Stand Upright.

It was a weekend of ups and downs, mostly caused by booze.
I shall start at the very beginning.

On Friday the 17th February, Dodgy gave a command performance at The Box, here in Crewe. It was to be the first gig of the tour to support their new album ‘Stand Upright In A Cool Place‘. A warm-up gig, if you like, before they hit the bright lights of the big cities. The band arrived on the Thursday and used the venue as a rehearsal room, to polish up a few rarely heard songs from the first album before adding them to the setlist.

In my new and shiny position at Redshift Radio, it was my absolute pleasure to get one of the band into the Redshift studios to discuss life, music, and other less important stuff. So on Friday afternoon I collected Mathew Priest from the rehearsal venue and deposited him into to studio for a half hour grilling by the lovely Liz Southall. The fairly hilarious results can be heard here.

Straight afterwards I met up with Elliot and Eleanor Howells, some more of the Dodgy family and we went for a slap-up carvery lunch together. The conversation very quickly found its level when Elliot sniffed the passenger car seat, after I told him that two minutes previously I had dropped Math off after the radio interview. I had been in their company for about thirty seconds at this point. I knew I was going to love them dearly from there on in. They were clearly very weird people.

Later on at the venue it was lovely to see so many familiar faces. Local friends who had come to see what all fuss I was making was about, as well as friends from further afield, such as London and Newbury! Blimey. A couple of liveners were had in the Corner Bar and then off to The Box to hear Smoke Feathers‘ set.

I’d never heard them play before, although I’ve heard some of their recorded output. I was blown away. I really rate them, and wholeheartedly encourage you to have a listen to them for yourselves. Their album’s out, and well worth a few quid of your hard-earned wedge.

Then Dodgy. We’d all built this gig up so much that I’m fairly certain that Dodgy could have walked on stage lowered their jeans, farted and walked off again, and we’d all have applauded and retired happily to the bar. Good though that they didn’t. They played songs from their first album that I have never heard live before, a great big chunk of their latest album which is wonderful both in a live setting and recorded, and then a selection of Dodgy favourites.

A drunk woman in the toilets said, “I wish they’d hurry up and play Good Enough, that’s the only one I know!” and with every fibre of my being, I fought the desire to punch her repeatedly in the face. Sometimes pacifism sucks, man.

The gig was utterly fantastic, and after a bit of a boogie at the indie disco afterwards, we all said big drunken huggy goodbyes and went our separate ways. Drunk, tired and very happy indeed.

The next day I woke up with a moderate to raging hangover, and collected Julia from Crewe station. She had travelled up from Harrow to spend the remainder of the weekend with me. For those of you who don’t know, Julia is the woman who was foolish enough to make me ‘Guardian Aunt’ of her firstborn daughter. That’s a bit like Godmother, but without the involvement of religion. Stu Thoy of Smoke Feathers summed it up for himself with, “So, right, if they die in a car crash, you’ve gotta like look after the kid? Wow. So what’s in it for you?”. There is a distinct possibility that he may have taken strong drink that night.

Julia came back to my place to meet Che the cat and to begin the weekend’s proceedings with a nice mug of coffee and a healthy splosh of Tia Maria in it. It was only 11:45am, but we figured it was Saturday, so what the hell. After I had gathered my thoughts and thrown some stuff into an overnight bag, we headed for the train station to catch the next train to Liverpool. Dodgy were to continue their new album tour at Eric’s, the famous venue on Mathew Street, and so Julia and I had treated ourselves to a posh room at the Hard Day’s Night Hotel.

Once at the hotel we reasoned that since it was lashing down with rain outdoors, there was no sense in going sight-seeing in Liverpool. As beautiful as my beloved spiritual home is, it’s true to say that it’s just as grim as any other collection of streets and buildings, when you’re huddled up to avoid a soaking. So we took advantage of our plush and palatial hotel boudoir. I fired up the coffee machine, Julia drew a deep, bubbly bath for a soak, and we chatted and nattered about all the things we needed to catch up on since last time we spent quality time together. It was bliss.

Heading towards gig time, we dressed, threw on some war paint and headed downstairs for expensive cocktails. Very swish indeed. However we realised quickly that we needed food before we embarked on any serious drinking and so we headed out into the direction of Pizza Express. “Have you got a booking? Ah well, you’ll have to wait 45 minutes then”. Oh bugger. So we left and  wandered along looking for an alternative.

A sign about the size of a postage stamp said, “Metro Bar & Grill” and so we followed it underground into a mainly empty, but properly lovely little place. It was tarted up kebab food, but beautifully done and jolly reasonable. We ordered halloumi and chicken, and a load of rice and chips and salad and you name it arrived too. Far too much for us, but we soldiered on, until we were at Mr Creosote bursting point. Once we’d left, we had a little walk along North John Street to ease our full tummies.

At Eric’s we laid heavily into G&Ts in plastic glasses. Smoke Feathers were playing, and so we caught most of their set again. Great stuff. One by one we said hello to all the people we expected to see there, and then joy of joys, we spotted Angela and John Devine! We hadn’t known they would be there, so it was great to see them. We took up our audience positions near to them.

There were a few weirdos in the crowd (a man called Mark who tried it on with every attractive female in the crowd – not me, a drunk woman with yellow hair who did a proper bump and grind to even the most sensitive songs on the set list, and two men who stood millimetres away from the 12″ high stage, so that pretty much no-one but them could see Nigel), but then that’s Liverpool for you.

The gig was monumental. One of the best ever. Julia was absolutely made up, I was beside myself with happiness, and the band themselves seemed rightfully pleased with the way it all went. John, Angela, Julia and I danced and sang and cheered and clapped, and gave each other knowing nods and smiles throughout the set. Just as it should be. Music, friends, love and happiness.

We saw lots of other friends there too: Prowsey & Bernadette, Olivia, Cath & Andy, Chris, Paul and others who the fug of drink has caused me to forget. Do forgive me.

We left the gig and Stu from Smoke Feathers was standing in the corridor brandishing a bottle of white wine. We chatted for a while, he offered us a swig from his bottle, and said the magic words: “There’s loads more booze backstage”. Music to my ears, as if more music were needed. So we toddled off, availed ourselves of a couple of very friendly vodka and oranges and got comfy as Prowsey and Math entertained the crowd with rock and roll anecdotes. Booze was being passed around and Julia and I drank well. At one point I turned around to see her swig neat tequila from a bottle, which is something I never thought I’d see Julia do. But then I never thought I’d ever hear her say ‘cunt’ either…

Time to leave and wander back to the hotel. We tumbled upstairs (or was it down? I’ve gone a bit fuzzy on that bit) and found a fantastic soul band playing to a packed floor of movers and groovers. We stayed for a while, threw a shape or two, but then conceded that it was bedtime for Chappers & Jules. Quite a merry gang spilled out onto Mathew Street and lots of boozy goodnights and goodbyes were said by everyone. I seem to recall leaning against a statue of John Lennon to smoke a cigarette, but where I got the cigarette from, I have no recollection.

Back at the room, we performed our ablutions, got into jimjams and as I turned out the lights, Julia said, “G’night Mary Ellen..”. Obviously, I replied, “G’night John Boy..”, at which point she sat up and exclaimed, “BUT I WANNA BE JIM BOB!”, and fell back down onto her pillow. To sleep; perchance to dream.

We woke at about 9am. Julia was satisfied that this was sufficiently late to count as a lie-in, in her capacity as a mother of two titchy people. So we lazed around a bit longer (because we could) and then checked out. I remembered from a previous visit with Lis Lambertsen that there was a branch of Patisserie Valerie round the corner, so I suggested eggs benedict and hot chocolates for breakfast. Nom and indeed nom.

Having further put the world to rights (the UN ain’t got nowt on us), we set out towards the Albert Dock, to go and pay homage to the mighty Mersey, and to visit one of my favourite places in the world – the new Museum of Liverpool. I especially wanted Julia to see it, because I knew she would ‘get’ it, and understand why I feel about Liverpool the way that I do. The exhibits in there say everything there is to say about the city and I insist that if you go to Liverpool, you MUST visit this museum. Julia hit the nail on the head when she said, “Seems to me, London is a city of business and buildings and things and activity. Liverpool is all that too, but it really is all about the people”.

As usual there are things in that place that make me weep. Four times I’ve been there, and every time I’ve sat down and shed tears, looking out of that huge pillar box window, the Three Graces to my right, the Mersey to my left, and the Irish Sea before me.

My mate Ann (Liverpool born and bred) says you don’t have to be from Liverpool to be a Scouser. It’s a state of mind, a way of life and kind of soul. I count myself lucky to be one of those people; not born in Liverpool, but as Scouse as I can be despite it.

 

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Delayed Gratification.

When was the last time you had to wait for bloody YONKS for something you really, really wanted? In this age of immediacy, we rarely have to. Your evening meal can be ready (DING!) within four minutes. Your weekly shop can be done in ten minutes without leaving the house. If you hear a song you like, it is yours to download and listen to at will, in less time than it takes to clean your teeth. We very rarely build up a proper longing for things anymore, and I think perhaps that leads us to cherish them less.

There have been many times I have been worked up over the release of an album, but I think the last time was in 2004. Having seen The Zutons loads of times in little clubs and venues around the NorthWest, I was bloody bursting to get my mitts on their first album, and especially because there was a special 3D zombie giftpack with a limited amount of copies. I booked a holiday for the morning of the 18th of October, and was standing on the steps of Virgin in Crewe, waiting for them to open.

I was their first customer of the day, they hadn’t even had time to work up the customary record shop assistant apathy yet. I got back to the car, tore off the cellophane, put the CD in and drove to work, enjoying my own little piece of Zuton heaven. A moment of bliss I had waited weeks for, and it was worth every minute.

Since then, it hasn’t been that music hasn’t excited me as much, it’s just that it’s been easier to get hold of. You could get an artist’s demo tracks and promo snippets on MySpace. There’s always a a ‘leak’ if something’s hotly anticipated, and there’s always ‘exclusive’ MP3s to stumble upon, download and enjoy, here and there. It’s all so immediate and this isn’t necessarily a Bad Thing. It’s quite exciting to think that you’re hearing a track that was recorded so recently, that the seats in the studio are still warm from the producer’s arse.

However, if you’re a bit ‘old school’ (as the ‘yoot’ would have it) like me, sometime you yearn for the days when you could work up a good set of tummy butterflies for an album. Lucky me then, that this year, I’m being treated to exactly that.

I had missed out on the whole Dodgy experience in my late teens and early twenties for various boring reasons, so when I received a text message in 2007, to tell me that there was a strong possibility that Dodgy were about to reform, I let out a little excited yelp. The day I got the text to say the tour was off because of Andy’s broken arm, I cried with disappointment. Standing at the front at their first Liverpool gig in 2008, there were tears of joy. Hearing rumours of new songs and studio time started the excitement building, and then news that they were off to Texas to polish up the finished recordings… SQUEEE!

At the end of last year, they played the album in full, at all dates on their Autumn tour. A big risk, but it paid off. Every tune was a diamond, and every fan rapidly picked a favourite. By the end of that tour in December, people in the crowd were singing the new songs back to the band, which was amazing considering hardly anyone had those songs to own and to listen to over again. They’d become familar purely in a live setting, which is a great feat for any band, let alone one that hadn’t released any new material since the late nineties.

It is now about three weeks away from the release of that album. Since it was mixed in Texas, I have had to resist countless ways of hearing it. I have been offered emailed MP3s, mini-mixes, promo copies and all sorts. I am only suprised that a car hasn’t been parked outside my house with the album being played at high volume, through a loudspeaker system, strapped to the roof. But I have stayed strong.

There is even the opportunity for Dodgy fans to get a copy of the album prior to the release date, if they come up with a great idea for a ‘listening party’. No thank you. The first time I listen to MY copy of this album, I want to be very much alone. I will prepare the lounge with dimmed lighting, some candles, and maybe even a sandlewood joss stick. I will pour myself a glass of something boozy (a Rioja, I think), headphones on, press play and close my eyes. I expect I will cry. I am a great spiller of tears, especially when it comes to music that makes you feel something.

So between now and the day I receive my copy of Stand Upright In A Cool Place, I don’t want to know. You can keep your sneaky peeks, and exclusive chances to hear a track here and there. I want MY copy of the whole thing, from start to finish, and it’s already making me feel a bit queasy to think it’s just three weeks away.

But something tells me that it’s well worth waiting for…

I’ve Had The Time Of My Life!

Last Wednesday was my 36th birthday. I’ve come to realise that if I tell people that I’ll be 24, it’s now such an outrageous lie, that no-one questions it:
“So, how old are you this time?”
“Umm… twenty-four.”
“Sorry?”
“Twenty four.”
“Oh. Right. Good, well have fun..!”

My birthday celebrations actually began the day before my birthday, with a slap-up curry tea at Mum & Kev’s, and a veritable skipful of presents to open including scrummy jumpers, a bracelet, fab booze, a bubblicious foot spa, some smellies, and all kinds of other groovy stuff. It was brilliant, really lovely way to kick off the shenanigans.

On the Wednesday, I met with Vampyre Marie, Chicken Tina, Psycho Sarah and Perksy at Giovanni‘s for lovely Italian grub. It was also Perksy’s 40th birthday and so while she thought she was simply joining a quiet birthday celebration for us both, we got balloons and table confetti and banners and all kinds of celebratory paraphernalia to show the town exactly how old she is. Hehehe. Needless to say I’m leaving town for my 40th, and will STILL be insisting that I’m 24.

The food was fab, and there were more beautiful gifts and GORGEOUS cakes, but during our meal all hell let loose. Blue light after siren after blue light after siren passed the restaurant’s frosted windows, and then when they started to stop outside the windows, and all other traffic ceased, we decided that Chicken Tina should nip out for a fag, and see what was going on. Three minutes later, Tina came back with the news that there had been an underground electrical surge so strong that it had blown manhole covers out of the pavements, and fire was shooting through the resulting apertures. Holy fuck.

The main road through the South of the town was on police lockdown, and the restaurant we were in was bang in the centre of the exclusion zone. Furthermore, our sixth guest, La Fudge, was still on a train in from Euston, and her train was stranded outside the station due to a total lack of electricity along the railway and into the station. Eeep.

Eventually the station re-opened and just as I was about to set off in search of La Fudge, she appeared on the restaurant’s car park. Huzzah! Onwards then to Square One, my favourite boozer. We met up with JaffJaff, Bitznpieces an Pokey and I was given some really pretty jewellery and an appetite for getting thoroughly pissed. A few gins and shots later and La Fudge and I were the last men standing. Time to go home. Back at the ranch we had birthday cake and Southern Mist, and took ourselves off to our respective boudoirs.

On Thursday the heat was cracking the flags. Mental late September heatwave really added some glamour to the proceedings! After some lounging about and chasing the remains of a mini-hangover away, we set off for Liverpool. Slow traffic, Cocteau Twins on the stereo and the last glimpse up Summer’s skirts sent La Fudge into an M6 snooze and without too much hassle we found ourselves on the Albert Dock. I parked up easily and we headed off in search of lunch.

En route we bumped into a callow youth collecting comments from passers-by, regarding the Labour Party conference that was going on nearby.

[Youth, over excited] “‘Scuse me, I juzz clectin’ VoxPox from peeble ’bout thuh confruuunce. You godda minute to ansah couplah queshtuns?”
[Fenella, initially disinterested] “I beg your pardon?”
[Youth, exasperated now] “‘I juzz clectin’ VoxPox from peeble ’bout thuh confruuunce. You godda minute to ansah couplah queshtuns?”
[Fenella, playing dumb] “I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you mean..”
[Youth, smug face] “Yeah, okay, wot VoxPox are, is, right…”
[Fenella, losing will to live] “Look I KNOW what Vox POPS are, thank you very much. But which conference are you referring to?”
[Youth, incredulous] “The Labour party one…”
[Fenella, holding back a great left hook] “But what makes you think we are AT the conference? We’re here for LUNCH!”
[Youth, deflated] “Oh.”

We looked for a place with a nice view that was sunny but in the shade, and found a table outside PanAm. Food was good, but we were surrounded by Labour Youth. I was disappointed, frankly; not a beret or Guevara badge or scuffed Doc Marten boot among them. We left and wandered along, past the Tate, past Billy Fury and along into the big new Museum. We spent a happy half hour wandering around the music and culture bit and then the city history bit and then it was time to return to the car for our next adventure. EXCITING!

The traffic between Liverpool and Burnley was shite and it took us nearly 2 hours to get there, but we were off to see Dodgy (favourite band of me and la Fudge) so we didn’t mind. Once we found the venue, we found a guitarist (Andy) and a bassist (Stu the Fugitive) smoking at the back, and a frontman (Nigel) and his nephew (Handsome Chris) smoking round the side, closely followed by a non-smoking Derek. La Fudge and I found a Weatherspoons, found an additional Claire (aka Brierley O’Reilly) and sat down for drinks and grub. The band soon followed and lots of laughs were had until they had to run off to get on stage. We ladies finished our drinks and followed rather more casually.

The set-up at Burnley Mechanics felt weird at first; a dancehall room with a theatrical stage, set out with circular tables and seats in a cabaret style. However, once the magic began, it felt right. The crowd listened intently as Dodgy played songs from the new album, and really loved the old stuff played with new treatments. We absolutely loved the gig, properly loved it. Brierley O’Reilly  almost burst with happiness at one point, it was that good.

After the gig we stole booze and fags from the band and their entourage, and then disappeared in a tired but happy fug, along the M6. En route, La Fudge sent a text to Janice Long requesting a shout out for we weary travellers returning from the Dodgy gig. The shout came, but about 10 minutes after we got home. We never heard it, but the band did. Once home we had more birthday cake, more Southern Mist and then beddy byes.

On Friday we were Manchester bound. Having had a lie in, and wander round Crewe in search of something snazzy to go out in that night, a cooked brekker in town and a pot of tea, it was time to leave for the station. It seemed to be no time at all before we were pulling into Manchester Piccadilly, but not before most of the overhead luggage rack had emptied itself onto La Fudge’s head, much to the loud amusement of our fellow travellers. Hehehehe…

A cheeky and stylish sashay through the station concourse, a cab round the corner to Great Ancoats Street and hey presto, we were in our Flash Harry apartment. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, lounge but best of all (considering the mental heatwave) was the balcony. Easily five or six metres of sun-baked decking with glorious views of… the roof of an Aldi. Well, you can’t have it all ways, and we were only there for a night. After a cuppa and a doze, La Fudge and I applied the war paint, fluffed our wigs out and hit the town. Food was acquired at the fabulously new and groovy Band On The Wall, as was the first of about half a dozen bottles of house red.

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen Dodgy since they re-formed in 2007. I was there at the first re-union gig in King’s Heath, and now I can say I was there the first time Stand Upright In A Cool Place was played in its entirety for the first time. But however many times it’s been, maybe dozens, this THIS was the best ever. It was the best Dodgy gig I’ve ever seen, and I’d even go so far as to say it was the best gig I’ve ever seen full stop. Really and truly. The crowd was properly up for it, the band were in top form, harmonies were perfect and every song from the new album not only sounded brilliant, they started to sound like favourites, and even better, like instant classics.

We laughed, cried, sang, danced, bellowed, hugged and drank. Oh boy, did we drink. By the time we left the venue, I think we had managed to tuck away a good half a dozen bottles of house red. In addition to this we met old friends and new. Really grand to see Jez, Chris, Nicola and a few other familiar faces, and equally lovely to make new friends in Amy, Martin, Henrietta and Emma. The latter two proved to be our drinking partners into the wee small hours, as we escaped from Stu the Fugitive and Handsome Chris and went for veggie kebabs to soak up some vino.

Having scoffed kebab, and laughed about the best bits of the night so far, we retreated further to Henrietta’s place, which is a pretty terraced house just a couple of streets away from all the action. In her garden we drank sangria and texted abuse to Math, who had abandoned his drinking duties to slope off to bed. Shameful. Him that is, not us. Obviously.

Somewhere between 3am and 4am La Fudge and I wandered back along Great Ancoats Street to our apartment, went back onto the balcony and discussed the evening over mugs of tea. Bed at 4:30am and then up at 10am because of the bloody sunshine, which is lovely… when you’re not suffering the biggest hangover known to mankind. Aaaargh. I caught some rejuvenating rays alone on the balcony, and shortly afterwards La Fudge arrived, shuffling out into the sunlight, like a little ginger pit pony in pyjamas. Nothing needed to be said. We just looked at one another, immediately remembered all the ridiculous stuff we’d done the night before and burst out laughing.

Eventually we left, got a cab to the station and found trains to take La Fudge and I to Euston and Crewe respectively. Big hugs on Manchester Piccadilly concourse and the best birthday adventure in years was nearly over. After I returned to Crewe, Becky picked me up to treat me to a tarot reading at Shanti, Dad and Anne Louise treated me to lunch on Canal Street the following day, Ian treated me to pizza that night and yesterday Ken treated me to cuddle cake, sausage butty and tea, and Lucy treated me to crystal healing, another tarot reading and a long and enjoyable chinwag, in which the World was put to rights.

It has lasted a whole week, but it’s been the best birthday adventure ever, and probably the best 24th birthday anyone has ever had.

Weather: hot as fuck. Very peculiar.