Musings or thoughts about my favourite band, who I muse and think about quite a lot – probably to the interest of nobody else!

Karma police..

November tends to be the month of charitable overload – Movember, a charity I’m quite fond of as I’m not a fan of shaving, and Children in Need, something I’ve adopted since working for Boots.  It’s also typically when the Levellers do a UK tour.

I excitedly booked a ticket and hotel room in Lincoln for the 16th November months ago giving little thought to it, only to find it was the day that Children in Need will fall.  Whilst it might seem like a strange move I’ve managed to sell the ticket and hotel booking (for face value too) so that I can take part in both the charity shenanigans during the day in the office, and in the evening take phone calls.

Big thanks are owed to my friend Lynn who knew somebody who hadn’t firmed up their plans but planned on attending – indeed, through this move they saved a bit of cash too, so everyone really was a winner!  Perhaps there really are karma police watching over us!

This is not me setting myself up as being some sort of social martyr though – as well as obviously raising money for the charity through fundraising and taking people’s pledges via the telephone, it’s a great deal of fun as well – and this year will mark my tenth consecutive year of supporting the charity – something I really didn’t want to miss out on.

As well as the fun factor, it’s a really nice annual reminder of how wonderfully generous, kind and caring the people of the UK are as a whole.  The modern world, particularly in tough economic times, gives us too many reminders of people being shits to one another, so I take a great deal of healing from speaking to hundreds of people at their very best – donating money to a fantastic cause.  Nearly always apologising that they can’t pledge more, bless them.

So I am sad to not be having my trip to Lincoln to see the Levs and catch up with friends also going to that gig – but I can, of course, take solace in the fact that I’ve only lost out on a booking fee and postage to send the ticket on, and of course I will be seeing the Levellers the week after in my home town anyway, so it’s really not the end of the world…

Should you wish to support Children in Need then give the hotline a call on the night, you’ll have around a 1/3000 ish (I think) chance of getting through to me!  Should you want to help fund my magnificent Movember growth then you can do so here!

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In the land that calls my name, can’t you see we’re all to blame?

It’s testament to what went before that watching Forest limp to a disappointing defeat to Derby on our own ground couldn’t really do anything other than put an unsavoury finish to an awesome weekend.

I plan on keeping this brief, this was my Friday night:

And this was my Saturday night:

So Sunday’s disappointment and a slightly underwhelming impulse trip to the Speedwell Cavern near Castleton can be merrily consigned to the memory dustbin leaving a weekend replete with musical splendidness courtesy of The Levellers and Ferocious Dog.

I’ve even managed to add Oscar and Rich to the ranks of fans of Ferocious Dog along with Chris – so we’re already availed ourselves of tickets for their next gig in Southwell in a few weeks!

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So I’ve got my iPhone 5.

I’m very pleased with it indeed.  I wasn’t expecting a revolution, I was expecting significant evolution from my previous phone that was 2 generations older.  That’s what I’ve got, and it’s splendid.  Once the Three network resolves whatever gremlins prevent me sending MMS messages, I’ll be sorted – even then, I don’t send them that often.  Three doesn’t have a great signal at home though, so I might be lured into spending a bit more on Orange who do have decent coverage here – and of course offer the promise of 4G in the future.

In terms of the silly hype that comes with Apple devices, I won’t deny I was excited by the prospect of the phone – but it seemed to me that there was more fervour from people who laud other devices to disparage it.  Odd behaviour.  It reminds me of the kind of ‘banter’ we indulged in as children when some of us had Amigas and other kids had Atari STs.  Of course, back then it was excusable as after all we were children.  And Amigas were clearly vastly superior and if you had an ST you smelled of wee.

Anyway, I digress.. I was excited to get my nice shiny iPhone 5, and having had a week of using it I feel that excitement was justified – and if anyone wants to try to piss on that particular bonfire then that’s their prerogative.

To build upon this excitement I’ve got an awesome weekend lined up – tomorrow Cat and I are off to Buxton where I’ll hook up with lots of my Levellers friends to see, unsurprisingly – the Levellers – play an acoustic gig at the Opera House there.  We’ve booked lunch on the way, and got a hotel to stay in once we get to Buxton.  They’ve just played Exeter and Salisbury cathedrals – I kinda wish I’d made the effort to get down to one of those, what a great opportunity to see them in an unusual and dramatic setting!  Mustn’t be greedy, though!

Saturday is a return to Nottingham, and with Rich, Rich and Chris and assorted Ferocious Dog friends I’m off to see Ferocious Dog play the Bodega which will be awesome.  I’ve seen them rock that venue before when supporting 3 Daft Monkeys, now they’re headlining it and it’ll be brilliant.  Then of course there’s the small matter of Forest hosting our dear neighbours Derby County on Sunday.

Hopefully good things come in threes and the Reds can get a favourable result to make amends for last season!

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Planning, plotting, geeking..

I’m having a strangely geeky evening.  Along with the usual over-geekery with what I’m eating since project fatty has been underway (which now sees me tantalisingly close to weighing 13st rather than exceeding 16.5st as I was at the beginning), I’ve been geekifying other areas of life.  Not to mention being a professional geek as well.

Because of the foibles of the fixture computer, I’ve been busy with Forest lately.  I had said to myself with my resurgent interest in music that I’d need to cut down on away travel with the Reds a bit, so focus on grounds I hadn’t visited before.  Cue the first two league away games to be the only two grounds I’ve not ‘done’ in the league, and the cup draw to be away at Fleetwood.  So tomorrow I’ll have been to my third Forest away game, which is all of them so far.  I will be cutting back later!

But in updating the list of grounds on FootballGroundMap I started to lament the simple “count the distinct grounds” method they use – it includes Wembley, the Millennium Stadium, clubs who have either always been or subsequently become non-league, it counts the old and new grounds of a single club as two.  The ‘holy grail’ if you will of football fans is to complete ‘the 92’ – ie, visit all the league football clubs homes for a match.  I say holy grail, I’m not that bothered personally as I only really want to go and watch Forest.

Still, it’s interesting – thanks to some Excel geekery I worked out that I’ve visited 66 of the 92 distinct clubs currently in the league, because I’ve doubled-up on some clubs who’ve moved house that equates to 74 distinct grounds (with at least six who have moved since my last visit to add to this).  Six grounds I visited as league grounds have become non-league, two were always non-league and two are national stadia (one of which was of course completely rebuilt – I’ve been to both versions).

If you took it too far you’d go mad – the very nature of the football pyramid is that it changes – teams drop out, they come in – I could’ve been up to 72 had it not been for the misfortunes of Mansfield Town, Stockport County, Chester City, Luton Town, Rushden & Diamonds and Wrexham!  My biggest opportunities for new grounds like in League Two and League One – so sympathetic cup draws aside, I’m happy for them to remain unvisited!

The other thing I’ve been doing is realising that the aforementioned resurgent interest in music has run the risk of me double-booking myself more readily, so I’ve added them to my Google calendar which I suspect I’ll be using more now which makes my social life more like work – which is a bit depressing in a way.  However, it’s a cunning plan.  With Ferocious Dog, the Levellers (a few times 😉 ), Simon Friend and New Model Army gigs lined up I don’t want anything to end up inadvertently clashing with them.

Nothing else to report really.  Apparently Prince Harry – a single 20-something bloke – cavorted around naked with friends in Vegas.  Oh.  Yeah.  It’s not that interesting really is it?  Shame on anyone who pays money to a publication attempting to profiteer from something so banal.

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Who let the Dogs out?

It’s been a pretty exciting time of it for albums lately – Nick Burbridge and Tim Cotterill’s ‘Gathered’ was swiftly followed by ‘Static on the Airwaves’ courtesy of The Levellers.  In the same bracket of anticipation for me was the first album offering from local band Ferocious Dog – who, if you follow me on Twitter or are a Facebook acquaintance I’d be surprised if you’ve not seen me mention – because they’re ace.

They’ve been around for bloody ages in some shape or form, beginning in the late 80’s and undergoing a number of transitions.  Their current incarnation began life in 2011 shortly after I was lucky enough to happen upon them, and they are going from strength to strength.

I became aware of them through my friend Jen who mentioned them after we’d been to see Mark Chadwick in Nottingham.  A few months later and Mark was due to play a gig in Warsop, supported by Ferocious Dog.  I excitedly got in touch with violin player Dan to get tickets, chuffed at the chance to see Mark play locally again.  I’d checked out Ferocious Dog fleetingly on YouTube and got lost in poor sound quality recordings from gigs and kind of left it there.

So, Dan lives opposite the house I grew up in in Mapperley, which was a bit freakish – upon grabbing the tickets he naturally asked if I’d heard their stuff.  I probably bluffed a bit that I’d checked them out on YouTube and MySpace (not a lie as such, but I didn’t pay as much attention as I should have done), and he kindly handed me a CD – embarrassingly I literally had the right money from the tickets, so headed off sheepishly to my car, at that time one without a CD player, and headed home.

Once there I ripped the CD to my iTunes library and synced them over to my phone to check out in the car on the way to work the next day – and was blown away, four tracks (all of which feature on the album), all full of power, great lyrics, great music.  The ticket I’d bought to see Mark Chadwick at the Black Market Venue in Warsop promised to be rather better than I had hoped!  So I’ve seen Ferocious Dog a number of times since that day.

They’ve supported such luminaries as Mark Chadwick – as mentioned – of the Levellers fame, Miles Hunt and Erica Nockalls from the Wonder Stuff, troubadour Dan Donnelly and Levellers fiddler Jon Sevink and 3 Daft Monkeys down at The Bodega in Nottingham in a raucous evening of debauchery – and top gigs they all were.  They’re also making a stir on the festival scene, playing Bearded Theory and six others – and are now starting to reap the benefits of their live experiences in the studio.

Earlier in the year they released Hell Hounds as a single, with On The Rocks as a b-side – a re-recorded version of the track from the EP – they’re available on iTunes and highly recommended – but it was with considerable excitement that I and their fanatical fanbase anticipated their first album – and it dropped through the post today and didn’t disappoint.  The only minor quibble you’d have is that it’s too short – but for six quid and the promise of more studio time to come, you can almost consider it a tease.

The signed CD that dropped through the post today and made me very excited!

For me it had the comfort of old familiar faces on there – all four tracks with which I’ve become indelibly close to over the last year and are there – Mairi’s Wedding Part 2, a sequel of sorts to the traditional tune is brilliant, Quiet Paddy another barnstormer, Criminal Justice charts the systematic destruction of the mining industry and, once the concept was proven on the miners, further civil liberties by Thatcher and co, and then On The Rocks – which, well, speaks for itself!

Then we have the slightly-less-close-friend of Hell Hounds, another tune I love – a slower start for the opening track of the CD but it soon kicks in to the kind of energetic ruckus that leads to the considerable moshing sessions you’ll see at the front of any Ferocious Dog gig.  There’s a couple of tracks I’ve heard at gigs, Too Late shows a more sensitive and delicate side, starting acoustic and quiet but inevitably gaining in energy, and the final track Lyla is an epic six minuter starting slow and changing energy throughout.

The new one for me was Freeborn John – always going to pique my interest because it’s inspired by John Lilburne, one of my heroes.  A different-to-normal bass-laden start with pretty haunting vocals and snatches of other instruments mingling with the dominating bassline eventually capitulates to more harmonious sound then powers on into an almighty fiddle-driven jig.  It’s cracking.  I can’t wait until 29th September when they’re playing at The Bodega again – it promises to be a top top night.

You can avail yourself of the album from the Ferocious Dog website for the bargainous fee of £6 plus £1.50 postage and packing, or pick it up at one of their festival appearances or gigs.  If you still need convincing to make such a modest investment in such awesome and hard-working local talent then get yourself on to their Last.fm page (which I inadvertently seem to have found myself in charge of!) and have a listen to their stuff on there.  Then go and buy it.

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You’ve got it all, but it’s still not enough..

I haven’t really taken any ‘before and after’ pictures, but here’s a recentish image of a svelter me with a charming show-home ornament.

There seems to be three recurring themes running through the blog at the moment, and it seems likely I’ll touch on all three of them.

First up is a check-in with project fatty.  I seem to have plateaued in weight having lost two and a half stone – the reaction I’ve had from folk I’ve not seen much in the transition period has been astounding.  I guess seeing myself daily lessens the impact.  I’ve dropped down from sixteen and half stone to fourteen, and seem to have been hovering at that weight for a while, I must admit though that a combination of laziness and other plans has cut down my exercise in the last couple of weeks – although my diet remains sensible.

So next up I probably need to think about is varying the exercise I do a bit – I tend to focus on football and walking, which somewhat neglects my upper body.  A friend of mine also just alerted me to this scary looking event which the more I think about it, the more tempted I am to give it a bash – although December is probably not the optimal month for having folk running through a mud bath!

The next recurring theme is my switch to Giffgaff from O2.  After a considerably tricky start I’ve been pretty impressed – the transfer of my number went flawlessly and the service since then has been absolutely fine.  I’m basically treating the period from now until when the new iPhone comes out as a trial.  The only pitfall I didn’t foresee was the lack of tethering support on the cheaper deals (understandably, I guess), but to be frank – I don’t use it that much anyway, so I’m not really that bothered.

Finally on the recurring theme front, I’ve booked tickets to see The Levellers in Lincoln and then Nottingham, and am planning an overnight stay in Lincoln, so that should be good!  I’m still absolutely hammering Static on the Airwaves (which hit 36 in the Album Charts this week) and loving it – I’ve plumped for Mutiny as my favourite track, which is inspired by the story of Jesse Robert Short, a Corporal from the Northumberland Fusiliers who was shot as a mutineer at the barbaric Étaples ‘refresher’ training camp in 1917 (he had been wounded having spent two years at the front).

With another song on the album covering the rather grim event of the Raft of the Medusa, it’s been an educational as well as enjoyable experience getting to grips with their latest album.  Here’s Mutiny with a fan-made accompaniment of imagery… it’s lovely, harrowing and brilliant all at once.

I must plan some more exploring then I could’ve had a clean sweep of topics in one post!

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Static on the Airwaves..

I can’t remember being this excited about an album release for a long time.  Possibly not since 1995 when the Levellers released Zeitgeist.

Social media and a renewed interest in going to gigs has really reignited what had, on reflection, become a tired relationship with The Levellers.  Whilst I still avidly consumed their musical output and enjoyed it, it’s been some time since I was quite so simultaneously nervous and excited about a new album coming out – Static on the Airwaves is released on Monday but my pre-order arrived early, so I’ve had a chance to listen.

Let’s face it, it’s easy enough to have a listen either via previews or via illicit means but I resisted the urge to do this and wanted to wait until my swanky box set arrived today.  It was worth the wait.  The reviews have been mostly incredibly positive, not something the Levellers always get from the media – and even more credible sources out there were daring to suggest that the new release might go so far as to eclipse their definitive album Levelling the Land.  Hmm. Nerve wracking.

The ‘received wisdom’ with the Levellers is that they got a bit shit after Zeitgeist, deviating from their ‘roots’ (whatever they are) and experimenting with their sound in a displeasing manner.  I’ve never really bought into that, whilst subsequent releases didn’t quite get to the excellence of their earlier albums, I’ve enjoyed them all – and am personally of the belief that their last album Letters from the Underground was a considerable step up in quality (oddly I saw it described as ‘metal’ in another review of Static on the Airwaves!).

Levelling the Land is an album I fell in love with as a young’un – not immediately when it came out but as friends had introduced me to the Levellers in the mid nineties.  It’s provided a fairly consistent backing track to my life since then – it’s going to be hard to expect anything to topple that kind of influence and time-to-develop-unrepressable-fondness.  The very idea of suggesting such a thing is, whilst of course exciting, rather uncomfortable too!

So opening up my box set, containing an LP, a smaller record of the recent Truth Is single, the CD, a t-shirt, a sticker, a bottle opener and a signed poster, it was quite exciting.  Before realising the box-set was available I’d pre-ordered a signed CD too, so I have two CDs – one signed.  The poster is the same as my reward for providing photos that were used in the Levellers video release for ‘Our Forgotten Towns’ too – so I’m awash with duplicates.  It wouldn’t be the first time, and they make fine additions to my collection of Levellers ‘precious things’!

Being truly digital I set about ripping the CD to iTunes (the unsigned one – I’ve kept the signed one sealed..) ready for an eagerly anticipated first play.  I’ve heard snippets of most of the tracks through the YouTube videos the band released, but only the two singles released all the way through.  So I fired up the Apple TV and accessed my music library on iCloud (these tracks uploaded as obviously iTunes won’t match tracks as yet unreleased on iTunes).

Without going track by track the plaudits are justified, even to this admittedly biased listener.  There’s some progression, there’s a degree of maturity, there’s anger, there’s melody – there’s everything.  Mark’s vocals have clearly benefited from his recent solo material and touring, the whole album is put together in a way that says they are a band comfortable in their own skin, growing in stature and ability but doing so organically rather than dramatically.

Is it better than Levelling the Land?  I’m not sure – I can’t cast aside 16+ years of obsession so readily – but to say I’m not dismissing the notion out of hand suggests that as my listen-count for Static on the Airwaves gets beyond the two full times I’ve played it through there is a chance I’ll develop just as strong feelings for this one too.  It’s that good.  I’m really looking forward to seeing them perform some of the tracks live – particularly the ridiculously catchy final track ‘The Recruiting Sergeant’.

Given the echoes of the era in which the Levellers spewed forth into the gigging and festival scene from a Brighton pub, it would seem that they produce their best material when we’re being governed by the Tories.  Mark, Simon, Jon, Simon, Charlie and Matt have really come up with the goods here – thought-provoking, haunting, beautiful and some energy-infused singalong and stompalong anthems – it’s a delicate balance delivered brilliantly.

I’d merrily argue with anyone who wrote the Levellers off as has-beens prior to this release (or, more likely, I’d ignore them with the sense of contempt they warrant) – but certainly it’s definitely fair to say that Static on the Airwaves represents a significant step-up on their recent musical output, which has always been cursed with the ‘it’s not as good as Levelling the Land‘ proclamation.  For this new release that claim is at least being mooted quite widely.

In all honesty, I never thought I’d even entertain the possibility of that being achieved – that marks this out as absolutely top notch – an amazing band operating at their very best. Oh, and since it’s still the 23rd of June, a big happy birthday to Mark Chadwick!

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Our forgotten towns are calling..

I really like, nay, I love The Levellers.  I know I don’t mention it very often.  So it’s rather exciting to report that following a campaign prior to their latest music video released I’ve managed to get two photographs included in it.  The brief was to find photos evocative of ‘Our Forgotten Towns’ – closed or run down areas.

Having wandered aimlessly around Grantham I took a couple of pictures of the closed down Game store there – this is the sixth image shown in the video.  There’s one I took in Nottingham too of Murphy’s Bar and Grill on Parliament Street, which is all boarded up.  To say I’ve found this news monumentally exciting is somewhat of an understatement.

Not only to have have the singular honour of getting a name credit at the end of the video, but the band are kindly sending me a signed poster by way of saying thanks.  The countdown is on for the new album release now, it’s not long!  In the meantime, here’s the video:

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The fat of the land..

“Revenge is sweet, and not fattening”

Hmm, since I wrote the last blog post (or maybe some time in between the last two blog posts if I think about it) I’ve shed about a stone and a half.  I’ve never really been bothered by body image, my general default setting is overweight but reasonably fit through regular football – but I guess the ravages of age combined with a continued “If I want it, eat it” policy finally caught up with me when I had an ‘Alfred Hitchcock’ moment when vacating the shower a few weeks back.

That said, the picture my friend Chris took of me with the ridiculous tall Levellers fiddler Jon Sevink does, on reflection, look like a picture of a normal sized but skinny guy with a short fat man.  Worrying!

The only time I’ve actively been on a weight-loss drive was a crash-course to shed some pounds before a Sky Dive.  Only to find that they never even bloody weighed me so I could’ve easily got away with it!  This time around with the ubiquitous nature of Smart Phones I’ve brought technology to the heart of the process, because let’s face it, if I get to do that it’s more likely to motivate me!

Strange really – it’s the age old tried and tested formula, eat less – in my case – I’ve made tentative starts in taking up running, but I’m not very fond of it early doors, but in a typical week I’m pretty happy with my exercise levels.  It’s the taking the time out to consciously note what I’m eating that’s been quite illuminating – the App I’m using (MyFitnessPal) will scan barcodes or let me ‘quick add’ calories (and indeed, strike them off for exercising).

Levellers fiddler Jon Sevink, an average height man, with a short fat bloke.

I’ve been generally eating under 1000 calories a day net of exercise (with a few significant blips for nights out or special occasions) and after the initial shock-factor am actually not finding it too bad.  The first couple of weeks were tricky, particularly balancing getting lunch right on football days to give me the right fuel levels – but I think I’m just about there.  Of course, a mild stomach infection or minor case of food poisoning probably fast-tracked a few pounds off as well!

In other news next week is a swanky awards dinner at work at which I’m up for an award for being a ‘Community Hero’ at work – which is mostly very humbling and flattering, and a little bit awkward – because, well, contributing to charitable endeavours or community projects isn’t something you do to snag awards.

Further forward in time I’ve booked tickets for the Levellers playing an Acoustic gig in Buxton with Cat – since it’s a sit-down venue it makes it a bit more sedate than a typical Levs gig, which I can make up for at the Splendour Festival in Nottingham a little beforehand, and more-than-likely at Rock City in November too.  I’ve also booked tickets to see the Wonder Stuff, Pop Will Eat Itself and Jesus Jones in Birmingham just before Christmas which is rather exciting.

To return to topic, so to speak, I plan on keeping up project weightless for another stone or so, I think – that will put me comfortably in the normal BMI range (another 5 or 6 pounds will put me at the top end of normal).  Then I’ll probably just lapse into old habits and balloon into a big fatty again!

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A twist in the tale of our monkey..

In this digital age it’s quite unusual for me to physically buy music – the convenience of consuming music in a  format best-suited to how I use it seems most sensible.  But it is good to get your mits on a CD – be it from an infrequent browse in Fopp – or, like yesterday, sent to you directly from the artist with a nice inscription on the sleeve (admittedly as a result of a high-tech PayPal payment sent to them).

So that’s how I came to possess Nick Burbridge and Tim Cotterell’s acoustic album ‘Gathered’.

Found out about through Facebook, ordered via PayPal (the first to order, too!) but a nostalgic CD-through-the-post delivery.  I first got into Nick’s music through McDermott’s 2 Hours, and I first got into McDermott’s 2 Hours because the Levellers covered one of their songs (Dirty Davey) – and subsequently collaborated with him for album releases too.  Songwriter, poet and beguiler Nick has a real gift, as clearly does Tim Cotterell who provides the instrumentals.

So the first job was to rip to iTunes which I did last night – and have now had a chance to sit and listen, and I love it.  Relaxed acoustic numbers that offer such catchy melodies and expressive vocals coupled with intricate and evocative lyrics – it’s lovely.  After only a couple of listens I’m very much sold – The Monkey and Sister Mercy stand out for me, along with the deliciously dismissive Snake in the Grass.  Definitely something you should check out.

Even better, there’s a McDermott’s 2 Hours album in the offing, too – what a bumper crop 2012 promises to have (new Levellers album due, too!).

Available from – www.burbridgearts.orgwww.levellers.co.ukwww.spiralearth.co.uk – and selected retail outlets from 17th March 2012

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