

The whole process was comparatively easy. I wrote the first draft of the story in a few days (at 2,700 words it’s at the shorter end of the spectrum), revised and edited it over the next couple of weeks, then started submitting it to markets. It was picked up by Oscillate Wildly Press almost immediately. Something else that’s as rare as rocking horse shit.

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From the promotional material:

The monsters we have come to know and love take a backseat as we delve into the darkest, most hideous depths of a monster that has taken centre stage as of late–HUMANS.

The collected tales herein will take you on a wild ride into the monstrous aspects of humankind, revealing some of the scariest atrocities humans are capable of doing, the ‘demons’ lurking in their heads, the ugliness of the pure human soul. You’ll meet artists, handymen, grieving parents, desperate alcoholics, and the delightful Sally Burns.

This debut anthology features the work of a variety of talented writers, including a few of the award-winning and darkly imaginative authors writing today. When you are ready, settle down, lock the window, and remember…the only monsters to fear are ourselves.

– Claire Fitzpatrick, Editor, December, 2016.

You can check out the anthology HERE


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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BABYMETAL – Metal Resistance (album review)

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To steal a phrase from Roger Shackelford of Tainted Reality, ‘Is it weird to like BABYMETAL?*’

The answer is ‘Yeah. Probably.’

For the uninitiated, BABYMETAL are a manufactured J-Pop/thrash metal crossover act group comprising of a trio of teenagers in tutu’s and a backing band wearing corpse make-up and white flowing gowns. At first glance, it’s hard to take them seriously. I never liked Japanese music before. Or Chinese. Or Korean. It’s mostly horrible and you have no idea what they are singing about. But, God forgive me, I do like BABYMETAL. I just can’t put my finger on why.

Let’s not beat around the bush. They are weird with a capital W. They have a whole invented mythological back story about a Fox God sending them out into the universe to save heavy metal, and on their last tour they pretended to crucify the singer Su-Metal live on stage while the other two girls Moa-Metal and Yui-Metal danced around inanely. The theatrical element borrows heavily from the likes of Alice Cooper and Kiss, and it certainly adds something extra to their live performances. They’ve been huge in Asia since forming in 2010 and since then have slowly began to make their mark internationally, especially on the summer festival circuit. The video for Give me Chocolate has racked up over 46 million views on YouTube (only about half of which are mine) and last week they played a sold-out SSE Wembley Arena in London to kick off their 2016 tour in support of album number two. Metal Resistance was released on 1st April which they dubbed, ahem, Fox Day. And no, it wasn’t an April Fool.

Metal Resistance kicks off with the anthemic title track, whch has been a staple in their live set for a while now, before launching into Karate, the first single. Karate is typical BABYMETAL, pop sensibilities laid over a crunching guitar riff. That’s followed by Awadama Fever, which I think is about bubblegum gum. No, really. Don’t let that fool you, though. As with the first album, these songs have depth and creativity, seamlessly veering from speed metal to something akin to raggae or dubstep in the blink of an eye. The contrast, and the overall effect, is mesmerizing. Whoever writes these songs is truly gifted. As are the backing musicians, the Kami band. Listening to the album you would perhaps think the sound is a result of studio overdubs and fancy knob twiddling. But that’s not the case.

Look…

See? How tight is the Kami band? They have to be one of the most technically proficient outfits around today. And did you see that circle pit go off? Dear me. Anyway, back to the album, and another early highlight is Meta Toro, which sounds suspiciously like a nursery rhyme with marching drums and death metal growls. I told you it was weird. The track GJ features some frankly awesome fretwork and yet another killer chorus while Sis Anger is obviously a nod to Metallica. At least somebody liked St Anger. The pace relents toward the end for the lighters-aloft ballads No Rain, No Rainbow and The One, but sandwiched between them is something called Tales of the Destinies, possibly the most experimental track on the album, which sounds a bit like Dragonforce on crack. In his review for Classic Rock magazine, Stephen Dalton said, “Sometimes overwhelming, always exhilarating and occasionally jaw-dropping, Metal Resistance could well be the greatest album ever made.”

And he wasn’t even kidding. At least, I don’t think he was.

At the end of the day, I think if you try to explain to someone what BABYMETAL is, they would probably think you’ve lost your mind. But somehow it all fits together, and it works surprisingly well. The musicianship, the image, the choreography, the songs, the message, even the contribution of the Fox God. The whole operation is a finely tuned machine founded on raw talent, and this ‘difficult’ second album at least proves that the success of the debut wasn’t a one-off. If anything, Metal Resistance features an even stronger set of songs, with more depth and clarity. Undoubtedly another step on the road to world domination. Bow down, all ye unbelievers. Resistance is futile.

*Just so you know, BABYMETAL is stylised in BLOCK CAPITAL LETTERS. I don’t just get really excitable when I say their name. Although, I kinda do.


Something to Declare?

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Today is Chinese New Year, 2016 being the Year of the Monkey. Therefore, I think it’s time for another weird China story from the vault.

On September 11th 2011, the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks (which was nerve-wracking enough in itself) I made the journey from Wales back to my ESL teaching job in China. After getting a lift from my dad to Cardiff Central I got a National Express coach to Heathrow airport and then endured a gruelling 10 hour flight to Shanghai Pudong, where I had to get another bus to another airport in Shanghai so I could make a connecting internal flight to Changsha city, capital of Hunan Province. As you can probably imagine, by that point I was tired, stressed, and not in the best of moods.

I dragged my 24 kg suitcase to check-in at Hongqiao, where a nice young Chinese lady slapped a sticker on it and sent it through an arcane-looking X-ray machine. And then an alarm went off. Uh-oh. A couple of burly ‘security operatives’ appeared and whisked me away to a little side room where my suitcase was waiting, sitting on an oversized metal table. One of the security people motioned to a monitor where several ‘suspect’ items were highlighted, and told me to open my suitcase. He then put on some rubber gloves and proceeded to rummage around in my personal affects, placing several of my possessions on the table for further scrutiny.

The first was a police-issue extendable baton, bought for 20 RMB from a street seller in Changsha the year before. Whatever your opinion on this, in my view living alone in a foreign country where laowai (foreigners) are often targeted, necessitates some form of personal protection. Besides, it was pretty cool.

“Can’t have,” said one of the young customs officers.

“Okay, no problem,” I replied, sheepishly. Fair cop, guv.

The next item was a 5-inch switchblade knife with a retractable spring-loaded blade, kept for the same reasons as the baton (although this one doubles as a handy household tool). They are illegal to own in some places, and certainly illegal to carry. The customs officers opened the blade and admired it for a few moments, tested it was sharp enough, then stuffed it back in my suitcase and told me it was fine.

What? Are you sure? I wanted to ask, but of course didn’t. Besides, things were about to get weird. The next things pulled out of my suitcase was a meagre collection of paperback books.

For reference, the titles of these were as follows:

Horns, by Joe Hill

Breathless, by Dean Koontz

Full dark, No Stars, by Stephen King

Bookie Wook 2, by Russell Brand

Country Driving, by Peter Hessler

As the security personnel picked their way through the pile, flicking through the pages and breaking the spine on at least one (I hate that) vague notions ran through my mind. The Chinese government dislike Peter Hessler, an American who lives in China and writes almost exclusively about his adopted country, and often ban his stuff. Could this be the problem? Or could it be the fact that in 2008 the Chinese government banned ‘horror’ (whatever that means) in reaction to Steven Spielberg pulling out of his role as advisor to the Olympic committee on political grounds?

“Why do you have so many books?”

“I like reading.”

“Really?”

“Really. Why else would I carry so many books half way around the world?”

The customs officer considered this and, apparently satisfied, moved on to the next item, which was a pound of Cheddar Cheese.

“What’s this?”

“It’s a pound of Cheddar Cheese.”

“What is it used for?”

“It’s cheese. You eat it.”

“When?”

“Erm, whenever you want.”

He made a ‘yeah, right!’ face, picked the cheese up and started bending it and sniffing it. ‘Did you pack this yourself?’

“Yes I did. I packed my suitcase myself, and this is definitely my cheese.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“About what?”

“The cheese.”

“Yes, I am quite sure this is my cheese. Is there something wrong with it?”

“I’m not sure you can take this on the plane.”

“Why?”

“No why.”

“So I can take a knife on the plane, but no cheese?”

“Knife no trouble in suitcase.”

“So will the cheese be trouble in my suitcase?”

“Maybe.” He gives the matter some thought, stroking the few wispy hairs on his chin.

“Look, I would really appreciate it if you let me take my cheese on the airplane. Of course I will put in my suitcase, and not get it back out until I get to my apartment.”

“Okay. We trust you.”

I hurried off and hid in the departure lounge before they changed their minds. Angry, confused, and bummed at losing my baton, but happy I got to keep my books and cheese. Happy New Year, China.


Gary Holton, RIP

Gary Holton  22 September 1952 -25 October 1985

Gary Holton
22 September 1952 -25 October 1985

His name might be unfamiliar, but today marks the 30th anniversary of Gary Holton’s death. The English entertainer’s list of achievements is considerable. He lived life to the fullest and did things most of us can only dream about. For starters, he once toured as lead singer with the Damned in place of Dave Vanian, he had a number one single in Norway where he was a massive star, appeared on Top of the Pops and the Tube, was the subject of articles in NME and Melody Maker, and fronted the glam rock band Heavy Metal Kids and later Casino Steel, who were signed to Polydor records. A year to the day after Bon Scott’s death, Holton auditioned to join AC/DC, turning up at the venue with a crate of whisky. Rumour has it that the sole reason he didn’t get the job was that the band didn’t want another alcoholic singer.

Despite his love of rock n’ roll, it was Holton’s acting endeavours that really made his name. He had minor roles in Quadrophenia, Minder and Shoestring, before finding fame as flash cockney carpenter Wayne in the classic comedy drama Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, about a group of British builders working abroad. His character displayed a penchant for wine, women and song, something which by all accounts mirrored his off-screen persona. At the peak of his career he was offered the part of ‘Nasty’ Nick Coton in Eastenders, but declined for reasons unknown.

Gary Holton died from an overdose of alcohol and morphine in his flat in London before finishing the second series of the show that made him famous, his parts being completed by use of body doubles and sound editing. The cast all went to his funeral and resisted offers to film a third season for 15 years. A recovering heroin addict, the inquest into his death revealed his blood contained almost twice the lethal level of morphine. Poignantly, the last single he released shortly before he died was a song called ‘Catch a Falling Star,’ and when the grim reaper came knocking he had been declared bankrupt twice. A tragic, sad end to a life that promised so much. Still, he probably packed more into his 33 years than most of us could in several lifetimes. His ashes were laid to rest next to his grandparents grave in Welshpool, Powys.

Since his death, Holton has achieved cult status. Hard-living, hard-loving rocker with a prodigious talent who loved the pub. When he wasn’t off being famous, he could often be found pulling pints at the establishments his parents ran, or playing dominoes with the regulars. I have it on good authority his records still outsell the Beatles in Norway. What a legend. RIP, Gary Holton. I hope you caught that falling star.


How to Have the Perfect Bank Holiday

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In Britain, we are lucky enough to be gifted the occasional Bank Holiday. When you are kid it’s like having two Sundays in a week, but when you grow up and start work you learn to really appreciate any extra down time. The big question is, how to spend it?

Time Management

As tempting as it may be, if you spend the whole day in bed (especially if you are alone) you will regret it later. Have a lie-in by all means. But set an alarm and get up at a reasonable hour. Make a list the day before of all the things you want to do, and be realistic about your goals.

Chores

Everyone has them, nobody wants them. Get used to it. Doing the laundry, popping to the corner shop for some milk, washing the dishes that have been festering in the sink since last weekend’s curry night, whatever little jobs need doing, get them out of the way early doors. Then we can all move on.

Fun Time

We all have our guilty pleasures in life. Something we truly enjoy, but rarely have time to indulge. If only there were more hours in a day, right? Well, today there is! Kind of. It might mean firing up the Xbox, going for a walk, having a kick about with your mates or masturbating furiously to repeats of Charmed. Whatever floats your boat. Just remember to lock the door if that last option appeals to you, and don’t let ‘fun time’ last too long.

Spread Your Wings

This part is key. It’s very simple. Do something you’ve never done before. It can be anything from visiting that museum you’ve always fancied, to taking up a new hobby. It’s your call. It will make this particular Bank Holiday memorable, and make you feel as if you’ve actually achieved something.

Chill

What you shouldn’t do is have a big night in the pub. That would equal a short week from hell. You should have done that on Friday. Or Saturday. Maybe both. In a recent survey, ‘watching a film at home’ topped a list of people’s favourite things to do on a Bank Holiday, coming in just above ‘doing chores’ and ‘relaxing.’ The chores should be done by now. At least, the important ones. So now you can relax and watch a film. Two birds, one stone. You’ve had a busy day. You deserve it.


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