Sunday, 6 December 2020

2020: A Year In...Albums

 Normally around this time of year, I would be preparing to write a blog about my favourite gigs of the year. Unfortunately, due to the world being on fire, and gigs (as we knew them) not happening properly in this country since March, I was able to write that blog in April. As I sit here now, that post doesn't need updating. I went to 1 socially distant gig between that blog being posted and me writing this - a test event at the Kings Theatre in Southsea (the band playing were a covers band called The Spoils). I really enjoyed that gig, but unfortunately no others have followed. As a result, I'm not reposting that blog with this socially distant gig added. It looked likely that I might be at one more, which may have caused me to appraise. As it happens, it got cancelled (due to restrictions placed on venues since the end of lockdown). Looking at my diary for 2021 as it currently stands, my next gig is in due to be April 2021 (Idles at the Guildhall in Portsmouth, which they are doing in support of Pie and Vinyl) - as it stands I would be surprised if that goes ahead (unless they have sold enough tickets for it to be a socially distant affair I guess). My diary gets a bit busier, gig wise, after that but I'm not getting overly excited about it until there is some sign these will go ahead. 

Working from home, as I have been doing since March 23rd (which feels like a lifetime ago), has enabled me to listen to a lot more music than I normally would. The only measuring stick for how much music I listened to in a year would be, which itself isn't an entirely accurate reflection of how much music I've listened to for a couple of years before this one, as scrobbling between iTunes and just stopped for reasons I couldn't figure out. The service claims I listened to just shy of 2,800 songs in 2019, which could be true, but I think it was a lot higher (listening on my iPod or iPhone wasn't recorded all the time, if memory serves). I've looked at what has been recorded this year (which is pretty accurate as all my listening has been, for my sins, via Spotify) and in July I listened to just over 2,000 songs. Every full month I've worked from home, I've listened to over 1,000 songs a month (with most being over 1,500). This blog isn't about my page however, it is about some of the albums that have been released this year that I've either played a lot, or ones I've liked and will definitely be going back to. They aren't listed in any sort of order, but the first two that I'll be talking about are by far the albums I've listened to the most this year. 

Code Orange - Underneath

Image credit - Pitchfork

I've had a mixed past with Code Orange, going from not liking them to becoming a fan. The release of Forever helped that, but this album fully confirmed me as a fan of theirs from listen 1. It was one of those albums that I listened to and immediately knew how good it was. I've gone back to it repeatedly this year and it is incredible. It also bucks a personal trend for me, as previously I've spoken about not liking intro tracks, or not understanding the point of them (Slipknot, I'm looking at you). (deeperthanbefore) is the perfect intro track to this album - if this album was a rollercoaster, this would be playing on the first climb before you got shot into the ride proper, but builds up the anticipation for something huge, which Swallowing the Rabbit Whole more than delivers upon. I'm looking back over the track list now to see if I can pick out a favourite song and have decided against - because it changes all the time! 

Run The Jewels - RTJ4. 

Image credit - Pitchfork

I remember when I saw Run The Jewels live at All Points East last year, I went only really knowing 2 or 3 of their songs and thinking they were ace - the main one being Close Your Eyes (and Count To Fuck). After the gig, I went back to Run The Jewels 3 and thought it was great. I still mainly listened to Close Your Eyes, but I had a greater appreciation for them. When RTJ4 came out, the world was reacting to the murder of George Floyd (Killer Mike from Run The Jewels gave an impassioned, powerful speech after the killing as well) and some of the lyrics made people question if it was written in light of that. The fact it was written some time before, referencing previous similar events which were then happening again makes the words even more powerful - Walking in the Snow sticks out in my mind immediately here (the live performance of this during Holy Calamavote was something else). Even without the context of the release, RTJ4 is a superb album. Similar to Underneath, so many of the songs on this album could be my favourite song on the album. This album being as good as it is was a big selling point for me buying a ticket for Riot Fest in Chicago next year. Sitting here now, I find myself thinking it is unlikely it will go ahead (or that I'll be unable to go) - but I have a ticket and if I am able to go, Run The Jewels will absolutely be at the top of the list of bands I have to see (with My Chemical Romance and Pixies in 2nd and 3rd respectively). For what it is worth, if we're in a place where the festival can go ahead, the only reason I can't see myself attending is if I have to self-isolate after arriving in Chicago - I'm going to be there for a week, so if I have to stay in for 2 weeks (hypothetically) then I won't be able to go to the festival. Anyway, this isn't about RTJ4 anymore so I will move on. Belter of an album though! 

Idles - Ultra Mono

Image credit - Bandcamp

Since the release of Joy as an Act of Resistance, I have firmly become an Idles fan. I saw them live the same day as Run The Jewels in London (what a day that was) and have wanted to see them live again ever since (I've got tickets to see them twice in 2021, and am considering getting a ticket to see Pearl Jam where they are currently the main support). I really like this album (I'm not sure if this or Brutalism is my second favourite Idles album) and I think I will grow to like it more the more I listen to it. I'm going to sound like a bit of a broken record, but I'm not able to say which is my favourite song on the album because there are so many to choose from. I'm very much looking forward to seeing some of these songs live (well, I'm looking forward to seeing any song live, but hopefully you get my point). This album is great. I'm not going to do a top 20 list or owt (probably), but I think this would round out the top 3 with the first two albums I've spoken about, more than likely. 

Beans On Toast - Knee Deep In Nostalgia/The Unforeseeable Future

Image credit - IPA Music

Am I cheating by putting two albums in one entry? Maybe. Does it matter? Probably not. Anyway, these are the newest releases on this list (released just 5 days ago as I type these very words). As it happens, I hadn't got round to actually listening to Beans on Toast until this year. Setlist FM tells me I could have seen him twice previously (once supporting Frank Turner at the Guildhall and once at Victorious Festival). Anyway, I listened to his entire discography (well, albums anyway) earlier this year and really enjoyed a fair bit of what I heard. I heard about these two albums on a live stream he did and was looking forward to them. I can report they are both ace! The MVP of Knee Deep is The Village Disco. I haven't decided what my favourite song from The Unforeseeable Future is yet, but I like both albums. 

Loathe - I Let It In and It Took Everything

Image credit - Pitchfork

I saw Loathe support Employed to Serve in London and was immediately sold on them. I was excited about the album coming out and wasn't let down at all - it is brilliant. I saw them on their headline tour supporting the album, which I've written about in the Gigs of the Year blog linked above. I won't retell the story of why I didn't overly enjoy that gig (not Loathe's fault at all though!). I didn't revisit the album for a little while during this year, but did so when out on a government mandated walk during lock-down and it blew me away all over again. I very much want to see them live again. 

Fiona Apple - Fetch The Bolt Cutters

Image credit - Pitchfork

I listen to a podcast called Riot Act, on which they review albums (amongst other things, but that is the main part of the show). I recall them saying they were going to talk about this album due to the response it had got. My immediate thought was of her song 'Criminal' and wondering if it would be similar to that song. It very much isn't, by the way. The response to this album has been pretty much universal praise - at the time of Riot Act review, it had a metacritic score of 100. I've just checked and that has tumbled to a score of 98. However, music taste is subjective, so I went in with an open mind. I find it hard to describe why I like it as much as I do, but I really do. 

Deftones - Ohms

Image credit - Pitchfork

I gave Deftones a proper listen a few years ago, wondering if my opinion on them had changed with time (I wasn't a fan after seeing them at Download 2006, and thought I enjoyed their Portsmouth headline show more than that, it didn't win me  over really). That proper listen made me realise I like them a lot more than I thought I did. I did another one of these play-through's while working from home, which was great as well. Ohms however is the first album of theirs that I've listened to when it was new and it blew me away. When all is said and done, I don't think this will be considered their best album, but it is up there for me, and that is saying something considering how long they have been a band. Not sure what the MVP is for this one, but the album is very good all the way through. 

Trivium - What The Dead Men Say

Image credit - Metacritic

It has actually been a while since I've listened to this album, but it is really good. I liked their last release before this one, The Sin and The Sentence, so I was looking forward to this but, honestly, had low expectations. Trivium have had a patchy history with some really great albums and some...less than great albums (I'm looking at you Silence In The Snow). I am pleased to report that I really like this album. I recall discussions of them possibly headlining Download Festival in years gone by, and while I think that is unlikely now, I think this album is good enough to hopefully get them some new fans - I'd love to see them headline a big bill in Wembley Arena touring this album. MVP wise, the title track or Catastrophist for me. 

Haggard Cat - Common Sense Holiday

Image credit - Bandcamp

I saw Haggard Cat supporting InMe earlier this year and they were excellent. They were due to tour in support of this album coming out but the global bastard being the bastard it is, that didn't happen. I would have got a ticket to see them in Guildford had it gone ahead. Anyway, I really liked Challenger, but this is quite a bit better in my opinion, which is good news. 

Biffy Clyro - A Celebration of Endings

Image credit - Metacritic

This album made me completely reappraise my opinion of Biffy Clyro. First things first, this album is excellent. However, my enjoying the album so much made me want to go back and revisit some of their back catalogue to see if I had dismissed it without much thought. On reflection, I still don't really like Ellipsis too much, but I do like Opposites a lot more than I thought I did. And, y'know, Puzzle and Only Revolutions are both incredible. I doubt I would have revisited any of these albums without A Celebration of Endings. So that is cool. As for an MVP - well it is Cop Syrup. There are other good songs on this album but my word, that one is remarkable. 

Svalbard - When I Die, Will I Get Better?

Image credit - Bandcamp

I am relatively new to Svalbard, but listened back to their discography and really liked what I heard, with It's Hard To Have Hope (their then latest release) being my favourite. When I Die, Will I Get Better? has comfortably replaced it as my favourite, but they are both ace albums. Right now, Open Wound is my favourite, but this could change.

Bruce Springsteen - A Letter To You

Image credit - Clash Music

The Boss has released a lot of albums. A lot. I listened to a whole bunch of them earlier this year in the run up to this coming out, and this one is really good. I really like this. Certainly in the conversation of whether it is one of his best since getting back with the E Street Band for me. Another one of those albums with multiple contenders for the MVP slot. Similar to Ohms, it is very good all the way through. 

Marilyn Manson - WE ARE CHAOS

Image credit - Wikipedia

Speaking of a musician with a patchy back catalogue (as I did earlier with Trivium), Manson has released some genuine metal classics and...a few albums now that are a bit bum. There are a number of albums he has released which I would struggle to pull a good EP out of. Manson albums are usually long, too long in some cases. This album is shorter than most of his previous releases and I think it is better for it. It is his best album since The Golden Age of Grotesque - now I appreciate that isn't the highest of bars, but it clears it by some way. If he could follow this up with a good live performance then happy days! This coming out did make me go back to his discography and give it another listen, and yeah some of those bum albums were a slog but there are a few gems in there. This album has a lot of very good songs on it. 

Sharptooth - Transitional Forms

Image credit - Bandcamp

This album is just shy of 30 minutes, and left me wanting more from this band. The MVP for me is the opening track Say Nothing (In the Absence of Content) with a mosh call that makes me smile whenever I hear it. Brilliant stuff. 

Palm Reader - Sleepless

Image credit - Distorted Sound

Palm Reader supported Employed to Serve at the last gig I went to this year. I also saw them supporting Cancer Bats in 2016 and I have enjoyed them both times. Braille was their last release before this one, which I really liked. Sleepless though just sounds huge. If there is any justice, this will get heard by a lot of people. This is a view formed as well after very few listens in the grand scheme of things. I want to listen to it more, and will do so. 

That is where I am going to leave it for now, but there have been lots of great albums released this year, including some more that I need to go back to (for example, I know the new Napalm Death album is excellent because of course it is. However, I have only listened to it once I think, maybe twice). I think I'll be working at home for a while yet so there is a chance to do this. This has been a great year for music though, and the albums above are just some of those I've been listening to this year. 

As it happens, the albums I listened to when writing this all feature in this blog, they are the two new Beans on Toast albums, Idles Ultra Mono and Marilyn Manson We Are Chaos. Lovely.

(p.s - I'm not smart enough to know why the line spacing varies throughout this. It was originally written on a google doc where it was all the same. It remains a mystery)

Thursday, 24 September 2020

The Pyramids Plaza: Memories of a Venue

There was a story in yesterday's local (to me) newspaper regarding a local swimming pool/fitness centre called The Pyramids. The reason for the story is that it is going to get a major refurbish to turn it into a leisure centre which has a "state-of-the-art gym" alongside a trampoline and soft play park. This refurbishment will mean that there will no longer be a swimming pool there, which to me seems short sighted. However, the story has one throwaway sentence which has bummed me out, which is that the gig venue that is there will become part of the gym, thus meaning (one assumes) no more gig venue. Portsmouth isn't exactly blessed with gig venues, and losing this one will be a significant blow to live music in the city (if indeed, live music as we used to know it returns in any real way). Just thinking of Portsmouth as it is now, I don't see where a replacement 800-1000 standing capacity venue could go. 

The venue was never one of my favourites (a view seemingly shared with others, looking at the comments on the Wedgewood Rooms Facebook page post about the story), but I am still sad to see it go. Pre-pandemic (or rather, just before lock down), I had my eye on 3 gigs there in quick succession, The Subways, Ash and Stiff Little Fingers. All 3 got postponed to this month, and subsequently pushed back again to 2021 (Ash and SLF March 2021, The Subways October 2021). Does this mean they won't go ahead? One has to assume they will either be cancelled or moved. I'll keep an eye on them still as I'd like to go to them all still. 

I went over my old gig tickets and according to my records, I've been to 15 gigs there. I'm sure there are several I didn't go to for a number of reasons (money, not getting round to buying a ticket etc) but there was never a case where I didn't go to a gig there because it was at the Pyramids (or if there was, I have chosen to forget it!). What I thought I would do with this post is take a walk down memory lane and see what I can remember. 

Fear Factory - April 2006. This was the first gig I went to under my own steam (I had been to gigs with my parents before, but not many and I would imagine none were my choice of headline act). I recall buying tickets with a mate and there being rumours that the gig was moved to a different night, so the mate I bought tickets with ended up not going and told me to give the ticket away to someone else (because he was convinced the gig wasn't happening, if memory serves). That aside, I recall being quite pissed when I went in for this gig (rounds of a pint of fosters and a shot of tequila will make a fool of anyone). A quick bit of research has led me to believe I missed the opening band and don't recall much of Breed 77 when I got in (to the point that for some time after thinking I had seen a different band). Fear Factory were, from what I remember, pretty good. At the time I was a regular at a club night called Delight which regularly played one of their songs (Linchpin) so when they played it, I jumped in the pit and had a lovely time. 

Lacuna Coil - October 2006. I saw this band at Download 2006, and I assume that is what sold me a ticket to see them when they played the Pyramids later that year (thus, the Download set did its job). I recall very much enjoying this gig, including their wonderful cover of Enjoy The Silence. This gig still occasionally comes up in conversation with one of the people I went to it with, because the support band were a band called Poisonblack. None of us enjoyed them so we decided to get a drink and stand towards the back. At the back was someone sat on the floor, leaning against a wall, reading a the dark. You have to really not enjoy a band to properly strain your eyes to read a book rather than pay them any attention (he says, knowing he has avoided seeing support bands by going outside to smoke). 

Reel Big Fish - March 2008. My only memories of this gig are that Reel Big Fish are incredibly fun live (a fact I was reminded of when seeing them live last year at Download 2019) and this gig was unbelievably hot. It was one of those where you get so hot in the gig, then walk out into the winter night and cool down rapidly! 

Rancid - November 2008. This gig has taken a fond place in my memory as I really want to see Rancid live again, but the chance has yet to materialise (in a way I can afford at least - they supported Green Day at Hyde Park at a gig I sadly couldn't justify buying a ticket for). I only knew a handful of Rancid songs going in - I remember being impressed/amused at how short some of their songs were. At one point, I went to get a beer while they were on, and they played at least 4 songs while I was queuing for a beer - and I wasn't gone long!

Apocalyptica - December 2008. My only memory of this gig was leaving and being really happy with how many of their Metallica covers they played. They played I'm Not Jesus as well, but didn't have Corey Taylor on tour with them to sing it, which I seem to recall at the time being disappointed about but on reflection...I mean could you imagine?! 

Soulfly - February 2009. I've never been one to get right down the front at gigs, normally because I'm worried about my glasses breaking. However, I did at this gig and for the first 3-4 songs it was hectic down there. I was so close to the front at one point, Max Cavalera started throwing water from his bottle at people and I got a faceful of it! The pit started to get a bit hectic for my glasses fearing mind and I headed slightly further back. Good fun though. 

Black Stone Cherry - October 2009. This gig was meant to be at the Guildhall. I saw Black Stone Cherry at the Wedgewood Rooms in 2007, and decided to give this one a miss because I wasn't hot on their second album, which they were touring (I'm still not, really). However, the gig got downgraded from Guildhall to Pyramids and I decided that was enough to sell me a ticket. I'm not sure now why that was enough, but this is a Pyramids memory blog, so I'll just leave it at that! Black Stone Cherry were good live, because they always are. This was one of the gigs I went to when BSC were on their way towards becoming a bonafide arena act in this country. 

The Answer - December 2009. I remember giving one of my mates shit for years for liking The Answer, and for the life of me I cannot remember why - there was no malice behind it, but I remember it happening. Turned out when I listened to them properly, I also liked them. Weird that. Anyway, I must confess not remembering too much of this gig. 

Trivium - March 2010. I saw Trivium 3 years prior at the Guildhall and they smashed it (I still regret not getting in earlier to see all the bands on the bill that day. You win again, booze). I remember seeing this getting announced and wanting to go because the last gig I had been to where Trivium were at (Black Crusade tour), they were fine...and that is it. I wanted to go because I hoped they would be ace...and they were. Chimaira in support as well, and they were also good. 

Billy Talent - November 2012. Bit of a break between gigs at the venue this time. Billy Talent were superb live. Went with a group of mates and we were close to the front, but slightly off to the side. This was a really good gig, which if you have seen Billy Talent live won't come as a surprise. I wore a hoodie which had the Ginger Wildheart 555% cassette artwork on it. This is relevant only because it feeds into the next story. 

Opeth - November 2012. This gig was the day after the Billy Talent one, and one of those times where I showed my varied tastes in music (especially at this point because Opeth hadn't gone entirely prog at this point). The same security team were working the doors as the night before and I was again wearing my 555% cassette hoodie, which was clocked by the security team, one of who expressed their surprise that someone from the Billy Talent gig was also a punter at the Opeth gig. I suspect there weren't many who bought a ticket for both. As for the gig itself, I don't remember much about it, sorry Opeth! I recall being nonplussed when I saw them twice at festivals in 2008, but really enjoyed them when they were the main support for Dream Theater at Wembley in 2009. That is probably what sold me a ticket...I can't remember though so it'll do!  

Airbourne - November 2013. Similar to Trivium, I saw this band play the Guildhall and have a superb gig there. Them in a smaller room was a no-brainer (same again when they played the Wedge). I think this was the loudest gig I ever went to at the Pyramids. I recall The Treatment supporting them and they were so loud it hurt. Airbourne weren't exactly quieter either. Lovely. 

Volbeat - November 2014. Volbeat owed me a Portsmouth show after cancelling their Wedgewood Rooms show in 2010, and they finally came back to town and played the Pyramids. 2 years prior, I had watched them headline Wacken, and the year after that I saw them play to a possibly not even half full Brixton Academy (I could talk about that at length but not the time). Anyhow, they announced this tour with Hatebreed in support (lovely) and it was bloody great. Volbeat are incredible live - I would probably go so far to say this is my favourite gig I saw there. They had Barney from Napalm Death come out to do Evelyn as well, which I loved. I've seen him do that quite a few times now, which is ace. 

Stiff Little Fingers - March 2019. Huge gap in gigs - not sure why now in all honesty. This one almost didn't happen, because I got close to South Parade Pier and realised my ticket had fallen out my pocket. Dejected, I started the walk home, annoyed with myself that this had happened. I was quite close to home, walking along the seafront when I saw off in the distance a folded up piece of paper. I walked over and picked it up, hoping it was my ticket...and it was. So I then hurried back to the venue to actually go. Thankfully for me, Stiff Little Fingers were really good and justified the faff it ended up being just getting to the gig. I am glad to have seen them live as it was one I saw scheduled regularly at the Pyramids and never getting a ticket, despite wanting to. 

Bury Tomorrow - December 2019. The final (perhaps) gig I will go to at the Pyramids. Bury Tomorrow supported by a band I can't remember who were fine, but more importantly, also supported by Employed to Serve, who I bloody love. I was always going to enjoy this gig with Employed to Serve on the just so happens that Bury Tomorrow playing their then latest album Black Flame (a banger, by the way) in full was lovely. A good night was had. If it is the last time I'll go there for a gig, it was a good way to go out. 

And that, as they say, is that. As I said up top. I'll miss the Pyramids. It wasn't my favourite venue, certainly. But I saw some great bands there, and it is a shame if it isn't replaced by anything similar because it means there is a pretty sizey gap in Portsmouth for a venue for bands that are too big to play the Wedge, but too small to play the Guildhall. This means they won't come to Portsmouth, which is just a shame. Of course, this is somewhat dependant on there being a live music industry post-Covid. I am rapidly losing faith in this being the case, particularly today with an economic statement from the Chancellor that did little to nothing to support the industry. It would be an absolute tragedy if we emerge from this pandemic to find there is no live music industry on the other side. 

Farewell Pyramids, if this is goodbye. You will be missed. 

Friday, 4 September 2020

A (Socially Distant) Night At The Theatre

Last weekend, I went to the first gig I’ve been to since Friday 6th March this year. I wrote in my last post that “I am all but certain I won’t be going to a gig in the conventional sense for the rest of the year”. I wrote that before it was confirmed I was going to this socially distant test event, but I had requested tickets for it at that point. It was confirmed shortly after posting that I was on the list (if you’re not on the list, you’re not getting in etc…slightly niche reference). Even with that in mind, I wouldn’t call this a gig in the conventional sense. This gig as said was a socially distant, all seated test event at the Kings Theatre in Southsea, Portsmouth. From what I gathered, the staff had been trained in how to cope with events running under new socially distant guidelines, but with no crowd in. This event (and a comedy show the night before) were to test that training in practice before events resume.

How did it work? We were advised that the show started at 7pm, but we were asked to arrive 60 minutes before the start time. The ticket stated that late arrivals may not be permitted entry. We  (me and a friend) arrived just before 6pm at the door advised on the ticket (which was not a usual one for stalls entrance for the Kings, as far as I am aware anyway). While approaching the door, I walked past a member of staff who I heard say “twenty past six”. I wasn’t sure at the time if this was in reference to what time we would actually be entering or not - but I now know that it was. We loitered outside the door for the 20 minutes or so until it was time to go in. When going in, I put my face covering on and was given a temperature check (which incidentally, was the first time I’ve had that done). Having passed that, I went on to get my ticket checked, which was done contactlessly. It was then a case of following the one way system round to the seats - which in this case was circling the entire stalls before cutting up through the middle and to a set of seats, one being an aisle seat (there is a long standing joke between myself and Dave, who I was with, about my buying tickets and randomly being assigned aisle seats...and just how often it happens). 

When in the seat, a video package played, explaining the changes and how you go about ordering drinks. This was done three ways, at the bar (I’m still not sure which bar was open, as the main one wasn’t), via an app or via in-seat service from a member of staff. If it was either of the latter two options, the drinks would be delivered to your seat. I did this first by ordering from a member of staff, and the service was very quick - I ordered two cans of beer which were delivered in a paper bag along with two plastic cups. It all seemed very efficient. Dave ordered via the app and again, that was also equally as efficient. 

One note about seating, we were sat in the 3rd row, row E (my guess is that, normally, rows A and B are temporary seating as the front row was row C). Rows C and D on the right hand side were empty, and the row we were in had us at one end, a couple in the middle (think it was just the two of them) and a small group at the other end. This appeared to be replicated elsewhere in the theatre as well (aside from the front row on the other side which was almost full - one big group I assume). This was a surprise to me as I would have assumed the middle of rows wouldn’t be used because it would have meant if they needed to get out, social distancing would be thrown out the window (this did happen a couple of times). I don’t think any of the higher levels were open - I am not sure if there are plans to open them at the moment (I would assume yes for circles, maybe no for gallery).

The show itself was The Spoils, a local band that performed cover songs. It was to be divided into two 20-25 minute sets with an interval in the middle. The show itself started with an introduction by two of the people that run the Kings, welcoming us all to the show, discussing the changes, and announcing that the Kings would be the only theatre on the south coast to be holding a pantomime this Christmas - which is quite something! One of the people on stage (I have forgotten both of their names, sorry!) said in passing that there were 48 people in the crowd. This, if the case, was interesting. There were plenty of rows further back in the stalls not being used, and this was a test event - but I would guess crowd sizes of 150-200 in the stalls at most when shows start back. After the introduction, the (socially distant) band played the first half of their set and it was really good. I think I would have (within reason) enjoyed any live music on offer, but The Spoils genuinely were really good. The strangest thing for me initially was not being able to sing along (we weren’t expressly told not to, but it was almost an unspoken rule). The third song was 9-5 by Dolly Parton, which I won’t lie had me grinning under the mask. 

The interval was going to be an interesting time. The Kings (much like many theatres in the UK I am sure) has pretty small toilets. The crowd was pretty small, but I wondered how social distancing would be managed in the toilets. In short, it wasn’t. I followed the one-way system as advised, and ended up in the toilets on the other side of the stalls. The facilities I was in had 4 urinals, with the 2nd from the left being used (information I am sure you are desperate to know). This meant for me using the 4th from the left, or violating social distancing. I opted to use that one, but realised quickly this meant I was blocking the sink - to me, it would have made sense to have 1st and 3rd from the left open, and 2nd and 4th closed, which would mean some form of distancing would be adhered to without blocking the sink. Anyway, the person that was there before me stepped back and waited for me to get out the way, which I did after I had washed my hands. He said “I’m just waiting to wash my hands” - I had gathered that (although imagine if I was in his shoes, I probably would have said something similar to justify why I was still there). This did throw up a question of social etiquette in my mind - should I have stepped away from the urinals (and sink) and queue to use the sink I was just next to? This may have been better served if there was someone on each door (less of an issue in the ladies toilets I would assume where there are set cubicles. I washed my hands and made a quick exit back to my seat. 

There isn’t much more to add really. There were a couple of the issues mentioned earlier about people in the middle of the row needing to get in and out, which somewhat made the effort taken to socially distance almost void. The second half of the show was very good (same as the first). At the end of the show, we were asked to leave row by row, which made sense. And that was that - back out into the quiet Albert road, though I did note someone a bit worse for wear on the sobriety front did charge across the road after seeing a friend to give them a hug - booze and social distancing proving themselves to not always be compatible. 

Overall, I am glad I went, but it was a bit weird (I am sure that was inevitable really). I thought the staff at the Kings were brilliant, and the show was great. Hearing live music after so long without was just ace. My only concerns would be the social distancing issues for those in the middle of the rows, and the toilets. The main concern though is not about something that happened on the night, but more the financial viability of running shows with these restrictions in place. That show surely would have made a loss if it wasn’t a test event, and I assume more shows will be the same. I personally would not be comfortable if social distancing were to be done away with tomorrow, but accept that until it is, gigs and shows as we once knew them won’t be able to go back to normal. It is a difficult balance to strike, for sure.

Monday, 17 August 2020


I was reading back the blog I published on 6th April (I say published because I wrote it in small chunks over several days rather than just in one day and pushed send). That, in of itself, isn’t that remarkable - I do occasionally read back over what I’ve written after the event. That particular blog was a summary of the gigs I have been to so far in the year, written from a place of not knowing what was going to happen with regards to the Coronavirus pandemic. I wrote it not knowing for sure if I would go to another gig this year. I can tell from what I wrote that I didn’t hold out much hope for going to a gig then. Over 4 months on from writing that and I am all but certain I won’t be going to a gig in the conventional sense for the rest of the year.

I have two left that are yet to be postponed or cancelled - Bury Tomorrow doing an album launch show at the Joiners on Tuesday 1st September and Nightwish at Wembley Arena in December (I forget the exact date). I cannot imagine a world in which the Bury Tomorrow gig will go ahead - the latest missive from the Government relating to the pandemic has said that indoor gigs could resume from Saturday just gone, but that social distancing must be adhered to. The Joiners is not a venue that would lend itself to social distancing at the best of times, and this gig is sold out. I think it is a case of when, rather than if, this gig is postponed/cancelled sadly. I did email the webstore email address thinking they might have some insider information but it essentially is run by Ticketmaster and they had no information to suggest it would be. The Nightwish case is interesting because this is a case of the gig being part of a wider UK/Europe tour, with different countries having different rules etc. If some gigs start to be cancelled/postponed by law, you have to assume they all will be? Alternatively, a situation could develop whereby the gigs could happen, but touring bands would have to quarantine in between gigs which is just not practical at all. I’m not confident this will go ahead, which is why I’m not that concerned about not knowing the exact date right now.

Life itself hasn’t actually altered that much since the start of the pandemic for me. For most of the lockdown, I haven’t been able to go to the gym, and I haven’t missed it. I froze my membership when it reopened but I have no desire to keep going. I find the journey to the gym the absolute hardest bit and I’m not entirely sure why. It would make me feel anxious, as if I was going somewhere I had no right to go to, which is obviously absurd. When I was there, I was fine. Maybe it is this semi-regular battle with my brain that I am not looking forward to resuming? The battle hasn’t entirely gone away because there have been times I’ve felt anxious in my regime of more regular running - usually at the beginning of a run although at other times as well (usually when pavements are crowded, or when there is a dog off a leash etc). I think the battles have been less frequent though because I have a certain degree of confidence with running - one which takes the odd occasional knock if I have a bad run but I think that happens to all people who run.

The absolute biggest change and challenge has been working from home (which I guess is a big life change, really). This is something I’ve never done previously (because I’ve never been in a position to do so). Working from home, with my home being essentially a 2 room flat, has meant it has been difficult to escape work. I’ve mainly stuck to a regime of working my standard contracted hours but my work equipment has taken over the desk in my bedroom. This means whenever I am in my bedroom, I have, will and do think about work, which is a bit of a shame. Sadly, there is no suitable alternative and I am sure some people have it much harder than me. Living alone does mean no distractions when working from home, which I guess is a plus. On the balance of things, I’d rather not be living alone but hey, it is what it is.

One of the main changes that has happened since the start of lockdown for me is how I consume music. Before lockdown, I was very much a playlist person. I would find music I like, throw it all into one big playlist, push shuffle and be away. Because of remote working, I have listened to more albums in full than probably at any other point in my life. The two out and away favourite new releases of the year for me have been Code Orange - Underneath and Run The Jewels - RTJ4, both of which I’ve gone back to repeatedly since they’ve been released. Due to watching all (or almost all) of the Frank Turner streams, and supporting the various live music venues he has been doing the stream shows for, I’ve also found myself listening to a lot more of Frank’s back catalogue, to the point that over the last 180 days (bit longer than we have been in lockdown but not by much), I have listened to his music more than anyone else's (by quite a long way, if Last.FM is to be believed and it should be). One big change I’ve made, moving away from favoured songs in playlists, has been choosing bands or artists and listening to their entire discography (or most of it, at least). I note, looking at the list of bands I’ve listened to the most over the past 180 days, Half Man Half Biscuit are 4th (with 187 listens). That is basically their entire discography once, and Vatican Broadside a lot (because it makes me laugh - thanks to Frank Turner again for that because he played it on a stream).

There is no purpose in writing this blog really. I’ve almost stopped and deleted it a number of times. Maybe I’ll do another one when I have something else to write about (not that I had a lot to write about here, admittedly!). Amusingly for me, at the end of the last post (the World Cup of Frank Turner), I speculated doing an FA Cup style draw for the songs in the March Madness bracket I used (making changes which were more suited to my tastes). I did the prep work for this and saw the first draw, and saw some of the decisions I’d have to make and just closed the window. Some of the first round clashes would have involved making some very difficult (but in the grand scheme of things, inconsequential) decisions. I could write more about nothing of note, but I’ll leave it there.

Sunday, 3 May 2020

The World Cup of...Frank Turner

In these days of lockdown, and staying in all the time, the main thing I’ve been looking for is to keep occupied. That could involve just staring at the TV, playing a game on my iPad or endlessly scrolling through social media. And occasionally, doing my job (I jest, that takes most of my time…if anyone from work is reading that is!) One thing I saw today which I really liked was someone on Twitter had done a March Madness type affair with Frank Turner’s solo material and created a knockout tournament of 64 of his songs. There is a ranking system which I don’t entirely follow (I only know March Madness by name) but the accompanying tweet explained the labour of love that went into it, and it certainly seems as though time has been spent on this. To read about, and see the original knockout bracket, click here for the twitter thread. I saw this and decided to play out (so to speak) the bracket they created and see what would end up winning for me.

For the purposes of this here blog, I’ve decided from here to refer to this as the World Cup of Frank Turner (as said above, don’t really know much about March Madness, and also it is now May). My bracket in full is here, but it is much too big for screenshots for this here blog, so I thought I would write out the matchups and the winners etc. The link to the bracket is very much the TL;DR version of this post. Without further ado though, the first round of 64! An advance note, this is all a bit of fun and some of these summaries are very cheesy.

  1. Recovery v Song for Eva Mae - A clear early win for Recovery here. I like Song for Eva Mae, but Recovery could go deep into this tournament.
  2. Smiling at Strangers on Trains v Journey of the Magi - I wouldn’t call either of these songs “go-to” songs for me personally, so I’ve chosen Smiling at Strangers on Trains.
  3. I Am Disappeared v Must Try Harder - Another straightforward choice for me here – I Am Disappeared advances to the Round of 32.
  4.  Be More Kind v 21st Century Survival Blues – If this were a sports tournament, the “Be More Kind” derby would be a highly entertaining score draw which would go to penalties. This one was tough, but the nod has been given to Be More Kind. Even as I typed that, I second guessed it, but no! The title track makes it through.
  5. A Decent Cup of Tea v Tell Tale Signs - Tell Tale Signs wins this, but not a straightforward win. 
  6. Substitute v Wherefore Art Thou Gene Simmons - I think I could count the number of times I’ve listened to Gene Simmons on one hand, so Substitute runs away with this match. 
  7. 1933 v Poetry of the Deed – 1933 straight through here. One of my favourites from Be More Kind. 
  8. Get Better v Romantic Fatigue – Get Better progresses into the next round. 
  9. Love, Ire and Song v Sand In The Gears. I am not familiar with Sand In The Gears, whilst Love, Ire and Song is a favourite. Clear winner. 
  10. Sons of Liberty v To Take You Home – Sons of Liberty is another song I’m not massively familiar with, and I do really like To Take You Home, so that is the one that makes the next round. 
  11. Four Simple Words v Mittens – This is brutal. Four Simple Words wins, but I am gutted to see Mittens fall so early. 
  12. The Way I Tend To Be v Going Nowhere – The Way I Tend To Be eases through into round 2. 
  13. Jet Lag v Live Fast Die Old – Live Fast Die Old has advanced here. 
  14. Make America Great Again v Isabel – Make America Great Again, by allowing this song to advance into the next round. And by not giving fascism another 4 years. But that is another discussion for another day. 
  15. Glorious You v Imperfect Tense – This was tough, but after a bit of thought Imperfect Tense made it through. 
  16. Photosynthesis v Broken Piano – No giant killings today, Photosynthesis makes it through
  17. The Ballad of Me and My Friends v Sister Rosetta – The first representation from No Man’s Land sadly falls at the first hurdle. I like Sister Rosetta, but The Ballad progresses. 
  18. Tattoos v Fastest Way Back Home – Tattoos is going through here. Another example of two songs I’m not massively familiar with being drawn against each other. 
  19. Try This At Home v Brave Face – This was another tough first round tie, but Try This At Home makes it through. 
  20. If Ever I Stray v There She Is – If Ever I Stray progresses here, another one that could go deep. 
  21. Vital Signs v We Shall Not Overcome – Vital Signs from the debut album wins out here against a song I’m not massively familiar with. 
  22. Peggy Sang The Blues v A Love Worth Keeping – Peggy Sang The Blues, and Peggy progresses into the next round. 
  23. The Real Damage v St Christopher Is Coming Home – One of the toughest decisions of the first round this, and I’m very sad The Real Damage doesn’t advance further, but St Christopher, much like football, is coming home. 
  24. Long Live The Queen v Faithful Son – Long Live The Queen progresses though this matchup with ease. 
  25. I Still Believe v Love 40 Down – I Still Believe, one of the favourites, makes it through. Love 40 Down though is underrated. 
  26. The Lioness v Worse Things Happen at Sea – I really ought to choose Worse Things Happen At Sea here, given I have a tattoo with those words written on it, but I prefer The Lioness as a song, so that makes it through. 
  27. Reasons Not To Be An Idiot v Rivers – Reasons Not To Be An Idiot is one of the best songs on Love, Ire and Song, which is an excellent album. A straightforward win. 
  28. The Next Storm v Wanderlust – The Next Storm blows past Wanderlust and into the next round (no, I will not get my coat!)
  29. Plain Sailing Weather v Little Changes – This was a tough little match, but Plain Sailing Weather makes it through. 
  30. The Road v Nashville, Tennessee – The Road beneath my feet leads to the next round of this contest. 
  31. Polaroid Picture v Don’t Worry – Don’t Worry had to worry about this one, I really wasn’t sure which way this would go. In the end, Polaroid Picture falls short – great song though.
  32. I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous v Song For Josh – I feel bad for Song For Josh here, but Prufrock has to advance. 
And that ends the first round. Sticking with this format, we already know how round 2 shapes up, so let’s get to it. Again, the TL;DR version (ie, the full bracket) can be accessed here.

  1. Recovery v Smiling At Strangers On Trains – I am presently listening to Million Dead as I type this (something I don’t do nearly enough by the way). That being said, the Million Dead cover falls against Recovery here.
  2. I Am Disappeared v Be More Kind – It is at this point of the tournament that I ask myself “whose bloody idea was it to do this” and then I realise that me running through this set up myself was my idea. Moving swiftly on, this was a hard choice but I’ve given the nod to I Am Disappeared.
  3. Tell Tale Signs v Substitute – Substitute wins this one. Probably one of the easier decisions of this round I think
  4. 1933 v Get Better – For fucks sake. This could be the final if the draw was different! Get Better advances, but that was a nasty decision. One which I am already second guessing as I type this. I get the feeling this will happen a lot. Bloody hell.
  5. Love, Ire and Song v To Take You Home – The title track takes this one. Not as tough of a decision as the last one, it has to be said.
  6. Four Simple Words v The Way I Tend To Be – Four Simple Words advances here. A tough old route to the final for Four Simple Words so far!
  7. Live Fast Die Old v Make America Great Again – Another tough one, but the nod goes to Live Fast Die Old. I really like both songs though. This is just going to get harder now. Argh!
  8. Imperfect Tense v Photosynthesis – Photosynthesis continues its assent through the tournament. I feel like Imperfect Tense winning this would be viewed as a “giant killing” if this was an FA Cup match.
  9. The Ballad of Me and My Friends v Tattoos – An easier win for The Ballad this time out than in the first round.
  10. Try This At Home v If Ever I Stray - If Ever I Stray advances again but this was another tough contest.
  11.  Vital Signs v Peggy Sang The Blues – Vital Signs advances through here but this was another tough old one.
  12. St Christopher Is Coming Home v Long Live The Queen – Long Live The Queen was one of the first Frank Turner songs I heard, and I do really like it. That being said, I think I prefer St Christopher Is Coming Home – and so that is what advances. 
  13.  I Still Believe v The Lioness – I still Believe advances here. The Lioness is probably my 2nd favourite song from No Man’s Land (my favourite not represented on this here tournament – Jenny Bingham’s Ghost in case you were wondering which I am sure you weren’t), but I Still Believe is one of those that would probably make most people’s “best of Frank Turner” lists. It would mine, that is for sure.
  14. Reasons Not To Be An Idiot v The Next Storm – I went back and forth on this one, much like several of the contests in this round. In the end, I have settled for Reasons Not To Be An Idiot. 
  15.  Plain Sailing Weather v The Road – This is just horrible. I love both songs, they would both make my best of list that I referred to just above. However, I remember how happy I was to hear Plain Sailing Weather being played live in Bournemouth (if memory serves, I wasn’t expecting to hear it, so that caught me off guard as well). For that reason alone, I’ve chosen that to advance. How has The Road lost here? I am as perplexed as you.
  16. Don’t Worry v I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous – I personally didn’t know Prufrock before he got famous, nor do I know him now. What I do know though is that this is the song that finalises this round (goodness me that was lame by even my standards). 

Well, that was tough in a lot of places. I am now expecting every, or almost every, decision to be a horrible one to make. I would quip it is like Sophie's Choice, but to be honest all of these outcomes are okay really - no-one dies. Anyway, the last 16!

  1. Recovery v I Am Disappeared – Recovery wins this one. I would rate this as one of the easier round decisions and it was not easy at all!
  2. Substitute v Get Better – Get Better wins this one. Do I need to type how all of these from now are not easy? Probably not, but still!
  3. Love, Ire and Song v Four Simple Words – Four Simple Words. This is the first one where I almost binned the whole thing. Both deserve to make it through! Ghastly decision to make
  4. Live Fast Die Old v Photosynthesis – Photosynthesis wins this, and this probably is the easiest decision of the last 16 so far…Sorry LFDO!
  5. The Ballad of Me and My Friends v If Ever I Stray – The Ballad advances. If you were to ask why, I am not sure I could give you a coherent answer.
  6. Vital Signs v St Christopher Is Coming Home – Will football ever come home? Not if penalties are involved. What I do know though is that St Christopher is Coming Home is in the last 8, and I would not have guessed that when starting this.
  7. I Still Believe v Reasons Not To Be An Idiot – See above about the coherent answer, but apply it to this one with I Still Believe going through.
  8. Plain Sailing Weather v I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous – I am shaking my head somewhat in disbelief as I type this, but I Knew Prufrock…has not made the last four. Plain Sailing Weather has, and I am fine with that. 

Some of those decisions were not as bad as I was expecting, but some of them were just plain horrible. Looking at the bracket now for the quarter final matches and my head shaking of disbelief has continued. 
  1. Recovery v Get Better – Get Better immediately came to mind with this one, so that progresses.
  2. Four Simple Words v Photosynthesis – The ride of Four Simple Words ends here. This one I went back and forth on several times, and concluded I would likely change my mind if I thought on it for much longer…and then probably change it another x number of times.
  3. The Ballad of Me and My Friends v St Christopher Is Coming Home – The two with the longest titles battle it out and St Christopher makes it to the last 4. How did this happen? I should be able to answer this as I decided upon it, but there we are.
  4. I Still Believe v Plain Sailing Weather – I Still Believe ends the glorious run of Plain Sailing Weather. I feel somewhat sad for this, but I think I would have trolled myself if I Still Believe didn’t win this one!  
We are down to the last 4 songs. Some of these decisions were horrible in round one - just know they are somehow worse now.

  1. Get Better v Photosynthesis – As soon as I typed that out, the first thought straight away was “it is Get Better though”. So, it is Get Better. Somehow. Argh!
  2. St Christopher Is Coming Home v I Still Believe – I’ve gone through this blog making little jokes about the coming home part of St Christopher’s title and making references to the Baddiel & Skinner song Three Lions. They first wrote that song for Euro 96, at which England went out in the semi-finals. Football didn’t come home then, and St Christopher joins England in going out in the semi finals (addendum, this is the most I’ve written about football in years!). Does that make I Still Believe the Germany of this competition? I guess so, in a way. Unexpected twist.
And so, after several hours of listening to Frank Turner and working through this bracket, I finally reach the final. This has been a lot of fun but bloody hell some of this decision making has been just nasty. The final is Get Better v I Still Believe. Weirdly, this decision isn't all that tough now we're here. The winner of the World Cup of Frank Turner is...Once We Were Anarchists. Seriously, where is that song? All joking aside, the winner is:

That was fun. Early on when I started doing this, I thought it might be fun at this stage to flip the script and say Get Better won the World Cup (March Madness), but who would win the FA Cup of Frank Turner, with randomised draws for each round. I may revisit that idea (we might have a bit of lockdown to go yet, who knows!). For now though, I will leave it there.