I mentioned in the post I wrote shortly after his passing that, were it not for Llŷr and his outlook on life and music, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog, for it was Llŷr who reminded me of the joy of loving pop records because they brought you pleasure, as opposed to whether they made you look cool.
And so, on the anniversary of him leaving us, it seems appropriate to post the song which sums up that philosophy, a song which he loved, and which I’d not given a second though to until he played it one night when we shared a flat together:
A few posts ago, I mentioned that at some point during the early days of his illness, Llŷr bought me a Johnny Cash box-set called Unearthed – a collection of highlights and out-takes from his massively popular (and rightly so) American Recordings series.
Llŷr bought this for me as a thank-you for, as he put it, “making sure I’m still around.” As I mentioned when I last posted something from this box-set, I initially told him not to be so silly, that I couldn’t accept it, that all I had done was call an ambulance a couple of times.
But he insisted, and I’m not an absolute monster, so I accepted.
It’s probably one of my most prized possessions these days. Pretty much everyone that knew him will have a mix-tape or a mix-CD he lovingly, thoughtfully prepared for them; I have loads of those, but I also have this, and I shall never be parted from it.
I mention this now because on Sunday 27th January 2019, I got a phone call. I should, therefore, be posting this on Monday 27th January 2020 to mark the true anniversary, but here, on a Sunday morning, where it happened, seems more appropriate, especially given the choice of song.
On Saturday 26th January 2019, I met up with a few friends including Llŷr’s older sister, and my old flatmate, Hel, for a few beers. When I got there, it was obvious that something was going on, and as she paced up and down outside on the phone to her mother, Hel’s husband Neil explained to me that things were not looking good and that we should brace ourselves for the news we had been expecting for a long time.
At some point that evening, I got a text from Chad, a friend of mine and Llŷr’s, who I had met through Llŷr a couple of years earlier at Glastonbury. Chad lives way, way up North, and wanted to come down and visit – that, my friends, is an indicator of how wonderful Llŷr was and how similarly lovely people gravitated towards him.
Chad had sent a message to Llŷr’s father, Jeff, to see when would be conveniant for him to visit and was concerned that he hadn’t had a reply. This was most unlike Jeff. I filled Chad in on the situation, that the news wasn’t good, but that I would keep him updated.
This was my role, one I was proud to do; for most of the last few months of Llŷr’s life, I felt frustrated – as I think everyone who knew him did – that we couldn’t do more to help, that we were powerless to stop what was coming, or to shoulder the burden of what Llŷr’s family were going through.
And so this is how I helped, in the only way I could: by providing updates to Llŷr’s many friends so that his family didn’t have to.
The first time I met Jeff was a few years earlier, at their home in Brecon. Llŷr and I, along with our very good friend Colin, were driving to a friend’s wedding in Hay-on-Wye, and we called in partly to say hello, but mostly because Llŷr needed to borrow a shirt.
He introduced us on the doorstep, but his father misheard my name, and said “Hello Des, welcome, come on in.”
Llŷr found this hilarious, and would call me Des for a very long time afterwards.
Jeff and I have often laughed about this ever since, he even revealing that the first time he clapped eyes on me, a large bloke with a gruff voice and a shaved head, he worried about the type of people his son was mixing with.
And so it was that on the morning of Sunday 27th January 2019, I sent Jeff a text, telling him that he need not reply to Chad, as I had already done it.
Shortly afterwards, my phone rang.
It was Jeff.
There was a pause.
“Jez…” he said.
“This is the phone call, isn’t it?” I said.
The rest of that conversation is too personal to share. Suffice it to say, both of us were in tears through most of it.
Llŷr was a life-long Liverpool fan, and, I was sad when they won the Champions League last year, not just because they beat my team in the final, but because he hadn’t been around to witness it.
Moreover, he’s not going to see his team win the Premier League this year, as they surely will, for the first time in absolute yonks.
And so, this song, from that box-set he bought me, is the only song I can post today:
Podcasts. They’re bloody everywhere, aren’t they? Everyone (except me) seems to have one or have been on one.
It’s a real minefield trying to find a consistently good one; I’ve lost count of the amount I’ve stumbled across, listened to the one which caught my interest, then got very bored with all of the rest from the same people.
Well, there’s a new(ish) one on the block, which I can heartily recommend: Game Changing. In each episode, a different musician/producer engages in a conversation with producer Chris Sheldon (Biffy Clyro, Foo Fighters) and musician/writer/all round lovely bloke Tim Thornton (Fink) about a moment in their career when things changed for them.
I should, at this point, declare an interest: I know Tim is an all round lovely bloke because he’s a friend of mine, the only publised author I know (of, according to The Guardian “…the indiest book of all time” The Alternative Hero, and Death of an Unsigned Band and Felix Romsey’s Afterparty), and definitely the only writer and musician I actually know with their own Wikipedia page.
Anyway, no harm in giving a mate a totally un-needed plug, especially when the plug in question is for something which I genuinely enjoy and would (probably) listen to even if it wasn’t co-hosted by a buddy.
Sure, it occasionally veers of into technical territory which means nothing to me, but when that happens I figure it’s for a reason: to either make me learn something or, more probably and less intentionally, to remind me why my college band never made it big. And in any event, our charming hosts are always on hand to reel the conversation back in again.
Subjects so far have been interesting and varied: Flood, Field Music and Gil Norton to name but three (the Flood one is especially great). After listening to each of these I have immediately gone and bought some of the records mentioned, which I guess is as high a recommendation I can give. Very little makes me actually spend actual money.
You can listen to Game Changing on all of your usual podcast providers, but, since I’m not posting any music today, broaden your horizons by listening to some blokes entertainingly chatting via these here links to the podcast world’s big hitters:
And by way of utter contrast, from twenty years later, a song about having to break away from getting it on to make sure your partner is fully appreciating the effort you have put into the soundtrack to your getting jigginess:
The other day I fell down a YouTube wormhole after someone posted a clip of this duo on Twitter.
We’ve all done this, I suspect: watched one clip on YouTube, followed by whatever it decides to play next, and then the next one, and then the next one, and then you notice something in the sidebar and you watch that, and it reminds you of something else which you search for and Hallelujah! There it is! And so on and so on and etcetera and so on until you suddenly realise an hour or so has passed, and you were supposed to be writing The Chain supposed to be going to the shops, but you won’t make it there before they close and anyway it’s raining and wow I’d forgotten all about this and so on….
If you never saw Flight of the Conchords, you missed an absolute treat. As far as I know it has never appeared on any of them there streaming services, your Netflix, or that one who continue to give Clarkson money for a reason I’ll never quite get my head around, or that Apple one where everything is brilliant, apparently.
So, for the uninitiated, just as The Housemartins (who featured here last week) used to refer to themselves as “The fourth best band in Hull”, so Flight of the Conchords were “New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo”.
First there was the comedy duo of the same name, comprised of Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, then there was a BBC radio series, narrated by Rob Bryden, which – if you’re in the UK, I imagine – you can still hear on the BBC Sounds app (annoyingly inferior to the old radio iPlayer as it is) or you can listen to the first episode (the rest are there too) here. In it, the two luckless folksters try to make it big in London, aided and abetted, but mostly hindered, by their gloriously inept manager, Murray, played by Rhys Darby.
Then there were two HBO TV series, the first of which which aired in 2007. These lifted much of the plot, and a lot of the songs, from the radio series, but this time set the…erm, I hesitate to call it this…action in New York.
There have been two albums released off the back of the two TV series, the first is compulsory listening, the less so; let’s say that they got the tricky third album syndrome an album early, which given that they were also writing a comedy series in which said songs would feature, is hardly surprising.
Anyway, there is much to love about Flight of the Conchords, and particularly their first album. Sadly, I can’t play my favourite song by them in this series, as it clocks in at a self-indulgent 4:05; you’ll therefore have to wait to hear me waxing lyrical about the time I played it straight after a Jay-Z tune and it sounded magnificent. I love a good juxtaposition, me.
Although I managed to miss a couple of the earlier episodes, I did catch most of the excellent Country Music documentary series produced by Ken Burns which has been aired on BBC4 recently.
Specifically, episode 5 (“The Sons and Daughters of America (1964-1968)”) and 6 (“Will the Circle Be Unbroken? (1968-1972)” because they focussed on some of the mainstays of these pages: Johnny Cash, Charley Pride, Kris Kristofferson – and trust me, there’s very few finer pleasures than a friend (hello!) sending you a message to say they were watching one of these episodes and they were reminded of you – and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1972 album Will The Circle Be Unbroken.
It’s an album which has cropped up several times on these pages before, but oddly I’ve never posted the title track, a county standard, written by A.P. Carter, made famous by The Carter Family, but performed here like it never has been before, by this collective of many of the living (at the time)’s version:
If I were the type who did karaoke, which I’m not, then this would probably be my song. Lord knows I’ve irritated several neighbours and even more flatmates by drunkenly bellowing along to it at 4am enough times.
A disclaimer: it is not my fault that I’m writing this. Blame my old mate Dum Dum, who sent me a DM on Twitter on New Year’s Eve, reminding me to “stay off the fish fingers”. All will become clear.
A second disclaimer: this particular anecdote involves me imbibing not only industrious quantities of alcohol, but also ridiculous amount of Class A narcotics. I’m not proud of this, and I write this not to boast, but because there’s a fairly funny story here. Please don’t think it’s a good idea to do something similar, or that taking drugs immediately makes you Peter Ustinov – or, worse, me – with a smoking jacket packed full of brilliant anecdotes: you might end up dead instead of having a funny story to relate. I got lucky, that’s all.
A third disclaimer: both Dum Dum and I (and I assume the other protagonist in this story too) are changed men these days. We’d never indulge in the sort of behaviour you’re about to read about these days.
We’re both too old for a start.
Plus, Dum Dum is married with a kid and so has responsibilities which prevent him from engaging in this sort of thing.
And me? Well, since I moved to London I no longer have the same sort of connections I had back in Cardiff, and so can no longer gain access to the sort of stuff mentioned herein. But my history tells me that whilst I might preach about how bad drugs are, I haven’t actually learned a sodding thing, and given the chance, I probably would.
The last time I hooked up with Dum Dum was at a friend’s wedding. We were sat at the same table, me next to his wife, who I had only met once before, at their wedding a year or so earlier. I didn’t think that she knew much of Dum Dum’s clubbing past, so I decided not to mention any of that, as I didn’t want to cause any tension. Dum Dum, however, had other ideas, asking me to ‘tell that story about that time when….’ almost as soon as our arses hit the chairs (because I’m Peter Ustinov…you got that, right?).
And now he’s sending me DMs mentioning it, so I figure Dum Dum wants this story to be out there, and I’m happy to oblige, so here we go.
Last warning: if ever there was a cautionary tale about how drugs can properly fuck you up – for a night at the very least, I have no idea what long term damage they may have done to my…um…my….er…memory (!) – then this is it.
One New Year’s Eve, I decided I was going to have a post-pub house party. My flat-mate at the time had gone away to party it up elsewhere, so I had no concerns about disturbing, or even inviting, him. (He would have been essential company had he not had other plans.)
Dum Dum had always wanted to DJ at a house party, so he turned up in the afternoon with his decks, which we set up in one corner of the living room; we placed a standard lamp close to the decks so he could see what he was doing without having the big light on. We also decided that we wanted people to be up and dancing, so to generate a bit more dancefloor space, he helped me move the TV set out of the living room and into my flatmate’s bedroom, well out of the way.
And then we hit the pub.
The pub, back in those days, was the sadly-no-longer and much missed (I imagine: I miss it and I don’t live in Cardiff anymore) Tut’n’Shive on City Road.
The Tut was a truly glorious if grubby pub, spread over four levels: the ground floor, where the bar lived; the second level, a couple of tables and a juke box; third level which housed a massive screen for those who wanted to watch sport, and then a fourth floor which had three pool tables. Perfect.
We commandeered a table on the third level – the table of choice, the table everyone who drank there regularly wanted, the table of Kings. If you ever drank in the Tut, you know which table I mean.
And we drank and drank and then drank some more. Although something in my head tells me that Dum Dum didn’t drink that much because he wanted to DJ with a clear head.
That night I bumped into a girl I had known for many years, and drunkenly – politely – chatting to her she challenged me (because I must have been that drunk and slurry): “Oh, Jez, I bet you can’t even remember where you know me from, can you?”
My brother will attest that I’m pretty good at remembering “stuff” (I’m in charge of it in my family), so I was delighted to be able to respond: “Of course! We were at college at the same time, knew who each other was but didn’t really know each other, you were on [my girlfriend at the time]’s course, and then you and your boyfriend/husband/whatever he is used to come into the video shop I ran in Canton….”
“Oh shit, you do remember!” she said. (Ask me what her name was now and I have no clue, of course.)
Eventually, it came to chucking out time, time to head back to my flat to continue the night’s festivities. Whereupon we hit the first snag of the night: other than the gang we were drinking with – about six people – we hadn’t actually got round to inviting anybody. Knew-Her-From-College-Girl and her partner had wisely vacated the place, and so we just made loud noises to anyone left in the pub that they would be welcome back at mine.
And so about ten people, including me and Dum Dum, stumbled into my flat via the off licence; he began dropping some choons, I began dropping Class A’s and attempting to be the charming host. Most of the people left after they had polished off the very little booze I had to offer, disinterested (wisely) as they were in the exceedingly dubious pills and powder which were available.
Within an hour, there was just three of us left: Dum Dum, me and a chap who, for legal reasons, I had better change the name of. Let’s call him Matt. I know loads of Matt’s in Cardiff, it could be any one of them. It isn’t any of them (or is it?).
Dum Dum remained on the straight and narrow, and so Matt and I set about the other goodies I had procured.
The night progressed with Matt and I sitting next to each other on the sofa, zonked, not saying much, listening to Dum Dum’s records of choice, knocking back all of the ‘naughty naughty, very naughty’ stuff.
“Jez, Jez!” I was disturbed from a wonky zone by Matt nudging me in the ribs. “Who’s that bloke there?”
My eyes struggled into focus.
“That bloke there….talking to Dum Dum.”
I squinted. There wasn’t anyone talking to Dum Dum.
“Matt, there’s nobody there. It’s the lamp. It’s tall and thin and about the height of a person but it’s definitely just a lamp.”
“Oh….there’s really nobody else there?”
“Oh. Shit. Sorry.”
This should have been a warning.
But no. We decided that we weren’t quite messed up enough, so we carried on.
And then it happened.
Suddenly I shouted “C!” in the direction of where the telly used to live.
Matt looked at me even more disjointedly than he was able to look at anything else.
I furrowed my brow and looked back at him, baffled that he needed to ask.
“C” I repeated.
“The answer’s C.”
“The answer. To the question. On ‘Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?’ It’s C. If they phone a friend then they’re a fucking idiot. It’s C, knobhead!”
“Jez. There’s no telly there. What are you talking about?”
A further pause as I realised that not only was I hallucinating, I was hallucinating about Chris Tarrant.
I slumped back into the sofa.
“S’alright. I thought a lamp was a person a while ago.”
More silence between us, as Dum Dum continued to play some choice bangers (I assume).
“Jez, there’s no telly.”
“I know this one. It’s B!“
“Jez: There. Is. No. Telly.”
Time passed. I know not how much. Suddenly, my throat was dry. I needed a drink.
Although I had told the few party attendees that I had little to offer them, I did have a bottle of Jack Daniels stashed away. One of those with some coke and ice would do the lubractive trick.
“I need a drink,” I announced slurred as I labouriously clamboured to my feet. “Gonna make myself a Jack and coke. You want one?”
Matt stirred from whatever zone he was in. “Yes. Jack and coke. Yes. Please yes. Um, I mean: yes please.”
I went to the kitchen, and opened the freezer to get some ice. Ice was a good idea.
Some more time passed. I don’t know how much. But long enough for a search party to be sent out for me, for the next thing I knew, Dum Dum was at my elbow.
“Jez mate…what are you doing…?”
Snapped out of my stupor by a voice, I replied: “Making me and my friend Matt a Jack and coke. With ice.”
“Matt’s gone home,” said Dum Dum, “I’m playing records to an empty room, you’ve been in here for ages and you don’t seem to be making a JD and coke at all. I’m not sure what you’re doing….”
The kitchen woozily came into focus. He was right. Whatever I thought I was doing, it definitely wasn’t making a JD and coke.
Rather, what I had done was this: on arriving in the kitchen, I had opened the freezer to retrieve the ice, but instead I had taken a packet of fish fingers out and placed the contents in two lines across the kitchen work surface. And then I had stood, for a really long time, admiring my handiwork, slightly adjusting my breadrumbed buddies every now and again, making sure the lines were straight and that they were the same distance apart.
“Shall we just have some water…?” Dum Dum suggested.
“That’d be nice. Do we have any ice?”
“Shut up Jez.”
Kids: don’t do drugs. They’re not big, nor are they clever.
Now, to an appropriate tune. Sadly, I have no idea what Dum Dum played that night, but it occured to me that:
You might find yourself imagining a standard lamp is an uninvited guest.
Or you might find yourself answering questions on an imaginary game show.
Or you might find yourself arranging breadcrumb-coated fish products in a pleasing pattern.
Or you might find yourself wondering if those are discarded lines from a draft version of this:
To Scotland! And a band who I own the princely sum of one record by, and of whom I know very little.
Here’s what I do know: their 2017 album, In Memory Of – the aformentioned one album I own by them – is ace, and this song, the opening track from said album, lazy comparison as it is, reminds me of Franz Ferdinand in full swing, which is in no way a bad thing.
I have posted this before, here, just a couple of YouTube links back then, since my philosophy was, still is, not to post downloadable links for new bands, but I figure enough time has passed to allow me to recommend this lot again and post a proper link now: