Wednesday, 24 September 2008

LEP Article

Apparently, I got a little article in yesterday's 'Lancashire Evening Post'. Haven't got a copy of the paper myself, but since I'm trying to keep an archive of any little press clippings, here's a scan from their website for anyone who may have missed it:

Having never done a signing before, i really have no idea what to expect, but it could definitely be interesting. In other news, I'm playing a verylastminute gig in lancaster tonight. I would put some details up here, but I don't have any. I believe it might be happening in its own spacial dimension, beyond the limits of some alternate universe where time ceases to exist. If you can find me there, feel free to come along...

Meanwhile, the writing of Book 2 is gathering steam, and we did a little protesting outside the Labour Conference in Manchester this weekend:

Until next time...

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Marillion: 'Happiness is the Road' Review

I had another music related blog planned for tonight, following on from yesterday’s piece about Mansun’s ‘Six’. Then, late last night, I unexpectedly ended up with a copy of the new Marillion album – ‘Happiness is the Road’ – so have decided to share a few thoughts about that instead.

There’s so much going on in this album that it would be easy to write a lengthy full review, but I’ve only given it a few spins and I think it’s going to take a lot more plays to do the album any justice, so I’ll keep things brief here. In many ways, I can see certain similarities between disk one – ‘Essence’ – and ‘Six’, especially in terms of how each album has a coherence running through. Lyrically, however, we’re in much less dark territory here, whilst the overall sound is probably more reminiscent latter day Talk Talk.

Things get underway with the chilled out ‘Dreamy Street’, before segueing into the sumptuous ‘This Train is My Life’. With its excellently concise Steve Rothery Guitar solo, philosophical lyrics and atmospheric rising sound; the track has all the ingredients of classic Marillion. Next track, ‘Essence’, has a more experimental feel to it, veering between stripped down passages of lush keyboards and an ever growing wall of sound. Moments in the track recall the Beach Boys’ ‘God Only Knows’, but far from being derivative, the album’s first disk has a unique feel all of its own as the band work contemporary arrangements and new instrumentation into their signature sound to great success. CD one’s highlight comes in the form of ‘Happiness is the Road’, a sprawling epic which builds from an ambient jam into a huge epic.

The second CD – ‘The Hard Shoulder’ – has quite a different sound to it, with rockier moments, and jazz influences in the rhythm sections of tracks like ‘Cornfly’ and ‘Planet Marzipan’. A few minutes in, the former even has something of a prog rock keyboard solo amid the mostly fast paced rock. The more atmospheric sections of this track recall moments of ‘Afraid of Sunlight’, as does the sprawling epic, ‘Asylum Satellite #1’. Despite nods back to their past, however, the band manage to keep things fresh and modern. The beautiful ‘Older Than Me’ wouldn’t sound out of place on a Jeff Buckley or Elbow record. Other highlights here include modern classics ‘Whatever is Wrong with You?’ and ‘Real Tears for Sale’, putting in a very welcome appearance after a great reception from fans on the last tour.

This is one of those albums, like ‘Marbles’, which has so many complex layers that it’s probably going to be a while before I can fully appreciate its greatness and intricacy, but, after 3 listens, it’s made a damn fine first impression.

I’m going to try and ban myself from listening to it a fourth time, until I have the actual CD in my hands now, so I can admire the artwork and appreciate it as a whole. If anyone can think of any fitting deterrents, in the form of punishments or forfeits, in case I find it too hard to resist, please leave your suggestions in the form of comments…

Monday, 8 September 2008


Although it probably looks as though I haven’t written anything on this blog for quite a long time, August technically doesn’t count; in which case it’s only a couple of weeks. That’s alright then, isn’t it? The truth is, I’ve spent most of the last month working full-time and there haven’t really been many exciting things to tell. That aside, we took a short trip to Paris and I turned 22. The book’s also just passed the 100 mark in sales, so I’m on the celebratory red wine as I write this. You’d think I’d have spent a little more on it than £2.99 really…

As I write this, I can say with total certainty that I’m doing exactly the same thing I was this time a whole decade ago: listening to Mansun’s brilliant ‘Six’ LP.

No; my memory isn’t usually that accurate, but today one of my all time favourite albums celebrates its 10th anniversary. When I got the email about this a few weeks back, I did a bit of a double take. Misplacing August is one thing, but blinking long enough to miss a decade is something else altogether! This time back in 1998, I’d recently turned 12 and just started my second year at high school. I can clearly remember that feeling of sitting there, through another tedious geography class, eager to dash to Woolies and get my hands on this record. It’d taken me ages to save up for, but albums always used to feel that little bit more special when you'd spent weeks putting aside your pocket money for them. This one was particularly special, although I must admit to being pretty taken aback when I got back to my old home (3 Ansbro Avenue in those days), made a cup of tea and stuck it on the stereo.

Even today, it’s true to say that ‘Six’ is a baffling album; full of lengthy songs, darkly eccentric humour, multi-part epics, obscure idiosyncrasies, 'teapot solos' (to quote one magazine review a few years later) and the inspired addition of Tom Baker’s dulcet tones on the bizarre interlude. I quickly grew to love this brilliant, if downright weird, album and still count it among my favourites to this day (more on that one very soon). It’s also been the soundtrack to a lot of memories, both good and bad, and listening to it nowadays makes me realise just what a chaotic 10 years it’s been. It wasn’t long after this album’s release that I got ill, and whilst it has obvious associations with that particularly dark period, it reminds me of so much good stuff too: going to see the band live on the tour (the poster still hangs on my wall), crammed into Blackburn’s ‘King Georges Hall’, full of sweat and a heavy cloud of questionable substance. I’m sure my mum remembers that one too! This album was partly responsible for me meeting my closest friend (and definitely responsible for me rifling through his collection of ‘Prisoner’ videos.) It became as much a soundtrack to my years at high school as the Levellers did later on, and can probably be levelled with the charge of helping me discover Pink Floyd and progressive rock. Since then; I’ve been to college, visited so many amazing places, had several shit jobs, been to gigs, played gigs, made friends, lost friends, published my first book, grown my hair only to chop the lot off again and now here I am. God knows where the hell I’ll be 10 years from now, but I wouldn’t bet on it being where I expect. Probably quite the opposite, in fact. Even then, I can’t say for sure whether the world will be ready for the inspired madness of ‘Six’.

To be continued…

Saturday, 26 July 2008

This Week: Dead Guitarists, David Tennant, Shakespeare, Stratford and Gordon Brown

It’s been an odd kind of week. On Monday, whilst I was in Manchester, I went over to see Gunter Von Hagen’s ‘Bodyworlds’ exhibition. Now, paying ten quid to go and stand in an old warehouse full of dead bodies may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there was something amazing about it all. It really makes you realise what an incredible thing the human body is, and how scientifically sophisticated we are; like an incredibly well built machine. It also brings you face to face with your own mortality, which could be seen as an unsettling experience if not thought provoking.

As a guitar player, I found this chap particularly amazing:

Keith Richards if he gave up the drink?

Later on, I went down to Stratford to go and watch the opening night of ‘Hamlet’.

Discovering that parts of Birmingham are actually pretty nice wasn’t the strangest element of the day. Indeed, that whole evening felt kind of surreal. When I was stood at the bar, I heard a couple of guys talking about having just seen Gordon Brown: I turned round and saw him heading off, unhindered, to sit in the circle. The play itself began eerily, and managed to keep up a high level of suspense throughout, thanks to the high energy and fantastic performances of the acting company. As an avid fan of both Shakespeare and ‘Doctor Who’, I was interested to see how David Tennant would come across on stage, and the night only served to confirm my feelings about what a brilliant actor he is. Supported well by such a strong cast, Tennant brought an unpredictable spontaneity to the play which added a whole new dimension. Furthermore, the use of lighting and props lent a vividly realistic tone to the whole production.

Afterwards, hundreds of people lurked by the stage door to try and get the actors’ signatures. When David Tennant appeared, the wonderful Patrick Stewart by his side, he was completely swamped by people. Although I was unsuccessful in getting any actors to sign my programme, I did manage to slip Tennant a copy of my book. In the ‘Cox’s Yard’ bar afterwards, I was thinking about how weird it must be to have people hounding you everywhere you go. Although the attention would be flattering, it must be hard not to be able to go shopping or drink in a pub with any anonymity. I also noticed that whilst the Prime Minster had attracted relatively little attention earlier on, Tennant had a huge audience. I was glad to see that, in their privileging of The Doctor over the Prime Minister, the country have their priorities right!

With being at home very little this week, I haven’t had a great deal of time to work on book promotion, but I have been writing for the next one. I’ll leave you with a poem I wrote last week, whilst listening to a news report on the radio…

The English Executioners

They marched on through the streets
with bayonets and sharpened teeth:
the English executioners,
with ill intent, lurk in the trees.
Attack from every side
then cordon off the land and sea,
taking slaves and soldiers strong
whilst shooting dead the infirm weak.

Seize what you want – this is the hunt –
the western way, so follow me
in spreading pestilence,
death, famine, pain, war and disease.
If they’re not human – just collateral –
targets lost to righteous hands;
why do they bleed like you and me
when crimson stains the murky sands?

And when they’re dead, trading knife for axe,
you scour the earth of plants and trees,
constructing brand new colonies
for another fallen century.
If this injustice feels familiar –
watching the news as history repeats,
we’ve seen the empire’s fall and rise:
a bureaucratic war machine.

This world is run by western rule
and we know how to cheat.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Press Cutting from Local Rag

Thursday, 10 July 2008

'Big Blue Ball' (Real World Records): Review

At last – after years of recording, post-production, and a huge amount of mixing – comes ‘Big Blue Ball’; the fruit of 3 Real World recording weeks way back in the mid 90s. The spontaneity of the initial recordings and snail-pace gestation period of this album suggested that it could either be a huge success or an unmitigated disaster. If the project started off as a kind of ‘recording experiment’, would it work? Would material recorded over a decade ago stand the test of time amid the modern musical climate? I’m glad to say that, for the most part, ‘Big Blue Ball’ has been worth the wait. In many ways, it almost comes as something of a relief to say that. The release of any Peter Gabriel-related material nowadays is infrequent at best, and the level of anticipation which surrounds it is always huge amongst his dedicated fanbase.

To call this a Peter Gabriel record, however, is misleading. Whilst Gabriel, along with ex-Waterboy Karl Wallinger, undoubtedly provided the creative impetus here, this is as much a collaborative project as last year’s ‘Imagined Village’. Furthermore, whilst this album will almost certainly draw comparisons to Gabriel’s ‘Ovo’, there is probably a greater balance of Eastern and Western musical influence and input here than ever before. Those expecting a Gabriel solo album, as I know some were, may be disappointed by this but the sheer diversity of sound and talent on display here is the album’s greatest strength.

I’m not going to look at each track in depth, as this has been done elsewhere. I would, however, like to talk about several personal highlights, the first of which is the Gabriel-led opener ‘Whole Thing’ (which will already be familiar to those who watched last year’s ‘Long Way Down’). ‘Shadow’ blends a distinctly African groove with some fine flamenco guitar playing to great success. I was expecting to like the tracks most heavily featuring Gabriel the most, but ‘Atlus Silva’ probably has to be my personal favourite. The song sets Joseph Arthur’s incredible voice against a musical backdrop combining the wistful melancholy of Irish folk music with driving ambient soundscapes and a slow Eastern rhythm.

Of course, the album isn’t without its faults. Its staggered release around the world seems to be a strange way of working for people as pioneering as Gabriel and the Real World Records team. Furthermore, the project’s original intention of being representative of many different styles, cultures and eras is somewhat blighted by its late release. Occasionally it does seem to be a little out of sync with 21st century musical developments. Considering the sheer volume of work it took for this project to make it off the ground in the first place, however, it’s an overall impressive feat and a worthy addition to the Real World records repertoire.


‘Big Blue Ball’ is released in the UK on July 28th 2008

Friday, 4 July 2008

Frost*: Live in Manchester

There was a looming sense of chaos on the way to this evening’s Frost* gig. My train was diverted and took some weird route, my friend was stuck in traffic (as were, apparently, half the band) and a huge queue of people had built up by the time I arrived at the venue. On my mission to find the end of that extensive queue, a car pulled up in the street and out hopped Andy Edwards; late, and with only a minute to spare before the set. I was amazed at how remarkably chilled out he seemed to be under the circumstances. I directed him to the entrance and ran back to take my place in line, which wended its (disconcertingly long) way along Oxford Road’s most trendy, studenty district. By the time I got to the back of the queue, I could already hear the set starting, with the unmistakable pulsing bass of ‘Experiments in Mass Appeal’ rattling through the walls. I arrived halfway through the song, and, with little time to stand still, got the call from my friend, who’d just shown up. When I got back up from meeting him, and the band launched into fantastically Muse-like new track ‘Pocket Sun’, it suddenly dawned on me that someone was missing: John Mitchell.

If any other band were missing such a key part, I would have expected their performance to be weak, but this is Frost*. True praise must go to recent addition Declan Burke, who put in a blinding performance with his improvised guitar solos. I was also blown away by Jem’s solo rendition of the beautiful ‘Raining in My Heart’. One thing that also stood out to me in the live setting was John Jowitt’s incredible bass work, which could have rivalled Tony Levin. JJ really comes into his own, and I was as impressed with his skill and prowess as I was by Andy’s mind blowing percussive skills. Aside from the great music, and incredible technical skill, something that sets Frost* apart from so many of their contemporaries is their obvious warmth, sense of humour and banter with the crowds. I would have expected the band to show the strain, playing the entire set without their lead guitarist, but they were light-hearted and enthusiastic as ever, still managing to remain professional and putting in a great set. They played as though they were the headline act, and, in my opinion, far surpassed ‘Spock’s Beard’. The new CD, on sale at the merchandise stall and featuring brand new tracks, promises great things. If these samples from new album ‘Experiments in Mass Appeal’ are anything to go by, the band should be headlining their own tour very soon.

…let’s just hope that John Mitchell doesn’t get gridlocked on the M6 next time!

Set List:
Experiments in Mass Appeal
Pocket Sun
Raining in My Heart
The Other Me

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Evening All...

A lot of people had been asking me recently why it was that the website for my book was down. It recently came to light that the website was seeing other servers on the side and we have, for the time being, gone our separate ways; citing 'irrevocable differences'. Thankfully, this finally gave me a vital boot up the arse to tackle one of the things that had been on the lengthy 'to do list' since the release of my book: start a blog.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with me, I'm an author in my early 20s who recently released my first book; a self-published collection of poetry called 'Sunrise and Shorelines: 2001 - 2008'. We held a very successful book launch 6 weeks ago, and it has been selling pretty steadily since then (partly thanks to a modest distribution deal meaning that the book is available through retailers like Amazon in several countries, and partly through the generosity and kind help I've had from friends, family and supporters). Only last night I sent a message round several sites on the web, asking for people to help me by contributing to a kind of online 'street team', and have been overwhelmed by the number of people who got in touch to offer their help. I'd like to offer my sincerest thanks to anyone who's got in touch so far: you guys are fantastic!

Whilst the book is obviously a big focus right now - and this blog will no doubt provide an invaluable source for posting updates and features - I won't just be writing about book-related stuff. For starters, I don't just write poetry. I've also spent a long time writing prose fiction, some of which will hopefully see the light of the day in the not too distant future. I also enjoy music, travelling, going to gigs and doing all kinds of weird and wonderful things. Therefore, expect imminent reviews, photo diaries, travelogues, incoherent drunken rants and the kitchen sink all to be thrown in here as I go along. I'd also like to have a go at archiving some previous stuff. Some of you may know about the charity walks I've done in the past; hopefully when I've got a minute I'll be uploading some old photographs from those, just in case I ever want to reminisce about my recently chopped off long hair!

Thanks again to all those who have supported me so far with the book. Watch this space for news, bulletins and pictures; all coming soon...