Could this be the beginning of my brilliant book?

Will someone start this for me?Like many people who enjoy writing, I’ve always wanted to write a book. I’ve written countless articles for blogs, magazines, programmes, papers and websites, but as of yet I haven’t got round to writing that elusive book. That big, bold, brilliant book that I can call mine, forever – even when I’m dead.

I’ve been ‘free writing’ for over 10 years now. I do it at least two or three times a week, and as a result I have literally a million words to inspire me. But the start won’t come, because I can’t settle on an idea. I’ve written about too many subjects, and not enough about one.

A novel? A crime thriller? Short stories? One of those gimmicky books called How Not To Be A Twat On Trains, illustrated in a way that looks like it’s for children but is actually for adults? (I’ll be honest, that’s my strongest idea to date. I’ve got loads of material for that.)

Then I had this thought: could Twitter write it for me?

I need a start. An opening line. A gambit of some sort. Anything. Right now I’ve written precisely nothing, which is why, like that of other creative people, I’m going to turn to the people for my answer.

I haven’t fleshed this out yet, or even thought it through with any reason or balance (currently in the giddy, exciting stage you get when you don’t want the reality to bring you back down to earth – leave me up here for a minute, yeah? And indulge me).

I use a hashtag, something like #beinmybook, and I ask people to tweet a sentence, or whatever they can fit into 140 characters (less the hashtag). Whatever they tweet, I’ll use – word for word. That’s my commitment. It’ll be the first sentence of my book. I could use one to create the first sentence of every chapter.

Could get complicated and confusing. Could get rather messy!

That’s my idea. That’s my start. And don’t none of you tarts go stealing it, because I know what you’re like. I don’t want you going all Mark Twain on me.

Two albums I’ll never get tired of listening to

Dog Man Star and A Storm In Heaven album coversI’ve always been intrigued by echoey distortion and reverberation – and the way musicians can seemingly control the feedback they get by swinging their guitar towards the amp. It’s possibly a result of listening to the indie chart when I was growing up, and it’s why I’m still drawn back to early 90s music.

I’ve got several ‘go to’ albums in my collection, some of which I’ve been enjoying recently – and I thought it’d be cool to break up a run of blogs about football with a short one about music. After all, the season is over and apparently it’s summer (even if the weather’s trying its best to pretend it’s not).

A couple of days ago I cracked on Suede’s Dog Man Star – their second album, released in 1994 and listed at number 31 in NME’s 500 greatest albums of all time. The opening track Introducing The Band is brilliant, and guitarist Bernard Butler hit some real heights on We Are The Pigs and This Hollywood Life – before he left.

My other hidden treasure from around that time is The Verve’s first album A Storm In Heaven (released in 1993, when the band were just called ‘Verve’). I bought the album a few years after it came out, for about five quid in Woolworths in Grimsby. With no track listing on the back, and a bleak blue hue across all the artwork, I had no idea what my ears were about to be treated to.

It’s not a pop record. It’s nothing like their later work. It certainly wasn’t Lucky Man or Bitter Sweet Symphony. It was raw; it was melodic. It was swirly, echoey guitars, huge bursts of noise, trippy bass riffs – even horns made an appearance. It was mental, and certainly not ‘easy listening’.

But it’s a work of art. It has highs and lows, peaks and troughs, and it sort of meanders and wades through tingly swirls of guitars, explodes and crashes through choruses before fading and floating off into the distance – leaving you feeling as drugged up as the band most definitely were.

If Urban Hymns was Richard Ashcroft’s record, then A Storm In Heaven belonged to guitarist Nick McCabe. It’s probably not a record that people will instantly warm to – but then that’s often the sign of a great record.

Their videos from that time are just as intriguing as their music. The themes they explored were pretty dark, and I absolutely adore the style and direction of the filming – especially in Blue, which is probably their most ‘mainstream’ single from the album.

Nothing lasts forever: Exit Calm call it a day

Black and white shot of Exit Calm

Picture by Mark Tierney (copyright Tierney Photography)

Today I discovered that Exit Calm have split. To say I’m gutted is an understatement. They were a truly majestic band – the like of which I doubt we’ll see again. Immensely talented. Understated. And largely undiscovered, which made it all the more beautiful. It absolutely pains me to even be typing about them in the past tense.

I first saw them play the Cherry Bomb Disco at Carter’s No. 7 in Barnsley (“playing bass lines so low they make you shit”) back in 2007. That was on the back of hearing Rob Marshall’s echoic guitar distortions from their early B-side Awake trickle into my student room through my modest Dell speakers while meandering on Myspace.

Later that year I saw them perform in front of about three people at Susumi in Derby, and the band were kind enough to invite me into their room after the gig to give an interview for the student paper I was editing at the time.

I must have seen them a dozen times since then – supporting The Music, headlining at the Cockpit in Leeds (whose recent closure is a sad story in itself) and culminating in what turned out to be their final ever performance at The Underground, back in Barnsley, on 20th December 2014.

My wife and I even chose Higher Bound for our first dance at our wedding just the year before. That’s how entrenched the band was in my life – our lives.

I’ve got so many happy memories watching them and absorbing every note, every sound and every moment of their towering performances in places like Sheffield, London and Manchester. It’s a crying shame that I won’t be able to experience any of that euphoria again.

They released an early EP and two albums. I believe they had pretty much finished a third, some of which they showcased during a UK tour last autumn, yet it’s material that probably won’t ever see the light of day – which is a travesty, because it was shaping up to be a cracker.

The latest news on their website still advertises their ‘exclusive tour date’ that ended up being their last. It hangs eerily on the internet, almost in a separate world that is in denial and hasn’t yet come to terms with the news.

In their own words, when announcing their split, ‘nothing lasts forever’. How crushingly true.

Why an & is called an ampersand

Ampersand symbol in different fontsAs anyone who knows me will tell you (and as my Twitter bio admits) I’m a fan of etymology and, well, the English Language in general. It’s what I studied at university, and it’s basically what I read about when I’m not writing about football.

Previously on this blog I’ve written about the meaning of my surname and the history of certain words and phrases. These articles punctuate what is, frankly, a Grimsby Town blog, but I’m hoping some people out there appreciate that moods can take you many different places and the compulsion to write occurs at curious times.

Yesterday was about simulation in football. Today’s about the ampersand. It’s the kind of clunky topical transition that you’d enjoy on The One Show.

I love looking at Old English. I won’t pretend I can read it – but I’d have a stab at pronouncing the words and reading them aloud. Within the ancient language are letters we no longer use, and yesterday a colleague of mine pointed me in the direction of an article about these.

Well, not to sound too arrogant or anything, but I already knew all there was to know about eth, wynn, thorn, ash and yogh.

But I continued reading anyway, and then came across something genuinely interesting and new. I learnt why the ampersand is called the ampersand. I’ll quote from Michael Rosen’s blog on the HuffPost (he’s Professor of Children’s Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London, so that means he knows his stuff):

In the olden times, children used to recite the alphabet and said “and per se ‘and’” on the end to indicate that they were reciting the alphabet and the sign ‘&’. The name for this is ‘ampersand’ – a squashed up pronunciation of “and per se ‘and’”, with ‘per se’ meaning ‘on its own’ or ‘for self’.

Of course, some of you might have already known that. I’ve since Googled ‘ampersand’ and the etymology is explained on Wikipedia, above the fold, so now I feel like a fool.

Which leads me, sort of, onto the word ‘tomfoolery’, which comes from Tom Fool – a name that was invented years ago for a person who feigned madness to attract sympathy, especially when begging. So someone pretending to be mad, as part of a silly game, is said to be dabbling in tomfoolery.

You can have that one for free.

Chomp on this (not the bit)

Champing at the bit or chomping at the bit?

The bit is the metal mouthpiece used for controlling a horse. It champs down on it when impatient or eager. A lot of people say it chomps down on it, which is incorrect – or is it?

You might feel a sense of superiority knowing that it’s champing, but chomping is used 20 times more frequently on the web. So everyone’s wrong except you.

A horse champing at the bit

A horse champing at the bit.

That 20:1 ratio is only going to increase as children grow up in a world where chomping is more popular, despite it being incorrect.

It makes more sense to them that way because they’ll learn what chomp means at an early age. In isolation, champ looks weird – mainly because it doesn’t exist outside of that idiom.

You’re comfortably outnumbered, but you know that it’s champing. What do you do?

You can live in the past, or you can move with the times. Language is changing, and it’s changing all the time. I know it’s champing, and I’d like to preserve English too, but the real beauty about our language is that it’s flexible.

We’re actually at a time where we’re seeing it change.

When enough people use a word in a certain way, it becomes official. People are the driving force of language, not dictionaries. They answer to us. That’s the way language works.

Since we’re in a transitional phase with chomping and champing I’m divided over how I’ll proceed for now. But there can be no doubt about it – in 50, 20, or maybe five years’ time, champing at the bit will be consigned to history and chomping at the bit will be the norm, the accepted and the correct form.

And someone in 50 years’ time will write a very interesting article on how we once used to say champing at the bit like a bunch of cavemen.

Great social content brings Grimsby Town closer to the fans

Screenshot of John Lewis sat under a Christmas treeIt’s been great to see Grimsby Town receive universal praise for their unique and brilliant John Lewis Christmas advert. Timely, relevant and well made, it’s an example of how football clubs have needed to adapt over recent years in order to market themselves successfully and engage with the fans.

The tangible success of the video is hard to measure, but then measuring return on investment for online content has been an issue troubling the marketing industry for a good while.

Right now, what we know is that the video has been praised by national newspapers and comedians, and it’s been shared extensively on social media, leading to thousands of views. In short, while no one can put their finger on the exact number of people reached, what can be said for certain is that its reach has been far and wide, and that the reaction has been positive.

That means anyone who has never cared or even come across Grimsby Town before will now associate them with that video. Those who have never formed an opinion of the club will judge them on content like this.

It’s good for the club, its image – and the image of the Town in general.

Since the Mariners dropped into the Conference there has been a greater demand for the club to retain its relationship with the fans. Times are tough, football still isn’t cheap and so videos like this – and projects like the sticker album and the ‘My Favourite Game’ book are vital ways of keeping the fans close to the club.

At a time when more and more football fans are feeling disengaged from their teams, it’s good to see the Mariners keeping the fans involved beyond match days.

It probably would’ve felt like a bit of a gamble to invest in online/social/digital PR, but hopefully the decision makers at Blundell Park can see that the investment is paying off.

Well done to everyone who has been involved – not just in the John Lewis video, but for all the fantastic activity that has come in recent months. It’s the kind of publicity and engagement other football clubs will be envious of – especially those in the Premier League.

The Boxer Rebellion reward loyal fans with a special performance of their early work in London

The Boxer Rebellion performing live on stage at Scala in London.On Tuesday 7th October I travelled down to London to see The Boxer Rebellion perform live tracks from their first two albums, Exits and Union. I reckon I’ve been following them for a good five or six years and had previously seen them at the Faversham, Cockpit (now sadly closed down) and Brudenell in Leeds, and as a massive fan of their early work I wasn’t going to miss this specially arranged gig.

One of the obvious benefits of watching the likes of The Boxer Rebellion and my other favourite band, Exit Calm, is the price of tickets. I think mine was about £14 including booking fees and all that jazz, while I also managed to get a return from Leeds to King’s Cross for under £30. Plus I had a sofa at a mate’s house in Islington I could kip on for the night, so it worked out very well indeed.

I’m glad I booked time off work for it because, quite simply, it was awesome. Walking out of the office at 1pm on a Tuesday to catch my train down to the capital felt pretty awesome too, might I add.

Ben (my mate in London) and I got to the venue relatively early so we bought a couple of drinks and picked a great spot to enjoy the music from. The lager was mega expensive so I supped gently and made it last the entire set of the support act, the Alvarez Kings – an indie band from Sheffield. At times they felt kind of edgy, and then kind of poppy; they were largely likeable but just lacked enough depth for me to discover more about them once the night was over.

The Boxer Rebellion began their set with a typically intense performance of The Gospel of Goro Adachi, which is normally something reserved for the end. But this was a special performance, in which they played songs exclusively from their first two albums. I don’t think I own another album that begins as menacingly brilliant as Exits, so it was a real treat to experience Flight and All You Do Is Talk live.

I can’t be the only person who thinks their first two albums are the best, otherwise they wouldn’t have organised this show. There’s just something much more hearty and broody about their earliest work; it’s a bit more aggressive and gritty. The screeching and scratching of the guitar feedback, as if trying to find its way into a rhythm, gets tempered by the introduction of the bass, and then the drums establish some sort of order from the chaos. It’s this rawness that I find so intriguing. Feedback and distortion doesn’t always make for easy listening, yet somehow here it just works.

And the departure of lead guitarist Todd Howe wasn’t an issue. However unusual new guitarist Andrew Smith found the occasion, he hit all the notes and generated the same power and passion from his strings, pedals and amps that Howe did since the band’s inception.

I can’t remember the setlist in great detail, but I think it went something like this:

The Gospel of Goro Adachi
Semi Automatic
The Absentee
World Without End
Spitting Fire
We Have This Place Surrounded
These Walls Are Thin
Flashing Red Light Means Go
Lay Me Down
All You Do Is Talk

No Harm

There was a bit of interaction with the crowd, when front man Nathan Nicholson had trouble with his acoustic guitar for Soviets, so he attempted to describe what the song was about while we waited. But this didn’t happen very often from that point on, although Nicholson never has been much of a talker. You kind of don’t mind that when the music’s so good.

He did mention, briefly, that the band would like to do ‘something like this’ more often (to which someone at the back responded: ‘Well do it  more, then!) but he added that it wasn’t always possible due to their intensive tour commitments. And they do tour heavily.

The venue was pretty decent, costly drinks apart. But I wasn’t there for the hugely overpriced lager. It’s location right next to King’s Cross was very convenient, and I was given the loosest frisk ever by a very large man on my way in. I don’t think his heart was in his job any more.

I don’t dislike the band’s more recent work and, given the chance to see them again, I’d enjoy the performance of tracks from their last two albums The Cold Still and Promises. Both have been successful (indeed Diamonds, the opening track of Promises, has been played over two million times on Spotify).

But the band have always acknowledged that they have a firm wedge of supporters that were there from the very start, and so the show at Scala was the perfect way to reward them. Whether they choose to arrange another night like that in the future is unknown.

I, for one, hope they do.

Rediscovering the edge and attitude of the early 90s indie chart

Toni Halliday and Dean GarciaWhen I was young, I used to listen to a lot of radio. I was born just in time to experience what it was like to try and record my favourite tracks on tape without getting too much of the DJ’s ramblings. And, according to my parents, I used to have a thing for Tiffany – but that’s by the by.

Back then (I’m talking late 80s and early 90s) I also remember watching the ITV Chart Show, and within it was a six-minute run-through of the Top 10 indie singles. No presenters or voice-overs; narration was an occasional pop-up quip, in the style of the technology at the time (so today it looks primative and pixelated). It probably had us gawping in amazement at the time, though.

Two of the 10 songs would get a bit more air time, and it wasn’t always the top two. Anyway, it’ll come as no surprise to you that these episodes exist on YouTube, and I’ve been enjoying them this week – almost as much as I enjoyed them when I was a child.

You see, there was something more exciting and edgy about the indie chart. It’s easy to forget that the music television concept wasn’t mainstream back then, so it was a real privilege to hear and see the bands and musicians. They looked so cool. I remember thinking Suede’s Brett Anderson, circa 1992, was the pinnacle of coolness. And I wanted long hair like Bernard Butler (I cringe to think what I’d have looked like had I actually committed to copying their style).

I wouldn’t have appreciated the lyrics of bands like Spiritualised, Lush, Inspiral Carpets or Primal Scream as a nine-year old, but some of the melodies stuck – and through the power of the internet (especially YouTube and Spotify) they’ve been leaked back into my brain.

It’s amazing what triggers old songs set off in your head. I can still anticipate what twists and turns come next in tracks and tunes that I haven’t heard in more than 20 years.

The one band I’ve particularly enjoyed rediscovering this week is Curve. They were churning out dance tracks up until a few years ago, but their image and sound had shifted far away from what they originally started out as.

It was from watching this edition of the Indie Singles that I we were reintroduced for the second time. I’m not entirely convinced that their debut album, Doppelganger, is shoegaze, but the reverb and heavy distortion of guitars, blended with the whispering Toni Halliday (who I also probably had a thing for), is definitely a sound cut right from the heart of the early 90s.

Long hair, double denim and black. And attitude.

When I was growing up, music didn’t hang around unless you bought the record. When you can’t afford the record, you accept that you might not hear some of these tracks again as new artists edge in.

Thankfully we live in a world where we can relive some of the more obscure tunes we’d completely forgotten about. And that’s extremely comforting if, like me, you’ve given up on today’s chart music.

A great sponsoring opportunity missed

Football Conference logoLike most other divisions in English football, the Conference has had many sponsors. On 30 July it was announced, via an astoundingly poor press release, that Vanarama are its latest sponsors, replacing online payment firm Skrill. But one name still lives on. I’m pretty sure it’s not just my dad who still calls it the Vauxhall Conference.

After a quick check of Wikipedia I discovered the Conference’s first sponsors were Gola, for both the 84/85 and 85/86 seasons. Then began the 12-year association with Vauxhall.

I’m reminded, relentlessly whenever England play, that Vauxhall are sponsors of the national team, which is nice, obviously, but I thought it’d be nicer if they could sponsor the Conference too. Not just for nostalgia – there’s a good reason behind it.

“Football is the UK’s greatest passion and we’ve got it covered, shot by shot,” says Vauxhall’s website, proudly. At a time when the FA are desperately scratching around to find ways to improve the fortunes of the national side, it’d be a real statement of intent by Vauxhall if they supported the grass roots of our cherished sport, as well as the very top.

Forget League 3, or whatever else Greg Dyke and his cronies come up with. As a PR exercise, it would have shown a lot of people where Vauxhall thought the investment should have been made. As a company passionate about the sport, it could have led the way.

The division might be the graveyard of a lot of former league clubs, but right now it’s enjoying increased exposure due to the growing success of BT Sport.

And that’s why I think Vauxhall have missed a trick.

No reason to Sulk as five-piece rock Montey’s

I enjoy going to gigs – especially when they feature bands and musicians I like. And when it’s local – and free – then, well, that’s just an outrageous bonus. A bit like it was when I went to see Sulk at Montey’s Rock Café in Harrogate on Wednesday 29th May.

Sulk the band promo picThis was the first time I had seen the much talked about five piece, who released their debut album, Graceless, last month. For lead singer Jon Sutcliffe, who hails from Harrogate, it was a home coming. “We could’ve played Leeds or York, but we chose here,” he announced towards the end of the set.

It was their second single, Back in Bloom, that grabbed my attention during a late night exploration of YouTube last year. As soon as the guitar kicked in I knew I was going to be a big fan. Having grown up adoring Bernard Butler (Suede) and Nick McCabe (The Verve), the track immediately confirmed that Sulk and I shared the same tastes in music.

Back in Bloom is a glorious tune; a sort of spiky, scratchy guitar with enough reverb and echo to make it feel like it was cultivated in some enormous cathedral. For someone who watches old Verve videos and wishes he was born just a few years earlier to have experienced those live performances, this was literally music to my ears.

There’s been a lot of anticipation about Sulk. Their first single, Wishes, was recorded and produced by Suede, Pulp and White Lies collaborator Ed Buller (as was Back in Bloom) and last year they supported The Dandy Warhols at the Manchester Academy 2.

Make all the comparisons you want – Ride, Suede, My Bloody Valentine and, most often, Stone Roses – but where Sulk have undoubtedly drawn influence from all these bands and more, they’ve been able to craft something new and shape a unique sound around them.

I suppose you could say they’ve brought the early 90s vibe – the stuff that prompted the birth of Brit Pop – into the twenty-first century. You could tag them as shoegaze, alternative rock or any other overly used music category that bunches bands together when they’re actually trying to create their own identity. But they’ve certainly created something new and exciting, and people are starting to sit up and take note.

The gig itselfDark Bells promo pic was great. The venue was packed and had already enjoyed what was a quality support act in the Dark Bells. The Australian trio, from Sydney, were a pleasant surprise.

Their twitter account explains: “Dark Bells spin a beguiling web of haunting, melodic sounds built on the bricks of post-punk with the atmosphere of an act you might have found on 4AD in 1983.” There’s a video of their single ‘Wildflower’ over on The Quietus, while The Line of Best Fit hosts their excellent new track ‘Run for Daze’.

Elsewhere in the music business I’ve heard word that my other favourite band, Exit Calm, will be performing on the futures stage at this year’s V Festival on 17 and 18 August. Their new (ish) single Rapture has been getting a lot of airplay and things look to be picking up pace for the Barnsley four-piece.