‘Larks Tongues in Aspic?….

Don’t mind if I do, thanks…’

A famous philosopher once said ‘life is like a box of chocolates’. Ergo, so must be music, (for many) an integral part of life…. on first impressions it can seem soft, hard, sweet, tart, chewy, or can melt like just like liquid in your ears. It also contains a (dangerously?) high proportion of nuts. However, it also leaves an impression, an aftertaste, that with the best also leads to craving more… Looking back on the selection of treats on offer in 2011, here are some of my personal highlights – my artists of the year, who induced in me those ‘I like it I like it I like it !’ goosebumps with their art… and, left me wanting, yes, more…

Amy LaVere, double bass wielding belle whose Southern gothic Lynchian meditations were iced with some outstanding surf noir guitarwork

Fatoumata Diawara, music as beautiful, addictive, hypnotic and mysterious as any I have heard

Gillian Welch, as unique and timeless as ever

Wilco, storming back on their new label with what may well prove to be their definitive album

Mountain Man, sounding as old as the hills themselves, this female trio sent many a chill through my psyche with their otherworldy harmonies

Tom Waits, still ornery as hell and as slippery and gifted as ‘ol Springheel Jack himself, ornate crazy blues with fellow old jackal Keith Richards along for the ride

Jonathan Wilson, long hair/Topanga Canyon/Bob Harris/Jackson Browne/David Crosby are just some of the touchstones in his work, but the end result is uniquely his

Josh T Pearson, a truly stunning solo album ten years on from Lift To Experience

Other highlights and Honorable Mentions go to Edwyn Collins, continuing to astound in his recovery, with an amazing work rate not just as a writer/performer whose work is getting even better with each release, but also now as label boss (and often production chair)of the very wonderful AED Records, and indeed the AED singles and albums, particularly Linden & Rotifer, to Thomas Dolby (I rediscovered the chillingly beauteous ‘Airwaves’), Richmond Fontaine’s ‘High Country’, The Civil Wars, The Click Five live at Mith Samlanh , Colorama, and for rebooting my powerpop years the Japanese reissues on 1977 Records of my old band’s Radio City single and album-that-never-was, Sigur Ros with the atmospheric end of era ‘Inni’, the righteous racket that was the Jim Jones Revue, Rolling Stones live stuff from the early 70’s (Brussels Affair) and the ‘Some Girls’ reissue, Kurt Vile & co-conspirators the War on Drugs…

… and of course, there’s more, much more, where those came from…

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Feelin’ Groovy

Has it really been three months since I last inflicted my meandering musings on an unsuspecting world? ‘Not long enough!’ comes a cry from the back. Excuse me whilst I summarily eject that malevolent thought made manifest and get down to… to what, exactly?
Being the kind of person who is continually plagued by self-doubt, I had pondered for some time on just giving up this blogging malarkey and simply getting on with life in all its myriad forms… you don’t really need my cod philosophical ramblings to enrich your already full and fulfilling lives, do you?
‘Damn right!’
I thought I’d thrown you out… Come here you troublesome id… now, OUT you go!
There now, that’s better. Now where was I …?

Yes. Blogging. On reflection, and being purely selfish here, I think it’s good for me to put this stuff somewhere, so why not out into the eternal ether, to buzz around in a blissful binary state until somebody’s search for ‘Slim Whitman’ or ‘Commé a la Maison’ or ‘Tinariwen’ drags them here….

So how have you all been, my virtual friends? Well, I hope. The familial ‘we’ have also been well (but also unwell), happy (but also unhappy) and generally just stumbling hopefully where possible through the intricate maze of life with occasional diversions onto the rollercoaster and helter skelter to break up the monotony.

Some highlights of the missing months? Holidays!
Yippee! Visits to England, Scotland and the U.S.A. were wonderful. England to see my mum-and-dad-in-laws, Scotland to catch up with my family there, and my first visit to the U.S.A, to attend a celebration event in New Jersey organised by my wife’s family which brought together nearly 100 people from all over the globe whose roots were in a small village in India. It was an astonishing, and for me a humbling, experience to be part of, and accepted into, such a close-knit family gathering. Little O thoroughly enjoyed himself, pottering about in his kilt amongst the adoring Sari-clad women and snacking heartily on the many delights on offer. I wore my white suit (feeling a little more like a Cambodian bridegroom than a Mafioso hitman, I have to say) and made an unexpected and wholly impromptu speech (ten minutes notice – luckily I’ve worked long enough in development now to be able to spout mumbo-jumbo at the drop of a hat) which left nary a dry eye in the house. Personally, I think the exquisitely spicy somosas were to blame for the red-rimmed eyes…!

After three days of being bathed in the warmth of the family, of wonderful experiences shared, entertainment, music and food being enjoyed, and a real sense of generations not only coming together but strengthening their sense of family pride and duty, it was time to decant into the stretch limo (I’m not kidding. You wear a white suit, you gotta have style to match.) and to quaff champagne on the drive into New York City. Brother-in-law Paul and I were inordinately excited by the cultural delicacies on offer during that drive, which mainly consisted of Paul recognizing the locations of multifarious ‘hits’ from ‘The Sopranos’ or my spotting the actual ‘Fountains of Wayne’ store that great little band took their moniker from.

Soon, through the late July summer’s haze and the tinted glass of the limo, I glimpsed for the first time the distinctive skyline of Manhattan. It was one of those magical moments when I actually saw something that as a small child in far away Northern Scotland I could only have dreamed about, and strangely yet appropriately enough the words that crowded my brain were remembered from those long gone days, the immortal lines allegedly uttered by a quintessential son of New York,
‘Yonda lies da castle of my faddah….’
Thank you, Tony Curtis…

New York City was three days of full-on New Yorking – sightseeing, eating, more sightseeing, more eating… edited highlights would have to include the following… O in Central Park, swinging happily against a backdrop of dazzling skyscrapers; a horse drawn carriage ride around the park – thank you, Charlie Brown; breakfast at the Empire State deli, feeling slightly vertiginous gazing up at the sight of King Kong’s last stand; a moment of sadness in the doorway of the Dakota Building, on the spot where Lennon died; a touch of cynicism at the Strawberry Fields memorial – the world is full of bloody hippies now; the Hotel Pennsylvania with its ‘Shining’ like corridors and reverse Tardis rooms; Madison Square Gardens – I don’t see no flowers here!; open top bussing around downtown Manhattan with a selection of outrageously stereotypical tour guides; a nighttime jaunt across the river to Brooklyn, soaring through the mist over the Brooklyn bridge on the top deck of the bus, then gazing at a hazy Manhattan from across the river… magical; the neon overkill of Times Square; ferry cross the Hudson – sailing around Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty as O marveled at the helicopters buzzing like prehistoric dragonflies all around us; dinner in the diner – nothing could be finer… except maybe the ENORMOUS sandwiches of the Carnegie Deli; O’s burgeoning interest in all things wheeled, primarily taxi cabs and fire engines… Broom! Broom!; the MOMA… O gazing enraptured at a huge picture of Dali, and him being very excited both by the Jackson Pollock’s on view and the acoustic possibilities of screaming in the gallery; Schwarz’s Toystore, and O listening intently to a story from a man dressed as a toy soldier who namechecked ‘In-a-Gadda-da-Vida’; a brief but amusing audience with the legendary Bleeker Bob in his record store in Greenwich Village; hot dogs with everything in the Village; seeing Radio City Music Hall (at last!), Electric Lady studios, Joey Ramone Street and other equally iconic places…. there was so much more, we did so much in three days that looking back now I am amazed at the stamina we had!

… and so it was time to return to England, courtesy of Delta Airlines. Well, actually it was time to spend the night sleeping on the stickily uncomfortable floor of JFK airport, courtesy of Delta airlines. A variety of excuses for a no-flight scenario were provided after we had been decanted from our settled positions on the aeroplane to spend several hours hectoring a lone Delta rep who appeared to know less about the situation than either we or the scary LED screen beside him did. Basically, a combination of no-show co-pilot and inclement weather were blamed for our predicament, an ATC decision, which, we were informed, meant Delta were not obliged to provide us with either accommodation or food. Even as Delta rep informed us to be patient, that he fully expected the flight to reboard soon, the screen beside him broadcast the news of its cancellation. Tempers were frayed, all the stores in the airport were closed, Delta rep reassured us however that vending machines were available. Great. You can buy an I-Pod and docking system from a vending machine in JFK, but try as you might you cannot buy a bottle of water or anything remotely edible, unless of course, you are a goat… I snuck back onto the plane to steal blankets and pillows from business class, resisting the easy temptation to slip onto the open flight deck and fly the plane to Cuba, and we settled (!) down for the night. After a deeply surreal and uncomfortable night on the floor we eventually got back onboard the next morning. We joked with the cabin staff about the pilot situation. Oh dear. No joke. We may have got back on board, but we were going nowhere until a co-pilot showed up. Several hours later one did, we finally took off and actually had a reasonably pleasant flight through the attentive ministrations of the cabin crew, who obviously thought that giving us copious amounts of ‘ sedation’ was the way to win back our hearts. Thank you, cabin crew, screw you, Delta Airlines.

I’ve blathered enough for the moment, tune in next time for the unbelievable excitement that will comprise…

English Village Fetes!
Bubbles!
A Grand Day Out!
Swindon Mela!
Return to Post-Election Phnom Penh!!

Can you bear to wait…..????

Musically, I’m currently grooving (am I allowed to at my age?) to The Black Keys, 22-20’s, Ry Cooder ‘I , Flathead’ (genius!!), Richmond Fontaine EP, Fleet Foxes, Midlake and wishing I had some Robert Gordon and Link Wray with me. Reading Michael Palin ‘New Europe’ and watching ‘Long Way Down’ and Sigur Ros on DVD. But you don’t really need (or want) to know that, do you?