Adventures in Birmingham: August 2nd

Two weeks of too much going on meant too much going out means getting back into writing and reading mode. I haven’t got back into my book a week habit (that’s reading, not writing one) since before the world cup.
So having said all that about Birmingham being so fantastic there is rarely a need to London, this weekend a few of us are going to see Hair, the musical in London.

I say Hair was the first production I was in whilst at primary school but in a few ways, this is not strictly true; firstly, my debut production was the nativity, 3 months into my school career and I was picked, not auditioned, to play Mary, largely a non-speaking role. I’m sure there may have been another nativity or two before Hair. Now that I come to think of it, I don’t remember a production, just rehearsing so maybe it was just part of dance class or the like? My memory is only of waving scarves and swirling around the floor to the tune of ‘this is the dawning of the age of Aquarius, the age of Aquariuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuus’. That’s all I remember, or I could have imagined it all. All I knew at the time was that I was singing about a star sign, growing up as the youngest of 4 sisters and just one brother, I knew about star signs at an absurdly early age.

So, having spent the weekend easily – well not easily, it was bloody hard, I just mean in the end I topped the target of 1000 words on my book – I start as I mean to go on by picking up a new book to read.
I generally don’t like chick lit (maybe pick up one a year) but this seems good so far, The Truth About Melody Brown by Lisa Jewell.
Best of all my Radio 2 boys are back after a holiday, Mark Radcliffe & Stuart Maconie 8-10pm, sadly now only on Monday to Wednesday having been replaced with live music on Thursdays. When I say ‘live’ I mean recorded at some point in the past. If you’re going to replace the best thing on radio, now that Wossy has gone (Ken Bruce & popmaster a close 2nd) replace it with something better. Nope, that’s not possible; there is nothing better than these two.

These are my reading hours even though I get mightily distracted, not always by the music but by their muso chatter in between perfectly chosen records from now, from the past and most importantly from the future. If I am out, as much as I say I’ll pop in for a quick drink after work (strictly speaking it’s not my ‘after-work’, just everyone else’s’), it inevitably gets to at least 9 before I think of trying to make an exit, even though I rarely drink. (allergy reasons)

Cocktails in an island

Back to Birmingham, this leads to Tuesday, the only night I’ve committed to be Out with the Girls and my third attempt to get to the Island Bar. Living in St Pauls, going to the other side of the city is like going to the dark side. For a start it’s a good 25 minute walk but I make it and a lovely time is had by all, with the first time I looked at my watch being 9.28. Bang on cue then.
It’s nice in there although it took me 10 minutes to ask for my mineral water as the solo barman was busy making something green with herbs. I should have asked for some pink colouring just to make it as fancy as the others.

I was meant to pop in for a drink before we went to see Cherry Ghost at the Alex the other week, but somehow it never happened. They offer cocktails at £3.50 all night on a Monday, I guess we’ll be doing that next month, when I may gear myself up for a drop of the hard stuff. It’s a recently developed alcohol allergy although I’m not a big drinker anyway.

Coffee & Live Music

On Friday, seemingly the coffee shop to the stars had some welcome live music from Pandemonium Peoples Front Skiffle Experience; ‘bringing back skiffle to its coffee bar roots’. They can only be described as skiffle meets folk and runs over the punk on the way. As everyone knows, I’m in there most afternoons to write and although Friday is a day off, I felt it a good enough reason to be at Urban. I’ve loved live music in coffee shops in the evenings since my early days of travelling solo to New York. If one is not a drinker this a fabulous way to enjoy life music and on a Friday, a great end to the working week/start to the weekend. If not every week it will be great to have this at least once a month.

It’s a little loud for a coffee shop ambience as we had to SHOUT TO BE HEARD but otherwise, fantastic.

Flower children

Four of us meet at Snow Hill on Saturday morning to catch a train to London. Why Snow Hill and not the brilliantly fast Virgin train from New St? Because Chiltern trains are running an offer, buy 2 tickets, get four so against my better judgement, I’m persuaded by my three companions that it will be fun if we’re all together.

As it turns out, that was the only negative as apparently there was some maintenance work going but the horrendous delays were not mentioned either when purchasing, on the boards or at any time during the very long journey. Nor that we had to change in deepest darkest West London (barely) and jump on a tube. In total we spent over six hours travelling, more time that we went in London. I think I’ve convinced the others to stick with Virgin and book weeks in advance to get the deal in future.

The ‘day’ in London however was perfection; brunch, coffee, show, coffee & cake before heading back. A great last free Saturday for me before Match of the Day returns. Next weekend, I’m staying in Birmingham, probably.

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Adventures in Birmingham – introduction

Possibly the first in a series to remind us of what makes Birmingham a great place to be.

Before I begin, if you are new to me, my blog or to planet earth, this is what I’m about.
Originally from Bedford (c45 miles north of London, don’t mention Luton) I moved to Birmingham a year ago but it’s my 3rd stint of living here. This time, I came via a period in New York, my 2nd home of 2 decades standing where I attended writing school (no, I know, you wouldn’t think it). This time round the US immigrations department have taken it upon themselves to believe that I worked there illegally but of course I didn’t. (I think that’s the reason but I’ve never had anything in writing, they don’t have to give me that, it is America). Still I’m locked out of the USA until they change their mind.

Why would I work if I didn’t have to? In any case I was far too busy going to see Martha Stewart’s TV recording in the morning, bumping into Kevin Bacon in the afternoon, waiting in line at Staples whilst they printed 200 ‘no parking – filming’ signs for the latest Angelina Jolie movie being shot, deliberately walking past the school around the corner every day where John McEnroe sent his kids, just in case and manoeuvring around the red carpeted streets where there was a new SJP film premiere. Not all in one day but that’s how it is and I’m far too exhausted to work after all that.

In any case, 4 years as a freelance consultant (really, it’s not that interesting to talk about here) working 18 hour days, pretty much 7 days a week just to keep going, I had a stash of cash, the UK was going to the dogs (#skyfail, #BTfail) and I left.

I’ve been writing for 2 years now (yes I know, you wouldn’t know it) and whilst I was in New York, started a blog where amongst other things, I posted a weekly journal for my friends back home.
I thought it would be fun to do that now, albeit a lot shorter as I do work, blog, write articles for other websites and oh, I’m in the middle of writing my first memoir-based book.

If writing this helps (local) people realise why when I come back from NYC, I feel Birmingham is the place to live and not a little place called London village.

All roads lead to cake.

First adventures in Birmingham post follows

Book – Cider With Roadies, Stuart Maconie

I know, I am so late in picking up on the ‘Radio Two Boys’ books but having read Mark Radcliffe’s earlier this year, I had to readdress the balance by reading Maconie’s from 2003..

A different read altogether, although both massive music fans, Maconie being a hardened NME hack from the 80’s – 90s, his stories are markedly different.

Whereas Radcliffe talks about how he met some of his musical ‘heroes’ (No, Stuart, I cannot think of a better word but we will need to invent one) and what an impact they had previously on his young life, Maconie has to remain aloof. An NME hack he otherwise would not be.

I enjoyed the early excitement of his first record, first gig, first band to play in as well as many other firsts including his first hearing of the Beatles but most importantly The Smiths who unusually, always appear to stay the ‘darlings of the NME’ whereas others come and go.

But let’s be honest, the rapid page turning really starts after the absolute joy of having his first review accepted by the NME. For I too was that person when I was a teen and spent many hard earned pennies on postage by sending grovelling letters to the music press and even getting interviewed by Mr David Hepworth. I cannot remember which magazine it was for but they called me in even though there wasn’t a job going because of ‘my enthusiasm’. However, although music is my first love, I loved all media and started working on the best local newspaper and stayed in newspapers for over a decade. Too cut a long story short, I decided I didn’t want to be poor and can return to writing at much later date (now, for example) and if I earn a decent wage, I don’t need to rely on the free gig tickets and albums that a journalist receives.

Back to the page turning, the book lit up as Maconie became a fully fledged NME writer, being sent round the world to interview bands that pick up the tab for the fancy hotel stays, the fancy drinks and any fancies that were deemed necessary.

The first in his case was INXS in America, for which Maconie had to get himself a passport and a visa in a couple of days. How things have changed.

I don’t know when I realised this but Maconie was a fully qualified rock journalist before he realised that the record companies – and therefore the bands, paid for the journalist expenses. The bigger realisation is that bands only did interviews and paid for journalist’s expenses to go and interview them when they had something to promote (Knowledge I must have been born with as I just don’t remember learning it). So basically the journalist expenses come out of the PR and marketing budget but this was a big day for Maconie.

A highlight for me when Maconie meets my own music inspirations, Chic, AKA, Bernard Edwards and Nile Rogers. In this case, the author did ask them to autograph his record and quite frankly, I would have done the same.
I love that innocence in this book, the reason that no matter how hardened he got Maconie, kept – indeed keeps – his enthusiasm for good music today.

Long may the Radio Two Boys reign

Monday to Wednesday 8-10pm (Sadly no longer Thursdays)

8/10
Inspiration factor 9½/10

Book – Mark Radcliffe, Thank You for the Days

The reason to pick up this book is it’s author. Mark Radcliffe, current Radio 2 presenter, long term BBC employee and someone who I respectfully regard as a muso.

I know very few musos in real life so relish the opportunity to even have a one-way conversation with those on the radio or sometimes on the idiot lantern. By one-way I mean they talk in between the records and I listen.

These people, generally my age or older are the people that can finish my sentence or know which B–side from 1982 on Postcard Records I’m talking without my uttering the title. These are the people who upon meeting I can strike up a long conversation without pausing to even ask their name, as happened in the book signing line for Dara O’Briain last week, although I think he was somewhat younger.

What I can’t fathom is why all musos are male, with yours truly being the only exception?

Anyway that’s the reason to pick up the book, along with the brilliant title taken from a lovely Kinks song, also performed beautifully by Kirsty MacColl. (You can take the muso out of the record shop but you can’t keep her from spouting facts)

The page turner came with this line;

“There are only two types of music; good and bad”

So it was all I could do but enjoy reading this book as Mr Radcliffe talks about how he started behind the scenes of Piccadilly Radio and his rise and fall at Radio One along with his fellow presenter Marc Riley as ‘Mark & Lard”. I couldn’t help but recall a certain Mr Evans who started along the same path and had an even more spectacular rise and fall at Radio One. Indeed their paths did cross but Mark managed an astonishing 18 years at Radio One, most notably for him and myself, working with the king of musos that leaves us all pale in comparison; Mr John Peel.

For sure, ‘The Day I Heard John Peel Had Died’ is the most poignant of chapters and tears where forming early and even though I knew what was coming, I had to take a break to compose myself before reading the final words.

Other people remember where they were when they found out Lennon had died. I recall where I was when I heard about John Peel. It was Peely, along with his colleagues David ‘Kid’ Jenson and Peter Powell who had the proceeding Radio One shows that introduced me to music. And if that’s lost me some credibility here; whatever.

Goodnight, John

I have only just been able to enjoy the Undertones’ ‘Teenage Kicks’, famously John Peel’s favourite track but less known it’s in my all time top ten too. I didn’t just stop enjoying it because it reminded me of Peely’s early demise, but that it bothered me that every show announcing the passing or even celebrating Peel’s career since has featured that track.

I had to put the book down and then cry in exactly the same way I did when I first had the news in my tiny office back in October 2004.

It was just lovely to hear how much of a mentor John Peel was to someone I regard to be up there with best of them. Figuratively speaking.

The difference between the two northern imports, Evans & Radcliffe, is I get the impression once the Ginger One had tasted presenting, that’s all he wanted to do and to this day, he is brilliant at what he does. I have to give him credit for introducing me to country music whilst at GLR (then Greater London Radio, now BBC London,) something that Peely et all didn’t do but that other muso, Whispering Bob Harris continues to do. Radcliffe however, will admit he likes the sound of his own voice but I get the feeling he would be just as happy to spend his days listening to and talking about records. A dream job if ever there was one.

Dr. Feelgood

I love the chapters and the Peel one has a long story about a certain American female looking to break through into the UK back in the early 1980’s. I recognised it a page and half earlier as being Madonna so the jig was up.

Everyone has their seminal moment when one band or artist changes their life forever and for Mr Radcliffe, that was Dr. Feelgood. I wouldn’t know a Feelgood track if it was my mobile ringtone but that didn’t diminish my interest in the first chapter that laid down the feel for the book and the endearing passion for music the author has. Whoever that was with you, can you imagine meeting three of the four founding members, taking a trip down memory lane to re-enact an important album cover and doing it as part of the job you get paid to do?

There are other brilliantly titled chapters including; The Day I Took Bros into a Goods Yard, The Day I Introduced David Bowed on Stage, The Day I Left  After Eighteen Years, The Day I Bought Flowers for Kylie and The Day I Wasn’t Scottish.

Almost as good as in Dara O’Briain’s book, ‘I Will Always Love my English Child’.

I love that he also agrees that we should have never lost Top of the Pops. In pre MTV days, all we had was The Old Grey Whistle Test (with the aforementioned Bob Harris) and the odd short lived music programme before Channel Four and the Tube came along. I also love that he says TOTP was ruined when the artists started having to sing live, a fact at the time I agreed with but now I understand his point that it’s just pop music.

I’m disappointed to learn that Shan McGowan was born in London but liked hearing about Radcliffe’s Stars in Your Eyes success as the Pogues front man, equally – or maybe not so much inebriated.

Read it if you love music or if you just like a well written, witty insight into the life of a music adoring radio person employed to speak in between records.

All the music worship aside, I loved this book as I read it as I was a few thousand words into writing my own. This is the book I would love to have written, but of course about how thankful I am for my own days.
8½/10
Inspiration factor 9½/10