Time Out


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I don’t really understand Time Out any more: why can’t I find articles from the magazine on the website? Why are their gig listings so rubbish? Who’s it actually aimed at these days: half the articles seem to be written for a particularly cartoonish representation of the hipster, while the other half sneer at the same stereotype.  But it was still nice to see my band in a photo in last week’s issue, even if it was in the Property section…

I’m not sure our performance at the Overground Festival Vintage stage would have encouraged (nor discouraged, for that matter) people from moving to Upper Norwood, but it was a very pleasant event to play. Though I’m still none the wiser as to the difference between Upper Norwood and Crystal Palace.

Now Playing: Bert Jansch reissues


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A good time for Bert Jansch reissues at the moment; and not just because autumn seems like the perfect time for listening to Jansch, Renbourn, and the fingerstyle folk guitar diaspora. Transatlantic Records are re-issuing early Bert Jansch albums and doing an excellent job of the re-mastering get: Bert and John in particular sounds deeper, clearer and crisper than previous versions.

The Earth label are on the case too, with Moonshine hopefully on its way to me in the post at the moment. 

Now will someone please re-issue Avocet on vinyl?

September Diversions


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September 2015: a particularly good month for conkers.


A month of wet weeks and surprisingly balmy weekends. A day trip to Whitstable saw unexpected high temperatures – ideal for oysters and fish’n’chips on the beach, followed by a walk to Tankerton and back.


Closer to home, the people behind the excellent Pelton Arms in Greenwich took over the White Swan in Charlton Village: a dismal pub turned pretty quickly into the best pub in the neighbourhood. I was lucky enough to get an invite to the soft launch evening, which seemed like a great success; there’d have been plenty of sore heads around SE7 the following morning.

After doing what felt like too many gigs with my band in June and July I swore we’d do no more than two a month for the rest of the year…then immediately agreed to three in a row in September. It proved worthwhile, though: a charity gig at my local; an amazing night at the White Swan with Simon Hanson from Squeeze depping on drums, and Glenn Tilbrook joining us for most of the second set on guitar and vocals; finally, a great night at the Pelton with a new sax player onboard.

I managed to spend more time than usual at Charlton Lido, with my daughter having swimming lessons there for the first time allowing me a quick ‘extra’ swim on Saturday mornings. One Sunday morning I achieved a life goal that’s been eluding me since the lido reopened in 2012: first into the pool. Swimming under a blue sky in a quiet, heated pool, with just a hint of a chill in the air: pretty much perfect conditions.

Summer holidays

Friday night, a semi-circumnavigation of the M25 and a night in a Holiday Inn. 
Saturday, the long slow drive to Cornwall and settling in to the camp site. More pylons. 
Sunday, a day on the beach and an invigorating (for which read ‘cold’) swim in St. Ives Bay.
Monday, the train to St. Ives and a look round the Tate followed by the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden.

Tuesday, a walk along the beach to Hayle under grey skies, then ice cream.

Wednesday, pouring rain and a trip to Falmouth.  

Thursday, a whole day on the beach then a barbecue.

Friday, St. Michael’s Mount, pasty for lunch, cream team in the afternoon, fish’n’chips for tea. A swim in the lovely Hayle Outdoor Pool to mitigate the local diet. 
Saturday, a drive to Bristol, Richard Long at the Arnolfini, then a few glimpses of the balloon festival. 

Sunday, along the M4, around the M25, home, then a mile swum at Charlton Lido. 

7/7 remembered


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Aldgate High Street outside my old office; December 2014

10 years ago today I was working in the office next door to Aldgate tube station, when one of four suicide bombers targeting rush hour commuters in London detonated a bomb on a Circle line train travelling between Liverpool St and Aldgate. 7 people were killed by this bomb; 52 were killed in total that morning. I thought I’d try to write down what I can remember of the day, before the details fade away.

I was commuting into Cannon St station at the time, then usually going down to the tube to get a District or Circle line train – getting off at Aldgate on the rare occasions that the latter turned up, but that morning, like most, walking from Tower Hill and collecting my breakfast on the way.

I’m pretty sure I was in the office lift when the bomb went off; I didn’t hear it but other people on the 1st floor did. Our desks looked out into Aldgate tube, but no one saw anything obviously amiss. The office was quiet; it was reasonably early and delays on the Northern line were affecting a lot of my colleagues. A few minutes after I arrived, a colleague walked in and said that ‘something was going on’ and that there were emergency services outside the Tube. A couple of minutes after that the fire bell was ringing and we decided to evacuate. Outside the office was a sort of calm chaos: the traffic jammed up except for what seemed like an unbelievable number of emergency vehicles of all varieties, all with sirens wailing.

We couldn’t get to the official mustering point outside the tube entrance so turned left and climbed over the horrible pedestrian barriers, and crossed Middlesex St – the divide between EC3 and E1; the City and the East End – and wound through the traffic, headed for Brick Lane in lieu of any better idea. There were probably 7 or 8 of us at this point, most of us having worked together for a few years.

We had breakfast in a cafe off a mostly deserted Truman’s Yard (this was a couple of years before Shoreditch really consumed Brick Lane), and still had little idea what was going on, or what we should do. Our phones stopped working around this time though most of us had managed to let people know that we’d been evacuated from our office.

At this point the chronology becomes a little hazy. In some order we made our way to another of our company’s offices off Gt. Eastern Street to make contact with other colleagues; this involved walking up a road lined with buses taken out of services. By this point we’d heard rumours of a bomb on a bus, and it was becoming obvious that something significant had happened; this walk by the parked buses was probably the most frightening part of the day. Once at the office it became clear there was no point hanging around, but we weren’t sure where to go next. Public transport had been taken out of service, and our group lived mostly in different parts of town. There seemed some sense in sticking together.

At some point we went to the ropey pub on Commercial St facing Petticoat Lane (its old name escapes me, but it’s recently re-opened as the much fancier Culpeper) to see if we could find out what was happening from their pub TV. After a while of not learning much – beyond the fact that there had been bombs on the tube and a bus, and the electrical overload explanation had been discounted – we decided that if we were going to have to walk home, we’d better get something to eat first, so went back round to Brick Lane and found a quiet curry house. One of the staff claimed to have seen bodies being carried out of a tube station, but something about his story didn’t quite ring true; like the kid in the playground who’s too eager to please with an exaggerated tale.

From there we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to set off home – there were three or four of us at this point heading for SE London – so we went to The Archer pub on Brick Lane in search of rolling TV news and, let’s be frank, beer.

The pub was busy and welcoming and we sat in the window trying, like everyone else, to work out what was going. Early reports of an electrical explosion had been demolished, but it was still unclear how many bombs there had been, and who may have been responsible for them.

At this point in the day (2pm maybe?) something remarkable happened. Office workers were starting to pour through the streets around Brick Lane, evidently having been evacuated from their offices and unable to go back into the City; most look worried, many looked lost. We began to notice people in high vis tabards approaching the lost – maybe 7 or 8 of them –  worn, it turned out, by Scientologists seeking to ‘help and comfort’ the displaced commuters. After a few minutes of this unsettling sight a mixture of locals from all backgrounds combined to tell the Scientologists to “f*ck off out of Brick Lane”, which they duly did. An incredible moment, but one that’s lingered in the brain for a long time: how did the Scientologists get organised so quickly? Are they always there in the background waiting for these kind of incidents?

After a couple of pints (maybe more…) we decided to start walking back to Greenwich, setting off via Cable St; I remember trying to explain the Battle of Cable Street mural to colleagues who’d never seen it before. Not long afterwards the DLR came back into service, so we got on and made our way to Cutty Sark, cautious, hyped up a bit, grateful for public transport. In Greenwich we made for the Spanish Galleon pub and met more friends. By now the sun was out, and it was the sort of day that in other circumstances would have been rounded off at a pub along the riverside. A couple of pints later some of us set off to a friend’s house in Charlton; he’d been working from home and generously offered to make us dinner. Arriving at his house, the beer and shock combined to an odd state of near-euphoria. Once his next door neighbour, a Nelson-obsessive (there’s a lot of that about in Greenwich amongst a category of men of a certain age) started pondering “what would Nelson do to counter this new terrorist threat?”, everything became a bit hazy.

It seems a lifetime ago, and a different world – the lack of real-time mobile social media updates alone enough to make it hard to explain in 2015. We couldn’t get back in the office for a few days afterwards, but after a few days things got back to mostly-normal in a speed that – looking back – seems incredible.

And here, I suppose, should go some conclusions: what I learnt from the experience. But I’m not really sure that I did learn anything clear and concise, apart from the obvious – suicide bombers are bad, people will work together to help each out in strange situations, things aren’t necessarily as frightening when they’re going on as when you look back in hindsight, and so on. We were a lot closer to it than obviously we’d have liked, but I still can’t begin to imagine the trauma of those who were actually on the tube trains or in Tavistock Square when the bombs went off.

Now listening: to vinyl…


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A few weeks ago I bought a secondhand record player; a proper one – a Technics 1200Mk2, like what the DJs use.

Why would I go and do a thing like that, since I’ve never really had a vinyl collection?

  1. Fundamentally, it’s an over-complicated, expensive way of avoiding having to switch my computer on to listen to music. I’ve been using Apple Match for the last 3 or 4 year, and Spotify for the last couple of years, but found increasingly when I put music on via my Mac it a) took ages to get going from switched on (guess I should get a new hard drive), b) once it was running I was instantly into all the distractions of the Internet. I spend enough time staring at screens through the week to know I don’t want to start again first thing on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
  2. I don’t feel like I really have a music collections any more: years of digitising my CDs and downloading tracks has left me with nothing really to show for it, bar loads of CDs bought in the 90s, many of which are unlikely to get played again, and countless MP3s never properly listened to. I never used to have a problem with iTunes but over the last year or so I’ve found it increasingly annoying to use; each new update brings a heart-sinking feeling: ‘what have they done this time?’. There will be no changes to the UI or OS of the Technics, I’m pretty certain.
  3. A few things happened over the course of a couple of months that put the idea in my head, and it wouldn’t go away. I went to the Independent Label/Craft Beer Market at Spitalfields and came away with a nagging thought that it’d be nice to be buying some physical music; I read Richard King’s hymn to a record shop, Original Rockers; and finally, my daughter and I found ourselves in the Red Door Cafe in Greenwich one half-term lunchtime. Here they have a turntable and a great big pile of records for customers to choose from. It was quiet in the cafe; we ate our lunch slowly and my daughter got stuck into a sticker book while I worked through their Ray Charles and Elvis collection. Something about it stuck in my head for weeks afterwards. My daughter had never seen a record player in action before, and I really enjoyed handling the vinyl. At the back of my mind getting my own record player vinyl started to seem like a great idea.

So in the end, I ordered the Technics.

Other things I like about it:

  1. One volume control, on the amplifier. No faffing about balancing virtual volume controls on iTunes, Spotify, sound card, etc.
  2. It sounds excellent.
  3. Listening uninterrupted by computer reboots, video adverts, and so on.
  4. An excuse to hang around in record shops again.

Time will tell if the novelty wears off, but I’m loving it so far.

Greenwich Peninsula; June 2015



There was a time, presumably, when the planners thought that the newly-cleaned up Greenwich peninsula was a blank canvas, there to be planned into the perfect modern development. It hasn’t worked out that way: recessions, landbanking, viability assessment-gaming developers, and the passage of time have all seen that idea off. What will it look like when it’s finished? I suspect no one has any real idea.

Field Day 2015 – a very short review


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After a Saturday spent making more merry than I intended at Plumstead Make Merry, I went to Field Day festival in Victoria Park on Sunday, and found it had improved immensely in the 8(?) years since I was last there: bigger, more stages, and no more huge queues for bar and toilets. Craft ale and camper vans selling pulled pork burgers may be increasingly over-familiar sites around London, but they improve the logistics of this kind of event no end (and – somewhat surprisingly – much of the craft ale was cheaper than the cans of Default Lager on sale). Plus, the weather was pretty much perfect.
A not-exactly comprehensive review of the acts I saw:
Mac De Marco – entertainingly daft; some excellent tunes, some not-so-excellent tunes; strong potential for the joke to wear very thin.
Happyness – noisily entertaining enough, but seem unlikely to set the world on fire
Gaz Coombes – a bit sad: sludgy-sounding, with occasional hints of sweet melody; felt like a man looking for musical direction.
Matthew E White – should have brought his band. Those tunes really didn’t suit the transition from lush studio arrangement to ‘two blokes with electric guitars’. Pretty sure we weren’t the only ones to wander off, baffled, after a couple of songs
Hookworms – excellent stuff: tight and clear and full of, erm, hooks; a welcome contrast to Coombes and White.
Patti Smith – top marks for singing and sounding like it was still the 70’s; shame her band sounded so conservative, like an accomplished but complacent pub band playing classic rock.
Savages – intense and punk and dynamic. Another level from from everything else I saw away from the main stage. Properly brilliant drumming.
Ride – slick and entertaining; way above my expectations.

At £35 a ticket it was good value compared to many medium-sized gigs (though handing over £20 for 4 cans of Beck’s Vier will never seem like a good transaction). Back next year, I hope.


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