Late Night Stargazing

Another repeat posting tonight – this is what was going to appear last week until I had a change of heart.

Oh, the ignomy of being bumped in favour or Embrace….

In fact I’ve posted this song more than once before, but boy oh boy is this a song which deserves a revisit.

Back in the early to mid 2000s, when Llŷr and I shared the flat of filth, we used to buy The Guardian every Saturday, not because of any political leanings (although we pretty much agreed on that too), but because of The Guide, a little booklet which came with the paper, and provided an overview of the week’s important cultural moments.

Specifically, we were both obsessed with Charlie Brooker’s Screen Burn column, where the man who is now perhaps best known for being the co-creator of Black Mirror (or for being married to former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq, depending on your own private obsessions) would provide scathing, savage dissections of whatever he had seen on TV that week. Whichever of us bought the paper had first dibs at reading it, would flick immediately to Brooker’s column, and then sit either openly guffawing or shuddering in giggles until the other gave in and asked that they read aloud what was making them laugh so much.

Every now again, sealed inside the same plastic bag The Guide came in, was a CD, and so it was that I we first came into possession of some songs by Nick Cave.

(Actually, as I’m writing this now I think that it might have been with The Observer. Doesn’t matter really, I don’t think. Point is, it was a freebie.)

I’d never really listened to Nick Cave at this point; I’d heard the records my brother had when we were in our teens, back when Cave was churning out much more gothic, and to these ears, unpleasant noise, and had decided he wasn’t for me.

But I was aware that his sound had matured over the years, and so we gave the CD a listen.

And heard what remains one of my favourite songs. Ever.

It was, I think, the first song on the CD, and I lost count of how many times we repeat played it, so blown away by it were we.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Into My Arms

And it still hits me every time. But now for different reasons.

Before Llŷr passed, whenever I heard that record, I would be astonished by its beauty, its intellectual and existential qualities counterpointing its simplicity.

But when I hear it now, all I can think of is that Saturday morning, when we sat with the sunlight streaming into our living room, silent as it played, followed by either one of us saying: “I think I need to hear that again.”

More soon.

Sunday Morning Coming Down

Regular readers may recall that my very lovely and generous group of friends gave me a whole hunka credits at Ticketmaster for my birthday, and I’m pleased to announce I’m slowly, steadily, chipping away at that monumental total.

So far, I’ve bought tickets for two gigs, and annoyingly missed out on one: The Pretenders are supporting Suede at a one-off gig at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in November, which is a dream line-up for me – but I wasn’t quick enough out of the blocks to get a ticket.

Instead, I have bought tickets for two gigs: one – and I know this will irk at least one of my blogging buddies – is for The Wonder Stuff, at the same venue, in December.

Now, I’ll be honest, under normal circumstances I would not consider going to see them, since they haven’t released anything of any worth since 1993, but they’re peforming both their debut album The Eight Legged Groove Machine (which I love and holds many happy memories for me) and the follow-up Hup (which I’m less fond of, but it’s not as bad as their next album, Never Loved Elvis, which I actively dislike and which thankfully is not getting an airing at said gig.) As long as they don’t start putting violins all over the performance of the first album, then I’m sure to have a great night.

But why am I wanging on about The Wonder Stuff here, where a Country record traditionally lives, I hear you yawn.

Well, because the other gig I’ve bought a ticket for is to go see Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds at the O2 next May, which I’m sure you’ll agree is much cooler.

So, to mark that, here’s one man in black – Johnny Cash – covering another – Nick Cave – on the third of his peerless American Recordings albums.

It was Llŷr who first played this to me, part of a DJ set by Erol Alkan – I think (I’m pretty sure, but I’ve never tracked a copy down, and when I asked Alkan via Twitter his response was an equally vague “I think I did….”). At the time I wasn’t familiar with the Cave version, and the lyrical content stunned and blew me away. It was my first step on the road to discovering the immense body of work that Nick Cave has created, some of which will be cropping up on these pages again pretty soon.

Johnny Cash – The Mercy Seat

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing (Be Llŷrious edition)

I had a wonderful weekend last weekend, celebrating my 50th, away with my bestest friends in a magnificent Georgian (?) house in v posh Chichester.

The weather was generally quite shitty, but that was okay, because we could just stay indoors, eat wonderful food, drink (a lot of) marvellous drinks (at around 2am on the Saturday night/Sunday morning a cocktail got created in my name, though I have no idea what went into it (pretty much whatever was left from the previous two nights of drinking, I guess), but it was bloody lovely), playing some great tunes, and just chilling out and getting away from it all for a weekend. It was pretty much perfect.

On the Saturday night, as we all sat around the dinner table, there was cake, and Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday was sung at/for me and then there were presents (which, given my buddies were already paying my share of the cost of accommodation, and refused to let me contribute towards any food or booze which was bought were most unexpected).

Hel said a few words about how important to her I’d been when I moved to London, describing me as the older brother she never had, and I did well to hold back the tears at that point. Regular readers will know that I often refer to her younger brother, Llŷr, as my little brother, so that really hit home.

You always hope that the things you do and say might have a positive effect on your friends and family, and it was really, really lovely to get that affirmation, even more so that she was happy and proud to say it all in front of our friends.

And of course, she mentioned Llŷr, how could she not? “If he were here today, I’m sure he’d be sitting there and affectionately calling you a daft twat” she said.

For my sins, I interrupted. Not exactly a heckle, but….

“No,” I interjected. “He’d have been saying ‘Oh Jeremy…‘”

That’s my proper name, of course, and “Oh Jeremy…” became Llŷr’s catchphrase, whenever I made a bad joke, or a Dad joke, or said something that just went a little bit too far, there it was. Withering but warmhearted.

I know! It’s hard to believe he’d ever have cause to say it, right?

And then the presents were handed to me: a couple of Quo albums on vinyl, which amazingly I didn’t already own, but which allowed me to *ahem* show off my extensive knowledge of all things double denimed and boogie-worthy (one of them was their 1976 Live! album – which I’m listening to as I write this – and (after explaining who he was) I recited Bob Young’s introductory words from said record. I’m so tempted to do it again now, but you will assume I’m just writing down words I’m listening to); £200 worth of credit on Ticketmaster (which prompted the following reaction: “How much??? Oh you daft bastards. You didn’t need to do that, you’ve already spent enough on me! (But thank you).”)

And then a small but sturdy green cardboard box. Inside, a miniature bottle of Jägermeister (a nod to when Hel and I used to do a lot of Jägerbombs, back in the day) and then there, wrapped up in a load of tissue paper, was a shotglass with two words and three dots engraved on it:

How perfect is that? It was like a Derren Brown trick: moments earlier I’d proposed those words as a fitting memory of Llŷr, and then there they were, already engraved into one of my presents.

I dutifully poured the Jägermeister into the shotglass and downed it.

And then it was time for me to speak.

I’d been thinking about this moment for a few days, knew roughly what I wanted to say, decided it wasn’t a formal enough event for me to have cue cards, decided against starting by saying “Unaccustomed as I am…”, and that I would just go for it.

After I’d finished, my mate Gareth who was sitting next to me said “Were you winging that?”

“Kinda…” I said.

“It was incredible” he kindly added, before giving me a massive hug.

Gareth is a journalist (a good, nice one, not one who writes for the horrid red-tops), and has previously said encouraging, approving things about what I write here, so to get further validation from someone who writes words professionally meant a lot.

Were it not for his, and others, kind words, then I wouldn’t do what I’m about to do now.

So indulge me for a few moments folks, for this is, pretty much, how my speech went:

“The idea of doing something to mark my 50th first came about around a year ago as I was laying in a hospital bed. Hel was visiting me, and the topic came up. At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate how unwell I was. I wasn’t really all that bothered about doing anything, but as it dawned on me just how close I had come to not being here – and with other things that have happened since – I came to realise that life’s too short, and reaching a landmark birthday probably needed some kind of celebration.

Also, in February, my old mate Jon Ballard, who sadly couldn’t make it here tonight, practically insisted I did something. So you can blame him if you’ve had a rotten time.

Of course, since I don’t have a single original idea in my head, the idea was completely stolen from when we all went away for Ian’s 40th, so props are due there.

And since I am absolutely rubbish at organising stuff, I handed all responsibility over to you guys. Until about a fortnight ago, I knew nothing about what you’d arranged, and even then, all I found out was where I had to buy a train ticket to.

So before I go any further, thank you for sorting out what has been a truly wonderful weekend. Half the fun has been in not knowing what was going on, so thank you all for keeping it secret before the big reveal. I think we’d all agree, this venue is simply magnificent, way beyond what I had expected.

When I moved to London, just over 11 years ago, it was a big deal for me. Things weren’t exactly going well for me at the time – and didn’t for a good while after – and it was a big wrench to be moving even further away from my beloved Cardiff, where I’d lived for twenty years or so.

I’d met you all before, most of initially you at parties at Hilldrop, or in bars either side of parties at Hilldrop but did I know you all? Not really. But you guys made me feel so welcome, made me feel part of your little gang so effortlessly, so naturally, like I’d known you all forever, and got me through the tough times…it was a big help to me. So thank you, all of you.

Of course, there’s a couple of you – Caroline, Emma – who weren’t on the scene when I moved here. I hope we’ve all managed to welcome you into our group in the same way as everyone welcomed me in.

But as I look around this table, I’m reminded that, were it not for one person, I wouldn’t know a single one of you.

And that person isn’t here tonight.

So I can’t let this moment pass without adding to something Hel just said.

There isn’t an ounce of me that doesn’t wish my best friend Llŷr was here to help me celebrate, and I know you all feel the same way too.

So. I’m assuming you’ve all got a drink? In which case, can I ask that you all raise a glass with me, and toast the man who isn’t here: To absent friends, and to Llŷr.”

The Concretes – Miss You

More soon. Really soon.

Sunday Morning Coming Down (Be Llŷrious edition)

Of course, there was one person who I would give anything to have been celebrating my birthday with me this weekend: my recently passed best friend, Llŷr.

And today he is especially prominent in my thoughts because it was exactly one year ago today that I last saw him.

Discharged from hospital for the final time, he was back at his parents’ home, under their care, with a district nurse or two popping in to help where they could. Palliative care, they call it.

Me and three of the chaps that I spent my birthday weekend with drove down to Wales to visit him. All laddish jokes and cameraderie on the way down, I’m not sure any one of us said a single word for a good hour in the car on the way home.

As we left, I hugged him, told him I’d be back soon. I don’t think any of us thought that would be the last time we would see him, least of all me: but finding myself hospitalised a few weeks later with my own health issues, that was the end of the line for me.

A few years earlier, after he’d been discharged from hospital for the second or third time, he told me he had bought me a present, as a thank you for ensuring he’d got to hospital at all. Of course, I told him he shouldn’t have. Of course, he told me to take it. Of course, I didn’t argue.

That present was the Johnny Cash boxset Unearthed, a collection of out-takes and highlights from the recording sessions which led to his phenomenal American Recordings series.

It’s one of my most cherished possessions. More so now than when he gave it to me.

Llŷr was a massive fan of Neil Young (Llŷr was a massive fan of a lot of things), so it seems appropriate that I post this track today.

In memory.

Johnny Cash – Heart of Gold

More soon.

Be Llyrious

In the spirit of full disclosure, today’s tune is not a song which Llŷr or I ever had any real affection for, as far as I know.

I mean, we both appreciated that it’s a classic folk song, but it would never trouble any list of our favourite 100 records.

This one:

Ralph McTell – Streets of London

As you may have gathered, Llŷr and I went to many, many, oh-so-many gigs together. Beforehand, we would often discuss which songs from the act in question we most wanted to hear.

We never planned to do this, but after we did it once, we did it every time.

For when one of those desired songs got played, after the applause had died down, one of us would shout “Streets of London!”, and then the other would do the same, slightly more angrily, followed by the other, and so on, until we collapsed in fits of giggles.

Confused?

We both loved the sketch show Big Train, and in particular this, just shy of a minute and a half of utter comedy genius:

Big Train – Ralph McTell sings Streets of London…again!

Still makes me laugh, that, and I must have watched it hundreds of times by now. And heard it even more; I have the audio of it on my iPod so it crops up every now and then – and in case you hadn’t realised and want to do the same, there’s a link to download an mp3 of it right there for you. (Ditto the Partridge post from a couple of days ago). I’d heartily recommend having things which make you laugh unexpectedly pop into your ears from time to time.

You’re welcome.

(Miss you, dude.)

More soon.

Be Llyrious

When we lived together, before compiling a playlist was a thing, Llŷr and I would often make each other mix-tapes, and later mix CDs, a habitually eclectic mix of stuff we knew the other would like, or already owned but sounded good in the context of the playlist, or wanted to introduce the other one to.

We would take it in turns: I’d do one for him, a week or so later I’d get one back, and so on. There was no one-upmanship going on here, no “Don’t you know this???”, more a mutally respectful “You probably know this, but if not, you’ll like it, I think.”

Often, one of us putting a song on a mix CD would induce the other into putting a different song by the same artiste on the reply CD. It was our way of saying, “Yeh, I know them, that one’s pretty good, but have you heard this…?”

By way of an example, one day I put this on a mix CD, pretty much the only song I knew by the group at the time:

And he came back with this, which I later found out was the very next track on their eponymously titled album, which I didn’t have at the time:

Fountains of Wayne – Sink to the Bottom

Okay dude, you won that one.

More soon.

Be Llyrious

When Llŷr was first admitted and then detained in hospital, I knew boredom would soon take a hold. So I went and bought him one of them there hand-held Nintendo gaming things to help him while away the hours.

He was really happy when I gave it to him; when I visited the next day, less so.

“The nurse confiscated it,” he told me. “Apparently playing it increases the likelihood of me having another seizure.”

Ah well. The best laid plans, and all that.

“You could bring my mp3 player in though…?” he suggested/asked.

I was half surprised that he didn’t already have it, joined at the hip as they had seemed to be.

You’ll note that I don’t say iPod there, as Llŷr refused to accept, as I had meekly submitted, that via Apple Inc. was the best way to listen to music on the go. What Llŷr had was most definitely not an iPod.

I brought it in for him the next day, and before we’d even got through the formalities, he was greedily popping the earphones in.

“Jez, you have to hear this album,” he said, not proffering me an earphone so I could share in his delight.

Even then, in hospital and just diagnosed with cancer, he couldn’t switch off.

Later, he would regale me about the time he saw them at the Reading Festival, in a tent full of delirious fans, but I can’t quite recall if that was before or after he got ill. Probably after.

‘This lot’ were Arcade Fire, and the album in question was Funeral.

And now, whenever I hear them, or specifically anything from that album, I think of him.

Arcade Fire – Rebellion (Lies)

More soon.