Thursday, 8 March 2018

Saint Etienne Therapy

Last night a woman who looked like a young Joan Jett threw me a Parma Violet and I caught it deftly in my hands, even with orange woolly gloves on.   “Not bad for an elderly woman!” she exclaimed as I did so.  I choked out a polite laugh, but inside I was recoiling in abject horror.  The word “elderly” was like a stab wound to my heart. 

Fortunately, it was just a very bizarre dream. The young Joan Jett lookalike was the girlfriend of a man who resembled a young Jon Bon Jovi and they’d come to my house to collect a massive box of records – about as tall as me - which I’d taken in for them.  I don’t know why she was throwing me a Parma Violet.  The writing on the record box said it contained Durutti Column albums and that it weighed 10 stone.   All so random and peculiar in the way that dreams frequently are (why Durutti Column?  Not as if I’d been playing any lately!)  But it was that ‘E’ word which stuck with me most when I awoke this morning.  Elderly.   It reminded me that one day, at least if I make it that far, I will fit that word.  I might be the elderly neighbour, the elderly customer.  The elderly patient.  Ugh.

I must admit, lately, I’d been thinking about how there comes a point in life, a while before the 'elderly' description, when we start to use the caveat “for your/my/one’s age”, e.g. “She’s not in bad shape for her age”, “Can I still get away with it at my age?”, “You’re still pretty healthy for your age”, etc.

Maybe that was what triggered the dream.

Anyway, where am I going with this?  Well yesterday, reading a post on Saint Etienne over at the ever excellent Charity Chic Music I remarked that Saint Etienne are the band who make me feel alright about getting old.  (Ah, that's probably what triggered the dream too).  

That really is exactly how I feel about them and I love them for it.  

Any time I get that unpleasant pang about the inevitability of ageing, I bring Sarah, Bob and Pete to mind.  We share some of that '70s past and attitude and the facial lines for which we traded our life experiences.  They've been around a long time and they're still innovative and cool, sorted and individual, real and unaffected and still doing what they do. Everything you could aspire to as far as I'm concerned. 

Lyrically, too, they know what to say to soothe my creeping unease at the ageing process, reminding me that it’s alright to be where we are now in the timeline of our existence because of all those great markers along the way which only those of us of a certain age can identify with.  I get that feeling: we’re all in it together.  You, me and Saint Etienne.

Take these two verses from Over The Border (Words And Music 2012)

In 1974, I bought my first single, from Woollies in Redhill
I started to memorise the charts, to memorise the leagues
Tuesday lunchtime at 12.45, Saturday afternoon at five o'clock
I didn't go to church, I didn't need to.
Green and yellow Harvests, pink Pyes, silver Bells
And the strange and important sound of the synthesiser

I was in love, and I knew he loved me because he made me a tape
I played it in my bedroom, I lived in my bedroom, all of us did
Reading Smash Hits and Record Mirror, Paul Morley and the NME
Dave McCulloch and Sounds, Modern Eon and Modern English
Mute, Why, Zoo, Factory
Cutting them up, sucking them in, managing the story on our own

And in the chorus, the straightforward acknowledgement of that creeping unease reminds me I'm not on my own either:

I'm growing older, heaven knows what's on its way

Then there's some simple philosophy which I think you can only really grasp fully when you get to a particular vintage, as in the words of Take It All In (Home Counties, 2017)

You've gotta stop and let yourself
Take it all in
Sometimes you gotta drop it all
And just take it all in
So smile and get it on
Just take it all in
Then you'll begin
To really see

No-one said it would be easy
No-one told you it would be fun
But you're gonna have to believe me
The party's just begun

Saint Etienne are not immune to a little wistful reminiscing either, for instance in 'When I Was Seventeen' (Words And Music, 2012)

When I was seventeen
My heart and head were full of brilliant dreams
Assembled in the light of a day
That seems so far away

And now
When I was seventeen
When I was seventeen
I thought we knew everything
We knew everything

No responsibility
Endless possibility
What on earth could possibly hurt me?

I know that getting properly elderly is going to be pretty awful but - there's no doubt - I always feel a little bit better about it when I think of getting there with them.
I call it Saint Etienne Therapy.

Saint Etienne: Twenty Five Years

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Gigging, ligging and leek pie - Part 2

I said I would explain about the leek pie.

Leek pie has become synonymous with my memories of travelling around the country to gigs with my boyfriend’s anarcho punk band in the early ‘80s.  Leek pie!

It really wasn’t very rock’n’roll, was it?  Where were the tour rider requests with their bizarre demands to remove all the brown M&Ms (except of course we called them Treets back then) from the sweet bowl?  I mean, what sweet bowl? 

After travelling for hours to anonymous towns, taking wrong turns and arriving just in time to use the loo and for the band to soundcheck and prepare before the doors opened to the black-clad masses, there was rarely time to check out the local Chinese or chippy.  So it became the norm to take your own food – crisps perhaps, you might think, or Mars Bars - the sort of thing you could stuff into a jacket pocket and get a quick sugar and salt fix from. 

But with anarcho punk being all about doing it yourself, rejecting capitalist values and, in particular, strong views on vegetarianism, maybe there was resistance to this level of conformity from some quarters?   So one of the girlfriends began - very sweetly, really - to bring her home cooking to gigs in a Tupperware dish. 

I remember it well, arriving at Birmingham Digbeth Civic Hall, with its grandiose interior, all decorative ceilings and high windows, and as the band finished unloading their gear, a voice rang out: 

“Would anyone like some leek pie?”

I mean, I do like leeks, and it would have been great at any other time, but they are notorious for repeating on you and, I don’t know, what with it being served cold and the insides being a bit gooey and the pastry being rather flaky, it just wasn’t obvious pre-gig food.   And, this is going to sound really mean, but the whole hippie-commune-knit-your-own-yoghurt aspect of it just… well, forgive me, but... it can just seem a little too earnest.   There’s a fine line between earnest and sanctimonious and the home-made leek pie was in danger of crossing it.

That gig went very well in all respects apart from some shitty little dickheads at the front who decided to gob at the band by way of showing their appreciation.  Some of this landed on my boyfriend’s guitar and shirt.  Ironically, I have to say it looked not unlike the contents of a leek pie.   If only it had been - it would have saved all that worry about Hepatitis B.

There’s more irony to come.  Many years later the band played a reunion gig at quite a large, well-known venue and, things being so different this time around, there was a proper dressing room (with comfy armchairs and a clean loo and everything!) and… guess what?.... a gig rider!

Some food and drink was laid out by the venue staff on a little table, plenty for everyone, band and entourage.  Several cans of lager, Mars Bars and lots of packets of crisps.  I had to laugh when I saw most of them were Smokey Bacon flavour.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Snow cake

With the yellow cake tin in one hand and my satchel on my shoulder I headed off to school with my friend in the morning snow.  It was a one and a half mile walk, down the hill, past the petrol station and the grocery shop where, in Summer on the way home, we’d buy Dalek ice lollies or Sherbet Dips.  The route took us through the outskirts of town until we got to the steep steps by the railway station. That was the mental ‘Nearly There’ signpost.   Next over the zebra crossing and finally the long, uphill avenue, joining fellow pupils straggling along in groups, like small flocks of sparrows in our drab beige and brown uniforms.

The yellow cake tin came with me for ‘Home Economics’ class.  We were going to be making a Victoria Sandwich.  Caster sugar, flour and margarine had been carefully measured out the night before and packed into the tin in plastic containers, alongside two large, loose white eggs.

We were quite stoical ‘70s children, perhaps because we had quite stoical parents who’d lived through the war and had eaten cakes made with grated potatoes and sand during the rationing.  I might be wrong about the sand.  Anyway - stoical - it’s just a bit of snow, maybe some ice, you walk to school as usual.   When you get to your classroom you thaw out against a radiator before Assembly, until a teacher tells you you’ll get piles if you stay there too long.  Whatever piles are.

But we skidded as we walked through town, landing on our bums and hands. Satchel straps slipped awkwardly off shoulders and my yellow cake tin landed and overturned on the frozen white pavement as I  tried to right myself.  Twice in succession my friend, my tin and I fell like skittles on the ice.

Oh - my eggs!  As I rubbed snow off my coat I had visions of a Victoria Sandwich making itself messily inside the tin.

Round the corner by the railway station, I slipped again.  Those eggs were never going to survive, but at least the steep steps were gritted and we were Nearly There.

We got to school and leaned on the radiator, getting the hotsies in our hands - the best bit about getting cold was that intense tingling when you warmed up; it was almost worth leaving your gloves off for.  I opened my yellow cake tin to find, inevitably, the two large eggs smashed to pieces, their sticky gloopy contents covering everything else inside....

........Only they weren’t!  Not even a hairline crack.  Dropped several times, they survived every skid and fall and thud.  What were the chances?

The Victoria Sandwich turned out nicely.  As with the snow, it only lasted two days, unlike the bruises on my bum.

One last reminder of the snow (I love this song and video) - it's thawing here now

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

The Study

In the house where I grew up my dad spent most of his free time in a room we called ‘The Study’.  If that sounds terribly middle-class, it must be because it was.  It was a spare bedroom really, but it had the airing cupboard in it -  and the central heating pipes and pumps  held noisy parties inside it every night, so you wouldn’t want to sleep there.

I’m wondering now if the room ever got vacuumed or dusted; it wasn’t easy to navigate. It was shelved from floor to ceiling on two sides and in the middle there was a 1950s kitchen table, with blue formica top and metal legs, not that you could tell.  Just like the other makeshift cupboards around the room, its surface was buried under ‘stuff’.   

By stuff I mean….well, for example, every single periodical that my dad had ever bought since 1959.  I can’t be certain but they had names like Practical Oscillator and Illustrated Semiconductor.  The sort with pictures of nude wires and semi-clad magnetic tape on their covers. 

Then there were

 bent coathangers (could come in handy one day)

a collection of used milk bottle tops (could come in handy one day)

dismantled plugs (could come in…. etc. etc. - I’m boring myself) 

ball valves, soldering irons, a lovely black and gold Singer sewing machine, a beer-making kit, a hostess trolley and a manual typewriter missing the E key.  

Empty chocolate boxes, the inner workings of old biros, a kettle without a lid.

Shall I carry on? 

A home-made – home-made!  by my dad! -  ‘tumbler’ device for polishing pebbles  - which was endlessly whirring, rotating and clattering like a washing machine full of stones (which it basically was)  yet not one pebble came out shiny, ever.   Why did people want shiny pebbles in the ‘70s anyway?  Just to be displayed in saucers on windowsills?

Broken radios, unidentified amplifying objects, spent matches, dried up Polyfilla, ping pong bats…. 

The irony is that I don’t think anything in that room ever actually came in useful apart from the noisy airing cupboard, and my lasting memory of its true worth was that it was where my mum once put a very weak newborn guinea pig  to keep it warm, wrapped in a towel in a box.  I came home from school to find this, much to my delight.  She (the baby guinea pig) happily survived and went on to live with us for several years, in a hutch in the shed.  Which is really where all the other above stuff should have been kept all along.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

The time machine

I think I’m about to find a time machine in my garden.  I’ve uncovered two things that lead me to believe this.  Digging down in the sandy soil beneath the prickly hedge a few years ago, amid the calcified skulls of poorly sparrows who perished in the cold and fragments of clay pipe that look just like their bones, I came upon an escutcheon.

I even just love that word ‘escutcheon’.  It sounds so archaic. That little piece of metal which once decorated and protected a keyhole, a keyhole in a door to who knows where, from who knows when.

This little plot of land has been used by people for hundreds of years.  So I love it when I find the evidence of those who’ve left it behind, and long for the day when I might find an ancient coin perhaps, or a shard of pottery that dates back even further.  I love the way the worms, the moles, the ever churning, moving soil, turn up these random things.

Then, just a short while ago, amongst unidentified pieces of rubble and slivers of willow pattern crockery in the earth not too far below the surface, I came across this.  

It seems to be a door handle.   A broken porcelain knob,  and all that can be seen of a number, perhaps a date - 67 - stamped into the unglazed surface.

The handle bar now so bent, twisted, the rust growing around it like a living, organic thing.

A keyhole, then a doorhandle. More thoughts inevitably follow.  Thoughts of locks and passageways and portals.    And if you were to tell me that there was a strange and spine-tingling story behind these finds, I would love to believe you.  What tale might there be?  The time machine beckons,  it’s out there somewhere, I just need to find the key, literally.    I'll keep digging.

Where would you have it take you?

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Gigging, ligging and leek pie

There have been a few snippets of conversation in this blogging corner recently about travelling with bands.  I did my little stint of it in the early ‘80s because my boyfriend was the guitarist in an anarcho-punk band, and the other day I happened to mention in a comment over at My Top Ten a particular memory from when I joined them on a mini-tour.

There we all were at the end of this little trip around various dingy dives scattered about the UK: four band members, four girlfriends and the 'roadie', sitting in a motorway service station a long way from home, hungry and miserable as hell.  Surely it shouldn't be like this?!  But it was.  We pooled what little cash we had between us - like the sticky twopence pieces you find in those fluffy far corners of inner pockets - to see if we could afford a few buns.  Maybe a chocolate muffin.  But we didn't have enough for more than a crappy cup of tea.  It was desperate - so desperate - the vocalist had a little cry.

And the stupid thing was that we were on our way back home and it wasn't like we didn't have money there.  Or warm beds and clean socks.  It was the tension that caused the tears. Being cramped up with other people for too long.  Sleeping on floors.  Inhaling exhaust fumes and the communal breath of strangers in unfamiliar venues.  The waiting about, so much waiting.  All those things add up.

Is it time to serialise some of those recollections here?  Not being a band member, my perspective may be different too -  I observed things, I felt things, I didn't have to perform.  Whilst I don't have diaries, I do have memories, so maybe I ought to jot a few down before they fade?  As I'm sure most people can say about certain periods in their life, there's almost a book just waiting to be written.  Or a sitcom -  one in which I could also explain the 'leek pie' reference in the title above.... (I will!)

Anyway, while I think about that, I remember that I'd written a post some years ago (slightly edited here, but apologies if you've seen it before) which might serve to kick-start some more.  And if it does, then please think of this as the introduction...!

Do you have any tales from the tour bus?  I'd love to hear them.

* ~ * ~ *

A smell of stale cigarette smoke lingers in the stingingly cold night air. The floor of the back of the transit van where I sit feels icy, even through my trousers. My back hurts, leaning against something hard and unyielding, its corner poking into my shoulder.

There are seven of us in the back of this metal box, trying to ‘snuggle’ down between amps, drums, guitar cases, backdrops and bags of leads and pedals, behind the cab, hoping to catch some sleep as the vehicle rumbles monotonously down the motorway in the bleak early hours of a winter morning.

Along with band members and the other girlfriends is another passenger - a stranger.  He's a ‘fan’ who is cadging a lift back home after the gig. Whilst packing up at the end of the night - always a long-winded business - he’d hung about and asked, “Any chance of dropping me off in Hull?"   With the band’s badges on his lapel glinting in the streetlights, the bass player and self-appointed spokesman for the group couldn't refuse. Never mind that this detour takes us an hour out of our way home and it feels like an eternity when we’ve got another 120 miles to go. But this often seems to happen; there's always someone in the van travelling back who hasn’t travelled out with us, and usually it’s someone who smells strongly of sweat and dope and farts, with limbs that are far too long and a bulky rucksack, taking up precious space and time. And space and time mean more than anything on the home-bound stretch, because everyone is knackered, hungry, dehydrated, cold, squashed up and grumpy. Everyone just wants to get home, longing for deep sleep in a warm, soft, bed.

For a while this became quite a frequent thing for me as I travelled with the band to venues up and down the country. We usually tried to get back the same night, which in reality meant arriving home just as the sun was coming up.  When we stayed over somewhere, there was no nice comfy hotel or motel.  This was anarcho-punk, after all!  So instead there was the damp squat in Bath – a condemned terraced house with no plumbing, and the floor of a tiny council flat in a high rise in St. Helens, which did have plumbing but, by strange coincidence, a broken toilet.

My memories of those days are a melange of odd moments and images. From being stopped and searched by the Mets as we travelled home through South London, to seeing a cow giving birth as we ventured through the Cumbrian hills on the way to a gig near Windscale nuclear plant. From hearing rumours that skinheads were going to throw meat (!) on stage at Grimsby (they didn’t), to paddling in the sea before a gig in Fareham. And there was the Gizzard Puke-styled punk in Burnley who was ‘wearing’ a condom attached to his face between safety pins (one in his lip, one in his nose. It was quite a look.) It turned out he was the singer in one of the support bands, whose only memorable number was a re-worded demolition of Eddie Cochran’s ‘C’mon Everybody’ endearingly entitled ‘Fuck Off Everybody’.

I remember the inter-band arguments, oh yes, plenty of them.  And the seemingly endless soundchecks, the listening in on fanzine interviews, and the way only Northern punks sported moustaches… Strangely enough, perhaps, the thing I probably remember the least about is the performances. They were good, though.  Of course.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Mystery lovechild 2 - the results

Well, well, well, as Jeremy Kyle might say.   The DNA results are in.  It didn't take long to get to the truth though -  I'm so impressed!  Thank you for joining in.  Here's confirmation of the identities of those absent 'parents':

Quickly spotted by The Swede and agreed by Martin, yes No. 1 is Dave Grohl ( hair and eyes) and PJ Harvey (bottom half of face with nose and mouth.)


I can see why Pete Doherty's name kept cropping up here - the hat, the pout, the hair...

... but this babyshambles got their features from Iggy Pop and Courtney Love.  Well done Alyson for working out Courtney.

No doubt here about Paul Simonon, as identified by all.  I felt awful doing this to him.  But those eyes and mouth belong to Gwen Stefani - again well sussed by Alyson.

This sultry cutie (something of the Judy Geeson here to my mind) gets her eyes and nose from David Essex and her hair, mouth and bone structure from Chrissie Hynde.  Quite a combination, don't you think?

It's still just Brian Eno really, isn't it?  Who knew that Kylie and him were doppelgangers?  Special mention though to an inspired suggestion that it was Queen Victoria and Martin Gore.  Yeah, I get where you're coming from, Rol.  This is just for you....

Too freaky.  No difficulties for anyone in spotting Lionel Richie's hair and chin here. Poor Aretha Franklin doesn't look so good with them, though.  Congrats to Alyson for identifying her.

I was staggered to discover that this combination of Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull looks rather too much like a good friend of mine.   Hmm, maybe a real DNA test is in order. Think of the money!

I know, I know, it was a bit obvious about Jim Morrison.  Here he is with Bjork's eyes, nose and hairline.  I even shaved his chest specially for the occasion too.

"Noel Fielding", says Rol, "Just Noel Fielding".  
So good it makes up for all the answers he didn't get right ;-)

So if Siouxsie Sioux and Liam Gallagher got it on, you'll now know what to expect.


I'm so sorry for Bobbie Gentry.  It's just that Marc Bolan's nose and jaw fitted her face so neatly, I 
couldn't resist.  (Wish I could say the same about this formatting.)

And that's the lot.  Today's joint champion gene-spotters are The Swede and Martin with a whopping 16 out of 20 correct answers each.  Brilliant work!  Alyson identified 15  to start with and then neatly filled in the earlier gaps after a couple of clues.  And Rol had me in stitches with his Queen Victoria and Noel Fielding. So you're all winners, of course.  Thank you!

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Who is the mystery lovechild? Part Two

What a miserable time of year. I'm all for some light relief and a little blogging frivolity always helps....

So, yes, the rather fetching blend of characteristics featured in the last post were indeed from the very lovely Nile Rodgers (did you see that brilliant three-part BBC Four documentary on him, 'How To Make It In The Music Business', last October?) and the really rather scary Grace Jones.  Here's the 'proof' should it be needed:


This song seems quite apt...

But back to the matter in hand.

Please brace yourself for some other faces whose inherited features may not be so obvious - or are they?  Some may be wearing one of their parents' hand-me-downs and haircuts, which helps - but whose nose or eyes, or rugged chin perhaps, have they ended up with? All are, or have been, notable characters in the music business.

Anyway, no prizes for correct answers I'm afraid but all suggestions very welcome!











(Don't go having any nightmares, now....)
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