Friday, 30 April 2010

Why my my sixteen year old nephew loves The Smiths...

It would seem there's not a lot left to be written about The Smiths, and certainly nothing of note that this writer could add that would shed any light on just why they were so important.

So I've given my sixteen (YES SIXTEEN!) year old nephew Jack Haynes the chance to share with you exactly why he loves The Smiths even though he was born some seven years after they split.......

Those Charming Men

Sex and Drugs and Rock n’ Roll…..Not always.

For some (or more like one) it was Celibacy and Veggies and College Rock.

Who else could I be talking about other than Morrissey, a man who defied the typical musician persona of the eighties to become more than a much loved artist, but more a musical genius. I was not around in the good old days when this man first started popping up on the screens of the nation sporting a huge fluffy quiff, wearing large women’s clothing, a hearing aid, and swinging a bunch of Chrysanthemums around in the air, but I reckon I could guess what people’s reactions were. They were either shaking their heads in disbelief or nodding them in approval and wondering why there had never been anybody like this before?

Only one other person should also receive such praise in this article, Johnny Marr. The man who seemed the only person capable of co-writing with Morrissey. Marr’s amazing riffs and chord progressions, laced with that distinctive wavy 'jingle-jangle' Byrds style effect, were the frames for which Morrissey could lay upon his forever original and inspirational lyrics. In my opinion, songs that sum up the way in which Marr thought about them and how to get the best sound from them would have to be;

Girl Afraid, Hand in Glove, How Soon is Now and not to forget the all time classic This Charming Man.

All of these songs, no matter how equally good any other Smiths track is, for me could pretty much give anyone an all round idea on what Marr’s musical range was and in my opinion it was massive.

I also have to mention the two band members that never quite got the praise and gratification they deserved, for no matter how much it seemed they were just session musicians, they were also responsible for piecing together some of the greatest songs ever written.

Mike Joyce, the man who tried to sue Morrissey and Marr for money that was theirs despite there being no contract to say otherwise, did provide the songs with just the right amount of rhythm. Banging away on the drums in The Queen is Dead, Joyce showed that he could provide a hard, heavy and fast paced beat that went a long way to making the song what it was. But he wasn't good for just banging away on the bongos; he could also give songs like 'Back to the Old House' a nice bit of rim tapping, to provide just the correct amount of rhythm without destroying the songs soft tempo.

Alongside Joyce was Andy Rourke. The bassist who managed to take 'Barbarism Begins At Home' with its funky riff and Morrissey induced barks and turn it in to something much more complex and sophisticated, with an incredible thundering bass line. The same thing could be said for pretty much any Smiths song, for this was not another bassist who would settle for playing the exact same thing as the guitarist, but a bassist who could write what seemed like his own song and play it over the top of the rest to make yet another great and perfectly crafted masterpiece.

During their five year career, The Smiths had released four studio albums and nineteen singles, which as more than a lot of bands ever dream of. But just like the music business almost always does, it started to tear them apart and they were to split in 1987. Fans were devastated and to this day, with there being no chance of a reunion, still are. But in 1992 they released their last charting single 'There is a Light That Never Goes Out'. Originally a much loved album track, this for me was the song that defined The Smiths in a four minute show of extravagance that still makes me smile, close my eyes and sing along until my hearts content every time I listen to it. It was the first Smith’s song I ever heard and I hope it will be the last song I ever hear whilst on my deathbed. The iconic opening followed by emotional verses, a powerful chorus finished off with an epic climax along with Morrissey, for once, beautifully singing the amazing and unique lyrics is just the best arrangement ever.

Even though The Smiths are dead, Morrissey’s amazing and creative solo career always has and always will fill people with so much joy and inspiration. So much so that I couldn't believe the reaction when at the end of a gig at Alexandra Palace, Morrissey threw his t-shirt into the audience and people went berserk. I did manage to come away with a tiny shred that night, but more importantly it just showed me how much he has affected peoples lives, which couldn't have ever been achieved without the other three Manchester lads who helped to start it all off for him, the four men that became of the most inspirational bands ever.

'With loves…' we loved them, 'with hates…', we hated to see them split up '…and passions just like mine.' Well it’s fair to say the passion for The Smiths will remain forever. So long live The Smiths and long live Morrissey; I hope he keeps providing us with inspirational music for years to come.

"I don’t mind how I’m remembered so long as they’re precious recollections. I don’t want to be remembered for being a silly, prancing, nonsensical village idiot. But I really do want to be remembered. I want some grain of immortality. I think it’s been deserved. It’s been earned"Moz

Jack Haynes

Friday, 23 April 2010

The time’s on the way, my love......

The press release was fairly standard...

"Thanks to everyone who has supported us over the years. We still love each other but, cliché notwithstanding, musical differences have led to us moving on and of course we all wish each other well in the future."

The usual clinical and soulless record company contrived statement regarding a band splitting. A statement so understated that the news flew under the radar when it was announced last week.

Supergrass are to split.

After digesting the press release it got me thinking back to a time fifteen years ago when we were young, we were free and we kept our teeth nice and clean. A summer when it seemed to be constantly gloriously hot, i had my first real love hanging from my arm and Chelsea had just signed Ruud Gullit! How could life get any better? Well my life was certainly improved when a debut album by the name of 'I Should Coco' landed on my turntable. A debut album that, in my humble opinion, stands up against almost any other debut album you care to mention.

In The City? - Check
The Stone Roses? - Check
Definitely Maybe? - Check
Whatever People Say I Am....? - Check
The Smiths? - Check

An album of such preposterous youthful excuberence that it should be passed as law that all new bands are forced to listen to it before they get as far as the recording studio. A blueprint on how to put a little joy into an album and how to not take yourself too seriously. Bands like The Enemy and Kasabian should take note because after a while watching these po-faced, plastic hardmen take to the stage with sour faces looking like they've just sucked a pre-gig lemon becomes tedious. - Maybe 'moody' sells?

"But music is a serious business!"
i can almost hear some people shout. Well no it's not really is it? It's about enjoyment and escapism and listening to a band or artist who sound like they've actually enjoyed producing a record. For me Supergrass were that band and 'I Should Coco' was that album.

The three opening tracks of 'I'd Like To Know', 'Caught By The Fuzz' and 'Mansize Rooster' are a triumvirate of pop songs that any band worth their salt would kill for. The first time i played the album i sat there with a stupid grin on my face, blown away by what I'd just heard. I just knew i was onto a winner with this one!

Then you've got 'Alright'. A song that took on a life of it's own over the years and almost became an albatross around the neck of Supergrass as they were trying to grow up and move on as a band. But just take a minute to listen to it. It's pure 'Lazy Sunday' by The Small Faces crossed with 'My Brother Jake' by Free. To these ears it still sounds just as good fifteen years later.

Moving on it beautifully criss-crosses punk, psychedelia and pure pop with songs like 'Lenny', 'She's So Loose' and 'We're Not Supposed To'. Then three tracks from the end comes what i think is it's defining moment and a glimpse as to where Supergrass were heading for in years to come. An almost prog-like, bluesy psychedelia tinged anthem called 'Time'. For me it is the albums 'curve ball' as it appears almost out of nowhere in a puff of smoke. The Creation described their music as 'Red With Purple Flashes' well this particular track was turquoise leopard print with streaks of lime green with yellow spots and a weird fuzzy blur round the edges. There aren't many songs that blow me away to such an extent that i simply have to listen to it at least once a day but 'Time' is definitely one of them. In fact even to this day I'm so attached to it that when i watched Supergrass play it live through an alcohol induced haze on my stag do at Ascot Racecourse (i know, i know) last summer i swear i had a little speck of dust in my eye as the opening chords chimed out. It's one of maybe only a dozen or so songs that can transport me back in time instantly and stir up all those emotions from the summer of '95.

By the time 'I Should Coco' draws to a close with another big kaleidoscopic number 'Sofa Of My Lethargy' which could almost be the moody older brother of 'Time', which rumbles nicely into the melancholy comedown album closer of 'Time To Go' you know you've heard a truly brilliant album. The 'cognoscenti' may not agree but for me it's almost impossible to listen to it without a stupid toothy smile spreading across your face.

So as sad as it is that one of this country's truly great bands have gone their separate ways we can console ourselves with the fact that they left behind a truly magnificent slice of music and for that we should all be grateful. So tonight when i get home from the drudgery of my day job, I'm going to stick 'I Should Coco' on the stereo and raise a can to Supergrass and bellow along to this...

Gaz, Danny, Mick & Rob.....we salute you.


Thursday, 15 April 2010

Hillsborough - 21 Years On.

Before i go any further let me make one thing clear. I am not a great lover of anything to do with Liverpool FC. In fact most of the mawkish sentimentality that is showered on the club by it's own supporters and the media alike leaves me cold. I would even go as far to say that 99% of football supporters across the nation feel much the same.

From TV commentators mentioning The Kop as a "12th man" on European nights at Anfield, to their supporters constant harking back to a time (long long gone might i add) when they were a major force and won trophies here and in Europe with regularity, Liverpool annoy me more than any other football club in the country.

I'm almost duty bound to mention the events that occured at the Heysel Stadium, Brussels in May 1985 too, when Liverpool supporters charging across a decrepit old terrace caused the death of 38 Juventus supporters before the European Cup Final. In the aftermath of that game it was suggested by certain Liverpool supporters and media outlets that it wasn't in fact Liverpool supporters that caused the tragedy but rather Chelsea supporters and random National Front headcases who had somehow infiltrated their ranks and caused the trouble to break out that night. This was never substantiated in any way and still irks many Chelsea supporters to this day when the subject is touched upon. Although i think it's more or less universally agreed that the events that evening were due more to the disgusting state of a crumbling stadium rather than the actions of a few hundred pissed up idiots causing trouble inside the ground.

Having said all this, i must make it clear that we are talking about the football club and not the city or it's people in general. I've been to Liverpool a few times following Chelsea and i know a few Scousers through work etc and they've always seemed fairly amiable, decent people who are fiercely proud of their roots. Although there was one particular Liverpudlian who thought it would be hilarious to stab a mate of mine in the shoulder blade with a fork whilst he was sitting in a cafe near Lime St having a pre-match fry up. I suppose every city and every football club contains it's fair share of nutters and sociopaths though and Chelsea are certainly not blameless when it comes to things like that.

Yet whatever dislike i have for Liverpool FC as a football club is tempered by the events of April 15th 1989. A normal, warm, spring afternoon where 96 of their supporters were killed watching their team play an FA Cup semi-final at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough ground. An afternoon i remember pretty vividly all these years later.

It was on a coach coming back from seeing Chelsea get beaten at Leicester City that rumours of trouble at Hillsborough started being bandied about. It was mostly dismissed as run-of-the-mill 'aggro' until the full details emerged when we got back to London.
We needed to win that afternoon to gain promotion back to the old Division One. As it turned out we were beaten and the champagne was put on ice for a week until we dispatched Leeds at home the following Saturday and clinched the title, but that's an insignificant footnote to that particular afternoon.
We took the best part of six or seven thousand supporters up to Filbert Street that day and aside from the vast amounts of trouble inside and outside the ground the one thing i remember is just how overcrowded the away terrace seemed that afternoon. Every time Chelsea attacked the crowd would surge and you could almost feel the breath being forced out of you as you were forced forward towards the crash barriers.

I was fifteen years old and enjoying every single minute of being part of a mass of humanity that was so noisy, so passionate and struck fear into almost every town we travelled to in those days. The thought that i might actually be killed or injured never crossed my mind. I was fifteen years old and invincible!

Little did i know that just 50 odd miles up the M1 at that very moment kids my age were being crushed to death watching their football team.

What happened that day at Hillsborough has been the subject of massive conjecture ever since. Without wanting to pick over the bones of it in too much depth (I'll save that for the real experts) it seems to me that it was a combination of inept, incompetent and downright useless policing outside the stadium by the South Yorkshire Police Force and thousands of ticketless Liverpool fans trying to gain access to an already overcrowded fenced pen behind the goal at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium.

It seems a fairly trite and hackneyed thing to say but the old cliche 'there but for the grace of God go i' has never rung truer to me. It could have been any one of us that day. It was a tragedy waiting to happen for many years previously. It could have happened to any club, any supporter or any ground that day.

Football supporters back then were treated as second class citizens and herded and controlled like cattle by heavy handed police forces. Our glorious leader at the time Margaret Thatcher with her midget Minister of Sport henchman Colin Moynihan even created a 'War Cabinet' to deal with hooliganism. Did this war cabinet deal with the problem? In a word, no. It was absolutely no thanks to her and her heavy handed police forces across the country that football changed in any way, shape or form in this country. It took the death of 96 innocent people for the authorities to be given a wake up call and realise that things needed to change and that supporters needed to be treated properly.

Skip forward 21 years and the Hillsborough tragedy is still a topic of discussion country-wide. Many people i know see what happened that day as an act of 'karma' for what happened at Heysel. Other people go that one step further and still sing the '96 not enough' and 'Murderers' songs and will have no hesitation in spouting the opinion that 'the Scousers deserved it'. Unpalatable yes, but that's how the brains of some football supporters work. Sadly tribal loyalties do not extend to showing a shred of compassion towards innocent dead teenagers. Some people are too busy being wrapped up in their very own ball of hatred.

I can't begin to comprehend the horror of having to travel to a morgue in a city miles away from your home town to identify the crushed corpse of a loved one who had been killed watching their football team play. That sort of thing transcends football loyalties and without any argument you would have to be some sort of inhumane animal to draw any sort of pleasure or schadenfreude from such an event. Yet i have been in the presence of people who think this way. It's not worth trying to reason with them sensibly. They just don't get it. It's not even worth trying to shake sense into them. These people are so set in their ways and detached from the realities of a world outside football that they'll never grasp just how distasteful their views are.

It's best just to ignore them.

On a personal level it was this post on a Liverpool forum from an Everton fan who lost his brother at Hillsborough that moved me more than anything else I'd read on the matter. It is one of those pieces of writing that leaves you feeling like you've been punched in the guts. A piece so powerful that i needed to get up and go for a walk after I'd read it. I suggest people who are of the opinion that anyone who died there that day somehow ''deserved it', read that article in it's entirety.

The families of the dead have been treated abysmally by the government over the years. We'd all like to see the truth exposed as to what really happened that day and that those families gain some sense of closure and justice. Knowing the establishment in this country and how it works I'd be very surprised if they did.


Friday, 9 April 2010

So i've finally succumbed.

"Blog. Blogs. Blogging. Journal. Diary."

Words that conjure up all kinds of strange imagery. From the Emo kid sat in their bedroom writing doom laden prose about boys in eyeliner, to the spiky haired Hoxton metrosexual writing about his "oi oi!banter!" fuelled Saturday night on the tiles getting smashed on bottles of blue WKD or even the techno nerd almost orgasmic with gushing praise about his Macbook or latest iPhone app.

None of the above particularly appeal to me in any way but i've recently had an epiphany.

Let me explain...

The older i get (i'm 36 now) the grumpier and more opinionated i become and the more i feel the need to have my say.
It's not an earth shattering discovery i'll grant you, but one that has got me thinking more and more over recent months. Now this may sound a bit 'soft' to certain people but it really is cathartic to rant and rave on the internet. It's nice to be able to spout forth your opinions on things you hold dear to you. It's comforting to be able to get things off your chest and be able to let others see what makes you tick and maybe chew the fat about what you've written.

Hopefully i'll update this blog regularly when i've got some 'good shit' to get off my chest. I'll be pontificating on things i'm into such as music and football but there will be the odd curve ball thrown in for good measure to keep people on their toes. Some of it may be of interest, some of it may fly right over people's heads and i'm almost certain some of it may just provoke people to make 'wanker' signs at their monitors and dissolve into fits of laughter.

So there you have it. My reasoning for succumbing to the blogging phenomonen. Lets hoist the main sail and head for the high seas!