Monthly Archives: October 2010

Watching Coil…..

Before I get started with this, in case anyone got here expecting to read about a group of industrial noise-sters also called Coil, sorry to disappoint, but this piece is about the original Coil, a post-punk ensemble from my home town of Northampton, who first rattled the collective cage of  Shoetown in 1978 with original songs about their dislike of dogs and epic cover versions of songs like The Temptations’ ‘Get Ready’.

At the time, I was living up in Manchester and the whole Coil thing might well have passed me by, but for the fact that three of the band were mates of mine; not close friends but well-known to me nonetheless.  Naturally, by 1978/9, small towns all over the UK were catching up with the deconstruction of Woodstock Nation, ripping down the tie-dyed facades and injecting a soupçon of energy and a smidgeon of  anarchy to proceedings. The members of Coil had struggled through the early 70’s with its drippy hippy zeitgeist, and flabby suburban platitudes.  After all, this lot were really soul boys, infused and enthused by the drive and energy of Lee Perry and Stax and the Small Faces.  The dope was OK and so were the newly-relaxed  social/sexual morés that ensued, but you could pretty much shove the rest of it where the sun don’t shine.

And before anyone says that you could hardly expect anything more of a one-horse town like Northampton, it might be worth noting that across town, my ex-schoolmate and nascent comic-strip guru Alan Moore was flexing his creative muscles en route to (these days) becoming – to my Dad’s amazement – the main reason why people around the world have even heard of the place.

Coil in the late 70’s – (L-R) Finbar, Phil, Tony & Steve.                       Smell that angst!

As for Coil, they were  Finbar Lillis (vocals), Tony Harrison (bass), Steve Curtis (drums) and Phil Dann (guitars, FX and allsorts).  I probably knew Finbar the best – and still do.  Subsequently, once the original Coil had shuttled off their mortal, Finbar showed up in Manchester, but only at the point at which I was already heading for the exit, on my way up to Newcastle.  These were times of amazing fluidity; few of us were saddled with mortgages or marriages or kids and we rattled around the country (and beyond), taking courses here or jobs there.  Women came and went, and though many of us were ‘living with someone’ , no-one was really thinking of starting a family (unless, oops, by accident).  We were young-ish, mobile and living for the moment.  Heady days.

Coil in its original configuration got a lot of positive press in the Northampton area, but it never went much further than that.  I’d be willing to bet that towns from Carlisle to Chichester could well have had their own version of Coil around this time; a band who could/should  have been contenders but who, for whatever reason, never reached the M1 and escaped to a wider recognition.  As far as Northampton was concerned, it was really Bauhaus who were to pick up that particular torch a couple of years later.

Once I moved to Newcastle, I really lost touch with Coil, though I’d heard that Finbar was off  teaching English in Italy, then Qatar, and that Steve & Phil had joined forces with a young Natacha Atlas in a band called St Antony’s Fire.  They supported Bauhaus on their 1982 tour and my girlfriend and I showed up at Newcastle City Hall to see them.  Phil’s guitar shimmered and reverbed, Steve maintained his usual effective pulse – if anything they reminded me of This Mortal Coil.  We shared a beer backstage, then left with Bauhaus cranking out an almighty noise that we could still hear whilst halfway home.

By the time Finbar and I hooked up again, he’d become a Dad (twice) whilst I had, too (just once).  He moved to Derby and we began to see each other more regularly than we’d ever done; a welcome trend in my life and one that continues to this day.  Music was still a factor in Finbar’s life;  he was learning piano and discussed forming a band with Derby guitarist John Elliott.  I don’t recall the name, but the idea was that the band would dress as Catholic priests.  I dunno, still trying to upset his parents after all these years….

He also had a lot of old Coil tapes and discussed making these available as downloads via a website.  From that, it was a short step to contacting the other band members to see if they had any old memorabilia they could lend him.  From there, it was perhaps natural and inevitable that he and Phil would start working on new material, swapping files via the net before getting together at some length over the last 12 months and coming up with a whole new batch of songs which bid the old Coil a fond farewell. 

Coil 2010 are an altogether different proposition to the 1979 version.  The lyrical concerns are even more ‘homespun’ than ever with numerous ‘faces’ from the Rogues’ Gallery of 1970’s Northampton folk cropping up in Finbar’s words.  Stylistically, the band know that any attempt to revive their 70’s post-punk thrash would be a cul-de-sac and have instead opted to reflect the influences they have accumulated over the years.  Phil, always something of a technical wiz, has not only mastered a variety of instruments but also the ins and outs of digital recording. Steve places more of an emphasis on hand percussion than kit drums these days and with Phil playing mainly acoustic guitar, the 2010 Coil are a kind of urban folk band, dragging in reggae and funk influences, using trombones and layers of keyboards as a bed over which Finbar’s voice (in excellent shape, after all these years) tells tales of the life that we knew whilst reflecting on the strangers we sometimes become to those who were once closest to us.

If your curiosity is piqued – and I hope it will be – you can find out more about the latest incarnation of Coil and listen to some mp3’s of recent stuff on their Facebook page; here:

http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/coil.music

I think the band are working round to playing live, though at this stage, Tony’s participation is uncertain.  Last Saturday night they played a first-class 40 minute set in Finbar’s (large) kitchen in front of an appreciative crowd of mates and well-wishers, adding the excellent Paul Johnstone on harmony vocals and using a mixture of live instrumentation and backing tracks.  It wasn’t one of those sitting round noodling kind of kitchen gigs, but pretty much a full-on show, with lights and Finbar’s old stereo speakers to keep the volume within reasonable limits.  The boys even got togged up in smart shirts and jackets for the occasion. 

Coil in the kitchen, 2010 (L-R) Steve, Finbar, Paul and Phil

Another Derby gig is planned for early December, only this will be in an outside venue (as yet undecided) with a proper PA.  More news as I hear it through the grapevine.

For me, the gig was hugely enjoyable and it was great to see Phil for the first time since 1982 and Steve for the first time in a few years as well.  What I do find slightly disconcerting is the way in which our shared origins in a small East Midlands town – then unremarkable, now (frankly) a bit of a dump – seem to quickly put us at ease with one another.  A few names from our shared past were  bandied about..whatever happened to…do you remember this or that person…..  In many ways, I’ve spent much of my adult life trying to put my Northampton days behind me, yet even I would have to concede that there is an unmistakable magnetism about those days and that town – now both long gone.  I find it hard to conceive of any circumstances under which I would consider going back there to live, but there was an undeniable pleasure and comfort to be derived from seeing these strangely familiar faces again.

I’m not sure where Coil are going with their reunion project – perhaps they’re equally undecided.  Some ‘proper’ gigs and then some kind of commercially released recording would seem to be the next logical steps, but these things take time to come to fruition and the pathway is often strewn with pitfalls and complexities which may yet torpedo the new Coil before they ever truly set sail.  One thing is for sure, the new material is excellent and whilst Tony’s reluctance to commit to the cause is disappointing, it can be overcome without too much pain.  On the positive side, the addition of Paul Johnstone’s excellent vocals to the ‘pot’ offers  a whole new range of possibilities and – importantly – he seems very much a kindred spirit.

At the minute, they seem to be 4 middle-aged blokes who are having fun making music together again.  For now, that’ll do nicely; the future will no doubt take care of itself.

Thanks and apologies to Liam for ‘borrowing’ a couple of his photos…..

Fergiewatch # 3: Götterdamerung

Is anyone else as bored with the Wayne Rooney saga as I am?

Player Power vs Corporate Clout, Fergie v Rooney, claim and counter-claim; it’s all so predictable and tedious.

Even so, there a few little vignettes that are worth dwelling on….

Fergie’s Press Conference and Rooney’s Riposte

Fergie drew a lot of positive press from his performance at Tuesday’s news briefing ahead of the Bursaspor game.  ‘Statesmanlike’ and ‘vulnerable’ were just 2 of the adjectives unexpectedly wheeled out.  Even more interesting was yesterday’s cunningly-timed riposte from Rooney, in which he cited the club’s lack of ambition as a major factor in his opting not to extend his contract.  Some United fans might disagree, but I think we might have cause to be grateful to Rooney for raising this topic.  Personally, I have been furious that the club has not strengthened where they most need it – in central midfield.  Fergie, obviously hamstrung by the Glazers decision to impose severe restrictions on his transfer budget, has nonetheless dutifully continued to parrot the Party Line to the effect that there’s no value in the market – a market which saw Rafael van der Vaart move to Spurs for £500,000 more than Fergie splashed out on a player he had never seen and who has never been seen since his one brief substitute appearance in the first team – Bebé.

Once a way forward is decided upon – as soon as tomorrow, according to Fergie – Rooney will undoubtedly be transfer-listed and is unlikely to ever play for United again.  The club will then no doubt close ranks and suggest that Rooney has been poorly advised and is motivated entirely by greed.  I sincerely hope that United fans are wise enough not to swallow that.  Rooney may be greedy, but he is also ambitious to win more trophies and what he has been told about United’s recruitment strategy for the future has made him think twice about tieing himself to the club he once aspired to represent for the rest of his career as recently as April 2009. 

Pointless, also,  to talk about loyalty because it rarely exists at top clubs these days.  Clubs are quick enough to dump players who don’t make the grade and United have dumped quite a few through the years. The point is that you can hardly blame Rooney for wanting to push on and win more trophies, particularly as he feels that he’s unlikely to do so at United.  Footballers have short careers and  probably feel that they don’t have the time to hang around waiting for the next open-topped bus to come along.  The question that we should be asking is what has happened between April 2009 and today to turn Rooney from a  would-be United ‘lifer’ into an alleged  spoilt-brat, greedy, wantaway scumbag. Of course, he’s a badge-kisser and a bit of an  omadhaun, but until now, he’s been our omadhaun.  Then again, I’m sure Everton fans once thought the same thing.

The Elephant in the Room here is of course the way in which the Glazer family’s tenure is dragging United down.  For all the bland denials from apparatchiks like Gill, and indeed from Fergie himself, it is clear that the £80 million from the sale of Ronaldo was never available to reinvest in players because it had already been gobbled up by the Glazers to meet their insane schedule of loan repayments.  Everybody – including Wayne Rooney –  knows this, so why don’t they just come clean?  It’s a pity that Fergie’s frankness about the Rooney affair wasn’t mirrored by an equal degree of candour about the parlous state of the club’s finances.

A glimpse of the future?

United beat Bursaspor 1-0 in last night’s Champions League game, apparently in front of 72,000 people, though it looked a lot less to me .  This was a team without Rooney, without Giggs and without Scholes.  So, could this be the future?  If so, United fans had better prepare themselves for a long stretch in the footballing wilderness.  Against a team our Reserves would have fancied taking on, United struggled to maintain any tempo to their game and  showed a profound lack of imagination going forward.  Honourable exceptions to this criticism would be Nani and Patrice Evra, who at least tried to make something happen.   Also Gabriel Obertan offered some welcome pace and drive in a short cameo.  Other than that, the midfield was woeful and the attack non-existent.  The  only saving grace was that Bursaspor were even more inept, which meant that our creaky defence was never put under any real pressure.  The way things are going, this could be our last Champions League season for a while, so we’d better enjoy it.

Götterdamerung

Now that the pantomime season on Merseyside would seem to be temporarily over, the media will  no doubt go into a feeding frenzy of speculation about where Rooney’s going and for how much (in fact, they’re already off & running with that one) but the real concern now for United fans is how all of this will impact on Alex Ferguson. 

It’s been my feeling for a while now that this could be Fergie’s final season and I suspect the Rooney Saga and its attendant fallout will probably only harden his resolve to quit at the end of the season.  Sad to say, but with Rooney’s departure goes our last realistic chance of silverware this season.  Last year his goalscoring  spree compensated for the departure of (in particular) Ronaldo and (to a lesser extent) Tevez, but that clearly won’t be repeated.  Fergie will know better than anyone else that whilst there is a highly-talented crop of young players just moving up the totem pole from the U-18’s into the reserves (Keane, Cleverley, Pogba, Thorp, Morrison, King) these youngsters are 2-3 years off being ready to play regularly for the first team.  Fergie was trying to build a team to win the European Cup one last time and he was building it around Wayne Rooney.

With that out the window and clearly wounded by what he undoubtedly perceives as a lack of loyalty on Rooney’s part, the last of the managerial dinosaurs may feel that enough is enough.  Given his socialist roots in Govan, I have no doubt that having to mouth the platitudes forced on him by the Glazers regime has been sticking in his craw for a while now and this whole Rooney business may be the last straw.  They made a lovely couple; the  wily ‘old school’ manager with a paternal arm round the shoulder of a traditional English talent.  Rooney wasn’t some fly-by-night foreigner who’d be back off to the sun and the señoritas faster than you could say ’25 pieces of silver’.  Rooney was the best English player of his generation and with him banging in goals from all angles, that elusive third European Cup might just have been attainable.  Now?  It has to be seen as very unlikely.  Some great youngsters are on their way through, it seems, but is Fergie prepared to wait another three years for them to mature?  I very much doubt it.  Giggs, Scholes and Neville plus Van der Sar will all probably retire at the end of the season and I have a feeling that Fergie will be joining them.

Update from 22/10/10

As everyone now knows, Rooney has done an about-turn and signed a 5-year contract that will take him through until he’s 30.  Can’t work out whether this is a good thing or not – certainly it won’t be if he plays like he has since he got injured back in April.

Anyway, time for the next conspiracy theory, which goes like this……..Rooney will still leave United, probably in the summer.  However, having signed this new contract, United will – in principle – be able to get the full market value for him when he does leave, rather than the paltry sums they would have been offered had he left with just a year of his contract remaining.  Let’s  see how this one plays out…..

Roamin’ through the gloaming with 40,000 headmen…..

Things have slowed down a lot since the heady days of the early summer.  Even so, ‘LTSN’ has now reached 40,000 hits…..thanks to all visitors, but especially those that keep coming back for more….

Watching ‘Predators’ (2010)

Along with Ripley’s ‘Aliens‘, the ‘Predator’ series was one of the big monster movie franchises of the late ’80’s/early ’90’s.  The original movie, directed by John McTiernan, was a huge box-office hit and performed equally well on VHS & DVD.  The problem with the movie for most people was the monster at the heart of the film.  And no, I don’t mean with the toothy alien with green blood and a cloaking device. 

For a lot of people, Governor Arnie was the big problem with that movie.  Jim and John Thomas had written a cute little B-movie with a twist….. the hunters hunted by something smarter and fiercer than they were.  Unfortunately, the lines allocated to Arnie were mangled and minced by this slab of Teutonic Teak, his companions a selection of stereotypes; the Native American, the cigar-chewing redneck, the cool black dude,  the winsome local girl they end up rescuing….and of course, Arnie’s former colleague, Dillon (Carl Weathers) , who has abandoned ‘field ops’ for a suit and tie as a CIA agent.

This, of course, makes Dillon a weak link and,  like Paul Reiser’s Burke in ‘Aliens’, Dillon has become a ‘suit’ and therefore, like any and all executives, inherently untrustworthy.  Arnie puts him in his place at the start of the movie thanks to a comical piece of macho bullshit – a handshake that becomes an arm wrestling contest  with some nice bicep-popping close-ups for the iron pumping gym crowd.  Arnie soon wrestles Dillon into submission, dropping in some leaden gag about how he (Dillon) has lost his edge due to ‘pushing pencils’ in his new role.

Macho do about nothing….Arnie & Carl Weathers do the homo-erotic bonding thing in ‘Predator’

And so, on into the jungle, for a tale of mayhem and carnage.  The honest ‘grunts’ have been misled as to the nature of their mission and what started as a rescue mission becomes a fight for survival, a fight that ultimately only Arnie and the girl survive. In its own way, and given the jungle locations, the screw-ups and the disinformation, the elusive ‘enemy’,  the lack of leadership from above and so on,  ‘Predator‘ is another of those Hollywood Vietnam allegories, retelling the story so that defeat is the fault of everyone except the dumb but honest guys in the firing line.  Oh, one more thing: never trust a movie where the lead character is called ‘Dutch’.

What probably rescued ‘Predator’ was the beast itself, rarely seen until the closing minutes, but an effective enough rubber-suit beast for the time.  The success of the movie ensured a sequel, which duly followed three years later.  ‘Predator 2’  (again written by the Thomas boys and this time directed by Stephen Hopkins) avoided the pitfalls of a straight sequel, shifting the action to a lawless Los Angeles, where Jamaican and Colombian drug  gangs are slugging it out with  the LAPD in the middle of a heatwave.  A mistake according to Arnie, who opted to do a ‘Terminator’ sequel instead.  Grim though it is, L.A.’s meat-packing district  lacks the visceral ‘otherness’ of the Guatemalan jungle.  Mind you, the movie also lacks Arnie, which has got to be a step in the right direction.  Danny Glover does a fair turn as the veteran cop Harrigan, who must ultimately confront the Predator.  Again, we get the usual Republican/’blue collar’ schtick as Harrigan is dogged by the incompetence of his superiors and hindered by interfering bureaucrats and federal stooges.  In the end, only Harrigan’s stubbornness and willingness to bend the rules sees him through.  ‘Predator 2’ has a couple of good set pieces, notably one that takes place on a subway train, but the beast doesn’t translate to urban America as dramatically or as effectively as Spielberg’s tyrannosaurus did in ‘The Lost World’.  ‘Predator 2’ conspicuously failed to match the success of the original movie at the box office and among the critics.  It made its costs back but failed to show much of a profit, so that seemed to be it for the Predator.

For now, I’m going to pass by the whole ‘Alien vs Predator’ subfranchise and jump straight to this year’s ‘Predators’, directed by Nimród Antal and based on a storyline written by Robert Rodriguez as far back as 1994.

Just a warning before I continue – what follows contains ‘spoilers’, so if you plan on watching ‘Predators’ and don’t want to know what happens, stop here.

Twenty years have passed since ‘Predator 2’ and science fiction movies (in particular) have benefitted from developments in CGI technology since the last Predator movie was made.  Despite the possibilities this could offer, ‘Predators’ essentially revisits the ‘Agatha Christie’ school of movie making; an ensemble cast who get bumped off one by one, until only the hero and heroine are left and the door is left wide open for a sequel.  2010’s ‘Dutch’ is actually called Royce and is played by Adrien Brody; about as far from Arnie as you could get.  Brody has won an Oscar for his acting but the storyline and  script makes it highly unlikely that he’ll be winning another here.

As in the first movie, ‘Predators’ offers us the usual mish-mash of stereotypes as Royce’s companions – this time a Yakuza hitman, a sexy Israeli sniper-ette, a mystic black African warrior, a grizzled Mexican enforcer, a trailer trash psychopath and a beefy Russian.  Mystifyingly, there’s also  a character who appears to be a standard American doctor with no appreciable military skills at all.  All of this disparate group have been plucked from their daily round and awaken to find themselves parachuting down into a forested planet which turns out to be nowhere near Guatemala, but is in fact a kind of ‘game reserve’ run by the Predators rather as we might run a Safari Park. 

Adrien Brody in ‘Predators‘..”I must think tough, I must think tough, I must think tough…..”

Royce clearly seems to have a background in what are referred to in an offhand way as ‘black ops’, which apparently has nothing to do with power cuts in hospitals, but is shorthand for murky extra-governmental espionage and SAS-type missions that go on beneath everyone’s radar.  Royce quickly assumes the mantle of top dog in this motley crew, who bond together for no discernible reason  and despite the fact that none of them have ever met.  There is no military chain of command here and though Royce seems disinclined to lead them, they nonetheless follow him like a flock of loyal sheep until he assumes ‘command’. 

I’m sure I don’t need to catalogue the thinning of the collective ranks by various violent means; we’ve all seen this kind of thing before.  Along the way, the group encounter a particularly unpleasant pack of extra-terrestrial horned canines , who attack them.  Despite having enough lead fired at them to re-roof most of Britain’s cathedrals, the pack are not disheartened one bit and keep attacking until finally called back by an unearthly whistling noise emanating from their Predator masters.  The group also encounter a rather portly Laurence Fishburne,  a semi-deranged survivor a of a previous parachute drop, who doesn’t survive much longer and seems to add little to the narrative flow.

Nice doggy…..

In the end, the nice guy doctor is revealed as a psycho and gets his comeuppance whilst Royce uses Arnie’s old smearing himself with mud thing to see off the Predator threat and save the girl.  As they walk off into the forest, another set of victims are seen parachuting in.  Cue sequel(s).

‘Predators’ isn’t actually a bad movie per se,  but it could have been so much better.  Brody does OK but doesn’t really convince as this year’s Captain Macho.  As for the storyline, at times the exposition is fuzzy and ill-defined and we don’t actually learn that much more about the Predators themselves.  Robert Rodriguez has suggested that planned sequels will develop the plot to reveal more.  Jam tomorrow, then.

Listening to John Martyn…..

To say that John Martyn was a complex character is to state the overwhelmingly obvious.  I had a number of encounters with John over the years and all shed a slightly different light on said character.  The first John Martyn that most of us encounter is via his records – the soulful, poetic singer-songwriter with the slurred vocals and fluid guitar style.  That’s what initially sucked me in; I’d originally heard John on the 1968 Island sampler, ‘You can all join in’, to which he contributed the wonderful ‘Dusty‘, which, if anything,  evoked another Scottish folkie, Donovan .  Later, in the early 70’s,  I bought a copy of ‘Solid Air’ and was immediately hooked. 

John came to play at the folk club at my college around this time and we were all entranced by his onstage banter and the way he was clearly able to lose himself in singing and playing.  We were also probably further influenced by the fact that he came on stage carrying his guitar in one hand and a half-pint beer-mug stuffed with small spliffs in the other.  His idea of between-song banter was to finish one song, light up a spliff whilst he talked about the next one, then pass the spliff down to a member of the audience once he was ready to play.  This was John the stoned, genial hippy – a reputation he was to retain throughout his career.

By the time I encountered John Martyn again, he had reinvented himself as a rock star. One balmy summer’s evening in 1978, I saw him playing solo in Regent’s Park.  He played a tremendous set, featuring a lot of the songs from his recently issued ‘One World’ album and making  frequent use of the echoplexed electro-acoustic style that had by now become his trademark.  Some of this show subsequently appeared as part of the bonus disc in the expanded re-release of ‘One World’ that appeared a few years back.  What was clear was that John Martyn had largely left the folk idiom behind.  Of the newer songs, only the marvellous ‘Couldn’t love you more’ from ‘One World’ seemed to be in that tradition.

John Martyn in action during the late 70’s

The cast-list from the studio version of ‘One World’ revealed the impact of John’s 1976 sabbatical in Jamaica and his move towards a rock sound.  Lee Perry and Rico Rodriguez contributed to the album and the likes of jazz drummer John Stevens, Jade Warrior flautist Jon Field and Steve Winwood were also on board.  ‘One World’ also featured the marvellous ‘Small Hours’, John’s echoplex epic recorded on a lake in the middle of the night, with grumbling geese and lapping water in the background.

I was selling records in Manchester by the time ‘One World’ appeared and I recall we had tremendous problems with UK pressings of the album.  ‘Small Hours’ was so quiet at some points that any slight ‘surface noise’ seemed horribly magnified.  We ended up importing American pressings of the album, which were infinitely superior.  I seem to recall that we also contacted John direct and bought in 50 copies of the ‘Live at Leeds’ live album that he was selling out of his front room in Hastings.

Having become very friendly with the local Island Records promo rep, Terry, I was by 1980 well-placed for my first actual meeting with John Martyn.  He was touring around his new album, ‘Grace & Danger’, which largely chronicled the breakdown of his marriage to Beverley.  He had found common cause with Genesis drummer Phil Collins, who was going through a similar divorce and the two of them formed a mutual support group whilst working on the new album. 

Terry and I travelled down to see John play at Loughborough University.  With him on stage were Phil Collins on drums & vocals, Alan Thomson on fretless bass and Danny Cummings on percussion.  Times had changed; John looked fit and well and wore a dark suit.  There was also a  notable absence of between-song ramblings and absolutely no boozing or spliffing onstage.  Backstage afterwards was a different story, however, with Messrs Martyn & Collins like a Cockney wide-boy double act; very friendly and keen to discuss the gig.

What I didn’t tell either of them was that ‘Grace & Danger’ had come as a bit of a disappointment to me after ‘One World’.  There was a certain blandness about the production (by Collins) and the playing.  Even a raucous version of The Slickers’ ‘Johnny too bad’ somehow seemed a little contrived.  This was definitely John Martyn’s most ‘mainstream’ album to date.

John Martyn in the 1980’s

The following year, John was back on the road on his own for what was to be his final tour as an Island artist for a while.  Terry and I travelled over to see him play a solo gig at what used to be Huddersfield Polytechnic.  The person I met backstage couldn’t have been more different from the genial geezer I’d encountered in Loughborough.  For one thing, he spoke throughout in a heavy Scottish accent, seemed morose and ill-at-ease and fairly battered Terry with a host of teething troubles about the tour – the hotel was crap, he didn’t want to do an interview with local radio in Leeds the next day, he didn’t like the venue he was booked into in Liverpool etc etc.  The gig was similarly downbeat; an unduly respectful crowd failed to bring John out of his shell.  He played an abbreviated set with no encore and left for his hotel immediately after coming off stage.

John departed to Warners shortly afterwards, having been offered more money and the opportunity to continue his working relationship with Phil Collins, who was signed to Warners in the USA.  He made two fairly wretched albums for them, trampling on his legacy by re-recording some of his earlier songs, but didn’t really make it in America and was without a major label contract by 1983.

It would have been around this time that I had my third and final encounter with John Martyn.  By this point, I’d moved to Newcastle and one Sunday afternoon, I wandered up the hill to the local shop to get a paper and some milk.  Two blokes were standing outside; one of them was clearly John Martyn.  I greeted him and asked what on earth brought him to the depths of Sandyford on a Sunday afternoon.  Simply put, he blanked me, saying (in his Cockney persona this time) “You’ve got the wrong bloke, mate.”  I was quite astonished; it’s not that I expected him to remember me, but I couldn’t see why he wished to remain incognito.  I must have looked a right eejit, standing there in front of him with my jaw flapping.  Before I could say anything else, his companion (no idea who he was) asked me if I knew anywhere in Newcastle where there was an open off-licence at this time of a Sunday.  These, of course, were days when you couldn’t buy booze ‘out of hours’ and before supermarkets opened on Sundays.  I said that I couldn’t help them with that and they promptly walked off.

By the following year, Warners had passed on any more John Martyn albums. Chris Blackwell had been keeping an eye on John’s lack of progress  so he welcomed him back into the fold at Island for his last hurrah, 1984’s ‘Sapphire’.   Not too many John Martyn fans know this album and not many of those that do rate it particularly highly, perhaps because Robert Palmer’s production favours lots of layered synths rather than fingerpicked acoustic guitar.  Even so,  the title track is a genuine 24 carat JM classic and there are other excellent tracks like ‘Mad Dog Days’, Fisherman’s Dream’ and a wonderful, heartfelt rendition of ‘Over the rainbow’.    Unfortunately, ‘Sapphire’ turned out to be a false dawn.  1985 saw the release of John’s final album for Island; the anodyne ‘Piece by Piece’.  After that, he never recorded for a major label again.

Details thereafter are sketchy.  John made a series of albums for small labels and moved to Kilkenny in the west of Ireland, where the BBC made an excellent documentary about him a while back.  Years of sex and drugs and rock and roll began to catch up with him quite quickly as he hit his fifties and his health declined.  A cyst on his right leg burst and poisoned the limb, resulting in a partial amputation, but he continued to tour, playing from his wheelchair and, of course,  joking about not getting legless on stage.  This ‘gallows humour’ was typical of the man but his insistence that only he was to blame for his predicament (probably true) and that he regretted nothing  – well, I wonder. He died, aged 60,  last year.

This year has been a good year for the re-issue of some ‘classic’ albums in expanded 2-disc (or more) formats.   John Martyn’s ‘Live at Leeds’ is one of these and contains a few surprises; notably that two-thirds of the original release wasn’t even recorded at Leeds University at all.  The story of this album is that after ‘Inside Out’, John wanted to put out a live album.  Island didn’t agree, but were happy to let John sell the album by mail order and even organised EMI to press up a limited run (with an Island catalogue number) of 10,000.  This run rapidly sold out but has been re-released subsequently, though with no great concern for quality control.   Recorded shortly before his Jamaican break, ‘Live at Leeds’ almost represented the end of the beginning as far as the itinerant folky John Martyn was concerned.

The new deluxe edition does ‘Live at Leeds’ justice with  excellent reproduction, extra tracks and rehearsal takes, but it’s some way from being the original album.  Of that release, only ‘Bless the weather’ and ‘Make no mistake’ are from the 13/2/75 Leeds University gig.  The remaining tracks were recorded at a gig in London around the same time and do not appear here.  Joining John on stage for this gig were two musicians  who were regular compañeros at this time; free jazz drummer John Stevens and long-time drinking and sparring partner Danny Thompson from Pentangle and elsewhere.  There is a great story about ‘Danny Tomkins’ (as JM banteringly refers to Thompson throughout) nailing  a rug to the floor one night (after a particularly heavy session)  with JM trapped & paralytic underneath it – and that’s where he awoke the following morning, pinned to the floor with a horrible hangover.

The ‘Cinderella’ of this album is undoubtedly former Free guitar god Paul Kossoff, who appears only at the end of the gig and on one of the rehearsal takes.  Like Martyn himself, Kossoff suffered with addiction problems that ultimately killed him.  At the time of this gig, he had hardly played at all for 18 months  Here we yet see another John Martyn – the compassionate friend who wanted to help Koss back on his feet.  However, there are problems on a couple of fronts.  Firstly, Kossoff is clearly in too fragile a state to play the whole gig and what we do hear of him reveals him as a shadow of his former self.  Secondly, from a musical perspective, Kossoff’s blues-infected Les Paul is simply too powerful to play comfortably alongside Thompson’s upright bass and John Stevens’ delicate polyrhythmic style.  Whilst JM’s echoplexed acoustic seems to fit in quite well with the jazzy rhythm section, Kossoff’s electric wailing unfortunately doesn’t.

Thompson and Martyn’s offstage antics were matched only by their onstage banter and if there is a problem with the Deluxe ‘Live at Leeds’, this would be it.  It’s shocking, I know, but both Danny and Johnny would seem to have taken some refreshment before coming on stage and more (champagne, for an unspecified birthday) arrives in mid-set.  This makes them even more garrulous  – and profane – than normal and whilst the naughty-boy swearing and politically incorrect banter doesn’t actually bother me, it just makes me think that here is another John Martyn – the dickhead who just doesn’t know when to shut up and play.  The cover of this expanded version of ‘Live at Leeds’ even features a ‘Parental Advisory’ sticker about the profanity!  Whatever the case, some of the ‘bantering interludes’ between songs  and between Martyn and Thompson (in particular) stretch towards the 10-minute mark and though there might be some amusement first time around, I doubt if anyone could bear listening to all this ‘Jack the Lad’ prattishness on a regular basis.

Johnny & Danny looking well-refreshed…..

Still that’s what you have to accept with John Martyn;  on one hand, the brilliant songwriter, the great guitarist, the innovative user of effects, the iconoclast and the Samaritan/ suspected ‘softy’, but on the other, the bipolar bad boy with a taste for all manner of restricted substances and a tendency to ‘go on a bit’ at times.  I think it’s probably fair to assume that the one side of the coin couldn’t have prospered without the other side, so in the end, we just had to accept JM as he was, warts and all.

What is a pity was that his appetites got the better of his talent in the last 20 years of his life.  If you compare his output from the mid-1980’s with his near-contemporary and Island stablemate, Richard Thompson, it doesn’t really bear too close an examination.  In the final analysis, though, he was an extraordinary talent whose early career (at least) produced some unforgettable gems.

The new ‘Evil Empire’?

Birmingham has been infested with the Tory Party Conference this week.  Lots of hatchet-faced women in twin-sets and pearls and William Hague clones who look as though they’re too young to shave, let alone vote.

Among the sideshows to the rabble-rousing in the main auditorium, there was – allegedly – a ‘straw poll’ taken among delegates, ‘Daily Mail’ readers  and like-minded fellow-travellers to determine the most evil forces throughout history.

Full results are given below, but it’s interesting to note that Satan & all his Minions are still keeping Tony & Gordon from the # 1 spot and that Adolf & the boys have slipped to # 7 – well, it is the Tories after all…..

And now the results….

1. Satan and all his Minions

2. Brown and Blair

3. Sauron & the Hosts of Mordor

4. Voldemort

5. ‘Guardian’ readers

6. Hunt saboteurs

7. The Nazis

8. Peter Mandelson

9. The EU

10. Any other lefties, dole scroungers, illegal immigrants, northerners etc….

So far, so predictable, but the really big story came in midweek as news broke that the owners of the  Boston Red Sox were proposing to take over Liverpool FC.  The prospect of such an Unholy Alliance led to the poll results being suppressed.  An unofficial recount from a limited number of voters suggested that this new Combine of Evil would have come in at # 3 if not higher.

In all seriousness, do I really need any more reasons to despise both Liverpool and the Red Sux?  As a fan of Manchester United and the New York Yankees, I would characterise this new initiative as a marriage forged in the nethermost regions of Hell.

Also, interestingly, Sir Alex Ferguson is currently having a break from the club….in New York.   It would just be terrific if Fergie got himself out to Yankee Stadium and persuaded the Steinbrenner family to buy out the Glazers.  That would really set the cat amongst the pigeons….

Fergiewatch # 2

The kick-off for United’s 0-0 draw up at the Stadium of Light yesterday afternoon was delayed by 15 minutes due to the fact that a pipe had burst and had brought down half the ceiling in their dressing room.  However, what no-one was really acknowledging until after the game was that the pipe in question was carrying raw sewage, not clean water and that the clothes and belongings of several of the United squad were, shall we say, ‘soiled’ beyond repair.  This story has no doubt caused knowing smirks among United’s many detractors out there, but I am personally convinced that this was an ‘inside job’ and that at some point prior to the game, a couple of local lads with a rudimentary knowledge of plumbing got up in the crawlspace above the Visitors’ changing-room and loosened a few strategic bolts.

Whatever the truth of the situation, after this unwelcome shower of shite, the United team emerged and produced a performance to match.  It was one of the worst displays I have seen from United for many years.  No Rooney (again), so Owen and Macheda were partnered up front, ahead of a midfield comprising Fletcher, Anderson, Scholes and Nani.  In the first half, Sunderland harried Scholes and buffeted Nani and we were, frankly,  overwhelmed.  Sunderland could and probably should have been 2-0 up at half time.  The second half was better with the hapless Owen replaced by Berbatov, but although we had more potency as an attacking force, with Berbatov and Nani going close, Sunderland still created the better and more frequent opportunities and we can be thankful to have escaped with a point.  This was our fourth away draw this season and though we defended better yesterday we are still into October without an away win this season – someone will no doubt be ferreting among the record books to tell the world the last time that happened.

The thing is that the media vultures are already gathering.  Chelsea beat Arsenal today and are roaring away into the distance and City have now overtaken us and are into second place.  The word ‘decline’ is already being used quite openly and many observers clearly believe that Fergie’s long Premier League party is coming to an end.  Apparently, everyone except His Nibs can see that our failure to strengthen in midfield is costing us dear – and Van der Vaart’s barnstorming performances for Tottenham aren’t helping; he could have been wearing United red and everybody knows it.  Fergie can blather on about the fact that there’s ‘no value in the market’, but VdV is looking like the bargain of the year right now – and Fergie let him slip through his fingers.   The man on whom so much hinges – Paul Scholes – seems to have lost his early season ‘mojo’ and  is now producing a series of tired-looking and stodgy performances.  Without him we are over-dependent on intermittent flashes  of ingenuity from Nani and Berbatov.  The rest, frankly. is all perspiration and little inspiration,

Malbranque crowds Scholes out yet again…..

Also, crucial wins against Liverpool and Valencia are masking the extent of our problems.  We were fortunate to win in Spain.  If Valencia had possessed any real cutting edge they would have beaten us and even the Dippers might have nicked an undeserved point had it not been for a virtuoso performance from Berbatov.

Sooner or later, one of these ‘unfancied’ teams is going to turn us over and the spotlight will shift from events along the East Lancs to Old Trafford.  It nearly happened at Bolton and perhaps would have done had it not been for a brilliant headed goal by Michael Owen.  You have to feel for Owen; he scored twice at Scunthorpe and got the vital equaliser at the Reebok, but in Spain, Fergie preferred Macheda and Hernandez as his subs and although Owen played yesterday, he was utterly anonymous and contributed nothing.  Also, Anderson’s return has done little to suggest why we paid all that money for him and Carrick played in Valencia and was wretched. 

All the signs are of a pretty unsettled bunch of campers right now and the only bright spot of late is the return of Rio Ferdinand to the defence and the ensuing stability and two clean sheets that have come as a consequence.  However, Rio’s fitness is likely to remain a worry – he allegedly stood up throughout the flight to Spain in midweek, which does not bode well for the future.  When Rio does miss out, it’s to be hoped that Fergie plays Smalling instead of Evans, who is having a season to forget. If you look around the squad, only Vidic  and Van der Sar are really playing  consistently well right now.  Everyone else is either off-form, injured, tired (in the case of Scholes), inconsistent or not getting a regular enough start in the team to build up any form.   It’s probably only a question of time before all Fergie’s flimsy justifications for poor results and poor form blow up in his face.  

For all the smoke and mirrors he deploys, it’s obvious that things are not right with United at the moment and it’s really only the ongoing pantomime at Anfield that is stopping us from coming under a far closer scrutiny.  Sometimes over the years, I have watched United play and felt that they are on the verge of really ‘catching fire’ and giving someone a real battering.  Right now, I can’t help but feel that the reverse is the case.