Thursday, 24 June 2010

Glastonbury - an 'ex virgin' speaks out!!!

This time last year I tentatively told readers of my Bath Chronicle column/blog about the nerves I felt as I was about to break my Glastonbury Festival ‘virginity’.

Despite being a big music fan all my life, the ‘tempting’ lure of the big-festivals-in-a-field had always passed me by until last year at the tender age of 45, I made my first appearance in that famous Somerset field in Pilton.

The lure of The Boss (that’s Bruce Springsteen for the uninitiated) was what finally convinced me to get off the sofa and get on the road but as I confided to you all 12 months ago, it was not without major trepidation.

For a start when you get to your mid 40s – especially if like me you’ve managed to avoid camping at all costs – you do realise how much you come to rely on the comforts of life. A night away should involve a comfortable hotel bed – not a piece of ground recently vacated by cows.

And then of course there was the greatest fear for me – The Legend Of The Glastonbury Toilets. I know it may not sound very manly of me but I do think that the private, indoor flushing toilet is one of the greatest inventions of all time (up there with the wheel and DVD boxsets) and frankly sharing this most basic of amenities with thousands of other people from all over the globe appealed not a jot.

My son, who will be accompanying me again this year, once cuttingly said of me “when God was inventing man, I don’t think you were quite what he had in mind” and I realised that this was never more true than when it comes to planning a camping trip in a field where the toilet paper wasn’t on tap and didn’t smell of peach.

But as those of you will know who read my subsequent adjective-laden report after my first visit to Glastonbury, I had an absolute ball. The music was truly amazing but I also came away with the impression that you could have the most wonderful experience, even if you never heard a note.

It is just such an unusual, diverse and appealing community experience where the music is the glue that holds everything together but the fellowship, camaraderie, fun and genuine sense of peace and contentment is just as important.So, having not only survived but I think prospered as a result of my first Glastonbury, I’m off there again this year.

Indeed by the time some of you read this I may already be settled into my stunning one-man tent looking forward to another weekend of music, mayhem and (hopefully) mud-free fields.So can I just say to all the other nervous ‘Glastonbury virgins’ out there about to embark on their first foray into festival fun to just relax and get set for a truly amazing time.

Oh and don’t forget the loo paper (or the sun cream!)

My top ten wish list for Glastonbury 2010

This is the top ten bands I was looking forward to seeing at Glastonbury 2010. This preview was featured in the Bath Chronicle and Somerset Standard and Guardian on June 23.

A band who produce big, mighty records but still have the reputation for taking those songs onto a new level when performed live. There is great anticipation that their performance could be one of the greatest in Glastonbury’s history. It’s a lot to ask of a still relatively young band – but Muse look capable enough to be able to live up to that mantle.

A Manchester band who have been labelled (possibly unfairly) as the new Oasis because they have a dominant front person and the ability to churn out fantastic melodies. If their live set is as impressive as their recent album Falcon, they could turn out to be one of the big hits of Glastonbury 2010.

A band who have really come to prominence in recent years and whose last album was an ambitious attempt to mix their Joy Division/indie sound with a blast of 80’s electronic pop. Live they can provide an awesome experience and if they rise to the occasion (as surely they will) they should delight festival goers.

Whether they will be tempted to do their Three Lions On A Shirt anthem with the way England are playing isn’t known, but what is known is that The Lightning Seeds produce some of the best modern pop music around. Every song has a whistle-ability that sticks in the brain and for that reason they should really get the crowd going on their early Saturday slot.

A band who have really stepped up a gear this year as a result of their excellent new album High Violet. A sombre but still life affirming band who really know how to pluck a tune out of the air and turn it into something that you can’t get out of your head. Well worth watching.

Although there is disappointment that their fellow American Bruce Springsteen devotees The Gaslight Anthem aren’t playing this year, The Hold Steady with their ability to produce rousing bar room rock should provide a real treat on Sunday. Well recommended.

Regarded by many as the next big thing, this Smiths style quartet have a lovely sense of fun and melody and are regarded as being one of America’s brightest young bands. You can catch them on The John Peel stage on Sunday afternoon.

Also on The John Peel Stage just after The Drums are the quirky post punk band The Gang Of Four. Never given the credit they deserved at the time, their influence has remained strong and they could turn out to be one of the surprise packages of the whole weekend.

No-one really wanted to replace U2 because for most bands it would seem like an impossible job. But The Gorillaz have the tenacity, the adventurous spirit and the unpredictability to make for a really exciting end to Friday night’s proceedings.

As my favourite band you would expect me to include these and to be fair they are nine places below where I would normally put them just to keep you on your toes! A truly exciting live band who, surprisingly, despite being based in Somerset, are making their Glastonbury debut. About time too considering their drummer Jet Black is in his 72nd year. Look to them to get the whole crowd singing along to well known songs such as Peaches, Always In Sun and Nice n Sleazy at about 1.45pm on Friday.

My Glastonbury Preview Overview

This was featured in the Bath Chronicle and Somerset Standard and Guardian on June 23

Hundreds of local music fans will be making the short journey to Worthy Farm in Pilton this weekend to join in the 40th anniversary celebrations of the Glastonbury Festival.

The event, which offers the chance for local bands to ply their trade along side some of the biggest names in the world, will be in a real ‘happy birthday’ mood – a fact helped by a line-up which organiser Michael Eavis describes as ‘staggering’.

Although there was understandable disappointment that prestigious headliners U2 had to pull out at short notice due to singer Bono’s need for an urgent operation, there is no doubt that the variety and quality of the line up they leave behind is still amazingly strong.

The big musical battle was always destined to be between U2 as Friday night’s headliners and Saturday night’s top-of-the bill, Muse. With U2’s departure, Muse now have the opportunity to dominate and dazzle the whole festival in a way that Bruce Springsteen did last year.

Muse have a reputation for having an enormous festival sound and they have promised a visual treat to match the grandiose nature of their music. It should be quite an occasion.

Taking U2’s position on Friday night was always going to be difficult – a fact not helped by wild speculation about who would take over the slot. As such when it was announced that The Gorillaz were to do so there was a bit of anti climactic feeling in some quarters but the band have a chance to cement their place in Glastonbury history if they can grab the unexpected opportunity with both hands.

Glastonbury is, and always will be, about variety and so Sunday night’s headliner – the much admired Stevie Wonder – should finish the weekend off in real style. One of music’s genuine good guys, held in esteem by musicians throughout the world, Mr Wonder is expected to delight music lovers of all ages and there is no doubt he will send festival goers home with broad smiles on their faces – although nobody’s smile will be as wide as the great man’s himself.

Elsewhere, the line up is littered with a mixture of real eclectic quality covering virtually every musical genre possible. Dance favourites such as Dizzee Rascal, The Scissor Sisters and The Pet Shop Boys will get people popping in the proverbial aisles (i.e. fields) and for the rock fans there is a chance to catch up on bands of the quality of Editors, Ash, The Flaming Lips, new American heroes The National and even the legendary guitarists that is Slash who should really liven up Sunday afternoon’s proceedings.

Elsewhere legends like Ray Davies and Willie Nelson will be delighting the faithful and will enjoy sharing the limelight with some of music’s brightest young things like Florence and The Machine, La Roux and Marina and The Diamonds. And if you wanted any further proof of the variety of acts on offer in the main arenas both Snoop Dogg and Rolf Harris will be sharing the Pyramid stage spotlight on Friday.

Beyond the main acts and the main headliners, however, there is a wealth of high-quality material to look forward to throughout the whole of the weekend and what should be particularly pleasing for local punters is seeing the bands making their tentative debuts on some of the smaller stages who will then go on to be playing in front of the much bigger arenas next year.

All told, Glastonbury 2010 looks like being a hugely enjoyable and very unpredictable weekend. And it is fitting that the 40th anniversary will probably end with Stevie Wonder singing Happy Birthday To Ya.
This was in the Bath Chronicle on June 17

One of the things that makes Britain unique is the way that, through the Queen, we give awards and accolades to those who have made their mark in our communities.

Twenty years or so ago this system was often criticised as a way of merely rewarding the great and good, with the establishment looking after its own by handing them baubles and trinkets with the odd scrap thrown to the masses in the shape of an award for a footballer or a film star.

Now, however, the system has really changed and what we are seeing is a far more reflective awards system where people from every walk of life can get an equal chance of being put in the spotlight for their selfless actions.

In the Bath area we have always been fortunate to see a number of our citizens recognised but this week’s tally of ten really must be one of the best ever and reflects incredibly well on Bath and its surrounding towns and villages.

I have said countless times in these columns that I think this area produces an astonishingly high amount of good, positive people and the sheer number we can salute this week adds weight to that argument.

What the new-look honours do are to remind us of those we know about who have performed admirably but also to tell us stories of people who work incredibly hard but do so in a private way. Many of these individuals don’t think what they’re doing is special anyway but these awards let these people know that others truly appreciate what they do.

It is interesting that two of our winners – 91-year-old Irene Weller, who has worked for 32 years as a volunteer at Dorothy House Hospice, and Veronica Hoskins, who has worked tirelessly for her community in Timsbury – both told us their awards were “totally undeserved”. That says everything about them – but also says why these awards are so important; unsung heroes like these two should receive an accolade because they are inspiring others without probably even realising they are doing so.

Elsewhere it was great to see Amy Williams pick up an MBE to add to her many other post- Olympic accolades, and it was also pleasing to see awards for Audrey Swindells who set up the Bath Postal Museum 31 years ago and Michael Hill for his work with St John’s Ambulance. Working for charities is something that deserves great recognition, which is why it is pleasing to see an MBE for Frances Lewis for her work with single parents and the victims of domestic abuse.

In terms of public service our congratulations also go to Peter Freeman and Marlene Morley who picked up CBEs for their extensive work on a national level in the public service and of course to two of our biggest local political personalities – Malcolm Hanney and Loraine Morgan-Brinkhurst.

Malcolm, an intelligent, thoughtful and dedicated public servant, has picked up an OBE for his service to the South West, and his hard work in a number of fields makes him a truly worthy recipient of this award.

And I’m sure many Bathonians will be cheered to hear of Loraine’s MBE. Her incredible enthusiasm for everything she does and her overriding passion for her home city has made her one of the most effective and engaging ambassadors we have. Her public role as a councillor and a campaigner would be enough for most people but beyond that she works for so many other charities to try to raise their profile that her fingerprints are on many of the city’s success stories and she has the ability to lift the spirits of all around her. I know this award means the world to her – and she deserves this timely recognition.

Well done to our award winners.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Optimism plus football = a curse

I have always been an optimist.

While some people agonise whether their glass is ‘half full’ or ‘half empty’, I’m usually searching for a cloth because the liquid in my glass is spilling over the sides. But, you know what, being an optimist isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be – for as people in truly hopeless situations often say, it’s the hope that really kills you.
Take sport.

This weekend the little matter of the footballing World Cup begins in downtown South Africa. Often described as the biggest sporting event in the world – although obviously the Olympics would contest that – the next month or so will focus the eyes, ears and passions of millions of disparate people from across the globe. The trouble is for those of us of the optimistic nature, it’s not enough to see our country taking part in such a magnificent event – we really believe our country is going to win it.
Before a ball is kicked this time there will be optimistic Algerians, North Koreans and even the odd Kiwi who will genuinely believe that come the middle of July it will be their captain lifting the cup aloft in Johannesburg.

Ever since I’ve been old enough to take an interest in these events, I’ve always believed England would win. No amount of evidence to the contrary – bad players, bad managers, bad form or just general bad vibes – would stop me believing in our ‘inevitable’ glory. I always convince myself when I look at the team (and usually I ignore the others!), that we are untouchable. It’s a failing I know, but that’s what optimism does for you.

But, time and time again, whether it’s that World Cup or its smaller but no less painful sibling, the European Championships, my optimism from day one is usually rewarded with tears of frustration and despair by day three, 13 or, if we are lucky, 23.

So is that where I am this time? Well, strangely, no.

This time, for the first time I can remember, I do not feel quite as optimistic as usual. Although I think England have a very good manager and a smattering of very good players, I don’t sense the streak of ‘we’re invincible’ blood running through my veins that I normally discover on the eve of such tournaments.

Normally I’m like King Canute, ignoring the waves lapping away at my feet as I sit there looking out and only seeing a gold trophy. This time I felt the first drop of water. Reality had kicked in.
For me, it was odd.

And yet . . .

The curse of the optimist is I’ve actually now seen this as a good sign. In the past when I’ve been totally hyped-up and full of belief (only to see all my hopes cruelly dashed) I’ve questioned whether my optimism really has helped me. Therefore as I enter a tournament when I’m not dancing around in ‘we’re gonna win’ excitement mode, I am thinking lowering my expectations might be a positive act.

So if we do go on and win it (there I go again!) I think I may have to revise my perception that optimism is actually good for me.

‘Half empty’? Bring it on.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Look, I saw a BIG snake - not a flipping 'slow worm'

Everybody has a phobia or two don’t they?

Spiders and heights often top the phobia ‘hit list’ but I know of perfectly stable and decent people who are extremely wary of such unusual items as buttons and bananas. Such phobias don’t have to be rational –- they just exist whether we want them to or not.

My phobia, however, is entirely rational and I think people who don’t suffer from it are the truly irrational ones.

I refer of course to snakes.

I just can’t stand the pointless little blighters and that is why it came as something of a shock to come face-to-vile-little-face with my first ever wild one on what should have been a peaceful Sunday afternoon.

I was out walking my dog, Snoopy, in a field near the Wiltshire village of Holt. With the Ipod in the ears and the sun on my back all seemed well with the world until Snoopy started sniffing around what looked like a small black tyre.

Suddenly the ‘tyre’ burst into life, uncoiled itself and revealed that it was a huge, black serpent disguising itself as a harmless tyre in a way that only something as fiendish and (literally) lowdown as a snake could do.

I thought this was time to run – sadly my dog thought it was a time to chase and it took some time to coax the daft ‘mutt’ away from the enormous python-like creature that had shattered the peace of our walk.

In something of a (perfectly understandable) panic I then headed off and met a number of other dog walkers whom I urgently warned about the gigantic and quite possibly man-eating slimy beast that was on their path.

Alarmingly no one seemed the least bit worried (were they mad?) and one foolishly unperturbed lady said ‘I wouldn’t worry – it is probably only a slow worm’.

A what? A worm? This was a freakishly long and clearly deadly brute – to compare it to a ‘worm’ was like saying those who had encountered the shark in Jaws had merely been terrified by a big silver haddock.


Strangely, however, in the days that followed several people agreed with this crazed ‘worm’ theory’. I had personally never even heard of a slow worm and yet people said ‘they are nothing to fret over, they are just legless lizards’. Legless lizards? Isn’t that exactly what a nasty little snake is?

So, I feel it is my duty to warn others in this area that there is clearly a mass of these gargantuan scaly things around and a bizarre conspiracy to pass off God’s biggest mistake (the snake) as something as innocuous as a humble worm.

And talking of God, what was it that wrecked the Garden of Eden? Yes, that is right – a snake. The writing was on the wall from Genesis.

A worm? Pah.

Have you ever been Lost in American box set heaven?

This first appeared in the Bath Chronicle of May 27. It was after the final show of the cult TV programme Lost...
Where were you at around 5am on Monday?

The chances are the vast majority of you were happily in the land of nod, but for a significant minority of people, they were up, staring at a screen and taking part in a simultaneous televisual event with our American cousins.

The event in question was the finale of the much-hyped and frequently baffling American series Lost.

This began just a few years ago as an intriguing tale of a group of people whose plane crashed into an obscure island which appeared cut off from the rest of the world. As the viewer soon discovered, nothing was quite as it seemed and the title of the programme soon began to mirror many people's position in connection with the plot.

Despite that, the programme had a loyal following and after going in ever bizarre different directions it reached its grand finale,broadcast amid much pomp and circumstance, n Monday.
I won't give away the ending in case you haven't yet seen it but suffice to say, one person I heard said they wept at the beauty of it all while another of my friends, who had religiously watched every episode, was weeping tears of rage and threatened to jump on a plane, head for Hawaii and ask the writer for all those hours of his life back.

Personally I 'lost' Lost in the middle of the second series so I will be avoiding any tears but this is all a classic example to me of the modern-day phenomenon of epic, long- running modern TV dramas which really can take over your life.

I have been bitten a couple of times by this 'box set bug' where, even if you miss something on the TV when it first came out, you then buy it all again on DVD and watch it at your own pace.

One time was with the American political drama The West Wing, which I thought was an exceptional piece of work as it followed the life of an almost perfect American president and his entourage. And in a Bath Chronicle exclusive I can tell you that I saw early evidence that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats could be of the same mind because I recall having equally enthusiastic debates about this programme with our two local MPs Don Foster and Jacob Rees-Mogg who were both equally smitten with President Bartlett's battles in the White House.

Elsewhere, I know people with similar love affairs (complete with bulging box sets) with dramas such as 24, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, House et al.

One of the things that you can't help but notice, however, is that all of these mega dramas are American and I do wonder at what point the epic, intelligent TV show became the almost exclusive providence of our American friends. I am sure once we had a superiority about the quality of our TV?

Maybe I am wrong on this but, be honest, can you imagine many Americans getting up at 5am to watch the grand finale of Doc Marten or Heartbeat?

Nope, nor me.