Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Chelsea 2007 - A selection of photos

Slade and Suzi Quatro

It is with a song in my heart (played loudly at volume 11, of course) that I can report that both Slade and Suzi Quatro are playing the Cannizaro Park Festival in Wimbledon in July and I've booked tickets to see both.

Suzi's album, 'Back To The Drive' last year was excellent and I'm looking forward to seeing her play some of those tracks alongside her classics. She's also making a new album with Mike Chapman so there might be a preview of some of the new songs. I narrowly missed seeing Suzi on her first UK tour when she was third on the bill supporting SLADE in 1972 (Thin Lizzy were the main support act, but Suzi got 20 minutes) so it's nice to see them on the same bill again, even though they're playing two weeks apart.

Slade are finally playing in London so I can see them (which they rarely seem to do). This isn't the classic line-up of course, it's Dave and Don's band that's on the road for most of the year, especially in Northern Europe. Even so, it'll be great to see them play live. Slade's website still says 'details to follow' for the Wimbledon gig so it's thanks to Suzi's website that I found out about the festival and the Slade gig. Wonder why it's not on Slade's site yet?

Readers will note that I'm spelling "slade" as Slade rather than my usual SLADE - SLADE refers to the original Lords of Noize whereas Slade is the current band (one must get the details right).

The only downside to the Slade gig is that Les McEwan's Bay City Rollers are on the same bill.... But I can overcome that. I could always just turn up late, stay in the bar, plug iPey into my ears, get a book out... o, lots of things!

I am a little bit excited!

Monday, 28 May 2007

Bank Holiday Blag

Now, I know you'll agree that I'm tremendously old so you'll take my word for it that today saw not only the coldest and wettest late May Bank Holiday ever in the whole history of humanity but the most miserablest bank holiday evah! It's a fact. I even switched the central heating on this afternoon and I resent doing that a mere few days before the start of June. But did I wear socks when I went round to the local shops? Of course I didn't! I'm a Geordie and we can take anything. I went out in bare feet and sandals. So there!

The Sodom and Gomorrah Show

Curse the PSBs but I've decided that 'The Sodom and Gomorrah Show' is the best new song I've heard this week. Hearing it for the first time last night and seeing it performed live means that that's how I'll always think of it, with Neil and the singers and dancers all weighed down with sparkly medals and glam on their fake uniforms. I've got no idea what it's suposed to be about (I'm sure I'll be enlightened shortly) but isn't that a great title for a song? And a killer chorus!


I've been pointed to some great clips on YouTube - whoever thought it up deserves a medal (as well as the millions they earned when Google bought it). This weekend I was pointed to two videos, one joyous and one worrying. The Bearlesque troupe prove that chubby lads can, indeed, can-can, and what a pleasure it is to see them lining up for the high-kicks. Would it be churlish to suggest that a smidgen more practice might have improved the performance? Yes it would! I appreciate the artistry of the Bears and can't wait for the DVD...

The worrying video was seeing Peter Tatchell supporting his colleagues in Russia protesting about the treatment of gays and lesbians and banning what democratic public rights they might have, like assembley and marching to protest against injustice. It was quite shocking to see some lout just run up and punch Peter and you can hear the crunch of bones. The odd thing is that the clip then shows Peter being led away by two policemen, not the attacker. That's appalling. Later in the clip Richard Fairbrass is also punched out of the blue while he's just standing there talking. Two Euro MPs were also there and they demanded police protection. I won't post the link to the video since it should be deleted from YouTube but picked up by the main news media.

I won't claim to be a great supporter of Peter Tatchell - or a supporter at all - but the treatment dished out to him is unacceptable in any country that has any claims on civilisation. I suppose we forget where the battle lines are these days, in our comfortable little lives. With all the big issues in the world why does this seem to upset people so much? I just don't understand it.

I am shamed

I watched the film of David Bowie's last concert as Ziggy Stardust at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1973 on Saturday night on BBC4 (it was followed by the 'Cracked Actor' documentary). I've never actually seen it all the way through and it was great - other than Mick Ronson's excellent but boring extended guitar solos to give Mr Bowie time to change costumes.

I thought I'd put the CD on today - it's ages since I've heard 'Moonage Daydream' and I had a yearning. Could I find it? O no, course I couldn't! I don't have it! That is shameful. I've got all his early CDs except 'Ziggy' for some reason. I prefer 'Aladdin Sane' to 'Ziggy' but that doesn't mean I don't like 'Ziggy'. I must acquire it quickly.

Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee

I'm reading 'Bury My Heart...' by Dee Brown at the moment. It's a catalogue of disaster for Native Americans in the last half of the 19th Century. It's really quite disheartening that human beings can act so callously towards each other (which makes the treatment of Tatchell and Fairbrass even worse since it's happening now). It's based on witness accounts and documents in the Library of Congress and it's astonishing that people would actually commit the intention to genocide to paper in the cause of 'manifest destiny', which is another term for money.

I'm only half-way through the book at the moment so will save any further critique until I finish but Chris mentioned that it was going to be made into a documentary and was wondering whether Buffy Sainte-Marie's song of the same name would be featured in it at all. If it's not then some television executives ought to suffer.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Pet Shop Boys at Hammersmith Apollo

Tonight we went to see the Pet Shop Boys at Hammersmith Apollo (one of the first things Neil said was that he'd been there in 1972 to see David Bowie). Now, I'm not a big fan of PSB but when Chris suggested seeing them I thought, 'why not?', they've been around for 20-odd years and have earned their place in music history and it should be a fun night out. The Apollo had removed the seats so it was standing downstairs but, with the sloping floor, I actually had the best view of any band I've seen in the last year. God must be telling me something.

It was a bit of a funny show really, since Neil and Chris aren't exactly Mr and Mr Showman and there's only so much a lightshow (which was excellent) can do to liven it up. I got the impression the crowd wouldn't mind just the pair of them and lights but they added 3 backing singers and 2 dancers. The singers were fine but I couldn't take the dancers seriously, two lads trying to the urban/street poses mixed with pseudo-ballet moves - it just didn't work for me in the slightest and I couldn't help grinning whenever they came on because I knew there'd be fun ahead. Was it them or the choreography? Probably both.

It was also quite noticeable that the singers and dancers had more costume changes than the stars - Neil (I think) wore three different frock-coat get-ups (plus a uniform for the final song) and Chris wore two hoodies and caps... yes, well, moving on....

They played a great selection of old and new songs, some of their classics like 'Domino Dancing', 'Where The Streets Have No Name', 'Rent' (why did Neil sit down facing the wings to sing this?), 'It's A Sin' and 'Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)'. 'West End Girl' was played but I'd have thought they would make more fuss of it but it was treated as just another song. I didn't recognise most of the new songs but they played 'I'm With Stupid' and 'Minimal' and closed with the great 'The Sodom And Gomorrah Show' where the singers and dancers all dressed in gaudy military uniforms sparkling with medals and then out came Neil, also in uniform and with just as much glitz in the medal department. I'd never heard the song before but loved it.

The encores were good, with a rousting version of 'Go West!' and then coming back for a second time to do a nice version of 'Being Boring'. I'd heard that on iPey on the way to the concert and it's a nice, thoughtful song.

All in all, I enjoyed it. Leaving aside the overly and unnecessarily energetic dancers, it was a good show and I'm pleased I've finally seen the Pet Shop Boys. It was a fun night out and they played some great music. And I actually had a good view of the band for a change!

Here are a few photos to give a flavour of the show (click to enlarge).

Friday, 25 May 2007

Chelsea Flower Show 2007

This afternoon I went to the Royal Horticultural Society Flower Show at Chelsea along with a good proportion of the residents of the home counties. Once through the entrance gate and the milling crowds on Eastern Avenue I headed straight for the Great Pavilion to gawp at flaaars! That's what it's all about, after all.

The Pavilion is full of flower displays of all sorts and I'm a bit like a magpie except I'm attracted by colour and shape. Gorgeous colours and banks of flowers everywhere, the Caribbean stands win the prize for the wierdest flowers and some of the most imaginative displays and the big chrysanthemum stand wins the prize for the blousiest blooms with the huges balls of chrysanths! It's great fun just wandering round, seeing a splash of colour out of the corner of my eye and heading towards it - not a very planned way of seeing the different stands but it works for me.

I wandered round the Pavilion for an hour or so and then decided I was flowered-out and needed a beverage and a potato meal - beer and chips in the food courtyard. Then it was time to wander round the outdoor exhibitions and stalls, looking at small gardens and statury, stalls selling colourful wellies, and garden machinery, wind-chimes and watercolours. I found the Iggy Pop garden and was less than impressed after all the fuss that was made of it. The Children's Society used the theme of 'lust for life' for a small garden with a fountain that made me think of pissing against a wall and probably quite appropriate for Iggy. Is that a joke by the designer? Cardiff's 'Dr Who garden' was also a bit of a disappointment, just a rotating Tardis in the middle of a slightly minimalist garden (not sure if was meant to be minimalist).

I thoroughly enjoyed wandering round the crowded show, on the go for about 4.5 hours so it was nice to finally sit down on the bus home. I loved bumping into a couple of Caribbean ladies every so often, usually at stands with the more exotic flowers and plants and hearing them say 'we've got that at home'. Later in the day the corporate entertainment chaps started to become more obvious (suits and jugs of Pimms and the most stereotypical loud accents). It was packed and at some of the gardens you had to stand four or five deep and wait for a chance to get close enough to see the gardens, but, I suppose, that's part of the atmosphere of Chelsea. I didn't see it all by any means but it was good. Roll on next year!

Anyways, I only took 189 photos and here is a taster (click to make them bigger). I'll eventually put a selection up on my Flickr site (click on the badge to the left to be taken there).

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Seven Years

Seven years ago today I had my microdiscectomy when they slashed me open and ripped out my spine ... ok, that might be a slight exaggeration but you get the idea. I gave up smoking too.

I went into Atkinson Morley's Hospital, a small hospital in Wimbledon (probably an old country house from when Wimbledon was in the countryside) on Thursday 18 May and was discharged on Friday 19 May since a previous operation went on into the early afternoon and there was no time for me so I was sent home for the weekend. I was in the neurosurgery ward so all the ops were either brains or backs. I went back into hospital on Monday 22 May 2000 and I had the op at lunchtime on Tuesday 23 May 2000. Ouch when I woke up. I was discharged on the Friday afternoon with an enormous dressing on my back right at the height of my jeans waistband.

Atkinson Morley's Hospital doesn't exist any more, it's now a unit in St George's Hospital in Tooting. Mind you, I'd rather be there than at Chelsea and Westminster. I go back to see the surgeon at C&W on 5 June.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007


Tonight saw a trip to see 'Equus' at The Geilgud Theatre, yes, the play in which Daniel Radcliffe runs around on stage naked. He wasn't naked for very long so let's get that out of the way right up front. There are very few photos online of this production that don't include Daniel's chest so it's easy to spot the selling point.

I didn't really know what to expect from this play and early on I had a flush of angst that it might be full of nasty people like in the Hampton plays seen recently, but it was very different. Perfect casting for Richard Griffiths as the aimiable child pyschologist trying to help a 17 year old boy out of a nightmare of his own creation. Jenny Agutter played a magistrate who wants to help the boy rather than send him to prison for blinding six horses. And then there are the boy's strangely ill-matched parents and the sort of girlfriend. And six horses.

After the first 10-15 minutes I was snared as the story unfolded, not seeing where the play was going with all the little and seemingly natural twists and turns as the psychologist tries to find out and understand what has happened to the boy. I'm not sure I fully believed the parents - why woud an atheist with obvious problems with religion marry a nice catholic girl? Obviously they're partly a plot device to keep the play moving as we discover more, like in all the best detective stories, but they were also the worried, stressed and confused parents the play needs. I was particularly impressed by Gabrielle Reidy (who plays the mother) who acted her socks off and sent a harrowing vibe out into the theatre at certain points where I could almost feel her pain as her life is falling apart in front of us. An excellent performance.

I loved the horses, six actors/dancers with a metal horses skeleton head and platform hooves, moving stately around the stage, imitating how horses move. The only thing missing was a nice flowing mane - horses have manes, y'know. It was great watching them move gracefully across the stage, stamp and shake their heads.

It's a wierd play - very powerful but wierd. It's about so many things and (probably) none at the same time. We've alienated ourselves from passion and from feeling anything with our modern lives, consumerism v nature, organised religion v paganism, sexual mores and, quite frankly, a wierdo boy with wierd ideas. It's full of psychobabble but that didn't put me off at all - it drew me further in (which is probably a comment on me!). It shows us the terror in our souls, our unthinking impact on others and the consequences of our actions projected onto others. And none of that.

And it's a play I'd see again. I haven't said *that* recently!

Monday, 21 May 2007

The End Of An Era (-ish)

The end of an era is probably too strong but I've never been in the same job for so long before - seven years in my current job. I've done lots of different things over the years and the job has changed every year or so, but it's all been in the same broad area. That ended today and I technically start my new job tomorrow. To get an early start date I've agreed with both my current and future bosses that I'll work to both of them for the rest of May and I just need to manage my time effectively. I wanted to start my new job straight away so I can at least get my feet under the desk before having the slipped disc operation.

Monday's an odd day to have a last day, even as a technical last day. Most people in my Unit were out today, either on leave, working from home or in meetings, so it was a bit empty. But it's the only day my boss was available for the ritual humiliation that is the 'leaving speech'. Mine was quite flattering really, and focused on the things I dislike (quite vocally at times) about my current job but which are some of my biggest successes, like not being keen on researchers but creating one of the best evidence bases for any policy across the Department and not approving of international work but hosting the biggest international ministerial seminar on technology in schools anywhere in the world. Aw shucks, but it's true y'know.

I was very touched with the leaving card and gifts too. Some very nice messages in the card and the pressies are lovely. A mahoosively colourful (but tasteful) tie, cufflinks with colourful edges (doesn't show up in the photo) and a small bottle of champagne. All beautifully wrapped in stripey paper and presented in a stripey gift bag as in the photo. I love the tie and cufflinks, they're so me, and the champagne won't last long but I'm very touched that Jeannine and Susan spent so long choosing them and seeking out a stripey gift bag to round it all off. I don't deserve it. Here's a photo - it doesn't do the tie justice but it's definitely me. I'll wear it to my first meeting with ministers in my new job and my first public meeting with stakeholders - they'll need to get used to colour!

I'll still be working in my current job for the next couple of weeks really and have agreed to keep some work till it's conclusion in late June so it's not exactly goodbye forever. Before I finally leave we'll have to have the traditional 'leaving do' when more people are around. It's an odd feeling to leave after so long but not really to leave. I'm looking forward to my new job - a new challenge and I need that so badly - but I'm a bit sad to leave some really nice people behind.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Patti Smith at The Roundhouse

"You're not afraid of a fucking pop song, are you?" challenged Patti...

A trip up to the Roundhouse tonight to see Patti Smith with Chris. We were last there to see the glory that is The Dresden Dolls and this time we were upstairs in the seated area - I joked that we were probably in the back row and, voila, we were! At least I didn't have dreaded tall people in front of me.

Without any fuss or fanfare on walked Patti and the band picked up instruments and launched into 'Gloria', followed by 'Redondo Beach' and 'Are You Experienced?' - what a great way to start the evening. It was almost like a greatest hits show with 'Frederick', 'Pissing In A River', 'Because The Night', 'Free Money' and 'Privilege (Set Me Free) plus some excellent tracks from the new record, including 'White Rabbit', 'Within You And Without You' and 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'. She came back on stage to play 'Everybody Wants To Rule The World' followed by an extended version of 'Rock'n'Roll Nigger'. A fantastic set that lasted for 2 hours and I wanted it to go on and on.

Patti came on in trademark black jacket, baggy white shirt, skinny jeans and hair all over the place. Those opening words to 'Gloria', "Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine..." are electric and it took me back to the Royal Festival Hall two years ago when I had the privilege of seeing her perform the 'Horses' album on stage (and I'm still waiting for the DVD). She's one of those people who've been around and producing good stuff for so long that they transcend normality, not really a star as such but so much more than that. Hearing 'Piss Factory' for the first time back in 1976 or 1977 is one of those moments that made me sit up and think there's more to life than I could know as a 16 year old in a little village outside Newcastle.

I'd like to have a pot of tea and a chat with Patti. No idea what I'd say but I imagine she'd be easy to talk to. She comes across as a very warm and witty person, a gentle and nurturing woman telling stories about anti-perspirant and the Rosetta Stone and a trip to the British Museum that ended in beans and nausea and a rant against pills that led into an excellent version of 'White Rabbit'. A beguiling performer.

It was a delight to see her singing 'Frederick', a song I never expected and one of my favourites, and 'Because The Night' - a song I'd actually forgotten about! She has a powerful back catalogue and loads to choose from.

After playing 'Everybody Wants To Rule The World' she snarled, "You're not afraid of a fucking pop song, are you?" at the audience and launched into an extended version of 'Rock'n'Roll Nigger'. Grabbing a guitar she joined the electric thrash. This was a highlight for me, and the moment when she shouts, "Lenny" and passes the next verse to him was superb - and it was, of course, Lenny Kaye up there with her. I've lost count of how many times I've heard that shouted "Lenny" and there it was before me! That probably sounds a bit mundane but it was a bit of a thrill.

I've had an excellent night out and Patti was marvellous. I took a few photos without flash so they're out of focus but here they are anyway.

Oh, and the answer is 'no, I'm not'.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Buffy and Amanda and Dolls

Shores Of California

Amanda Palmer is in France on holiday at the moment and typed up one of her trademarked enormously long blogs on the flight over. She told tales of the recent filming of the new Dresden Dolls video for the 'Shores Of California' filmed of course, on the beach in California. She included a link to some great photos of the video shoot by PixieVision so click on the Great One opposite to be swept away for a slideshow treat of Amanda and chums on the beach. And yes, Amanda does smile and look generally wonderful in many of the photos.

Visionaries and Clearwater

Courtesy of Michael on the Buffy wires, here's what looks like the cover of the new Buffy Sainte-Marie compilation in the 'Vanguard Visionaries' series due for release on 12 June. It's a nice pic but I'm not sure about the hat. Still need to see the tracklist to check whether there are any previously unreleased tracks on it. It's now on Amazon for pre-order at £9.99.

I've also learned why Buffy is playing in New York on 18 June. It's probably because she's playing the Clearwater Music and Environemntal Festival in Westchester County (yes, the place where the X Mansion is set!) the weekend of 16-17 June. The wires tell us that:

The Clearwater Festival is proud once again to present an exceptional roster of outstanding singer/songwriters, performers and bands featuring a diverse blend of contemporary, traditional and American Roots music, dance and storytelling. The Clearwater Festival offers a full weekend of entertainment, and environmental education workshops and exhibits. All FIVE performance stages are powered with 100% sustainable energy that includes solar, wind and bio-diesel. The musicians and artists performing at the Clearwater Festival generously contribute their appearances, with all proceeds from the Festival benefiting the non-profit environmental organization, the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. Clearwater is one of the country's leading advocates for the environment, dedicated to restoring the Hudson River and its waterways and responsible for some of our most influential environmental legislation, including the Clean Water Act.

Still no news of the new album yet.

The Dresden Dolls Live At The Roundhouse

And this is what the cover of the Dolls' live DVD looks like. It's released on 2 July and I'll be straight up to HMV with my pocket money to grab a copy.

I was there when it was fillumed, y'know.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

The Entertainer

Went to see 'The Entertainer' at The Old Vic this evening and sat right down the front, within easy spitting distance of the stage. It's a nice theatre with a nice bar/restaurant downstairs, the staff all have a strange, fixed smile and the downstairs barmen are incredibly slow. It's seen a lot of history and some of the seats creak. That gives you a context to work from.

Back in 1957 this was challenging theatre with John Osborne as the 'angry young man' but, after the first act, my immediate impression was that it was dated. Not just all the contemporary references but the feel of it. The theme of Britain as tired and drained almost being sledge-hammered into us by the number of times the characters say they're tired was a trifle over-done as was the depiction of the Rice family as being disfunctional and booze-soddened. I suppose we've seen so many families like that in recent years, but this was probably one of the first.

I liked Robert Lindsay as Archie Rice and Pam Ferris as Phoebe, both seeming to live their parts, with Robert switching between the family play and performing his music hall act inbetween scenes. Less successful were the rest of the family who were less believable and should have been bouncing off Archie and Phoebe but didn't. That might have been the direction? It felt like an opportunity lost.

I'm sure this was a shocking, ground-breaking play when first performed - you could almost see the bits that would have had audiences gasping at the rudeness or the implications or the language. Not so shocking now but not quite a history piece. I enjoyed it.

My main problem throughout the first half or so of the play was Robert Lindsay. I don't know why, but I couldn't get Woolfie Smith out of my head, his character in 'Citizen Smith' in the late '70s. I never really liked that programme since his part was played as a pseudo revolutionary hippy whereas in the real world the revolutionaries were my punk heroes of the time - the hippy language just didn't fit in with what was happening. It was, of course, all playing to stereotypes with him as a lay-about dole-scrounger playing with politics that he doesn't really understand. One of the scenes in the opening credits showed him outside the terribly exotic and far off Tooting Broadway tube station which these days is, of course, my station of choice - who would have thought it when I lived in a little ex-pit village up North?

Jim Lea Replugged

A great new live album is available for download, 'Jim Lea Replugged - Official Bootleg of Jim Jam Live At The Robin 2, 4 November 2002'. The album was supposed to be available over the weekend but must've just been loaded today. This is God's way of telling me I wasn't meant to go into hospital today.

I'm listening to it for the first time today (a couple of songs have been featured on Jim's MySpace) and it sounds excellent. The Robin 2 pub is a sort of SLADE shrine and this is the recording of Jim playing there in 2002, one of his few live appearances. The songs are mostly covers but it includes two SLADE covers ('Cum On Feel The Noize' and 'Mama Weer All Crazee Now'), early versions of two songs that appeared on his recent studio album ('Great Big Family' and 'I Wanna Go Out In Style') and one song I've never heard before ('Going Back To Birmingham).

It's high-volume, energetic, guitar-based rock music, best played loud (obviously). It's great hearing Jim talking to the audience and he sounds like he's having a ball! Jim plays lead guitar and has great fun in guitar hero mode.

Favourite tracks so far are 'Mama Weer All Crazee Now', 'Pretty Vacant' (o yes!), 'Hey Joe', 'You Really Got Me' and the wild guitar thrash of 'I Wanna Go Out In Style' (the final track of my last Record Bag DJ stint). The full track list is:
Shakin All Over
I Saw Her Standing There
Hey Joe
I Am The Walrus
Cum On Feel The Noize
Great Big Family
I Got You
You Really Got Me
Far Far Away
Pretty Vacant
I Wanna Go Out In Style
Going Back To Birmingham
Mama Weer Are All Crazy Now
Wild Thing

Go on, give it a listen and don't forget your air-guitar - Jim rocks whether he's Jim Lea or James Whild Lea!

Monday, 14 May 2007

Surprise! I'm still here...

The saga of my slipped disc continues...

To recap, it started back in June 2006 when my old slipped disc played up for longer than usual and, when I eventually went to the doctor, was sent off for an x-ray at St George's Hospital and I discovered I have osteophytes. Into August and I go to the 'back clinic' at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital for the first time to find that the specialist hasn't seen the x-ray so can't really diagnose anything other than to tell me to keep up the good work on losing weight and going to the gym, and come back for a review (luckily, it's a SLADE Day so I'm not too disappointed).

This was followed by a complete relapse on 21 August when total agony ensued, only relieved by magick pills from the doctor and a full SLADE Day. Then back to the 'back clinic' in September to discuss sources and types of pain but no real progress because, as usual, I'm over the worst of the pain following my relapse. Another appointment at the end of October at which nothing happens but the doctor confirms I won't have an MRI scan, followed by a relapse on Christmas Eve and then another follow-up appointment in March. The March appointment was where I'm told the hospital has lost all my records, the consultant tells me I must be in the wrong clinic and then says I need an MRI scan to find out what the problem really is. A totally pointless consultancy which at least resulted in a scan, me bemused and angered by the whole affair but, as usual, I dutifully do as I'm told. I eventually have the scan on 2 May, fat me in a polo mint. And then just yesterday, I get the call to go into hospital for an emergency operation to remove the disc...

So. That brings you up to date. Not a pretty tale. And exacerbated for me by lots of other hospital appointments inbetween for my various other ailments. In a sense, I'm lucky to have access to all this medical treatment so I suppose I should be grateful. These are the magicians and wizards that can heal people and I must do as they say.

Yesterday was a bit fraught with worry. You normally get weeks (if not months) of notice about something like an operation so I'm concerned at the suddenness of it all, no preparations made, no contingencies or arrangements for getting out after an operation. I went to Tooting to buy pyjamas (ended up with substitutes of boxers and tops), get money, get 'fat pants' that won't rub against the wound on release from hospital, sort out things at home on the basis that I'll be away for a few days and won't be very movable when I return, empty the fridge, etc etc. Not much sleep and then into hospital this morning for my 10 o'clock appointment.

Considering I'd had it drummed into me on the phone that I was an emergency I didn't expect to have to sit waiting for 50 minutes to be seen my the specialist. A brief examination (with a student present) and I'm told whatever happens, it's all my choice to which I responded that that was nice but since I'm not a doctor I can't really make an informed choice. If the medical opinion from my case conference on Friday was that I should have an operation then I ought to be listening to their collective wisdom. I ask to see my scan and, believe it or not, they can't find it. Then I'm sent back out to the waiting area to wait for a ward doctor to appear. When she arrived she explained I'd need blood tests, a chest x-ray and an ECG test before the operation that would be at 1.30pm. By now it was about 11.30 and since the clinic dealt with bones it wasn't set up for things like blood tests so they didn't have any of the right equipment or paperwork. Tying a plastic glove around my arm as a tourniquet she couldn't get any blood out of me (I suggested chopping off a finger). Trying the other hand she succeeds and also spills a big drop on my jacket on the floor beside the chair. Then I sit and wait while she took the blood to be tested two floors away at the other end of the hospital.

In the meantime, other nurses come into the cubicle to see if I'd move out so they can see other patients while I point out that the doctor had asked me to stay. She comes back, armed with more forms to fill in since all my medical notes are lost (and not replaced despite going through my medical history in detail on my previous visit). A nurse tells me I have a bed in a ward but it's not ready yet (no indication of when it would be ready). Then I'm sent out to the waiting area again. Then sent for a chest x-ray which, when I return with it the first thing that's said to me is that I've been a long time and they've been waiting for it - so it's my fault I had to wait my turn after two other people for an x-ray? Then I sit waiting... It's all hurry up and then slow down, almost to a complete stop.

It's after 1 o'clock now and all I can think of is that I'm having an operation in half an hour and no-one's doing anything. A few minutes later the head spine surgeon comes out to meet me (he'd arrived a few minutes earlier but I didn't know it was him) who takes me back into a cubicle to talk to me. He told me he'd only seen my MRI scan on Friday and it's the worst he's ever seen without the patient writhing on the floor in agony and if it was a competition for slipped discs then I'd definitely be in gold medal position. Given that he looked to be in his 40s I assume he's seen a lot of discs so that's a little bit scary. He said it was so bad that it could cause irreparable damage to my nerves resulting in permanent disability and that's why he wanted to see me immediately. I ask to see my scan again (I want to see this monster disc) and I'm told I can when they find it but he's only seen it on a computer screen. Then off with the jeans again for an examination (including a finger up my bum). I'm not displaying any obvious symptoms so he says this must all be an incredible shock so maybe the best thing to do is for me to think about it and attend his clinic in two weeks time, no question of waiting lists, if I display any symptoms at all I've got to present myself at Emergency at any time 24/7 and I'll be treated immediately...

By this stage I don't know what to think. I've been told all morning I'm having an emergency operation, I've been telling people so they know I'll be out of circulation for while, I'm supposed to be starting a new job at any time... and suddenly it's not happening. Relief is part of the complex feelings I had rushing round my head, disappointment, frustration and I'm too stunned to say more than, 'oh, ok'. His office will be in touch to make an appointment in his surgery clinic in two weeks time.

I'm stunned as I leave the hospital - why the big change of heart? And after all I've been told and had it drummed into me that I'm an emergency and still am an emergency, why can it suddenly wait another two weeks (or more)? I start worrying - will the next twinge in my back or down my leg be the twinge that makes me permanently disabled because I've left it too long to have an operation? Has my going to the gym been aggravating the disc and making it worse? If I'd had a scan back in August would it all have been caught much earlier and then dealt with before it got to this stage? I don't know. And I still don't know how I feel about it. Firstly they don't get or have lost the original x-ray of my spine, then they lose my entire medical record then they apparently lose the scan over the space of a weekend... Is my next appointment to see how I'm doing or to tell me I'll have an operation the next day? All the questions start flooding in, all the questions I'm too stunned to ask at the time when I'm ushered out of the clinic with words of 'we'll be in touch'. And the whole thing about going to Emergency is fine so long as they can actually find my notes and they include his guarantee of treatment otherwise I'll be treated as someone with back pain who wants a day off work. And, of course, it can only be that Emergency - any other hospital would have no reason to operate at all without going through it's own process of x-rays and scans.

I don't understand. My reason for writing this blog and going back to find earlier entries is to try to help me understand. It hasn't yet, but might help clarify my thinking when I re-read it later. I'm not even sure whether I'm complaining or not, and if I am, what am I complaining about? I spent just under 3.5 hours in a clinic this morning waiting to have an operation I'd not had any time to think about or prepare for, building myself up to it and then suddenly it's all cancelled for no obvious reason. It's a strange mix of feelings - after 9 months of not being listened to and being told losing weight is the answer and suddenly I really do have a back problem that doctors are worried about is, in a strange way, a relief - I haven't been making it up (despite being made to feel that on a few occasions). On the other hand, who wants an operation?

In part, I suppose, it's the loss of control. I lead a comparatively good life, have a reasonably good job where I wield budgets in the hundreds of millions and advise ministers of the Crown at the drop of a hat but when it comes to the witches and wizards of the arcane art of medicine I might as well be a child again. The wizard knows best.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

A Strange Sunday

I've had a surprise today. Out of the blue I had a phone call this morning from a consultant at the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital asking me to report to the hospital tomorrow morning to have an operation on my slipped disc. Apparently the state of the disc is so bad that I need an emergency operation and this only came to light after the MRI scan I had a week and a half ago. O dear.

That rather puts all my plans for a new job and a trip to New York to see Buffy into question. I won't find out what's going to happen until I go to hospital tomorrow but, based on my discectomy nearly seven years ago (May 2000, spookily enough) I'm working on the basis of one week in hospital followed by 4-6 weeks of recuperation.

At least that'll keep me quiet on here for a while.

Au revoir!

Maximo Park at The Forum

My second time seeing the lads and they were, again, marvellous. Energy streaming off the stage, Paul and Lukas jumping all over the place, Tom and Archis keeping the backbeat firm and Duncan going off at a tangent on his wild guitar.

The support tonight was The Long Blondes who went on rather a long time. The singer seemed to want to be a Siouxsie clone and the guitarist had 'Super Yob' written on his guitar - I didn't have the heart to tell him that Dave Hill, the original Super Yob, did that 35 years ago. There wasn't really anything there to make me stand up and listen like Art Brut did last night.

But then me lads appeared and blew me away again. The setlist was largely the same as last night but that's not the point. They were on top form again, a good tight live act, loud and proud. This was the last night of the tour so they've earned a bit of fun. Favourite songs were 'Our Velocity', 'The Coast Is Always Changing', 'Books From Boxes', 'Apply Some Pressure' and the magnificent 'Going Missing'. Well, actually, they were all magnificent!

The only downside was the general level of drunkeness at The Forum that wasn't there last night at Shepherd's Bush. Plastic glasses were thrown, idiots body surfed, other idiots barged, young people obviously out of control and still being served by the bar staff. No real evidence of security staff other than at the front of the stage.That spoiled the evening somewhat. At least at Shepherds Bush there were lots of security, all wearing gold coloured polo shirts so they were easy to see.

But the Maximos were great! When is the next tour? Sign me up now!

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Live At The Roundhouse

A message from Amanda and Brian:

The Dresden Dolls are pleased to announce their forthcoming DVD, The Dresden Dolls - Live At the Roundhouse, London! The European release date is July 2nd, with the exception of Germany who are releasing it August 3rd.For those of you here in North America, the US/Canadian release date is Tuesday, July 10th. Those of you in Europe, you can currently pre-order the DVD HERE. Please note, this pre-order is for the REGION 2 version of the DVD -- if you live in North America, we suggest you wait the extra week and get your copies here -- Region 2 DVD's will not work on standard American players. We will provide North America (Region 1) presale links as soon as we have them available to us. The tracklist is as follows:
1: Sex Changes
2: Gravity
3: Modern Moonlight
4: Mrs O
5: Backstabber
6: Coin-Operated Boy
7: Two-Headed Boy
8: Mandy Goes To Med School
9: Lonesome Organist Rapes Page Turner
10: Slide
11: The Jeep Song
12: Dirty Business
13: Shores Of California
14: Sing
15: Mein Herr
16: Mad World
17: Girl Anachronism

And that's not all:
* 2 Bonus tracks from the concert
* 26 minute documentary on the creation of the Roundhouse show.

Cor! I'll get my sparklers ready to sparkle along to 'Sing'!

That will make up for not seeing then in June when I'm in New York. Isn't it just typical that the' True Colors Tour' which features the delightful duo plays Radio City Music Hall on 18 June, the same night that Buffy plays...

Maximo Park at Shepherd's Bush

The magnificent Maximo Park played Shepherd's Bush Empire for the first time tonight and I was there to bask in their majestic glory. I walked in, bedraggled from the rain, to witness the place in full lighting and wondered why I'd never thought of the place as small before, but it isn't that big and the stage isn't big either.

I enjoyed the rather odd Art Brut, the support act, that reminded me of a punk version of Ian Dury crossed with John Cooper Clark and Jarvis, loud thrashing punky music with lots of self-referential and ironic lyrics. They were fun! Unfortunately the sound wasn't too good and they just sounded like a blur-noise with the odd lyric floating through. I'd like to see them somewhere smaller with better sound.

And then came the Lords of Maximo. I've awarded them lordship since a few times during the night I wondered to myself whether they'd assumed SLADE's mantle of good-time fun live band. They're certainly that, and Paul's showmanship as lead singer gets better every time I see them.

They opened with 'Graffiti' and closed with the marvellous 'Going Missing' then came on for a two-song encore finishing with 'Limassol'. They played for about 1 hour 15 minutes being wonderful throughout. 'Apply Some Pressure' got the biggest applause of the evening closely followed by 'Our Velocity' (both are wonderful live songs).

They melded old and new songs very well and I was delighted that the audience sang along to the new songs as well as the old, particularly the chorus to 'Girls Who Play Guitars'. I'm very proud of them.

They were relentless, they were fabulous, they were the Lords of Maximo Park!

Friday, 11 May 2007

A Momentous Day

No, not *that* resignation, this blog is all about me me me...

Today I was offered a new job and I've accepted. This is all very sudden and I only found out about the job on Tuesday, spoke to the potential new boss yesterday and was offered it today. I'm quietly chuffed. I desperately need a new job but haven't seen anything I remotely fancied doing until this one. It's still in education but it's about trying to get to parents to engage them in good parenting and education and is a big challenge - as a department we never manage to get to parents so it's a bit of a holy grail. The new work I'll be setting up is a big challenge with big rewards if it works and a big chance of failure. It's not so much the work that's interesting, it's the challenge and that's exactly what I need. After 7 years in the current job (in different incarnations) this is going to be a big wrench but it's a wrench I need.

So, to celebrate, we went to VauxhallVille with it's theme of the Eurovision Song Contest. Now, Eurovision is, of course, awful, but it featured Bearlesque doing various Euro numbers so that was fun. Scales of the Unexpected (a barbershop quartet) actually won and it was obvious that they'd practiced whereas the Bears winged it. At least we got some Viking pole dancing!

The real celebration has just happened. I've booked tickets to see Buffy Sainte-Marie at the Highline Ballroom in New York on 18 June. Well, I don't get many opportunities to see Buffy and it's either see her in New York or at a folk festival in tents in Finland... tough decision and I don't speak Finnish, so Noo Yoik Here I come!

I'm going to start getting excited...

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Ooooo er! Out 'n' About

Is it coincidence or planned that two blogger chums (who I'm sure both owe me a pint in the real world) have both blogged about friends not going out enough when invited. Her Right Nastiness and Wee Don Kerr seem to share the same bitch about stay-at-home chums while they go out to watch (how do I say this politely?), um, exhibitions at certain clubs in the wee small hours.

I was quite taken with Dawn's argument about going out to see and do things as enhancing life and day jobs making us all miserable and tired. It's hardly scientific but I'm conscious that I'm walking much better after my week off, less pain and less limping and all I can think is that it's the result of relaxation and less stress. I didn't believe my back doctor at first when he talked about stress causing back pain but I can understand it, with muscles tensing and causing nerves to react. And if going out in the evening helps to reduce stress then it must relieve miscellaneous ailments that result from or are aggrevated by stress.

The other side of the coin is, of course, going out to things that others will enjoy as well. I'm going out on Friday night (and Saturday night, it has to be said) to see the magnificent Maximo Park but how many of my chums are going as well? Hhhmmmmm let me think... None.

And how many of you are seeing Buffy Sainte-Marie in concert on 18 June? O yes, c'mon, tell me, how many? None I bet. Me neither - yet! Buffy is playing her first concert in New York for ten years and I'm so tempted to go over and see her. She's playing at the Highline Ballroom and will, obviously, be excellent. The website doesn't seem to have a seating plan or allocate seat numbers when you book online so I'm not sure - I don't want to go all that way to sit in Row Z behind a pillar - so I've asked an NY chum to scope it out. I was hoping to go to New York later in the year but I don't have a problem with bringing it forward.

Incidentally, Vanguard is issuing a new Buffy record on 12 June in it's 'Visionary' series. I'm assuming it's a compilation but, you never know, there might be some previously unreleased material as 'extras'.

Coincidentally, I've just started reading 'Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee' by Dee Brown about 'how the west was won' from a Native American perspective. It's a book Buffy recommends people read (along with others) and I've finally got round to it. It's a harrowing read, based on official governmental and other archived papers from the 19th century, thoroughly researched and indexed, and makes for very uncomfortable - but compelling - reading.

Still, getting back to the original point, one ought to get out more. When's the next T.Rex gig, guys?

Monday, 7 May 2007

Bank Holiday Blog

My week off work has finished with May Day bank holiday so I have a shortened week back at work. I feel much better for a week off, more relaxed, but two weeks would, of course, be better. What have I done in my week off? Virtually nothing! And that's part of the joy, no pressure to do anything, a total slob-out. And, continuing tradition in bank holiday weather, it persisted down today.

One of my resolutions that I fulfilled was not to wear shoes this week. I managed it despite the changing weather conditions. I like my feet to breathe rather than be encased in various smothering materials. It probably reaches back to my hippy summer of 1976 when I wandered round shoeless before discovering the woes of smashed beer bottles on the pavement. Sandals it is then.

Of course, I've learned a lot about Marc Bolan this week and heard a lot of T.Rex records and today I invested in more. I got the wonderful 'The T.Rex Wax Co. Singles - A's And B's 1972-1977', a double CD with all the T.Rex singles and 'b' sides, from 'Telegram Sam' to 'Celebrate Summer', Marc's last single (with the slightly ominous 'Ride My Wheels' 'b' side). The box set has all the singles but not always the versions that were released. It's nice having them all in one place and I don't have some of the 'b' sides so this is a good addition to the collection. There are some songs I've never heard before, such as the glorious boogie of 'Satisfaction Pony', 'Space Boss' and 'Chrome Sitar' with their wailing falsetto backing vocals.

I've also heard, courtesy of the Buffy wires, that there's to be a new Buffy Sainte-Marie album released in America on 12 June called 'Vanguard Visionaries'. It seems to be one of a series with the same title by different '60s Vanguard artists so I assume it'll be a new compilation. There's no track listing available yet so I'll wait patiently, but it's a little bit exciting anyway!

I've now got Beverley Knight's new album, 'Music City Soul'. It's very different to her last album, 'Affirmation', but it oozes soul and r&b and sounds like she had great fun making it. It's the work of a woman at the peak of her powers with confidence and talent to spare. If this doesn't make her global I don't know what will. Favourite tracks today are 'Every Time You See Me Smile', 'Black Butta' and 'Tell Me I'm Wrong'. It'll be different tomorrow, I think the whole album is outstanding

Chris, knowing my current fascination with Marc Bolan, let me borrow his Gloria Jones CD which includes the album Marc co-wrote and co-produced for her. I didn't even know it was available on CD.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Finger on the Pulse

My finger, as ever, is on the political pulse of the nation. No sooner do I finish a blog about Marc Bolan (high politics in the extreme) than I launch into a blog about our esteemed Home Secretary, John Reid. Today, Dr Reid announced he will stand down at the same time as Blair. Aw, isn't that nice of him to give Brown the chance to get some new blood into the Cabinet?

My claim to fame with Dr Reid is that he likes me. Well, he kept looking at me and smiling when I attended a meeting at the Home Office which he chaired in December last year. I couldn't work out why he kept looking at me. We were sitting round tables without modesty boards and my legs were outstretched. Now, much as I think I might have nice legs (in a certain light and with the curtains drawn) I doubt he was admiring them. What could it have been?

I went on from that meeting to have dinner with colleagues from work and, when I recounted my puzzlement at the meeting, a colleague referred to my socks. It hadn't quite occurred to me that I was wearing 'power socks' (I tend to wear 'power socks' when I'm meeting ministers or do public speaking or interviews or wotnot). These particular socks were decorated with hoops of every known colour (and some unknown colours) around them and would've been plainly seen under the table as my suit trousers rode up slightly in the seated position.

Is there a word for sock connoisseur? If so, Dr Reid must be one.

Marc Bolan

"A one and a two and a bobbley bobbley boo-boo YEAH!"

... opens 'Baby Strange' from 1972, one of my favourite song intros by the glorious Marc Bolan, a song that's playing in the background at the moment. I've finished reading the biography by Mark Peytress and very good it is too. I didn't necessarily want to know some of the contents - I prefer the idol to the reality - but it's a good read and hasn't spoiled by opinion of Marc. Now I need to hear some of his music and type out a few thoughts.

His early solo work, his creation of Tyrannosaurus Rex with Steve Peregrine Took and then the classic version with Mickey Finn that became T.Rex and changed things forever. All of it was Marc, of course, it was always about him.

He could have so easily slipped away with the other hippy, flower children bands and never been heard from again but something happened. He could sell albums of his songs about wizards and mystical lands and sell enough concert tickets to keep going, but nothing big. That much is history and before my time (although I like some of the older Tyrannosaurus Rex songs) but then he wrote 'Ride A White Swan', caught a star and placed it on his forehead...

I'm old enough to remember Marc from that time. I saved up my pocket money and bought 'Hot Love', 'Jeepster', 'Telegram Sam' and 'Children of the Revolution' and taped his other slices of perfect pop off the radio. I watched him on 'Top of the Pops' in his glory. I didn't see him play live but the concert footage on the extras to the 'Born to Boogie' DVD looks great.

SLADE were my gods but Marc has a special place in the pantheon. He re-invigorate pop music in the early '70s just as some of his fans did later in the decade when punk exploded. He opened the door to so many others to have their own moments of greatness. Who else could get away with a line like, "I drive a rolls royce cos it's good for my voice" and, of course, I believed him. Except he couldn't drive, but why spoil the image with mere detail?

He was an icon of incredible potency, the image and the sound all wrapped up in one small bundle. If you grew up in the '70s all you need is to see a photo of his head with that wondrous corkscrew hair and that sums up the era. He was beautiful and he played up to his own image, generating his own cult of worshipful fans. As with others from that time, the legacy hasn't been managed very well with rights to his songs being owned all over the place resulting in dozens of different compilations of dubious quality being released and that dilutes his work.

It's difficult to remember just how big Marc was in his heyday. Is there actually anybody that big these days? Probably not, in part because the world is now different. Ringo Starr and Elton John played with him on 'Born to Boogie' and having a Beatle on your side meant something back then. He had a sparring relationship with David Bowie from the mid-'60s onwards when they were both mods and he played the original guitar solo on 'The Prettiest Star'. David played guitar on Marc's last televison show shortly before he died.

He was just getting his life and career back together when he died, just a couple of weeks before his 30th birthday. Booze and drugs were his downfall in the preceeding years it seems. He toured in 1977 with The Damned in support, presenting himself as the 'godfather of punk' with his newly slimmed down, healthy figure. It's so sad that he died so young but it means his life with all his ups and downs is frozen forever. What would he be doing today? Who knows.

Another great Marc intro has just played, the wonderful war-cry of "T R E X" at the start of 'The Groover'. He throws down the gauntlet at his rivals in those four letters. Pick it up if you dare.