Monthly Archives: August 2012

Listening to Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood…..

Some readers may perhaps find it a little strange that it has taken me until the closing months of 2012 to arrive at a considered view of Messrs Clapton & Winwood’s spasmodic series of reunion gigs and product ‘opportunities’  which, after all,  have been going on for about 5 years now. 

On the other hand, that’s probably somewhat to the point; back in the day I would have been on the case at once – after all,  these two were major deities in the pantheon of rock gods who strutted their fitful hour upon the stage,  then (we assumed)  disappeared to Hawaii or Malibu or Woodstock to ‘hang out’ with other rock stars and loads of beautiful girls, take loads of drugs and (eventually) put together another album’s-worth of songs that tugged at the social fabric and suggested that the younger generation were more fitting custodians of contemporary society than their elders.

Ugly work, but someone had to do it……nowadays, though, the low spark of high-heeled boys is just a distant glimmer of what it used to be and nobody says much any more about fighting in the streets or changing the world.  The torch has passed to another generation and when The Who sing about everyone f-f-f-fading away at the end of the Olympics, you sense that they might even be singing about their own g-g-g-g-generation.  It seems that even pill-popping mods from the mid-60’s have become commodified and the anger that drove Pete Townshend’s original lyric has just dissolved into grumpiness, cynicism and empty spectacle.  No wonder I feel able to approach Winwood and Clapton at a more leisurely pace .  They’re not quite Stadtler & Waldorf yet, but it’s definitely more about relaxation than revolution these days.

Winwood & Clapton on stage in 2011

Seen through that kind of lens, Steve & Eric are nowadays really just a couple of ageing geezers whose voices won’t quite make those high notes anymore and whose recent solo records hardly sell at all compared to the glory days of the 1970’s.    And they are far from being alone; every major city in the UK has bands composed of ex-members of this or that or the other band who used to be a big deal and who now get together once in a while in the function rooms of suburban pubs to run through a few of the old favourites  – in this town, it’s generally ex-members of bands like The Move or the Steve Gibbons Band (or both) who are involved in this kind of thing and if you’re  a fan, it’s no doubt a slightly nostalgic night out.

This is really what Steve and Eric are doing, but such is their residual clout in the minds of fans, promoters and journalists that they’re able to stage their bouts of nostalgia to packed houses in huge venues across three continents and record companies will still produce DVD’s and double CD’s of it all.  It’s a measure of the stature they once had and an increasingly rare event as most of the heavy hitters from that era  -for example, Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin – are unlikely – for one reason or another – to tour again in any major way,  leaving only the possibility of a last hurrah from The Rolling Stones to turn back the clocks to when these dinosaurs really did roam the Earth and draw a line under the whole Rock & Roll epoch. 

In some respects, Eric Clapton has in any case been backtracking through his career highlights since well before the Millennium rolled around.  There have been excursions with B B King and J J Cale  ( and if  A.A. Milne or  e.e. cummings were still alive….)   and studio projects based around Robert Johnson’s slim songbook.  There have been onstage reunions with Cream and with John Mayall – and of course with Winwood, leaving The Yardbirds about the only rolling stone Eric hasn’t revisited.

Winwood has been slower to accept the role of a living museum piece and through the 1990’s pressed ahead with a series of albums of original material which largely failed to match the illustrious standards of what had gone before.  There was one last hurrah with a reformed version of Traffic who released a reasonable final album (‘Far from Home’) , toured extensively in the USA, supporting bands like the Grateful Dead  and played their final gig (though none of us present realised it) at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall in September of 1994.   

Apart from that and the odd appearance on Jools Holland’s TV show, Winwood seems to have concentrated on promoting his career in North America and his profile in the UK has quietly diminished.  There was the obligatory 4 CD retrospective  in 1995 and even a mildly diverting BBC documentary called ‘English Soul’  which showed a man largely at peace in his Cotswold hideaway where he has taken on the role of occasional church organist and pillar of the local community.  When one of his daughters got married there last year, Charles and Camilla were in attendance and the child of the north Birmingham suburbs seems more than comfortable in his new role as a country squire.

By contrast, Clapton has been a troubled soul for most of his life and even the briefest trawl through his biography inevitably uncovers a catalogue of highs and lows that few can match – and live to tell the tale.  Murky family history, controversial and ill-chosen racist outbursts, high-profile  encounters with fame,  drugs and alcohol and the tragic deaths of those near & dear to him contrast with passionate affairs,  a fiendishly complex love life  and  a ‘jet set’ lifestyle,  lived in the fierce glare of the spotlights. 

Eric with his Granny in 1971

Over the years, we have seen the hair get longer and lanker, then be shaved to a grey stubble, the weight has ballooned to saloon bar habitué proportions then miraculously melted away to leave a gaunt ascetic ,  who sometimes  looks more like an accountant or an opthalmologist  than a seriously talented guitar player.  Because, that is one thing that has remained constant – for all his refuelling problems, his serial affairs and paternity issues, for all the glitzy guest star performances around the world, Eric remains one of the world’s premier blues rock guitarists.  He has outlasted those whose talents and technique exceeded his own as well as those lesser souls who simply aped his style.  He only needs to pick up that guitar and the music takes him; he is lost and ‘in the zone’  and the accumulated detritus of the years just slips away. 

In the end, he is,  like Keith Richards, a survivor and his mild and self-effacing approach  in interviews or, for example,  when cast in the role of Musical Director and M.C. for the 2002 ‘Concert for George’ (Harrison) at the Albert Hall belies the wild excesses he has experienced over the years.

So, if Clapton has caromed erratically off the walls of luxury apartments, rehab rooms and 5-star suites around the world whilst Winwood has slowly ripened in the mellow Gloucestershire sunshine – and I accept, of course, that such a view  represents a colossal over-simplification – then what has brought them together at this juncture?  Is Eric just being comprehensive in his trawl through his list of former colleagues?  There was the feeling with the reuniting Cream that he might just be working off some previous dodgy karma, but Winwood and Clapton even emerged from the Blind Faith debacle on sufficiently good terms that Steve was an active  participant  in  the ‘rehab band’ assembled by Pete Townshend for the ‘Rainbow’ project just a few years later.  These two do go back an awfully long way – to 1966 and Joe Boyd’s ‘Powerhouse’ project at least – and there seems every likelihood that they do actually get on.  Musically, neither of them have strayed far from the blues and R’n’B that initially inspired them, although Winwood has occasionally ventured a little further afield, stylistically speaking,  in his session work with the likes of Jade Warrior and Talk Talk.

Strangely it seems to have been a peculiar brand of English political conservatism that may have triggered their most recent collaboration.  Winwood’s status as part of the Cotswold ‘squirearchy’ would probably have made it almost mandatory for him to espouse the views of the Countryside Alliance, whilst Clapton’s involvement may have been triggered by his friendship with former Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters.  Clapton played a gig with Waters at Highclere Castle in Berkshire in 2006 to raise money for the Alliance – who were, at the time, fighting the Labour government’s attempt to ban foxhunting.  His involvement was reported thus: “Clapton’s spokesperson confirmed “Eric supports the Countryside Alliance. He doesn’t hunt himself, but does enjoy rural pursuits such as fishing and shooting.  He supports the Alliance’s pursuit to scrap the ban on the basis that he doesn’t agree with the state’s interference with people’s private pursuits.” (www.contactmusic.com).

Steve Winwood in his Squire outfit.

Given their mutual enthusiasm for the preservation of rural barbarism and the rights of the individual, a reunion was perhaps inevitable and it duly happened back at Highclere in May 2007 for another Countryside Alliance fundraiser where Winwood and his band (introduced by another Alliance apologist, the  nauseating Jeremy Clarkson) were joined on stage by Eric Clapton for the latter half of their set.   Winwood subsequently guested  at the Clapton-curated tri-annual ‘Crossroads’ Festival in the USA, after which  Clapton played on Winwood’s ‘Nine Lives’ album and some New York dates were booked into Madison Square Garden for early 2008.  Beyond any shadow of a doubt,  we were now entering the realms of a full-on reunion, but whilst it might have looked like Blind Faith Mk. 2, that was never going to happen,as Winwood made clear in a BBC interview from later in 2008  –  “The idea of reforming Blind Faith arose fairly early on but it was decided that it wasn’t going to be that, because we didn’t want to limit it to that material. We wanted to touch on our own material.”

And, in a way, the interest this project holds for me lies in the songs that Steve & Eric have chosen for the setlists on this tour.  It would have been easy to churn out a predictable 90-minute set of Blind Faith, Traffic and Cream covers, but what I will confess that I do like about this project is the interesting choices the two of them made in selecting their repertoire.  Whilst there was a degree of inevitability about the appearance of over-familiar pot boilers like ‘Pearly Queen’ and the sickly ‘Wonderful Tonight’, there are also some genuinely left-field choices, particularly from Winwood’s side of the garden fence.  I would never have believed that we would ever see him performing songs like ‘No face, no name & no number’ or ‘Midland Maniac’  on stage again. 

Even Eric’s selection is not altogether predictable, with less familiar songs like ‘Tell the Truth’ and ‘Double Trouble’ given a run out, usually to good effect and the version of ‘Layla’ played at the Royal Albert Hall follows the revised arrangement that we first heard on Clapton’s ‘Unplugged‘ album.  In terms of cover versions, many observers have commented on the inclusion of no less than 3 songs connected with Jimi Hendrix and the fact that on most nights, the band’s set would climax with a 15 minute plus version of ‘Voodoo Chile’  – Winwood of course played and sang on the original version back in 1968.  Perhaps they both felt that history hasn’t been that kind to Hendrix and that songs like ‘Little Wing’ were due another airing.  Taking on ‘Voodoo Chile’  is another matter; this is one of those ‘holy grail’ tracks for Hendrix fans, but to be fair to our boys, they carry it off with considerable élan.   

Naturally, it doesn’t always work; a truncated version of Traffic’s ‘Glad’ sticks out like a sore thumb and songs like ‘Presence of the Lord’ haven’t worn particularly well.   On the whole though, the ‘everyday’ titles and the occasional variations would have kept Steve, Eric  and their cast of accomplices – including ex-Grease Band stalwart, Chris Stainton and bassist Willie Weeks who played on the 1976 ‘Steve Winwood’ album  – on their toes.  As mentioned any problems with high notes were glossed over by the  vocal talents of  Sharon White and Michelle John.  There seems to be a welcome absence of windy or sententious  pronouncements from the stage,  with Clapton handling the MC role for most of the gigs I have heard and, overall, it seems to work just fine.  There is nothing earth-shattering here; just a run through of 20 or so blues-based tunes with some accomplished playing from both the principals.  I’ve only seen fragments of the Madison Square Garden video but both Clapton & Winwood seem to be enjoying themselves and the mood is one of relaxed joviality for the most part.

Clapton & Winwood in Blind Faith days; somehow it seemed more important back then……

The music these two have made over the years – both together and apart – has often produced some high-water marks in my collection ; the original ‘Layla’ album, the ‘John Barleycorn must die’ album,  and numerous individual songs –  the original Spencer Davis Group version of ‘Gimme some lovin’, Cream’s ‘Sittin’ on top of the world’ , Traffic’s ‘No face, no name and no number’ and ‘The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys’, Blind Faith’s ‘Can’t find my way home’, Clapton’s 1975 version of ‘The Sky is Crying’  – and so on.  None of what Clapton & Winwood have produced via this reunion comes anywhere near these high-spots, but that’s OK.  This stuff can be enjoyed for its own sake and whilst  the politics are pretty dubious these days,  the playing is solid enough and the songs remain (pretty much) the same.

Lisboa August 2012….some photos….

Just spent a week in this beautiful city.

How did it take me so long to get round to my first visit?

Hope to be back very soon.

The stunning, atmospheric Brasiliera  Café 

Room with a view; Largo do Chiado at 0600 from my hotel.

 

How does he do that?  Street performer in Rua Garrett.

 

 A noite…..

 

Beautiful doorways at Rossio Station….

 Looking towards Sao Vicente Church…..

 

 

Just because it can be done…..

From time to time, I’m sure that it dawns on most of us that we take the wonders of the internet for granted.  Whether you want to pay a bill, watch a movie, check out bus timetables in Ontario, find a recipe for chicken cacciatore or read a blog like this – all of these things and many others besides are possible from the cosy surroundings of your own work-station or laptop or cellphone. 

This is something that today’s young hipsters very much take in their stride, but I am old enough to remember how it was back in the days when buying anything ‘mail order’ was a bit of an adventure, requiring faith, luck and a good deal of time.  For that chicken recipe, you either had it in a cookbook or you rang a friend.  Failing that, there was the local library, when it opened.  As for watching movies, you either waited for it to come round on TV or you got yourself off to the local flea-pit.

Another area where the internet has had a massive impact is in travel.  Booking flights and hotels is now ludicrously simple as long as you possess a major credit or debit card and know when and where you want to go.  For independent travellers, I’m sure it is now possible to put together a comprehensive  round-the-world itinerary without breaking sweat.  It’s all laid out before you like a giant smørgåsbord of possibilities, so all that’s really required is the time you spend checking timetables plus a measure of agreement among the participants – and that’s where it can get difficult.

I think that this eternal truth came home to me with considerable force about 2:15  one morning  as I stared at the screen and pondered the monstrous carbon footprint involved in flying 3 people from Izmir to Antalya via Istanbul then out to the UK just a few hours later.  The alternative was a rail and coach journey of up to 8 hours from Izmir via Denizli.   Better karma but a day arguably ‘wasted’.  Decisions, decisions…..

Decisions, decisions…….

In the end , what I was left with was a tightly-structured circular tour of Western Turkey that would take in Cappadocia and Istanbul and Ephesus within a fortnight’s span.  It met the Partner’s timescales and took in those hotspots the Princess wanted to visit.  It took account of the current uproar on the Turkish rail network with Istanbul essentially inaccessible from the Asian side, except by bus or plane.  It allocated enough time in Cappadocia to visit the major sites and it finished on the Aegean coast near Izmir, allowing a day-trip to the Ephesus site and a day on the beach at Altinkum or near Kusadasi.  It also flew in and out of Birmingham.  It was a thing of beauty and it positively gleamed with bureaucratic efficiency.  The only fly in the ointment came in the final 2 days where opting for a cheap but ethically dubious flight back to Antalya via Istanbul would have bought us an extra day on the beach.

Somewhere in the deepest recesses of my brain, the Travel Gnomes mopped their brows after several hours of frantic activity.  Difficulties had been overcome, obstacles had been surmounted, alternatives had been identified.  The decision on how to get from Izmir back to Antalya could wait until the following day.  I fired off emails with the Itinerary attached to Partner & Princess and went to bed.

“What about here?”

To say that I was disappointed with their response would be a major understatement.  Far from being thrilled by the fact that I had located really cheap flights from Kayseri to Istanbul and an interesting-looking hydrofoil & train package from Istanbul to Izmir, their lack of enthusiasm was almost palapable.  Words were spoken.  Lines were drawn in the sand.  Fuelled by the outraged Travel Gnomes in my head, I basically went into a 24 hour sulk and resolved never to try to organise a family holiday again.  Turkey was plucked and my elegant itinerary sent off to the Recycle Bin.

Of course, old habits die hard and 48 hours later I was back at the keyboard looking for something far simpler.  By this point, there had been some more reasoned discussions; the Princess  backed out completely – she has already been to Israel this summer, so is probably wiser in spending her time  trying to find a job than swanning off with her parents.  The Partner wanted  to go in August rather than September as originally planned.  After some discussion we settled on either Venice or Lisbon for a week and after 15 minutes on lastminute.com, I had found a decent package with tolerable flights and what looked like a good hotel in the Chiado district of Lisbon.  Compared to the Turkish expedition, this  Lisbon trip was like falling off a log and I could now see that whilst my Turkish Delight might have been impressively organised, there was no time for it to be a holiday at all.  Just because it can be done doesn’t mean that it should be…….

Even so, there’s no holding those Gnomes;  a few days later as we landed in Lisbon, they were busy reminding me that I had finally made it to Portugal, the only country in mainland Western Europe that I had never visited before.

Welcome back my friends to the show that never, ever seems to end……

I am finding that getting old doesn’t actually have a lot to recommend it, by and large.  What’s more, it’s not just the physical battles engendered by a lifetime of bodily abuse, though it has to be said that those are challenging enough.

There are other aspects of ageing which are just as problematical as trying to cope with bits of one’s body that no longer bend or stretch or function the way that they used to.  These are often personality traits or behavioural tics that whilst considered amusing enough back in the day have now become entrenched and calcified.  For want of a better expression, this might be referred to as the Victor Meldrew paradigm. 

Thus far, I have managed to avoid mentioning the word ‘Olympics’ in this blog.  That I need to say this reminds me of the old jazz buffs’ joke about the definition of a gentleman being a man who can play the banjo – but doesn’t.  So, it might reasonably be asked why someone like me,  who is generally well-disposed towards a number of top-line sports – football, cricket, baseball – is so negative about the London Olympics. 

There are quite a few reasons, actually.  One of the main issues would be that I find  so many of the Olympic ‘disciplines’ unutterably tedious to watch – diving, fencing, archery, gymnastics, boxing, weightlifting – to name but six.   I have no interest in any of these sports generally, so why, during the Olympics, am I supposed to fill my day with endless hours of the BBC’s coverage of such events?  Then, there are the politics and corporate skullduggery going on behind the scenes, but I can (reluctantly) accept that without the likes of Microsoft and the Coca-Cola Corporation and suchlike, the Games probably wouldn’t be viable at all.  It’s the way of the modern world and whilst I may not like it, I just have to shrug my shoulders and deal with it.  Then again, I (happily) don’t live in London and won’t have to contend with an artificially inflated level of Council Tax for the rest of my lifetime in order to pay for the inconvenience and hassle and the Limo Lanes.

Watching paint dry – the latest Olympic ‘discipline’

So, having little interest in the Games as a whole, I just cherry-picked the bits I wanted to watch – specifically, the football and Usain Bolt – and ignored the rest.  Elsewhere in the house, the Partner was gung-ho for it all from the Opening Ceremony onwards, whilst the Princess slowly became an enthusiast as well.  I was doing pretty well, reining in my cynicism and disdain as the BBC milked the popular mood and ran the emotional gamut from A to B.  Somewhere along the line, everyone seemed to have forgotten that about a year ago, there were areas of London just a few discus throws from the Olympic Stadium that were going up in flames.  Instead, we were invited to join in this media-orchestrated Hallmark Cards Love-In which insisted that everyone in London was suddenly being nice to one another.  In the broadsheets, I caught a passing glimpse (and then avoided) articles by heavyweight columnists who were suddenly writing about ‘the Olympic effect’ and how we had ‘learned to like ourselves a little more’.  People even began to talk openly of ‘the mood of the nation.’  Oh dear. 

“I love everyone and I want to give all my cash to Boris Johnson”

Anyway, I was feeling quite pleased with myself, having avoided pretty much everything except the few events that did interest me – and, incidentally, all the gushing drivel from the BBC presenters.  Then along came the final day of the whole thing and we accepted an invitation to go and have dinner with friends – the only friends we have who have openly espoused the Olympics.   They had actually been to London to attend the Archery at Lord’s Cricket Ground and the Synchronised Shove Ha’penny or something similar at some other venue.   Fortunately, having not seen them for some time we had plenty of other stuff to discuss, but the TV  in their flat was relentlessly glued to Olympic coverage and I realised to my horror that dinner had been timed to ensure that we were all fed and watered in time for everyone to sit down and watch the Closing Ceremony.

I had heard much about Danny Boyle’s choreographed opening ceremony and the largely positive response it received.  Expecting something similar, I suppose I just thought ‘How bad can it be?’  and sat back in the hope that it wouldn’t be too long and that conversation could then resume or that we could then go home.

What I got was unmitigated Hell.  If anyone ever asks me – and they probably won’t – how I envisage Hell, I can now simply refer them to the three hours that ensued.  This was Hell made flesh and some of the participants – Russell Brand, Liam Gallagher, Brian May – are among its minor demons as far as I am concerned.  Of course, you can talk about the scale of the operation, the logistics of cramming thousands of athletes into the stadium during the course of two Elbow songs, the brilliant lighting and pyrotechnics and the willingness of the biddable audience to get on board with the constipated spectacle.  However, no amount of discussion could make any sense out of what unfolded.

Hell.  Note kitchen sinks being parachuted in…..

And, my, how it unfolded…and just when you thought it had finished unfolding, it unfolded a bit more.  Apart from the ceremonial bit at the end where Sebastian Coe thanked everyone for their efforts and support and the faux-sombre dousing of the Olympic pilot light before the fireworks started, the whole deranged smørgåsbord seemed to be built around British pop music of the last 50 years.  Having said that, everything still seemed to be locked into the 1960’s and 1970’s – thus, we got Ray Davies and The Who for real plus creepy necrophiliac footage of John Lennon and Freddie Mercury and The Kaiser Chiefs playing a respectably feisty version of ‘Pinball Wizard’, though, as  far as I know, pinball is not an Olympic sport – yet. 

There were those whose music was played – notably The Beatles and David Bowie – who were conspicuous by their absence and those whose music never featured at all – most glaringly, The Rolling Stones.  I was, however, pleased that rumours of an appearance by New Order proved unfounded; the last thing the happy-clappy throng needed was being serenaded by a load of miserable Mancs.  There was no reggae either;  instead we got a token rapper and some dhol drummers to remind us of  how multi-cultural we are.  

There was some surrealism as well – some of it may even have been intentional.  The Pet Shop Boys (well it was supposed to be them and they were possibly singing ‘West End Girls’) were whisked round the stadium in a dayglo rickshaw whilst dressed like a Salvador Dali vision of the functionaries of the Spanish Inquisition.  Then for some unknown reason,  we got a weird piece of video of the late Freddie Mercury doing a bit of rabble-rousing.   This was merely  a prelude to the full-on horror of the remains of Queen singing the loathsomely fascist ‘We will rock you’ – preceded by 2 or 3 minutes of ghastly guitar shredding from Brian May, whose grey curls now look like some kind of ‘Elephant Man’-type fungal growth.   More necrophilia came along via that weird video of John Lennon singing ‘Imagine‘ whilst Yoko does the dusting in the background.  ‘”Imagine there’s no countries…” sang John…….sorry John, but then there’d be no Olympics.   “Imagine no possessions….”   Err, right, John – better not tell the sponsors about that one.

The most stage-managed piece of lunacy came courtesy of Eric Idle who seemed to be dressed as a ‘Star Wars’ stormtrooper, affected to be fired out of a cannon and then treated us all to a rousing singalong of ‘Always look on the bright side of life’, which was about as normal as things got – ironic that  after all these years, it should be Monty Python making a stand for normalcy.  After the Spice Girls had stood on top of some modified black cabs and done a couple of  predictably shouty Spice Girl things about how we should take them seriously and not just ogle their legs and their tits in those micro-dresses they wear, things meandered on a bit and I have to confess to dozing through pipe bands, Annie Lennox doing her boring diva thing in a shipwreck, the band of the Grenadier Guards and some ballet dancers doing expressive dance – by this point it really was chuck in everything including the kitchen sink.  What woke me up were the opening chords of The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’ and there was a moment of dislocation as I adjusted to the fact that this was the real deal and not a Kaiser Chiefs karaoke.

The Spice Girls. On top of taxis. In dodgy costumes.                They’re really serious about their art, y’know.

The Who played a medley of about three songs, concluding with a thunderous rendition of ‘My Generation’ – an interesting choice for the final piece of diced carrot in this musical minestrone, considering its lyrics tell the tale of young outsiders taking lots of drugs as a way of distancing themselves from society.

And then it was finally over.  I was grumpy and tired, an otherwise pleasant evening had been hijacked and I felt as though I’d been beaten up by the Teletubbies.  What manner of impression this ceremony created in the minds of anyone watching from Uzbekistan, Ecuador or Tanzania is open to speculation.  Personally, if I knew little about London and had watched that broadcast, I would have formed the inescapable conclusion that the whole city is essentially an open-plan lunatic asylum and would have shelved any plans to visit any time soon.  And so, the Olympic torch moves on to Rio de Janeiro – and as far as I am concerned, not a moment too soon .

Pre-season blues….

 Whatever the loyalists say, Sir Alex Ferguson is gambling with his legacy now.   United’s pre-season performances have been patchy and pallid with Wayne Rooney in particular looking overweight, out of condition and totally disinterested.  Perhaps as a result, the team have scored just 3 goals in 5 pre-season games against largely moderate opposition in South Africa, China and Scandinavia.

United have been linked with most of the summer’s top transfer targets, all of whom have now gone somewhere else – just the same as every summer for the past 3 or 4 years.  Lucas Moura was the latest to announce that he’d rather live in Paris than Alderley Edge, whilst United have managed just 2 signings: the unproven 18-year old Nick Powell from Crewe and the Japanese attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa. 

Shinji Kagawa – Park Mark 2?

United still need a creator and a destroyer in central midfield and whilst I have my doubts as to whether Moura was the answer there, Kagawa just looks like the now-departed  Ji-Sung Park Mark Two so far and Powell is an unknown quantity for the forseeable future. 

The other player strongly linked with us is Robin van Persie, Arsenal’s erstwhile poster boy, who is out of contract at the end of the coming season and has said he wants to move on.  He is also said to favour a move to United.  Well, that’s a bonus, I guess, but the fact is that Van Persie is 29 and shockingly injury-prone.  He would probably do well for us – if we can keep him fit.  The trouble is, Arsenal are clearly holding out for a bigger fee than United want to pay.

I would be happy to see Van Persie sign but central midfield is still the priority as it has been for about 3 seasons now and for all United’s ‘worldwide scouting network’ and his own managerial status, Fergie has still to sort this out.  Quite extraordinary for a man of his reputation and a club of United’s stature.  What are they doing with their time?  3-hour lunches? A nice nap in the afternoon? Watching the racing on TV?

I could understand if things didn’t work out one summer and our target(s) decided they’d rather live in Madrid or Paris than Cheshire but this will be the third summer running that the cream of the world’s young midfielders have slipped through Fergie’s hands like so much sand.  No, there has to be another reason for this and – footballers being what they are – it must be money.

As a result, almost unbelievably,  we are – yet again – running the risk of going into a new season with a ragbag midfield of veterans, untried kids like Cleverley & Powell, converted defenders like Jones and – how could I forget? – Anderson the Eternal Nearly Man as our midfield options.  David Silva & Yaya Toure must be having sleepless nights already.

The team needs a couple of high-quality imports in this area – Moutinho from Porto and Eriksen from Ajax could be good options now that all the A-List candidates have been snaffled up by so-called ‘lesser’ clubs.  These ‘lesser’ clubs seem to understand that if you want the best you just have to pay the price sometimes.

It’s all very well for Fergie to shake his head disbelievingly at the Moura fee, but he needs to crash in on the owners’  imminent US flotation and persuade them that some of that money needs to come his way.  Otherwise, like many fans, it’s my fear that we are headed down the same road to mid-table mediocrity already trodden by Liverpool.  I don’t think Fergie would want his epitaph to be ‘great manager, but he lost the plot a bit in later years and didn’t rebuild the team when he should have done’. 

Rooney has looked out of condition and disinterested in pre-season

Nothing is guaranteed, particularly when you are shelling out big bucks for raw, unproven talent, but sometimes you just have to follow your instincts and be prepared to take the hit if things don’t work out.  United have been doing that since Garry Birtles and there have been others along the way. 

Look at Chelsea – Shevchenko’s failure to cut the mustard here was seen as Abramovich’s Waterloo and yet there he sits today with the Champions League trophy and a big grin on his face.  It’s in the nature of the game at this level that you have to gamble on young footballers from different cultures who come at a high price – and Chelsea are still doing just that.

Sir Alex understands this perfectly well and is known to like a flutter, so like most fans I wonder where all this recent prudence and caution is coming from.  After all this is the man who has broken the UK transfer record on a number of occasions.  The inescapable conclusions are either that our manager has lost his nerve or that his hands are tied in terms of transfers. 

What’s wrong with this picture?  Aren’t we supposed to be on Sky Sports News?…….

Like most fans, for all Fergie’s protestations about the owners, I just feel that they are trying to do things on the cheap.   If you look at their past business dealings, that would seem to be in their DNA – what they seem to care about is the ‘brand’ rather than the football club and that does not bode well for the future.

Don’t know about anyone else but I cannot recall another pre-season where my expectations and sense of anticipation were so low.