It’s All Right, We’re Going To The End Of the Line

17 03 2010

Right, I’m getting this over with, because there’s plenty more things I should be blogging about and quite frankly, I won’t feel ‘complete’ inside without it.

The Travelling Wilburys – The End of the Line

Fanfarlo – Finish Line

Mable John – Your Good Thing (Is About To End)

and last but not least:

Friendly Fires – On Board

So here we are. New York City with a day and a half left in what I now consider to be my new favourite country. I’d always half-sneered at America but endeavoured to come here with an open mind ready to be won over. Man alive, was I won over.

New York was first, New York was last. I’ll be back here, but to be honest I can look back at the trip and say it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. The places I’ve seen, the things I’ve done and the people I’ve met have all left a lasting imprint on me. It’s a great place. Go there before President Palin’s inaugurated.

So what to do on my last day? It started badly. I could barely get out of bed. I had wanted to go and watch the match. Liverpool were in action and while I’d been away their form had in no uncertain terms, gone to shit. I couldn’t get out of bed, so I hooked up the laptop and found Blackburn v Liverpool live online. I should’ve got more sleep.

I finally made it outside. It was cold. It was wet. But I had a lunch date. Yes, some of the people on the canyon trip actually wanted to see me again. It felt like an absolute age had gone by. Since I’d left Richard and Erika in Las Vegas I reckon I’d driven 4,500 miles down to San Diego, up to Vancouver and all the way back to LA before flying back to NYC. It was great to see them again.

I’d clearly had more lunches than both Erika and Richard put together since I’d last seen them. It was Erika’s last week in the city before moving back home to Paris so I was glad she could spare the time to join us. I can’t believe how it must feel to leave New York after living there for over two years, but she was going back to Paris, so I suppose every cloud has a silver lining! Saying that, she appeared to have taken a healthy dislike to all things French while she’d been there. They all “talk weird” in Paris apparently…

Yeah, tell us about it.

I walked back into the city with Richard and he left me at Macy’s. It was cold. It was pouring down. Actually, scratch that…it was SNOWING.

There are moments you tend never to forget in life, and standing outside Macy’s in December in the snow is one of them.

Now of course I’m sick of the bloody stuff. Snow can sod off.

I grabbed a few last bits and pieces. Jeans that actually fit me, shirts that actually fit me, those sort of things.

It was my last night and I was off to the big gig.

The XX and Friendly Fires at Webster Hall. A top venue for a top double-bill of England’s finest. I’ve liked Friendly Fires for a while. I’d seen them at Liverpool’s Korova with about 100 people crammed in downstairs. I’d seen them in the rain at Gateshead. Now I was in New York, possibly the only man in the audience aware of Ed McFarlane’s dancing. I eagerly awaited the American response.

But before that, a final meal!

I learnt throughout my journey that many of you expected, nay demanded, pictures of the food of America. Some of you to the point of obsession. Here’s the last one.

I went over the road to The Smith. It’s like eating in a scrubbed-up abattoir. Prime rib please!

This wasn’t going to help my dancing was it? Back to the gig…

The XX were moody as hell, not really what I was expecting but still quite mesmerising to watch. They’ve got something about them. I’m not sure what.

You may know The XX from their remix of Florence and the Machine’s cover of “You Got The Love”. The moody one. With the harps.

Anyway…it was electro-disco-pop-funk time. I took some pictures. None of them were any good. It was dark. And the place was literally bouncing. It took a while for the whole audience to get it, but Friendly Fires made sure they got all of it. Outstanding stuff.

Action shot! Look! He's dancing!

At one point the girl next to me turned to her friend and screamed, “Oh…My…God…Look at him MOVE! I want him!”

From that day onward I knew dance was to be my premier form of communication.

I (rather sweatily) left the Webster Hall suitably high on life. I met Alex for a final drink in the East Village and Greenwich and we toasted the great city. I staggered through a now warmer city, past a movie being filmed at 4am just off 6th Avenue. Streetlights, empty streets, wet New York tarmac: the perfect scene. I could appreciate that even when drunk, because let’s face it I’d had enough practice of alcohol-induced lucidity over the past 89 days.

Sunday was my last day in the USA. For now. As I say, I’ll be back.

It was a BEAUTIFUL day.

Can you ask for a better final memory of a city? (clean, anyway)

I checked out of the hotel and headed for the airport. I got on a plane and went home. I was sad. It took me a good 4 weeks to realise I was home and had to get on with life. New Year’s Eve was fun, as I just didn’t want 2009 to end.

It had been the best 90 days of my life.


And In The End…(part 3 – almost home)

25 02 2010

Thursday….yes, I’m dragging this out beautifully aren’t I?

I’ve been home two months now, got a new job and a new car. I’m even moving to a new city, but somehow in my head I’m still in New York City. Mainly because I’m incredibly lazy. (Actually in my head I’m somewhere between San Diego and LA, it’s 9.15am and I’m sat on the beach watching women play volleyball. That’s just they way it is.)

So, my last Thursday in the USA was to be my final day in the hostel. How would my new mice friends cope without me? I didn’t care. One more night and I was off to a real hotel. One with a bar and a concierge and ‘intimacy kits’. Hurrah.

But for Thursday I had to first get out of bed. Wednesday had been quite a day/night/following morning. I eventually got out and about and decided to head south towards Little Italy, SoHo and (forget it, Marge it’s…) Chinatown.

It was a much quieter day, one that I really can’t remember too well. There was some shopping. I think. I got up too late to go on another tour, this time to Brooklyn. That’ll have to wait until next time. So I got on the subway and went south and began walking again. I’m not sure there’s more of a pleasuresome way to spend your day than wandering around Manhattan. It just brings a smile to your face. I was hungover, I had a cold coming on after all that standing in the rain listening to a tinny Rod Stewart and an even-tinner Michael Bouble, but I was happy as happy could be. I meandered through Chinatown, Little Italy, SoHo and NoHo and around Greenwich village. There was no panic to fit in as much as I could before I left. After three months of days like this I was the most content man in the world.



Carry on!

Back at the hostel I met up with Holger again and we decided to go down to the Rockefeller and see if we couldn’t go and see the city at night from quite a way up. There was also a pub crawl being organised by the hostel later in the night so it was a bit of a plan.

The Rockefeller Centre viewing platform is just great. I can’t really explain it, but as I say, I’d clearly reached some sort of epiphany after all this time. We managed to finally work our cameras to work at night while getting the background in as well. That’s the important bit apparently. I got reasonably excited to see the ball that drops in Times Square when the new year begins. I of course only know about this from Will Smith’s “Willenium”, a classic of its or any other time.

Ball-dropper just out of picture

While we were up there some bloke proposed to his girlfriend. All very romantic, but he seemed to do it by passing her a note. As it was about 7.30pm on a December night, she couldn’t read it and asked him to tell her what it was all about. What followed was a very unromantic scramble for the available light close to the emergency exit. He eventually got a bit fed up of it all and just got down on one knee. Luckily there was a photographer lady up there at just the right time to take their picture. For $25. Who says romance is dead? And I wonder what was on that piece of paper?

By this time the hangover was beginning to drag us both down. The pub crawl idea was beginning to look as appealing as Jordan in a flannelette nightie. This was confirmed when we met in reception to see who else was coming along with us. My heart sunk.

Yes, there was a good mix of people but unfortunately there were a few too many Brits. I have to say that while I’d met several lovely people from my own land, the only people who’d really pissed me off had been English. God, we’re wankers at times. No other nationality had made me feel as uneasy – with the slight exception of that time when Anders got back into the car after a petrol stop on the way to Vancouver and began the conversation with the question, “So what do you make of the Treaty of Lisbon? These foreigners, eh?”


Anyway, at the hostel there was this one girl for whom it was pretty clear that no-one else could know as much, be as uber-clever or be quite so above and beyond the horrific masses than she. She actually took the time to stop someone mid-flow to tell them that they weren’t entertaining her enough, imploring the rest of the group to be “more funny, cos I need cheering up.” She needed beating up.

Holger and I decided that beer was not the answer. For once. The answer lay in food. Lots of food. Just down the road, we got our wish.

On the corner of Amsterdam and 94th all our Peruvian chicken dreams came true.  At Pio Pio ‘The Matador Combo’ managed to combine chicken with rice & beans, tostones, salchipapa and an avocado salad. I think we ordered some fries as well. To think we nearly had a starter. Any Matador who had this before stepping in front of a bull is in for a gouging.

Is that enough?

I got a good night’s sleep and woke fresh for Friday. Moving day! Back I went to the Hudson. It hadn’t changed much. The rooms were still very nice but still FAR TOO SMALL. There were no new celebs spots. At least I don’t think so. I could’ve sworn Tim Roth nearly walked into me in reception. He nearly bumped into me, mainly because I was walking straight at him thinking, “he looks like Tim Roth.”

But I arrived far too early to check in to my room so dropped off the bag and went off to explore the city with Holger. We had some shopping to do. Some people from back home had suggested I need to buy them ‘gifts’, as if my return after 3 months wasn’t enough for them. I’d managed to put this off for long enough with the excuse that my suitcase was just way too packed for me to fit anything in, but as it was now packed with clothes that just didn’t fit me any more I was about to gain some space. I headed for H&M and stocked up on clothes that did fit me (at two-thirds of the price back home – bloody Britain).

Holger and I decided a visit to Century 21 was required. It’s a very cheap department store just over the way from Ground Zero. How it was not destroyed that day is amazing, but then again if you seen the pounding it takes on a daily basis from bargain-hungry shoppers you’ll realise just how resilient this place is. It’s also mental. I started getting palpitations. This is where all the Brits where. And they were Christmas shopping for Britain. I escaped to Starbucks over the road and waiting for Holger to get what he wanted. It took him and hour to buy 3 pairs of underpants. Off we went to SoHo and NoHo and the real shopping began. I found sensible clothing of a sensible nature at sensible prices. He went off looking for jeans. After 90 minutes trying them on in G-Star he informed the assistant who’d been with him all the time that he really wasn’t sure and that they were probably the same price in Germany. This guy was possibly the coolest, most laid-back shop assistant in the city. Holger had nearly reduced him to tears. We Europeans really aren’t popular at times.

Back to the hotel and having arranged to meet Holger again for something to eat I nearly stayed in, suffering from what was becoming a really bad cold (and it wasn’t getting any warmer out, snow had been forecast). But it was my last weekend in the USA, so sod it. On a tip from Anna who I’d met in San Francisco we headed for Chinatown. Anna had told me to go get myself a Chinese hot-pot. It was the only thing that would blow this cold away. Little did I know what I’d let myself and Holger in for.

So off we went to the Grand Sichuan in Canal Street. It didn’t look especially appetising, but it was full. At 10 on a Friday night, that’s a decent sign. Looking at the menu it looked simple enough. You get the cauldron brought to the table and order all sorts of raw meats, fish and veg and cook it yourself. Yes, it’s a CAULDRON. It’s full of chicken broth and the pot we chose had a divider down the middle. Half was simple chicken stock, the other half was full of little red chillies – and that’s what matters. The stuff we cooked in that side of the pot was so hot it was painful. Holger was nearly in tears, his German exterior crumbling with the excruciating, yet quite tasty, experience.


Look at the pain in my eyes. I'm dying inside.

We even ordered more stuff to cook, through the tears. It was at once the best and worst meal I’d had in New York.

I decided what we needed now was a bar that served beer. The guide-book pulled out a plum: DBA.

I'm a sucker for bars with beer menus

Necessary post-cauldron drinkies

DBA wouldn’t tell you what DBA means. Luckily there’s a guy on the door called Keith. He’s from Somerset and looks like Bill Bailey’s weirder brother. He also looks like the big guy from Time Team, whilst having that delightful Englishness that Americans have loved ever since Spinal Tap first toured here. He works the door and gets free beer for doing it. What a job. DBA serves over 15o beers, 130 scotches and 60 tequilas. No wonder Keith didn’t work anywhere else, I doubt he could’ve managed the walk.

Keith... just about to check my ID

Once again the night blurred to a finish. I remember getting very upset finding I’d missed Brendan Benson at Le Poisson Rouge. I also remember the many rats that crossed our path in that area. One of them was huge, and may have been a cat. A very big cat.

Anyway, it was the weekend. My last weekend in the USA.

I promise the next post will be the last one. I have a totally new life back home that I can’t begin until I get this thing sorted out. It’s losing me money.

And In the End (part 2)

7 01 2010

So here we are again, back in New York City. It was late on a Tuesday night when I flew in to JFK and this time it was going to be a much cheaper living experience, until the last weekend at least. I’d booked the Hudson hotel for my last two days in the city, but before that it would be the HI Hostel on Amsterdam and 103rd. Cheap, cheerful, a bit scary in a big-city type of way.

But I was back in New York!

I had time to spare and the sight-seeing checklist to complete. And I really wanted to have time to try to take it all in. I’d enjoyed walking the city when I was first here and that was the plan this time as well.

Luckily the hostel put on a few tours and events, so Wednesday morning I met about ten other hostellers and our amiable tour guide Ed. Off we went to the historic sites of Harlem. I expected the regular stuff of the Apollo Theatre and 125th Street, but that wasn’t what this was about. We were headed for 145th Street.

Our Tour Guide: Ed

Ed is a gem of a guy who loves his city and really enjoys showing a different side of it to people from all over the world. We went up to Washington Heights, an area many tourists wouldn’t think of getting the subway to, but it was fine and there were a couple of really interesting spots.

The Dutch built these apparently

New and Old Yankee Stadiums. Boo them. Go them.

House owned by Bailey from Barnum and Bailey's Circus

See? Interesting stuff. No, it’s not Ripley’s Believe It Or Not but Ed made the whole trip very enjoyable. When he left, a couple of us decided to carry on to the main part of Harlem. So after some good old-fashioned soul food Nikki, Alex and I decided to walk back down towards home. We didn’t know at the time exactly what this walk would entail. We’d already walked for about two hours and little did we know what was ahead of us (Nikki knew of places we hadn’t thought of going to). I, Nikki – from Bristol (I think – sorry Nikki!) and Alexandra – who’s from Germany but lives in…Stockport*…started walking south:

[*Alex has asked me to edit this bit. She works in Stockport but doesn’t live there. It’s not that she’s ashamed of living in Stockport. But she would be if she lived there. Happy to clear that up.]

The Harlem YMCA, which I was convinced was the one in the original video for the camp-as-a-row-of-tents disco hit. It wasn’t. I’ve checked. It was the one in the East Village (which makes sense when you think about it, doesn’t it?) Why I got so excited about it, I don’t…really…know.

Harlem's Apollo Theatre

My New Suit

The Cathedral of St.John The Divine

Which is lovely, as you can see

It got a bit out of hand now, but just as I was overly excited to see The Fresh Prince’s house in LA…

Can you hear the bass guitar solo?

…so I was excited to get to Tom’s Diner from Seinfeld. And yes, it’s also THAT Tom’s Diner from the Suzanne Vega song. It says so outside, so it must be true!

We walked on (we’ve already gone 30 blocks)

We walked on another 30 blocks so Nicky could see Strawberry Fields and The Dakota Building. She paid us back with this: 55 central Park West.

It’s the building where Dana and Louis live in Ghostbusters. They later became Zuul and Vinz Clortho. Who later became big satanic dogs. It’s one of the best 5 films of all time. I promise.

(Ginger Rogers lived here in the 1930s, while Donna Karen also lived here, fact fans)

We’d walked 60 blocks and quite frankly, we were knackered.

We got home to the hostel with about an hour to change… to go for another walk. It was Christmas tree light switch-on at The Rockefeller.

The hostel organised another group to get to the Rockefeller but as the rain fell and we trudged round Central Park and down 5th Avenue we realised what a task it would be to get to see the show (it’s organised and televised by NBC). By this time there were 4 of us with my roommate Holger – he’s a German too – tagging along.

The show was star-studded. Michael Buble, Rod Stewart and some people from NBC shows they’re desperate to promote. Rod Stewart continues to murder old songs. Why? Someone stop him. I’m not advocating assassination but, y’know…*taps nose*…

The problem with the show for us was that:

a. It was pouring down, and

b. We couldn’t actually see the show. It was behind a big building. There’s a lot of them in New York.

Plus by this time the shambles we were in had lost Alex in the crowd. There was no way this was going to be any good, whatever the sodding Christmas tree looked like. It was time for a pint.

It was time to go to Greenwich Village!

Holger and Nikki enjoy Bleecker Street

Yes, I dragged them across town and after a quite a meal of chicken wings (20 cents each! what sort of recession is this?!) and a hefty amount of beer we were dry and warm and having a great time.

We moved down the street, saw some live music, had a couple to finish in the Blind Tiger. Suffice to say I had a lovely time.

I got a taxi home with a woman called Hannah, who never called me again.

And In the End… (part 1)

6 01 2010

“So how did that holiday thing you went on end up? You never finished it!”

Literally several emails have come in with something like that message in recent weeks. Well, as you can probably tell I’m back in the UK. I’ve been in a post-trip gloom that’s seen me sat staring into space – if you can do such a thing with your head up your arse. Apologies to many friends who’ve commented on my dopey state. Some have been swearier than others, but I understand that. I think my head’s clear now: I’m home. Oh God…

But anyway, where were we? Yosemite. That’s were we were.

I left Lindsey and Zak the next morning after we’d driven back to Sunnyvale. I had to get the car back to LAX for my flight the next lunchtime. I decided I was going to break a promise to myself and go back the way I came. I headed for the coast. There was some clam chowder to be had.

Oddly on returning to Pismo Beach, scene of The Cinnamon Roll breakfast, it was hotter than it had been when I was here in the Autumn, but as you can see Christmas was well under way.

Extravagant Christmas Deccies in Pismo Beach

It was here that I stopped for lunch at a spot Lindsey had recommended I go to the first time round. She was right, as usual. The clam chowder at The Splash Cafe was astoundingly good. By this time I was very much aware of my weight gain during the trip. I had eaten well during these last few months and was down to my last two shirts that fitted me.

I stopped at just the one bread bowl…

The calories are in the fizzy pop

It was becoming a race against time. I knew I’d have to be within striking distance of LAX the next morning but had no idea of what the LA traffic would be like. Coming in through Santa Monica seemed the easiest way with the airport close to the coast.

So how far could I get in one day? There were options. One was Solvang. Now Solvang is a strange place. Actually scrap that, it’s a VERY strange place. It seems to think it’s Denmark. Or Holland, or somewhere that has lots of Danish flags and windmills. This bizarre little place seemed to be the sort of place that celebrated Christmas all day round. But it was swelteringly hot for late November.

What's this all about?

Apparently some Danish bakers came over to settle here in the 1860s. It may have been the 1960s, because someone was on something when they built this place.

This was a motel?!

I decided not to stop here. I had a good few hours left of daylight and the drive was fun. Ahead of me was Santa Barbara, which would’ve been 100 miles from LAX and so in range the next morning. But I was enjoying the drive too much and ploughed on. Remembering how difficult it was for Chris and I to get a motel on the coast road I knew I’d have to stop soon. The only place we found the earlier time had clearly been owned by one of the Bates family. Indeed there was no ‘open’ or ‘closed’ sign, just a painted word on a plank of jagged driftwood: “CONDEMNED”

Actually, the other place we stopped at was the Malibu Motel which had rooms from $170 a night. That’s not a motel – and staying there just because the girl on reception is hot is no reason to stay there. I’d learnt that by now.

And so it was that from the choice of about 5 motels in the city of Oxnard, I chose the scariest one. Honestly, I’d previously not been scared in any motel I’d stayed in, but I was so tired that wanted to just STOP. Then I realised what the staff behind the counter were talking about. One of the rooms had been burgled the night before and they were on the phone to the police. Great.

The room itself wasn’t too bad, but the incessant chatter of a Chinese family next door kept me awake. They were either playing sex games or charades. Possibly a complex mix of the two.

I woke the next day and quickly got on the road. I had about an hour of driving the California coast left and I was going to milk it. It was a glorious morning drive into LA and the sun shone as the oldies station played the hits and I didn’t want to leave. But I had to. And if you’re gonna leave, you may as well leave for New York City.

[PS – can I just add again here that ALL car rental companies are incorporated into Satan, Inc. Thanks]

Uptight…Everything’s Not All Right

5 01 2010

Hello there and welcome to 2010, a brand new decade where we can start afresh. Goodbye noughties, hello tentacles.

But at the end of the last decade (that is to say, last week) I was given a piece of news that shocked me to the core and quite frankly rendered the whole new year celebration malarkey as irrelevant as Newcastle. A part of me died. No, not that part…

Let me explain. For the past ten years or so me and my friends’ Saturday nights have been dominated by one particular club night. Those of you who studied in Liverpool might think I’m talking about The Blue Angel, or ‘the Raz’, as it is inexplicably nicknamed. Well, you’re wrong. The Raz is a sticky-floored, odd-smelling, random-music-playing shit-tip. That’s my opinion and that’s what counts here. I do after all edit all the comments that arrive here, so don’t even bother. It’s rancid.

Anyway, moving on, there is a place on Duke Street in Liverpool where we’ve been ending our weary trudge through the hip and happening pubs and bars for nigh on a decade. Its glorious mix of 60’s pop, rock’n’roll, girl bands and glam rock has been the soundtrack for my generation – well, my circle of about 7 friends . Saturday nights upstairs at Le Bateau have been some of the best nights of my life. It was Uptight. It was outta sight.

Since returning to the city in the last few years I’ve been able to visit on a more regular basis and even after about 7 years of avoiding it, managed to go DOWNSTAIRS and dance to the new indie music with the hippity of the hipsters. But always did I need to return upstairs to cleanse myself  before going home. It was here, on this dance floor that was once part of a quite a nice boat-themed restaurant, that I heard some of the best tunes ever recorded; songs I would never have heard anywhere else in the cityand that have become  part of the soundtrack of my life.

I’m talking tunes like Al Wilson’s ‘The Snake’ (see the title of this here blog), Edwin Starr’s ’25 Miles’, ‘Peace Frog’ by The Doors, countless other Northern Soul classics like ‘Nothing But a Heartache’ by The Flirtations, wonderful cover versions like Thelma Houston’s ‘Jumpin Jack Flash’ and the regular floorfillers from The Supremes, Martha Reeves, The Beatles, Stones and Kinks. I swear I’ve had close to religious experiences on that dance floor – not least because Kronenberg is £1 a bottle.

Now it is no more. Le Bateau’s owners want something else on up there and they’ve ended it – not even a final fling to celebrate the music and the DJ’s who have brought it to us, including Liverpool music-scene veteran Norman ‘The Cat’ Killon (who’s been at the centre of everything good musically to come out of the city for over 40 years). I remember Norman used to put on Northern classics and jump out the DJ booth and do some rather spectacular spinning himself. That boy has the moves! Where else can you go up to the DJ and ask for a version of ‘Purple Haze’ by Johnny Jones and the King Casuals and receive a simple knowing nod of the head? Nowhere, that’s where.

Just look at the fun we had in there...

That dance floor’s seen some of the great and the good of Liverpool’s music scene regularly pay homage to the music gods that have gone before them. Often have I exquisitely completed a textbook left-foot anti-clockwise spin only to be shocked by the sight of a Zuton before me. That’s why I fell over.

We went there for the music. We went there for the good times.

We went there to try to bamboozle women to get off with us using only the power of our dancing.*

Thanks to the DJ’s who’ve made us move: Norman Killon, Paul Smith, Edgar Jones, Steve Farrell, Robin McGinn and James Street – and anyone else who took to the decks.

So here, in a hastily-knocked-up and not very reverential (but good hearted all the same) way, I present a few choice memories of Uptight @ Le Bateau.

Uptight at Le Bateau Mix

(right click and ‘save as’ – it’ll be with you in two shakes of a tailfeather)

It’s not a full history and misses out several classics but I hope it generates a small flicker of the energy that dance floor has shaken out of me in the past.

The mix is 92 mins long so you’d better whack it on one of those ipod thingies and listen to it there. It’s worth the download believe me.

Here’s the tracklist:

25 Miles – Edwin Starr
The Snake – Al Wilson
Under My Thumb – The Rolling Stones
John, I’m Only Dancing – David Bowie
Beggin’ – Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
Stoned Love – The Supremes
Heatwave – Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch) – The Four Tops
Peace Frog – The Doors
Psychotic Reaction – The Count Five
Tainted Love – Gloria Jones
You Keep Me Hangin’ On – The Supremes
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
Just A Little Misunderstanding – The Contours
Nothing But A Heartache – The Flirtations
Needle in a Haystack – The Velvelettes
I Was Made to Love Her – Stevie Wonder
Heaven Must Have Sent You – The Elgins
Tin Soldier – The Small Faces
Paperback Writer – The Beatles
You Really Got Me – The Kinks
Jumpin’ Jack Flash – Thelma Houston
Think – Aretha Franklin
Dance Pt 1 – The Rolling Stones
Rock & Roll – Led Zeppelin
Helter Skelter – The Beatles
Making Time – The Creation
The Night – Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
Do I Love You (Indeed I Do) – Frank Wilson
Dedicated Follower Of Fashion – The Kinks
Touch Me – The Doors
Stay With Me – The Faces

Enjoy… I know I’ll miss it

(*I only realised while writing this that despite several near-things, this only happened once  – and that was my during my last visit to the dance floor. I feel strangely culpable…)

2009 – A Year To Remember

31 12 2009

I may not have finished the account of my journey across the USA on this blog as yet, but I am now back in the good ol’ U of K now and have had a Christmas cooped up in my parents’ apartment wondering about what to do with my life, in between chats with my parents about what I’m going to do with my life.

I spent the last few days writing this, hoping I’d be able to send it round the world via Facebook to everyone who I wanted to see it. It turns out I’m just too big for Facebook. I knew it would come to this…

Hello everyone.
Yes it’s that time of year again. Some of you may have got one of these emails last year, some not. If not, maybe you weren’t even my friend last year, or maybe I didn’t care about you much. Well look where you are now! You’re on the list and being forced to read my review of the year. It‘s where I make up for not bothering with Christmas cards by writing about the year I’ve had to make you all a little bit jealous of me (others may be envious, but that’s allowed as well). Last year, this email was described as “amusing” by at least one person. Okay, it was one person. Hello Michelle.

The year began somewhat surprisingly in January, and with my debut on a radio station for me. Dave started getting up and getting down with the kids at XFM. Matt Bowen was that desperate, he called me. Indie news for Mancs. It was here I was introduced to Mike McClean and the genius that is Producer Jim Salveson. Who else could look at a press release headlined, “NFL cheerleaders come to the UK” and think, “that’ll make great radio”? Jim did and it did. I was in on the interview with guest presenter Alun Cochrane, offering absolutely nothing more than a helping hand. There’s photo evidence of that hand. Thank you, Miami Dolphins…

XFM news unfortunately went the way of the dodo, the great auk and David Tennant’s Dr Who in 2009, but I think you’ll find it wasn’t my fault (it was Aileen O’Sullivan’s, obviously). I may have had a hand in it, but as I say, the cheerleader never complained.

Nothing happened in February.

But March, well let’s just rename it Rock-March shall we? I know it works better with October but still…
In the small matter of 18 days I managed to see Franz Ferdinand, Doves and Kasabian, all in small venues and all superb. I saw The Courteeners as well but that seemed to be a Mancs-night-out-Liverpool swaggerfest. It was like everyone else in the Academy was called Liam and had knuckles that dragged along the floor. We got hit by a pint. Hilarious!
It was the first of 3 views of Kasabian this year. Probably my band of the year? Probably. An astonishingly good live band, I fear I’ll never see them in a venue as small as Preston’s 53 Degrees again.

It was another good year in music for David.

May took me to Newcastle’s Evolution Festival to see Mystery Jets and Friendly Fires. Now then, Friendly Fires. Probably my band of the year? Probably. I saw them twice, having already seen them in 2008 with about 100 other people in Liverpool’s Korova. In Gateshead there was about 1000. Then I saw them in New York, which sort of trumps Kasabian. Sorry lads. Friendly Fires are brilliant, and I want to dance like lead singer Ed McFarlane (I know, I’m close but I’ve just not got the hips). I want to dance like him specifically because of the girls I was stood next to In New York’s Webster Hall:

“Oh…my…god…look at his hips! I want him like sooo bad?”

Yes I’m shallow. Deal with it.

The night in Newcastle was complicated by my sharing a Travelodge room with three women, two of whom were sisters. Terrible.

You can add Oasis and Blur to the above list. I was at Heaton Park when the lights went out for Oasis. I look forward to Liam’s “Oasis 2.0” project, cos that’s not going to be crap is it? Seeing Blur in Manchester was a highlight because I always liked them better and they provided the soundtrack to my teenage years. The important bits anyway.
I managed to top that by seeing Brian Wilson (in Liverpool) and Aretha Franklin (in Radio City Music Hall in New York), but they’re not The Courteeners are they?

Due to the lack of a major international football tournament, the summer was dominated by a couple of weddings. Before that, there had been a stag do trip to Poland that I really shouldn’t tell you about, but I got shot in the head from point-blank range and I will never, NEVER let that lie. The idea of 10 (there may have been more, I was drunk) fat Englishmen agreeing to being taken to a field on the outskirts of town – which was clearly used as a Polish army training ground during the week – and give them mock firearms, needed a bit more thinking. When whatever landed on the other side of the field went off with a small mushroom cloud floating into the sky, we should’ve asked a few more questions. Getting locked out of my apartment twice in the weekend was quite an achievement, topped only by Paul Skinner’s ability to wake up from a drunken stupor, answer his phone to me (stood outside with no battery left on my phone and a very nice kebab in the other hand), tell me he was on his way and then take time to turn his phone off before falling asleep again.

That lemon vodka stuff was wonderful – especially if that’s what happens every time you drink it.

The photos of Dave playing football – in his ohsotight shorts – were purposefully put on the big screen at his wedding to put people off the hors d’oeuvres so he could save some money.

Always Ready

We’d prepared for our trip to Eastern Europe by…going to Eastern Europe. In early January Rob, Roy, Rick and myself (I somehow got invited despite my lack of alliteration) ventured to Budapest. In Hungary it was -15c. During the day. It was a three-shirt-night-out, but some of the bars and clubs are some of the best I’ve ever been to. The food was spectacular and that lemon vodka stuff was wonderful. It was a feature of the year.
The baths, where you nearly died of hypothermia just trying to walk the ten yards to the pool, were brilliant. It’s like an adult water park. Not an ‘adult’ water park you understand, although it was very steamy and easy to spy on….no David, leave it there.
I’ll always remember nearly throwing up on the subway and wanting to kill Roy Blagg. Never has one small man been so chirpy with a hangover. Bastard.

The chronological nature of this post has gone out the window due to my mind being lost. I’ve just had to text 2 friends to ask if I did indeed go to Budapest this year. It seems I did.

So after Dave’s stag do, his wedding. And a lovely day it was too. Well, it poured down and Wynyard Hall developed a moat, but it was the people that mattered and we were all there. I ushered, which involved getting people to their seats, nodding when the bride had arrived and performing an impromptu version of, “You Make Me Wanna” on the stroke of midnight. At least that’s what I think happened. I have very little recollection of the next 36 hours, but I ended up in Edinburgh. Rik showed me round his adopted city on a Sunday night and for a third night running I got completely leathered and woke with no idea where I was. I was in rik’s living room. He had a good thing going there with a cocktail bar, and left it all to go travelling around Australia for god knows how long. Who goes travelling to Australia when there’s….America!

Yes, the final 3 months of the year were taken up by my trip to the states. Some called it a trip of a lifetime. Others called it a mid-life crisis. I ignored those people, mainly because I couldn’t look them in the eye and say it wasn’t, but there I sat on September 10th, sat on a Continental flight to Newark, wondering what the hell I had done.

What I’d done was start the best three months of my life. It’s almost fully documented in my blog that so many of you kept reading, even when the envy rose to dangerous levels. It’s not finished yet because I’ve not got round to writing the last page. I don’t really want to finish it.

But here’s the thank yous:

In New York:
David at the Hudson Hotel. A lovely man.
Alan and Tom. Two lovely men who looked after me for over a fortnight and who I hope I’ll get to see again, but I’m not sure I ever will. That’s life I suppose.
Nick Ciavatta (of who was the first person who spoke to me in a bar and just happened to be a former radio station PD. Typical! Thanks to all his friends in the Blind Tiger on Bleeker St. as well.
That guy Jamie in the queue for the pizza shop who asked me if we had pizza in Europe.
Ray and Mandy the Australians on the train to DC. We’d just won the Ashes. Brilliant.
Aretha. Genius.

In Washington DC
Ruben Lobowski. A wonderful guy who let me stay in his beautiful house and showed me round DC. Top man.
David Leahey. Blimey, we went to primary school together and here I turn up out of the blue. A fine afternoon pint or three. He plays piano in the White House! (next time he’s going to sneak me in).

In Quebec
Claude Carrier. He became my first travelogue interview with his views on Quebec’s struggle for independence and his hatred of the French. Right on brother!

In Boston
Dan. He had no furniture you could be comfortable in and he got me so drunk that I lost 4 hours of my life, resulting in officially the worst hangover
John Griffin. A true hero of my trip. He’d never met me before yet put me up in his great apartment, took me to the ball game, took me drinking on several school nights and finally directed me to a beer festival where he turned up to see me skittle ten pins down with an empty beer barrel. Boston was great. John was a big part of it. Firm handshakes all round.

On the Canyon Trip
Well, what can I say? A few things! But what a 9 days it was. And no-one tried to kill Maxwell.
So hello, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and thank you for making my year:
Phil – hotel room-mate extraordinaire.
Lotte – Incredibly Dutch and much fun. For the tea times…
Suzanne and Graeme – a married couple who managed to put up with us.
Erika and Sonia – extending the entente cordiale.
Sarah – from the Lakes, and related to him out the Inbetweeners. But there’s more to her than that!
Ursula – German. Efficient.
Richard – New Yorker stunned by us Brits on a regular basis. More in horror than anything else
Maxwell – From Stoke. The reincarnation of Jade Goody in male form.
Eddie – our intrepid guide. A bit of a dude. His Las Vegas antics. Can’t say any more than that.

In Las Vegas, San Diego and LA
Chris Luckett for coming over and seeing me. I was getting a bit lonely and I’d have only got into LOADS of trouble on my own. We even got to see Hugh Grant in action with 2 blondes. At the bar!
Courtney in Encinitas. She served us beer and gave us food. Then invited herself to Liverpool. The cheek!
That very odd looking guy at the border in Tijuana who wanted us to help him because he’d just got out of prison. Sorry for running away quite so fast. Well, not really.

In San Francisco
Winifred. She saved me from the hell of being in a bar full of people in fancy dress on my own. She was in fancy dress.
Wendy. Another nice Dutch lady. On another tour. Wendy and I met on Dylan’s bus tour, got disappointed by big trees that should’ve been bigger and went to see the Day of the Dead parade thingy.
Anna. Half an hour’s chat in a Mission bar (that should’ve been longer – at least 45 minutes) and still friends. Thanks to facebook for that.
That girl who came up to me at the bar and said my accent was hot. It took 51 days for that to happen. I was promised better.

In Arcata
What a place! Thanks to TV camera-person/film-maker/facial-hair-grower Josh Keppel, and Aaron and Leslie.
Thanks to the place with the fabric all over the place and the musical instruments and the brilliantly odd people.

In Portland
Well, Katie at Steelhead brewery in Eugene to start with. 9% beer??
To everyone at the hostel who ate my birthday cake, but particularly…
Janis from Canada. She only came to Portland to see a band, but met me. How lucky is that?!
Amanda, Amy and Elliot for the birthday 80s night out

In Seattle
Simon and Kat for the Scrabble session. Dave wins.
Alina and Yesenia for talking to me at the Fanfarlo gig and getting us thrown off the balcony.
Stephen for the drinking sessions.
To Anders for tagging along on the trip to Vancouver.

In Vancouver
To Kat for coming out on a wretched night and being great company, while introducing me to biro tattoos. You’ll never regret them…!

In California
Lindsey and Zak Akin. Fabulous people with a fabulous dog.
Susan and Chuck. Great hosts in Hanford.
The Akins and The Basmajians. The best Thanksgiving dinners I’ve ever had!
Nate and Xenia. For helping with my initiation ceremony on that amazing night in Yosemite.

And back in NYC
Holger for coming shopping and taking an hour in a shop to try on 10 pairs of jeans and buy none of them. And for the hot chilli Chinese meal.
Nikki for showing us some parts of New York we never thought we’d see, during a 64 mile, sorry, block walk (it felt like 64 miles)
And Alexandra for being out with me on my last night in New York – and the USA.

Thanks to everyone that followed the trip and gave hints and tips on where to go, some more salubrious than others – thanks most of all for those!

Back home I must add those people who made 2009 a really very good year. I stumbled (being the operative word) upon some lovely new people to go drinking with. The Northern Irish Massive were so nice, two of them took Louisa off my hands when I went travelling. You’re very kind! But I’m afraid I’m not having her back. So, Una, Shauna, Frankie, and the newlyweds Mairead & Andy, and the rest of you (there’s a lot aren’t there?!) thank you for letting me into the round. I’ll buy one soon.

Did i mention I'd met Elbow? In Bury!

Speaking of newlyweds, congratulations to Emma and Lee and thanks for a lovely wedding darn sarf. It was a great weekend and you all looked smashin‘.

Katherine and Karen, welcome to Liverpool. You’re most welcome. Let’s face it, you’ve spent enough time here and it’s about time. To the usual suspects: Rob, Louisa, Liverpool Football Club… thanks for being there, even if some of you were completely useless at times.

You all made 2009 possibly the best year ever. EVER.

Until 2010 of course…

See you next year.

(did I miss anything?)

Kings Of The Wild Frontier

22 12 2009

Adam & The Ants – Kings of the Wild Frontier

So Thanksgiving was over, but that’s not to say the holiday weekend was over. It was merely the beginning. For some, the mysterious shopping spectacle of “Black Friday” was about to begin. Indeed for the sorry staff of several major retailers Friday began exactly on the dot of midnight on Thanksgiving. Please, no-one tell Next about this. They’ll have those poor sops who normally queue up at 5am for an ill-fitting suit spending Christmas day in bed, dreaming of buying that must-have shiny black shirt. Ideal for when you really want to look unstylish or cheap or both on a night out.

One whole mall in San Jose opened at midnight with the car park full at 12.30am. These were not late-night ravers looking for another glowstick. They were full-blown idiots. Last year a security guard was trampled to death at a Walmart in New York. Disney Stores were trying to re-brand Black Friday (so-called because it generally helps put retailers back in the black rather than the red) as “Magical Friday”. What is it with Disney and their obsession with sodding magic?! I speak as a fan of Warner Brothers. It’s more like life. “Some day kids, you’ll just get hit by an anvil. Deal with it.”

After two-and-a-half Thanksgiving dinners I was going nowhere at midnight. Having watched Paul McCartney’s superb concert to open the new Shea Stadium that was on TV, we slept it off.

But it didn’t stop there and although we knew we had to be up early on Saturday morning to head for Yosemite, out we went again on Friday night. We should’ve held back at the wine place again. We should’ve stopped at the dive bar lit only by neon beer signs. In reality I have no idea where we finished that night. All I knew was that I was about 5 hours sleep away from a weekend in the woods where there would be bears and raccoons and lions and stuff. And it had snowed there. This was going to be agony in so many ways wasn’t it?

Big Tree? Or Small People?

Up we got at stupid o’clock. Who gave me red wine? Oh, I did. Anyway…

I had never camped anywhere in my life. Seriously, what’s the point? No really, what IS the point?! But here was one place where I was told camping was necessary because it was such a magnificent place and, quite frankly, Zak and Lindsey told me to. Mum!! They made me do it!!

As I say it had snowed and that had put a lot of people off a trip into the wilderness that weekend, but not us. Oh no. That made it so much better. I think. I was wearing almost everything I owned as we got to Yosemite. My 563rd US national park of the trip. Each one just as magnificent as the last.

When we got there it had indeed snowed and we started with a little meander among the redwoods. The GIANT redwoods.

The Grizzly Giant - the size of a 747 stood on its end

The Grizzly Giant - the size of a 747 stood on its tail

They’re some big trees, let’s be honest. The stiff cold air hit the lungs and it made you feel glad to be alive. I was sure I was just about alive. That air was going to tip the hangover one way or another. I came back from the brink.

There was a tangible excitement in the car. Zak and Lindsey and several friends come here for five days every February. It’s become a ritual. That’s when it’s really cold and full of snow. This had just been a dusting, although certain parts were so high and tricky to reach that they were closed anyway. Even Hoosier was looking happier than normal, and that’s a happy dog.

As we left a tunnel I was immediately hit by why I should be excited too:

To borrow a phrase from the US dictionary, it’s kind neat ain’t it? Look at it. Now think of it REALLY big. Now double that. Multiply it by 71. Add 6. You’re nearly there. It’s a monstrous park, and I was going to spend the night down there under one of those trees that looks like a pine needle.

Now, for me to get into this and to be ‘at one’ with the nature on offer here I would need to do two things: chop wood for a fire and drink beer by said fire.

Easy ladies, I’m getting the chopper out.

Now while I’m sorting out the fire (or maybe Zak is) have another view of El Capitan…

Now, is that fire ready?


Here’s where we were staying. It was the spot furthest from the entrance to the campsite and the closest to the bears, according to the ranger. Okay…

We were joined at the camp by Zak and Lindsey’s friends Nate and Xenia, who’d spent the day trekking up to the top of Yosemite Falls and back. 7.5 miles up and down 2,500 feet of waterfall. They were exhausted, reminding me of my state having done the Plateau Point trek at the Grand Canyon. Chatting was quite low on the agenda.

But after a beer or two they perked up and attention turned to me once more. On this my first trip to Yosemite with this lot I was to go through some sort of ‘initiation ceremony’.

I can’t say much more than that because they’d hunt me down and kill me if I did. From that you can gather the initiation did not involve me being hunted down and killed. Having passed the test I got to see Yosemite from a very different and very special viewpoint. On a full-moonlit night that park is one of the most magical places on Earth and Disney can’t get near it.

After several strong beers I got into my sleeping bag and slept a fitful sleep, praying my toes would drop off or be eaten by a bear. I woke in agony again, but only because there was NO WAY I was leaving that tent for a wee during the night.

The only thing that kept me going was the idea of brunch.

No seriously, it was.

The Ahwahnee Lodge restaurant

The Ahwahnee Lodge is this curious hotel/park lodge that is beautifully decorated in a strange mock-medieval style. The Queen’s stayed there apparently. More importantly it was  venue for hot toddies and a HUGE buffet. Like I needed more food. I needed more food.

Well fed, we decided to depart this wonderful place. But have some more views. You can’t help but love it.

And one more…