Tuesday, December 29, 2015

In the Ravilious Room



2015 was the year in which one of East Sussex’s most famous twentieth century artists became the property of the whole country. When I say ‘the country’, I mean that London finally caught up with the simple beauty of the paintings of Eric Ravilious. Ravilious, Dulwich Picture Gallery’s exhibition, was the biggest-ever showing of his work and was a sell-out this summer; the public, the art world and the media were united in praise for this largely unsung watercolourist.

In his delightful end of year review, The Guardian’s Ian Jack wrote, “He is an easy painter to enjoy … bright and tender even in his depictions of war. His pictures give the viewer the permission to like England and to mourn it”; but not all is from a lost age. If his work as a war artist portrays the nation at a particular point of conflict, other images capture a timeless essence of England: his paintings of Sussex, the South Downs and the South Coast capture a landscape that is largely unchanged.

Born in west London in 1903, Eric Ravilious grew up in Eastbourne where his parents ran an antique shop. A scholarship boy, he was educated at Eastbourne Grammar School and Eastbourne School of Art before moving on to the Royal College of Art. Ravilious excelled in a variety of media – ceramic design, wood engraving, book illustration – but it is for his watercolours that he is mostly remembered.

At the start of the Second World War, he was commissioned as a full-time war artist; his watercolours recorded the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force in action from a number of postings around Britain and abroad. In August 1942 whilst based at Kaldadarnes in Iceland, Ravilious was on board an aircraft that went missing. After a four-day search, the aircrew were declared lost in action. Ravilious’s body was never recovered; he was 39 years old.

The Dulwich exhibition may now be over, but Eastbourne’s wonderful Towner Art Gallery holds one of the largest public collections of Ravilious’s work. The permanent Ravilious Room contains watercolours, books about the artist and a unique archive of associated materials. Currently, there are Ravilious works on display that have been loaned from Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museum and it is the perfect reason to visit, particularly in this interregnum between Christmas and New Year.

When I was there today, it was one of the loaned paintings, Train Landscape, that especially caught my eye. This popular work dates from 1940, when Ravilous spent a day travelling up and down the Eastbourne to Lewes line painting the interior of the railway carriage with the landscape viewed through the window. However, the figure in this watercolour is of the Westbury Horse in Wiltshire and not the Long Man of Wilmington that was in the original work. Ravilious was very interested in the hillside chalk figures of the South Coast and painted several, including two viewed from trains; but he was dissatisfied with both and wanted to discard them. It was Tirzah Garwood, married to Ravilious, who cut and pasted together the best parts of both works to create such an enduring image of England.

Towner Art Gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday, and Bank Holiday Mondays, between 10am and 5pm. Admission is free. The gallery will be closed on New Year’s Day.

Note: The Ravilious Room will be closed from 26 January to 5 February 2016, inclusive, to change the works on display.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Fairytale of New Cross



If you already feel as though Christmas has been going on for quite a while now, that is because it has: the reason for this is because no one can agree when Christmas begins, anymore. Is it when the first mince pies appear in the supermarkets? Is it when the John Lewis television advert is first broadcast? Is it when you put your tree up? And when is that supposed to be? Is it as soon as December arrives? Or is it twelve days before Christmas? There is certainly a class dimension to Christmas, these days: lower down the social scale the plastic tree will have been up since mid-November and the kids will be opening their presents in the dark at 5am on the big day; at the top of the class ladder, the Norwegian spruce will go up on Christmas Eve and the poor little blighters will have to wait until after Christmas luncheon for their gifts.

I, of course, know exactly when Christmas begins: it is the precise moment at which you hear, for the first time that winter, James Fearnley’s piano introduction to The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York. This song is the greatest Christmas single never to have topped the hit parade: it chimes with the reflective and bittersweet mood of the season and has never turned stale. What its ubiquity has done, though, is render almost all Pogues' songs as Christmas songs: Misty Morning Albert Bridge, Rainy Night in Soho, London Girls – even A Pair of Brown Eyes – all sound festive to me at this time of year. So when the Christmas music comes out in our house, alongside the Sinatra and Elvis festive albums and assorted seasonal compilations, there is always a Pogues’ Best of. This year, there was a bonus: when I saw James Yorkston play in Bexhill earlier this month, he performed two songs that The Pogues have also covered, I’m A Man You Don’t Meet Everyday and The Band Played Waltzing Matilda. The Pogues are one of those bands I have never stopped listening to; they are a perennial soundtrack to the past thirty-odd years and I associate them with nothing but good times.

The association probably began in February 1980 in The Wellington pub, just around the corner from the Lyceum Ballroom in London. A mob of us were carousing before a Joy Division gig and a big-eared, broken-toothed bloke came over to us and snarled, “You lot seem to be the only people in ‘ere having a fuckin’ good time; do you mind if I ‘ave a drink with yer?” We were a raggle-taggle bunch of punks, proto-Goths, football hooligans and longhaired hippies but we all recognised Shane MacGowan, either from his status as a face on the fledgling punk scene or his band, The Nips. He never mentioned who he was and neither did we - back in those egalitarian times, bands and fans were all the same – but we had a good time getting drunker together.

A couple of years later, I was squashed in the basement bar of the Hope and Anchor on Islington’s Upper Street, waiting for a new band called Pogue Mahone to come on stage. I had been told they combined punk and Irish folk music and were worth seeing - I didn’t think it sounded too promising; but they were incredible and there, on stage, was Shane again, standing next to a bloke repeatedly hitting himself on the head with a tin tray as the musicians behind them played with phenomenal speed and energy. I had never seen the like.

Further down the line, in the late 80s and early 90s, there were all those gigs at Brixton Academy which became annual fixtures at either Christmastime or on St. Patrick’s Day. The evening would always begin in the Canterbury Arms behind the police station, and each would end up as raucous as the last. I am quite sure I can recall one performance when Shane wasn’t even there: Joe Strummer was on lead vocals, instead, and there were several Clash songs in the set. I might have dreamt that, or just fabricated it, but I think it’s true.

More recently, as the fin de siècle became the new millennium, The Pogues were a consistent feature of the football routine. The Amersham Arms in New Cross, south-east London, an Irish-run pub and music venue, always had plenty of Pogues on the front bar jukebox and, as the pre-match drinking session was winding up, their version of Ewan MacColl’s Dirty Old Town was a regular rallying cry before the game. And I think that is why I most associate The Pogues with good times. Those were the last days free of the weight of responsibilities: before kids, before teaching, before genteel poverty; when all I had to worry about was getting out of bed early enough on a Saturday morning to get to the pub on time – what seems now, like a fairytale existence.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Coast to Coast



At the De La Warr Pavilion last night, on a mild but typically breezy winter evening, the air of the eastern seaboard of the British Isles washed in to meet the southern coast of England. Record shop and music promoters, Music’s Not Dead, treated Bexhill to their final gig of the year with Fife’s James Yorkston, and his moving modern folk and self-deprecating anecdotes, supported by Lincolnshire’s Elle Osborne and her more traditional songs.

Osborne and Yorkston are both products of collectives: Osborne is part of the Nest Collective, a London-based network promoting musicians and events formed in response to the resurgence in folk music in the early part of the 21st century. Yorkston was a one-time member of the Fence Collective, the name given to musicians who were associated with Fence Records, an independent record label based in the coastal town of Anstruther and Cellardyke. A stellar roster of musicians were connected to Fence: KT Tunstall, Rozi Plain, The Pictish Trail and King Creosote who, in his more prosaic identity of Kenny Anderson, founded the label in 1997.

Fence Records no longer exists, but many of the acts can be found on other independent labels, primarily Lost Map and Domino. It is Domino Records that have released most of Yorkston’s albums and caused him to wear his “funky dude jumper”, last night. So named by his youngest child, it chimed with an early meeting Yorkston had with a Domino exec who wrote down a single word on her pad: “funky.” When he saw “Domino x 4” on last night’s guest list (they weren’t there), he felt there was only one garment to wear.

If that anecdote seems digressive, it is because it is typical of Yorkston’s rambling between-songs stories. There are tales of agoraphobia, recurring smoke alarms and a farcical episode, involving a painted-shut window and a pigeon in a Birmingham hotel room, that is worthy of inclusion in Lucky Jim. It almost seems as if there are as many stories as songs; but when he is singing, it is with all the poignancy and tenderness of the music I have been listening to for the past year on 2014’s The Cellardyke Recording and Wassailing Society album.

The beautiful Broken Wave (A Blues For Doogie), about the death of a friend and musician, is followed by Fellow Man, a song that Yorkston says began as advice to his son - “my fear is I may transfer my fears to you” - but ended up somewhere else - “I’m full of love for my fellow man.” Yorkston says that he would like to write songs about the terrible mess of the world but feels that others seem to do it so much better. As an example, he then performs a heartrending version of Eric Bogle’s anti-war ballad, The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.

Earlier in the evening, Elle Osborne had opened her set with an arrangement of another heart-breaking song, the traditional ballad, Annachie Gordon. Osborne was born to the folk tradition: her ancestors were fishing folk from Yorkshire and Suffolk who latterly congregated on Humberside and, when the fishing industry declined in the 1970s, came ashore and became folk singers. She taught herself to play the fiddle, growing up on Lincolnshire’s North Sea coast steeped in folk music. Everything sung by the people is folk music, she told us - football chants, hymns, carols – and, as if to underline the point, she sang a festive folk song, In The Bleak Midwinter, which the audience joined in with.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Iron in the Soul



When I wrote about Hastings Pier at the beginning of last year, there was a campaign in place to attract ordinary people to be investors in ‘the people’s pier'. That community share scheme was seeking to raise the remaining money needed for the refurbishment of the pier, which was largely destroyed by fire in 2010.

Having successfully secured all the funding, the Hastings Pier Charity has been overseeing reconstruction work throughout last year and this. While some work, such as reinstating the buildings on the pier, is relatively straightforward, the structural work is much more difficult. When construction is complete in time for the next summer season, 72,000 metres of new timber will have been used, 500 deck beams installed and 350 lattice girders will have been replaced.

The heart and soul of the job has been dealing with the condition of the 143-year-old cast iron columns that support the pier. Some of these have been eroded by marine growth and any that need replacing require pile driving work on the seabed, which can only be carried out at low tide.

Up on the pier itself, work will shortly start on the seating in the arena, the large performance space that will be a major focal point for the re-opened pier. Occupying such a prominent place in the musical history of Hastings – the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, the Sex Pistols and The Clash all performed on the original pier – it is hoped that the refurbished venue will host some prominent musicians next year: one high profile name that has already been mentioned is East Susssex's very own Nick Cave.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The World Outside My Window



Solitary walking opportunities being limited of late by the demands of work, family and a pair of dodgy knees, pulling back the curtains on the first frosty morning of the season, the world outside my window was too much to resist. The early sun was casting long shadows across the fields but was bathing the trees and the distant ridge in a golden glow.

The parish being too big to beat the bounds in a couple of hours, I headed out of Windmill Hill through the hollow by Rocks Farm Shop with the intention of a more modest circular walk. The incline up to Bodle Street Green felt long and laboured at first but the freezing air soon had a restorative effect and, by the time I reached St. John the Evangelist as the dwindling faithful were arriving for the early service, I was well in my stride. This early-Victorian church, fronted by an attractive split-flint gable end wall, was largely re-built after a fire in the 1920s.

After walking through Bodle Street Green, past the pub with the eponymous white horse painted on the roof, I turned left into Chilsham Lane at the Ebenezer Strict Baptist Chapel. If this sounds as though I am making it up, or that I live near Silas Marner, I am not. Such a building exists and, as usual for a Sunday morning, there were a lot of cars parked outside indicating that this faith is popular. These orthodox parishioners are known as Strict and Particular Baptists and are affiliated to the magazine, The Gospel Standard, which has been publishing hyper-Calvinist theology since 1835. Be careful out there.

Chilsham Lane was frozen with run-off from the fields but I managed to negotiate its entire length - past the farms, stables and high-hedged houses - until I came to Stunts Green. Here, I took a quick diversion to my allotment to break the ice on the pond for the wildlife, and the soil with a spade for some leeks. Too cold to do any other work on my plot, I headed down towards Herstmonceux. The pubs and restaurants were all shuttered and the village was quiet save for the sporadic trade at the two rival village shops; I bought a newspaper in one and some milk in the other. By this time, the sun had climbed higher and I felt that my walking worship had paid sufficient thanks for the beauty of the day - and it had been more glorious than any religious service. I arrived back home in time for a late breakfast and to read of the rectitude of dropping bombs on Syria.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Humour and Heartache



After five years of celebrated success since his debut solo album, Queen of Denmark, John Grant still seems to have a deep well of wounding experience to fuel his song writing. In Brighton last night - one of only two British dates this year to support new album, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure – he opened his set singing bitterly from the album’s title song: “they say let go let go let go, you must learn to let go, if I hear that fucking phrase again, this baby is gonna blow.” Whilst it was good to hear that the pain and anxiety of relationships is still present, that the humour endures was even more reassuring. And Grant’s ability to contextualise his misery – “there are children who have cancer, so all bets are off, ‘cause I can’t compete with that” – means that he is not guilty of the charge of self-pity.

Despite the abiding timbre of his material – the new album’s title is a mashed-up translation of Icelandic and Turkish proverbs meaning ‘mid-life crisis nightmare’ - Grant seems happy and relaxed on stage. He has a glint in his eye and tells the audience many times how pleased he is to be here. Dressed in a Piccadilly Records t-shirt and baggy jeans, he alternates between standing centre-stage and sitting at his piano next to fellow keyboard player, Chris Pemberton. And when he introduces his band, he is thrilled and honoured that he has an ex-Banshee on drums: “Yes, that is fucking Budgie!”

Having been released only a month ago, it is testament to the quality of the new album that the tracks played from it last night seemed so familiar. The simple, yet beautiful, Down Here has a glorious chord change into a chorus that laments, “what we got down here is oceans of longing, and guessing games and no guarantees”, and Snug Slacks, with its hilarious lyrical riff on Joan Baez, Joan As Policewoman and Angie Dickinson, sees Grant pursuing his love of mutant disco funk. The sumptuous Geraldine, the album’s closer, already sounds like one of Grant’s epic, sweeping ballads and the set’s final song is Disappointing, the recent Number 1 hit single in Grant’s adopted home country, Iceland. No More Tangles, another new classic, features as one of the five songs that make up the encore.

Not that the new material entirely dominates: 2013’s Pale Green Ghosts provides the expansive It Doesn’t Matter To Him, with its long and haunting synthesizer outro, Glacier and GMF. Grant’s voice is superb on these two remarkable songs and the title track of his debut album; and Queen of Denmark is made all the more dramatic for Pemberton’s blasts of discordant synthesizer that lead the band through the song’s histrionic crescendo. I last saw John Grant at Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion in the spring of 2014 and I thought that performance could not be bettered; but at the Dome last night, he surpassed my expectations with a staggering two hour set full of humour and heartache.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Keep the Tears at Bay



Walking along Pelham Place in Hastings, it would be easy to pass the entrance to St. Mary-in-the-Castle, the arts centre, exhibition space and music venue, without even noticing it. Even if it did catch your eye amongst the other shopfronts of seaside gift shops and cafes, it would not yield a clue to the architectural delights that lay behind it. Only if you crossed the road to the seafront promenade and looked back would you be able to take in the full splendour of this Grade II listed Neo-Classical church. Flanked on either side by the Regency buildings of Pelham Crescent, it nestles beneath the cliffs and the ruin of Hastings Castle above. Built in the 1820s, it ceased to be a place of worship in 1970 and there followed years of neglect and decline until crescent and church were both refurbished in the late 1990s.

Once inside, and when you have negotiated a series of mazy tunnels with the familiar sandstone walls (parts of the cliffs were excavated during construction), you emerge into a spacious auditorium with stalls seating and a box pew gallery under the domed church roof. It was in the gallery that I sat last night, soaking up the aesthetic splendour of the venue and the sorrowful sound of The Unthanks.

The Unthanks, a modern folk group that perform and record arrangements of traditional songs, folk arrangements of other artistes’ modern songs and their own compositions, originally formed as the all-female Rachael Unthank and the Winterset. It was with their second studio album, the Mercury Prize-nominated, The Bairns, that they first came to the attention of a wider music audience. Since then, they have shortened their name, changed their personnel and released a string of studio and live albums. Currently celebrating their tenth anniversary, last night they demonstrated the wide range of projects they have been involved in during that decade.

Their eclectic set covered much ground: arrangements of heart-rending traditional songs such as I Wish, from The Bairns, and Annachie Gordon, from their Here’s the Tender Coming album; sea shanties and Newcastle shipyard songs; their versions of Antony and the Johnsons’ Man is the Baby and Elvis Costello/Robert Wyatt’s Shipbuilding; First World War poetry set to music; the instrumental title track of most recent album, Mount the Air. The range was exhausting and, at times, the lamentable timbre was almost overwhelming. Annachie Gordon, typically, tells a story of forbidden love, forced marriage and death.

Hailing from Northumberland, The Unthanks are something of a family affair: fronted by vocalist sisters Rachael and Becky Unthank, their musical lynchpin is Rachael’s husband, Adrian McNally. At times, The Unthanks have been a ten-piece but last night they were slimmed down to five, with multi-instrumentalists Niopha Keegan and Christopher Price completing the line-up. The Unthank sisters are quick to stress that they are not musicians; but it is their voices – tender and haunting – that define the band’s forlorn and emotional sound. Indeed, they confess that so tragic are most of their songs, they struggle to keep the tears at bay themselves.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Every Picture Tells A Story




Looking at a feature in a national newspaper at the weekend, where mere mortals reflect on being caught in the periphery of a well-known or iconic photograph, I idly remarked that I had once been in a picture accompanying a gig review in the NME. Within moments it had been found on the internet and my kids were incredulously asking if the teenager in the photo was the same person as the middle-aged man sat before them. It was.

At the start of January 1978, Siouxsie and the Banshees played two consecutive nights at the Nashville Rooms, just around the corner from West Kensington tube in London, and I was there on the second night. The Nashville was an excellent venue: small, intimate and already revered as one of the few places that had hosted early punk gigs. I would later see The Ruts there – when there was a riot caused by fighting punks and skins – and one of the Psychedelic Furs’ earliest gigs.

Siouxsie and the Banshees did not have a record deal at the time but, like Adam and the Ants and The Slits, their music was familiar to us through the sessions they had recorded for John Peel. We had already seen the Banshees a couple of times: their gigs were always full but, provided you got there early and queued, you got in; there was no advance ticketing in the punk rock revolution.

I remember the night at the Nashville, well. The Banshees seemed to have developed from earlier gigs: the set still contained favourites Love In A Void and Make Up To Break Up, but the sound was starker, more angular, especially on newer songs such as Metal Postcard and Suburban Relapse. And they looked different: Siouxsie was Siouxsie, but the band was all dressed in black; there was not a hooped t-shirt to be seen. The word ‘Gothic’ was first used in connection with modern music to describe Joy Division, but I think Siouxsie and the Banshees can rightly be credited with inventing what we now think of as ‘Goth’.

In the photograph, I do not seem to have quite caught this new mood. There I am at the front, grinning at the camera. Smiling was not something I would do much of in the following years, as I firmly pinned my colours to the mast of gloomy post-punk. I had gone to the gig with my best mate, Ian. I was 15, he was 16. We had made the cross-town trek from south-east London and it is very likely that our mums and dads thought we were at each others’ houses - that old one. Ian is to the left of the man with spectacles in the picture. I can still recall that we were puzzled by his presence: in our youthful arrogance we thought, why would a middle-aged man be at a gig like this? That I still think of the music of the Banshees, Wire, PiL and Joy Division as the most remarkable I have ever heard probably answers that question.

It is an old saw that every picture tells a story, but what puzzles me about this one is the story it does not tell. When we look at the past, we are often guilty of compartmentalising events, constructing a linear narrative. But when we look at actual dates, we realise that our lives were not like that, that different episodes were actually concurrent. This photograph was taken on the 7th January 1978; a couple of days before that, I must have had my first day of six traumatic months at a new secondary school having been expelled from my old school before Christmas. There is not a hint of that trouble in my face: I must have been full of piss and vinegar - or something else.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Common Ground



Although it seems like it has been around for much longer, Apple Day – a celebration of British apples - has only been in existence for 25 years. The charity Common Ground held the first event on 21st October 1990 to raise awareness of the range of apples produced in the UK. Common Ground hoped to tempt people away from the anodyne uniformity of the supermarket Braeburn by drawing attention to some of the other apples grown in these islands: there are approximately 2,300 varieties to choose from and many of these are specific to local areas.

Local Distinctiveness is an idea that underpins the work of Common Ground. In aiming to explore and promote the relationship between nature and culture, the charity identified the importance of apples to local landscapes, communities and food. Since then, they have used the apple as a symbol of physical, cultural and genetic diversity in their work. Common Ground was founded in 1983 by environmentalists Sue Clifford, Angela King and Roger Deakin. Clifford and King still run the organisation but Deakin died in 2006. His legacy lives on, not only through Common Ground, but in a trilogy of books that contain the very best writing about our relationship with nature. If you have not read Waterlog, Wildwood or Notes From Walnut Tree Farm, I highly recommend any, or all, of them.

Apple Day has grown since its inception to the point that it is celebrated all over the country on various dates, mostly in the latter part of October; but sometimes it is earlier, sometimes it is not a day but a weekend and sometimes it is a festival. Most Apple Days involve buying, eating and drinking and usually have apple-related games: in many places you can stock up on lesser-known varieties, sample apple-based recipes, drink cider and compete at apple peeling or bobbing.

My nearest Apple Day takes place at the local allotments. The Herstmonceux Allotment Association’s (HAA) event has run every year since 2008 and tomorrow morning I and my fellow allotmenteers, friends and families will band together to pick apples on the fruit farm that houses the allotment site. Being paid the picking rate by the farmer for each giant crate filled with Cox's Orange Pippin, it is an opportunity for the HAA to raise some funds and a fantastic way of getting the community together on the common ground of the harvest. Most years, we have been blessed with glorious autumn sunshine and have had some idyllic Apple Days (above); but on two occasions the weather was unkind and we all got soaking wet. The forecast for tomorrow looks bright, so we are hoping for a good turnout as we need to raise enough money to buy a new mower for the paths. We will pick for two hours in the morning and then retire to the communal plot for soup, apple bread and cakes, and a game of pin the stalk on the apple. And we might drink a bit of cider…

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Kicking Out at the World



It seems to be the current and popular view that John Lydon, the one-time anti-Christ and Sex Pistol, has undergone a rehabilitation, that he is now a reformed and respectable character. His recent interview with Piers Morgan on primetime, mainstream television saw a cuddly, joking John willing to play the game: he was happy to field the obligatory sentimental questions and be led to the brink of tears over the loss of his mum and his friend, Sid Vicious. It ended with Morgan playfully accusing Lydon of being a nice bloke, these days.

The probable truth is that he was always an affable character - his abrasiveness simply a defence mechanism. He was a teenager when he joined the Sex Pistols in 1975 and, within a couple of years, he found himself to be a public enemy, an immoral influence on the nation’s young. The words of a Libertines' song - “the boy kicked out at the world/the world kicked back a lot fucking harder” - come to mind. It is little wonder that he quickly developed a hard, spiky shell and a reluctance to engage with the media or any authority.

The irony of being condemned by those moral guardians of the 1970s, Parliament and the BBC, is surely not lost on Lydon. Recent revelations about the sexual practices of senior politicians and television personalities tell us that it was the likes of Johnny Rotten who were the ones with a strong moral compass. His railing against power and institutions, informed by his working-class Catholic upbringing, and his oft-expressed distaste for hypocrites and liars, make a lot more sense now.

Lydon is, of course, a survivor and his second band, the sublime Public Image Limited, arguably invented post-punk: the first three LPs the band made are still quite extraordinary to listen to for their experimentation and originality. With different line-ups into the 1980s and 90s, they settled for a more accomplished rock sound that brought success but less musical plaudits. The band then underwent a twenty-year hiatus – which Lydon filled with an autobiography, Sex Pistols’ reunions, reality television and butter advertisements - before re-emerging in 2012 with earlier members Bruce Smith and Lu Edmonds and new addition, jazz bassist, Scott Firth. Their LP, This Is PiL, was enthusiastically received for its post-punk, prog and reggae leanings.

Since then, the band have been gigging regularly and Lydon has written a second autobiography, Anger Is An Energy. Last year, I saw him promoting that book at the De La Warr Pavilion and, much as I enjoyed the evening, it seemed wrong to be in such a great venue listening to his life story rather than his music. Last night, he returned to Bexhill with PiL to put that right and commented that the book we purchased a year ago has probably make a good doorstop in the interim. I am sure it was a joke, like his comment that he had lived down the road in “far-superior” Pevensey Bay for a while as a kid.

Where Lydon seems happiest is on stage making music. It is easy to forget how remarkable his voice is, ranging from his familiar North London nasal whine to the deep bellow of a demented preacher and often both within one line of a song. The first two tracks on new album What The World Needs Now, Double Trouble and Know Now, were the set openers last night and they perfectly displayed his peculiar talent for hysterical, accusatory ranting. If the opening was frantic, it soon settled to a more thoughtful pace with a terrific version of one of their best songs, Poptones –“I can’t forget the impression you made/you left a hole in the back of my head” - from the ground-breaking Metal Box album, underpinned brilliantly by Scott Firth’s looping and spiralling bass. Lu Edmonds guitar work was inspired throughout and its piercing discordance illuminated the centrepiece of the set, an epic version of 1979’s Death Disco. There were also mid-period PiL treats with versions of Disappointed, The Body and This Is Not A Love Song.

A friend who had seen PiL a couple of years ago said that it was one of the loudest gigs he had been to and, as the evening wore on last night, the volume seemed to be increasing. By the time the set concluded with Religion, a savage attack on the world's faiths, I could feel Firth’s electric stand-up bass in my sternum and, as the song climaxed with Lydon chanting “turn up the bass!”, I could sense my scalp starting to tingle. The band’s two most iconic songs were saved for the encore: they returned to the stage with the rumble of first single, Public Image, and finished with the closest they get to a terrace anthem – “anger is an energy!” – the 1986 hit, Rise. The band seemed to have genuinely enjoyed the evening and lingered on stage as Lydon introduced them – pushing drummer Bruce Smith upstage - to the crowd’s appreciation.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

This Must Be The Place



I could persuade none of the kids to go to the allotment with me to dig up some leeks and the last row of potatoes. It was a damp late afternoon and a chill air was also making its presence felt: they were staying firmly put. Arriving back as the day was fading, the sight of the lit interior from outside told me why I had been out alone. I didn’t blame my kids for wanting to stay in – they were curled up on the sofa in the warm embrace of home. Now that autumn is here, I too am disinclined to stray any distance from home. Mind you, I have always been something of a homebody; I have done a bit of travelling but I lack a certain wanderlust.

When it comes to travel, I am a product of my parents: a mum, for whom moving from a small Lancashire mill town to London was such an adventure that she barely travelled anywhere ever again – she never went abroad in her whole life - and a dad who travelled extensively during the Second War but, on returning home in 1945, said he’d seen more than enough of the world to last him a lifetime, thank you very much; he never left these shores again.

It was probably the warm glow of the lampshade through the window that got me thinking of the pull of home. In the version of This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody) from Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense film, Talking Heads’ David Byrne sings, “Home is where I want to be/pick me up and turn me round”, all the while swaying onstage with a symbolic standard lamp. Sometimes we need to be away from home to appreciate that is where we belong. The desire to go home can also be overwhelming: at the heart of William Golding's Lord of the Flies Ralph, the leader of the marooned boys embattled by heat, imagined beasts and the others’ betrayal, gazes out to sea in a momentary memory of winter at home: “behind the cottage there was a sort of shed and you could lie up there, watching the flakes swirl past…you could go indoors when you were cold and look out of the window, past that bright copper kettle…”

We also know that sometimes it is better never to leave in the first place. In Dickens's Great Expectations, Joe Gargery visits London and instantly knows where he belongs. He tells Pip, “I’m wrong out of the forge, the kitchen, or off th’ meshes…should you ever wish to see me, you come and put your head in at the forge window and see Joe the blacksmith there.” More recently, and perhaps more prosaically, The Clash expressed a similar sentiment: on the cusp of stardom, they sang forlornly on Garageland of “people ringing up making offers for my life/But I just wanna stay in the garage all night.”

Home, though, is not always the one we have built for ourselves and our families. It can be a place or time where we felt most at home. I sometimes think life would be a lot simpler if I could return to the 1970s council house I grew up in and skulk about in the back bedroom listening to David Bowie LPs. In the wonderful Jack Rosenthal-penned 1984 film, The Chain, Leo McKern’s character does manage such a homecoming. The plot follows seven households, each defined by a deadly sin, moving up the property ladder. It begins with a young man moving out of his mum’s Hackney terrace to a rented flat with his girlfriend, and ends with a greedy couple, Nigel Hawthorne and Judy Parfitt, achieving their dream of owning a luxury Knightsbridge home. This home at the top of the chain is being vacated by the rich but terminally-ill McKern who, in a deft cyclical touch, is going to lodge in the Hackney bedroom vacated at the start of the ladder. It is, of course, the house that McKern’s character grew up in as a child, and he is coming home.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Golf Between Us



Taking a long, languid walk along the coast between Pevensey Bay and Bexhill in the dog days of the summer holidays, my tranquil enjoyment of the calm sea, the warming sun and the pale blue sky was disturbed. Not by the rattle of the occasional train on the East Coastway Line, nor by families on the beach determined to wring out the last drops of summer fun from a mainly soggy August. What disturbed me was the sound of violence: shouts and blows.

Just past Normans Bay, the countryside above the coastline turns from coarse flat farmland to manicured and modest undulations. And it was from there that the sound – and accompanying sights – were coming. A man, dressed in bright checked clothing, was swearing loudly and beating the undergrowth at the edge of the verdant fairway. That was when I remembered: at this point on the coastal path, a narrow road is all that separates walkers from Cooden Beach golf course. It was Mark Twain who described golf as “a good walk spoiled” and, in my case, it was.

Golf is very popular in the affluent counties of southern England. There are some 30 golf clubs in East Sussex and, with the typical course occupying 120 acres, this means that it dominates huge swathes of countryside and hundreds of thousands of gallons of water are guzzled up by the greens and fairways, each day. As a sport, it is not exactly jumpers for goalposts. The resources required to play 18 holes have a massive environmental impact.

The world of golf is now responding to the need to be greener with smarter design so that courses occupy less land and require less water. But it is not the environmental aspect that makes me object to golf. Its popular image as a sport for businessmen – deals done on the course, especially the 19th hole – middle-managers and off-duty policeman is anathema to any liberal-minded soul. It is the sport of the social-climber, the arriviste, the nouveau riche, the petit bourgeois. In the 1980s television series The Wind in the Willows, based on Kenneth Grahame’s Edwardian children’s novel, the ludicrous Mr Toad takes up one fad after another; one of his crazes being, of course, golf. But it is in J.B. Priestley’s 1945 stage play, An Inspector Calls, that literature gives us definitive guidance on golf. When the pompous capitalist, Birling, tries to intimidate the avenging socialist, Inspector Goole, by telling him that he plays golf with his boss the Chief Constable, Goole replies drily and simply, “I don’t play golf”.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Sweet and Lovely



Having always preferred live music with beer-sodden carpet rather than rain-soaked earth beneath my feet, I have not been much of a festival-goer. A solitary trip to Glastonbury, when it was first sponsored by CND, and a more recent outing to a tiny festival with the whole family being my only previous experiences, a sudden desire to attend this year’s Green Man festival took me by surprise. Surprise is not quite the right word to describe my family’s reaction: with an undertone of horror, they made it clear I was on my own; but having managed to recruit two friends to go along with me – one a festival veteran, the other a festival virgin – last Thursday we set off on the journey from Sussex to South Wales.

The Green Man festival has been running since 2005 at the Glanusk Estate, a privately-owned country park, set amongst the verdant hills and spectacular mountains of the Brecon Beacons. The reason I had wanted to go was not just the splendid setting but the expressed passion for the event by regular attenders and the line-up which, in recent years, has seemed to consist entirely of all the musicians I had been listening to at the time. 2015 was no exception with a whole host of artistes pretty much reflecting my record-buying over the past 12 months.

The festival proper runs from Friday to Sunday but most people start camping on Thursday so there is a small line-up on that evening. By the time I had remembered how to put up my tent, we only managed to see the final act; but it was a great start as we were able to ‘have it large’ to Leftfield, who finished their set in the Far Out tent with Phat Planet, which seemed appropriate as it was already shaping up to be a Guinness-fuelled weekend. We spent a lot of time in Far Out in the next three days – its dark interior had a certain appeal and it was a good shelter from intermittent soakings from the Spanish Plume – and saw some terrific turns from the perky Teleman, the youthful and enthusiastic Hooton Tennis Club and the cosmic and eternal Sun Ra Arkestra, whose leader Marshall Allen is 91 years of age. Watching Sun Ra it seemed amazing, not just that their sound works, but that they all managed to arrive in rural Wales (Saturn is a long way, after all). Far Out was also the setting for an amazing performance from Canadian post-punks, Viet Cong, on Friday: I was familiar with their album but completely unprepared for the intensity of their extended version of its closing track, Death, driven on by Mike Wallace’s ferocious drumming.

Seeking respite, we fled to the Green Man Pub next to the Walled Garden stage. The Walled Garden was a more relaxed and intimate area and we had already heard the tender modern folk of Rozi Plain, earlier that day, and would see her there again the next day, this time playing bass for Kate Stables’ wonderful, This Is The Kit. Saturday in Walled Garden also saw a stellar set of psych folk from Jane Weaver but we had to miss out on one of my favourite bands on the same stage later that night. A small irritation at music festivals is that, occasionally, acts you want to see clash with each other. On the Saturday night at Green Man, I was presented with a three-way clash: The Wave Pictures in Walled Garden, The Fall at Far Out and Television on the main Mountain Stage. The fact that they were playing their debut album, Marquee Moon, in full made opting for Television an obvious but, nonetheless, hard choice.

The main stage is probably in the most idyllic setting of any music festival and Television held the audience there rapt with a no-frills, faithful rendition of the songs from the album. The only concession to live performance was a shuffling of the running order to enable the set to finish with a dazzling reading of the album’s title track. I bought my copy of Marquee Moon 38 years ago but, shamefully, only really started listening to it in the last 15 years. My year-zero punk sensibility had previously dismissed it as being too proggy; now, I think it is one of the greatest albums ever made.

The Mountain Stage was an enjoyable place to be and we spent a lot of time there on Sunday: firstly, when Matthew E. White played a superb version of the Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat that brought out both the afternoon sun and my dancing feet, and secondly when the festival was closed with the impressive stagecraft of two big-name performers: the charisma and humour of Father John Misty and the surprisingly polished pizazz of St. Vincent. But what made Green Man 2015 so good were the performances of two lesser-known acts that I had been aware of but had not really listened to.

On Friday afternoon, Sweet Baboo – otherwise known as Welsh singer Stephen Black and his band - charmed us with his infectious and winsome melodies. If I Died…, Let’s Go Swimming Wild, Walking In The Rain and You Got Me Timekeeping, described by Black as their seven minute prog epic, were immediately memorable. Black appeared onstage again in the Walled Garden at tea-time on Sunday with The Pictish Trail, Isle of Eigg singer Johnny Lynch, for a relaxed and funny sharing and trading of songs (pictured).

The Festival Virgin insisted on only one thing during the four days: that we see The Lovely Eggs in the Cinedrome tent on Saturday afternoon. This meant missing the spectacle of Mark E. Smith being interviewed live onstage by Mojo magazine in the Talking Shop tent but I had heard a couple of Lovely Eggs songs and was prepared to make the sacrifice; and it turned out to be a sacrifice well worth making. The pop-punk couple from Lancaster – Holly Ross on guitar and vocals and partner David Blackwell on drums – were incredible. Full of energy and wit, they created instant crowd-anthems with People Are Twats, Fuck It and I Just Want Someone To Fall In Love With (“thousands of people feel like me!”). They electrified the audience and when they finished with the hilarious Don’t Look At Me, I thought they should have been carried from the stage shoulder-high and paraded around the festival site like victors.

There were non-musical delights on offer, too: we never quite made it into the comedy or discussion tents, and we had no need for the many children’s activities, but we did eat some great food. The Festival Veteran cooked us a tent-side breakfast each morning, which was shared with our neighbours, and the rest of our culinary needs were mostly met by one of the many independent caterers – there are no multiple retailers or corporate sponsors at Green Man – The Goan Seafood Company; their fish curry and mackerel masala dhal were particular highlights. Everyone we chatted to - and we had lots of casual conversations with people of all ages about music, beer, festivals and, of course, the weather - seemed to have eaten there. Green Man really was a joy: the food, the site, the music, the people – they were all perfect. Kids, you might be coming with me next year…

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Back to the Future



On holiday in Cornwall last week, my aged vehicle broke down. Happening near the end of our holiday, it was not going to be repaired in time so I spent a couple of days trying to make arrangements to get the car, two adults, three kids, two dogs and a pile of luggage back to East Sussex. Mostly, I was at the top of our holiday home desperately clinging onto a sketchy phone signal whilst I tried to coordinate a major breakdown service, a recovery firm and a local mechanic. It was not easy. It was a stressful time. At one point in the middle of all this my mobile rang and, desperate for good news but fearing it would be more bad, I barked “Yes!?” into the phone.

“Oh, hello. I’m phoning from the Jeremy Corbyn campaign team. I was wondering if we could rely on your vote in the leadership ballot?” said a polite young man.

“Yes you can!” I bellowed. “YES, YOU BLOODY WELL CAN!”

Taken aback by the blend of aggression and affirmation, I suspect he thought I was joking. I wasn’t. He had caught me at a bad time, but I was deadly serious.

Having re-joined the Labour Party at the end of April, the election defeat in May meant that I was quickly forced to consider who I would want the next leader of the party to be. I struggled to think of anyone other than Andy Burnham as a potential leader: working class roots, experience of government, still grounded; and as the candidates began to declare – some unfamiliar having risen without trace, others hamstrung by overleaping ambition – my mind did not change. That is until Burnham launched his own candidacy at a business consultancy specialising in tax avoidance, wearing a navy blue business suit and looking and sounding like all the other fortysomething showroom dummies – Cameron, Clegg, Miliband, Osborne – who have lectured us in recent years about the austerity medicine we all need to swallow: my heart sank.

However, due to the largesse of MPs who supported a widening of the debate, things started to look up: Corbyn got on the ballot at the last minute. Those MPs now probably regret their benevolence with him so far ahead in the polls, but this episode perfectly highlights the massive disconnect between the parliamentary party and its members. Of course, spin doctors, Labour grandees and faux-radical superannuated newspaper columnists are queuing up to tell us that a Corbyn-led Labour Party would be unelectable; and based on the profile of the recent voting electorate, they are right.

Elections have increasingly been dominated by older voters: the older the age group, the higher the turnout. At the last election, generations that had benefited from decent and available social housing, free further education, cheap home ownership and proper pensions elected the Tories. Manipulated into believing that the country can no longer afford these fundamentals of an equitable society, they pulled up the ladder. The reason Corbyn can win in 2020 is because he will be backed by a different electorate, one that supports those fundamentals for all. What he has done within the Labour Party – energising and attracting young people into politics – will be replicated across the country as those starting out in adult life will oppose their exclusion from education, housing and fair wages

It is not just the young who will win it for Labour. The sages warn that we have to tempt back Tory voters to win an election; this cannot be done with a left-wing manifesto, they say. But most voters do not think in terms of left or right-wing; they think in terms of policies. What Labour needs to go back to is its traditional beliefs. For a long time it has been drifting away from these (for me the New Labour nadir was not the Iraq war but super casinos; remember that idea?) and the number of people voting Labour fell at each election of the Blair premiership despite him winning three times. It is the voters who have deserted the party - not just to the Tories but to the SNP, UKIP and abstention - who will respond to Corbyn’s core Labour ideas for a future of investment not austerity; ideas which will build social housing, create manufacturing jobs, abolish tuition fees and run public services for people not profit. And I am sure that under a Jeremy Corbyn government, my car would not still be in Cornwall.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Trug Life



As August arrives, and harvesting begins in earnest on the allotment and in the veg garden, the most important tool in my shed comes into its own. The Sussex Trug, a lightweight and elegant basket made from willow and sweet chestnut, has the shape and capacity to spread the weight of the most bountiful crops. Coming from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘trog’, meaning wooden vessel, this highly effective design has been synonymous with Sussex for two hundred years.

It was in 1829 that Thomas Smith, widely thought to be the original designer, started making trugs in Herstmonceux. When he took his product to the Great Exhibition of 1851 it caught the eye of Queen Victoria; this royal endorsement brought it to the attention of the wider public, demand soared and the Sussex Trug was born.

Herstmonceux continued to be its home throughout the 19th and 20th centuries: Hormes House, a Grade II listed cottage where Smith began, still bears the royal crest and there is a small development of modern social housing in the centre of the village, called Old Trug Shop House, built on the site of a later workshop. It was here that I can remember seeing an elderly trug maker working outside as late as the 1990s.

Today, there are two trug makers in Herstmonceux: young upstart The Truggery, at Coopers Croft, has only been producing the distinctive baskets since 1899 and the successor to the original, Thomas Smith’s Trug Shop , is now at Magham Down. Young apprentices can be seen working at the roadside here, in warmer weather, producing trugs in the original way. The handle and frame of the trug is made first by shaving, steaming and bending sweet chestnut poles. Willow boards, made pliable from being soaked in rainwater, are then nailed to the frame to form the body of the basket; the feet are also made of willow.

My trug has endured 10 years of heavy and continuous work and is still going strong: it probably has another 10 year’s life in it yet. There are cheap plywood imitations available, but they lack durability and are not made in Herstmonceux, or even Sussex. If you want a garden trug for your veg harvest, it has to be a Sussex Trug.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Blasted Heath



Ashdown Forest is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, covering roughly ten square miles, on the higher ground right at the top of East Sussex. Stretching from Hartfield in the north to Maresfield in the south, from Wych Cross in the west to Crowborough in the east, it was originally an enclosed forest that was the preserve of the hunting nobility in the centuries after the Norman Conquest. Commoners were allowed to use the forest to collect vegetation for firewood and animal bedding, and to graze their livestock. Access was not open but was strictly limited via a series of gates, or hatches, that are still seen in existing place names, such as Coleman’s Hatch and Chelwood Gate.

There were constant tensions over Ashdown Forest, as landowners’ attempts to deny access were strongly resisted. This came to a head in the 17th century when the forest was divided, with just under half granted to commoners and the rest falling into private hands. To further protect the land for the people, Parliament introduced legislation in the 19th century and, at the end of the last century, East Sussex County Council obtained the freehold of the remaining common land and established the Ashdown Forest Trust to protect, in perpetuity, one of the largest open public spaces in the south east of England.

The ‘forest’ part of the area’s name is something of a misnomer, however: the areas of woodland are limited and, in the main, Ashdown Forest is not just open in terms of access. Writing in Rural Rides in 1830, the brilliantly acerbic reformer William Cobbett observed, “the forests of Sussex: those miserable tracts of heath and fern and bushes and sand, called Ashdown Forest”. Clearly not a fan, Cobbett is probably not alone in his initial reaction. There can be something of the blasted heath about the place, particularly on a day like yesterday when I was there: a fierce wind and a drop in temperature had turned July into September; but the views across the countryside were spectacular, the sense of space inspiring and kids and dogs ran free and untamed.

Ashdown Forest is probably best known today as the thinly disguised setting of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. The forest’s Five Hundred Acre Wood became the Hundred Acre Wood in Milne’s series of books and many of the landmarks in the stories – the Enchanted Place, Roo’s Sandpit, the bridge where Pooh and Christopher Robin played Poohsticks – can be easily located. Something of a Pooh tourist industry has grown up in Hartfield, the nearest village to Cotchford Farm, Milne’s home when he wrote the tales in the 1920s. Forty years later, the same house would be the scene of the death, from booze and drugs, of ex-Rolling Stone Brian Jones just one month after being booted out of the band for hedonistic excess. There is no Jones memorabilia in the local Pooh-themed gift shops.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Three-Song Wonders



When I saw the charming and disarming Wave Pictures in Bexhill last summer, they had finished recording their most recent album, at Billy Childish’s studio in Kent, only a few days earlier. Just one of the songs that lead vocalist and guitarist David Tattersall co-wrote with Childish for the album was played that night but, a year on, and with the album released earlier this year to critical acclaim, a trio of those tracks formed the centrepiece of their set at the Underground Theatre in Eastbourne last night.

Working with Childish has given the band’s songs a garage rock edge and, having played the provocative and raucous Pea Green Coat – “Everybody in the station wore black/And then there was you in your pea green coat” – requests from the crowd for The Fire Alarm are rebuffed with typically self-deprecating humour. “We can’t play those two back-to-back,” Tattersall explains, “because then you’ll realise they are the same tune - essentially, we only have about three songs.” None of which is true, but they launch into the album’s title track, instead, before completing the run of songs from Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon with The Fire Alarm, safely distanced from its ‘doppelganger’.

As well as the flamingo, other avian life is present: from 2012’s delicious Long Black Cars album, both Stay Here And Take Care Of The Chickens and Seagulls are performed; and The Wave Pictures’ recurring motif of the sea features on Blue Harbour, from Beer In The Breakers, with the wonderful lyric, “let my eyes slip away/ toward the coast around the pier/ all the things that brought me here”. Bassist Franic Rozycki’s phrasing in the song’s run-out is also a delight.

Drummer Johnny Helm demonstrates the power of his voice when takes the vocals on Atlanta, from 2013’s City Forgiveness, and again later in the set when they play an old song, Sleepy Eye, from 2005’s Hawaiian Open Mic Night album. We are offered the democratic choice of Helm singing that or Now You Are Pregnant, another old song, but the crowd opt for the former. Then there is more audience participation as we are given the tricky task of singing the chorus to Come On Daniel (“come on Daniel!”), and Daniel-time is completed with the obligatory Daniel Johnston cover, this time, I Killed The Monster.

Jointly promoted by excellent local record stores, Bexhill’s Music’s Not Dead and Eastbourne’s Pebble Records, this superlative gig is brought to a close with two numbers from City Forgiveness: the final song of the set is Lisbon, with lyrics - “It was one of those days/ the dead were digging upwards through the earth” - that perfectly demonstrate Tattersall’s gift for marrying the prosaic and the absurd; and the encore is The Woods, a frantic Velvets-style workout that crackles with intimate electricity. There is only a month to go until the Green Man Festival where I will see The Wave Pictures again. But I can barely wait.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

In the Cherry Orchard



Walking through the local fruit farm recently, I was diverted away from one of my usual routes through the cherry orchard because the groves of trees had been netted-off to keep the birds away from the ripened fruit. Inside the green mesh, I could make out just enough of the spectral forms of the fruit pickers to bid them, “dzien dobry!” It struck me that a place that I enjoy walking through in the spring as the delicate pale pink cherry blossom blooms, and eating the fruits of in the summer, represents something entirely different for these hard-working migrants.

Depending on your point of view, cherry trees are seen as symbols of either a regretful change or a positive awakening and rebirth. In Chekov’s play The Cherry Orchard, the titular trees perhaps represent both: to the orchard’s owner, Madame Ranevsky, they represent memories of her idyllic childhood before she had the responsibility of managing a large estate; the radical student, Trofimov, sees in the trees the harsh and brutal lives of the workers who pick the fruit; for the rich merchant Lopakhin, the massive orchard stands for the unwieldy wealth and stagnation of the aristocracy. And it is the low-born Lopakhin who buys the estate and has the orchard cut down at the end of the play, symbolising a break with the cruelty of his peasant upbringing and the ushering in of the Bolshevik era.

Back on the fruit farm, the cherry orchard offers much-needed work for those at the lower end of the economic scale; but the trees also represent a tiring and repetitive working environment, long hours, basic and crowded living conditions and low wages. Much as I love it, it’s time to fell the orchard.

Friday, June 26, 2015

By The Sea



When Suede played the opening bars to the gorgeous By The Sea at Bexill-on-Sea's De La Warr Pavilion last night, Brett Anderson allowed himself a wry grin and told us, "we had to play this tonight". And perhaps not just because of the coastal setting, but because it is one of the best of those sumptuous Suede ballads that manage to be both uplifting and melancholy at the same time. With a repertoire of such quality, it must be a difficult task for the band to decide what to leave out of their set.

Anderson asks us for our indulgence in the first part as they run through some less obvious song choices but all with that trademark loose and dirty guitar sound, as if Mick Ronson had been in a punk band. That sound was first heard on their clutch of early records, and it is from the B sides of those singles and their most recent album, 2013's Bloodsports, that the opening numbers are drawn.

If not all of the crowd are familiar with Suede's earliest and latest material, this has no effect on the thrilling atmosphere. Anderson prowls the stage between the glam racket of Richard Oakes and Neil Codling's guitars and the rumble of silhouetted pair Mat Osman and Simon Gilbert's rhythm, whipping the air with the microphone lead and clearly having fun. The gear-change for the audience comes with Filmstar, from 1996's Coming Up, which is greeted with wild hysteria. Suede's third album was made after Bernard Butler had left the band; producing five top ten singles, and with all the other tracks sounding like hits, it was the band's biggest album. They could have played it in its entirety and garnered a similar reaction to every song. As it is, we have to settle for three more.

We also get those early singles - So Young, Metal Mickey and Animal Nitrate - which reminds me of the salvation the band brought. The early 1990s was a fairly arid time for new alternative music: the interregnum between the end of Madchester and the birth of Britpop was filled with the imported self-loathing of grunge, or even poorer domestic facsimiles. That music lacked grace, style and humour, and seemed to be only a hairsbreadth away from the male posturing of heavy metal. Then, enter Suede. Fronted by an androgynous council house back bedroom dreamer, and with a swift-wristed rock 'n' roll guitarist at his side, they dispelled the drabness of the Seattle sound with an injection of energy and urban poetry - "through the slippery city we ride/skyline swine on the circuit" - that paved the way for a British resurgence.

Having played a lengthy set, Suede return to the stage for an encore composed of a triptych of songs from arguably their greatest album, Dog Man Star: the beautifully tender, The 2 of Us - "Watching my mistakes/I listened to the band" - is followed by the sexual hollowness of The Asphalt World; and then, finally, the symphonic crescendo of Still Life sends us away, "into the night".


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Pristine Plots, Practical Plots



This weekend for the second year running, the rural allotment site where I and many of my friends and neighbours grow vegetables will be part of the National Gardens Scheme (NGS). Coming in between the tranquillity of Cowbeech House and the artistic landscaping of Two Acres, visitors will be able to stroll around the 54-plot Herstmonceux Parish Allotments, in the idyllic setting of Greenways Fruit Farm, as part of a trail of gardens open to the public.

The NGS has been in operation since 1927. In that year, 609 individuals opened up their gardens at the cost of a shilling a head and the £8,000 raised was used to support the national network of District Nurses. That voluntary network had been started 70 years earlier by Liverpool merchant, William Rathbone, to train and employ nurses to work in deprived areas.

In the 1930s, the scheme grew and Country Life magazine began to publish a bright yellow guide to the thousand open gardens each year. That colour is inextricably linked with the NGS today, and The Yellow Book is still the handbook of the annual calendar of open days. With the birth of the National Health Service in 1948, the District Nursing Service became part of fully-funded state provision but the NGS continued to raise money for other nursing and care charities.

Today, the NGS raises £2.5m a year for the Carers Trust and cancer charities Macmillan and Marie Curie, amongst others, and there are nearly 4,000 gardens participating in the scheme each year. For a small donation at our ‘garden’ on Saturday or Sunday, people will be able to see the pristine plots of those with plenty of time to care, the practical plots of those who just want to get food out of the ground and the creativity of those allotments that have ponds and pergolas.

Details of the Herstmonceux Parish Trail can be found here.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Vinyl Reckoning



Demand for new music on vinyl is on the increase: it has been steadily rising over recent years and sales are now back to their 1997 level, helped in part by April’s annual Record Store Day, when special vinyl releases by bands are much sought after. There may have been over a million vinyl sales last year but it still only accounts for 2% of the music market. Whoever the buyers are, it is still a niche area: I am sure there are some diehards who have never stopped buying vinyl and others who have returned to it; and there are undoubtedly younger music fans, raised on digital and not having known music in a physical form, who are responding to the retro appeal of records and turntables.

Even though I still listen to vinyl, I am not part of this new revolution. The sad pedant in me likes to keep my music collection compartmentalised: I have a strict line in the sand for when vinyl ended. I resisted the CD revolution of the mid-1980s and persisted with records until the early 90s when they became an increasingly marginalised format. The difficulty of finding new releases on vinyl made me finally relent. The last two vinyl albums in my chronologically arranged collection are The End of the Surrey People by Vic Godard and Sabresonic by the Sabres of Paradise. This dates my vinyl surrender to 1993 - when I made the switch to cassettes. This was just bloody-mindedness on my part and clearly did not last long as the first CD I bought was Dummy by Portishead, released in 1994. And it didn’t help that I had most of the cassettes stolen when my car got nicked. So, I have a strict format divide when buying music: anything released in 1993, or earlier, I have to buy on vinyl; anything released in 1994, or later has to be on CD.

Having been very briefly tempted by the digital age, I have chosen to shun iTunes and Spotify and I buy all my new music on CD from the wonderful Music's Not Dead shop in Bexhill; but I have never stopped trawling through the racks of charity shops and - increasingly rarely - second-hand record establishments to fill in those pre-94 gaps. Whether through sentimentality or regret, I have spent a reasonable amount of time over the last fifteen years hunting down a mental list of vinyl albums that I never bought at the time or, more usually, that I had but they fell from my clutches - either stolen, lost or sold.

When I was a young person, albums were a fluid currency, a commodity to be pawned: if you needed a few quid quickly, second-hand record shops, where you could sell a couple of albums, were legion. There were many gigs that I attended in the 70s and 80s that were funded by the proceeds of hastily sold albums. More often than not, I would pick up another second-hand copy a few weeks later; but some slipped through the net and over recent years I rectified this when I stumbled across copies of albums such as Raw Power, The Image Has Cracked and Soul Mining. The list is a lot shorter now but it still contains the first Roxy Music album, the New York Doll's Too Much Too Soon, Two Sevens Clash by Culture (how many levels of idiocy was I operating on the day I sold that one?) and The Pogues' Rum, Sodomy and the Lash. I am sure I could buy these over the internet at a click but that's not the point. It would deprive me of going to places like The Vinyl Frontier in Eastbourne.

Recently relocated from the Old Town area to the Little Chelsea quarter of Eastbourne, The Vinyl Frontier specialises in new, used and rare vinyl. In spacious and light-filled premises with a cafe area at the back, the shop boasts a large stock of used vinyl for the dedicated browswer. With rare time to spare before collecting the kids from sporting activities, I spent a glorious half an hour on Saturday morning rack-flicking. There was nothing from my mental list but I was tempted by Elvis Costello's My Aim is True, an LP I never bought at the time on the grounds that he wasn't "punk enough". That was until I saw a copy of Eden, Everything But The Girl's sumptuous debut album. I recalled playing that LP to death in a grotty South London flat throughout 1984 but didn't seem to possess it anymore. Then I remembered: I lost custody of all the Everything But The Girl albums at the closing of a former life, along with many others. Now, there's a whole new excuse to search for old vinyl...

The Vinyl Frontier is at 35, Grove Road, Eastbourne, East Sussex BN21 4TT.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Soul Music



I bought my tickets to see Sleaford Mods months before their gig in Brighton on Friday night: I was so excited and intrigued to see the Nottingham band whose most recent two albums I had been endlessly playing since I started to hear about them last year. Words seem to experience a rare inadequacy when it comes to describing their music but I’ll give it a go: sparse, frantic punk/hip-hop beats overlaid with splenetic, socially observant, potty-mouthed lyrics delivered in a rapid-fire East Midlands accent. Vocalist Jason Williamson has produced half a dozen albums since he became disillusioned with guitar music in 2007, the last three – Wank, Austerity Dogs and Divide and Exit - with sampler/musician Andrew Fearn. And at Concorde 2, their stripped-down sound is reflected in their stage set-up: laptop on a flight case; mike and stand.

When they take the stage and launch into their set, the atmosphere is electric and the pace relentless. For each song, Fearn presses ‘go’ on the laptop and then stands back swaying to the rhythm, swigging a beer and grinning as Williamson sprays machine-gun lyrics at the audience. And what lyrics: to say that Jason Williamson thinks modern life is rubbish, and that everyone and everything is a target, is an understatement; he writes from his own experiences, disappointments and frustrations. This on middle management: “middle men/the metropolis of discontent and broken dreams/red and orange lights and old men”; and on the acceptance of dead-end work, “I got a job/I rot away in the aisles of the Co-op, mate, no prob”. But it is not just the more prosaic aspects of life that Williamson rages against. There is more pointedly political social commentary: “Cameron’s hairdresser got an MBE/ I said to my wife you better shoot me/It’s all gone wrong”. If the self-importance of jumped-up jobsworths make daily life a trial, the managers at the top are just as self-serving.

Most of the set is taken from the last two albums but there are a few tracks from new album, Key Markets. After one, Bronx In A Six, that ends in a stream of profanities, Williamson observes, “a bit intense that, not much of a party tune, not like this one”, before launching into Tiswas. And it strikes me at that point, coming in the middle of a run of stand-out tracks – A Little Ditty, McFlurry, Fizzy, Tied Up In Nottz – how uplifting these songs can be. The audience is certainly lifted: there is a lot of singing along and a frantic moshpit down the front. At one point, Williamson berates someone in the audience for swearing; “just because we swear don’t mean you have to; this is our job”. When Williamson jokingly mistakes which city they are in, it’s a sign of how hard they work at this job: they have been gigging non-stop for pretty much a year now. When the final number, Tweet Tweet Tweet, opens with, “I get a shaky start to Tuesday/sweat stains on bus windows/I don't want to ruin my coat/But that’s just the way it goes”, it is a reminder of the banality of the nine to five daily grind.

Sleaford Mods’ music is innate, visceral, it comes from the gut, the heart, the soul and it is tremendous. And occasionally, you get a glimpse of Williamson’s belting, soulful voice from his days in more traditional bands. But this is now; it’s like Picasso doing all those orthodox figurative drawings and then saying, “hold on; this is how I see people and the world” (I am conscious that I have just referenced Picasso and I am in danger of disappearing down the rabbit hole or up my own…). Nothing can prepare you for how good these blokes are: I had read recommendations, listened to the albums, watched footage. But seeing them live is altogether different; they are breath-taking. There is something perversely pure about their sound and performance. There is nobody like Sleaford Mods. No comparisons suffice but, if pushed, I would say it is like Crass smashing into Kraftwerk on an A road between Derby and Detroit.

Inevitably, Sleaford Mods have their critics but for any detractors there are many more admirers. Anyway, I would rather take Iggy Pop’s word than Noel Gallagher’s. Sleaford Mods remind you what music can be like when you’re young (oh, the irony: the pair are in their early forties), when you have original ideas, when everything doesn’t get bent to fit someone else’s template, someone else’s formula, someone else’s set of rules. Fuck that.

Key Markets, Sleaford Mods' new album, is released on 10th July.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Grassroots



So, there I was, two weeks before the general election, getting excited about the opinion polls for the eight East Sussex seats. Set to buck the south-east Tory trend, the county was on-course to be a multi-coloured ribbon of red, yellow, blue and green. The reality, of course, was different: the Lib Dems lost Lewes and Eastbourne - curiously the electorate rewarded the Tories for downgrading maternity services and closing A & E in this town - and Labour failed to take Hastings and Brighton Kemptown. The only bright spots were Labour winning Hove and the Greens holding on to Brighton Pavilion. Otherwise, East Sussex is as blue as the rest of southern England.

It’s not all bad, though. Labour came second in the seat of Mid Sussex, Nicholas Soames' fiefdom covering the West Sussex area around Haywards Heath and East Grinstead. This may seem like the sound of straws being clutched at, but Labour has been a distant third in every general election since the seat’s creation in 1974; this result is seismic. It has made me realise that, for any left-leaning person, if Cameron’s lazy Thatcherism is to be truly opposed, only Labour can do it. It is a broad church, other anti-Tory parties are not: the Green Party has barely broken out of single issue politics and, whilst smaller parties on the left are excellent at local campaigning, their electoral performance is a token. A friend in Gloucestershire told me he realised, as he campaigned unsuccessfully for Labour to re-take the seat of Stroud that was lost in 2010, that any anti-Tory position other than Labour is a luxury: we cannot afford to argue the purity of our political positions whilst people are victims of the bedroom tax, cuts in council services and the tearing apart of the hard-fought-for social safety net.

However, it wasn’t the hope of the Mid Sussex result that made me finally re-join Labour, the party I have always voted for, was active in in London during the 1980s but was last a member of in the 1990s: I filled out my application before the recent elections. I had been questioning the terms of my political engagement for a while - thinking of not voting, having faith only in trade unions, flirting with the Greens – but when the notice of candidates for the local district council elections was posted in my area, it became apparent that in a large number of the 35 wards there was little democracy on offer. In my own ward there was a choice between the existing Tory councillor and a UKIP challenger; there were similarly limited options elsewhere and, in a few wards, sitting councillors were standing for re-election unopposed. Labour fielded candidates in only 15 wards, mostly in towns, and the Greens only 7. How can this be allowed to happen, we cried, throwing up our hands? Well, we had allowed it to happen. If there is no alternative political activism at the grassroots in the countryside, there can be no alternative in the democratic process. Two quotations were running through my mind when I went to the polling station to spoil my district council ballot paper: the writer David Runciman’s aphorism, “only politics can save you from bad politics” and Podemos' leader Pablo Inglesias’ observation that, “if the citizens don’t get involved in politics, others will”. It was time to stop pontificating and get active.

We are now trying to build a Labour Party branch in my village – seven members and counting – with the modest aim of making sure there is always a Labour candidate on ballot papers. More importantly, it is vital that other views are always heard, even in these conservative rural areas, and that people are reminded there is only one political party wedded to the founding principles of our fair and modern society: the NHS, comprehensive state education, affordable homes and employment rights.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Tender is the Day



The night after the General Election, only strong drink and loud, angry music was going to help me. After a diet of The Cramps, Crass and Public Image’s spectacular Theme on heavy rotation, I think I lapsed into a coma in the wee hours having finally forgotten that it was the start of, in Ken Livingstone’s words, “five more years of pure evil”.

Despite waking to the Sleaford Mods’ image of "the Prime Minister's face hanging in the clouds like Gary Oldman's Dracula", Saturday had a silver lining in the prospect of an in-store performance by Rozi Plain at the greatest record shop on the south coast, Music’s Not Dead.

Fresh from a Marc Riley session, a 6 Music Album of the Day accolade and a full band tour, Rozi had arrived solo in Bexhill on her way to a supporting Anna Calvi at Brighton Dome. Specialising in modern folk songs of reflective acceptance, her tender guitar playing and delicate vocals were the perfect balm for the soul after a night of discordant rage.

In a five song set that included three – Actually, Best Team, Jogalong - from her new album, Friend, Rozi demonstrated the versatility that enables her to be an incredibly confident solo performer and a member of close friend Kate Stables’ band, This Is The Kit. And with both acts performing at my festival of choice this summer - Green Man – I think that, come August, I might have got over the election result.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Drinking and Disaster



When John Bramwell introduces two songs in a row as being about “drinking…and disaster” it raises a big laugh from the audience at Concorde 2 in Brighton on Friday night; but it occurs to me that it would be the perfect title for the next I Am Kloot album. Drinking is important in the Kloot world - either in songs, on stage or off it - but there is nothing disastrous about it from the point of view of those of us who appreciate the brilliance of this band.

The opening lines of To The Brink are a dark joy: “Do you fancy a drink?/I know a place called the brink/Do you want to go there?” And despite running the risk of getting too serious, the lyrics stand up to close analysis: “They’ve got no rule of thumb/So on the counter I strum/With my fingers”. The rhyme and consonance of “thumb” and “strum” is purely poetic, and the close proximity of “thumb” and “fingers” is sublime. He further evokes the experience of the solitary drinker in the crowd with the lines, “I would like to stay with you/But I leave alone”; and when he repeats the refrain, but exchanges “stay” and “leave”, the effect is heart-breaking. It is for this reason that I Am Kloot are more highly rated by their peers than music consumers: Pete Doherty has said that Bramwell is one of the most talented songwriters in the country and Guy Garvey has proclaimed the band to be the most underrated in Britain.

The last time I saw I am Kloot in Brighton, they had just released their sixth studio album, Let It All In, and the songs on the night were largely taken from that and, previous album, Sky at Night. But Friday night’s set was drawn from all six studio albums and even included 1999’s debut single, To You, and This House Is Haunted, from the John Peel Sessions LP. Bramwell tells a Peelesque personal anecdote about having to pull over to the side of the road in his car because he was so overcome by the song he was listening to – which was, of course, his own This House Is Haunted. If this sounds egotistical, it is not; Bramwell‘s self-deprecating humour about his own immodesty is charming.

The first part of the set, with Bramwell on electric guitar, displays the rockier side of the band: Cuckoo and Life In A Day, from their eponymously-titled second album, are followed by the title track from the follow-up, Gods and Monsters. But then electric is swapped for acoustic and, after the customary solo spot to allow for no-longer-sedentary bassist Pete Jobson and drummer Andy Hargreaves to have a fag break, we are in to middle-period I Am Kloot with Someone Like You and Ferris Wheels from the Play Moolah Rouge album. Ferris Wheels strikes me as the consummate Kloot song, with all their favourite motifs present: shooting stars, satellites, stars at night and, of course, the sky.

When I last saw the band live, they were augmented to a six-piece; but tonight it is just the core trio and the audience are called upon to help with some of the arrangements. We are rubbish at being accordions earlier in the set but by the time the evening is nearing its close, we are great at being trumpets on Northern Skies. And when they encore with Twist - possibly my favourite - and Proof, we are fully committed to shared vocal duties.

'Hold Back the Night: I Am Kloot Live', has just been released on Walk Tall Recordings.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Changing Landscape



Look at the political map of south-east England, outside of London, and it is a sea of blue. There have been times when there were splodges of other colours, but currently you would have to squint to pick out the tiny dots where there is anything other than Conservative representation in the House of Commons. Of the eight constituencies in East Sussex, five are currently held by the Tories but, in an outcome that will probably mirror our fractured national electoral picture, this is set to change in two weeks' time.

There are two constituencies that cover large, mainly rural areas – Wealden and Bexhill & Battle –and these are typical Tory territory. They have returned Conservative MPs since the dawn of time and that is unlikely to change this year. The odious UKIP polled well in these areas in local and European elections last year but, with large majorities, the Tories should see off any challenge even if UKIP make a sizeable dent in their vote. The Liberal Democrats came second in both seats last time but may see the rise in popularity of the Greens in these areas translate into votes at their expense.

Two of those tiny dots on the map are yellow and represent the neighbouring seats of Lewes and Eastbourne. Lewes was won narrowly by Liberal Democrat Norman Baker in 1997, ending a long line of Tory MPs, and he has held it since with a reasonable majority. Baker is a popular MP locally and has always benefitted from a massive anti-Tory tactical vote; but the radical spirit of many Lewesians view his participation as a minister in the Tory-led coalition government as heresy; the Green Party is hoping to capitalise.

Eastbourne became a Liberal Democrat seat more recently. In 2010, Stephen Lloyd defeated the Tory incumbent by a majority of over 3,000 in a constituency the Conservatives are desperate to win back next month. When there was a major fire on Eastbourne pier last summer, Cameron and Osbourne were helicoptered in the next day with a bag of cash for refurbishment.

Of the four urban seats in East Sussex – three in Brighton and Hove, one for Hastings & Rye – all bar one are currently held by the Tories. Caroline Lucas is the only Green dot on the political map: she represents Brighton Pavilion with a slim majority but may feel some fallout from the unpopularity – transport policies, 2013’s bin strike – of the Green-run city council. I have always been impressed by Lucas: she has been the only MP to appear at local teachers’ strike rallies and has spoken eloquently and passionately against the Tories’ ideological assault on comprehensive education. All four of these constituencies are held with majorities of under 2,000 and are in the top 30 of Labour’s target seats.

With an excellent local candidate in Sarah Owen, opinion polls suggest that Labour will take Hastings and win two of the three Brighton seats: Lucas will survive but the Conservatives will lose Brighton Kemptown and Hove. Hove is something of a bellwether seat: since 1979, whichever party has won there has formed the government. In 1997, on hearing that Labour had taken Hove, Tony Blair became convinced that the Tories had finally been defeated.

Current polling also suggests that Lewes and Eastbourne will re-elect their current MPs and, if this is correct, come 7th May, East Sussex will have one of the most politically diverse landscapes in the south-east: 3 Labour MPs, 2 Conservative, 2 Liberal Democrat and 1 Green.

This may still not represent everyone: speaking recently of his “emotional attachment to a Labour Party that no longer exists”, the writer Irvine Welsh reminded me of my own dilemma. The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), an alliance launched by the late Bob Crow, most reflect my views but are fielding a candidate in only one East Sussex seat and that is, sadly, not where I live. Thanks to Nick Clegg not holding out for a referendum on proportional representation as his thirty pieces of silver, my vote in one of those large rural constituencies will be irrelevant. But I still don’t know whether to follow my emotional attachment or support those who most resemble what Labour used to be, the only anti-austerity party I can vote for: The Green Party.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Vive le Rock!



Thanks to the wonder of the world wide web, it is possible to carbon date the events and context of your earlier life with precision. Popular culture of the past is catalogued by a legion of obsessives who have documented the detail and minutiae of any niche area you care to investigate. Punk gigs are particularly well-served: enter the words “The Slits” and “Croydon” into a search engine and it reminds me that I saw them support Siouxsie and the Banshees on 9th October 1977 at the Greyhound; google “Buzzcocks Woolwich” and I realise that I was at Thames Poly on a Saturday night in March 1978; search “The Ruts Nashville Rooms” and I know that it was on 6th November 1978 that fighting between punks and skinheads made it one of the most terrifying gigs I have been to. Trying to pin down exactly when I saw Adam and the Ants at the Marquee in Soho’s Wardour Street proved a little difficult, however. I know it was either late 1977 or early 1978, but the Adam Ant website informs me that the band played the Marquee fourteen times in 12 months during those two years.

If I cannot remember or pin down the date of the gig, what I can recall is how theatrical and electrifying the performance was. The slow bass-heavy start of opening song Plastic Surgery was sung by Adam Ant from the dressing room behind the stage, his snow-white tanned face only emerging as the song burst into life. And with Sex Pistol acolyte Jordan as part of the set-up, and songs such as Deutscher Girls, Whip in My Valise and Beat My Guest sung by a leather-trousered and bare-chested Adam, the sense of a band pushing the boundaries of punk even further was inescapable. Along with Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Ants were unsigned to a record label at the time and they both eschewed the ram-a-lam-a sound that punk was quickly developing into in favour of doomy bass, icy guitars and a pop sensibility. This made them the two most exciting bands around at the tail end of ’77. The writer Stuart Maconie identifies Joy Division as being the first band about which the term ‘gothic’ was used in the music press; but he acknowledges that 80s' Goth undoubtedly began with the Banshees. I would say that Adam and the Ants, with their heavy S&M image, contributed just as much.

Whereas the Banshees signed a long-term deal with Polydor and immediately began a chart career with top ten hit Hong Kong Garden in the summer of 1978, Adam and the Ants released an unsuccessful one-off single on Decca, the puzzling and twee, Young Parisians. Although some of the live favourites were recorded for John Peel sessions, and Whip In My Valise cropped up on the B side of 1979 single Zerox, by the time I saw them play the Lyceum Ballroom that year there were new favourites: Car Trouble, Physical, Kick. But when the band released their debut album on independent label Do It in October 1979, only one of these songs was included and none of the early songs had survived. One number from the set of the Marquee gigs - Dirk Wears White Sox – was present as the title of the LP but absent as a song. The album received a lukewarm critical response and there was certainly a sense amongst many that Adam Ant had missed his moment. Although this was to be proven wrong (the events of the following year – the discovery of Burundi drumming, theft of the band by Malcom McLaren and Bow Wow Wow, reinvention as native American dandy pirate highwayman, world domination - are legendary) there has always been a sense that the wider world has been deprived of the pre-Prince Charming Adam and the Ants.

Which is why the first date, in Brighton last night, of a dozen gigs billed as ‘Performing Dirk Wears White Sox’ was such a joy. Sandwiched between a faithful run-through of that album and a closing version of Kings of the Wild Frontier (“this song means more to me than any other”), Adam and his current Ants treat us to an extensive selection of those punk era numbers. Plastic Surgery (“don’t go sitting in the sun/your face might start to run”) sounds fantastic and the two-minute tango (brevity was always the watchword) of Deutscher Girls reminds how unafraid they were to take musical risks back then. It would be a cliché to say that these songs never sounded better but in all likelihood, with a very accomplished band made-up of a bassist and a brace each of drummers and guitarists, they have probably never been played better: for all their originality, the Ants were a punk band.

Although he jokes about his bouts of mental illness (“I talk a lot of rubbish, sometimes”), Adam himself looks in good shape. And with a nod to the sartorial side of punk, he is resplendent in Seditionaries' Karl Marx shirt to go with his, now customary, Stetson hat. And he is supported by some luminaries from those heady times: Seaford resident Jordan is in the house and when I am being bored in the bar by a drunk, he mentions Theatre of Hate but takes some convincing when I point out that Kirk Brandon is standing right behind him. The rest of the audience is pretty stylish, too, with a smattering of those tell-tale signs of a punk past: Kohl-eyes, Vive le Rock! t-shirts, leather and tartan. Some, however, get the era wrong: there are a couple of white-striped faces and one poor soul in a Stand and Deliver tunic.

The band are on-stage for an energetic 90 minutes and, of the eleven songs on Dirk Wears White Sox, Tabletalk, the saucy Cleopatra, and the humour of Never Trust A Man (With Egg On His Face) stand out as being the most remarkable. But finishing the set with the title track from the next album – the one that launched the Ants’ pop supremacy - I thought that when the band returned to the stage it would be to perform more of those chart hits; but with further proof of the quality of those earlier songs, they encore with deafening versions – Ant is now a third guitarist - of Zerox and Physical, two more numbers that never made it onto that debut album.