Monday, June 14, 2021

Time & Sweet Charlotte.

Another glorious day. I am not sure what to write about today because I have not set foot outside the door since Saturday apart from washing down the front yesterday. Later on I watched England win their opening game against Croatia. In the evening I saw the first half of Holland v Ukraine. It was 0-0 when I switched over to BBC 1 at 9.00. I later found out that it was a five-goal thriller that Holland won 3-2. 

The reason I switched channels was because I wanted to watch the second episode of Time which is a compelling three-part drama set in a prison. It stars Sean Bean as the prisoner Mark Cobden who is serving a four-year sentence for causing death by dangerous driving while he was drunk. Stephen Graham plays a prison warden called Eric McNally who is well meaning but is being blackmailed into corruption. It is written by Jimmy McGovern who is a brilliant writer. The performances are first rate, not only by the two main protagonists, but also by the supporting cast such as Anaurin Barnard as the self-harming Bernard who commits suicide, and Brian McCardie as the hardened criminal Jackson Jones. I am looking forward to the final episode next week. Watching it makes you sympathetic to any prisoner who wants to make amends for their crime because the system can destroy any remaining hope and self-respect. As Sue Johnston who plays Sean Bean’s mother says, “You are here as punishment, not to be punished”. Prison should be about rehabilitation, but sadly, it doesn’t seem to work like that. Prison seems to make people worse. Anyway, I think it is the best drama I have seen on television for quite a while.

After that I watched a 1964 black and white film on Talking Pictures TV called Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte starring Bette Davis. It was made to cash in on the success of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? Joan Crawford wasn’t in this one though. I don’t think her and Bette Davis could bear to sight of each other. Olivia De Haviland played the other major role. I enjoyed it, Bette Davis was a superb actress. I also enjoyed the performance of Agnes Moorhead as the slightly demented maid Velma. I mainly remember her as Endora in Bewitched. After that I started watching Goodbye Columbus, but found it boring and went to bed. That was the end of Sunday.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Puddles & Rainbows.

Sunday afternoon, a glorious hot summer’s day. I feel quite pleased with myself because this morning I made the supreme effort and brought the hosepipe through the house and out the front door and washed the pollution from the road off the front of my house. It looks a lot brighter and cleaner now. I will try and do it every Sunday from now on. I am now sitting in the cool of my kitchen listening to a CD that I bought in a charity shop yesterday afternoon. It is called Puddles & Rainbows by Padraig Stevens. I actually briefly met Padraig over twenty years ago. There was a time in the late 90s & early 2000s when The Saw Doctors were almost my favourite band. Kim & I saw them several times, mostly at festivals, but also a memorable concert at the Royal Albert Hall when all the Galway football team came on stage with the Sam Maguire trophy which they had just won. 

One night we went to see the Saw Doctors at the venue in Bristol now renamed The Bristol Beacon. During the interval we went outside for a cigarette and had a few words with a man who had the same idea. It was only later in the evening that I realised it was Padraig Stevens. I knew him best for writing The Tuam Beat for the band and I was reminded of him a few years ago when Christy Moore recorded a great version of that song on his album Lily. Anyway, this CD was released in 2004. I thought I might like one or two songs, but I am pleased to say that I love the whole album. When I read the sleeve notes I recognised several of the musicians. As well as Leo Moran, Davy Carton and Anthony Thistlewaite who I know from The Saw Doctors I was also pleased to see that Jimmy Higgins who I have got to know through his work with Christy is a major player on this album. 

The Streets Of Galway
is a delightful catchy song to open the album, with a great sax break by Anthony. Ireland For The Summer is also a wonderful song. It makes you want to pack your bags right now and get over to Ireland. The Irish Tourist Board should use it in their commercials. Jimmy Fitzgerald excels on guitars. Good Girl Delia is a humorous cheerful song which develops into a hornpipe called Pocai Folamita composed by Jim Stevens who I assume is Padraig’s brother. Breda Smyth and Jimmy Higgins are brilliant on whistle & Bodhran. Waiting For The Swallows is a beautiful evocative song featuring Aine Ni Shioradain on harp and Olivia Donnellan on accordion. The Galway Races is played at the rhythm of a horse race and gets faster and faster towards the finishing line. It features the noise of the crowd during the Galway Plate of 2002. Bring It All Your Love is a moving ballad in which Padraig is helped out on vocals by Sarah Keating and Sarah Jane Burke, and Nuala Ni Channain on fiddle. Still The Only One features Leo Moran playing guitar on this great love song. Musha Raftery is an outstanding atmospheric track with just Padraig, Mairtin O’Connor accordion and Brendan O’Regan bouzouki. I’m not sure what it is about, some of the words are in Irish, but I do know that Raftery was the name of a blind Irish poet who came from my mother’s hometown of Kiltimagh in County Mayo. That might not be the Raftery that Padraig is referring to though. 

A Punt, A Punt
is a very funny song about money, loosely based on Seven Drunken Nights by The Dubliners. Jimmy plays no less than six percussion instruments on this song. Constant Heart could easily be a Saw Doctors song because it has the great sound of Leo & Davy on guitars. Gone, Long Gone is a melancholy love song with Mouse McHugh on vocals and Derek Murray keyboards. It’s The Life (Maybe) is a nice optimistic song which brings this most enjoyable album to a close. Well done Padraig Stevens and everyone else who worked on this project. Sorry it took me 17 years to discover this album, but I am very pleased I finally found it yesterday afternoon.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Pigeon In The Chimney.


Saturday morning. A nice sunny day. I was just sitting in my kitchen gazing out at a bee going from flower to flower on the foxgloves. The bees seem to love foxgloves. I had an interesting day yesterday. My friend Wayne came round to change my outside tap because I had no pressure on the hosepipe. It turned out to be a trickier job than we thought and also meant changing a valve under the kitchen sink. We got there in the end though, and now the hosepipe is working great. It will make watering my garden a lot easier, because I was having to use a watering can which was quite slow. Also, now I can bring the hose right through the house to the front and wash all the pollution off the front of my house. I painted the front of my house last year and because of living on the main road you can hardly tell that I painted it.

Pigeon's Egg.

While Wayne was doing the job, I thought I would tidy my living room up a bit. I had a big picture of Audrey Hepburn in front of my fireplace since wintertime to stop heat escaping up the chimney. I decided to get rid of it. When I moved the picture, I found a large white eggshell sitting in the fireplace. It is either the shell of a wood pigeon or collared dove. I must have had birds nesting in the chimney. As long as they don’t cause any damage I don’t mind. I won’t even charge them rent! 
In the evening I went to the pub and had three pints of Thatcher’s Haze cider. Then I watched Italy beat Turkey 3-0 in the opening game of Euro 2021. I think England play Croatia tomorrow.
African Daisies?

 After that, Van Morrison performed one song on Jools Holland’s TV show. It wasn’t that great. The previous evening Van had a show in Belfast cancelled just before he was due to go onstage. He addressed the audience with a rant against the health minister and got Ian Paisley Jnr on stage to chant “Robin Swann is dangerous” with him. It was embarrassing and awful. Van always said that he would not get involved in politics and now he is immersed in the murky world of it. He is in danger of losing a lot of fans if he carries on like this. Anyway, after Jools Holland I fell asleep in my chair, woke up at 4.30, and went to bed. I wonder what today has in store?

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Van Morrison's Autograph.

This is a little story about one incident in 2014. I caught the 11.04 train from Westbury on Monday, grateful that the trains were running after all the terrible floods and storms of the previous week, changed trains at Southampton and arrived in Brighton about 2.00 and walked to my hotel the Hilton Metropole on the seafront. I had chosen this hotel because it was at this very hotel in the summer of 75 that I had the shortest job of my life. I had started work as a kitchen porter at 11.30 and walked out at 12.15. I bet they didn't think I would return in triumph 39 years later. After I got settled in I went for a bit of a stroll and had something to eat in Yates's and then took a slow walk to the Lord Nelson Pub in Trafalgar Street where I met Othmar and Daria from Switzerland, Marion from The Netherlands, Julia from Marsailles, Miquel and Tony from  Spain, Simon and Sandra, and Nosey. The time flew by and we made our way to Brighton Dome.

I took my seat in the circle and Van's daughter Shana came on first with the band minus the brass section to start the evening. She looked great as always and sang three songs, God Must Love Me, Serve Me Right To Suffer and Higher And Higher  which I really enjoyed. Then it was time for the Celtic soul brother himself to walk on stage with the now familiar opening of Celtic Swing followed by Close Enough For Jazz. This was followed by Back On Top which I think I enjoyed more than at Bristol. Then it was one of the first highlights of the evening for me, So Quiet In Here. It was great and i liked Shana's backing vocals and the brass section of Chris and Alistair White were really good as well. This was followed by Rough God Goes Riding, which was also great but I was beginning to realise that this was almost exactly the same set as in Bristol. I wanted to hear something different. Van ended the song by doing his Clint Eastwood impression again which was funny the first time I heard it. He is trying to get away from his grumpy image. Following this was Keeping Mediocrity At Bay   which is not a favourite album track but I think performed live it isn't bad at all. Benediction, by Van's friend Mose Allison was next which was ok, but the gig for me was getting a bit 'samey' now. Van sat on the stool next for Keep It Simple which is one of the best songs of recent years. Then it was the excellent Queen Of The Slipstream.

 Van said, "Now I'd like to bring on my old china plate (Cockney rhyming slang for mate) Chris Farlowe", and he and Van sang Early In The Morning, Hoochie Coochie Man,and Stormy Monday which Chris had recorded under the name Little Joe Cook back in the 60's. Not my favourite part of the show. Dave Keary's guitar playing was good though. Sometimes We Cry  with Shana was next followed by Whenever God Shines His Light and Days Like This. Then the new arrangement of Brown Eyed Girl which is replacing Moondance as the song where all the band get to play a solo. Baby Please Don't Go was brilliant followed by the eternal Help Me. Then Chris returned for Gloria/Who Do You Love and finally Stand By Me. I was disappointed that apart from the Farlowe numbers there hadn't been a single different song to Bristol, but I was determined to make tonight special one way or another.

                                                                                                                                                    Before the band had finished playing I made a bee-line for the door and turned left and left again and made my way to the stage door. There was a Mercedes parked outside and a man holding an umbrella. I knew he was waiting for Van. I stood against the wall and waited ten minutes in the rain. Then the door opened and out came Van with his assistant. I stepped up and handed him my moleskine notebook and my sad little pen that I had got in the bookies a few days earlier and said, "Could I have a quick autograph please Van?". As he scrawled his name I said, "Thank you very much Van, I’ve been a fan for 40 years", "That long huh?", said Van and smiled at me and gave me back my book and bookies pen and got in the car. A couple who were standing there applauded and he was gone... It didn't matter about the bit of ink on a page, that was just the excuse. What mattered was that for just a few fleeting seconds I had connected with the person whose music has meant so much to me for so long. I wished Kim had been there to witness it, she would have been thrilled. It was the highlight of my Van fan career. To quote Van himself I was 'Higher Than The World'. I'll never bother him again. I ran back to the front of the hall pumping with adrenaline to show my friends the autograph. I was so excited. A gang of us retired to a nearby pub for a drink and I tried to calm down. 


Wednesday, June 09, 2021


I had a good start today when I went to a friend’s house to do a bit of gardening for her. I was putting a pile of old leaves and twigs into her green bin when I noticed a little creature underneath it all. It was a newt. I was really chuffed because I have not seen one for years. I think some species of newt are quite endangered these days. It was quite dusty but had an olive-green look to it. When I got home, I looked on Google images and I think it is a Palmate Newt. Anyway, I put it in my friend’s pond. I hope that was the right thing to do. I think they spend half the year in water and half on land, so I hope I have not confused it. 
This afternoon I did a bit of pottering around in my own garden. The other side of my wall down by the pond is an Elder tree that I have to cut back every year or it will have the wall down. It grew in a two-foot gap between my wall and the neighbours garage, very annoying. Anyway, I got my ladder and my secateurs and cut back as much as I could reach. I also gave my Bay tree a good trim because that was getting too big as well. I will take some photos of my garden soon to show you.

I’m listening to The Diary Of Alicia Keys right now. I haven’t played it for a while but was reminded of this album a few days ago because I saw that she does meditation with Deepak Chopra who I been reading recently. I have only done three days so far. I will let you know if I have noticed any beneficial effects in about three weeks. There cannot be any harm in it. It must be a good idea to slow down, relax, and clear the mind of all its mumbo jumbo for twenty minutes a day.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Van Morrison, 28 Years Too Long In Exile

God it's hot today. I was sitting outside in the yard, but I have come indoors for the coolness. Talking about cool, I am listening to Too Long In Exile by Van Morrison because I saw on a Van Facebook group page that it was released 28 years ago today on June 8th 1993. I  remember clearly a show Van did about a month or two later at Lydiard Park near Swindon, only a stones throw from Van's house at the time in the village of Little Somerton. I think that was only the first or second ever gig since Brian Kennedy joined the band. Brian sang some songs with Van, then one of his own called Captured which was excellent. This was one of the great 'lost' Van concerts because I don't think a tape exists of it. You could walk up to the front and stand just a few feet away from Van and dig the music. That's why I loved those outdoor Van gigs in the summertime in England when Van cuts loose and blows a fuse around the regions again. I did notice a change that night in Van's audience which was less of the hippy types and more of the Radio 2 chattering classes and this was to get worse as the years went by. That particular night if my memory serves me well Van opened with the title track from the new album and  Ball And Chain and later Lonely Avenue. These songs are all great. To get to the actual album, it starts really promisingly with Too Long In Exile which has a relentless beat, great harmonica and mentions some of the Irish heroes such as Georgie Best, Alex Hurricane Higgins and Samuel Beckett. Then one of Van's Better moaning songs which recall his years at Bang records Big Time Operators. What do you expect when you sign to a company called Bang? Ball And Chain is great, and then a nice version of Lonely Avenue.

To my ears In The Forest is a similar song to Orangefield, and Till We Get The Healing Done is an attempt to recapture former glories of Van's spiritual quest, but Van was reaching the end of the road in that search for the time being and was just forcing the issue here. The two tracks with his friend John Lee Hooker are not very good. Gloria is not a patch on the original, so I think they could have chosen different songs. Van should have done a whole official album with John Lee which might have been a classic. I love their version of I Cover The Waterfront.  The outstanding track on this uneven album is Before The World Was Made in which Van turns a great poem by W.B. Yeats into a wonderful song. I love this song which seems to be more at home on the album Now And In Time To Be. a tribute to W.B. Yeats. I think there is some great music on this album, but it lacks consistency of mood, and doesn't seem to know where it wants to go. It is a mish-mash of different styles. Everyone has their own opinion though on albums. Some people might think it is one of Van's best, and they are entitled to that view.
Unofficial Album.

Monday, June 07, 2021

The End Of An Era.

Monday morning. I ought to try and write something in the mornings because if I leave it until the evening, I tend not to bother. So, what have I been doing lately? Not a lot really. On Saturday I went over to Warminster. I thought I would treat myself to a new CD because I like to support my local record shop when I can. It is called Raves From The Grave because as well as new releases they also sold rare collectible vinyl. “Have you got the new album by Marianne Faithfull?”, I asked the lady behind the counter. “No, we haven’t got anything new I’m afraid, this is our last day today, we are closing”. That was sad news, the end of an era. It is inevitable I suppose. All the interesting little shops are gradually disappearing. It is the effect of online shopping and maybe Covid was the final straw. In a few years’ time I think all music shops will have closed. When I look back, I remember the hours I used to spend happily browsing in record shops until I made my choice of what to buy. Anyway, I had a look through what stock they had remaining, but couldn’t find anything I wanted, so left the shop empty handed and went to Spoons to meet Sian.

I don’t even like Wetherspoons. The owner of the Wetherspoons chain Tim Martin is a pro-Brexiter and they even used to have pro Brexit leaflets on the tables in there. He treated the staff appallingly during lockdown, telling them to try their luck at Tesco’s. Now, he is asking Boris Johnson to allow more workers from Europe into the country because he is facing staff shortages. The irony of it!  Anyway, Sian doesn’t care about that, and also because other pubs like The Bell have closed down due to Spoons undercutting the prices, there isn’t a lot of choice in the centre of Warminster. That is why I met her in there. Previously I used to get her to take my photo with whatever CD I had bought, to illustrate my subsequent review. Today, I sadly had nothing to photograph, but I got her to take my photo anyway.

I did leave her for a few minutes while I had a had a quick buzz around the charity shops. I found one little bargain for only £1.00 which was Hoochie Coochie Man, The Chess Story. It is a 2CD set of 50 original recordings on the Chess label, by such people as Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, Howling Wolf, Etta James, Little Walter, Memphis Slim, Big Bill Broonzy and many more. I played it when I got home and love it. I bet Van Morrison would enjoy this album because a lot of these people were a big influence on Van, and I only discovered a lot of them because of Van talking about them in interviews. That is just one of the great things about Van, he leads you discover other great music.  So, although it was disappointing that the record shop has closed, it wasn’t such a bad day after all. 

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