Saturday, July 16, 2011

crack park

An evening in crack park, enjoying a last can before accepting we are too tired to giggle at our wit any more.

A man came off his bike in slow motion, landing softly on the dark grass at a hilarious velocity, the opposite of speed.

We mocked him jovially, suggesting he probably walk his bike the rest of the journey. Home? Where was he going, diverting through crack park at a late hour? We were hardly hoping for his company, but that's what you get in crack park. Company.

It wasn't the words that were terrifying, words half formed of shattered English and large shards of Russian. His ruddy and compact body, stout shoulders and fat hands punching each other. His face a smudge of intoxication. He was saying something about a boxer. Vladimir I think. Was he the boxer? He could have been a boxer. His body seemed pretty small for that but I suppose boxers come in different sizes. Has his face really been beaten into that shape?

He was a mumbling fool, truth be told, but the way he towered above us with his arms folded before him, hands cradling elbows. We were just four, sitting quietly in crack park, enjoying beer number last, not ready for the potential violence in this man. We had narrowly avoided a beating from a topless man only half an hour previously. He was sure that Alistair was a tramp. We were making it worse to tell this man that no, Alistair owns a house and he paid for his beer. At least this guy had the decency, eventually, to leave us.

Vladimir was troubling. He wouldn't leave and he wouldn't sit down and he wouldn't shut up. It seemed that to his Russian and blitzed mind that we had wronged him. He continued to punch his own fists, making boxing gestures to the air not so far from our nostrils.

Concern spread among us. We were amused enough to remain calm but there was a sense that this was a sign. It was our last beer after all. The beer had made its point and now we were in crack park with a drunk potentially professionally violent beast.

When the miraculous occurred. He took off his shirt! Triumphantly, a smiling child finding a rubber duck in the bath. He turned around to display to us - his late night audience - the toning on his deltoids.

This was our moment. I gestured with my most assertive finger and we, as ninjas in a shadow, gathered up our instrument bags and made for the park exit. Cackling wildly like geography teachers, we scarpered into the night, turning around only once to see our hero, standing topless, alone in crack park, flexing his meaty back to the trees.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bill Callahan - St Georges Church, Brighton, 19/08/09 Review

(Image found at

On the way to St George's Church this evening on an impossibly warm summer's night (one we feel we're owed), wearing my new canvas sneakers from Shoe Zone, clutching the arm of my beloved, we came across a man sprawled out on the pavement. A young woman was walking ahead of us and seemed unsure if she wanted to stop. I barked out at the man, “are you alright mate?” He looked up at us with that look of an old tattered dog, with cheerful wonder in his eyes; sad but searching.

“Uh”, I think he said. Perhaps said like a question.

His face was scorched by the sun and his eyes had bruises and his cheeks were scarred. “Just having a nap are you? Are you ok?” He seemed to nod, and we suggested that perhaps he go down to the beach – which is just there – and have a sleep in a more suitable place. The lady waited to say thanks, though I'm not quite sure why.

We got to the venue to see an enormous queue round the street. We thought we'd made it in good time to get a seat near the front so this was depressing. Me, I was the Englishman, resigned and definitely not wanting to appear to my fellow queuers that I'm trying to skip the queue (though it's always fun if I'm wearing a colourful AAA pass, casually strutting past the lowly masses into the backstage bits). My love, however, had the idea to go check if it was the correct queue. She was of course right about this one (and most things) and we had only to join the really small queue for those who had booked advance tickets by credit card.

We skipped to the front of the Church - a building not unlike an old fashioned railway station – and took a pew in the third row.

Getting excited and silly, we peered around the large room, idly watching people.

Then Sophia Knapp came to the stage. A Nico type character wearing a long yellow dress. She plugged in and started playing some quite edgy grungy acoustic guitar lines and I thought perhaps we'd be in for some kind of dark searching dissonance and awkward beauty.

As it happens, the best thing we could say about her performance was that she had nice arms. Sorry, didn't get it. The crowd seemed equally confused and restless and there was a fairly loud migration to the bar.

During the break time, I found myself outside chatting to some passers by who were asking what was going on inside. I had noticed that there was a guy near me, pissing in the bushes, which I thought was a bit inappropriate considering there were perfectly respectable toilets in the venue. While I explained to these folks that I was about to watch Bill Callahan, they pointed out that the pissing guy had just fallen over. Another wasted man needed my samaritan help tonight. I went over to him and asked him if he was ok. This guy had a different look. Total vacancy. A full beard and dead eyes. I grabbed his hand and hauled him up. He was very shaky with little balance and I helped him to a bench for a sit down.

I was starting to think I should have left the house with a first aid kit and a flask of black coffee.

Sure that he was as alright as he was likely to be, I went to the actual toilet. In there I saw a guy that looked like Bill Callahan but with a goatee. Surely Bill doesn't have a goatee? And surely he'd have his own toilet backstage?

I went to my pew and before I know it, there's the goateed man strolling onto the stage, to sit behind the drum kit!? And then comes Bill, taller and more handsome than I imagine him to be, in a fetching tucked-in shirt and fairly rigorous black trousers; his wrist watch tied around his belt.

Last time I had come to this venue was to see Bonnie Prince Billy and we were late and found ourselves plonked right at the top at the back of the church. The sound was cruel and swirling and undefined. And here we were right at the front. They kicked gently into Our Anniversary, an old Smog number. Hardly an obvious choice for a starter I would say, but a good indication of Bill's style: the elongated chord change, the unexpected turn of phrase. Making you wait, wait, wait...and (wait for it) wait for that change that you were expecting to happen a few bars earlier. It is a peculiar sort of thrill but it gets me every time. Musical foreplay.

Bill was joined onstage by his doppeldrummer, a female violin player, a Jack Black of a cellist and someone from the Sopranos on lead guitar. And throughout Bill played only his sexy new chocolate wood Gibson Les Paul.

Second up was Diamond Dancer, which was cheekily introduced by an off the cuff jazzy interlude. Thankfully that was the last of the jazz.

A few songs in, he spoke his first meaningful words to the crowd. In a voice that sounds like, well, his singing voice – deep and American and like a reassuring old uncle, he said,

“I've enjoyed sharing the toilets with you all tonight.”

He paused.

“I saw a man's willy.”

There was a pretty hysterical level of laughter in the church. I was giggling hopelessly.

“I hoped I'd never see him again. But there he is on the front row.”

I don't know what he played next but I was smiling throughout. That was about the most he said to us all night.

As he sang his many songs of death and love we watched his mouth as he made faces to the microphone. His teeth bared occasionally into an almost smile - but betrayed by his cool eyes.

His melodies are hard to follow on record but much harder live. They sometimes seem simple but he is constantly shifting and reforming his words. Like Dylan but, I would argue, with more respect for the original tune. Bill may wander into unchartered phrasing half way through a verse, but he will usually remember why we liked the song by the end of the verse – giving a warmly received resolution.

The pervading mood that Bill creates is one of reflection and stillness. The often simplistic and repetitive song structures create a space for the words to surf above the music. Deep, droll invocations and proclamations of a strange truth. Particular highlights for me were Eid Ma Clack Shaw, the genius song of dreamed perfection, Sycamore, Say Valley Maker and Jim Cain. Rock Bottom Riser had those in the church with functioning tear ducts weeping openly.

The arrangements were pleasingly sensitive. It was a pleasure to watch the cellist and the drummer especially. And the sound in the church was thankfully clear enough. Only during the louder moments such as on All Thoughts Are Prey to Some Beast did his vocals get lost in the curved-roof audio swirling.

He left us with Bathysphere and we gave him a standing ovation. We filed out suitably spell-bound and rejuvenated, and I didn't have to help anybody up on the way home.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Young, Marling and Me, an epic

American drawl: “Hey if you guys need anything, just let me know. Anything, really, I'm your man.”

Polite wavering English voice: “Umm, yeah we were wondering if we could get a beer or something?"

American: “Done, no problem. That it?”

English: “Yep, I think so.”

American “Ok guys, whatever you need yeah?”

English: "Yeah thanks a lot. Man."

The American was Neil Young's tour manager, Elliott. A genial and hospitable chap. With a broad grin and a lusty head of white hair. The English voice was Pete Roe's, keyboard and banjo player with Laura Marling's band.

It later occurred to us in a moment of contemplation, that we were backstage at a stadium rock gig and being offerred “anything we need”. Perhaps he didn't mean clean shorts and a bottle of water. Still, we were way too nervous and excited to reply what he probably expected: “four young hookers and a bag of speed.” I suspect if we had said that, he wouldn't have protested, it would have just been a bit difficult for him. “Well, I'll see what I can do boys, but I don't know any pimps in Nantes”.

The last week has been totally surreal, exciting and certainly the most terrified I have felt in public.

I received the call last week that Laura Marling was hoping to try out with the Sons of Noel and Adrian's drummer (that's me!) to fill in for her usual drummer (Marcus Mumford of Mumford and Sons). Naturally I was excited, but to begin with I didn't know the crucial factor – that these were supporting slots in Paris and Nantes with Neil Young in a stadium...

I was kept on tenterhooks for a day or so until they confirmed it, and then before I knew it, I was on a tourbus with my drum kit driving to Bush Studios to learn an entire Laura Marling set in four hours. Marcus was on hand to show me how it's done. It was a rather intimidating prospect, having to get on the kit to play my own less confident and less rehearsed versions of the drum parts for Laura's songs, us all knowing that my version would be the one to face 16,000 French people, and Neil Young.

Still, with encouragement, a cup of tea and some patience, we got it together and went back to Laura's to have a posh barbeque, an acoustic run through in the garden and an early night. Well, actually I stayed up really late watching Ghost on the telly. I really enjoyed the floaty depiction of heaven that Patrick Swayze strolls into at the end, when his work is done. It's a kind of dry-iced neon-lit tacky shimmering mess of soft greens and pinks. Like a perfectly distilled visual summary of the eighties.

We then made a rather epic van trip to Rouen, with a DVD collection comprising mostly of Woody Allen films. Ruth (our cellist) kept us entertained with intermediate knitting. We arrived there at about midnight, via a ferry from Dover to Calais which seemed entirely populated by insane French children. I didn't realise kids were such keen sailors.

Arriving at our hotel we found a bored, chubby unsympathetic laughing French man who informed us that he'd given away our rooms. It was as if we should join him for the funny joke. Bunch of tired English folk denied rooms for the evening – hurrah! “Yeah nice one fat French man! We've just been travelling for twelve hours, what a hilarious way to end our journey, without the beds that we booked. You bastard.”

English sarcasm is alive and well.

Of course, we sorted it (thanks to Tre, our tour manager), and myself and Ollie (our soundman) found a fondue restaurant where we gorged ourselves on melted cheese, hams and lager until we were completely bloated and sure that we'd have fucked up cheese dreams.

We both woke up going “fucked up cheese dreams? Nope, me either.”

We got to Nantes just in time for me to have my very own personal Neil Young concert. He was soundchecking and I got to watch them play to an empty stadium. Very surreal and exciting. Kind of brought home the enormity of the occasion.

We did our soundcheck with some very helpful crew folks. Still wasn't feeling too nervous at this point. My blind optimism and false confidence ruling the hour.

Backstage there were people everwhere, doing presumably important roles, though I couldn't tell you what they were. We got fed a dinner of sweet loveliness and I totally overdid the soft cheeses and felt pretty bloated, not what you want for your first stadium gig.

The moment approached and I was clearly in some kind of daze. Pete led a band prayer at the side of the stage while we could glimpse certain bits of the audience. We knew there were 8000 people there. Probably more like 7978. Perhaps twenty or so were in the bar. Maybe a couple were late. We locked heads and as we began the walk up the stairs, I could feel my balance going a bit. I sat down on the drum stool on this enormous stage and Pete later said that all the blood drained from my face. My stomach felt like a washing machine in motion. I was trying to do that thing that I do when I'm drumming on stage: close my eyes, keep my back straight and go into an almost meditative state in order to relax and feel the song. I realised I was shaking and then I opened my eyes to just see blackness and stage lights with the knowledge that there were an endless amount of people there,watching. Here comes my first vocal cue. Ok, fine, didn't fuck that up. Here's the drums – now remember, I need to pick up the pace on this one. And we're off.

The rest is a guess, a shot in the dark. Thankfully, I held my nerve. When I came off stage though, the nerves that I had held in my arms for the last half an hour, immediately dribbled to the floor and I felt exhausted, headachy and paranoid, really hoping that I had done alright.

By this point I had still not met Neil Young.

We loaded up on booze and went out the arena to soak up the atmosphere.

They took to the stage in a flurry of lights and general excitement and we were treated to some pretty rawking action. I just found a website that helped me out with the setlist for the night. They started with Mansion on the Hill, and straight into Hey Hey My My and Everybody Knows this is Nowhere. I was starting to relax by this point. Nodding my head, singing along, generally feeling proud and happy to be a part of this enormous show for the legendary singer. Particular highlight was Mother Earth, when he ditched his band to run to the back of the stage to play a touching ballad on harmonica and harmonium. Don't Let it Bring You Down was another solo acoustic – with the sickest twangiest acoustic sound I've ever heard. Pretty special. Down By the River was amazing as you'd expect and Rocking in the Free World was one of those songs that just kept coming back. They'd finish – do the last chord for five minutes and just when everyone's stopped going mental, they'd burst into another chorus. It was hilarious and exhilarating. Proper stadium rock!

The rock rocked and the solo numbers genuinely felt intimate. It was quite something.

After Rocking in the Free World they all piled off stage, and from the side of the stage I could see one guy's job was to be in the right place to hand Neil a wet towel as he finished. They congregated around the back and then went on to do a ridiculously psychedelic version of A Day in the Life. I loved hearing the words "Blackburn Lancashire" in his high pitched Canadian drawl.

As they finished, I bumped into the manager chap again and said what a great show it was. “It'll be better tomorrow,” he said. I thought he was joking, but when I had the idea of going to their dressing room (and dragging Pete and Ollie with me), Neil came to the door, fuming. He was having a heated conversation about the sound guy – apparently he had missed a few cues or messed something up. I hadn't noticed anything myself (isn't it always the way!) but Neil was not happy. Elliott said “that's what you get when you mean it, when you care. Neil, he still cares.” Neil walked past me “where's that nice bottle of wine I reserved for myself? I'm sure I left it around here” and collapsed in a chair. He was starting to smile.

As Neil got up to leave, I had my moment. I tapped him on the shoulder and made a general introduction, explaining that we were part of his support band. We all shook hands, and I asked him if he saw our set. He hadn't so I told him to make sure he caught us in Paris.

There wasn't, it seemed, a lot more to say at this point. Then Pete had the good sense to give me the nod. Left to my own devices I would have probably stayed way too long and made a nuisance of myself. Pete Roe gave me the nod and one should always listen to Pete Roe. We went back to our dressing room to find an exhausted and drained Laura. It seems she had shared my total bodily meltdown after playing our set. We showed off about our meeting Neil and were bloody thankful that we had. Our trip was complete. All that was left was to do it all again the following evening.

We drove to Paris. Six hours of beautiful sunshine, more Woody Allen, knitting, motorway service station sandwiches and then some pretty evil Parisian roundabouts. Big shout to Tre, our tour manager and dedicated driver who did a sterling job of keeping her cool in those ridiculously spaghetti junctions. We were freaking out slightly that everyone's cars seemed to be pretty damaged. All the cars had sizeable dents and nutty drivers. The trick seems to be to honk your horn a lot and swear in French.

This time we were in a bit of a rush. We got to the venue, another 8000 capacity beast. Soundchecked as quickly as humanly possible and went to eat more lovely catered food.

We played our set. This time I wasn't so nervous. If anything I was just excited. I realised that I may never play a gig of this size ever again, so I may as well bloody enjoy it. And that I did. I felt much more confident and just trusted that we had done a decent job. I went out to the crowd to watch Laura do the last couple of songs solo, and realised that I was playing with a ridiculously talented songwriter and performer. She's 19 years old and she's definitely on it. Ace songs. Strong voice. Hairy band. Fair play.

We went to watch Neil and the team do their thing for the second time. We were promised that tonight would be better, and by jove they properly rocked.

Later on, after they had finished doing their rockstar thing, I got a bit confident and decided to go to their dressing room again. Elliott was by the door, “oh you is it, making a nuisance again!” he said. Thankfully he smiled and said he was just joking and I that I should come on in. I shook Neil's hand again and there followed some kind of general gushing. I think it was fairly one directional. He did however say that he caught our set this time and thought we were “great”. He might have just said Laura was “great” but forgive me if I'm not entirely accurate, it was a confusing time. He said he looked forward to seeing us again in England and at this point I had to confess that I was merely a temp, a hired replacement for Marcus, the usual drummer. He quite rightly asked where the hell Marcus was, given the gravity of the occasion. When I said he had to mix his Mumford and Sons album – it probably didn't sound important enough to Neil Young, and of course he scoffed and said that he should have made the bloody effort! I got a little overexcited and gave him a Laish Quartet cd. My own music in the hands of Neil Young. What can I say, I hope he enjoys it.

I had an extensive chat with Anthony Crawford, one of Neil's multi-instrumentalists who gave us a lot of musical feedback on our show and he even gave me a cd of his own solo stuff. (Cue that character from The Fast Show: “Which was nice.”)

Then I left them all to it, I had done what I came to do. I didn't want to overdue it. At least not in front of Neil and his band.

At 3am, the boys (myself, Pete and Ollie) were in a kebab shop, talking to some particularly messed up looking Parisian crusties. They mentioned having taken lots of ketamine and we tried in vain to keep a futile and confusing bi-lingual conversation going. I seem to remember suggesting we tried speaking in German, as English wasn't really working. And neither was French. A silly late night, lots of beer stolen from the rider and the last thing I apparently said, as I drifted off into a coma with my I-Pod on, was “I'm listening to aome crazy jazz”.

So mostly yesterday I felt hungover. Also a bit sheepish about my drunken behaviour but also a general warm sense of achievement. We had a long journey home, via the screaming insane French children on the ferry again. While I sat making notes of our trip for this blog, I asked Pete if he remembered anything I may have forgotten about the week.

A long pause ensued as I could see him carefully contemplate my question.

“I don't remember anything.”

I was driven home. Exchanged hugs with Laura, Ruth, Pete, Ollie and Tre and it wasn't until last night that I realised I left my bloody cymbals somewhere. They have still yet to show up...

I was able to dump my stuff and then go straight to the Komedia to catch the Mary Hampton and Diane Cluck show. In the bar by the entrance, Effie pointed out that they were playing the Laura Marling album.

It was lovely gig and just before I left, Diane came to say good night to Rowan (Coupland) who was supporting her that evening. I said hi, she took one look at me and said “nice sweater, nice colour” and with that she was gone...

Monday, January 05, 2009

My tiny little world

Too much time has passed, too many of my old posts start in a similar vein but here goes. Of course, I am spurred on by a bit of enforced spare time while holidaying in the Isle of Wight and a nostalgic jaunt through a few old posts. As I chuckle to myself, secretly enjoying my own distant wit and find myself wondering exactly who it is/was who writes/wrote those old rambles I get my tenses confused. It is nice to find that a few blogs have linked me ( and indeed it is a shame to find that my only sporadic attempts at blogging have infuriated some to the point of removing me from their links pages. Fair's fair. The bloggers world exists in time. You're only as good as your last post.

I make no excuses. No, I do I do! I am ashamed at my lack of literary excursions but I am aware that so often there is little time to be made. I work full time office hours at a rather tedious job , I spend my remaining time writing, recording and performing music with various bands. I even have to cook, wash up and clean the bath occasionally – not to mention spend time with my loved ones. Time is everything and time to write has been shunted, it has been demoted. It doesn't get the place it deserves. Like meaningful exercise and reading the papers – it is an occasional beast. It is a luxury, an event – not part of the programme. I am wise enough to know that if I ever harboured that strange urge to one day write my magnum opus (it'll come), it'll only be worth reading if I keep my writing hand in during my lifetime. That or have someone ghostwrite it. And what would be the fun in that?

What is interesting then? Let's start with activity. Graeme Walker is always a busy bee. Always an inspiration in his ability to be constantly creative. Life is creation – life is the artwork and space is the place to do that creation. He is continually working and projecting outwards towards communities, to artists and to helpers. His interests are everywhere and everything. Currently he is transforming a derelict and disused old bus depot into a working space for artists. Graeme's use of the internet to power his projects is fascinating. Always there is a blog for each new project, a document, a reminder, a call for further help. The project name is The CoachWerks and you can read up and see the pictures here: (

I myself have thrown all my energy at music. Music, one of the more transient pursuits. Why do I do it? That's a good question. Why put all this energy and time into something that doesn't guarantee any recognition or success or money or a pension? And of course there are enormous sacrifices that are made for this lifestyle and this kind of pursuit – never do I have money or time or a sense of satisfaction. However, these things can be turned on their head. I never have time because I use my time – I grab my time. I am never satisfied because I am always working towards something. And these things are of a transient nature. Take a gig I organised in November. Curated, organised, promoted to death in order to spend many stressful hours running around making sure everything is just so and the lights are right and the sound is right and the people are smiling. And the pay off? Sitting and watching Richard Dawson growl his massive heart out to a packed and rapt room who all feel they've witnessed something truly new and truly special. And the satisfaction? I did this – I created this room – I made this happen. And importantly, I participated, performing the opening set with my band Laish Quartet, singing songs that I wrote, playing these songs that I rehearsed and recorded with my friends for hours and hours. Music is a work that reaches beacons of activity, like much of life I suppose. Success defined by an evening's warmth, a shared event – something far from average. Something unique. And I remember Effie turning to me with glowing eyes during The Leisure Society's beautifully bare and intimate performance earlier in the evening, “this room is just so full of love.”

What a strange thing then. To put all this unpaid work into something for a couple of hour's glory. But what is the alternative? I could never bear going to so many gigs in my youth and feeling that I wasn't one of these people. I couldn't bear not feeling worthy of that stage, of feeling that I was participating with this. This was what made me feel lazy more than anything, to not be doing that which I loved – that which I followed with all my passion. So much I have learned about the importance of chords and melody, of words and voice, of arrangements and instrumentation, of organising and leading rehearsals, of recorded techniques and musical production, of reverbs and space, of aural as well as visual aesthetics, of performance, of communication also verbally with an audience, of preparation, of music as commodity, of marketing and design and promotion. Of silence.

And what is there to show for this? For a start, a new record label. The Willkommen Records imprint, an opportunity for us friends to pool our collective resources, contacts, mailing lists. To stamp our authority and our quality upon the world. To release the music that we pour ourselves into and hopefully give ourselves a chance to let it breathe in this particularly artistically saturated of times.

And I find myself tired of writing already. My how my stamina has waned, my writing fitness has all but disappeared. And yet I could stand and sing my songs for hours, improvising, reworking old classics by heroes and by friends. There is my fitness.

2009 I hope will be another busy year. A year to release some music into the world. To work hard on these songs, probably written in a matter of minutes but pored over for months, endlessly scrutinised and rearranged and performed and criticised to the point of utter confusion. But this is the work. And this is the lesson, that the work must be done and it must be finished and it must be released so I can move on to the next thing. And there is no goal, there is no finish line, there is no sense of achievement bar those few moments of elation when celebrating our triumphs with friends and strangers in these dark rooms. It is always a process whether you're famous or successful or not. Always we are on the road and always we are without money or a proper bed or a sense of stability. But at least we are alive.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Postcard from Israel

I'm in Israel! What's been going on?

I went to a great wedding. The English/Israeli thing worked a treat. We had all the traditions of the hebrew celebration, with the English non-Jewish Martin getting to stamp on a glass; an enormous buffet dinner to satisfy even the most petrified of Jewish women that I might be starving to death; and dancing with wild arms to 80s pop. But then we had the Engish contingent to inspire some hard drinking in Lee-Or, the Israeli bride, and and some hilarious banter.

Martin is a chiropractor, and so it seems are all his friends.

After the ceremony and the dancing was done - we all piled into a coach and were bussed for 60 long minutes (with only one vomit stop for the maid of honour who took the job title to mean 'get the bride so drunk she misses half the wedding night') to Abu Gosh, between the Jordanian Desert and the Dead Sea. We had a campfire waiting for me to get some music started, and a whole host of beds and, a very well stocked fridge. We jammed until the sun came up. Actually, I retired a little before hand to sleep out on a rock with Effie trying her best not to be sick.

After a day or so to recover, we went to the Dead Sea, which was beautiful. I got a proper chance to go swimming in the salty water. It's amazing how you just float. One must try desperately not to swim too far from the shore, and try even more desperately not to let any water (salt) get in one's eyes. It's nigh impossible (especially with my bloody hair) but it is quite something to float in warm water under the light of a nearly full moon.


The girls were all harrassed by a horny naked young french man, who assumed that all female nudity equals pliant warm flesh. He was harshly rebuked for his efforts. And was then humiliated by a rather confused and slightly psychotic Israeli woman, who had stumbled upon our little party. Perhaps because it was dark and she didn't realise he was actually right there (or perhaps because she wished to freak him out) she loudly proclaimed in English, in front of the very same Frenchman (and his three friends) that she had been sexually harrassed by a creepy Frenchman "I mean, what does he want from me?"

The night's rest was appalling. Sleeping basically on gravel with only a sleeping bag for comfort. Sweating from the heat, but shivering from the strong breeze, my neck fixing itself into a permanent crick, while the mosquitos proclaimed loudly that it was FEEDING TIME! My god. How many days have passed? I still scratch every damn inch of my boyish body in a vain attempt to relieve the itching! Then in the morning, the flies attacked us, while the sun seriously baked us.

Thank the lord, then, for Ein Gedi, located conveniently a two minute drive from our tortuous sleeping spot by the sea. Ein Gedi is a wonderful set of waterfalls where the public are allowed to come bathe. How refreshing the cool waters and the rushing falls on your head...

Last night was my one booked gig in Tel Aviv. At the rather prestigious Levontin 7 venue, I was on a bill of "Music from the World". I witnessed a band playing tradition Arab music on Oud, frame drum and a stringed harpish instrument that made the player appear more like an engineer than a musician - it was spellbinding. I also saw some rather lovely African flavoured jazz wig out band. And old chap singing rather painful old yiddish songs with an Oud.

And me! Little old me with my six strings and my six songs plucked carefully from an ever growing songbook. I had rehearsed one song with my friend Itamar who gave some nice backing vocals. And I did my thing. The sound was good, I was enjoying myself. And I got a very warm response. I even sold two of my (painstakingly) newly packaged cds. The nice chap at the venue enjoyed it and started making noises about trying to get me back next week to support some good singer or other....we'll see.

The rest of the day was strangely spent in the company of four women engaged in an emotional Hebrew debate - loosely translated to the sentiment "Fuck him, he's no good for you, if you see him, hit him hard girl! he no good! he don't deserve you! he's a dawg! forget him! move on! don't you know you're better than that! I mean, hit him hard!"

It was all a bit surreal, watching girls eat ice cream and talking like hysterical mafia dons. While I eat pizza and wait for the occasional translated bits or snatches of English.

And then we went back to the gig in the evening, to watch a truly spellbinding Israeli singer called Victoria Hannah playing to a packed room. Like some kind of middle eastern witch, spinning frighteningly well delivered operatic dark tales of biblical proportions. Her band were a joy to watch - a drummer to die for - a fiddle player who was so damn cool. And a whole host of weird looping sounds and her VOICE! It was spooky. I was rather blown away, as you can see.

I asked her afterwards if I could buy a cd and she said she didn't have any which frankly seems ridiculous. But she's working on it etc...

And underpinning this whole trip is Miriam, Effie's wonderful mother who continues to be the warm and generous host. Regular offers of food, trips to nice restaurants (MUST FEED THE BOY!), discussions of translation and literature, and the particularly helpful fact that she has a spare car that means myself and Eff can take ourselves wherever we need to go...

Anyway, today we thought we'd pop to Jerusalem for a couple hours, peek around.

I wonder what's going on at home...

Friday, September 12, 2008

when you've been to the army

when you've been to the army,

it really changes you, you know

like I used to live with

two guys,

and they both,

you know,

they hadn't been to the army

and when we need to clean the place,

they're saying

let's just pay the two hundred,

get someone in to do it.

and when you've been to the army

you don't want to spend money

that you don't need to.

you can clean the house

in one hour.

in one hour, you know,


can have the house like – not tidy tidy

like tidy,

but you know,

you can have it acceptable.

clean you know.

I mean

do you know how much I used to do in the army?

like do you know how long is

one minute

when you're in the army?

now, it seems like,


it's one minute

but then it was like

you had to do so many things

in one minute.

in seven minutes I would get up,

wash my face,

get dressed,

do my bed

not like do it completely for inspection

but you know,

I would make it nice

and tidy.

and when mum says she will

be ready to leave the house

in five minutes,

I'm thinking.

do you know how much

I can do in five minutes?

So if you want to clean the house,

you need to do the dusting

and the hoovering

and this one guy he's like

I have a bad back and

I get tired if I've been working

for more than a few minutes.

you know,

he's not been to the army.

and I mean,


if you have a legitimate back problem

then perhaps you shouldn't do

all of the scrubbing

when you're leaning over a lot.

but maybe you can do the dusting

because you know

you're not having to use you're back so long.

so the dusting gets done and

I say

I'll wash the floors and the kitchen.

I mean, you know,

I say

I'll even do the washing up

and the other guy he can do his room

and then this guy he can do the dusting,

which takes like what,

ten minutes?

I mean, do you know how much I do

in ten minutes

but that's it,

you know, you have the dusting

and the floor

and the bathroom

and you know,

I'm probably doing more

so it's not exactly fair

but I mean each person is doing his bit

and still what do they want to do?

they want to do pay these people

two hundred shekels

to clean our flat


I don't want to pay them.

just do the dusting!

which takes only ten minutes

and I will do the rest.

you know,

they haven't been to army

and really it shows,

you know.

the army changes you.

I don't want to say

it was a lifechanging experience,

but it did really change my life

you know.

you can just tell those people

who haven't been to the army

because they







you know.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Pinch and a punch

Coming down from a four day hangover, I realise that I am still somewhat prone to dangerous bouts of excitement. On my 25th birthday party, I found myself accepting the kind offers of drinks from all my friends. At some points the drinks were lined up as if forming one long continuous booze funnel. Within about half an hour I was prancing about like a pickled idiot, gibbering and giggling like I'd invented sport.

Bless my parents and my better half for putting up so heartily with my nonsense. It was a grand do indeed.

In fact the last week has been an interesting one. During an attempted act of intimacy with my beloved, my knee accidentally found her face. A brief moment of “oww ooh!” and “sorry whoops, tee hee!” So it goes.

Given that the pain was not in my face, it was all but forgotten until a little later on, when I noticed that my darling sweetness Effie had a big shiny black eye. A whopping great lumpy yellowing black ring around her upper cheek and lower forehead.

The next day she went to visit her old boss, a proud Israeli business man with a brewing undercurrent of potential violence.

“Who did this to you? Was it Danny? I'll kill him. I'll have him beaten.”

Laughingly, she managed to persuade him that despite the rather incriminating clues to the contrary, I am about as likely to beat my girlfriend as I am to subscribe to Horse and Pony.

The next day at college, surrounded by her colleagues in Chinese Medicine, an eerie silence followed her. People were smiling but not quite talking straight to her. She could sense an unspoken sympathy from those around her. The silent denial became too much,

“Er, guys has anyone noticed that I have a big fucking black eye” (always one for subtlety)

“Yeah, yeah!” They all gasped with relief. “Yeah, what happened? I was wondering about that.”

“Well actually Danny did it by mistake. But what if he hadn't! What if he had been beating me up? You'd have all just quietly wondered amongst yourselves what had happened? Fucking hell, you're so English!”

By the following day, the thought of appearing at my birthday party with the face of a retired boxer was too much. I was dragged into Boots, muttering and blushing and brought to stand at a cosmetics stall manned by a strange woman painted and dressed like some kind of mutton cheerleader. It was all rather confusing.

“Hi. Yeah, I need some concealer.”

“What for?” said the girl woman, doing a good job of feigning ignorance of the patently apparent facial wound.

“For this” (pointing at eye). “He did it.” (pointing at me).

“Thanks.” I, gazing off into the distance.

“Well, he can pay then,” said the woman.

I did as well.