Life Live Sacred Days

Just Like Me, They Long To Be Close To You

So what do you do, when you have a chance to meet your heroes, either fleetingly, or if you’re lucky enough to be in the same room with them for a goodly period of time? You’re in a quandary, there are too many questions unanswered, there’s no time to think. Will I look like a gushing fanboy twit? Can my hero be arsed with the attention after so many years in the spotlight? Will my hero dash my expectations to the ground, because despite all my doubt, deep down I do really really want a word or two from him or her, and gad, they might be too tired, it might be the first few minutes they’ve had to themselves all day, and it might be the eightieth time that day someone’s pestered them, and.. what to do? What to DO? What to SAY?

Well, sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not, sometimes it’s.. strange.

Life Old Music

Moon River, Me, Morrissey

When you’re northern, you’re northern forever and you’re instilled with a certain feel for life that you can’t get rid of. You just can’t.

The very early sixties: my grandad, with a Yorkshire practicality and foresight demonstrated daily in his job as a loom tuner, bought my aunt, far younger and cooler than my mother, a reel to reel tape recorder. In grandad’s view, her pocket money was to be saved for more important things, because records were a waste of cash: you could just stick a mono crystal microphone in front of the radio and record all those new-fangled bands you liked, and when you got bored with them, just tape over the songs with new ones. The recorder got plenty of action a few years later, when my aunt developed into a fully-fledged Beatlemaniac and the Fab Four started to dominate the airwaves.

Life Old Music

Salford Folk

A regular haunt when I was at University in the late 70s was The Star, in Back Hope Street, Salford. Ignoring the rather more easily accessible delights of the student bar at Castle Irwell (and the casino opposite), we’d walk out of the horseshoe-shaped village, down Cromwell Road, turn left, past the fish and chip shop which would come in useful later in the evening, and was also good for celebrity spotting – I stood in the line for chips next to Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley once, struck dumb with shyness (I think we both were). On past Manchester United’s training ground The Cliff, eventually turning right down an unlikely-looking narrow street. No big signs, hardly any signs at all in fact, no foot traffic.. odds were you wouldn’t just happen to walk by, someone had to show you where it was, which was part of the attraction.

Opposite was the Horseshoe, which was a pretty good pub, but the main attraction was The Star and the folk club night, run by Martin Gittins, part of a duo called Pint’n’Half who, if memory serves, would often open up the show and then hand over to the guest performers. The folk/comedy stylists Mike Harding and Bob Williamson were probably the most famous of those, and we saw many more. The politics of songs at the club fit in with my proto-lefty leanings, and the Robinson’s beer (including the lethal Old Tom) was excellently kept by one-armed landlord and local legend Wally Marshall.

On darts night at The Star, the competitors would play on a Manchester Log-End, or Lancashire, board. You think darts is difficult: well, play on a Log-End and you’ll encounter a whole new source of frustration. They’re about two thirds the size of the ones you see on telly, and have no treble ring. They have to be kept in water, or they split – they’re sawn from an elm log – so about half an hour before the match started, someone would retrieve the thoroughly soaked dart board and hang it up. I’d like to see Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor or ‘Barney’ Barneveld have a go at one of those.

This all popped back into my memory a few days ago, so I did a quick search to see how things are now. The Horseshoe is now gone, and The Star had some problems recently, but I am pleased to see it is now run as a co-operative, bought by its regulars in 2009. Good for them. It is a fine place, and if you’re ever out that way, drop in.

Memory aid for this article provided by Jim Simpson’s fine history, on the pub web site.

Life New Music

Song For A Friend

A particular highlight from last year was the Pet Shop Boys’ Electric album, a fine record chock full of the kind of spot-on English synth-pop wizardry that Messrs. Lowe and Tennant present us with on a very regular basis.

An old friend of mine would have really enjoyed Love Is A Bourgeois Construct .. he was always very enthusiastic about the films of Peter Greenaway and the music of Michael Nyman. Nyman’s Chasing Sheep Is Best Left To Shepherds from The Draughtsman’s Contract is the sample the PSBs worked into the song.

I say ‘would have enjoyed’, because my friend is no longer with us. He was a Scot, born in the 50s, who spent a large part of his childhood isolated due to illness, and as I understand quite solitary until he went to secondary school. I met him in the early 80s when I started work at the same company, and we became good friends. He came out a few years later. Some of his family accepted his choice and supported him but his father and sister didn’t. The torment eventually led to him taking his own life in 2005.

Through the 90s and early 00s, we worked in different places and didn’t meet up as often – when we did, we caught up, visited some favourite haunts and talked about the old days, with no pressure, and maybe that was a little bit of an escape from what he was going through. I knew he was under stress, and I hope I helped a little by being a friend. He was a fine fellow, and this song will now always remind me of him.


Closing Time at The Cobbler’s Thumb

News this week that one of my old haunts is set to feel the merciless punch of the wrecking ball – The Cobbler’s Thumb, in Brighton, is finally to be demolished after years of structural neglect. The old girl will be knocked down before she falls down, though for a while in the early noughties, it seemed likely it would be the other way around.

It became one of those pubs where everyone knew your name (or at the very least, alcohol-fuddled, tried to remember it) and a place in its heyday that always felt welcoming and snug. That wasn’t the case when two friends of mine became managers.. the pub was tired, it looked pretty desolate on most week nights, the only highlight (read: more than five people drinking) being Thursday – quiz night. But Geoff and Nicci gradually took charge: the decor was spruced up, the drinks range sorted, and attendance picked up.

Problem: the Thursday quiz became the least popular night of the week. The Cobbler’s Thumb just wasn’t the kind of place that suited the silence necessary for a serious pub quiz with a martinet of a quiz master. It needed a buzz.

A quick consultation with Geoff and I was a DJ (hey, wasn’t everybody in Brighton in those days?), supplanting the quiz. By plugging my laptop into the pub sound system, I found my feet and aimed to please with an array of classic sounds: punk, reggae, ska, Northern Soul, 60s, glam rock, Stax, rockabilly, old school hip hop.. things which just seemed to feel right stuck together on a playlist.

I started out with around 400 songs, so requests for tunes often had to be politely negotiated. “I don’t have that.. how about this?”. But I listened and learned, and would be back the following week with additions to the collection, often whole swathes of MP3s brought in by the regulars for me to play.

Little traditions sprung up.. Andy’s punk “Triple Play”, and always some Hank Williams to end the evening (unless we all got locked in, of course). We played John Peel’s All Time Festive Fifty when the great man passed away. We played a couple of great all-dayers with fans of Brighton and Hove Albion and Leicester City contributing to charity.

What could be better than playing music for your friends and having a couple of beers whilst doing it? Because they were my friends.. not staff, not punters, not clientele, for god’s sake.. just regular folks out for a good time, ones you were very happy to see and who made it plain they were happy to see you.  The best kind of people. Those Thursday nights were very special to me.

Here’s a Spotify playlist in memoriam. Good times.

Life Old Music

I Don’t Want To Go To Chelsea. Oh, Wait.. looks like fun.

Part 2 here.