Thursday, 23 April 2020

30-Day Song Challenge

I've seen a few friends on Instagram partaking in the 30-day song challenge on their respective Instagram stories. I considered taking part but when going to start it, I realised I wasn't entirely sure how to do it. In the spirit of honesty, I originally typed a quip about how it being a "genuine" shock that a 33 year old was struggling with social media, but actually the people I've seen doing it are my age or older so...aye. I was tempted to do 30 blogs for this, and release one each day - but that sounded like a lot of work. Instead, I have decided to ape the Eastenders omnibus edition and do it all in one post. This is that post. If you are still reading at this point, I commend you.

Day 1 - A song you like with a colour in the title

Billy Talent - Red Flag. It has been far too long since I've seen Billy Talent live. I would love it if things are back to normal and Slam Dunk could go ahead. Somehow though, I don't see it happening. Alas. 

Day 2 - A song you like with a number in the title

Metallica - One. Need I write more? Incredible song

Day 3 - A song that reminds you of summertime

Weezer - Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori - This song is great all year round, but somehow better in the summer. 

Day 4 - A song that reminds you of someone you'd rather forget

The Fugees - Killing Me Softly With His Song

Day 5 - A song that needs to be played loud

Slipknot - Custer. I always forget how sassy the skeleton on this album's artwork is. Anyway, this song can't be listened to quietly. Well, I guess it can but why would you?

Day 6 - A song that makes you want to dance

Earth, Wind & Fire - September. The second it comes on!

Day 7 - A song to drive to

Terrorvision - D'Ya Wanna Go Faster? I don't drive so this one is a bit moot, but the song is ace.

Day 8 - A song about drugs or alcohol

Pulp - Sorted Out For E's and Whizz. Saw Pulp play this at Reading festival which seemed fitting for some of the folk near me!

Day 9 - A song that makes you happy

DJ Ötzi - Hey Baby. This played before every home game at the one season I had a season ticket at Fratton Park. Used to sing along with my Dad every time we heard it (at least, that is my memory of it, it might not have been every time)

Day 10 - A song that makes you sad

Simon & Garfunkel - Bridge Over Troubled Water. It was played at 2 or 3 funerals I was at, and I just associate that song with those days.

Day 11 - A song you never get tired of

The Interrupters - By My Side. Discovered this band properly last year. This is my favourite song of theirs. I think it is just ace.

Day 12 - A song from your preteen years

Rednex - Cotton Eye Joe. I remember this being on a compilation tape (tape!) that I bought from Woolworths in Southsea back in...I want to say 1995? I would have been 8 or 9 I think. This song from that collection is the only one I remember.

Day 13 - A song you like from the 70s

Bacarra - Yes Sir, I Can Boogie. Cadbury is to blame for this. I saw the advert, I fell in love with the song. And yes sir, I can boogie (just please let me drink all of the alcohol first)

Day 14 - A song you'd love to be played at your wedding

Aerosmith - I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing. Struggled with this one, but I would say this is one of my favourite love songs, possibly my favourite? Tough call

Day 15 - A song you like that's a cover by another artist

Metallica - Tuesday's Gone. One of my favourite songs from their covers album. There could have been a number chosen from this though.

Day 16 - A song that's a classic favourite

Alice Cooper - School's Out. Great song, this. That is all.

Day 17 - A song that you'd sing a duet with someone on karaoke

Bonnie Tyler - Total Eclipse Of The Heart. The song is a banger, and if I was the male part, it is very limited. How could I screw up singing "turn around"?! Well, probably quite easily, but still.

Day 18 - A song from the year you were born

Metallica - Disposable Heroes. Metallica released arguably the best metal album ever in the year I was born. Is this the best song on it? No. But it is one of them.

Day 19 - A song that makes you think about life

Less Than Jake - The Rest Of My Life. A song where the protagonist tries to apologise for past mistakes, knowing they can never truly take back what has been done, and will have to live with that forever...aye.

Day 20 - A song that has many meanings to you

Frank Turner - Eulogy.

Day 21 - A song you like with a person's name in the title

Apocalyptica (Featuring Corey Taylor) - I'm Not Jesus. Without question my favourite original Apocalyptica song. Is it because Corey Taylor is on it? Probably

Day 22 - A song that moves you forward

Black Spiders - Stay Down. I interpreted this entry as one that pushes me on, so I chose one that does this when I'm out running. If I am tired, and this comes on shuffle, I keep going.

Day 23 - A song you think everybody should listen to

Eureka Machines - Brainwaves. Because Eureka Machines are bloody brilliant, and your life would be immeasurably better if you listened to them and realised this. I mean, probably. They are ace, especially live.

Day 24 - A song by a band you wish were still together

REM - It;s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) - Fitting at the moment this one! I have chosen REM because I didn't get to see them live before they split up, and I would have really liked to!

Day 25 - A song you like by an artist no longer living

Motorhead - Ace of Spades (acoustic). Not everyone who was in Motorhead has died (thankfully!), and there may have been a better known version of this song to choose. I really like this version though. RIP Lemmy

Day 26 - A song that makes you want to fall in love

Sixpence None The Richer - Kiss Me. Unless I've wildly misinterpreted this song, it seems like a really nice love song.

Day 27 - A song that breaks your heart

Eric Clapton - Tears In Heaven. Because how could it not?

Day 28 - A song by an artist whose voice you love

Ginger Wildheart - The Pendine Incident. I really like Ginger's vocals on Wildhearts songs, as well as his solo stuff. This is one of my favourite songs from Ginger's solo catalogue.

Day 29 - A song you remember from your childhood

Bombalurina - Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini. I remember loving Timmy Mallet when I was a kid (even had the soft pink and yellow mallet). Only doing this just now have I learned that Timmy Mallet didn't release this song under his own name though. Every day is a school day!

Day 30 - A song that reminds you of yourself

Milk Teeth - Owning Your Okayness. Not everything in this song applies to me, but there are certainly bits of it that definitely resonate with me.

Some of those were really quite hard, but got there in the end. Even so, choosing them was quite good fun!

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Flavourly Beer Case Review

This is something new for me, and I’m certainly not an expert on the topic I am about to write about, but there we are. Recently, I saw a social media advert for a mixed case of beer from a company called Flavourly. The case was 20 beers (10 different beers, two of each for those who don’t want to do the math), two glasses and a bag of flavoured corn for £20. I decided to take the plunge because it seemed like a good offer. This blog is a review of the beers that came in that box. From what I have gathered, these beers are all ones made by the brewery in partnership with Flavourly. Please note, this is not going to be an in-depth review because, as noted in the first line, I am not an expert. I am simply going to say if I liked what I was sent. How this has worked is I’ve had 1 variety of beer a night since I started this – so the palette has not been mixed. The snack was fine – nothing much to write about really, so I won’t.

Beer 1 - By The Horns ‘Kokomo’

Sometimes I find with a beer, you need to get past the first sip. The first sip of this beer was really quite sharp, to the point of it being off-putting. I stuck with it though and subsequent tastes were pretty decent. (although there was the odd occasional one which caused me to scrunch my face a little). Not sure I would buy this again, but if it came in another case of mixed beers, I wouldn’t be sad.

Beer 2 – By The Horns ‘Fresh Tracks’

This was a properly refreshing lager with a bit of flavour as well. I really liked this beer and would definitely buy a case of just this one beer. One of those lagers that is very easy to drink, and didn’t leave me feeling gassy afterwards, which is a plus.

Beer 3 – The Wild Beer Co ‘Eagle Hunter’

This beer was alright, really. I didn’t dislike it, but on reflection I can’t say it was at all noteworthy.

Beer 4 – The Wild Beer Co ‘I Heart Yuzu’

My favourite of the two from Wild Beer Co, without question. The citrus zest in this beer was very evident. It says it is crisp on the can, and it is not wrong. A very enjoyable beer.

Beer 5 – By The Horns ‘Levitate’

There was plenty going on in this beer. This is where my lack of expertise when it comes to beer lets me down as I can’t explain what was going on, but I liked it. 5% strength and very full bodied. To this point, probably my favourite of the bunch aside from Fresh Tracks.

Beer 6 – Black Isle Brewing Co ‘Amber’

This tasted as though it was a really heavy beer, so I was surprised to see it was only 4% strength. It took a sip or two after the initial one for me to decide if I liked it or not, but I did. After the first couple of sips, I thought it was a very smooth beer as well, which is always a plus in my books.

Beer 7 – Black Isle Brewing Co ‘APA’

Another smooth beer from BIBCO (don’t know if that is what they call themselves, but aye). My preferred beverage of the two in the box from them, this one was a nice drink immediately and was very easy to drink.

Beer 8 – First Chop Brewery ‘USA West Coast Session IPA’

Rounding out this review with three in a row from First Chop and it has started off very strong. Like beer 7 the day before, I was on board with this one after the first sip and enjoyed both cans of it. My favourite of the bunch so far.

Beer 9 – First Chop Brewery ‘New Zealand Ultra Pale’

This for me was one of those beers where once I got over the first sip, I really enjoyed the beer. Plenty of flavour in it, which is always a plus. One of those that once I realised I liked it, it didn’t last all that long, which is a sign that it was good but was a shame because then it was gone.

Beer 10 – First Chop Brewery ‘Mittelfruh Vienna Lager’

The second lager in the box but very different to Fresh Tracks. This lager seemed to have more body to it. Immediately nice, much like a number of the beers in the box and another one I would be happy to buy a case of.

Favourite Beer - By The Horns ‘Fresh Tracks’

Least Favourite Beer - By The Horns ‘Kokomo’

And there we are, some thoughts on the box of beer I got from Flavourly. On reflection, it was definitely worth the £20 I paid for it. Since buying it, the advert has changed and it now shows the same offer for £30 (which I am tempted by, if the beers are all or mostly the same). However, the original offer said suggested the full price of this box was somewhere in the region of £70 (the discount was something like £50 off, but it appears after the box arrived, I binned the email confirming the order). I’m not sure if this is the genuine price of the box (cynically saying “this box would cost £x if it was full price” but then never is etc). I would be lying if I said I thought this box was worth spending £70 on. But £20-30 for 20 decent to very good beers – that is a good price.

Monday, 6 April 2020

2020 - A Year In Live Music (so far...)

At the beginning of this year, I thought it might be fun to change how I cobble together my end of year blog (in which I rank my favourite gigs of that year) and try and keep a live league table of sorts, that would be updated each time I went to a gig. Best laid plans and all, I forgot to do this after about 3 gigs and abandoned the idea. I wrote the 3 gigs in three days blog as going to three gigs in three days is not something I do often and thought it would be fun. Since then, I’ve been to three gigs in total, taking me to 9 for the year. After the 9th, I had a think about a potential league table again, but decided it was not a good idea and binned the idea once and for all. Deciding on the end of year list would be future Mike’s problem (one which he will likely curse past Mike for, but I digress).  

Since then however, the world has somewhat changed. The Coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed life in almost all countries around the world (at least, that is the impression I get from looking at the news). This, at first, didn’t impact me so much. It was a talking point at work around early March, but I don’t recall there being any (public) chat about it being cancelled/postponed. Since then, social distancing measures have been introduced which have temporarily closed several businesses including pubs, theatres, arenas and everything in between. The first time the pandemic impacted me in any way came when I was going to get a late ticket for The Subways show in Portsmouth and was considering one for Ash and/or Stiff Little Fingers (all three were at the Pyramids). However, all three got postponed (I’ve just checked, and all three have been rearranged for September).

The first gig I had a ticket for, which got postponed was the Evanescence/Within Temptation co-headline tour. This has just been rearranged for September. The second one to go was Dinosaur Pile-Up, which has been rearranged for a date in August which clashes with something major at work. I don’t know if I’ll be back in the office by then (as I am one of those who is working from home) - so I cancelled my ticket for that one as a precaution more than anything. The main thing which for me which sucks has been the cancellation of my holiday to Belgium. I am keeping a close eye on Faith No More, Rammstein and the Hella Mega Tour as well (Green Day, Fall Out Boy and Weezer) as I don’t see any of them going ahead in June. When Glastonbury was cancelled, I realised truly how much of an impact this would have on live music. Download and Isle of Wight festivals have since been cancelled (yesterday as I type this, Isle of Wight closed its borders to non-essential visitors, more significantly).

I fully accept that gigs and holidays being cancelled in the grand scheme of things is not the end of the world when this disease is killing a lot of people. This isn’t intended to be a “isn’t life unfair” blog where I say my experience is worse than everyone else’s, because it definitely isn’t. I still have my health (most importantly) and I still have my job. Members of my family have had to self-isolate which isn’t great - but that is the worst of it for me personally so far. In the grand scheme of things, I could be a lot worse off.

I don’t know what will happen next in terms of social distancing. The deputy chief medical officer (apologies if I have that title wrong) very sensibly said on TV yesterday (as of writing) that these restrictions would be lifted in stages and, when it happens - it would be done slowly. Because of this, I think gigs scheduled for June/July will be cancelled/postponed. I wouldn’t be shocked if this is extended to August/September as well. I am not expecting, for example, to be seeing Evanescence/Within Temptation in September. The same with the three Portsmouth shows that got postponed in March – rearranged to September but I would not be shocked if they get postponed again. It would of course be lovely to be wrong, but so much of what is currently going on is unknown at the moment.

Anyway, the point of starting this blog was to talk about my end of year list. I honestly don’t know at this stage in the game when I will next be at a gig, if indeed I will be at one again this year, so I thought I would post a Top 9. Honourable mentions go to live gig streams I’ve watched (Frank Turner has been the proper MVP of these). As it happens, most of this blog was written yesterday while a Chris Catalyst stream is on YouTube which I was watching in between typing words. I am counting the ones I watch live in my overall gigs list, but not counting the ones I watch after the event (seems fair). I’m not including any of the streams, live or on catch-up in the end of year list though (because frankly, Code Orange would run away with everything). Without further adieu, the top 9:

9. The Bellrays - Edge of the Wedge, Portsmouth. January 2020.

This was a gig I went to on a bit of a whim really. I heard two songs and was like “sold!” as those two songs were immense. When I bought the ticket, the gig was set to be at the Wedgewood Rooms. I would say I was sad to see it get downgraded, but I didn’t know it had been until I got to the venue and saw the main venue’s door was closed. The main support, Los Pepes, were good. The Bellrays were really good. Anyhow, there are some really fine margins in the placements of these gigs - and this one is 9th because I don’t like a packed Edge of the Wedge (and because there was a higher up from my work there, which meant drinking away my uncomfortableness wasn’t an option sadly).

8. InMe - The Joiners, Southampton. January 2020.

InMe were really good. Haggard Cat, who were the main support, were also really good. I got drunk before/during this gig in a snooker/pool hall (which was quieter than most of the local bars, although it didn’t take long to work out why) and honestly, thinking back on it now, there are chunks of it I can’t remember (which isn’t ideal). Not a lot else to add really - the bits I remember are all good (aside from being a drunken/awkward mess buying a shirt from the front man of Haggard Cat towards the end of InMe’s set - why couldn’t I have forgotten that bit?!)

7. The Interrupters - O2 Forum, London. February 2020.

If you had asked me when writing my end of year blog last year which gig I had booked that I expected to be number one, I would have mentioned this one as being within a shout. The reason it is not is twofold. Firstly, the supports were not my thing at all. I know that shouldn’t spoil a gig, and it didn’t, but 2 months on and that is still the first thing I think of when I think of the gig. The second reason, like the InMe gig is that I was very drunk by the time The Interrupters came on stage, and there are chunks of that gig that I don’t remember. What a state, honestly. From what I recall, The Interrupters were predictably great.

6. Loathe - The Joiners, Southampton. February 2020.

This is where this list gets tough. I went back and forth on this and, in another thin margins decision, decided this gig was 6th. The main reason had nothing to do with the gig either, but it hampered my enjoyment of it. In short, on my way to the gig, I was walking down Above Bar Street in Soton when I heard some loud voices, and saw a young girl running for her life. In pursuit, was a guy shouting after her - and a group of people were following him. They all poured into a Burger King there and that was the last I saw of it. There was a venom in his voice which made me worry about what had happened for the rest of the night - it frankly was horrible. I couldn’t fully switch off and enjoy the gig. The gig itself was great, God Complex were abrasive in a good way, Phoxjaw were ace again and Loathe were just quality. Their new album is immense. Aye, this was a great gig, just a shame I couldn’t fully enjoy it in the moment. To conclude the story, as I walked back to get my train home, the BK was closed and there was no indication it had been a crime scene so...who knows? I looked for any mention of it in local news and found nothing.

5. Frank Turner (solo) - The Dome, Brighton. March 2020.

As it stands, my penultimate gig of 2020. I have wanted to visit the venue ever since getting my second tattoo, and the tattooist telling me how good it was for a gig he was at. He wasn’t wrong, the Dome is a cracking venue. Jess Guise and Micah Schnabel both had really good sets. Frank Turner’s set was just as good as the one I saw last year at the Wedge, if not better. Not relevant to this gig itself, but Frank Turner has done a number of live streams to raise money for his crew/band, as well as independent music venues and charities, and I think that is something that really ought to be commended. I've watched 4 of them now, and they have all been excellent. 

4. The Menzingers - Engine Rooms, Southampton. February 2020.

This came so close to being ranked above Slipknot. I had an equally as lovely time, with the right amount of booze and didn’t have to leave early, which was nice. Mannequin Pussy opened and they were good (a real mixed bag in terms of styles but I enjoyed them). Spanish Love Songs were great, having one of those support sets that made me wonder if the main band could top it. The MenzIngers, the main band, did top it. They were excellent as well. All my memories of this night are positive, which is all you can ask for really.

3. Slipknot - The O2, London. January 2020.

I am surprised this is as low as it is, but there we are. Truthfully, the only reason it is so low is because the trains were a little bit knackered. So, to avoid a very long train home, I had to leave early. Anyone who has done this knows this means setting a cut off point for leaving. I did this but kept checking my watch throughout the gig. The reason it is as high as it is though is because Slipknot are so fucking good live and the new material live is just massive. Also, seeing Slipknot play Disasterpieces live was just wonderful (the song that starts with the line “I’m gonna spit your throat and fuck the wound”). Loved it. Shout out to Behemoth as well, who looked and sounded great on that big stage.

2. Sabaton - SSE Arena, London. February 2020

This one almost got scuppered by a hangover (see earlier entry about The Interrupters). I wasn’t going to bin it, but I was tempted to transfer my mates’ ticket to him and stay in the hotel until I absolutely had to leave. I decided to grit my teeth and bare it, and as it happens the hangover headache had gone by the time the music started, which was fortuitous. Amaranthe opened and were excellent. I really enjoyed Apocalyptica. Sabaton set a high bar for me when I saw them at Wacken 2013, and with this set, they comfortably cleared it. Quality set. Their stage show was awesome as well – big fan.

1. Employed To Serve - The Joiners, Southampton. March 2020

The travel to and from this gig was a proper headache. It meant missing a chunk of the first band, which was a shame as what I heard sounded very good. Palm Reader were incredible. And somehow, Employed to Serve were even better. Their headline show in London last year was ace, and since then they’ve introduced more from their new album which is cracking. The one thing which caught me off guard was them playing “I Spend My Days Wishing Them Away” in the middle of the set, as I am used to that being a set closer. Not sure what else to write really, ETS crushed it. My only gripe is I wish they played longer, which in the grand scheme of things is a small gripe.

Photos of most of these gigs (of varying quality...) can be found on Instagram. There are also other photos there, because that's how it works. 

And that, as they say, is that. Despite ranking them all, I am pleased to say that all 9 gigs were varying degrees of good to superb. If there is no more this year then that would be a shame. I hope that this isn’t it but am aware there are bigger things at play - and honestly, I won’t complain about there being no more gigs this year for me if the trade-off is me, my family and friends all stay safe and well. This disease discriminates against no-one (earlier tonight as I write this, the Prime Minister was hospitalised as a precaution), so my overriding hope is as few people as possible are harmed by this thing. Anything else can wait. I don’t know what will happen next, and it would be a lie to say I’m not concerned or anxious about it. A prediction I’ve seen is that in the UK, we’re going to hit the peak in the next couple of weeks in terms of cases/deaths – so it is probably going to get worse before it gets better.

Stay safe. Be kind.