Sunday, October 11, 2015

Some of us we have tattoos

The other day I was standing outside my local tattoo shop, having a smoke with Chris, my artist. We were half way through a 7 hour sitting on my new piece. I had my shirt sleeve rolled back and my arm cling-wrapped to protect the unfinished tattoo. We were minding our own business, just shooting the shit when a woman came up to me, pointing angrily at my arm. She then proceeded to launch into a sermon of bigotry and berate me for ‘defacing my body’. Telling me how awful she thought tattoos were in general and mine were in particular.

My finished piece.
 Red, swollen and awesome
I let her finish and then I politely told her not to worry about it as I didn’t get my tattoos for her, I got them for myself. She stormed off muttering something I didn’t catch. Chris just smiled and shook his head. I guess he has seen it all before, but I was kind of taken a-back. I am not what I would describe as heavily tattooed and this was the first time I had personally experienced open hostility towards my own ink. I have however from time to time seen the disapproving glances and even overheard the odd judgemental comment aimed at my niece and her beautiful tattoos. 

I find this kind of behaviour incredibly rude and obnoxious. So here’s a quick heads up for anyone still living in another century. You really do need to get over your outdated prejudices. People with tattoos are not all convicts or drug dealers or thugs. It is now estimated that one in five people here in the UK have a tattoo. That number rises to one in three for those under the age of 24, so perhaps you had better get used to the idea of seeing them around, or maybe you should just keep your dirty looks to yourself and try to understand that other people's art has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with you. Either way, accosting strangers in the street and voicing unsolicited opinions on their personal life choices is not acceptable. In fact, judging people by the colour of their skin has never been acceptable. Most of the world stopped doing that shit a very long time ago.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Picture This?

Last weekend my buddy, Allan tagged me to post five black and white photographs over the next five days. I rarely take up any of the challenges that do the rounds on social media. Usually they involve having to posting snippets of a work in progress. These unanchored passages of writing serve no purpose and make little sense to anyone who reads them. This one was a little different and as such it intrigued me. Lord knows I’m no photographer, I don’t even own a camera, which kind of made me want to see what a rank amateur like me could achieve with nothing more than his phone.

Here are the results, only one of these was shot specifically for the challenge, the rest were found languishing on my memory card. I didn't use any filters or Photoshop trickery, just the software on the phone to convert color shots into black and white.   
Shelby Street Bridge, Nashville, TN
Day drinking on a Saturday afternoon

The OK Diner, Leominster, Wales

These people are my people, Alexandra Place, London

Midtown Manhattan
Those are my efforts, but if you want to see some really awesome black and white photography then check out the work of Jersey's finest, Mark Krajnak

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Nashville Skyline Rag

Back in July I was smoking a cigarette out on the fire escape of our vacation rental in downtown Nashville. It was late, or maybe early depending on what hours you keep. The heat of the day was radiating back at me from the old brickwork, the rust streaked metal still warm under my bare feet as I stood out there nursing my last can of Sam Adams and listening to the neon heartbeat of Lower Broad beating two blocks over. I think that was when I realized I had kind of fallen in love with the place. In an hour or so the sun would be up, the street cleaners hosing another rowdy night from the sidewalks outside the Honky-tonks and I would be sleeping it off, but that thought would endure.

Music City is just that. There must have been a dozen or more live bands playing within a five minute walk of where I was standing that night. While the bars of Lower Broadway and Second Avenue cater mainly for country-loving tourists, you can also find Blues, Rock, Jazz and pretty much everything in between if you care to look. There is a lot of history in Nashville, at least in musical terms. It might have once been a city that lived on that past, but now increasingly it lives in the moment.

Many who make the trip to the home of country music are on some kind of pilgrimage. That wasn’t why I came, I’m not really a fan of conventional country. I didn’t want to visit the hall of fame or the Opry, and I certainly didn't want to take a road trip out to Dollywood. My own personal hajji consisted of nothing more than maybe having a beer in the Tin Roof, the bar where Johnny Cash got loaded before famously kicking out the lights at the Ryman Auditorium (JR was many things and conventional wasn’t one of them.) Okay, so I guess the history played its part for me too, but it;s the kind of country present-day Nashville offers that interests me more. I was well aware of 'In the round' sessions at venues like The Listening Room and Bluebird CafĂ©. These have launched numerous careers and continue to showcase the wealth of local singer / songwriter talent, but what really surprised me was the quality of the acts playing the bars. These are accomplished and professional musicians in every sense except perhaps the most important one. Slots at the Honky-tonks mostly only pay in tips, or worse the bane of aspiring artists existence, exposure. 

Tom Petty once described modern country as bad rock music with a fiddle and once I might have been inclined to agree. It was Nashville based artists like Jason Isbell and Travis Meadows that changed my mind. I'm told that the city itself has changed too. Take a walk across the Shelby Street Bridge to the Eastside coffee shops and art galleries or wander around the artisan shops in the old Marathon Automobile factory and you can see this new vibrant Nashville for yourself. The town has a gravity all its own, which seems to be a draw for all kinds of creative people. Poets, artists, writers, and of course musicians now come from across the globe to work on their dreams by the banks of the Cumberland River. It might be the easy going nature of the place, or the need to be surrounded by like-minded people, who knows maybe it’s just the great BBQ. I’m not really sure what attracts them, but I know that whatever it is I felt it too.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Up and Down Colfax Avenue

They say you should never meet your heroes, that you’ll only end up disappointed. They could be right. For one thing I’m a little long in the tooth to have a hero in the first place. I’m also too cynical to believe I could have my heart broken by a book, but Willy Vlautin has done that at least twice. Last week I had the opportunity to meet him after a Delines gig in Newcastle and I wasn’t about to pass that up regardless of what ‘they’ might say.

If you have landed here by chance rather than design and don’t know who I’m talking about then allow me to enlighten you. Willy Vlautin is an author and a musician and one of the world’s best kept secrets. His band Richmond Fontaine have flown comfortably under the radar for years, and now his latest project, The Delines are rapidly becoming the best Alternative Country outfit you have never heard of. The combination of Willy’s story-telling lyrics coupled with the glorious world-weary vocal of Amy Boone produced one of the best albums of 2014 in Colfax. Given the fact that I’m unlikely ever to see Bruce Springsteen play a set at the Stone Pony then hearing those songs performed in a small, intimate venue like Newcastle’s Cluny 2 is about as close to perfection as live music is ever likely to get for me.  

But I digress, as much as I enjoy Willy Vlautin’s music, it’s his words that I really dig. I discovered his work by accident when looking for books set in my adopted state of Nevada. His first novel, The Motel Life (recently made into a darn good movie starring Emile Hirsch, Stephen Dorff & Dakota Fanning, which again went largely unnoticed) had a pretty big influence on my own stuff. His second, Northline is the novel I wish I could write. So when I noticed him hovering by the mech table after the gig I had to go over and risk both making a dick of myself and shattering my illusions of a guy I have admired for the best part of 10 years. I needn’t have worried, while I may have still been a dick, Willy was great. You couldn’t wish to meet a nicer, more genuine guy. We talked books for a while, discussed a mutual friend and to top things off I got a personally signed copy of The Motel Life.   

I’m not sure this story has a moral, but if it does then perhaps it’s that you shouldn’t believe everything ‘they’ tell you, or maybe just that it is still okay to have the odd hero, either way you should really go check out Willy Vlautin 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Help A Brother Out

I don’t know why it’s always the good people who seem to get dealt the worst hand, but they do.
Some of you who read this may know Craig McNeely personally, others will know him only as the man behind Double Life Press and of course most of you may not know him at all. No matter, you can take it from me that the McNeelys are good people. They are having a real tough time of it right now and they could really use your help. I’d like to ask you as a friend (because we are all friends here, right?) just to take a moment out of your day and read about Craig’s campaign and then consider making a donation.
If nothing else it will help to put your own troubles into some kind of perspective, at least it did for me.

Thank you, friends.  

Monday, August 31, 2015

There's A Light That Never Goes Out

The Gaslight Anthem, 02 Shepherds Bush, 29th August 2015.

The title of this post is the second Smith’s reference I’ve made of late, which should probably tell you something, but as Brian Fallon and the boys pull the plug for the foreseeable future on the best live band of the past decade I feel a certain amount of melancholy is justified.

A capacity crowd jammed into what is arguably London’s’ best and worst concert venue (depending on which level you end up on) to see the final headline gig of New Jersey’s finest export since some guy called Bruce Springsteen turned up at the Hammersmith Odeon in ’75. I arrived fashionably late and on my own, rocking up halfway through the set of the night’s only support act, Against Me. Neither my lateness nor my lack of company had me in the best frame of mind to enjoy the evening, but 20 minutes or so chain sawing riffs and reverb turned out to be just what I needed. To be honest Against Me are not really my thing. Their brand of punk is too hard and heavy for me to enjoy in the comfort of my own home, but playing live they are a glorious crowd surfing mess of feedback-ridden angst and while they didn’t quite manage to convert me there is no denying the fact that they rock.
Next came a protracted interval while the crew set up the stage for the main event. For me this time was spent nursing an overpriced beer and joining the majority of the other patrons in a period of phone staring. Having recently returned from America, and Tennessee in particular I was struck once again by how insular and aloof we Brits tend to be when shoved into a room with strangers. Had this gig been in Nashville I don’t doubt that I would have known the entire life story of the guy next to me and he mine by the time the house lights dimmed again. But eventually they did dim and Gaslight Anthem took to the stage, kicking off with ‘Handwritten’, which was quickly followed by two more crowd pleasers ‘Rollin & Tumblin’ and the superb ‘Old White Lincoln’.

The band were undeniably tight, the sound superb and Brian’s vocals right on point as they mined their back catalogue, uncovering gems like ‘She Loves You’ and ‘Diamonds of The Church Street Choir’. Even so I couldn’t help thinking something was missing, (not least my usual companion as that last track is her favorite) and even a surprise appearance by Frank Turner on the slowed down version of ‘Great Expectations’ that is preferred live these days couldn’t shake the feeling that I was indeed witnessing the end of something. If the rest of the crowd sensed it too they did their best not to show it as the set built inexorably towards its climax with back-to-back classics in the shape of ‘American Slang’ and ‘45’ before the house was well and truly brought down by ’The '59 sound’.

There was nothing you could describe as an encore, Gaslight Anthem don’t really go in for that and before the raucous cheering had even begun to die down they launched headlong into their final song of the night. The usual closer ‘Backseats’ was replaced by ‘Diner,’ a standard at live shows for nearly 10 years now and a fitting way to end things. The audience joining in and their chants perhaps sending a message, both to each other and the band themselves as they head off on their uncertain hiatus.

It’s alright man, I’m only bleeding man, stay hungry, stay free and do the best you can.”

I very nearly didn’t go to this gig, but if this is to be the end of the road for The Gaslight Anthem then I’m glad I was there to see them go out on a high. If nothing else at least I can now answer the question posed by the lyrics of ’59 sound’ and say that, yes I did get to hear my favorite song one last time.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The ramblings of an unquiet mind

"I smoke because I'm hoping for an early death, and I need to cling to something. "
That was Morrissey's take on it anyway, and once I might have been inclined to agree with him, but now I'm not so sure.

As I sit here in my budget hotel room ruminating on the universe and my small part in it, I realize that I am now officially closer to fifty than I am to forty.

I guess this means I may now be forced to accept the idea that if it’s not here already then middle age will very soon be upon me. This shit is not something I ever expected to happen to me, in truth I’m still kind of surprised I survived my twenties. However, having made it this far I find the prospect of getting older isn’t actually all that bad, and it’s certainly better than the alternative. For example I’ll soon be able to shake my fist and yell, “Get off my lawn” at small children (note to self: you need a lawn, find out how to get one. I think it may involve doing something with seeds.) I will also be freed from the burden of dress sense and finally able pull my pants up really high and who knows maybe even wear socks with sandals in public without being ridiculed. Okay, so maybe not that last one. But I do have a mid-life crisis to look forward to, which should net me a convertible or at the very least a new hipster hairstyle and a pair of skinny jeans.
So while being away from home and other regrets mean that I won’t be doing much in the way of celebrating this time, in fact I suspect the half-hour I spent getting a tooth filled the other day will turn out to be the highlight of my week, I am still grateful the devil has seen fit not to call in my marker just yet. I have a sneaky suspicion this is only because he’s having way too much fun watching me fuck up in this life, but you know what, screw him. It ain't like I was ever going to get out of this alive in any case.