Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A whole cheese!

I've always wanted a whole cheese and now I have one. This delicious Wensleydale cheese was brought back from Yorkshire by my mum.

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A cowgirl needs...

I have been tagged by my good friend Badger to do a Google-based Meme. In turn I tag Princess Sarah. Heres what you have to do. Go to Google and type in your blogger name followed by the word 'needs'. For example: "Cowgirl needs" - then check out your results and list them.

I initially tried "Cornish cowgirl needs" but did not come up with a single result so shortened it to "cowgirl needs". I think most of these are actually true in my case!

Cowgirl needs your help to form a posse

Cowgirl needs a cowboy to do the Pecos promenade

Cowgirl needs a forever home

Cowgirl needs a pink straw hat

Cowgirl needs to carry her trick rope with her

Cowgirl needs three things: a good horse, a good dog and a tall bush (2 out of 3 ain't bad!)

Cowgirl needs: fancy shirt, stylish pants, gloves, hat, lasso...

Cowgirl needs a place to get things done

Cowgirl needs nourishment

Cowgirl needs a comfortable and fashionable home and barn

Cowgirl needs her feet done as owner has been short on funds and can't afford to have them done

Cowgirl needs time to read when she ain't busy ropin' calves and all that

Cowgirl needs a pair of six shooter pistols

Cowgirl needs a trusty steed

Cowgirl needs to walk to work

My favourite frontman

This might just look like a rather rubbish photo of me and some 40-year-old bloke with a scary grin but it means so much more to me.

To be able to understand the significance of this photo I will need to take you back to the 14th July 1994. I was an avid listener to Radio One's Evening Session at that time. My GCSE course work was produced with a soundtrack courtesy of Jo Whiley and Steve Lamacq. It was an exciting time for music, especially for a 15-year-old, but the 14th July 1994 was a sad day for me.

The Wonder Stuff, an indie four-piece plus fiddle from Stourbridge, were one of my favourite bands. They had released their first single in 1987 but I didn't discover them until much later when a penfriend introduced me to their music.
I loved their songs as they were so full of energy, and they soon became my favourite band. However, just as I was getting into them their popularity seemed to decline. After releasing their fourth album the band decided to split.

I read all about the split in the NME. Their last gig would be a headlining slot at the Phoenix Festival - they would go out with a bang. I would have given anything to have been there but a 15-year-old with no money and no one to take her had to make do with the radio.

Luckliy Radio One played near enough the whole set of that final gig. I recorded it on to cassette and played it over and over again on my walkman, closing my eyes and imagining I had been there in the mosh pit.

Shortly after, the gig it was released on VHS and it was, of course, top of my birthday list. From then on, every 14th July I would wear my Stuffies T-shirt and watch the Phoenix gig. Sad I know, but I was a teenager then. Actually, this annual ritual went on until 2000 when I was officially in my early 20s. If ever the old question of "if you had a time machine, where would you go?" came up, my answer would always be - down the front at the Wonder Stuff's last ever gig.

Straight after the split, lead singer Miles Hunt presented a show on MTV called 120 Minutes. It was basically a new music show with Miles doing the links and the odd interview. It introduced me to some great bands including Veruca Salt, The Flaming Lips and Weezer.

Miles' stint as VJ didn't last long. He never did seem comfortable doing it and was soon back in the recording studio. His next band Vent did a couple of good tunes and he then recorded a couple of solo albums which were excellent. It was great to be able to buy new material and, although it was quite different from the Wonder Stuff, I loved it.

Then, at the end of 2000 I heard on the radio that the Wonder Stuff were going to reform for a series of London gigs. I thought I was dreaming - I couldn't believe it. I was living in Wimbledon at the time so I bought my ticket. I can't describe how it felt to think that I might actually be able to see my favourite band play live. It seems absurd to me now that they could have been so important to me even before I had experienced one of their live shows.

I sang every word to every song that evening and it was all very emotional. The Wonder Stuff played a week of sell out shows in December 2000 and then again the next year. The band released a live album following the reunion gigs and I was lucky enough to win tickets to the album launch on 7th June 2001. The launch was fantastic and it was great to see the band play in a small venue. Afterwards we hung around and I managed to get Miles to sign my ticket. I grabbed hold of his arm and couldn't let go! He could never understand how important it was to me to have been able to see his band play live after all those years. Not many bands get back together again after a split. I wanted to tell Miles this, to thank him for his music, to ask about the band's future.... but all I could come up with was, "You're the best!". He said thank you with a look of genuine appreciation on his face.

I discovered at this time an internet forum for the band, full of fans who felt the same way as me, and it became my source of news and gossip. The Wonder Stuff had a change of line up in 2004 and released two new albums. They've also gigged fairly regularly since and I have not missed a tour, treating every time I see them as if it is the last. Miles also played acoustic shows at the Half Moon in Putney and, as I had been living in Guildford, I was able to get to them easily. I think we went to the Half Moon three times and through those gigs were introduced to the music of Dharma Drive and Dolittle.

We moved back to Norfolk last year and I thought that would be the last I would see of these great acoustic shows as they normally take place in either Putney or Stratford-Upon-Avon but on 23rd May this year I got lucky!

Miles and Wonder Stuff fiddle player, Erica Nockalls, released an album and set up a tour to promote it. One venue they chose was the Norwich Arts Centre - already a special venue for me as it is where I first met my husband. After a great gig last Wednesday I got to meet my favourite frontman again. He signed my CD and put his arm around me for a photo. I chatted to him more easily this time and he thanked me for coming to the gig.

I consider myself to be a very lucky girl.

The Wonder Stuff then

The Wonder Stuff now

Miles in action

My signed CD

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Friday, May 25, 2007

The magic of Montmartre

I survived Paris and what's more I had a fantastic time. We took about 400 photographs during our weekend stay but I have just picked a small selection for you here.
The Musee d'Orsay was wonderful, the Tour Eiffel impressive and the Centre Georges Pompidou was just plain crazy.
We walked most places to get a good feel of the city and in the centre of Paris it felt just like London. There were impressive things to see but it was generally busy with lots of traffic.
I much preferred the area around our hotel - Montmartre.
If I had been 10 years younger, without the responsibilities I have now, I could have been very tempted to stay. I got completely sucked in by the magic of Montmatre. The beautiful buildings, cobbled streets and so many cafes and boulangeries.
Eating breakfast outside while people-watching was a real treat and the view from the top of the Butte was stunning, especially while watching the sun go down with a glass of wine.
We walked in the footsteps of Amelie Poulain, ate twice at the Cafe des Deux Moulins, strolled down Rue St Vincent and bought biscuits from M. Collingnon.
I loved Place des Abbessess where our hotel was. It had an original Art Nouveau metro entrance designed by Hector Guimard, busking beatniks and church bells which waited until the sociable hour of 9am before chiming.
It was a very special weekend that I will never forget although I think it will be a while before I am ready to spread my wings again.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Spreading my wings

I'm not usually one for going abroad. I get homesick if I stray too far and develop all sorts of unnecessary anxieties. But tomorrow I'm flying to Paris for the weekend. It is quite a big deal for me but I'm sure everything will be ok when I actually get there. My driving forces are to:
a) give my husband a fantastic birthday as I have avoided going away for so long
b) to step into the world of one of my favourite ever films.
If I make it back in one piece, I will bring with me lots of photos.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Ale to the Badger

My friend Badger shares more than just a name with this bottle of delicious ale. Both are known for their distinctive and individual character and they both make you smile when you know they're nicely chilled!

Bangers and smash

Friday, May 04, 2007

The cardigan game

There is a house I pass regularly in the dark and, without fail, there is always a lady sitting in front of the window reading a book or knitting while wearing a cardigan. I've passed by there as late as midnight and she is there, always in the same position with the light on and the curtains open. The only thing ever to change is the colour of her cardigan. She has a wide range of cardigans, but always solid colours, nothing fancy. I began to notice that sometimes she would change them every day and then other times she would wear the same one for several days in a row.
This is how the cardigan game was born. On approach to the house now my travelling partner and I state which colour cardigan we think she will be wearing. Whoever is correct is the victor!
We have been playing the cardigan game for quite some months now and I hope that we can continue to play it in the summer when the weather is warmer...

Sheep love in Gloucestershire

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Fantastic Frontmen

A live band has to have a fantastic frontman, there are no two ways about it. It can have a fantastic frontwoman too but this is very rare! Recently I have been pleased to see that we still have REAL performers out there who give you a show and make you feel as if you have had your money's worth. Too many bands these days just seem to stand in front of you playing their instruments and they may be musically perfect but it is just not on!

The first of these excellent bands I have seen recently is The Young Knives. TYK benefit from not one, but two fantastic front men. Henry and House of Lords both share the vocals and they can sing (quite high at times) at the same time as entertaining the audience. Their inbetween-song banter is funny and their lyrics are even funnier. We sang along to the old favourites at the Norwich Waterfront and got very excited by their new material from an album which will hopefully be out at the end of this year.

Here is a pic of House of Lords belting out a tune, taken by Simon

Here is a pic of Henry and House working on lyrics for their new songs

The next three groups were all on the same billing at the UEA in Norwich last night. What a fantastic bargain! £13.50 for all three and we even escaped paying for the car park.

Cougar, from Wins-scones-skins (I believe that is how it is pronounced) in the USA, had rather unique frontman. Well, he wasn't really at the front, he was at the side on percussion and there were no vocals to their songs but he did the chat in between so I guess he was 'the man'! I have never seen such enthusiastic drumming - it was also a bit freeform in places - incredible! The band describe themselves as, "emergency rock", which I don't really understand but they were really good. I also liked the fact that they had a nerd on stage playing samples from an Apple laptop while drinking tea out of a little polystyrene cup.
I have since found out that the drummer's name is D.H.Skogen which is a very good name for a frontman I think. And here he is...

Next on the billing was Art Brut who I had heard of previously but didn't think I knew any of their stuff. Turns out I did recognise one of their songs but didn't know it was them. Art Brut are another band with a fantastic frontman. He can't sing - he doesn't even try - and it really doesn't matter. For the first couple of minutes I just stood with my mouth open, I couldn't quite believe it. They sounded like a cross between The Young Knives and Sultan's of Ping. Frontman is Eddie Argos apparently, but there is no way that is his real name!
Eddie (?!) really connected with the audience, ad libbed the songs to include many references to Norwich and generally threw himself around like a mad man.

Here, for your pleasure, is a pic of Eddie Argos...

Now the main attraction - the reason for our visit to the UEA last night... Maximo Park. I originally saw them a couple of years ago in London just after they had released their first album - A Certain Trigger - and they were so impressive that I couldn't wait to see them again.
The band has just released its second album - Our Earthly Pleasures - which I have only owned for a matter of days but tried to get as many listens in before last night as I could. The new stuff was brilliant live and the old favourites were just as fresh as when I saw them two years ago.
Singer Paul Smith is another fantastic frontman and last night he was sporting a bowler hat. I can't imagine what he did to keep it on his head while he threw himself around the stage and thrusted at the mic stand. Again he connected with the audience really well and briefly told the stories behind the songs. They did not play my favourite song but everything they did play was excellent and they just ran out of time I guess. Here are a couple of pics of Maximo Park in action - the first one was taken by me last night...

My favourite frontman is yet to come! He is coming to Norwich in a few weeks so this isn't the last you'll hear from me on this subject!


Beanbag not supplied

I've got a bit behind with my gig blogging of late so here is the start of lots of musical musings. The first of these is Scott Matthews at the Norwich Waterfront. I've been enjoying Scott's music for a few months now and since I got the album Passing Stranger for my birthday in February it has been pretty much a constant fixture in my iTunes. I love his dreamy songs and funky tabla bits and I was very interested to see how this would sound live.
When Scott walked out on to the stage with his guitar and started playing his first song a hush spread across the audience. I had forgotten what it's like to see a proper guitarist and the way he produced such a rich tapestry of melody, harmony and rhythm from one instrument was spellbinding. I found that for most of the gig I had my eyes shut, floating on the music, and I really could have dozed off if I had been sat down. I guess everyone would have been asleep if beanbags were provided so it's probably for the best that they weren't. My favourite songs from the album were interestingly not my favourite live. The best song I thought was "Eyes wider than before" when Scott played with a cellist and the instrument's long soaring notes made every one of the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention. Having listened back to the song on the CD you can hardly hear the cello which is a real shame.