Monthly Archives: September 2009

Smoke-free and somewhat slightly dazed….

After the ‘phoney war’ of the last week where I have been both taking an anti-smoking drug (Champix) and also smoking, the next stage of the regime has kicked in, where I have to stick my head above the parapet and actually stop smoking.  So, I smoked my last cigarette about 5:30 pm yesterday and have now moved on to the next phase of the treatment where you take 2 x 50 mg tablets a day instead of 2 x 25 mg.

So far, so good and I can already appreciate the effect that the drug is having.  Champix actually blocks the receptors in the brain that tell us we need that next cigarette, so any ‘cravings’ are either cut out or reduced to a muted background ‘noise’ that is relatively easy to ignore.  The side-effects thus far seem to be  a weird taste in the mouth, a feeling of being a little dazed and a tendency towards drowsiness.  It’s early days, I know, but I am encouraged…..have now booked an appointment with the Doctor’s with a view to discussing the next phase, which is  the long haul of a further 10 weeks or so of this treatment

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Listening to…..Adam Rogers ‘Allegory’ (2002)

Adam Rogers - Allegory - front

Over the last 15 years, there has been another of those periodic upsurges of talent on the New York jazz scene.  You could argue, of course, that the New York scene is always awash with talent, a point that I would not contest, so let’s just say that the last 15 years has seen a whole lot of new and exciting players emerging  from New York. 

Guitarist Adam Rogers is just one such player and like many of his peers is now starting to branch out with a solo career having spent some years playing clubs and sessions for others.  I have a feeling that I first encountered Rogers on David Binney’s excellent (and highly-recommended) ‘South’  (ACT Music, 2000) and this album from 2 years later reunites Rogers with tenor player Chris Potter and Bassist Scott Colley from those sessions. Also present are the excellent Venezuelan pianist, Edward Simon and drummer Clarence Penn.

For me, Simon is the stand-out peformer here, which is not to say the others don’t perform; Rogers and Potter often play lead lines in unison, rather like Kurt Rosenwinkel & Mark Turner, but that’s not the full story.  Rogers also deploys a nifty Andalucian-sounding acoustic for the ballad, ‘Red Leaves’ and shows that although he was perhaps still searching for his own ‘voice’ when this album was made, he wasn’t about to be typecast as another Bill Frisell or Pat Metheny clone.

Rather like the contemporary jazz scene in both Norway and Italy, you do get the feeling that if you just round up half a dozen of these New York players at random and thow them into a recording studio together, they are going to emerge with something half-decent…..and ‘Allegory’ is substantially better than that.

Album cover of the week….

Hmm… this looks like a tasty compendium of…… what, exactly? Does he launch into a lusty rendition of ‘Breaking down the walls of heartache’ or ‘Joshua & the Walls of Jericho’ before demolishing the whole recording studio? I will confess that I am more than a little spooked by how many of these weird album covers have some kind of ecclesiatical /religious connection…..karatist

Elder statesmen papering over the cracks?

Only caught the brief ‘Match of the Day’ highlights of United’s 2-0 win over Stoke yesterday but it actually looked surprisingly comfortable, given the problems that other teams have had at the Brittania.

Nani’s inability to make the right decision a lot of the time has many United fans foaming at the mouth and all the talking heads have been quick to eulogise over Ryan Giggs’ substitute appearance. According to the resident Scousers on ‘MotD’, Giggs transformed the game, whilst Pulis felt that Scholes was the best player on the pitch ‘by a country mile’.

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that this is a selective view of proceedings. Sure, if you give the 34-year old Scholes and the nearly-36 year old Giggs time and space, they can pick you apart and that is where Stoke lost the plot, but  both of these eminent elders are a lot less effective if you crowd them out, which better teams than Stoke are going to do this season.

Giggs still has enough natural athleticism and wingers’ skills to run out of/away from tight situations, but Scholes has been made to look pedestrian in the extreme when denied the few seconds of extra space & time he needs these days.

All of this merely obscures a much more worrying set of issues, namely the fact that none of the new arrivals have been able to truly supplant Giggs and Scholes in Fergie’s thinking. Both of them are still key performers at a time when they might reasonably expect to be winding down their United careers in the Carling Cup (like Gary Neville) or with the odd 10-minute cameo from the bench.

I’m sure that Ferguson must be concerned about the failure of Carrick, Anderson, Nani, Tosic and Gibson to truly nail down the centre/left of midfield on any lasting basis. Personally, I’ve always had a lot of time for Michael Carrick, but I know that many United fans find him too diffident – and I can see why. He seems to be out of favour now and at 28, you have to wonder if he’s ever really going to cut the mustard at Old Trafford.  His passing skills are tremendous but he never really seems to impose himself on a game.  Anderson remains an enigma – at least he’s got the goalscoring monkey off his back now, but am I alone in thinking he should be encouraged to push much further forward?. Nani remains a frustrating player. He has great skill and trickery, but his decision-making and delivery are often appalling. Tosic looks lightweight in every sense.

Despite all the Ronaldo cash, Fergie has elected to go with what he had last year in this area of the team and I can understand that, but I feel it’s a big gamble. Giggs and Scholes are pulling a few rabbits out of hats for him, but only Anderson of the ‘newer’ boys seems to have made any progress this year and Carrick seems to have gone backwards. It’s fortunate that Fletcher has been playing so well and that our senior citizens are still able to contribute.

Ultimately, where we finish in the PL and in Europe are likely to determine the destiny of this current crop of players. Personally, I think Fergie is thinking very seriously about retiring at the end of the season and if he does, I would not expect Giggs and Scholes to stay on. The incoming manager (David Moyes? Capello?) will no doubt have his own ideas and midfield is one area where I would expect United to acquire a marquee player like Ribery or Silva. Much as I like Carrick and Anderson, the fact is that the clock is ticking for both of them – and that’s probably just as it should be.Giggs

Strangely strange and oddly 50….

 

All of the hoopla about the 50th Anniversary of Island Records had been & gone when this blog was just a twinkle in my eye, but hey, it’s still 2009, still their anniversary and see if I care anyway that I’m late….

Island was the first record label for which I felt an affinity and there has probably only been one another – ECM, since you ask – for which I feel a similarly rosy glow.  Of course, these days Island is just a tentacle of the colossal octopus that is Universal Music and they (Universal) clearly see it as a label for current music, rather than some retro backwater re-issue label, though they have not been slow to exploit what is a magnificent back catalogue.

It’s hard to convey just how galvanised I was by Island when they first appeared on the UK scene in 1967.  I’d heard (and liked) the first Traffic single ‘Paper Sun’, so sauntered down to my friendly local record retailer to buy a copy.  Words cannot adequately convey my astonishment when I was presented with this florid pink artefact (see picture at foot of this post) which flew in the face of everything I’d experienced up until that point.  Beatles singles came with a black label, Rolling Stones with a sensible blue one – this was the point at which the Summer of Love arrived in my life.

After that came ‘You can all join in’, a modestly priced LP sampler of a dozen or so acts from this new label’s roster.  By then I’d already heard Jethro Tull and Free  as well as Traffic and I think Cat Stevens was in there somewhere, but this was the point at which I encountered John Martyn, Fairport Convention and several others for the first time. 

Better was to come with the next Island sampler, ‘Nice enough to eat’ which emerged in 1969.  New and fascinating acts like Nick Drake, Blodwyn Pig and Quintessence were introduced and so it went on,,,Bronco, If, Heads, Hands & Feet, Richard Thompson, Jade Warrior……  It really seemed for a while that Chris Blackwell had a hotline to the best rock music in the world.   Certainly, the major labels seemed to think so; CBS started releasing a series of similar low-price samplers and both EMI and the Phonogram group started their own ‘progressive rock’ labels (Harvest and Vertigo, respectively) in a typical ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ response.

By and large, there was a kind of unspoken rule that anything released on Island was worth listening to, an attitude that persisted well into the 1970’s.  When I was at college in Bedford in the early 70’s, I remember being very excited that we had booked an Island package tour of new acts that they were sending out on a round of UK colleges.  In fact, we seemed to get a lot of Island acts, perhaps because our Social Sec. was a guy called Mick Cater, who later worked for Island and eventually became Robert Palmer’s manager.

The band who topped the bill on that College Tour were called 25 Views of Worthing and as I recall, they played (very well) in a style reminiscent of Caravan, Egg and all of those Canterbury bands.  I have searched the internet in vain for any trace of them – who they were, where they came from (Worthing, maybe?) and why Island didn’t sign them or release anything by them, so if anyone reading this has any answers to those questions I’d be delighted if they would post a response and satisfy my curiosity.

By the 70’s, of course, Island was changing, becoming a truly international label, signing new types of bands – Roxy Music were a bit of a bellweather for what was to come.  Although I didn’t know it then, Island still had quite a part to play in my life, but I think that’s a story I’ll save for another time……..

Blodwyn_Pig_UK

Where are you now Joe Di Maggio…….

Over the last couple of years, baseball has really supplanted cricket as my summer sport of choice – the reasons why are as odd as they are complex.

At first sight, there’s a lot of common ground here; a guy with a bat is trying to hit a ball that is propelled at high speed in his direction, the ultimate task is to hit the ball out of the ground, you can be caught out, run out etc etc. My mate Adrian, who’s a real cricket aficionado, would probably suggest at this point that cricket is a subtle game with lots of nuances that are not immediately apparent to new viewers. Well, something I’ve discovered over the last few summers is that baseball is exactly the same. Ostensibly, it might just seem like a glorified game of rounders, but it offers a lot more than that once you begin to appreciate its subtleties.

Of course, human nature dictates that when adopting a new sport, one has to adopt a favourite team, so given my love of New York City and with family connections in The Bronx, adopting the New York Yankees as ‘my’ team was inevitable.

Given my football loyalties (see previous post) there is a bizarre and amazing symmetry about choosing the Yankees. They are, in many ways, the Manchester United of baseball – actually, Real Madrid might be a more accurate match. They pay the biggest salaries to attract the biggest stars, they have the history and the success, they have the arrogance of serial champions and – of course – they are pretty much detested by fans of every other MLB team. They even have huge and hated rivals just down the road – for Liverpool, read the Boston Red Sox.

Anyway, for a number of years, my baseball habit was fed by Channel 5’s late-night coverage on Sunday & Wednesday nights. They would take a live feed from ESPN of whatever game ESPN were showing and the whole thing was hosted between innings by the ebullient Jonathan Gould and a series of American sidekicks – most memorably Josh Chetwyn or the sardonic David Lengel.

What was going on there was little short of revolutionary; after the Channel 5 drones had finished their day of toil, churning out hours of sub-standard programming watched by a select group of coma patients and not too many others, the airwaves would be handed over to a bunch of chancers, whose left-field humour and freewheeling style, allied to a deep love of baseball made these programmes unmissable, irrespective of the quality of the game they were showing.

And then, quite without warning, Channel 5 pulled the plug on proceedings just before the start of the 2009 season, so no more free-to-air baseball….Johnny Gould has since popped up covering cricket for ESPN, which must be a bit like being the Hurling Correspondent for the ‘Montevideo Bugle’. I don’t think I’ve watched anything on Channel 5 since.

There was a brief reprieve in August, when, thanks to the collapse of Setanta and the takeover of their live Premier League games by ESPN, we got free ESPN for a month as Virgin Cable subscribers, but since then, I’ve been reduced to following the Yankees’ fortunes via the MLB website.

Anyway, as the regular season comes to a close, the Yankees are already assured of a post-season spot and they are playing well enough to win the World Series this year. Last night’s 9-5 win over the despised Red Sox leaves them just 3 wins shy of securing the Division title, so I am optimistic….but I still miss my insomniac nights with Channel 529870

Riding with the King……

law

May as well get this out on the table straight away, though it will hardly be news to those that know me; I am a huge Manchester United fan and have been since I saw one of my childhood heroes, Denis Law, score for United in the 1963 FA Cup Final.

Law was electrifying; every bit as explosive & effective as current pretenders like Wayne Rooney, but with lethal pace over short distances, a penchant for spectacular bicycle kicks when that was thought to be the province of fancy-Dan Brazilians and Italians and a serious case of attitude that ranged from merely being cheeky to full-on aggression. Denis was always in trouble with referees and despite his slightly frail appearance would never back down when things kicked off on the pitch.

This was, of course, the team that also featured George Best and Bobby Charlton, but despite the media’s fascination with Best and his naughty-boy antics off the pitch and Charlton’s status as the English Corinthian par excellence, it was always Denis for me.

My Dad, bless him, would whisk me off to Coventry or Leicester or anywhere close to home to see United on a regular basis. I can still remember milling around outside Highfield Road (Coventry’s old ground) before a game when a phalanx of United ‘ultras’ came marching through….all steel toecaps, scarves tied round their wrists and cropped heads….a bit scary, even though I didn’t really understand that they were mad, bad and dangerous to know. This was the 70’s and no-one had really grasped the realities of hooliganism at this stage; a few broken windows and running fights through suburban streets certainly didn’t prepare us for Heysel and all that came after it.

Anyway, though I continued to follow the fortunes of my home town club (grim though they were), there was a major transference of loyalty to United at the age of 10 and it has never wavered. In subsequent years my affinity for the club was cemented by living in Manchester and going to matches at Old Trafford on a regular basis, but it all began with grainy black and white TV pictures of a fair-haired Scot with electric pace, tremendous agility and an infectious grin. Eventually, I even got to meet the man, shake his hand and thank him for all that he had given me over the years. They say that you should never meet your heroes, but Denis was pretty much as advertised – chirpy, friendly and gracious. Long live the KIng….